The eco bath puff collection

Anyone who has been following this blog for a while will know about my search for a green bath puff and the various trials I have conducted with patterns and yarns. It’s not been easy and I have finally had to accept that it is impossible, using natural materials, to recreate the qualities of nylon exhibited by the standard bath puffs you can buy in supermarkets and chemists (drug stores) for a few  pounds (dollars). For example, none of the fibres I have tested produce the amount of lather that you get from a nylon puff* and all of them are much more absorbent, being more like a spherical flannel (wash cloth) in some cases.

However, if you wish to tread more lightly on the planet, sometimes you have to adapt… and I now have a range of bath puffs that have different characteristics and suit different people. All of the puffs I have made use recycled, upcycled, waste or organically produced fibres and are I make them by hand, so certainly have less impact on the earth than the commercial nylon versions. They are all crocheted by me… a skill I have learned specifically because of this project, but which I’m now using to make all sorts of other things. So, what sort of puffs have I made? The following is a list of fibres used, their source and characteristics.

Acrylic: all the acrylic yarn that I use is either reclaimed from previous projects (e.g. unravelled jumpers) or is left over from completed or abandoned projects (usually not mine!). Acrylic bath puffs are the least absorbent of any that I make, although they still hold a lot more water than a nylon puff and so take longer to dry. They have a slight abrasiveness that increases with use. They produce some lather, but this depends on the soap/shower gel you use and how hard or soft your water is. This is the sort of puff I take with me when I am travelling.

Organic cotton: So far, this has had to be purchased new, and is relatively expensive. However, it does make up into a lovely soft and gentle puff – ideal for delicate skin. You don’t get much lather and it is very absorbent so takes quite a long time to dry: you need to think of this version as a type of wash cloth. I have used two different yarns for these puffs so far: Debbie Bliss Ecoaran (in shocking pink) and Twilley’s Sincere Organic Cotton (in a pinky-beige).

Recycled cotton and acrylic: This yarn (Sirdar’s Simply Recycled Cotton- Rich), made of 51% recycled cotton and 49% acrylic, combines qualities of the two yarns described above: the softness of cotton and the reduced absorbency of acrylic. I like the principle of using a recycled fibre (from t-shirt manufacturing), but sadly the acrylic doesn’t seem to be recycled. I’ve made these in a terracotta colour and  in green (how appropriate!).

Upcycled wool: Whilst not to everyone’s taste, this is the fibre I prefer my bath puff to be made of.  The sort of wool has an effect on how abrasive these puffs are, but all wool tends to be a little bit ‘scratchy’. I use wool collected from unravelled jumpers or left-overs, so it’s rare that I know the brand or type of wool. They tend to shed some fine fibres to begin with, but this soon stops. After a couple of months of use, the wool starts to felt, but this makes them even nicer to use. I’ve made these in green and purple so far… my bath puff here at home is a purple one made from wool from an old cardigan.

So, these are my basic fibres, but I have experimented with adding a thread of hemp fibre to one of the organic cotton puffs to make it a little more abrasive, as exfoliation seems to be a requirement for some folks. And here they are:

A bowl of bath puffs!

A bowl of bath puffs!

So, if you’d like one, contact me (thesnailofhappiness@talktalk.net) – for UK customers, they are £10 each including delivery, if you’re further afield, I’ll have to check the postage.

-oOo-

* Although using GreenPeople shower gel helps a lot!

Getting hooked

Despite my skill at making bath puffs, it has become increasingly clear to me that it should be possible to crochet other things – it’s just that I have been unable to make this transition. So, yesterday, I took my first step to rectify this and went on a beginners’ crochet course at the wonderful Denmark Farm Conservation Centre.

OK, I accept that this was cheating a bit, because I’m not a beginner, but I felt that being able to make a chain and a bath puff hardly constituted being anything more than a beginner.

Everyone produced a granny square - here are three of them

Everyone produced a granny square – here are three of them

I learnt such a lot, though. All those on-line resources and books are great, but you can’t beat a face-to-face lesson – particularly to help get to grips with a skill you’ve been struggling with for ages. The other people who were there could not crochet at all, so I was at a bit of an advantage, but by the end of the morning, we had all produced a granny square and after lunch everyone made at least one more and learnt how to crochet them together.

By the end of the day, I'd made all these!

By the end of the day, I’d made all these!

