Gone, gone, gone

For the first time in the history of this blog I have removed a post – well two actually.


Organic cotton bath puff

Many moons ago I was interested in environmentally friendly alternatives to nylon bath puffs (scrubbies). I wrote a number of posts on the subject and explored a range of fibres to use. At the time, I was delighted to discover how well reclaimed acrylic yarn worked and I wrote a post about it. At the time, and with the information I had to hand, it seemed like a great way to use something that would otherwise simply be thrown out (yarn unravelled from old knitwear). Now, it turns out it was not such a good idea. Just like making fleece fabrics from recycled plastic bottles, which we all thought at the time was a great way to use waste, new information has made me think again. Using manmade fibres in bath puffs will add to microfibre contamination of water unless there is a fine filter on the bath/shower outlet, which seems unlikely. So, the two posts that mentioned using acrylic yarn for this purpose have been removed to prevent encouraging anyone else to try it.


Soap and a flannel (the latter made by a friend)

It’s still easy enough to make bath puffs or cloths with natural fibres – cotton, hemp, nettle, or even wool, depending on the texture you desire. However, I like Kate‘s recent suggestion (see the comments in this post) about using loofahs if you want something with a rougher texture for washing yourself or your pots. If I spot some seeds, I may well have a go at growing my own – now that really would be a green solution. However, since starting to use bar soap, I’ve had no need for a bath puff. My favourite soap to use after swimming (ginger and lime) has little bits of ground ginger root in it and these provide all the exfoliation I need – naturally and biodegradably. I have also made myself (or been gifted) several cotton wash cloths/flannels and these are especially useful when travelling or when water is limited.

The moral of the story is that we do the best we can with the knowledge that we have at any given time, but that it’s important not to get stuck in a rut (or get defensive) and to make changes when new information comes to light. Have you had to revise your thinking on anything recently?

Three Things Thursday: 27 April 2017

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with the happy*

Inspired by Emily of Nerd in the Brain here are my Three Things Thursday.

This week I could list three hundred things that have made me happy, but here are just three.

First, lizards. We were delighted to spot some lizards in the rainforest biome at The Eden Project. They are there as pest controllers. Here is my best photograph:

An anole lizard

Second, asking the experts. We visited the Telegraph Museum in Porthcurno the other day, deliberately timing our visit to coincide with the day that the former workers come in to volunteer each week. This allowed Mr Snail the opportunity to ask lots and lots of technical questions…

Third, industrial history. Ever since I spent two and a half years surveying the old metal mines of mid-Wales I have been fascinated by the history of extractive industries. I had a great time, therefore, visiting Wheal Martyn, a museum dedicated to the china clay industry in Cornwall. They have lots of great exhibits but my favourite was the working water wheel:

So, those are three things making me smile and for which I am grateful. What has made you happy this week?

Bag ladies… but not me

Yesterday, I spent another lovely day felt-making under the guidance of Lorraine of Greenweeds. We learned how to incorporate a variety of objects into our felt – sequins, shells, beads and other three-dimensional objects – as well as how to make a pocket  inside a bag. We spent the morning exploring techniques:

And then in the afternoon, most participants made a bag using one or more of the techniques. I didn’t… I just wanted to continue playing, so I worked on a flat piece. I really enjoyed the act of creating something without a particular end in mind – it was rather liberating and meant that when I’d had enough I was just able to stop and know that I have achieved all I wanted to.

When I got home I decided that I didn’t want to do much more work on my creation, so I put it in the washing machine and it felted to a nice thick piece, which I am going to cut into a square and use as a table mat. Here are some details:

The next piece of felting I embark on will be a long-planned bag that I now feel ready to tackle thanks to techniques learned yesterday.

Failure and the need to frog

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work
Thomas A. Edison

Well, I ‘found’ a square that didn’t work for my blanket this week. Actually, calling it a square is wrong – if it had been a square I might have been able to do something with it, but it turned into a rectangle, several centimetres too long. I hate having to frog a piece of work, but this one simply won’t do so there is no alternative.

