Tagged: Laundry

Apr 14

How I gave up clothing



Six Items Challenge

My Six Items Challenge


A really big thank-you to all who sponsored me to give up most of my wardrobe for the Six Items Challenge, a ‘fashion fast’ for Lent. You raised a rather wonderful £114.31 for Labour Behind the Label, an organisation working hard to highlight the perils of fast fashion. So thank you. Over on my Instagram feed I’ve posted a few rather monotonous pictures charting what I wore: @Scrapianagram. If you thought about sponsoring me but didn’t get around to it, there’s still time.  And it’s for a tremendous cause. Here’s the link.


What is fast fashion?

The Six Items Challenge is an annual event organised by Labour Behind the Label to highlight the problem of ‘fast fashion‘. And what a problem it is. Our increasing reliance on cheap clothing makes it almost a disposable commodity – we can afford to wear this stuff once and pitch it, not even bothering to to give it a wash. One of the hidden impacts of such cheap clothing is the meagre earnings of many garment workers worldwide, living on so little (£1.50 a day isn’t unusual) that they don’t have sufficient money even to eat properly, let alone clothe themselves – oh, the irony. Organisations such as Labour Behind the Label help garment workers worldwide gain fair conditions and a living wage.


Why did I take on this fashion fast?

Well, it was the least I could do, really. Coping with a pared-down wardrobe from Ash Wednesday till Easter isn’t a major deprivation. It wasn’t as if I was committing to working a 100-hour week. Or earning £1.50 a day. Or starving. I hoped to challenge myself, and to help raise a little awareness, maybe.


How did I feel about this before I began?

Honestly? As a relatively pampered Westerner, I was quite daunted by the prospect of limiting my wardrobe to just six essential pieces, excluding underwear, accessories, sleepwear, performance sportswear etc. It seemed so restrictive. I anticipated feeling hemmed in. I expected to find it difficult, to fantasise about what else I might be wearing. I thought I’d miss my jeans. I imagined I’d run into personal hygiene problems. Yes, the prospect didn’t exactly fill me with joyful anticipation. Who on earth enjoys giving anything up anyway? We all want more, right? Why am I even doing this with problems of my own? Charity begins at home and all that. That’s pretty much how I felt.


So, what was it actually like?

Well, the 6 weeks were full of surprises.

( Read more )


Jan 03

Christmas leftovers


How to knit your own dishcloths


Christmas is over, bar a few lords a-leaping and the waft of pine needles from the vacuum cleaner. I usually hang on until 5th January, just ahead of Twelfth Night, before taking down the decs, but this year I’m itching to move on and put the last vestiges of 2013 well behind me. My goodness, I even feel drawn to a spot of spring cleaning! Which is why I started eyeing my large cone of Christmas baker’s twine* with intent. Here’s an idea, I thought. Why not try creating baker’s twine dishcloths?


Knitting with Christmas leftovers


Perhaps not the obvious conclusion to draw, but if necessity’s the mother of invention then post-Christmas boredom is her efficient midwife.

In case it’s new to you, baker’s twine is a twirling barber’s pole of a string which has become incredibly popular in recent years, thanks largely to the efforts of Martha Stewart and others. It gets used for anything, it seems, except its original purpose of crisply tying up boxes of baked goods. The classic red-and-white combination has a jaunty Scandinavian cheerfulness, but you’ll find the string in an array of other colours now too. Hard to beat it for jazzing up simple brown paper or white tissue gift-wrapping.

I bought in a huge reel from the US a few years ago, but when it arrived I was disappointed to discover that it was  a lot thinner than I’d hoped. A good baker’s twine needs to be a certain bulk and preferably all cotton. This was puny and an inferior poly-cotton blend – not what I’d hoped for at all. So, I had a lot of thin twine on my hands. What to do with it? Well, I’ve wrapped endless gifts and parcels with it, and tied up lots of packets of cookies. But this was a big reel and I’d barely made a dent. I needed a bigger project.


Red and white twine makes a cheery Scandi-style dishcloth


Sitting down this New Year’s Eve, I cast on 40 stitches on size 3.5 mm needles, started knitting and just kept going. Turns out that working baker’s twine in garter stitch is relatively easy, and I really like the marled effect.


