Friday, 9 July 2010

Make do and Mend

Handy hints re:
• Making ink from soot, barley bannocks and a washing up bowl ‘shower’ should you ever need them!

Here’s thought:

The real value of things has been lost because they are so cheap here in the West and we think it will be that way forever. The things of true value such as food, water, shelter and community are often cheap in money terms until they become scarce and then we realise you can't eat money

These essential resources are likely to get more expensive as they become scarcer, which is already happening in many parts of the world. Historically we don’t notice something is running out until it is gone.

So the fact that many parts of the world (including the western world, such as Arizona) are running out of drinking water does not stop us (or even them) from using it to fill swimming pools and water lawns.

It is just hard for us to believe it until it's too late. And elected governments run for a term of about 4 years. What vested interest do they have in unpopular policies to conserve resources?  It just means they don’t get re-elected.

Our value base has changed a lot over the last 40 years or so without us noticing. Things have come to seem like the Only Hygienic Way for instance, when we managed perfectly well before.
The Moneyless Man: A Year of Freeconomic LivingMany people now think it is unhygienic to shower less than once a day or not flush the toilet every time we use it.
Remember If it's brown flush it down, if it's yellow let it mellow? 
NB if you have a toddler who plays with the toilet don't try to save on water this way!  If your dog drinks the toilet water you may also want to think here - or shut the lid!

 I have been following Mark Boyle’s blog on (he has just published a great book, the Moneyless Man).

He is quite a bit younger than me and I was struck by the things even he doesn’t know that his granny would have.
He also managed to do lots that I would never do of course. For example I am grateful to Mark for providing proper instructions on how to build a rocket stove.

Lots of people around the world rely on rocket stoves, made from old tin cans, to do their cooking on. They are efficient and use very little fuel. But many of us here would be appalled at the thought of having to use one.
Even if we in the UK (and I am sure many other Western countries) are on the dole (unemployment benefit) with hardly any money most of us would rather get into debt to pay the electricity bill than cook in the garden on a rocket stove in the better weather. Yeah I said most of us. I’m afraid this is where my family snigger and think to themselves ‘Not our Janet she would be out there under a borrowed Gazebo in the rain, actually’ and my Dad says ‘most people aren’t like you’ but actually he’s just the same. Well I would be out there in the rain under a gazebo  if it meant I had enough money and did not get into debt.

Here’s an example of what Mark Boyle doesn’t know that his granny could have told him.  (Sorry mark!!)
The thing about solar showers is that the water is gone before you get the soap off. Any good Girl Guide knows the best camping shower is a bowl of water.
Use a soap and flannel to soap yourself. Then stand in the basin and use a jug to pour  the water over yourself and wash the soap off. The basin catches the water of course so you can keep re-using it.  Or just use the flannel to wash off the soap.   And lean over the bowl to rinse your hair before you use the soap.

World Vision actually gives families plastic bowls for the purpose. They are like an over-sized washing up bowl and large enough for an average person to sit or kneel down in which is even better.

Mark spent ages making ink from mushrooms.
The Garden Cottage Diaries: My Year in the Eighteenth CenturyIn ‘The Garden Cottage Diaries, my year in the eighteenth century’ historian Fiona Houston describes how we used to make ink from soot here in Scotland. Much easier and available in abundance if living a subsistence lifestyle. Apparently it also lasts well on the page.
I think fiona just mixed soot with water  but I have loaned the book to a friend! Soot lasts hundreds of years as ink and does not damage paper as it is basically carbon.

Mark  agonises over whether to make bread, which he is fond of.
But it is a major hassle to make, due to the necessity for also making an outside cob oven and having to make sourdough as a starter.

In eighteenth century Britain they got around this by making flat bread, using whatever grains they had. It was unleavened and cooked on a flat iron griddle on top of the fire. They also made barley bannocks, delicious eaten hot . Barley was cheaper than wheat and was easier to grow in Scotland. has a bannock recipe.
Fiona Houston also has an authentic Scottish recipe for Bannocks and flatbread in her book.  She is a food historian and her recipes are very good. 

All this 'making do' led me to think about mending clothes. I tend to think it is a waste of time and I would be better doing something else, so the mending just sits there. Ultimately it means throwing the clothes in the bin though (or use them for rags/make a quilt - but how many of us bother?) Yet another example of how we undervalue what we have because it is cheap in money terms to buy.

So today I mended a tear in a skirt and remembered how good I am at it. I showed it to my daughter and it took us while to find the mend. I mended the strap on a bra and sewed a button on a cardigan. I tried to mend the sleeve on another cardigan only to find the whole sleeve had worn thin .
How great is that – I actually managed to wear something out! That cardigan was a favourite. It is cashmere and cost only £10 in a Tesco sale. I have had my money’s worth out of it.

It is a rare for us to wear clothes out . Or anything else for that matter. We get fed up with it and want new stuff. Or we buy the new stuff and it doesn’t all fit in the cupboard so then we get rid of the old stuff. And yet so many people in the world do not have enough.

One result of all this has been the growth of companies who do kerbside collections for our unwanted clothes and bric a brac. These are shipped out to other countries and sold to people who don’t have easy access to such things. Seems like a tidy solution but it has apparently led to the collapse of the textile industry in some countries, causing people to lose their jobs and the country to lose its self sufficiency in textile production.

So really the solution is to stop buying so much and wear out what we have.
What I have would probably last me the rest of my life though and I am bored with it already.
I am great at using what I have and not buying more until I go to the shops.

I am now trying not to buy anything brand new without first thinking whether I really need it and whether it could be got second hand. It has reduced our purchases and helped the finances into the bargain but is it still hard.
Sometimes you just want stuff because it seems like everyone else buys it. Buying knitting yarn and fibre for spinning seems to be my blind spot and I have so far not counted it as buying something new! I do have a lot already though – not counting the fibre and yarn that I sell as part of my business, this is just my personal stuff.

Mending the clothes made it feel like I had something new, because the things had been un-wearable for so long whilst waiting to be fixed. So it not only saved the cost of the item I repaired it saved the cost of a new one too.
And it was more satisfying to prevent these things from being thrown away than it would have been to go shopping.

I was going to bin the truly worn out cardigan. Then I realised I have been combing the charity shops for knitwear to make into felted knitting in the washing machine! So my cardigan is soon to be re-born as a felted knitted bag with beads on it. And if it doesn’t work, nothing is lost.

In the meantime I have had fun making a felted tea cosy from washing machine felt. (sadly not re-cycled, this was made from scratch.) I needed one and managed to design my own, with various buttons and handle holes in it. This means it fits two sizes of tea pot and the cafetiere. And making it kept me away from the shops…


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