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.

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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.

New crayons from old

I have been in a real crafting frenzy this week, it’s school holidays and for the first time in almost five years I don’t have uni assignments pending. So I am taking this opportunity to make a heap of stuff for my Etsy store and markets, clean out some of the junk from my craft room and just plain enjoy not having to limit my time on craft stuff to get work stuff done.
When I go back to work (as a teacher this time!!!) I will be back to the daily struggle of trying to find time to do any craft, but for now…let the good times roll.
Today’s offering is making new crayons by melting old ones. I cleaned out the crayon boxes at school and ended up bringing home a bucket full of broken old crayons and pastels. They have been sitting in my craft room for a term or two and today is the day I do something about it.

Lots of old crayons.
First the research;  
I found instructions for melting them directly into ice cube trays.
How to make crayons from scratch.
How to make play dough using old crayons.
How to make candles from old crayons.
How to make lip gloss from old crayons.
There is so much you can do with broken crayons that I started to wish I had more of them. 
First I tried to melt them in a silicone mold to make cute little duck shaped crayons. That’s when I discovered that different brands and colours have a different melting point. Some melted and some didn’t. So I melted them in a double boiler to avoid the lumpy duck outcome.

Some melt faster than others.

I spooned the melted wax into my duck mold and waited…
The resulting crayons were cute but a bit brittle, so I decided to add a little bit of beeswax to each melt to give the crayons a softer, smoother texture.

My duck mold has seen a lot of wax today
I added grated beeswax to the pot

That did the trick and the crayons were lovely little coloured ducks. My next refinement was so obvious I completely missed it while perusing all those tutorials; I decided to crush the crayons before plonking them in the double boiler to melt. I put them into a plastic bag and whacked them with a hammer until they were mush. So satisfying, and they melted faster and a lot more evenly.

My crayon crushing system

More colours.

I wiped the pot out between colours, but a lot of staining remained, this made the colour outcome somewhat…exciting and unpredictable. Just the way I like it.

My end result is some cute, but not really crisp and neat, duck crayons.

Some of my finished ducks. They are fairly neat on one side but very rough on the other.

But they work.

I am thinking of making up little packs of recycled crayons for the markets and my Etsy shop. What do you think? I have no idea what to charge for them, given that they are a waste resource, but someone may as well be using them rather than just throwing them in the bin.
I am also thinking that this activity might be fun to do with the kids at school, we could make little hearts for Mother’s Day.

I wonder what else I can make from these old crayons?

Up-cycled wardrobe – Last 2015 update (probably)

Back in June I challenged myself to make a weeks worth of clothes using mostly up-cycled materials.
So far I have succeeded making some items from my challenge list…

Seven pairs of underpants, in fact I made ten pairs.

Three skirts

Three pairs of long pants, I just can’t stop making these.

At the moment I am working on making some tops from remnant materials I have found in my stash and at the second hand store. After that I will tackle shorts and socks (not together obviously). The hard things like bras and shoes will be left until last… I have a few ideas.

The prototype top, simple but comfortable.

More and more of my clothes are hand made now. I am really pleased with my progress on this challenge. I am wearing everything I make regularly and even making some things not on the list originally (like house dresses).

Making a refillable traveler’s journal

As most of you already know; I am a witch. I celebrate the Wheel of the Year, I follow the basic commandment of ‘An it harm ye none, do what thou wilt’, I believe in the three-fold law and I collect information. Being a witch is (for me) about learning new things and exploring new ways of looking at life. Being a crafty witch, I make my own tools.

One of the most important tools a witch has is her (or his) books, they hold the tiny crumbs of wisdom and knowledge we manage to gain in our life and can be passed on to another witch to use once we die. I make my own books; one for every new ‘subject’ (although they all interlock in some way); I made a massive, red leather, hard covered, parchment filled tome for my Book of Shadows (tools, correspondences and rituals); I made a cute little upholstery fabric covered book to record my life changing journey through the Sacred Cord (sort of like a rosary that takes two and a half years to complete); I made a black suede, hard covered slim lined book to record my divinations and dreams (Tarot, runes, iChing, scrying, etc); I made a decorated hardwood, post bound tome for my Tarot learnings (meanings, correspondences, Kabbalah and, layouts, etc) and now I have made a versatile, refillable, black leather traveller’s journal for my Kabbalah learnings.

