Archive for August, 2008

Going public…

August 26, 2008

This Saturday (30th August) I’m taking part in a public event under the Morsbags aegis. I will be taking my rescued Singer 201K treadle to the Priest’s House Museum and making Morsbags in situ. I’m also taking along a couple of handcranks, probably Singer 99s, & pre-cut & ironed bags so that people can have a go at making one themselves. So eldest daughter and I are crouched over my latest carbon-burning extravagance – a powered cutting knife – and churning out Morsbags for dear life this week. The lads at the Tip have been magnificently helpful, hauling out vast acreages of “blokey” curtains from the fabric skip so that not all the bags are flowery!

But that’s not all they’ve found for me. My sister-in-law will be gobsmacked to be told that she is now the proud owner of two large blue cast-iron casseroles, which will go nicely with her set of rescued saucepans. Different make, Nomar rather than Le Creuset, but it works… I’m keeping the other two, as they fit nicely side by side in my oven, whilst being bigger than my two orange ones! I can’t help wondering about the story behind them; who buys four big, matching cast-iron casserole dishes, which aren’t cheap, even if you bring them back from France, then chucks them out whilst there’s still plenty of useful life left in them? Possibly someone who’s raised a big family but is downsizing now… but I do wish they’d heard of Freecycle or Waste Not Want Not, our local recycle/loan group. There were good sharp cooking knives and other stainless steel utensils down in the skip beyond my reach, too; I could run an entire shop on what people throw out, if retail premises weren’t so expensive here. Although I have heard that our Chamber of Commerce aren’t very encouraging to that kind of enterprise; they feel it’s the wrong kind of “image” for our town… so somehow they have to be brought from seeing reclaimed stuff as “secondhand & seedy” to “cutting edge/environmentally responsible/high moral ground!” Or is that, and price, the basic difference between a junk shop & an Antique Emporium? Anyway, I could, and did, rescue a very nice butcher’s block, and a big Pyrex mixing bowl, which have both gone straight back into service in my nicely old-fashioned, workable kitchen. There were proper weighing scales, too, but only a few weights. I have two sets, so let them go to an older gentleman who, like me, was fed up with buying electronic plastic scales which become useless after a year if you’re weighing anything more weighty than slimmer’s portions. 

I also splashed out 99p on a rather nice little Singer 128K on Ebay locally. On going to pick it up, and mentioning that it would probably be going off to Uganda with Tools With A Mission, the vendor happily presented me with a free 99K too! What a lovely lass… Not to mention the two that I’ve “won” on Freecycle this week, too… But I can’t quite bring myself to hand over the 320K, complete with all its attachments, that turned up a couple of weeks ago. Now it’s dried out, I’m having quite a lot of fun with that and all the pockets of my children’s worn-out jeans… I’ll post a pic when it’s finished!

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Worth its weight in gold!

August 18, 2008

Come to think of it, though, I don’t think gold would cook quite as well. So maybe something gold should be worth its weight in cast iron! The bread was fantastic and has been made every other day since then. The clafouti came out well too, but I think the recipe is not quite as good as the last one I tried, so I shall try that one in the Dutch Oven and see if it turns out as light & fluffy as when I cooked it in a quiche dish. If it does, I’ll post it for you.

Since last week, I’ve clocked up two more tales of ironic triumph; my sister-in-law was admiring my somewhat eclectic collection of cast-iron cookware and said sadly that she would love to have some, but couldn’t justify the massive cost. So I told her where most of mine has come from, and that at least two of my friends have been supplied by the same source. Whereupon she asked whether I could keep an eye out for some for her too. A couple of days later, I went down to the Recycling Centre to ask the boys for their assistance. As I went up the steps to the Metals skip, I saw a pile of blue Le Creuset saucepans, four of them, but with five lids…? I peered into the skip, and there was a little milk pan, not too far down, and a metal coathanger on the top to unwind and hook the handle with… They were virtually pristine; just a few light scorch marks on the beechwood handles, so Lisa has a matching set of 5 beautiful blue & white pans awaiting her down here for very little expense! Now to find her some casserole dishes…

Then there’s the garden stove… not content with the firepit, lovely though it is, I couldn’t resist the rusty little potbelly barbecue when I saw it. Rust is a familiar adversary now, and provided the metal underneath is sound, I’ll have a go at restoring almost anything. My pretty little Willcox & Gibbs chainstitcher looked like it was standing on two lumps of solid rust when it first arrived; now it’s working for it’s living space as if the 50-odd years stuck at the back of someone’s damp garage had never happened. So the familiar potbelly shape beckoned to me and whispered, “Rescue me!” Into the back of my car it went, for £1, and there it stayed for a couple of days whist I tried to think of ways to introduce it gently to DH, who gets a bit frustrated with the constant trickle of “other people’s rubbish” meandering through our home & garage. I gave up in the end and just took it out without saying anything. (To his credit, nor has he – yet!) Needless to say, most of the rust just brushed off it, and a quick coat of “Kurust” has sorted out the rest, and now the little stove looks smart and ready for action once again. Sadly the British weather has meant I haven’t had a chance to put it through it’s paces yet, but I am looking forward to a chance to try out some more recipes, and in fact to see whether the Dutch Oven might fit neatly on the top without making it unstable. So wish me some good weather, please!