Knitting with baker’s twine


You can, of course try other materials to make dishcloths: linen yarn, or dedicated dishcloth cotton yarn (yes, it really does exist) which looks great in ecru or white with occasional alternating stripes of red or other contrast colour in the same weight/fibre yarn, as shown here in this charming Purl Bee tutorial. But you don’t really need a tutorial: just cast on a few dozen stitches as the mood takes you. Knit until you have a square. Or a rectangle. Or knit a square from corner to corner, increasing then decreasing. Dishcloths are a really great vehicle for sampling new stitches: border details can be included, and all kinds of fancy stitches will add a functional texture:  But plain old garter stitch is all you need if you’re working with a patterned yarn such as baker’s twine. And, whatever the stitch, dishcloths make very portable projects to carry around with you for that inevitable idle moment. I’m admittedly not much of a knitter, but even I find 5 minutes of knitting surprisingly relaxing.


Baker’s twine dishcloth


I tested this square in the washing-up bowl to see if my Christmas occupation-creation scheme really had any point, other than reducing my towering twine-mountain and proving a mindlessly relaxing pass-time. Could laboriously knitting these babies really offer any noticeable improvement on the shop-bought machine-produced-dishcloth experience?


Putting it through its paces


Well, the answer’s yes. It was definitely pleasanter scrubbing my plates with this highly textured, nubbly, stretchy textile. And, as a considerable quantity of one’s day is taken up with mundane domestic tasks such as washing up, why not make this inevitable chore as pleasurable as possible? My heart gladdens a little just seeing this dishcloth hanging up to dry.


Handmade dishcloths drying


It stands to reason that if you knit your own dishcloths, you’ll be motivated to take slightly better care of them, hanging them up to dry rather than maybe leaving them to their fate in the washing-up water. Other than that, you can just throw these in the washing machine when it’s time to hotwash your tea-towels. I have a dedicated cloth saucepan in which I boil out dishcloths with a certain brand of ecologically sound oxygen bleach, though I remember my mother-in-law using just a spoonful of salt.

I’ll certainly be looking at string and twine a little differently from now on, sizing up its dishcloth potential. By the way, the other cloth there on my drying rack is knitted with much thicker cotton dishcloth yarn (a DK to the red-and-white twine’s 4-ply) edged in a chunkier blue/aqua baker’s twine which came from an Anthropologie sale a couple of years ago. It makes a much thicker, spongier textile and is a lot quicker to work up into a good-sized cloth.


Q. Do you already knit your own dishcloths? If so, I’d love to hear how and with what. If not, would you be tempted now to give it a go? Have a healthy, happy and well scrubbed 2014!



*baker’s twine, or should it be bakers twine? I am never quite sure. Today I’ve gone with an instinctive possessive apostrophe. Just a hunch. But if you know otherwise, please leave me a comment to set me straight. Thanks.





Oct 08

The Napkin Project exhibition

Last month I attended The Napkin Project‘s exhibition of contributions for Saffron Gardens, a new dementia care facility in Bristol. The project embraced the theme of ‘home’, with volunteers across the UK embroidering napkins to reflect what the word means to them. The napkins are destined to be used by people with dementia, hopefully stimulating memories, inspiring interaction, etc. This comment from a contributor helps to explain the impetus behind the project:

My father has dementia and I have often noticed the urge for him, and other residents in the care home, to play with the edges of things – be it fabric or a table edge. In fact, I often leave a cotton hankie (brightly patterned Liberty squares) for him when my visit is over – a sort of textile reminder that I’ve been there. Something physical for him to hold.

It was touching to see the 120 napkins hanging, slightly mournfully, en masse. Their brown-paper hanging tags carried words like ‘comfort’, ‘security’, ‘safety’ and ‘love’. 250 napkins had been sent out to embroiderers of all ages, levels and abilities (no-one was excluded), and the organisers, Willis Newson, were gratified by the relatively high response rate, considering the heavy investment of effort and time required to complete one in the three-month timeframe.



I had stitched one of the napkins, partly inspired to contribute by my own experiences of having close relatives in care. And it wasn’t surprising to me that affecting human stories hover behind many of the napkins. A fellow napkin-embellisher, viewing napkins beside me at the expo, revealed that she had just lost her own mother to dementia a few weeks before; in fact, she had hand-delivered her napkin to the organisers while visiting Bristol for her mother’s funeral. Amidst that turmoil, she valued the experience of embroidering her napkin, she said. It gave her something positive to focus her grieving energies on.

So, what did ‘home’ mean to the contributors? Here are some of the common themes.




Teapots, teacups and cakes.





Plates, of course, to put them on.

Blue plate napkin

A good read.



Gardens, trees and flowers.

Napkin for The Napkin Project




Animals, birds and pets.





Julia Laing’s contribution


Creative spaces where much making is done.





And places we have literally created ourselves.

Paintbrush napkin

Home is the place I have made


A place of warmth.




Home as a place we feel safe, where we are free to be ourselves. Ironically, it may be far from our actual home, under canvas, or under no roof at all.