My first Book of Shadows

My Sacred Cord book

My divination book
The cover of my Tarot book
Inside my Tarot book

Because I used what I could find about the house, my journal is a rough item, but I am fairly pleased with it. The first thing I did was; make a cup of coffee (essential to the creative juices), then I got down to business. I wanted the pages to look old and worn so I found a ream of photocopy paper, carefully folded each page in half (not the whole ream, only about 32 pages), dipped each one individually in strong instant coffee and laid them out on a towel to dry. This makes the pages unpredictably brownish yellow with blotches (perfect for that aged look).
My instant coffee bath

Some of the pages laid out to dry
You can see the difference in colour between the new paper on the left and the coffee stained stuff on the right.

While the pages dried, I dug out an old leather skirt (it was the eighties OK) and cut a piece that was  2 cm or so higher than the folded A4 paper (A5 size page) and 6 cm or so wider than an open sheet of A4 paper (A4 size page). The leather was fairly thin and would have been too floppy for a book cover on its own so I also cut a piece of heavy duty interfacing and some pretty orange material the same size as my leather.

Old leather skirt

Heavy duty interfacing on top of the material square

These three sheets were glued together with the interfacing in the middle, clamped and hung to dry for a while.

My cover drying in the breeze.

While the cover dried I began making the note book to go inside this cover. I followed the clip below to the letter, but my finished print block was much messier than hers. Undeterred, I decided it added to the antique-y charm of the project and used it anyway. Unfortunately I didn’t take photos of this step (I got lost in the process and forgot what I was doing).

I then trimmed the outside edges and punched some holes in my cover and threaded hat elastic through them in the sequence described in the clip below.

Here is the inside of my cover with the elastic in place.

Next I simply threaded my text block into the elastic holders and it was finished.

Spot the dog loved it; a leather paw rest, how innovative.

Then I started filling it up with collected bits of understandings and knowledge.

The three elastic bits mean I can add another two text blocks as I fill the original one up.

I loved making this project, I think I will make some more soon.

Somewhere down the track, I have plans of making my two daughters a book each and fill them with little snippets of information I think they may need, the sort of thing you ring your mum for…like;
‘How do I unplug the bathroom drain..without putting my fingers in there?’
‘How do I make pancakes?’
‘Is it better to close the windows in a wind storm or leave them open?’
‘Where do I go to register to vote?’
‘How do I make soap?’
‘What herbs are good for a cold?’

and many others.

Maybe one of these journals would be appropriate for that, new books can be added as more questions arise.

What do you think of this project?
Do you like the old and battered look for books and journals?

Building a laundry/bath house with old tyres, eco bricks and mud/cement – part one; planning

We need a real kitchen…at the moment our kitchen is cobbled together from bits of unused furniture (my bench space is an old massage table) and a sink unit I was given. My partner’s brother was given an old modular kitchen (from the 70’s, so it will have some interesting colour combinations) which he is storing for us, but we can’t put it in the humpy until we have a floor to put it on, which involves moving the current bathroom out.
The current bathroom has a floor made from an metal old window shade (one of those industrial metal grid things) with sheets of aluminium screwed onto it and lino over the top. This all has to come out (as well as the bath) and a new tire and ply floor go in. This means that we need a new bathroom away from the humpy while we build.

This is the current floor, you can see the metal frame around the lino. Not pretty, but it works.

The bathroom floor (please ignore the dirty shower curtain) 

The plan is to build a laundry/bath house up the slope from the vegetable growing area so that all that lovely (nutrient rich) water can use gravity to find it’s way back to the Hugelkultur vegetable beds, instead of being carried out in buckets which is how I do it at the moment. Eventually there will be a shower in the house also (for those cold winter nights), but until then we will have the bath house. I want to have a go at building with old tyres and my eco bricks, because we have plenty of them around and because they create a negative carbon footprint when reused for building.

My plan so far is very simple;

 As usual my madness is being fueled by Youtube and internet research;
The plan is to use a small excavator (hired for the occasion) to dig the foundation out (amongst other things), put the strip footing (tires and mud) and the four corner poles in. Then we will put up the pole frame and the roof. After that comes the corrugated iron outer walls, the floor and the bath put in (complete with outlet to drain to the vegetable garden). The first layer of eco bricks will go in around then too, but we will have to keep chipping away at the inner walls as eco bricks become available (we only make one or two per week). Getting water into the laundry for washing is easy; we will tap into the pipe running from the header tank up the hill to the humpy, and let gravity do it’s thing. Getting water for the shower is another story as the fall is not great enough to gravity feed water to an overhead shower. That is a problem for part two.

Next comes getting the shower operational and putting up a new clothes line. Look out for part two.