Handy Work – Home-Made Dishcloths and Scourers

My mother and grandmother were incredibly capable women. Both were knitters, my grandmother could crochet and my mother was an experienced seamstress and needlewoman. I remember as a very small child helping with edging blankets, learning how to hand embroider, mend and being ever so proud when I learnt to knit and made my first diagonal dishcloth.

I don’t knit much these days, apart from the occasional scarf or beanie. But a couple of years ago I decided to ditch plastic dishcloths, which (apart from being bad for the environment) aren’t ideal for fine china and glassware when the cloths get older and brittle. So I made a set of beautiful soft cotton cloths again and branched out to smaller versions in jute string as scourers. The cloths look impressive, they’re very quick to make, incredibly durable (I machine wash mine) and it’s still the best way to learn how to increase and decrease with a decorative eyelet. A set of four or five cloths can also be a functional present. I made a set for a family member who’d recently renovated her kitchen and picked tones that matched her decor.

You’ll need a pair of knitting needles, and this is determined by the yarn you use and how tightly (or loosely) you knit. I tend to be quite a tight knitter to I use 4 or 4.5 mm needles (US size 6 or 7) for this kind of work. Some of the cotton yarn I salvaged was quite fine, so in some cases I doubled it to make a

Dishcloth from salvaged yarn – straight from the clothes line!

The basic pattern goes like this:

Cast on 2sts

1st Row: Knit 1, yarn forward (yfwd), knit 1 (3 stitches)

2nd Row: Slip 1, knit 1, yfwd, knit 1 (4 stitches)

3rd Row: *Slip 1, knit 1, yfwd, knit to end (5 stitches)

Repeat from * until the work is half the size required. I like about 25-30 stitches for jute scourers and about 55-60 stitches for cotton dishcloths.

(Decrease rows)

*Slip 1, knit 2 together (k2tog), yfd, k2tog, knit to end

Repeat until 2 stitches remain.

K2tog, and (if you want to hang your cloth) chain 12, cut thread and tie off. With a darning needle, sew the end of the thread into the base of the first chain to make a loop. Over sew a couple of times and trim.

Because they’re quick to make and a very simple pattern, I can easily make one cotton cloth in an evening watching television or several jute scourers. I prefer to get my cotton from Op Shops rather than buying new, it goes well with the reuse/recycle ethic I try and live by. I’ve even made some from a cotton top that I unpicked, washed the hanks of thread to take some of the kinks out, and dried in skeins.

Many fabric or yarn shops sell string but the best jute I’ve found is in the gardening section of my local hardware store. It’s a little harder on fingers to work the stiff threads but they are brilliant for scouring pots and pans and once they’re worn out they can go straight into the compost instead of landfill.

Have fun and please let me know how you go with this simple, practical craft project 🙂

Dishcloth and scourer

 

Surviving the Storm – A Sunday Night Recap

Well, it’s been quite a week! I’m not sure where it disappeared to, but I’m rugged up on the couch and it’s Sunday night here in Hobart.

At the moment, Tasmania is in the path of a series of westerly fronts, bringing much needed rain but some very damaging winds. There was some respite yesterday so I took the opportunity to spend some time in the garden, rearranging mulch, repairing torn bird netting and salvaging what I could of the broccoli crop.

And of course, I got to spend some quality time with the chickens and the now month old rabbits ❤

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Earlier this week I processed the rest of the chestnut crop, which was pretty poor this year due to very little rain in summer and no water to spare for the trees. But I find them so delicious and useful that every little piece has become precious to me and my family. I’d never really paid much attention to chestnuts until I moved here, with a mature tree in the backyard that provides several kilos of nuts every autumn with minimal care.

For any of you interested in how I process them, I did a post here a couple of years ago.

On Friday, I got a parcel in the post from a woman I met through Facebook, who lives in northern Tasmania. In it was a self addressed post bag for some chilli seeds – and two beautiful, handmade beanies.

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The photo doesn’t really do them justice, they are really a very dark black and a luscious purple – my favourite colour 🙂  Fran is also a blogger and you can find her here. I finished packaging her seeds during the week, I’ve been drying them slowly on paper.

IMG_20160513_210229Like most repetitive tasks, I think there’s something incredible meditative about sorting seeds. For me it’s akin to weeding or planting but a little more demanding, particularly when you’re trying to keep track of numbers and sort out obvious broken or dud seeds – much easier with peas and beans!

Nevertheless, it’s one of those jobs that I really enjoy doing on a cold night with some good music or a favourite movie on.

One thing I should’ve done though is wear gloves. Despite using broad head tweezers, I still got enough capanoids on my fingers to sting!

Once sorted, I put the seeds into paper packets I make from old (preferably heavy weight) paper. The recent batch for all my seeds this autumn came from some old (and quite dreadful) music books I found in the local tip shop. Although I revere books, I’ve recycled these so that no innocent child is ever forced to play those songs again – they are truly dreadful!

 

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I think the finished product looks rather nice and I hope Fran and her family enjoy the produce. One day we’ll meet in person I’m sure 🙂

The rain and wind came back with a vengeance today, so I took the opportunity to catch up with my current studies at Griffith University. I’m doing an online degree and this unit is Television Studies. My head is still full of textual analysis and particularly David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. For something most of us take for granted, television is really quite a complex and surprisingly demanding area of study – and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed learning some of the history and depth of the medium. This week I have to finish drafting my major essay on the enduring appeal of Doctor Who which has meant I’ve had to watch quite a lot of it (mostly David Tennant) in recent weeks.