The Napkin Project has just uploaded an entire set of (much better) pictures of all napkins received to date over on Flickr, so do go and have a browse.

I was so pleased to be involved in this very practical creative project. It has been thought-provoking. In seeking to define an intangible – what creates a real home rather than just a place where we happen to be existing – it hints at crucial ingredients of care. I hope that it succeeds in providing amusement, comfort and stimulation to the residents of Saffron Gardens. And perhaps it will establish, in its small way, a new paradigm for working with dementia patients?

It was clear to me, attending the exhibition, that it has already provided comfort to a lot of relatives of people with dementia. So many contributed, and this appears to have been a positive means of channelling grief, sadness and loss. There’s so much intertwined in the fibres of those napkins.

If you haven’t completed your napkin yet, don’t worry. Finish it in your own time and return it because it will still be very happily and gratefully received, the organisers assure me. Most importantly, it will be used and handled by real people with dementia. If you would like to stitch a napkin but didn’t apply, Willis Newson allowed me to take a couple in the cream shade to give out,  so do get in touch – especially if you can pick one up from Bath. Thank you.


Apr 08

Easter scraps


I have a basketful of textile-related Easter scraps for you to enjoy.

The  Cambridgeshire town of St Ives traditionally held its famous medieval cloth fair over Easter. The fair was established by royal charter in 1110 and was, in its heyday, one of the largest in Europe. It sold everything from fine silks and brocades (several kings bought their textiles there) to the coarsest linen and hessian. The purveyors of the latter were based in St Audrey’s Lane, giving rise to the word ‘tawdry’ (referring to cheap and gawdy finery) or so the story goes, though I suspect OED lexicographers might well roll their eyes and dispute this. I think I can state with some certainty, however, that it was this St Ives (rather than the Cornish one) which gave rise to the rhyme ‘As I was going to St Ives I met a man with seven wives’.

Edwardian bonnet

Overhauled Easter bonnet, c.1909


For centuries, new clothes worn at this time of year appear to have symbolised the spiritual renewal of Easter, as well as reflecting the irrepressible regeneration of spring. The superstitious belief that neglecting to make some kind of change to one’s clothing could encourage lasting misfortune seems to have been widespread. It is corroborated by this eighteenth century English doggerel:

‘At Easter let your clothes be new, or else be sure you will it rue.’

And wearing new clothes to church at Easter became viewed as essential to ensure good fortune; this made it a particularly fortunate time of year for tailors and cobblers. For those who couldn’t afford to replace what they wore, alterations and embellishments – a new lace trim, for instance – were viable options. Here’s an entry from Samuel Pepys‘ diary for 30 March 1662 (Easter Day):

‘Having my old black suit new furbished, I was pretty neat in clothes to-day, and my boy, his old suit new trimmed, very handsome.’

In Wales, at least one new item of clothing, preferably brightly coloured, was to be worn on Easter day. It was also traditional to baptise children today, their new clothes suggestive of the new character they would assume.

The custom of clúdóg was observed in Ireland; children visited relatives or godparents in their best clothes, carrying woollen stockings in which gifts of raw eggs, cakes and sweets were placed. The youngsters would then wander out to find a spot for some al fresco egg-cooking and a picnic. Knowing how often it rains in Ireland, one wonders how much success they met with. Eggs were also boiled with laundry blue to colour them, or with onion skins (to turn them yellow), before painting them.

In Brittany, new clothes, coifs and shoes were worn to mass, and hard-boiled eggs given as presents in knotted handkerchiefs.

A vestige of this focus on new or overhauled clothing has come down to us with the notion of the Easter bonnet, often embellished to excess with ribbons, frills, flowers, etc, even if that too is pretty much a distant memory. Thank goodness Irving Berlin immortalised it thus. Enjoy your eggs!



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Jun 03

Laundry & roses

It’s been a frustrating week of half-term and half-completed to-do lists. But in between the chores and the childcare I’ve had glimpses like this.

Roses & laundry

Roses & laundry

Rather appropriate in the week that DH & I celebrated twenty years of marriage.  Passing that particular milestone makes our relationship vintage — at least by Etsy‘s criteria — roses, thorns, laundry and all. What a thought! Have a good weekend. I do hope the sun shines on you.


Mar 07

Hollywood pin-ups

I’m sorry if you’ve arrived here under false pretences, because this blog post is only about laundry.

Last week’s news of Jane Russell‘s demise prompted me to dig out this unused card of 1940s clothes pins (or pegs to British readers) from my small collection of similar. The laundress there, in her fetching apron, reminds me a teeny bit of a demure, daytime version of Jane.