When you look at my masterpiece blanket, you may wonder why I have chosen to crochet so many of the squares rather than knit them. Well, the answer is that it’s easier to guarantee a square of the right size with crochet because you can work from the centre outwards and add a round of any depth to get it to be the right size. It is possible to knit a square in the same way, but it’s much more fiddly and not so enjoyable.

A rough chart for a dancing skeleton

A rough chart for a dancing skeleton

However, I had a specific design in mind for one square intended to represent one of the designs in my portfolio. The design is about death, so I thought it would be fun to knit a square showing a dancing skeleton (for various reasons the design is entitled A dance with death). So I charted it out on graph paper (quite roughly as I know I can modify as I go along when it’s just for my own use) and set to with the needles. I based the size on the small and slow solutions square – also knitted and also using more than one colour. But clearly a different choice of yarns mucked things up and the result is several centimetres too long to fit the blanket design.

The first attempt - unsuccessful, but proof that the chart is useable

The first attempt – unsuccessful, but proof that the chart is useable

I’m not too disheartened, though. I now know several things: my design looks ok when knitted up; the fingers and toes will be better if stitched on afterwards; and I should use 4-ply yarn. So, it’s true, every failure does provide a learning opportunity. I just hope that I can get it right next time, because I will really lose heart if, like Eddison, I have to make 10,000 attempts… or even just 10.

New snail on the block

The escargatoire (yes, believe it or not, that is the collective noun for snails*) has grown. I think our new recruit will, henceforth, be known as the Snail of Persistence, to acknowledge the decades that it has taken me to learn to crochet.

Introducing out latest addition: the Snail of Persistence

Introducing out latest addition: the Snail of Persistence

There is no stopping me after last week’s course: as well as my usual knitting (a cardigan at the moment), I have made the snail and a pair of fingerless mittens. Finally, I can have a bash at all those crocheted amigurumi that are out there.

Sam, helping me to model my fingerless mittens

Sam, helping me to model my fingerless mittens

As I’ve said, I love to learn a new skill.


* Actually, there are three collective nouns for snails – an ‘escatgotoire’, a ‘rout’ and, bizarrely considering their anatomy, a ‘walk’. I’m not sure which one I like best.

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!

Secondhand socks

My teaching involves setting the learners lots of activities to do. At these times I want to let them get on with it without my input, so I have small blocks of ‘spare’ time. I used to take a book along with me to read, but I did tend to get interrupted and so never really got much reading done. More recently I have started taking some knitting with me. This is an ideal way to fill time, and I can even chat and answer questions whilst doing it. I lug lots of teaching stuff around with me, so don’t really want to be carrying chunky pieces of knitting, so I usually take a sock.

Hand-knitted socks

As well as keeping me amused, the activity often elicits questions, particularly since I usually knit on four or five needles and use self-patterning sock yarn. Usually, the questions are about the complexity of the process and the reason for using so many needles, but a few weeks ago I was asked a question that rather had me stumped:

why do you knit socks when they are so cheap secondhand?

I’m rarely at a loss for words, but this one was hard for me to answer. Fortunately someone else responded with the most obvious question:

you can buy secondhand socks?

And the answer was “yes you can,” apparently very cheaply from car boot sales. As an infrequent visitor to car boot sales, I have little idea about what one can buy at them, but the few times I have visited such an event my perception (at least here in west Wales) is that the stalls are dominated by books, old videos, bric-a-brac and plants. My friend Anja obtained all the crockery and cutlery for her wedding reception from car boot sales, but I have never thought of them for clothes shopping. The group discussed the subject and, it turned out, that in the local area (which is very rural) no one had encountered a significant market in secondhand socks, but if you visit the big car boot sales around major cities in the UK, they are full of very cheap, hardly worn clothes, including socks. Perhaps this reflects the relative affluence of cities compared to the countryside; perhaps it reflects attitudes. Are  country-dwellers less likely to consider their purchases disposable, or simply too poor to just discard clothes when they no longer appeal?

