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.

#coronavirus- sewing family cloths

TMI WARNING; In this post I will be talking about toilets and what goes into them. If you can’t talk poop…read another post.

When I started using the camping bidet (henceforth known as the bidet) instead of toilet paper, one thing I was not happy about was the wet and dripping behind. While it is a small thing to deal with in the face of a global pandemic it is slightly uncomfortable. As usual, I turned to the internet to research a work around. I had considered family cloths as an answer to the toilet paper problem, and decided they were too much work; with soaking and rinsing and individual washing, not to mention the smells (of which we have enough already). However, using family cloths to dry the bottom area after a good hosing with the bidet, that seemed to be an easily implemented answer.

From what I have read, it seems that all I need is some relatively soft fabric, capable of absorbing fluid and preferably made from a natural fibre. I looked through my fabric stash and found a likely candidate… an old flannelette sheet. I cut out some smallish squares (15cm X 15cm) and overlocked the edges to prevent fraying.

I have a few old sheets in my stash. They are so useful.
Using a quilting board to cut out my squares.
My pile of 40 or so family cloths.
Darby goose looks on curiously.
A big pile of overlocked squares, ready to be used.

Next I found a container to hold the clean ones in the toilet and a bin and cloth bag to hold the used ones until wash day. The cloths will be washed with the underwear in a warm wash with soap nuts and lime essential oil.

The cloths are on the left in that little container, it holds 30 squares. The toilet paper is for my partner to use (and visitors…eventually).
The basket for collecting the used cloths. the toilet is in one of those camping shower tent things, so the hanging pockets come in handy here.

This little project couldn’t have been any easier. Within an hour I felt like I had solved the problem. This is one easy way to solve the wet bottom problem.

Re-covering an old lounge- part three- the arms

As predicted, the lounge recovering is going slowly. This weekend I managed to cover the arms of one armchair. I don’t mind taking my time with the job though, I am learning so much along the way. The fact that the whole pile of work-in-progress is sitting in everyone’s way is annoying, but we are coping with a minimum of snarky comments and stubbed toes.

The inside arm covering was not without it’s challenges. There was a broken piece of frame to be fixed and a lot of tucking and stapling to do…

This is the broken arm support. We just screwed a piece of 2 X 1 pine over the top of it and it held well.
The first arm all stripped down to the foam.
First I covered the arm with some new cotton batting.
Then cut a big rectangle of the fabric and started tucking and cutting little slits before stapling it all in place.
The front of the arm really needs some help. I think I will have to untack it and trim the cotton wadding back a bit to reduce the puckering.

I do love the wheat colour of the fabric, but I am learning that I have to go very slowly on this project or I make silly mistakes like putting the wadding too far forward over the front of the arm. Oh well… on to the inside back next.

New yarn storage system

wow…I have such a lot of yarn. Hand made, recycled and gifted, you name it, I have it. In my push to make more room in my seriously overcrowded craft room, I bought one of those fancy cube storage units (yes, it was a wrench to part with that much cash and yes, I did find a second hand one on GumTree the day after I bought it). We put it together one day after work, when we were both tired and cranky (which accounts for the fairly large ding in the wood of the bottom piece). We are still married, so I think we passed the IKEA test, the one where you have to put together some modular furniture as a team before you decide you are compatible.

This photo was taken after I started making bins for the spaces.

Once the unit was up and in place I went looking for a pattern for those attractive and useful fabric storage bins. I found heaps and was really looking forward to making a dent in my fabric stash when I ran across a problem; interfacing. I don’t usually use it at all, and all the patterns say I need something to stiffen the sides of my bins (makes sense). So off I went looking for an alternative. Soon I found a clip of a woman making storage bins from old clothes, she used rice bags as interfacing…and that’s when I had my lightning-strike-to-the-brain idea. Why couldn’t I use old feed bags as interfacing? They would be noisy and crinkly, but that doesn’t matter for something that will spend most of it’s life sitting on a shelf. The bags are prone to breaking down in the sun, but they would be covered by fabric, and indoors. The poly bags may be slippery and hard to sew, I found some posts about people using them to make bags, so it is possible. I decided to give it a try.

I found this YouTube tutorial to use as my basic pattern idea, I just made them bigger.

First step was to make my pattern; I wanted cubes that were about 30cm square, so I made a simple net pattern out of newspaper.

