Making unpaper towels

With a new puppy (sometimes two) and a permanent house goose living in the humpy, we have a lot of use for cleaning rags and products. The state of our floors is a constant worry for me as the dirt, hair and feathers seem to collect into drifts in corners and into dust devils under cupboards (dust bunnies is too tame a name for the tumble weeds of waste we collect) if we skip a day of sweeping. Washing the floor is a full body workout achieved by scrubbing the floor with bicarbonate of soda and vinegar and a broom, then sweeping up the leavings once it is dry. At the moment, we use a paper towel to soak/wipe up puppy and goose mistakes, then give the area a spray with my special cleaning fluid (a mixture of vinegar, peroxide, essential oils and a squirt of detergent). I want to move away from using paper towels to reduce our carbon footprint and save some money, so I decided to swap to unpaper towels.

Unpaper towels are a much more upmarket version of my counter wiping rags. At the moment I use an old rag (usually from a sheet torn into squares) to clean the kitchen counters in conjunction with my cleaning spray. The rags are changed often and I usually have a pile of them to wash with my vegetable bags every week. Unpaper towels are just a hemmed and pretty version of these. I have historically not been worried about things being ‘pretty’, but I am finding that as I age the impulse to include appearance in my considerations is increasing.

My current cleaning rags are somewhat past it (whatever your definition of ‘it’ may be)

I decided to make two sets of unpaper towels; one for the kitchen and one for the floors. The kitchen towels will be made from a pretty flannel fabric and the floor towels will be from a plain colour to allow for vinegar soaking to sterilise. Both sets will be stored in a roll popped into a glass jar with a lid (to keep them dust free and mouse safe). I will hang two lingerie washing bags (two different colours to avoid confusion) in the kitchen somewhere to hold used towels and I can wash the floor towels with the other pet cloths and towels, and the kitchen towels can go in with the tea towels. Now I have a plan set in my mind, it’s time to find some fabric.

I found some smallish pieces of flannel fabric and some promising YouTube clips (I used this method to make the wipes).

The printed flannel is for the kitchen counters and the plain grey is for the floors.

I cut off about a metre of the fabric and folded it in half and cut up that line. I continued to fold and cut pieces in half until I had a pile of wipes the same size.

The first fold and cut.
The end result; there are 24 of each fabric.

From that point it is a simple matter of overlocking around the edges of each one; a monotonous task, but very satisfying.

Hemming each wipe took a long time.

Then the towels where rolled into a roll like paper towels and I tested whether I could pull wipes from the middle (I could). I found an empty jar of the right size and popped the roll into it.

Then I just had to try out my new toy! I used one as a wipe for the kitchen counters with my spray and dropped it into the waiting washing bag. A very satisfying experience; I do love using my projects.

I am hoping that this project will be as successful as the bidet and family cloth system. We no longer need to buy toilet paper (except for visitors and my less adventurous daughter) and hopefully we will no longer need to buy paper towels either. I am dropping out of shopping, one item at a time.

Of course the overlocker broke a needle and I did not finish the floor cloths. Oh well… tomorrow is another chance to make stuff.

Update: I managed to fix the overlocker (and gave it a good clean while I was there) and finish the floor cloths. While I was in the mood for sewing, I also made a couple of small bins for the car. I need a rubbish bin in my car desperately to help keep the rubbish in one place. Maybe I need to make some wipes for the car too.

Weaving rag rug bath mats

I don’t buy clothes often, I don’t even have clothes given to me often, so where do the overflowing cupboards and draws come from? Do my clothes meet mates and start a family? Producing new, aged looking tshirts and jeans. Do the Fair Folk steal clothes from other people’s lines and use my cupboard as an off site storage for their stolen goods? Or does my daughter secretly buy clothes and sneak them into my cupboard? Who knows?

Every six months or so, I go through my clothes and give away a box or bag of things I don’t wear, but there are always clothes that are too far gone to be passed on. These stained, torn and stretched items of apparel go to a variety of places; they become cleaning rags, animal bedding or rag rugs. Every now and then I take a load of frayed and stained cleaning rags, worn too thin from multiple washes and soaks, to the massive hole where we throw our paper, old furnitire and other biodegradable items. There the cloth joins the rest of the compost in waiting, slowly turning back into valuable top soil.

Making rag rugs uses up a lot of the extra fabric in our house. I cut the cloth into strips and wind the strips into balls to be woven at a later date (when the draw I store them in begins to overflow). Now that we have an indoor bathroom, I can make a few new mats to use as bathmats, whereas previously they would be used as animal beds and floor rugs beside the bed (my vain attempt to keep our sheets clean).

