More organising the craft room

Usually, I’m against buying new things, especially furniture. I spend my time trying to figure out how to get rid of furniture in my home; make the crowding less and do without a lot of stuff (except craft supplies, of course). This week I decided to organise the craft room (yet again) and get rid of even more furniture, however…it involves replacing old furniture with new furniture.

I came across a YouTube clip about using filing cabinets to store fabric. It looked like a neat and space efficient way to store fabric in a way that makes it easy to find what you are looking for. I am so easily distracted that I will often go looking for fabric to finish one project and emerge from my search with two new project ideas sparked by fabric finds. I hope filing my fabric will make it easier to stick to one project at a time (but probably not).

I saw some filing cabinets listed for sale really cheaply on Gum Tree. They were in Ballina (about a two hour drive away) but we went on a long drive to pick them up, along with some new shelving units for the yarn component of the craft room.

Four new/ second hand filing cabinets on their way home.

I think I will paint them later, after I see if the idea will work. We got them home and unloaded them with no problems.

Once they were in the craft room, I gave them a wipe down and set up the file holder things in the draws (they came with four frames that had to be reconstructed). Then I began to go through my four plastic tubs of fabric; that was a fun experience. I found that a lot of my fabric bits were too small to make anything from and was forced to throw them out. I saved some scraps by making them into strips for rag rugs, and I cut up a lot of smaller scraps into stuffing material for toys and such, but I still ended up throwing out a lot.

I put all the remaining fabric into my filing cabinets. I had bought 60 hanging files to go in the cabinets (thinking this would be more than enough), but ran out half way through the process. I now have to wait until my next trip to town so I can pick up some more hanging files.

Filing my fabric.
No, there is no organising principle yet

There are four draws full of fabric so far, one full of leather (for book covers), one full of interfacing and wadding, one for sewing tools like tape measures and scissors and one full of cotton reels. The overlocker now lives on top of this stash and I feel organised!

Next I will be putting my new cube storage unit together and sewing some fabric boxes to store yarn in. The plan is that this will allow me to move two wardrobes out of the humpy (my current yarn storage option), sort through my yarn stash and organise all that yarn into a usable collection. The added bonus is that I get to use some of my fabric stash to make the fabric boxes to store yarn in. I just love how one craft area flows naturally into another.

Advertisements

Local insects and animals- Blue banded bee

A while ago now (at least a couple of months), I found a sweet little bee buzzing to get out of a window at work. On close inspection it appeared she had blue stripes. This was a Blue Banded bee, one of Australia’s 1500 species of native bee.

These little bees are solitary; meaning that the females will dig a burrow for herself and lay her eggs alone. They can often be seen living in bee villages as they will dig their burrows close together, however they do not co-operate with other bees and do not form a hive. I guess you could say they are anarchists as they don’t recognise any form of government.

Blue Banded bees are essential to Australia’s ecology as they pollinate certain species of plants using ‘buzz pollination’; they essentially shake the pollen out of closed pollen capsules by holding the flower and trying to fly off. They are also very efficient at pollinating the solonaceae family of plants; tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum, chilli, potato, etc. Without these little bees we would not have the huge tomato crops we have in Australia.

They are eaten by the usual list of birds and reptiles (which varies from place to place) and have one really interesting parasite; the Neon Cuckoo bee. The Neon Cuckoo bee is also a solitary native bee, the females of the species lay their eggs in the burrows of the Blue Banded bee. When the egg hatches it eats all the food gathered by the Blue Banded bee and the intended recipient dies of starvation.

Because the Blue Banded bee builds a burrow to lay her eggs in, she needs a nice, malleable clay base. I try to leave some areas of bare soil in my garden especially for these little bees as mulching heavily reduces the real estate market for burrows. They have also been known to burrow into mud brick and cob buildings, and can cause a lot of damage in large numbers.

This particular bee was a female; apparently females have four blue stripes and males have five. Another difference between the sexes is that males sleep by clamping their mandibles (jaws) around a stalk of grass and hanging like fruit for the night while females will either sleep in their burrows or curl up inside a flower or leaf bed.