I used my newly organised fabric draws to find some fabric for these boxes.

I ended up with some interesting options. I’m not the sort of person who worries about things matching.

Next I cut out pieces for the outside and lining of my boxes.

I cut some pieces of feed bag to use as interfacing.

Then it was a simple matter to sew up the bins as instructed by the tutorial.

So far I have five done. My plan is to make a bin for every space in the cabinet and store all my yarns in them. There are still three huge plastic boxes full of yarn to go.

Some tips I have discovered along the way; use grain bags not chaff bags, the weave is too loose on chaff bags and they fray really easily.

The chaff bags fray a lot.

The grain bags are easy to sew and give a good amount of stiffness to the bins, but they are just a bit too small for the 30 cm square bins. I sticky taped two together to get a sheet big enough, it seems to have worked.

This bin is made with the grain bags.

So far I have really enjoyed this project. Hopefully my yarns will be visible and usable once it is finished.

Home biogas system- (part two)

It’s finally warm enough to start setting up our biogas system. A few weeks ago we got one of our neighbors down to help us level a pad for the unit and we gathered together all the bits and pieces we needed to set up the first part of the unit (the digester and gas collector part), we will set up the cooker that came with the unit once it is producing gas. The toilet attachment will be installed as part three of this project as we have to wait until the unit is active before we add human manure to the mix.

The unit will be to the North of the humpy, close to the kitchen and right beside the toilet. That way the gas does not have to travel far and neither does the poop.

Thanks for the help Louise.
A nice level pad for our biogas unit.

Next we laid down a ute mat made of rubber to protect the digester from any sharp stones that might be in the soil. The unit came with it’s own rubber mat, but we wanted to be sure it was protected. The extra rubber also insulates the unit from the cold soil a little.

Then it was time to put the pieces together and set up the unit itself. There is a really handy app that talks you through the whole process.

It looks like putting up a tent.
Can you believe the kit also includes a tiny tub of Vasoline to use as a lubricant for putting the puzzle pieces together?
There is even a little bucket to use as a measure when filling the sand bags (provided).

Filling the unit with water felt like a real achievement after all the brain work of putting the jig saw together. While it was filling up we got busy filling up the sand bags that become weights for the gas collector (the unit uses these weights to put the gas under low pressure so it is pushed through the gas line to the stove).

Filling with water took all afternoon.

The following sequence of photos show fairly clearly how to fill and seal the bags so there is not much air in them. This is important as the pockets the bags go into are quite narrow and the bags have to be squeezed into them.

The gas collecting bag is strapped onto the top of the digester then the gas and inlet lines are attached.
As the sun sinks rapidly into the West, we begin to fill the unit with cow manure.
A total of 3 feed bags of cow manure went into the unit tonight, we will add more over the next week.

The unit will begin to bubble and produce methane over the next few weeks and we will add the gas line and the toilet as part of the next stage. Look out for the next installment in a fortnight…

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.

Home Biogas system – a BIG step forward (part one)

We have been trying very hard to move away from using gas to sustain our daily life. We have historically used gas for running the fridge and for cooking and heating water on the gas stove. Recently we have upgraded our gas fridge to an electric fridge (solar powered) and now we are adding a biogas unit to the mix. This means that we will no longer have to buy gas bottles (yay!!), this is the final step away from using bottled gas.

Bottled gas or LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) is produced during oil refining and given the temporary nature of our supply of oil on this planet, we need to be looking at ways to move away from our reliance on it (not to mention the huge environmental cost of using it). LPG contains propane in Australia, in other countries LPG can be a mix of propane and butane.

Biogas captures methane and carbon dioxide (methane mostly) as a result of decomposition of organic matter. That is why the discovery of methane on Mars was such an exciting thing; where there are dead things there were once live things (usually, although not always and probably not in this case). I became interested in biogas many years ago (after watching an episode of The Good Life) and decided to work towards setting it up in our humpy. The idea that we could use our waste (of all descriptions) to generate some of our energy needs was very exciting.

The idea has been sitting on a dusty shelf at the back of my mind for years. Other, more attainable, goals have been on the work table of my mind. Six months ago (approximately) I stumbled upon a post advertising a biogas system designed for home use and the idea suddenly moved to the front of my mind again.