The process of making some rag rugs is simple;

Cut your old clothes and cloth into strips;

Tshirts- I use this method to get the most from my tshirts. I’m not usually so careful about cutting the seams off though.

jeans/pants- I use this method to turn pants into strips.

leggings or tights- I use this method to cut up leggings. This is roughly the same as for pants, but it is important to keep stretch fabric seperate from woven fabric. Stretch fabric will pull the warp in and make a smaller mat than woven fabric (see the photo of all three mats at the end of this post; the smaller mat is made from stretch fabric)

Warp your loom;

I use a cotton warp thread and double the warp in any size heddle I use (this one is 12.5 dpi). The size of the heddle (the thing with slots and eyes that warp is threaded through) doesn’t really matter with rag rugs, but I do find that the more warp threads I use, the stronger the rug is when it is finished.

Weave the rugs;

I weave an inch or so with an acrylic yarn before I start the rag section. This gives the mats a firm start and finish and also gives me a nice, neat indicater of when one rug finishes and another starts.

The bottom section of the weave in this photo is done with acrylic yarn, the top is rags.

Take them off the loom and finish the ends;

I just cut them off the loom and overlocked the ends. This makes for a neat edge and it seems to stay strong for a long time.

Use the new rugs;

These rugs are nice and big, they are very absorbant and they use up cloth that would otherwise go to landfill. Each mat will last for years. I have five year old rugs that are only just beginning to show wear. The warp threads seem to go first and the rag pieces pull out. I will try to save the rags from these older rugs to be re-woven into new mats in the future, and then I will feel like a super recycler!

Weaving is such an enjoyable hobby. I am thankful that I don’t have to weave cloth for the whole family, I would never get off the loom and the spinning wheel, but I do love that a lot of our cloth items are now handmade. I try to add a new item every year. By the time I am 90, we should be using only handmade cloth.

Making work horse tea towels

My new work horse tea towels
These are two of the last lot of tea towels I made. They have worn fairly well in the past year of constant use.

We need some new tea towels; the old ones are getting a bit ratty looking. I have been only using my hand made tea towels for a year or two now, and they have worn really well, but they have reached their limit. I decided to make up some plain and simple, but long lasting, smallish tea towels.

I pulled out the rigid heddle loom and some dark green, 8/2 cotton. I warped 120 ends with one strand per end and about three metres in length. Then I went looking for a waft yarn; I found a big roll of hemp yarn and another one of cotton 8/2 thread. I decided to use one of each strand as a double weft, and off I went to weave.

The weaving part went fairly quickly as I had some ghost stories on my computer as audio files that just played away while I wove sitting on my bed. After a week of weaving an hour or so most days, I had a big roll of cloth.

This weave looks sort of like a brick wall to me; what do you see?
Melvin helped me out at times
The roll is getting bigger and bigger.

I took the roll off the loom and overlocked the ends to secure the weft, then I washed the whole roll. This helps to make sure the cloth is not going to shrink any more once it is hemmed up and it also helps to stabilise the weave somewhat before it is cut into tea towel size pieces.

I used paper clips to mark the measurements for the tea towels. You can also see the loose lengths of weft where I started a new shuttle of hemp and cotton.
Overlocking the ends.

Each tea towel is going to be 25 cm wide and 40 cm long. I measured each length, cut and overlocked each end. I decided to leave the ends overlocked but not hemmed. I think this will wear well, but if it doesn’t I can always hem them later. I trimmed up the loose threads and folded my new tea towels.

I do love being able to make my own cloth items; it makes me feel so self sufficient! My next project is some rag rugs to use as bath mats in front of our new shower. They will use up some of our old,ripped and worn out clothes (which are made from old sheets and quilt covers in their turn).

I have been unwell lately; dizzy and weak with not much inspiration to do anything, I am hoping that this project means I am on the mend now. Weaving a project takes a fair amount of sustained concentration and energy, so the fact that this project only took a week of spurts of work means that I have more energy than I have had for quite a while. I have also ordered some more cotton for a more complicated project I will be making as a house warming gift for a friend.

A gratuitous photo of Melvin and his sister Penny. Penny is staying with us for a few days while her human mother is having a new baby (a human one). Penny is totally different to Melvin; so small and fine built, but they love to see each other and she keeps Melvin in line better than anyone else.

Changing bathroom plans again…sigh.

So I have been trying to get back to finishing my earthbag bathroom for several seasons now. There is always something to stop me; drought (no water to make moist soil), fires, flood, a damned plague and now a lot of working days. While this is the perfect time for us to get into bagging the walls, my partner has decided he wants to have a quick, fairly easy bathroom option…so we replanned the whole thing to build it indoors (because he always gets his own way… pout).