This particular bee was carefully eased out of the window space she found herself in and released into the wider world. I was happy to have met her close up and even happier to be able to help her on her way.

Sewing myself a new file bag for work

Now that I have the fabric and the card woven strap made for my file bag, I can start the sewing-it-together step. I decided to keep the pattern I had rather than making another strap (laziness).

I found a really good tutorial for making a messenger bag on YouTube which I am going to (loosely) follow.

First I cut out a single piece for the two sides of my bag and a piece for the flap. I also cut corresponding pieces of lining material and some cotton batting I was lucky enough to find. I sewed the batting to the lining pieces to make them easier to handle.

Then I sewed the side seams of the bag up and made those cute little corners (like I did for the tote bag). I did the same for the lining pieces. I also sewed the flap pieces together, right sides facing but leaving the top edge open so I could turn it inside out and top stitch.

Then I fiddled around with the best way to put all the pieces together so I could sew up the around-the-mouth seam of the bag. That one seam attached the handle, the flap and the inner and outer pieces together, but only if they were in the correct order.

Eventually I figured out the sequence (and then didn’t photograph it, but it’s the same sequence as in the tutorial video) and sewed the whole thing together. I turned it all right side out through a small hole I had left in the seam for the purpose.

After the small hole was sewn shut, I had my bag.

I have really enjoyed this little project and it has come together much faster than I would expect. No, it’s not perfect; the seams are wonky and some of the weaving is a bit dodgy, but I made it, I had fun doing it and I have something useful at the end of it. What more can I ask from life?

Card weaving straps for a new file bag

The waffle weave fabric is finished, I’m pleased with the result. It is a really spongy feeling fabric with a lot of character (rather like myself). Now to make some straps for the bag…

The finished waffle weave fabric

I decided to card weave some straps for handles because I haven’t used my inkle loom for a while and I’m on an if-you-don’t-use-it-throw-it-out kick (yes…I know that’s not the way to use the strategy, but it made sense to me). First I went looking for cotton yarn to match my fabric…

Then I played around with a pattern…

Card weaving patterns are easy to read; the numbers represent cards and the letters represent holes in the cards. In theory, if you thread your cards right you will get the pattern on the grid. Well… there is one thing I forgot to do; the empty squares under the numbers are to indicate whether the cards are threaded from back to front or front to back. It has been a while since I used this method, so I forgot that bit and it does make a difference.

You can see the letters on the cards in this photo
All threaded ready to go
That is not the pattern I threaded

The direction the cards are threaded makes a big difference to the outcome. Apparently it twists the yarn in the opposite direction making the pattern look completely different. I should have threaded card 1 from the back, card 2 from the front, card 3 from the back…and so on. I will finish this band and see how I feel about the new pattern. Maybe I will make another one, but the new pattern may grow on me (or I may be too lazy to do another one).

Next post will be about me sewing the bag together.

Making waffle weave cloth for a file bag

I need a new bag for dragging my paperwork, iPad and sometimes computer to work and back (sometimes the work stays in the bag for the night, meaning I took it all for a nice drive). I decided to make the project another of those long term, slow projects by making it from scratch. My first step is to plan the project (which usually tells me what I won’t be doing).

I want a bag big enough to carry a fair number of paper folders and that will hold it’s shape. I have a bag that I use at the moment; it is the right size but a little on the ordinary side when it comes to colour. This bag will be my sizing guide.

This is the current bag.

I am thinking I will make my new bag a similar size but will add a flap at the top in a messenger bag style. Maybe a pocket at the front (under the flap) will give the iPad a place to call home, if I can manage to figure out how to make it.

The bag is 40 cm wide…
and about 30 cm high.

The fabric will be hand woven from yarn I have in my stash. I have been wanting to try the waffle weave pattern on my rigid heddle loom…I guess now is the time.

First the weaving pattern;

I found a simple to follow pattern at Kelly Casanova’s weaving school.