Being the obsessive that I am, and being on a roll, I got carried away and produced a total of four and a half granny squares, two joined together, plus a circular coaster. I made the latter using a pattern that the tutor supplied – I really wanted to find out if I could follow a written pattern and it turns out I could (although it was really simple). We had a chat about following a chart and what the terminology means (including the difference between UK and US) and so now I feel ready to embark on something more challenging… I’m thinking fingerless mittens, which the tutor also gave us a pattern for, before I attempt a crocheted snail… well, the knitted ones need a friend!

What’s in a yarn?

Recently I have been concentrating again on researching yarn ethics… it’s a long time since my original post. There is so much information out there and it can be really hard to wade through it all to find out what you want to know.

Having sifted through a whole load of web sites* and tracked down a very useful book**, I have managed to distill some of what I have learned into a diagram to help you and me understand what different yarns actually are:

Yarn types

Plus, here is a little table listing some information about the various yarns you might come across:

Yarn Natural/MMF Source Polymer Fibre
Wool Natural Animal Protein Spun yarn
Alpaca Natural Animal Protein Spun yarn
Silk Natural Animal Protein Spun yarn
Acrylic Manmade Petrochemical Synthetic Polyacrylic
Hemp Natural Plant Cellulose Twine, yarn
Flax Natural Plant Cellulose Twine, yarn, linen
Bamboo Manmade Plant Cellulose Rayon, Acetate, Viscose
Bamboo Natural Plant Cellulose Twine, yarn
Soya Manmade Plant Protein Rayon
Milk Manmade Plant Protein Rayon
Cotton Natural Plant Cellulose Spun yarn
Cotton Manmade Plant Cellulose Rayon
Wood Manmade Plant Cellulose Viscose
Nettle Natural Plant Cellulose Twine, yarn

I hope this will be useful when you are choosing a yarn or a fabric.

-oOo-

* Amongst my favourites are: http://oecotextiles.wordpress.com/ and http://www.ecouterre.com/

** Eberle, H., Hornberger, M., Kupke, R., Moll, A., Hermeling, H., Kilgus, R., Menzer, D, and Ring, W. (2008) Clothing Technology… from fibre to fashion. Verlag Europa-Lehrmittel. ISBN 978-3-8085-6225-3.

Green bath puff 3… I can’t believe there’s another sequel

A woolly washball (Jacob wool, awaiting decoration) and a woolly bath puff

A woolly washball (Jacob wool, awaiting decoration) and a woolly bath puff

When I started this business with the bath puffs, I had no idea that it would come to occupy so much of my time and my blog… but that’s life isn’t it: you take a small step and it leads you down a very long path! ‘The road goes ever on and on’ as JRR Tolkien wrote.

Early on in my quest for the green bath puff I dismissed  sheep’s wool as a fibre because of its propensity to felt. However, over the months I have learned more about wool, its properties and the way it is processed. I’ve also come round to the idea that felt might be a desirable material to wash with for some people (yes – I know some people can’t stand it on their skin, but they do seem to be in the minority). Anyway, in terms of the ethics of knitting/crochet yarns, unless you want to avoid animal products, there is a great deal to recommend wool, especially for those of us who live in the UK where few plant fibres for yarn are produced, but where we have lots of sheep.

When you buy wool yarns or garments, the label often says that they are machine-washable: this means that they shouldn’t felt when agitated in a washing machine at a warm temperature. Sometimes the label says ‘Superwash’ but this just means they have been through a patented process; there are other techniques to facilitate machine-washability. On investigation, I have found that the process required to stop wool felting and, thus, make it machine-washable,  is to either remove the scales on the wool by stripping them off with acid, or coating the wool with a polymer. Neither of these approaches sound particularly environmentally friendly to me, but the acid can’t be too strong otherwise it would completely dissolve the wool and I’m not sure about the use of a polymer. The Natural Fibre Company have an interesting little piece about Superwash wool that suggests that the fibres from some sheep breeds (and other species) are difficult to felt anyway, so can be washed without the need for pre-treatment. I feel that these might be worth investigating in the future.  Again, however, I return to the idea of upcycled yarn because I have some I can experiment with…

Inspired by the woolly wash balls (I’ve just made one from Jacob sheep wool that’s lovely) I decided to make a wool bath puff. Using some wool that used to be a cardigan* and that I know was sold as being machine-washable, I produced yet another prototype, which I tried out this morning. It was nice to use and produced some lather (although I was using Green People Aloe shower gel, which is very concentrated)… it’s hanging up in the bathroom now to see how long it takes to dry – it can’t be as long as 100% cotton! I suspect that it will felt after a while, but perhaps that doesn’t matter.