Seriously, I love my life 😀

Stay well and be happy wherever you are ❤

Boxes and Bounty

As a gardening experiment last month, I made a few wicking boxes for my front balcony. It faces east, across the River Derwent and while the view is lovely, it gets all the morning sun and can be quite windy. This time of year, we can’t walk on the concrete in bare feet before 2pm! I’ve grown salad greens in containers out there since I moved in, over six years ago but it’s a lot of work and difficult keeping water up to them with baking sun and drying winds.

IMG_20151215_102432I started out buying two food grade plastic crates from my local hardware store (I think they were 23 litre size), the kind that are often used as recycling boxes. All other materials were either recycled or things I had on hand.

Old hose was spiked with holes and laid in the bottom, with the refill end slotted into a length of larger diameter poly pipe to make it easier to pour water into. It looks pretty ugly but it works!

Next, I put a layer of gravel over the hose, making sure the refill end IMG_20151215_102947didn’t get buried as you can see in the photo. By the way, this gravel wouldn’t be my ideal but it was sitting in a pile begging to be used up and there was just enough to do all the boxes 🙂

At the top of the gravel, I carefully drilled a small overflow hole diagonally opposite the refill hose. This means water won’t build up and start getting smelly and the plants won’t rot in overly wet soil.

IMG_20151215_103048Next, I covered the gravel with some old tea towels that weren’t really wonderful for wiping dishes anymore. They allow the water to pass through but not the soil. Eventually, they will rot away and I’ll have to replace them but it was good to recycle them. Old shade cloth would be ideal if you have it.

At this stage, I put a thin layer of good quality potting mix over the top, and I recommend not cutting any corners with this. The better the soil, the better the plants! I mixed well rotted sheep poo and plenty of mushroom compost in large bucket and worked this through layers of potting mix until the box was fairly full. The result was a friable, rich mix, perfect for quick growing summer salad veggies.

I made sure the soil was damp before planting out the first seedlings and watered them overhead for the first couple of days, until the water reservoir started to do its thing. I ended up doing eight boxes in total and crammed in fast growing Pak Choi, Portulaca, Red Amaranth, Grumolo Verde Chicory, Garland Chrysanthemum and even Silverbeet. The results have been fabulous

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The pic above was taken 15th December 2015 and the pic below a month later, the 14th January 2016. The results have been incredibly successful and I’m only having to refill the reservoir about once every three or four days instead of overhead watering morning and night. Despite the fact salad is my favourite meal of the day, I can barely keep up with the amount of food these boxes are producing!

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Do you grow vegetables in containers? What are your top tips? Please leave a comment below – I love to hear from you all! 

Friday at Last! – Day 6 NaBloPoMo 2015

Well, it’s finally the end of the week, and I’m bushed! I was supposed to go to a gig tonight some friends are playing but I’m just too tired. Tomorrow, I’ll be out in the garden again and cooking a family dinner – my son’s coming over.

One of my jobs tomorrow is dealing with some of the seedlings I’ve grown in the last month. I love sitting in my greenhouse, listening to music or audio books while I work. It’s very relaxing.

With small seeds, such as chillies, herbs, salad greens and any brassicas (cabbage family, such as kale, broccoli and mustard greens) I use a three stage process.

First, I plant the seeds in punnets, keep them moist in the greenhouse and wait for the magic of new plants to happen. It’s silly but even after all these years I still get a thrill when I see new plants starting 🙂

New vegetables!

New vegetables!

Secondly, I prick them out from the punnets into cardboard toilet rolls and let them grow on in the greenhouse until the roots are showing, which encourages downward root growth and eliminates transplant shock – one of the biggest killers of young seedlings. I didn’t realise until recently that this isn’t common knowledge! I cut the rolls in half first, which makes a perfect size for me and it doubles the number of  mini grow tubes I have for the season. I’ve found that plastic trays from my few supermarket purchases are great to put the completed seedling tubes in, making them safe to carry around the greenhouse and the yard.

All recycled and ready to go!

All recycled and ready to go!

The cardboard is just the right thickness to take up and hold moisture without falling apart immediately and I use a fairly compost-rich potting mix that holds together reasonably well. Like a lot of repetitive jobs, there’s a rhythm I get into when doing this. Perhaps it’s the musician taking over but I find this really relaxing. It takes practice when doing small, delicate seedlings but the best tip I can offer is go slowly – there’s no rush. Also, keep a permanent marker handy and I recommend marking the plant name and date on at least one if you’re doing a tray of the same thing. I also keep a garden journal next to me and write down what I’ve done in case something happens to obscure my one labelled tube.

Shungiku - Garland Chrysanthemum just done

Shungiku – Garland Chrysanthemum just done

A few days before I want to plant them, I take the trays of rolls out and let them harden off under a tree. The final stage is planting the seedlings still in their roll in the garden bed.

With big seeds like corn, beans, peas, pumpkins and zucchini I mark the first roll and loosely pack however many I need in a tray. Then I use a pencil or stick as a dibbler and put the seeds in and cover them. The snow peas and beans in the photograph below will give you some idea of the wonderful root growth and size of the plants.

Ready to go in the ground

Ready to go in the ground

These have been out hardening off since Tuesday and will be in the ground tomorrow 🙂

In the meantime, wherever you are, have a wonderful weekend and take care ❤