It is a free course and so easy to follow. After a quick whizz through the course, I went looking in my stash for some yarn for the job.

I found some balls of red 8 ply acrylic and a ball or two of grey 8 ply acrylic. These yarns are really just hanging around waiting for an experiment to come along.

I warped the rigid heddle loom at a width of 50 cm to allow for shrinkage and pull in of the weaving and 1.3 metres long to allow enough fabric to make two sides, a front flap, two end pieces, a base and maybe a front pocket.

The slow warping process…best completed by the fire.
This is the waffle weave pattern. It took a while to get the lifting order in my mind.
At this angle you can sort of see the indents in the fabric that make it waffle weave. Apparently the waffles become more noticeable after it is off the loom.

After I have enough fabric for the project I will move on to card weaving some straps and find some scrap fabric for lining and making binding for the edges. What fun this is.

House update – We have a house site cleared

The loggers have been and gone, leaving a lot of tree heads lying around and a pervading sense of guilt (for me anyway). They were very careful to preserve the areas we identified and even identified some habitat areas we didn’t know about and I am really very grateful to them for that, but I still feel guilty about the amount of disturbance we have created on our block. So many animals have lost homes and many species of plant have been affected. We only plan to log the block once and all income will go to building our house.

The good news is that we have a house site cleared and some money to go on to the next step of building; getting our design approved by council and beginning the building. We also have a good fire break cleared around the humpy and house site and I do feel a good deal safer because of this.

The house site looks like chaos; there are some stumps in the cleared area and a lot of disturbed soil. The loggers used their earth moving machinery to dig out the stumps and roots inside the actual house site so that digging the foundation trenches will be easier, they cleared all the vegetation in a 30 metre radius around the house site and pushed the tree heads back to 40 metres. Looking at the space now, I can see the house and garden there in my imagination.

We plan to plant fire retarding plants and trees around the fire break and many fruit and nut trees inside.

I went out at dawn one morning this week (in my all too thin nighty; it has been cold) and stood where my kitchen sink will one day be. I stood there imagining what it will be like to wash up while the sun rises in my own house. How will I feel to know I am living my everyday life in a place I have personally built? Will I remember the long years of struggle, planning and set backs? Will I be thankful for the beauty and comfort around me? or will I just be cursing people who choose to get another coffee mug each time rather than rinsing and re-using the first one?

This will be the view from my kitchen window (which is , of course, over the sink). I plan to have gardens rather than bare soil though.

Next, we will be sending in our application to council. Things are moving…slowly, but surely.

A new washing system organised

While we were putting in the new door recently my enterprising partner whipped up some hanging racks for me to streamline our washing system.

My mother has occasionally stated that my washing line gets more like a wardrobe every day because I am prone to using the line as a secondary storage place for clothes and also because of my habit of hanging my newly washed clothes on coat hangers and hanging them on the line to dry. I do this because I do not have to spend much time folding and putting away clothes; I can simply pick up the clothes, hangers and all, and hang them in the appropriate wardrobe. It also saves space on the line.

The clothes are seperated by spaced pegs to allow air flow and even drying.
Underwear and socks are pegged on coat hangers then hung with the other clothes. Such a saving of time and effort when bringing them in. Also a big saving on space on the line.
My sorting system; clothes are sorted into baskets as they are taken off.

In order to do this at weekly washing time I need to have a store of coat hangers nearby. I now have a rack for storing these coat hangers and another (removable) rack to hang washing on until it is taken to the line.

Hangers are stored on the rack above the new door; out of the way and convenient to the washing machine.
The clothes are hung on hangers straight out of the washing machine and hung on the holding rack. When the whole load is hung I take them to the line in one go.

Using this system I can wash, hang and peg out the washing in no time at all. It’s amazing how these little savings in time and energy can make me feel all efficient and productive.

The front door is in…finally

This weekend my partner suddenly burst into action and installed the long awaited front door (we are talking years here). This door marks the last piece of the puzzle for our humpy; we are now officially able to lock the entire building up.