Potbelly barbecue

Dutch oven delight…

August 11, 2008

Last Thursday the manager of the Recycling centre presented me proudly with a huge and very gunky cast iron pot. (A few weeks ago, I’d been hunting for Le Creusets or similar for a friend with a woodburner.) It was an unusual shape, with a flattened lid with a heavy rim, three little legs and a sturdy wire handle, but I thought I recognised it as a genuine Dutch Oven from my trip to Oklahoma a couple of years ago. It was pretty rusty and there was some kind of horrible, smelly, black oily deposit inside at the bottom. Yet that smell, too was familiar, from my sewing machine adventures – burnt shellac?
So I Googled dutch ovens, and realised that some poor soul had proudly imported this one, and tried to season it without washing the shellac coating off first… it came off quite quickly, using washing soda, and it has scrubbed up & seasoned nicely. I have been hunting up dutch oven recipes, too, both for the campfire and for the main oven, and I can see that it will be in use at least weekly. So I’m off to inspect the dough for my “Easy-No-Knead-Dutch-Oven-Crusty-Bread right now! It’s been rising overnight on my boiler. Hope the dutch oven cools in time to bake a cherry clafouti tonight, maybe even over the campfire if the weather holds…

A good morning…

August 6, 2008

… at the Tip today. No sewing machines, but they did have a push mower – our old one has finally given up the rusty ghost – and a grill the right size for my reclaimed firepit. (Also some dark green satiny fabric; DD2 is working on a pink & green theme at the moment, so she’ll be pleased with that.) I’ve re-installed the handle of the mower and have been playing with the height adjustment & sharpening the blades. Everything turns very efficiently so I think we’ll have it up & running in the next day or two. Our lawn is tiny so a push-mower is perfectly sufficient, and totally guilt-free on the carbon front, especially as it’s reclaimed.

The grill is a bit of a find. I will be able to extend the range of things I can cook on the firepit quite a lot. I have a family party coming up, and a pleasant evening around the firepit, burning the spacer blocks from the pallets and a log or two from my friend’s enormous & eventually unsafe ex-leylandii, cooking a few traditional campfire & BBQ goodies, fits the bill perfectly. I will hang little tea-light lanterns in the willow tree, to echo the stars; some reclaimed recently, some we’ve had for many years. Weather permitting, if course! But I do have a gazebo, also rescued a while back from the tip; it was ripped & needed mending, but that wasn’t hard to do. So as long as it isn’t overly windy, the show goes on… and the ashes will go onto my compost heap and help to feed next year’s vegetables.

Kids around the firepit last week...

Kids around the firepit last week...

Isn’t it wasteful, maybe even damaging to burn stuff for pleasure? Well, maybe, but I would plead that if I am cooking on it, and it’s wood that really doesn’t have any other future, that mitigates the damage. And there is something sacred about gathering around a fire, something in the glowing embers that speaks to an important part of us that’s in danger of being lost now. Perhaps that’s what people are looking for in their smoky barbeques, chimineas and patio heaters… give me a clean-burning campfire every time!

Waiting is hard…

August 5, 2008

…but until my jigsaw is back from the menders, and it stops raining, we can’t finish the bale store. There are 5 pallets waiting to be transformed into a store for bales of hay & straw and a little “woodshed” to store logs etc. for burning. I appealed on Freecycle for some corrugated bitumen roofing, and was given some offcuts from someone’s new shed, which are absolutely perfect for the job. Anyhow, I shall just have to get on with some indoor creative recycling instead.

I’m a Morsbagger (Morsbags.com) which undoubtedly qualifies as creative recycling, but it’s not my only way of enjoying myself with a sewing machine. I like rescuing elderly sewing machines from our local Recycling Centre (aka the Tip) Freecycle groups and Ebay too, if they stay at rock-bottom price. Most get sent off with Tools With A Mission to Uganda, for someone to earn a living with; a few stay with me and one or two get sold on to raise funds to rescue more. However there is virtually no secondhand market for bog-standard machines (which are the most useful ones as you can still get parts for them) because they were made to last, and most of them did! And most people here prefer electrical machines… it’s nice to feel that something I can so easily do can give someone elsewhere a bit of hope and self-respect, as well as preventing the waste of a machine that still has plenty of working life left in it. I also love to make patchwork quilts, bags and other items with reclaimed textiles; it’s astonishing what people throw out. Not long ago I came across 7m of pure dupion silk in a skip; I’m still wondering about the story behind that, as it smelt strongly of seawater, which has now faded. Our local Scapstore is a great source of very cheap fabric too, mostly offcuts from interior designers & upholsterers.