My office space has been used as a dump site for all those things that don’t really have a place inside, but need to be inside (empty bottles for wine making, bulk pasture grass, tents and camping gear, the list goes on). So I decided to donate my unusable space to the bathroom cause…I emptied out everything and got rid of a lot of stuff (I am now a digital immigrant) and moved out all that extra stuff. It mis amazing to me that we manage to attract so much junk; I don’t buy a lot of things and I try to reduce at every opportunity, but still we are drowning in possessions. Clearing out the office space was actually really freeing for me as I realised that I hadn’t used a lot of that stuff for years and therrefore didn’t need it.

We were luck enough to buy a second hand shower bay from a local renovator. It is a huge fibreglass shape with holes for the shower head and taps. We bought it home in the trailer and it sat in the newly empty office space for months, I used it to store washing in. The washing machine was moved over to the bathroom area with no fuss and we began to enjoy gazing out the window while washing. My partner eventually built a frame for the shower bay to sit in and fitted a drain to it to take the waste water out to the planned new self watering garden beds (that aren’t built yet, of course).

The water is heated by the camping gas water heater we had in the shed. The water is stored in a small tank and pumped to the gas instantanious water heater by a 12 Volt water pump. The water temperature can be set on the heating unit before you get into the shower. This system is a bit complicated, but it stops us using too much water by luxuriating in the warm water. We can only use as much water as we put in the tank.

We now use more than 10 litres each per shower, it is up to about 50 litres each, but the warm, indoor shower is worth the cost.

Even the dogs appreciate having a place to have a warm bath.

The only downfall (pun intended) is the height we had to put the shower bay at; to allow for drainage. This high shower means that we have to essentially climb up and down when having a shower. There are plans to build a step eventually, but for now, it just means we are careful about getting in and out (it keeps us flexible).

It is hard to describe the feeling of luxury we have when showering indoors, with warm water. Every night I have a warm shower and climb into bed, enjoying not having had to carry a bucket of water out into the cold wind and rain (sometimes), then shiver my way back indoors to stand in front of the fire warming up. I enjoy the luxury of feeling warm water running over my head in a steady stream while I wash my hair. I feel rich and decadent, I am so very grateful for the opportunity to feel pampered and I am sure the wildlife appreciates not being disturbed by our noise and lights while we shower outdoors too.

Melvin update

Melvin continues to grow and mature (as puppies do). He has had his second lot of immunisations and is microchipped. He is beginning to show his nature and grow into himself too. This revealing of his nature has led to some interesting nick names; such as Smelly Melly, Hell Hound, Devil Dog and my personal favourite… Beelzebub.

He loves to play, especially biting and fighting games. We have had to tell him off multiple times for chasing geese and guinea fowl. We will continue to work on curbing and diverting his chasing and hunting instinct. He loves to roll in anything smelly he finds on our walks, then proudly bring that smell home. He also has discovered a real talent for being underfoot, I do believe he could take that talent and spin it into a successful assasin business. He steals toys from Val (Chloe’s dog) and hides them in his bed, leading Val to sneak in to retrieve her toys at all hours of the day and night.

He has moments of quiet and gentleness and he loves a cuddle when he is tired. We make sure he goes outside regularly (I had forgotten about toilet training!!) and he goes to the toilet every few hours day and night. In the afternoons (and sometimes mornings) we take him and Val for a walk. He can run for a kilometre without getting tired. When he is worn out enough by playing and running, he finds a place to curl up and sleep for a micro-second or so, before he is ready to do it all over again.

He is gradually being accepted into our dog pack; Val treats him like an annoying little brother, playing with him sometimes and totally ignoring or snapping at him other times. Bandit treats him like a mortal enemy, snarling and snapping at him whenever he gets close. It is funny to see Melvin trying to sneak up on Bandit so he can nip him. I think it won’t be long before Melvin is fully integrated into the pack and finds his position.

I do love the little boy… even if he is a bit devilish. He makes the cutest noises when he yawns, he is fearless and endlessly curious about life, he is a warm presence while I work and he looks at me with love in his eyes. What more could I wish for from a new baby?

Local insects and animals – Dainty green tree frog

I couldn’t resist sharing this beautiful sunset with you. The sky was glowing with orange and pink light, so much so that the air seemed to have an orange tint to it. The evening was just cool enough to be pleasant and the day’s work was done… heaven.

With all the rain we have had over this Summer (so lovely to be able to say that), the frogs are beginning to breed up again. They sing from the dam and yard every night; calling for mates while the puddles last. Every bucket and bowl left out to fill with water is hosting tadpoles of one kind or another.