The geese were very surprised to see us coming and going through this new door and honked around it every time it moved.

Having a door there at the front of the humpy (well…the side that faces the front of the block, about 1km to the North of the humpy) is a very useful addition in terms of efficiency of movement. Originally I planned to have the door there so I could reach the conveniently placed washing line and chook pen quickly. Then, as the building activity slowed, the hole that would become a door became blocked off by tin and a thick curtain (to block Winter breezes) and we resorted to carrying washing and chook food around the humpy from the Western door.

The washing machine sat in front of where the door would be for the last year or so as the temporarily tacked on tin was a good place to run the water drain through. Now I am trying to reconcile having the washing machine right beside the front door because the drain is attached to the outside of the humpy and it is a fairly large job to move it.

This was a fairly quick and simple job; we simply removed everything in front of the space and raked the area clear. Then we found some of the ever-useful pavers lying around and made a fairly level base for the door frame.

The door and frame were screwed to the existing wall frame and the the open side was framed.

The door and frame was picked up from a garage sale for about $10 at some point in the last two years, it has been leaning against the wall in the humpy since then. I had ceased to notice it sitting there. My ingenious partner found some aluminum framing in the useful pile out the back and made a frame for the door frame (if that makes sense?). Some scraps of corrugated iron screwed to the frames means that we now have a wall with a door in it.

My daughter is aiming to paint the door and it’s frame to protect it from the weather as we think it is an internal door (not complaining for $10).

It is amazing how much difference it makes to the feel and look of that end of the humpy; it sort of feels finished. I love being able to step out into the front yard and walk straight to the washing line or chook pen and I am even thinking about how to arrange a little table with two chairs so I can sit out there for breakfast in Summer.

From the outside

How did we come to be off grid?

I had a question asked yesterday by a lovely lady who reads my blog; how did we come to start our off-grid adventure? This is the long, convoluted and wordy answer to that question (with some gratuitous photos, of course).

A busy front yard shot. Totally without context.

I was raised off-grid; when I was born my parents lived in an old bus and a tiny cabin in the Sydney area. They had electricity for a short time when I was a baby, but always collected their own rain water. We moved to the Bellingen area when I was three, to a house with no electricity. Although we did eventually get grid electricity connected there, we moved again when I was 12…you guessed it…to a house with only self generated electricity. We had a generator for many years before eventually adding a solar system.

One of my more exciting memories is of my father allowing me to rewire part of the generator from a wiring diagram and then making sure that all personnel had exited the building before trying it out for the first time (I really thought the monster machine would explode if I had wired it wrong).

When I first moved in with my partner (Wow…35 years ago!!) we had a flat with electricity, which seemed the very height of luxury to me at the time. We had light switches which could be flicked on without first checking the battery charge percentage. We had hot water from a tap that didn’t involve the lighting of a fire or the gathering of dry wood. We even had a wood burning heater which was allowed to burn with no pots cooking on top of it (such wasteful decadence). The thrill wore off though; after years of living with electricity bills and the constant, low-grade environmental guilt all that decadence caused, all I really wanted was to return to responsible living and the different, but valid luxuries of living in the bush.

Prim at the markets. One of our family members.

My partner, myself and two small (but annoying) girls moved back to the bush about 20 years ago. We lived in an old farm house with no electricity, outside water supply or garbage pick up. We were share farming Biodynamic avocados and the house was part of the contract. For me, it was a return to my comfort zone, but my poor partner struggled with being away from electricity and the responsibility of providing our own water for the first time in his life. He loved the sheer gadgetry (for want of a better descriptive term) of the solar set up and the generator, but he struggled with the restrictions they bought with them. He did eventually get the hang of it though, after a lot of flat batteries, bans on electronics and fixing broken generators (which died from over use). By the time we moved to our current block and built the humpy he was an accomplished bush dweller, who knows the value of a litre of water or a kilowatt of electricity.

Carpet snake in a tree anyone?

