27 June 2014

Weekend reading

Brrrr, it's cold here this morning but it should warm up later with a sunny day. I hope if your weather is cold, you have warm soup, gloves and jumpers on hand. I hope if it's warm where you are that you have salads, cold drinks and a fan. But who knows what could happen. With the weather the way it is, we don't always get what is expected.

Thank you for your visits this week, and for your comments. Comments mean a lot more than a few words on a screen. It's like you're taking the time to wave back and say "hello, I'm here too!" Those of us who write blogs, need that. Not just me, we all need it.  Whatever you're doing this weekend, take some time for yourself, sit down and relax for a while. The work will still be there when you get back to it.

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Having a baby will simplify your life
CWA halls closing
Pop into Nundle tea cosy
Washington DC is banning polystyrene containers
How to read olive oil labels
Living life on a simple note
Where are all the mothers?
When kids share a room, awesome things happen (apologies for using the word "awesome")
And carrying on from the previous link, here is something I wrote in 2007 about old fashioned houses
Thrifty gardener's guide to companion planting

26 June 2014

Choices and how they change us

I received an email from a young woman the other day who told me that she's so conflicted about a choice she has to make that she's deliberately not thinking about it and she'll probably end up just flipping a coin to decide. She said by doing that she'll be getting what is meant to be. Phttttt! I don't believe in fate or coincidence. I believe we make our own luck and good fortune by working for what we want. Usually the decisions we have to make are those involving your work, family, friends and home so you should do as much thinking about those decisions as you can. The choices you make, whether they be good choices or bad, will impact you when you make them, and like a ripple on a pond, long into the future too. Flipping a coin to make a decision is like saying you're not worth the effort. Everything you do matters.

Flipping a coin and deliberately not thinking about important issues is side stepping the opportunity you have to make your own decisions. I encourage all of you to plan ahead and live according to your values. Own your life! This isn't a dress rehearsal. You don't want to realise that too late.  Plan your life as best you can, but be flexible when you have to be. Planning ahead will give you the best chance of success because you can actively work towards what you want. Non-planning really doesn't take the decision making out of your hands, there will still be an outcome. You're making the choice to not make a decision and then you have to take what comes of that.

When I look back and think of all the people I've met, the work I've done, the places I've seen, the time spent on such a wide variety of things, the countless hours I've spent raising babies and children and teens, the years I've spent working, I can see clearly that my path to here was never straight. It was one with curves, highs and lows, periods of intense happiness but also periods so dark I could barely see what was ahead. Some of my choices were not given enough thought and some just plain wrong, but all those past choices helped make me the person I am now. Sometimes I look back I wonder where all that energy came from, and where it went. I've tried many things, left most of them behind, and am here now with my basket full of what is important to me. I am happy and self-confident and I have the most wonderful family.

So to that young woman who wrote, and to all of you, I encourage you to think about what you want, work hard for it, plan your days and make the most of the intelligence, skill and talents you have. Stay close to your family and friends. I'm not saying this is easy, in fact, I know its not, but since when was the easy option the smart one? No matter what, when you think enough about the issue you're dealing with and then make the decision you need to make, own it, and then put in the effort to make it work.

Are you a decision maker or are you inclined to flip a coin?


25 June 2014

Pizza and sausage rolls

I have a couple of food recipes for you today. I love sharing my recipes, they're just plain and simple, but I get a thrill when people say they like them. I really should say I have one recipe because one is for pizza and I don't think you can recommend a recipe for that because everyone has their own ideal toppings. I, for instance, love anchovies on my pizza but most people's eyes glaze over when I say that. Apologies to all with weak stomachs.  