I suppose that I shouldn’t be surprised that clothes are not always bought to last – the prevalence of retailers on the high street selling cheap items, often produced in sweatshops should be an indicator that these are disposable goods. If you have to save up for an item, you are surely more likely to value it than something that you buy on a whim for just a few pounds. In addition, the perception is that it’s ok to get bored with a cheap item, because you can throw it away and get a new version. I suppose, however, that the fact that clothes are being sold on is a good sign to some extent… if even socks can find a second home, then there must be hope for all sorts of other items.

Self-patterning socks

But wouldn’t it be better if we valued the items that we do own. Considering that 20% of the world’s population use 80% of the world’s resources, perhaps a small step to redressing this balance would be to cut back on using any more stuff. And, in fact, knitting socks may lead me to do this. First, most sock wool is guaranteed for 10 years – so the product that I am making should last me a good deal longer than most socks that I could go and buy from the shops. But second, because I will have spent time in the act of creating these socks and because they are unique, I think that I will value them more – perhaps taking time to mend them should they become damaged, rather than simply discarding them.

We often hear the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle”, and buying second hand delivers the second of these, but if we could all do a bit more of the first we could make an enormous difference.

Sowing the seeds of sustainability

The introductory permaculture course that I teach is called Sowing the seeds of sustainability – a great title that I cannot claim credit for. That honour goes to my friend Angie, who designed the course in the first place and has been kind enough to allow me, first, to help her teach it and then to run the course on my own. It’s a great course to teach and to attend (being a participant was how I originally found out about permaculture) and includes a trip to see an inspiring site. The actual visit depends on where the course is being taught, but over the years we’ve visited Station Road Permaculture, Brithdir Mawr, Lammas and Tir Penrhos, amongst others.

The next time I teach this course our visit will be to Angie’s place.It’s the first time I have taken a group there, but it will be really great for them to see some of the things an experienced permaculture teacher has done with her own home and land. And, as well as seeing the successes, it gives the opportunity to see what hasn’t worked, and how problems have been turned into solutions or designs have had to be tweaked.

This sort of sharing is an important part of learning, whatever the subject, but in permaculture the network that provides support, ideas and encouragement is particularly valued. The Permaculture Association in the UK organises a variety of events that allow people to connect (such as the recent convergence), but we tend to be technologically savvy too and so there are active groups on Facebook, for example.

One of the greatest ways to connect is during shared learning – and there are lots of courses available. However, almost all of them cost money and this makes them completely out of reach for many people. I was delighted, therefore, to hear from my friend Tracey that she is organising a permaculture course to draw people together from across Europe who would not otherwise be able to afford such a cultural exchange of ideas. In her own words:

What is my DREAM?

To raise enough money to offer TEN fully sponsored places on a full Permaculture Design Course to be held in Scotland in the summer of 2013. This would support people & communities in some of our neighbouring countries, who are facing huge financial challenges, namely Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece, to share the knowledge wider within their local communities.

She writes:

People have asked why bring people from other countries to Scotland to do a Permaculture Course when I could offer to fund them in their place of residence.

The answer is… Because I want to create a celebration of cultures, bring people together, share the knowledge, celebrate the diversity, have a party.

Permaculture is all about valuing diversity and I know if we can reach the target then it will create an opportunity for a real diverse mix of people to be united on one course. I plan to make it a super duper course, as you can imagine!!

The approach she is taking is ‘crowd funding’ – where lots of people give a small (or large) amount to finance a project that they feel has value. Although bringing people together who are from different regions is costly, the benefits are likely to be huge, and she is asking that participants ‘pay it forward’ and go off and spread the word about permaculture and sustainability. Sounds like a worthwhile cause to support to me (and there are perks if you donate!). If you are interested in reading more about the project or giving a donation you can visit the Sharing a Living in a Gift Economy page ( please note this web address changed on 30 September). I love the idea of crowd funding, because you can make a real difference to a project with just a small donation.

Well, I’m due for a busy few weeks now, with courses to teach and to attend… who knows what exciting ideas will come out of them and what interesting people it will meet…

Teaching at Karuna Permaculture Project

I spent last weekend teaching an Introduction to Permaculture course at a forest garden project near Church Stretton in Shropshire called Karuna. I arrived on Thursday afternoon to get settled in and set up the teaching area and the course started on Friday morning. Janta and Merav, who own the place, made me very welcome and we enjoyed damson wine beside a camp fire on Thursday evening.

An outdoor session in the sunshine

When the course started I was delighted to find that, as well as folks from England, Scotland and Wales, we had one person from Holland, one from Mexico (although she now lives in the UK), one from the US (currently living in London), one from Russia (via Berlin) and one who had been living in New Zealand for five years… not bad out of 11 participants. The best courses are those where people come from a variety of backgrounds and with a variety of experiences and we certainly had that. We were able to discuss attitudes towards food, growing, the land, communities and chocolate in a range of countries and from various perspectives. On a course like this I feel that I go away having learnt as much as the participants. Although I am referred to as the teacher, I really just facilitate, providing a framework for everyone to build up knowledge together.

Janta showing off one of his almond trees to the group

Karuna itself provides a marvellous location to teach about sustainability and growing, with a series of forest gardens containing trees, shrubs and perennial vegetables, annual vegetable growing areas, open rides, apple grafting, a pond, a large poly-tunnel, solar panels, compost toilets… and more. The range of fruits and nuts grown is staggering, including apples, pears, plums, soft fruits (loads of black currants this year), apricots, grapes, cobbs and almonds (actually fruiting this year). Then there are the perennial vegetables : artichokes, cardoons and kales. Plus the annual vegetables that we ate every day: they are still eating potatoes from last year, when they grew 20 varieties.

There is so much going on and Janta and Merav and their two boys work hard to maintain the site. After a long battle over planning permission, they have recently been granted permission to construct a low impact dwelling from straw bales… can you believe that it could take five years to get permission for a small, low-impact house, when there are huge ‘executive’ homes being built everywhere you look across Britain (well, at least where we live)? I can’t wait to see how they get on with it – the detailed plans have not been drawn up yet, but I know that it will be circular with an external diameter of 12m. Still, in some ways they have been lucky, it took Tony Wrench 10 years to get permission for his tiny low-impact round house in Wales!

All-in-all, it was a great course at a great location. Although we were only together for three days, the group had really bonded and I was extremely sad to say goodbye to them on Sunday afternoon.

Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves!

(Earth and People) Care in the Community

Sustainability may begin at home, but it’s also good to get it out in the community. With this in mind I give my support to a local environmental education charity, Denmark Farm Conservation Centre. They are working on a great project called Wildlife Where You Live, which aims to help build robust rural communities through conservation and biodiversity work. It’s not just experts coming in and telling the community what to do, it’s about engaging all sorts of people in environmental activities.

The newly installed wetland water treatment system is just awaiting ground flora planting

DFCC also run environment-related courses, many in conjunction with Aberystwyth University. Whist I was up there today there was a beginners’ bird identification course going on… by lunchtime their species count was up to 16, they told me. It’s a lovely place to go to learn and teach (I run several courses there each year), with great habitats (ponds, scrapes, woodland, rhos pasture, wildflower meadows) and increasingly more examples of sustainability in action (a new wetland water treatment system, solar water heating, solar pv, rainwater harvesting, compost toilet, compost heaps and – coming soon – a biomass boiler). All-in-all a great demonstration site.

As well as being used as a venue for courses DFCC is open to the public, with a network of freely accessible paths: free leaflets describing the site are available. So if you are near Lampeter in Ceredigion, why not call in? And if that’s not near you, why not support your own local charities that are encouraging sustainability?

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