We eventually decided to go with a Home Biogas unit from Quality Solar and Plumbing

They are the only company selling these units in Australia and they are relatively close to us (only about three hours drive way). We saved up (in tiny increments) and finally, with a windfall of back pay, we ordered the unit. We also managed to add a toilet unit to the order. As soon as this unit is set up we can start to generate our own cooking gas (although the Year three student who lives in my head can’t help making jokes about cooking with farts).

As soon as the order was placed we realised we needed a site for the future toilet/gas generation unit. Then we need a shed or some kind of building to house the toilet and a pad for the gas unit to sit on.

A gratuitous ocean shot from our long journey to Mullumbimby to pick up our biogas system.

The first part of our biogas adventure was picking it up and touring a working unit while we were there. The very helpful Brian at Quality Solar and Plumbing gave us a tour of the biogas unit he has set up at his house.

This is the working unit. It was really exciting to see one working.
You put the food scraps or animal manure into the black pipe at this end…
and gas and fertiliser come out this end. How amazing is that?
This is the stove unit that comes with the kit. There is no smell at all to the gas and this burner obviously gets a lot of use.

We have our unit home. It is sitting in it’s two little boxes, waiting for us to make it a home and set up the toilet. I can’t wait to get it going.

The two boxes in the car constitute the entire kit. I was amazed at the small size of the whole thing and how light it was to haul around. It will be much heavier once the bottom of the digester is full of water.

The kit is supposed to include everything we need to put it all together. We will see…

Making pots out of newspaper

I have been doing this on and off for a while now. Up until recently I found the pots would encourage fungus and sprout all sorts of mushroom-y things. Then I found the ‘Under the Choko Tree’ You Tube channel and watched as Nevin made pots from newspaper. It turns out I was using too much paper; the walls were too thick so they were not able to dry out enough to keep fungus at bay.

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This is how I used to make my pots. See how thick the walls are.

So I bought one of those cute little pot making things and off I went. These pots are working very well…no fungus and they hold together  (which was why I made my pots thick to begin with). In fact the whole seed raising system has been working brilliantly, except that my seedling raising area was in the open and the trays kept filling up with water and drowning the seedlings. I fixed that by adding a little roof to the area which I will remove (it can just be lifted off) on less damp days.

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Thinner walls and no fungus…they still get waterlogged though.

On another, but sort of related note; I have been learning how to use an iPad (for work) and have discovered that the camera on an iPad has a time-lapse setting (also a slo-mo setting, but I haven’t played with that yet), so I decided to make a time lapse clip of me making and using my little pots.

And here it is;

What do you think. Does it need to be a bit slower. I haven’t found that setting yet but I will.

Washing machine garden beds update

The beds are actually growing vegetables.

I don’t want to crow too loud but the washing machine beds seem to have escaped the notice of ducks, possums and chooks alike. I very carefully don’t check on the progress of the little seedlings growing in them while I can see anyone in the yard as all the various life forms seem to take notice of what we humans think is interesting and investigate themselves.
The process for watering or checking is ridiculously clandestine; first I go out the door on the opposite side of the humpy and mess around in the yard for a few seconds, once everybody gets the news that I’m out there and the paparazzi starts to gather I casually drop a handful of grain on the ground and retreat from the ensuing feeding frenzy back inside.

The paparazzi gathering

Then I very quietly go out the back door and water, check, feed or whatever I need to do with the beds, all the while keeping my eyes open for visitors. If I see a duck or chook come back around the side of the house I just pretend to be admiring the scenery until they leave.
Why not just lock up the ducks and chooks I hear you ask? Well… the ducks are muscovies and are quite territorial so they chase the possums out of the yard, they patrol all night and all day. They contribute to the safety of the garden without even knowing it. The two chooks left running wild in the yard are delicate in nature (Big; our old rooster is too aged to be in the general population any more and Curly is a special case who just doesn’t fit in anywhere else). Also, I sort of enjoy the challenge and the sneaking around.

This is Curly; our special needs chook.

The snow peas, carrots, silverbeet and beetroot in these beds are all doing really well so far, I’m hoping for a full harvest this year.

Carrots and peas

Silverbeet

Peas, beetroot and lettuce

Peas and beetroot

Lettuce

Peas and beetroot

Lettuce

I will write a post about our special needs chook; Curly soon. This chook is an interesting case…even for us.