I do however, have a hint for a base that might make pizza night easier for you. When I know I'm going to have pizza during a particular week, when I make my next batch of bread, I add another cup of flour, more water, a pinch more yeast and a splash of olive oil. Oil or butter in dough makes the dough more tender and pliable so it's easier to roll out flat when preparing pizza. It doesn't spoil the bread by adding it. When the dough is made in the bread machine, I take off a piece big enough for one pizza base and freeze it or refrigerate it (depending on when I'll be making it) until it's needed. It saves me the extra step on the pizza night of making the dough. I've been making wholemeal dough lately but pizza dough can be made with any type of bread flour. I should remind you the pizza dough I make is for two people. Adjust yours according to the number of bases you need.

My other recipe is for sausage rolls. These are sold in almost every bakery in Australia and when my boys where young, they were always the most popular food I served at their birthday parties. They're a good standby to have when you're entertaining, especially on cold winter nights. I guarantee you, when you put out a tray of hot sausage rolls and a bowl of tomato sauce, they're be gone in less than five minutes. 

Men and boys in particular, love these and it's a great food for those parents here who like to hide vegetables.  I add carrot, onion and celery to mine and you'd never know it when they're cooked. They're a very devious party food. ;- )  I make most of my pasty but I never make puff pastry or filo pastry. These sausage rolls need two sheets of frozen puff pastry.

1 kg/2.2 lbs finely minced beef, pork, lamb or chicken
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, grated
1 stick celery, finely diced
salt and pepper - you need good seasoning in this, don't be shy with the salt and pepper

2 sheets frozen puff pastry
egg wash - egg wash is an egg yolk or a whole egg mixed with a little water

  1. Turn on your oven to 220C/430F to preheat. Puff pastry gets its flaky texture when cold pastry goes into a very hot oven.
  2. Place two sheets of pastry on the bench and cut into two even pieces. Make sure the pastry remains cold. You want it defrosted but not at room temperature.
  3. Combine the meat and whatever finely diced vegetables you're using in a large bowl, add the seasoning. 
  4. Mix well and when it's thoroughly combined run the meat mixture in a narrow sausage along the middle of the pastry. (See photo above.)
  5. Brush the side of the pastry with egg wash to help the pastry seal.
  6. Roll up the sausage roll in a long log shape, make sure it seals along the edges where the pastry meets.
  7. With a pastry brush, brush egg wash over the top of the rolls.
  8. Cut the rolls into the size you need them to be.
  9. Make three small slashes in the top of every sausage roll.
  10. Place on a baking tray, not touching, and place into the hot oven. 
  11. After five minutes, turn the heat down to 180C/355F and cook until golden brown.
  12. Cool on a rack for a couple of minutes before serving.

In addition to hiding the vegies in these rolls, you can also modify them if you're serving a large tray of them at a party. Divide your ingredients up and make three different batches.  Do one according to the recipe above, add one level teaspoon of cayenne pepper OR one finely diced green chilli to batch number two and one level tablespoon of curry powder to batch three. Delicious! Be prepared for a couple of your guests to ask for the recipe. I hope you enjoy them.


24 June 2014

What does simple mean?

One of the ongoing comments I've had since I started writing my blog, and also in my real life, is that simple life isn't that simple. Many people tell me that spending hours growing and preparing food and cleaning products is much more complicated that buying mainstream from the supermarket. Many of them tell me that they're too busy to do those things and that buying what is needed every week simplifies their lives because it's easier.

That's fine by me. I'm not trying to convince anyone that this way of living is the grand panacea for all of life's complexities. I think that to live a simple life, at the very least, you need to cut out or cut back on a variety of things, but how you do that is up to you. I know what works for me and my family and that is how I live. We have cut our environmental footprint considerably over the past 12 - 13 years and we've done it consistently. If you're doing the same thing then you're on the right track. 

I've thought about this a lot and I know the following are simplified by doing them at home, from scratch:
  • baking bread
  • making preserves
  • growing vegetables and some fruit
  • keeping chickens for eggs
  • making cleaning products and laundry liquid
  • making soap
  • cooking from scratch
  • baking from scratch
  • disposing of disposables
  • mending
  • knitting dishcloths, jumpers, cardigans, gloves, hats etc
That list could go on and on.