I found this pretty little frog on the clothesline beside the front door. She is a Dainty Green Tree Frog.

An internet photo for comparison

I love having so many different kinds of frogs around the humpy. It indicates a healthy environment (even if it is messy). We encourage the frogs by leaving containers for them to breed in, placing piles of rocks near the water for adults to hide in and sometimes we feed the tadpoles lettuce and fish food if they are in a smallish container.

Rest easy Jess

Jess at the vets on her last day

Our oldest dog; Jess died last week. She had been getting gradually sicker and sicker over the last few months and the vet said that her breast cancer had returned. We had her mammary glands removed from her left side two years ago and we hoped that the cancer was all gone, but we were wrong.

Jess at the vet’s when she had her mammary glands removed.

She began having seizures one afternoon last week and continued to have them for a few days. For anyone who hasn’t seen a dog seizure, it is a terrifying experience (for both the dog and the bystanders); her legs went stiff and she arched her back, she dribbled and shook, she looked to be in the worst pain imaginable, then the recovery phase begins and she sat looking blankly at the wall and panting for half an hour or so before returning to normal. I had an appointment at the vet for Melvin and Penny (Melvin’s sister) to get their second immunisations, so I rang up and included Jess in the appointment.

I had to drive to a small local town for Melvin and Penny’s needles, so we made up a bed for Jess in the back, put the travel crate in the front of the car for Melvin and Penny, packed some extra wipes, towels, sheets and food for the journey (standard puppy bag) and away we went. Well…

Melvin got car sick and threw up more than his body weight on his sister after only half an hour of travel. I stopped and cleaned them up and replaced their bedding.

Jess began to fit in the back after another fifteen minutes of travel. I pulled over and comforted her for what seemed like forever. Then changed her bedding and cleaned her up (as she had begun to release her bowels and bladder when she had a fit) and continued on our way.

Melvin and Penny began to have a fight which sounded like the End of Days in miniature. I pulled over again and gave them some time apart by walking them seperately so they could toilet. Time was beginning to blur by now, so I rang the vet and told them I would be late.

I ran into a twenty minute wait at road works and realized I had not bought any water bottle for myself, but I offered all the dogs a drink from the bottle I had packed for them (then I had a drink from it too).

Melvin was sick… again. I pulled over and changed the bedding again and gave Jess a toilet break.

Eventually, after what seemed to be the longest drive in the universe, I made it to the vet. The puppies had their shots (with much crying and patting) and the vet examined Jess, gave her an anti-seizure shot and told me I had to take her to the main office for some blood tests. She also told me that there wasn’t much they could really do for Jess. The vet has a small outpost in one of the local towns (where I was taking everyone), but their office is a two hour drive away.

I drove to the vet’s main office in a kind of daze. It didn’t seem to take long to get there and nobody was sick, had a seizure or needed the toilet for the whole drive. When I got there, Jess had an examination and blood tests and the vet said we could try anti-seizure medication, but it may not work and that he thought that her cancer had made it to her brain and she was now in pain. I rang everyone at home and we made the decision to let her go peacefully. I stayed with her for the end and she ended her life with a sigh of relief.

Jess, just after a seizure.

She has been forgetful for a while now and spent most of her days sleeping and eating in various places throughout the humpy. We let her enjoy her twilight years by feeding her soaked biscuits and special treats (like poached eggs) twice a day and making sure her bed was always clean and waiting for her. She has had a good retirement.

She came to us as an abused dog (read about it here) and we did our best to let her know that she was family and we loved her. Eventually, she came to trust that we had her best interests at heart and relaxed into our family. She gave up being obsessed with random animals and became the true leader of the household. I will miss her calm, steady gaze on everything that goes on in the humpy. I will miss her hoarse bark (single) of greeting when I get home from work. Most of all, I will miss the goodnight pats we shared at bedtime, where the ritual is always to pat everyone goodnight and turn off the lights; now there is one missing.

Her favourite bed is on the lounge.
Sharing the lounge with a chook.

Rest easy Jess, I will try to keep it all in good order for you.

After the rain

We have had quite a lot of rain recently, about 200 ml in the last two weeks. That means that the tanks are full, the dams are full, the bushfire danger has abated for now and there is mud everywhere. Among the damp leaves and mud are all kinds of fungus. On a short walk this morning I managed to discover several kinds of mushroom (or toadstool).

I have no plans to eat these discoveries, but it would be nice to be able to identify them. I found a website that identifies some Australian fungus types but they are notoriously hard to positively identify, so I am far from sure on their identity.