Josie's quilt

Josie's quilt, made partly from my old maternity & working clothes.

Mending things should qualify as recycling. I was given a rather nice cantilevered sewing box the other day; it was missing a couple of screws and washers, which cost me a few pence at the local hardware shop. Now it’s back in working order I can use it to store some of the massive collection of lace, ribbons, bindings and other snippets of haberdashery that my mother had squirreled away over the years. My older daughter and I are happily embellishing bags and hats with it, but it may take us some time to use it all up! One day I’d like to make my living running a recycled creative textile workshop, but I’m not in the right place to do that just yet.

Ah well, time to go & restore some order to my temporary workshop, which has been rearranged for a game of Cluedo (with a secondhand set, naturally!) on a rainy summer holiday afternoon…

or am I a palletaholic…?

August 3, 2008

I am only just starting to appreciate what resources are literally lying all around us. A couple of weeks ago, I needed a new bantam house for my smaller chickens; the one they were in was far too big for them and took up too much of our small urban garden. I looked on Ebay, Freecycle, AdTrader, the pet shop window, everywhere I could think of, to try to find something I could convert into one. Maybe even a decent old sideboard?! But there was nothing available locally under £50… However, I had a good, solid roof left over from an otherwise rotten hutch, two-thirds of a tongue & groove door, and a couple of bits of old fencing lying around. There were two pallets outside the little signwriter’s factory at the top of the next street, and two more in the bin store of the nearby flats; altogether, plenty of wood. So I knocked on a couple of doors, asked nicely and it was given unto me… in fact they were glad to see it taken away!

Less than a week later, the bantams moved into their new coop, which has cost me less than £10, and only that because I had to buy hinges and bolts; I just hadn’t left enough time to source them for free. It’s sturdy and draught-free although well-ventilated, and comes apart easily for cleaning, with easy access to the nestboxes on one side. Not too easy though, remembering the fox…

Bantam coop made from recycled pallets and other bits & bobs.

Bantam coop made from recycled pallets and other bits & bobs.

 I’m not even a novice at woodwork, but a lady of a certain age who probably used all the wrong tools, didn’t even draw up a plan or measurements, but did everything by eye and guesswork. And it works!

I’d put off doing this for weeks, because I knew it was going to be too hard and I’d get it all wrong, and that pallet wood was rubbish, and I’d have to go to B&Q for bits, where they always laugh at me… but it wasn’t hard at all! And I’ve ended up with something a darn sight roomier & sturdier than the cheapest available locally, at £60 without even nestboxes or perches.

My point is that if I can do it, anyone can. Just get out there and have a go!

Am I suffering from recyclemania…?

August 2, 2008

I have so much I want to share with the world! Or at least, with those of us who live in places cursed with the blight of modern technological society…

I’m sure my much-loved friends & family look at me and wonder where they went wrong. Living in their tasteful Home Counties houses, tending their bamboo & decking gardens, driving their well-chosen, high-MPG, depreciation-proof cars, reading all the right-on, slightly subversive books and buying all the politically-correct, ecologically-sound stuff… and then there’s me, zooming around in a ramshackle imported MPV, straw-strewn boot stuffed full of pallets, elderly sewing machines or Freecycled goodies, indolent cats asleep on every windowsill, chickens running riot all over my ex-lawn, overgrown garden dripping with fruit, herbs and saladings, cupboards full of homemade jam (as if we didn’t have a perfectly good supermarket up the road!) and hordes of teenagers, some of them mine, who don’t seem to want to tread the well-worn path to academic excellence, student debt repayments, respectable careers & solid pensions…

There’s no accounting for it!

I don’t live entirely outside respectable “normality” but I’m struggling now to stay cheerfully within its bounds. Somehow life keeps pushing me towards a different lifestyle; one where the unquestioning, unceasing acquisition of tawdry new trinkets and timewasters is no longer fulfilling, but has come to seem an obscene insult to my intelligence and ingenuity. It’s not just lack of disposable income that is sending me down this route; it’s becoming a joyful challenge not to buy anything new until all other options have been explored & discarded. I’ve tried Compacting for a year, and couldn’t quite do it because so much of our stuff is just plain worn out, and suitable secondhand replacements for our situation aren’t always available locally, but I can’t just stop now – I’m hooked.

So please raise a glass to my endeavours! Preferably one of the 6 lovely green-stemmed lead crystal wineglasses I rescued from our local Recycling centre earlier today; we were clean out of decent wineglasses. I’m afraid the homemade, homegrown wine is all gone, though; I’ll make more when the cherry plums & rosehips ripen. I’m off to bed now, to try out the almost-brand-new Freecycled mattress I picked up earlier to replace the 15 year old one…