Let me explain my beliefs. When I bake bread at home, I buy bulk flour in a heavy paper bag, bulk yeast (or I make sour dough), and I add things I have on hand for other purposes - oats, butter, salt, sugar, nuts, seeds etc. So I buy two products specific to bread making, that I buy every couple of months, and I have the rest on hand. Making a loaf of bread takes me about 15 minutes in work time. I make the dough in the bread maker and then bake the dough in the oven. That way I get a delicious loaf without too much time given over to it.  My electricity comes form solar panels.

To buy a loaf of bread at the supermarket, I have to drive to the supermarket and buy the bread - every day if I want fresh bread every day. That bread will have been made in some far off factory that is staffed by people who probably all used fuel to get to the factory, it will be loaded with preservatives and other artificial additives. It will be packaged in plastic with a plastic clip to hold the bag closed.  All the ingredients for the bread will have been transported to the factory, the rolls of plastic or bread bags will have been transported to the factory as well. When the bread is made and wrapped, then it's transported to the supermarket, where I drive to buy it. That's a lot of fuel being used for something that can easily be made at home. It's a lot of artificial additives too - I'm sure you don't add preservatives and artificial flavourings to your bread at home, neither do I. It's not necessary when you make it yourself.

The same could be said for every product on that list. I buy the ingredients, yarn or fabrics a few times a year and they are stored in my home till they're needed. Of course it looks simpler when you think you're just going to the shop to buy those goods, but they're all come from somewhere, they all have a chain of production and delivery, and varying amounts of fossil fuels attached to them. That is not simple, in fact it's extremely complex and unsustainable.

Some tell me they frequently use disposable products - that they save time. I've turned my back on as many disposable products as I can and my housework takes the same amount of time as it did before. Disposables don't save time, they're more convenient, yes, less messy, yes, but also unsustainable and much more expensive. Making do with what we can produce here at home has cut down the amount of rubbish we send to the land fill as well. If I was shopping like I did all those years ago, I'd be sending full bins and not composting or recycling anything at home, and still working to pay for it all.

"Simple" shouldn't be confused with "more convenient" or "easy". Simple usually involves you doing some form of work - to bake the bread, milk the cow, make the cheese, kill the pig, harvest the tomatoes, peel the potatoes, cook the meat, pack the lunch, fill the water bottles, knit the cardigan, darn the socks or whatever. More convenient is getting someone else to do those things for you, or buying the same thing over and over again. It is easier, and it might seem more simple to drive to the shop to pick up all those things, but think about what's gone on to get all those products on the supermarket shelves, all the fuel used to deliver the raw ingredients to the factories, all the people and fuel needed to process the products and to get the people to the factories and the products from the factories to the shops.

There are many definitions of simple living but I think it means taking control of your own life and becoming self reliant in many different ways. Through that self reliance comes the opportunity to pay off debt, to live on less money, to connect with your family and friends and to have your home and family as the centre of your world. Home, family, friends and your community become your focus and the commercial world and the flimflammery of modern life take a back seat. But that's my view, how do you define simple life?


20 June 2014

Weekend reading

It's been a cold week here in our warm country. We desperately need rain but the forecast isn't offering any hope of that in the near future. I hope the weather at your home is what you want it to be.  I do my last library talk at Nambour next week and then have some scheduled for September in the Moreton Bay area. I'm looking forward to meeting those Brisbane people.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Keep smiling. :- )

Cute cotton summer top for a little girl - tutorial from Purl Bee
Experimenting with viruses
Context Institute: whole system pathways to a thriving sustainable future
Good and Cheap - a free download of what look like excellent meals by Leanne Brown
Tips for photographing chickens
McClennan Heritage Farm 
From Scratch free online homesteading magazine
Mara shawl pattern
Reinforcing and darning
Short row spiral knitting - rug, free pattern
Germany breaks solar power records
Where do your donation dollars go?


19 June 2014

Winter knitting

I've yet to find a more comfortable winter activity than knitting. Just thinking about my wool, cotton and needles gives me a good feeling. And then there's the important choice of where to knit. Even though knitting is so portable when you take the kids to sport or dancing, a little warm chair to knit in is part of winter for me. I have an arm chair set up in the lounge room where I'm surrounded by knitting, needles, wool, patterns, a little jar of markers, a darning needle and small scissors. Bliss.

Alone is a good place to be when you knit because you sometimes need silence to explore the ideas that will form in your brain when you undertake the simple repetition that makes up knitting. Some say that knitting is similar to crochet and I suppose that's right in some ways, but to me, knitting is more like meditation. The long periods of repetition encourage thought that can sometimes be deep and illuminating. But showing her true versatility, knitting will also see you through your favourite TV program, a tennis match or rehearsal.

These photos, above and below, are the same shawl. I'm not sure what happened to the colour but the top one is true.

I've just finished my second shawl. It was very simple knitting, ideal for a beginner who wants to progress beyond scarves and dish cloths. I made both of mine with organic cotton, one in the colour Diligence, a dark grey and the most recent in Patience, a camel light brown. I thought a lot about those two qualities while I was knitting my shawls.  I'm also doing up a few dishcloths to show at my library talks. The one on my needles now is Deb's waffle weave, which is in my book and was asked about at one of the talks. I recently knitted a pair of fingerless mittens (in New Zealand pure Merino) for Hanno but when I finished them and gave them to him I noticed I'd knitted one in a greenish grey and one in a bluish grey. Ahem. I guess I'll be doing up another pair. They'll match this time. :- )

Knitting is a wonderfully creative investment of time in the practical activity of making clothing and soft furnishing for your home. Generally the clothes we knit last for many years so it's wise to use the best yarn you can afford. That yarn will be rubbing against skin when it's worn so try to steer clear of the Chinese acrylics and look for more natural alternatives. Real wool breathes, real cotton is cooling. But think about the time you invest in knitting too and make that time enjoyable by using yarns you like the feel of. Use good needles. I'm totally won over by bamboo needles and although I have metal, wood and vintage plastic, I always choose my Japanese bamboo needles now. I've noticed that Japanese needle sizes are alongside the UK and US sizes on various charts now. I think that reflects the incredible influence that Japanese crafts, fabrics and implements have had in the West in recent years.

I am not the best knitter in the world and my projects are rarely, if ever, perfect, but knitting makes me happy so I'll keep clicking those needles. I really enjoy the time I spend making things from wool and cotton. It feels right. It suits me and my life. If you're a beginner, and you're looking for help and encouragement you'll find it at the forum. There is a monthly thread where members show and tell their latest projects. Chel and Judy are there to keep your hands busy and your mind thinking creatively while the rest of us appreciate all you show us.

What's on your needles?


18 June 2014


I have no doubt that a change of mindset towards a less complicated and busy life would help almost everyone pursue their simple life dreams. It's not easy to switch from the culturally-sanctioned spend-up-big-and-then-pay-for-it lifestyle to a simpler life. Almost all good things are difficult to acquire and you have to be prepared to work for them. The easy things are what most people do. So if you were to ask me today how to change a mindset of convenience to something more sustainable, I'd tell you that, like most things, it's a process of small changes.

There is a lot to be said for cultivating respect for oneself, others, our work, our homes and our environments. I doubt you could live this life if there wasn't some respect there to begin with but as you move into it, as your mindset changes, respect grows and builds understanding and contentment into your ordinary days. I never think much about the special days, the births and deaths, the weddings and anniversaries, because those days take care of themselves. It's our ordinary days we need to be mindful of. They need work and commitment.

I want my life to be full of spectacular ordinary days that are sprinkled with special days. I know that no one is going to walk up to me and offer me such a life on a silver platter. The creation of that kind of life is for the person who lives it. For me, respect plays a big part in giving me those memorable ordinary days. I respect the work I do here because it helps give me the lifestyle I want. That includes not only my housework but also my writing in various forms. My housework gives me the comfort and simplicity I want in my life, my writing gives me creative expression and the opportunity to connect with like-minded people all over the world.  For me, that's a great combination. But there are thousands of other combinations and it's up to everyone to find what works for them.

But I am doing all this for a reason other than comfort and connections. I am living according to the values that are important to me. They provide an ethical structure in which to live my life.  Respect, a change of mindset, mindfulness, self reliance, trust, grace and resilience all play a part. So if you're not really connecting with your simple life in the way you want to, although you're being frugal, organising yourself and doing all the practical things, maybe you need to look at your values and your mindset.  Simple life certainly involves a lot of practical things bunched in together but if it's to last, those practicalities are usually built on beliefs and ideology.

Open yourself up to new experiences and read a lot. If you can get hold of some of Wendell Berry's work, he is an excellent guide. In the meantime, read this poem of his. It's sublime. Of course, I'm not going to steer you away from the practical guides and recipe books that teach what you need to know but don't shy away from books that make you think. They can help you build a solid foundation for your life and will give you good reason to continue in times of doubt.

What has influenced you in your simple living journey?

How much is enough by Vicki Robin
The question of lifestyle by the editors of In Context
Enough by me, written in 2010

17 June 2014

The rag bag

Lori asked about making a rag bag after she read the last post.  I wrote about this way back in 2008 so here is that post, Lori. I hope you can make one up by reading those instructions and seeing the photos. Just start with a sturdy clothes hanger and take your measurements from that.

And here is a post about rags, again. I hope this motivates you to start your own rag bag. Let me know how you get on. 


16 June 2014

Cleaning the laundry

I've been trying to find the time to clean out my laundry and finally got to it yesterday. I scrubbed the sink and bench, cleaned the floor and went through all my products to make sure they were necessary and usable. I went through the rag bag and it was getting low so I found an old towel, cut it up and added the rags to the bag. I threw out some old soap I had in a container. I didn't know it was there; it was rancid. Note to self: don't hide soap, it doesn't last, you silly girl. 

It's not pretty but it's a working laundry so I just need it to be serviceable and productive. I do a fair bit of work in the laundry. As well as storing all my cleaning ingredients, I also use it to store my cheese fridge and to dry out and then store homemade soap. There is a 15 litre bucket in the sink that I use for soaking, which I do a lot of, and on the floor are two buckets and mops. And for Madeleine who emailed asking about mops, I use a cotton mop and bucket most of the time but also a more modern sponge/squeegee mop that I use with a handmade terry cover over the squeegee head. It gets into the corners better than the cotton mop does, although the cotton mop is much easier to use. I don't know what it is about the modern squeegee-type mops. I find they're difficult to move around on the floating floor we have. Do you have that problem?

The main thing though is that the room where all my cleaning is based, is now clean and ordered. There have been few changes in that room over the years and one thing will always remain the same: the work we do in our simple lives is easier if our work spaces and supplies are organised. I'm still making laundry liquid in preference to laundry powder because I can use it for so many other cleaning jobs. Still using oxy-bleach to soak whites and stubborn stains. Still using vinegar and bicarb for general cleaning. I never dry clothes in a dryer, always on the line outside, I'm still washing exclusively in cold water in a front loader. I still hate ironing. I will never go back to commercial cleaners. When the homemade cleaners cost so little to make and they do a better job, using less chemicals, why would I change? I find that as I age, my asthma is getting worse. I think that going back to high chemical cleaners might do me in.

My next task during the coming week is to move all the shopping bags I have in the laundry. The long term task is to remove the old dryer. Even though it still works, it's now 33 years old and I haven't used it for a long, long time. We bought it to dry our new babies' nappies. I hope they'll accept it at the rubbish dump's recycle shop. It's either there or the museum. ;- )


14 June 2014

Slow down with Slow

Slow magazine winter edition is out now so if you're looking for a decent read this weekend, see if you can find it at your local newsagent. If they don't have it, ask them to get it in for you. There is a preview of it here on Facebook and yes, that is my article An inconvenient truth about convenience food. So get yourself a cup of tea, find a place in the sun and slow down with Slow. I hope you enjoy it.

13 June 2014

Weekend reading

Look who's back. Sunny and Jamie flew in from Korean yesterday morning. :- )  We will have a quiet weekend, a mix of work and rest. I hope you have time out for yourself over the coming days and take the opportunity to relax.  I'll see you next week.

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Farmers paying for Woolworths Oliver campaign
Farmers ask Oliver to intervene
Oliver's butcher shop closed after mouse droppings found
Upcycling furniture
Homemade chicken waterer
13 acres
The evolution of leisure
How to mend old shoes
10 vegetarian and vegan blogs you need to know about
Crocheting how-tos, step-by-step
My friend Michele is having a giveaway for the first anniversary of her blog - going grey and slightly green

10 June 2014

The garden is thriving

Our garden is doing good things this year, thanks to Hanno and all his soil prep and maintenance work. We're eating from the garden most days and it's still overflowing with healthy abundance. I have a bag full of green beans in a plastic bag with a little water in it, sealed off from the air and when I checked them a few hours ago, they were still crisp and green. Just the thing for the green bean salad I want to make for tomorrow's lunch. We'll also have potato, egg and herb salad, just picked red and green lettuce leaves, rich red tomatoes and beetroot. Everything, except for the potatoes, will come from our garden. Our potatoes are growing but they're still about two months off being harvested. I'll serve that salad with the leftover roast pork I cooked for Sunday lunch, and a bit of mayonaisse I'll make from scratch before serving. There may even be warm rye bread with caraway seeds just out of the oven. The possibilities are endless.

Borage is one of the many flowers attracting pollinators to the garden.

I feel rich having a garden. It's so easy to go out and pick herbs for a pot cooking on the stove, or tomatoes for a sandwich, or oranges for a snack or juice, but those simple acts are enriching and empowering and give us the best food possible. We are rich.

We are lucky in that we can grow a wide variety of fruits and vegetables here.  We have snow peas, broccoli, cauliflowers and cabbages growing because of the cool nights and tomatoes, capsicums, beans and herbs growing because of the warm days.  In the photo above you can see the first of the cauliflowers peeking out. There are also beans, peas, onions, garlic, potatoes, kale, daikon and much more. Sunny and Jamie will be back at the end of the week and it will be such a pleasure to share our vegetables with them again.

Above are cherry tomatoes growing like a house on fire, while furthur over, to the right on the photo below, the large Rouge de Marmande tomato have dropped most of their leaves after producing delicious tomatoes for the past six weeks. They'll be pulled out in the next day or so and will be replaced by sweet peas and Brandywine seedlings. In the meantime we'll survive on the tomatoes in the kitchen, as well as the cherries and Amish Paste.

The chooks feast on a sprouted lettuce. They love eating whatever is thrown over the fence. Except, that is, for Jezebel the big Australorpe girl standing there staring at me.  I took about eight photos and in all of them she's just staring. She's my favourite girl at the moment. I love walking behind them so I can see their downy bottoms from the back. They all look as if they're wearing big black bloomers.

They are the potatoes straight ahead, with beans and passionfruit on the right and cabbages on the left.  In summer, that trellis will provide some good shade for the chook house.

This is part of our parsley patch. It's a good year for parsley. A tip for those who want to grow parsley, buy good heirloom seeds such as Giant of Italy and sow plenty of them in pots. Often it will take a month for parsley to germinate but they can be helped along by watering (once) with a pinch of Epsom Salts in a litre of water, or by soaking the seeds in hot water the night before you intend sowing.  Tend them well in their pots, don't over water, parsley hates too much water, and when they're about two inches tall, transplant them to a full sun position in your garden, close to the edge of the garden to help with frequent harvesting. When the parsley season comes to an end, it will send up a tall flower.  Allow that to develop and turn into seeds. Harvest all of the seeds, and sprinkle some around the garden for the following season.  If they like the place they're growing, parsley will self sow and you won't have to wait for it to germinate in pots again.

The tiny speck in this calendula is a native bee. They're stingless and usually live in holes in tree trunks. These bees produce a delicious concentrated honey that the aboriginal people call "sugar bag".

We are so lucky to have the land, skills and mindset to grow our own vegetables. Not only do they feed our bellies, they feed our souls too. Walking out into a garden I've helped to plant and nurture gives me the feeling of wellbeing that many companies try to sell in the form of vitamin pills and holidays abroad.  Wellbeing is a simple concept though and it's available to everyone who has a flourishing garden and the will to be part of their surroundings.

Don't forget we have a busy Sustainable Backyards section over at the Down to Earth Forums. Robyn and Vikki are the moderators there but we all chime in when we can. If you have any gardening questions, go there and ask. There are many good gardeners there willing to share what they know.


9 June 2014

Family history tablecloth

I've been moving towards this project for some time.  A few months ago I found this curtain, added it to my Pinterest pages and started putting together my old doilies so I could make it.  When Tricia came up a few months ago, she made it up for me as two kitchen curtains. They didn't fall well because instead of hanging in a long single length, they were very wide.  After a couple of weeks looking at them, I took them down, put them away and made kitchen curtains using the cutoffs of our bedroom curtains. Then I happened upon Jane Brocket's garden party quilt and it ignited my passion again.

A few days ago, I got the curtains out of the cupboard, did some alterations, added a middle section, sewed the curtains into one piece and turned them into a table cloth.  When I laid our table with that cloth, those doilies felt as if they'd come home at last and were made to grace our table. Now I have the pleasure of seeing those old doilies - some of them with family history - much more often. With just a little work, it's become part of my every day. I much prefer to use what I have instead of keeping them in a cupboard. And it's made up a beautiful cloth that used to be part of my family history into part of daily life.

You can make something like this too. Search for doilies, embroidered table cloths and hand towels, tea towels and old handkerchiefs, or even small pieces of fancy fabric you like the look of. If you don't have enough, stitch a few pieces of plain fine cotton copying the older styles in the pieces you have. Try to make each piece fairly similar in weight. My cloth has very soft handkerchief cotton, light linen and a lot of fine cotton but most of them are very old, have been washed a lot and have lost any heaviness they once had. Set all your pieces out on a bed first to work out your patterns and size and to be sure of the colours and shapes, then pin it and sew on the sewing machine.

In the photo above, I think that little red flower spray was worked by Tricia when we were at school, the white lace doily at the front is mums, the blue cross stitch I bought at Blackheath a few years ago and it looks like one of Tricia's old hankies on the left. The white lace at the back was bought at an antique shop a few years ago and I think it was once church linen - I think a candle stick stood on it. When the cloth was laid, I added roses and gerberas from the front garden and stood back. A few more tweaks and I was satisfied, the project was finished. I had a cloth to be proud of that makes me think of my wonderful family and all the fine stitchers among our ranks. It also gives me the unusual opportunity to sit at the kitchen table with them again and that, my friends, is the icing on the cake.

Do you have a cloth or curtains like this? Do you have any handiwork that reminds you of your family?

Judy has started a thread at the forum about this, click here to go there.

6 June 2014

Weekend reading

We sat on that bench under the tree on the left. 

We had a day out yesterday. We left just after peak hour, which didn't seem to make any difference to the traffic, drove down towards the city, turned off the freeway after about 15 minutes and sailed into a small coastal town called Scarborough. The tide had just gone out, seabirds were picking over their findings on the rocks and, under a she-oak, we sat with a cup of hot tea and enjoyed the beauty of it all. It was the highlight of the day for me. 

 Lunch at the boat club.

Later we had a seafood lunch at the local boat club, picked up some stationery at Officeworks and then decided to look in at the North Lakes shopping centre.  As Jamie would say: "No good." We took a dozen steps into Target and I said to Hanno, "I can't stand this, let's go." We walked out into the centre again, sat down and had a drink which was quite horrible. I told Hanno the shopping centre was depressing, I didn't want to look at anything, there was nothing I wanted, I just wanted to go. And we did. He agreed. I must remember that shopping centres don't get any better and we're much better off outside than inside them.

I hope you enjoy your weekend.  I'll be giving a talk at one of the local libraries on Saturday morning and spending the rest of the time working on my quilt and out in the garden with Hanno and the chooks. Take care.  
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Back to Basics: Living with "Voluntary Simplicity"
How to sew on a button
Jeans repair shop
Online exhibition at Smithsonian Institute - Food, transforming the American Table 1950 - 2000
How to menu plan using veggie boxes
How to finish seams without a serger/overlocker
The rising cost of child care - Britain, Sweden, United States
10 tips from grandma for a greener home - I know this is preaching to the converted but it's good to see popular sites like Treehugger promoting these simple measures
Elderflower jelly recipe
Doughnut recipe

4 June 2014

Organising embroidery threads

I recently found these photos of a Jane Brocket quilt, made with vintage embroidery pieces,  and it sparked my desire to embroider again. I love hand sewing. Now that these stitched pieces are popular again, it's become very difficult to find enough old embroidery to make a large project such as a quilt or tablecloth. I thought it might be a worthwhile exercise to make up a few pieces, modelled on these old patterns. But first I had to organise myself and my sewing threads.

So yesterday I did a job I've been putting off for months. I sorted through my embroidery threads and organised them in boxes, according to colour. I've been a stitcher for many years and have quite a large collection of threads, mainly DMC. These threads are quite expensive and it's worth my while to look after those I have. The last time I looked, these skeins of thread were between 99 cents and $1.25 so my collection, and maybe yours too, would cost a lot to replace.

A lot of us have a tin full of threads like this.  I decided to organise mine into these little boxes.
I already had a couple of boxes full of my threads, but I needed more space and a couple of new boxes.
 Start by sorting it all into colours and then wind all your skeins onto a little plastic spool.
Threads are easier to keep without getting tangled if they sit on a spool rather than held together with their little labels.
 Don't forget to write the colour code on the spool with permanent marker.

If you're starting out and only have a few colours, I still think it's a good idea to buy one of these little organising caddies. I used the Birch Midi Organiser Box available at Spotlight. It keeps the threads clean, dust-free and ready to use. You'll soon fill a box as threads are the type of product you tend pick up a few at a time when you buy other craft items or start a new project. It doesn't take long to fill a box. You can use an empty compartment to store your needles.

Start off by winding all your threads on a plastic spool onto which you've written the number code of the thread. You'll need that to buy an exact colour replacement in the future. I've found the best way to store them is to colour sort them, but if you've like another way better then do that.

If you want to try this craft, I've written this post about how to get started with embroidery and if you feel guilty about sitting down during the day with your crafts, read this post I wrote many years ago. It might ease your mind.

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You are invited to participate in a study into the way we consume goods and how that affects our life experiences. Why does it matter? Because there is currently not enough understanding in this area; and understanding can lead to change for the better. But to understand we need you!

All you are asked to do is spend thirty minutes of your time completing an anonymous questionnaire. It can be completed online or in paper form on request. Easy. Participation is entirely voluntary and you can opt out at anytime before completing the questionnaire. There will be no repercussions either way.

The study is being conducted by an honours student in the Bachelor of Psychological Science degree at La Trobe University, Wodonga campus. For more information or to get involved, please click on the following link: http://latrobepsy.az1.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_3t0Ig6VSdWFBLkV

Alternatively you can email the investigator at sarich@students.latrobe.edu.au for more information or to receive a paper version of the questionnaire.

Thanks for your help.
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