My partner will still opt for comfort over economy every time, while I will go for economy over comfort. This balancing act makes sure we get some of each (and sometimes both) in our projects. Our overall goal is to build our home world with as little reliance on the increasingly unstable outside world as possible. For us to understand the mechanics of our support systems (so we can fix them if they break) and to make as small an impact on our surroundings as we can (at least of a negative nature).

We also view the animal world as no different to the human world (We are, after all hairless apes) and try to treat our family members of various species accordingly. I like to think this isn’t an ‘air headed, hippie’ notion as we realise that every animal (humans included) have differing needs and need to be treated accordingly. It means that when we consider the needs and wants of our family, we weigh them equally; for example, our sheep; Freida has a need for company, as sheep are social animals, it was inconvenient to have her with us every hour of the day, but we considered it a worthwhile sacrifice for us to always leave someone home or take her with us in order to nurture her sense of security.

This means that we have a house full of animals most of the time. Animals come and go as they need help, some stay for their lifetimes, some grow up and move on. I love this lifestyle, it allows me to get to know a lot of species very well. It also means we live in an environment that is often messy and really encourages our immune system to be as strong as possible. Life in our humpy is never boring.

Aquaponics update- the system is cycled and ready for A*****e to move in.

It has taken many weeks for the system to go through it’s ammonia-nitrite-nitrate cycle, but it is finally ready to house A*****e. Today is the day we move him to his new pond.

The lettuce and spinach are growing really well; I have been harvesting them consistently.

This is the lettuce the day I planted it.
Doesn’t the lettuce look healthy?

When I first turned the system on, the sound of running water outside sent me into a near panic every hour (the water cycles through for fifteen minutes every hour) when I heard the sound of our precious water running away. Drought does that to you. Now I am used to it, I find it relaxing and calming; splashing water is such a rich sound don’t you think? (drought does that to you too)

I have continued to add occasional fish food to the system to give the bacteria some ammonia to work with and I added a cap full of Seasol to the water to feed the plants.

Three weeks ago I tested the water to see if it was ready to accept fish in the system; it was not. Water testing is a big part of keeping an aquaponics system healthy (not to mention the fish). Fish can die very easily in high ammonia and nitrite water, so it is important to wait until the bacteria colonies are established before adding an ammonia generator (which is what fish are). Below are the results of the test from the first week;

The pH was 6.6…it should be around 7.3
The ammonia was 2.0…it should be 0.0 (or close to it)
The nitrite was 1.0…it should be 0.0 (or close to it)
The nitrate was 10….it can be quite high

The fact that there is a nitrate level to read shows that both the bacteria that turns ammonia to nitrite and the bacteria that turns nitrite to nitrate are there, living in their little clay ball cities. I just had to wait for the populations to grow enough to get the nitrite and ammonia levels down to almost nothing.

Two weeks ago I tested the water again;

The pH is getting higher.
The ammonia is lower.
The nitrite is very high.
The nitrate levels are high, yay!

Not ready just yet. We will wait another week.

This week I tested again and found a surprising result;

The pH is going in the wrong direction; it is 6.0 when it should be 7.3
The ammonia is close to 0.0, yay!
The nitrite is below 0.25
The nitrate is around 80…perfect level

To begin to change the pH I added 1 teaspoon of aglime to the water and retested after a few hours. I also began to acclimatize A*****e by getting my daughter to put him in a bucket about half full of his water then I poured water from the new pond into it at the rate of 1/4 cup every 15 minutes or so. After a full day of this he was ready to be poured into the pond.

He’s in there somewhere.

My daughter also moved over some sand, weed and a floaty rock thing for him. He seems very happy in there so far. The water test after three days was encouraging, except the pH.

pH is still 6.0 to 6.4
Ammonia is 0.0
Nitrite is 0.0
Nitrate is 80.0. Plenty of plant food.

My next move is to add another grow bed. I am really enjoying the mad scientist element of aquaponics; test tubes, coloured chemicals, wild solutions.