Coprinellus truncorum ??
A surprise patch of green moss.
Cortinarius archeri ??
Macrolepiota clelandi ??
Melvin exploring the world.

The world is fresh and new again after the rain. Nature once again reminds me that what we know about our own surroundings is a tiny part of what is actually there. The greater part of these fungus lives under the surface for years, slowly spreading and working, until a rain event triggers them to spawn. They send their emissaries into the upper world to spread spores on the wind, these protrusions are what we call mushrooms or toadstools. The thing that amazes me is that the whole world of these fungus is largely lived underground, invisible to us surface dwellers. I love living in the bush.

New family member – Melvin

For about three years now I have been trying to tell myself we don’t need a puppy. We have three aging dogs already, and multiple other species. We have jobs and lives and no time to do anything really. We don’t need more bills and vet visits and training and such… oh, who am I kidding. I want to feel the smooth, silky head of a puppy. I want to cuddle the tiny, warm mass of trust while they sleep and I want to get to know a new spirit and watch him/her grow into a confident, happy adult. So, we got a puppy.

I was walking down the street of our local town (on my way to buy some medicinal hot chips after work) when I saw a neighbour sitting on a bench holding a tiny puppy. Of course, I immediately went up and introduced myself to the puppy. She is a mini fox terrier, and so sweet and playful. Of course I fell in love. Upon asking if there were any more in the litter, I was told there was one male left. I asked my neighbour to pass on my desire for a puppy to her mum (the breeder of the litter) and left it at that. I assumed that the last puppy would already have found a home; who can resist that amount of cuteness?

Fast forward to a week later, I was again in town, in the slightly larger regional town waiting for a set of tires to be fitted to my car (that’s another story). I was wasting time looking in shops when I ran into my neighbour’s mother. Of course I asked about the puppy and found out that she still had him. I left her company with the knowledge that we were expecting a new family member.

My neighbour picked up the puppy from her Mum for us and in return we ferried both of the pups to the vet for their first check up and microchipping. The two siblings played well together all day and I managed to get a lot of blankets and toys with their scent on them for when we took our boy home all alone for his first night in a new family. The theory being that the scent of his sister would help him feel more at home in a strange new place.

They both got bills of good health from the vet and I delivered the little girl to her home and took our boy to his new home. We had been busy (mostly my daughter’s work) setting up all the requirements of a new puppy. He has a crate beside my bed for night time sleeping and a playpen in the lounge room for day time play. He has multiple blankets and cloths for cuddling up to at night , he has toys and the all important teething ring. We bought specialised puppy food and milk because he is very young and probably still needs a milk source. He slept in his crate at night from the first night, with frequent trips outside for toilet breaks (no sleep for us at all), our other dogs sleep on the end of our beds and he will be allowed to sleep there too when he is older. For the moment, he is too small to sleep on the bed, because he could fall off or be rolled on in the night. He still has multiple cuddle sessions with us throughout the day, and it is just as addictive as I remember it to be; holding that warm, snuggling little body safely against my side (or neck) while he snoozes with such perfect trust and love.

He follows us around for a large part of the day and we take turns walking him up the driveway with Val (my daughter’s dog) to tire him out throughout the day.

He loves to play (what puppy doesn’t) and will spend hours with his favourite toys.

If I sound besotted, it’s because I am! Although it could be partly sleep deprivation and hysteria bought about by picking up ‘accidents’ and trying to beat the bladder in the trinightly dash outside for toilet breaks. He is a lovable little burden and I am not sorry he is now a part of our family.

Oh… by the way… we called him Melvin (via popular vote). He has already become Smelly Melly to my daughter.

First of the passionfruit harvest- Passionfruit tart

The harvest has started! The passionfruit are finally yellow enough to pick… just.

My daughter decided to make a passionfruit tart and it was a great success. She has been taking over a lot of the cooking lately as I really don’t enjoy it and my energy is fairly low at the moment, so I would rather save it for more enjoyable activities (like eating).

The basic recipe my daughter used is as follows;

Passionfruit tart

Base

150g arrowroot biscuits

1/3 cup coconut

100g softened vegan margarine

Blend together in a food processor until it forms a crumbly mass that sticks together when squeezed. Press into a tart plate and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Filling

1 can coconut cream (refrigerated and drained of liquid when opened to retain just the thick cream)

4 tblspn icing sugar

1 large passionfruit

Whip chilled and drained coconut cream with icing sugar until it is firm. Add passionfruit and spoon into tart case. Refrigerate until firm. Serve with more passionfruit on top.

This dessert tasted so lovely, we all went back for seconds.

YUM.