And, finally, for the time being on bath puffs, I notice the large number of searches arriving here on my site from people who want a pattern for a knitted bath puff (as I did originally). I am guessing that, unlike me, many people are not prepared to put aside their prejudice against knitting and learn to crochet. So, over the next week or two, I’m going to design a knitting pattern… watch this space!

-oOo-

* You might also recognise it in the snails at the top of the page.

Green bath puff 2: the return of the green bath puff

Way back last year I wrote a post about making a green bath puff… interestingly, this has turned out, to date, to be my single most popular post. For some time, however, I have been dissatisfied because it left things up in the air – I never came to a conclusion about the best yarn to use and I didn’t get great feedback from my tester who tried out my nettle fibre puff.

Whilst I have found a great pattern (the brain) the thing that has eluded me is a suitable fibre. The pattern I have settled on is a simple crochet creation: start with a chain about six stitches long; turn it into a loop and starting with the first stitch of the chain, make six to eight triple (I think they are doubles in the US) crochet stitches in each of the original stitches; next work into a new layer, again making six to eight triple/double crochets in each stitch; work one final layer in the same manner and you will have your ‘brain’. Make a chain for the hanging loop and thread this through the central hole in the sphere before tying the ends together. If you don’t crochet, try it – my original version in cotton was the first item I have ever crocheted and was a great thing to learn on. You can use any gauge of yarn and vary the size of the crochet hook according to how open you want your puff to be.

I have been fretting about appropriate yarn for months now – searching the internet, examining different fibres and not actually achieving anything until a few days ago. Searching the internet once more, I came across reference to making bath puffs out of acrylic yarn. Now, my original idea was to create puffs from natural fibres – hence my experiments with cotton, nettle, hemp and bamboo – so I had never even considered a man-made yarn. However, as I mentioned a couple of posts back, I have been given some yarn by a friend who had got it from freecycle. Most of the balls were fine gauge sheep’s wool, but there were some knitted pieces that needed to be unravelled (more on that in a later post). Some of these were knitted from acrylic yarn in a double-knitting wool weight… and what could be more ‘green’ than some reused yarn that was destined for landfill?

An 'upcycled' acrylic bath puff

An ‘upcycled’ acrylic bath puff

So, a couple of days ago I got out a crochet hook and set to work again. And the result? Well, it’s less brain-coloured this time, but I can report that using it in the shower this morning was a success – lather (not quite as much as with a nylon commercially produced puff) and not enormously absorbent. It’s currently hanging up to dry and we’ll see how long that takes (the cotton ones take days!). I think I might have found the answer… I will just need to start frequenting charity shops looking for acrylic jumpers to convert!

That was the year that was

WordPress have kindly provided me with a review of my blogging year, including some interesting stats… it turns out that my most viewed post was Free Range Chickens and Caged Vegetables and my most commented on post was Jurassic Chicken so, clearly, if I want to maximise my readership I should be writing about chickens. OK, so that’s on my ‘to do’ list for 2013.

I’m delighted to see, however, that my second most read post is The ethics of knitting yarns. I’m currently working on a knitting yarn selector as one of my permaculture diploma designs, so I’m hoping that this statistic bodes well for the popularity of that once it is finished and I have made it available on-line.

Hot on its heels in third place with respect to readership was A green bath puff. Again, a post about yarn but one with a less satisfactory follow-up. I still have not found a natural fibre that has the properties I want in a bath puff, i.e. that will create a good lather, is slightly abrasive and will dry quickly. I have started to wonder whether the answer isn’t to use waste nylon (for example the nylon nets that lemons sometimes come in) as my starting point. No doubt this is a subject that I will continue to explore in 2013 and you can be sure that I will report back.

You can also be sure that I’ll be writing lots more about my garden… hoping that there will be less water and more vegetables than in 2012… or possibly I’ll be turning to aquaponics (like Yambean over at The Great Dorset Vegetable Experiment) or possibly watercress and cranberry cultivation!

Oh and the final statistic I’d like to share with you is that this is my 100th post. So, happy anniversary me and happy new year to all of you!

%d bloggers like this: