Five Years

That’s how long we have lived in this house. I still love it, though the garden is waaaay more work than I need. I’d be very sad if I had to move out – and Paul would certainly have a lot of trouble downsizing.

I wouldn’t have thought much would change in five years, other than the renovations we’d planned. We’ve both discovered new interests since we moved here. My back has deteriorated and the frozen shoulder I had for the first half of the year (nearly healed) made me realise I need to store my yarn somewhere lower than the top shelves of a wardrobe. And the way we use the house has changed.

When we first inspected it house, the idea of me using the entertainment room as my studio was considered, but it was such a great space for gatherings ite became known as the Party House. Over the last couple of years, however, our main circle of friends has fragmented due to various reasons and I started to find all the partying exhausting. We’ve used the entertainment room less and less and I began considering the studio idea again. The problem is where to put the sofas. And bar. And guests, the rare times we have them.

Last Sunday the solution hit me: I’ve been looking at the wrong room! The guest room also isn’t used much any more. One of the smaller bedrooms, it has a sofa bed for people staying over and a tv with dvd player for the children of visitors. It also stores bed linen and party costumes, and my Passap knitting machine. And the clothes airer.

So I did a mental reshuffle. Where could the sofa bed and chest of drawers go? The entertainment room would work just as well for overnight visitors. Linen? Cull and move to the entertainment room too, and make space for it by culling party supplies we no longer use. Costumes? Cull and move what we keep into our wardrobe. That leaves some shelving that came from my workroom at the last house. The tubs I keep my yarn in were bought to fit it, so that solves the yarn storage accessibility problem.

I ran the idea past Paul. He saw no problems with it. So we got stuck in, culling and moving things. And then, as if making space finally made it happen: I bought a floor loom.

But that’s another story.

A Bath for Birds

Funny how the mosaic project that involved using a hammer to smash the tiles unsuitable for the swimmers clock was finished first. It really was quite therapeutic! And it fixed the problem of the bath’s mysteriously pitted inner surface.

I’d set up a folding table in Paul’s studio to do the swimmers clock, and then this one took over the space. Once I’d grouted the bath I moved it into the garage for sealing when I got back from Fibrearts. Then I cleaned off the folding table and asked Paul to vaccume the studio while I was away. (Having a sore shoulder, I wasn’t keen to do that bit myself.

I kinda hoped the vacuuming would lead to some cleaning up, and it did. I also hoped it might lead to some photography-related activity in there. It didn’t. Instead, Paul spread his diorama-making out onto the folding table. This meant I going to have to tell him to remove it or resume my mosaic-making elsewhere. Probably back to my area of the garage, where I used to do it. Which isn’t a big problem except when it’s really hot or really cold. Which seems to be most of the year, these days.

Could I possibly set up in our laundry? Paul has not entirely satisfactory ways of using it as a darkroom. Perhaps we could build a darkroom into the back of the studio. I raised it with him one morning. He didn’t like the idea. He said: “Do you really think you’ll continue with mosaics?”

After a shower and a think, I asked pointedly: “Do you really think you’ll continue making dioramas?” He conceded that his question – or rather, the way it had been phrased – hadn’t been very fair.

Because it was a relevant question for both of us. We’ve both have adopted a new hobby since moving to this house and modifying it to suit the hobbies we’d had at the time. We need to consider how to most sensibly incorporate our new hobbies into the space we have, and consider how much time we actually spend on each of our hobbies, not how much time we wish we did.

And perhaps even more importantly, how much stuff we store that relates to them.

A Stranglehold of Scarves

When I started entering clothing into the Stylebook app I figured I might put in scarves, gloves and beanies eventually, but I was in no rush to. When I started, I thought I’d only use the app to put together new combinations of clothing, and I figured I didn’t need any help matching accessories to outfits – they would only be an addition to any look anyway.

But I didn’t know then how useful the app would be for getting an overview of what I own. Once I did well… I still put off tackling scarves, gloves and beanies. Why? Because they come with baggage. Well, to be honest, not the gloves and beanies. The scarves.

Gosh, did I have a lot of scarves.

Some I’d made, some were gifts and some were souvenirs. Two were given to me by a secret admirer when I was a teen (and only found out years later who sent them). Ten I’d bought on trips overseas. Nine were from my silk painting days of my twenties and, in my eyes now, are irreplaceable works of art. Ten or so I knitted or crocheted before RSI set in. Some were made from yarns spun by me and by friends. Some were made from yarn I’d bought on holidays. A few were made with luxurious, expensive yarn. A couple had been from garments I’d loved and refashioned into scarves.

More than 80 scarves in total.

How many scarves is too many? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having lots of scarves, especially when they’re handmade or have a personal story. But I’ve had this thought, itching at the back of my mind, that I didn’t actually like quite a few of mine. So lots of quick phone snaps and some photo tweaking in Stylebook followed, then sorting them into categories. One for the artistic silk-painted ones, one for keepers, one for outs.

I told myself to be ruthless but mostly I didn’t have to be. You see, I didn’t really like the scarves my mystery admirer had given to me, though I liked the guy. Some of the ones I’d bought on holidays were nasty polyester, and I have other, better souvenirs from the same trip. I usually buy more than one batch of yarn on a trip so I don’t need to keep all the objects made with all the yarn. The scarf made from my first ever handspun and another using a friend’s handspun could be frogged and unwoven and used again.

Of the scarves I’ve made… well, the rule for all handmade items applies: I tend to keep what I love, and what turns out so badly I can’t really sell or gift it. I decided the latter had to go.

I got my collection down to 50 scarves, including 5 shawls. I was hoping to halve it, but didn’t really expect to get there. I could be more ruthless, but I decided to wear every scarf once this winter and see whether any aren’t comfortable or practical. I’m also thinking of framing some of the better silk-painted ones.

What to do with the ‘out’ scarves? Well, I’m going to wash everything then do the usual round of clothing adoption prospects – friends, acquaintances, op shop – or else frog/unweave and make something new. Maybe even more scarves.

Memories Rya Rug

Done!

(Actually, I finished it a week or two ago, but I’ve been a bit too busy to blog.)

I love it! It’s cushy and attractive and was inexpensive to make. The fabric strips don’t seem to stay pressed down when it’s walked on. It’s big enough for the room without costing a fortune.

One of the unexpected, but in retrospect kinda obvious, benefits of a rya rug is that the tufty nature of hides seams. I’ve learned a great deal while making it, most significantly that this method uses a LOT of fabric. If I was to make another I’d have to find a source of free rags, because if I’d used $7 mens shirts from the op shop this would have cost around $700 in fabric alone.

I’d like to try making one out of t-shirt rags. It’d have a different texture, I reckon. More spongy, not as soft, I reckon.

Next project on the floor loom will probably be a very long table runner using a combination of methods I’ve not seen before: weft rep and clasped weft. I’ve done a bit of test weaving, and I think it’ll work. Well, I hope so, anyway!

The Big Craft Room Tidy of 2019

It’s been hot in Melbourne for several days now. Dry hot then humid hot. Too hot to go outside. Too hot to even work on mosaics, as the studio is the warmest room in the house and I only run the aircon unit out there if I really have to – say, we have visitors.

Somehow my brain decided that this meant a big clean out of the craft room would be a good idea.

My aim was to get everything but looms, furniture and the rubbish bin off the floor and into the wardrobe or bookcase. Not only was I sick of the clutter, but I also know that if I do get another floor loom I’ll have to do this anyway.

First I dragged everything on the floor into the kitchen. Baskets, tubs and felt storage buckets covered the dining table. Most of the contents were t-shirt material, jeans, cotton fabric to be repurposed. One basket was overflowing with sewing and refashioning projects. On top of that: three square pillow inserts waiting to be given pillowcases.

Looking in the wardrobe, I mentally added all this to all my sewing supplies and a question immediately sprang to mind:

Why the heck do I have so much sewing stuff when I’m really not that keen on sewing?

So I culled.

And I culled HARD. At least a third of my sewing stuff went into a pile to get rid of, including the mini sewing machine and a quarter of my fabric stash. I then culled some embroidery yarns, stretchers and books, keeping supplies for kinds of embroidery I reckon my eyes can cope with.

The jewellery-making supplies were reduced next. I culled most of my seed beads since they’re hard to see now. I removed beads I didn’t love. (Then I got distracted and lost half a day trying to make a bracelet… but once I realised my mistake I decided there would be NO MORE GETTING DISTRACTED!)

Lots of swapping of plastic tube contents followed to make best use of the wardrobe shelving. I was determined to avoid buying more plastic stuff. The only container I wound up needing to buy was a replacement sewing box – the lid had finally broken off the one I’ve been using since I was a teenager and though I’d duck-taped it back on it was only strong enough to store sewing patterns. I took a morning off and visited several op shops until I found an old cane picnic basket that was the exact dimensions to fit the space for the sewing basket in my wardrobe. A cane document tray I already had fitted inside. I did end up buying two small plastic boxes to hold my sewing threads, as the tray only sits loosely and I could see myself being a clutz and spilling spools everywhere.

Headway had been made, but much more work lay ahead. I hardly ever touch my paper and card stash, so it needed to be culled too. The space dedicated to it needed to be more efficiently arranged, too. A trip to Bunnings and Officeworks sorted that.

The bookcase was scrutinised, too. Knitting books, macrame books and art books went OUT. This gave me two shelves spare to put weaving and drawing tools on.

Finally, a week after I began, I’m finished. There are still some areas that need work. I have bags of yarn that won’t fit in the stash in bags hanging from door handles, and the sack of cotton fabric for a rya rug has nowhere to go but the floor, so I haven’t achieved 100% of my aim. But it’s a LOT less cluttered in the craft room now.

And all I have to do to get to 100% is tackle couple of big projects: a couple of recycled denim patchwork pillowcases and a giant rya rug.

All I need to do for the latter is work out if I can do it on the floor loom, or if I’ll need to make or buy a rug loom.

Buy Nothing New Decorating

Having volunteered to host the extended family Christmas bbq and tackling the lack of tree by whipping up this…

I set myself the challenge to buy nothing new when decorating for the event. A friend had made a whole lot of wrapping paper cones to decorate an op shop window, and when she heard about my challenge she asked if I wanted them. I said an eager ‘yes, please!’.

When I got them I realised that they would blow away if I didn’t find a way to anchor them. I used a circle cutter to make lots of small discs of card, then speared those with bamboo sticks from the kitchen. That gave the cones something to sit on. Then we rescued some scrap wood from the ‘stuff for the tip’ pile and Paul drilled holes in them. That got me two long rows of trees that happened to fit perfectly along the kitchen windows:

And four small ones for the tables:

The rest I stuck into the ground of the shade garden next to the deck to make two little forests:

A few days before it had occurred to me that the trees, large and small, still would make for a rather sparse amount of decoration. I brought out the ‘chalkboard’ bunting I’d bought for another party, which you can see in one of the pics above. More bunting would be good, but I didn’t have much fabric or time. Then I remembered that I had some leftover drop cloth fabric from when I’d made a canopy for our pergola-ish-thing. It was lined with plastic and wouldn’t fray, so I only needed a seam on the top to thread string through. Draggin it out, I realised I had just enough to make flags to put around the other three sides of our deck. So I cut it into two strips, sewed three more seams, made a flag template and marked out the shapes on the back:

Then I painted the fabric red, blue, green and yellow:

When I was done I cut up the flags and threaded them onto some craft string. Immediately there was something not quite right. The bunting reminded me of car yards. I asked Paul and he said it did the same thing for him. Looking at it critically, I realised two things: the yellow flags made the colour combination too ‘primary school’ and all the colours were too flat.

So I got out my printing supplies and used white paint and a plastic lace drawer-liner to add a bit of pattern to the flags:

Re-threading the flags without the yellow fit better with the colours in the Christmas paper trees, too:

So I grabbed the red, green and blue lanterns from a party I had a few years back and hung those up too:

Now we were ready to party.

The party went well and one of the first guest to arrive was heard to say “awesome Christmas tree!”. We used reusable plastic plates and cutlery, provided cans and bottles of soft drink to reduce plastic, everyone separated their waste into the ‘recycling’, ‘compost’ and ‘rubbish’ bins I’d set out, and nobody expressed any surprise, let alone a grumble, at it all. Some guests brought gifts in reusable bags, so maybe they are already on board with low-waste.

The bunting will definitely be used again – maybe a different colour combination next time – and maybe the Christmas wrapping trees. But the hose and stakes tree will be dismantled after New Year. If I need one again, I’m sure I’ll find another creative way around buying something new. I had too much fun not to try again!

Non-fiction Meanderings

When I’m working on a book I tend to avoid reading fiction. Instead I stick to non-fiction – usually books about the history of something. This year it’s been books about waste.

The first was Turning the Tide on Plastic by Lucy Siegle, who wrote the wonderful ethical fashion book, To Die For. It was clear and interesting, covering much of the same territory as The War on Waste tv show.

That led me to review my (then unpublished) post on maximalism, and deciding I needed to read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying. The book repelled and intrigued me as much as I expected, which is to say lot of repelling and a little bit of intriguing. As I suspected, the minimalist lifestyle she advocates ignores the problem of our throwaway culture – and possibly encourages it.

Next I started How to be a Craftivist by Sarah Corbett, which I think was referred to in Lucy’s book. I only got halfway through, however, finding it a bit too repetitive though I liked the idea of gentle crafty protest.

After that I found Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. Though I don’t have an itch to go zero waste, I read it for ideas and motivation on reducing waste. She moved from a gigantic house to a modestly-sized one so a lot of her family’s belongings would have had to go, and she talks about disposing of things responsibly, but there’s a Kondoishness to her minimising – her wardrobe in particular – that didn’t appeal to me. However, she’s nowhere near as neurotic as Marie Kondo comes across and is honest about failures in a way that is humble and appealing.

In the following book, I went back to ethical fashion with Wear No Evil by Greta Eagan. In the ethical fashion books I’ve read so far ‘fashion’ was an umbrella term for ‘clothing and accessories’. This one uses the term as it relates to designer clothing. It focusses on shifts in designer fashion, and how it filters down to fast fashion. I really enjoyed it, especially her accessible system for choosing what clothes to buy. Not long after I read it I bought two pieces of new clothing using her system, and it worked very well.

I came away from all this reading thinking that keeping stuff is perhaps the most beneficial and weirdly subversive decision you can make. Maybe it’s not so much about owning stuff, but owning up to it. Would people stop buying crap indiscriminately and then cull it over and over if they couldn’t easily toss it out? Would manufacturers stop making products that don’t last if customers started taking things back and asking for a refund? How can people learn to make good shopping decisions when prices are so low they can easily throw mistakes away? My little reading binge certainly had me thinking.

Recently I read A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button. Written by the founder of BuyMeOnce, a website containing a curated list of products made to last, it is a guide to avoiding overspending, valuing what you have, ditching the trend treadmill and living ‘a more fulfilled life’. While it did have the usual chapter on culling your wardrobe and preaching the ‘capsule’ wardrobe nonsense (I skipped that bit) I found lots of interesting factual nuggets and tips for resisting spontaneous purchase regret.

Now I’m reading a book I picked up at a sale about human hair, so off onto another tangent. I wanted to read a book about the psychology of fashion, but it isn’t available on iBooks.

Four Weeks Later…

So for four weeks of August we put aside most of the unrecycleable plastic we would normally throw away. What didn’t get put aside was all the medication blister packs – Paul realise they counted as non-recyclable packaging to collect for the month.

I’ve divided everything into categories:

Packaging other people left here:
Ice-cream container – black plastic
Lids from soda bottles – black plastic, too small

Packaging my council says not to put in our bin despite the numbers being right (grrr!):
Clear biscuit trays

Junk mail:
Fridge magnet from real estate agent

Non-regular trash:
Cosmetics and bathroom items from cull

Everything else:
Toothpaste tube
Disposable razor
Wire ties x 2
Porridge sachet packaging – plastic lined
Butter packaging – plastic lined
Olive oil spray – no recycling info on can
Moisturiser bottle – bottle is recyclable but pump not
Pizza sauce container – lid is too small
Christmas pudding packaging – black plastic
Lite’n’easy packaging – black plastic
Yoghurt container lid – black plastic
Various lids and caps – too small
Packaging from electronic items x 2
Latex free glove
Light globe
Lightery thing

Changes we’re making:
I’ve read that anything smaller than your fist will fall through the sorting machine at the recyclers, so I’m putting these into larger containers of the same kind of plastic, and labelling the container to indicate this. Hopefully that’ll get them through the system.

The sorting machines can’t see black plastic, so we’re switching yoghurt and diet meal brands to ones that don’t use it. Christmas pudding is only a yearly indulgence and the container is a really good size scoop for potting mix, seed raising mix, etc., so those will be repurposed.

We’re changing the brand of butter to one that uses paper, and Paul is switching to Quick Oats which come in a cardboard box.

I’ve bought a metal razor. This is gonna be interesting. Paul is not keen on the idea. Fair enough. He does a lot more shaving than me!

The only biscuits we buy are crackers for cheese. I made oat cakes and they came out great. Don’t know why I didn’t try that sooner.

We were already buying carbonated drinks in cans and glass bottles, since large plastic bottles make you drink more than you really want because you feel like you need to ‘use it up’. To avoid ending up with lots of bottles here after parties we’re going to supply cans for gatherings and tell people we’ve got drinks covered.

We’ll just use olive oil and avoid the spray.

The pizza sauce was a one-off for a party. Normally I buy little cans and freeze the leftovers. I’m going to repurpose the sauce bottle for homemade okonomiyaki sauce, to avoid the non-recyclable bottles it comes in. (I’m also going to make the mayonnaise, which is even simpler.)

I’m going to do what Mum used to do with rubber gloves – cut them into rubber bands. They’ll be good for holding the beeswax wraps I made onto the tops of containers.

The ice cream container can collect batteries for recycling at Aldi, and the wire ties will be reused when we get bread from the bakery.

Medication blister packs can be dropped off to Terra Cycle collection points, so we’ll start collecting them now. I bought paracetamol and ibuprofen in recyclable bottles… but the bottles are smaller than my fist and the caps have no plastic number on them so I may as well stick with blister packs.

I believe there are Terra Cycle collection points for dental products, too. I’ve offered to collect friends’ cosmetic packaging to send to Terra Cycle at the end of the year, or when I have 7kg worth.

Overall we didn’t have an awful lot of non-recyclable packaging over the four weeks, but most of what we did get can be pretty easily avoided – or send to Terra Cycle. It’s been interesting and educational looking into alternatives.

I want to ring the real estate agent and tell them to stop sending us stuff, but I know Paul will be really sad when he doesn’t get his free hot cross buns at Easter. Do schools like to make stuff out of those flat plastic fridge magnets?

My Wicking Ways

It seems like, for a while now, whenever I did any gardening there was nothing worth taking photos of. It’s been mostly mulching, mulching and more mulching. But while I’ve not been producing much to blog about, the garden has been growing. And finally something worth photographing happened.

We put in two more wicking beds:

They are a little smaller than the first two, because I decided to put in beds set at 90 degrees to the others so there would be spaces in which to put my chairs and table, and a few pots for seasonal or perennial edibles.

I’ve had some great successes with the first two wicking beds. A couple of failures, too. It’s a matter of learning what works here and what doesn’t. This part of our block doesn’t get more than a few hours of sun in winter, due to a huge gum tree next door, but I’d rather have the beautiful tree and its shade in winter, than sun beating down on us in the late afternoon in summer.

For the last year or so I’ve been planting flowering plants on the embankment beside the kitchen garden, vaguely following the “plant something in flower every week and you’ll have something flowering throughout the year”. It was more like a handful of plants once a month, and I didn’t put anything in during the coldest months because, well, it was cold and other things were happening. But I can patch those gaps over the next year.

At the moment I’m reaping the benefits:

A few weeks back we had a flock of between 150 and 200 yellow-tailed black cockatoos fly past. We’d seen them around in growing numbers, then this one afternoon they came from all around and gathered down by the creek, before flying away.

The bird life here is wonderful, but that was extraordinary.

Our ornamental pears are out in blossom already. The lemon tree is full of lemons all ripe at the same time, so plenty of lemon cordial and lemon juice ice cubes to be made. The plastic box in the pic above is my diy hothouse for the tomato seeds I’ve sown, and I have beans, snowpeas, carrots, basil and pumpkin seeds waiting to go in.

Spring is not far off.

(And summer, but I’m trying not to think about that.)

Wow.

The second series of The War on Waste has got many of my friends interested in reducing their waste, and it’s great to see their enthusiasm. Many hadn’t watched the first season so they’re catching up on iView, and we have a Facebook groups in which we post links, ideas and successes.

It’s opened my eyes to how much further down the waste reduction path I am to many people I know. Like… 25+ years ahead. When I consider why, I realise it’s partly due to some of the people at my first job, and partly due to Mum.

In the 90s, encouraged by work mates, I bought a pair of jute shopping bags and started refusing plastic bags (those jute bags lasted 15 or so years and got a lot of use). I’ve been trying to buy only products in recyclable containers and nurturing a hatred of polystyrene and glad wrap since those days, encouraged by my Mum, who went through a green phase a few years laster.

As soon as I owned a house I began composting, and I’ve been minimising my food waste for so long (for economic reasons) that we rarely throw anything out. We use household cleaning products that are gentle on the environment (also because of allergies). More recently I switched to homemade deodorant after finding I couldn’t get sensitive skin products in travel sizes. I bought produce bags and made some more, and made washable makeup wipes.

The biggest change the WoW show made to us was revealing that soft plastic recycling existed. I’ve been amazed at how much we end up putting in the RedCycle bins, and how empty our landfill bin is as a result.

The second season’s lesson has been to point out the devil in the detail – the contamination in the recycling bin and the amount of recyclable plastic that goes in landfill anyway. Discovering that black plastic can’t be seen by the sorting machines, and that small objects like bottle caps may fall through the system, and that my council doesn’t take biscuit or meat trays even though they have the right numbers on them, has had me thinking about avoiding those plastics altogether.

But I doubt I can. Not when medications come in non-recyclable packaging.

So I decided I’d put aside every piece of non-recyclable packaging we’d normally toss in the trash for August. I’ll try hardest to find an alternative. At first most of what we gathered was brought to our house by guests, but I know as the weeks pass it will be taken over by our own contributions.

My second priority is reducing unnecessary plastic packaging. If there’s a non-plastic alternative we get that instead (though I’ve conceded to Paul’s insistence that we won’t buy alternatives that are double the price). To aid that we’ll take our own containers to shops, use the green grocer, butcher and baker instead of the supermarket, and go to the farmer’s market and the bulk store a few suburbs away. All things I did more of in the past.

There will be some packaging that it’s too hard or impossible to avoid. That’s inevitable. But it seems each year there’s another bunch of alternatives or solutions.

And if there’s a third season of The War on Waste I’ll probably review what we’ve tried, what worked and what didn’t, and see if we can improve again.