Hollywood Pin-ups

Hollywood Pin-ups produced by Del E. Webb Products Co, California

Aren’t they wonderful? Such a brave attempt to glamorise the subject. The big claims were that they would fit any clothes line, would not rust nor leave marks on your laundry, all achieved with a modern streamlined beauty. And so versatile! The reverse of the card suggested that you could also use these as money-, paper-, hair- or tie-clips, napkin-holders or skirt-hangers.

A quick internet search (peeking through my fingers) revealed that these were designed by a couple of California neighbours who were tired of hearing their wives groan about the inadequacies of normal clothes-pins. The product was featured in Time magazine in December 1945, and 80,000 pins were then being shipped daily, so I guess you can call them a success. If you have a memory of this wonderful product, I’d love to hear about it.


Feb 19

Woolly confessional

I’m doing it again: wearing a charity-shop wool top that I really bought for felting (of fulling, or whatever I should be calling it) in order to upscale it into something else more wonderful.

I must confess that I often feel tempted to just slip on that cardigan or fair-isle tank top once I get my woolly trawl home. I’m often surprised by how much I like wearing what I find. There’s something so deliciously random about the process. Things I buy for shrinking need not be my size, they just have to be made (mostly) of wool. I’m small, so can fit into most sizes, and sometimes the big sizes look better than the small ones. Occasionally, something big shrinks to fit me quite well after felting in the washing machine: that happened with a gorgeous cashmere cardigan. I look for good strong colours for crafting projects, so end up wearing things that I’ve programmed myself to avoid in first-hand shops where my choices are often much more conservative.  I’ve (unconsciously) learned to limit myself over the years. I don’t know why I don’t buy new red woolens, for example, except that I’ve probably tried on the wrong red to suit my complexion at some point, or the wrong pink, or orange, which has set me against that entire chunk of the colour spectrum. As I grow older I’m hoping to grow bolder with colour.

Here’s some colourful wool I managed to locate on a recent charity-shop excursion, though I’m not planning to wear any of it. Mr Green, the tank top on the left, has been cut straight up the middle (why?) so is unwearable, and Ms Designer Stripes there on the right is is entirely the wrong size (too small) and shape. Both will hit the hot wash. Flashy Lord Kingfisher in the middle there is a vintage mohair scarf which just needs gentle sprucing before landing on my spring fair stall.

Do you operate different rules when buying new/second-hand? Have you any wardrobe or crafting quirks that you’d like to confess to? One artist friend, who uses felted garments in her work, told me that she can’t bear to buy second-hand sweaters as she finds them too ‘personal’. She doesn’t mind scarves though. Funny. The personal nature of second-hand doesn’t bother me at all, though I hasten to add that I do wash them before wearing.

Thrifted wool

Colourful charity-shop wool

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Feb 03

The Year of the Rabbit

We have a rabbit in our household. I don’t mean a genuine fluffy bunny but someone born in the last year of the rabbit. I anticipate that he’ll make giant leaps forward this year.

Mention rabbits and I always think of the lovely 1922 book The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. We have a beautiful 2005 hardback edition by Egmont which includes William Nicholson‘s original artwork.

The Velveteen Rabbit cover artwork by Nicholson

The Velveteen Rabbit

I love the way the rabbit’s feet are set over to one side in that picture, the result of innumerable huggings and sleepings-on by his owner. Such beautiful observation to accompany a very tender story. I have to admit that I can seldom read the scene between the Rabbit and the Skin Horse [Margery Williams’ capitals] without shedding a tear. For me, it really nails the fundamentally transformative qualities of love and motherhood, with the inevitability of aging thrown in for good measure:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?” “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.”Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.” “Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?” “It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse.”You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Despite feeling as if most of my hair has been loved off, especially in recent weeks, my mood is surprisingly perky and optimistic today. I have a decided spring in my stride and am really looking forward to what the Year of the Rabbit has to show for itself – if only my eyes will stay secured long enough for me to see properly.

I’ve been wanting to make a traditional soft toy bunny – in velveteen, velvet or even corduroy – for ages. I’ve found some rabbity inspiration here in this curiously aged and lugubrious bunny by Northfield Primitives (Oh, scoop him up and love him someone, please!) and by Betz White‘s gorgeous cashmere bunnies: who would not want to love those button-eyes off? Now, they don’t look hard to make. And with Easter late this year, time is definitely on our side.


Dec 02

Square pegs

I’ve found the perfect clothes pegs for misfits! Just supply your own round holes (aherm).

Clothes-peg bundles

Square-peg bundles

But srsly, these flat pegs are the business. I have a small collection of  clothes pegs (or pins, if you’re reading this in North America), have tested them all, and must say that these ones have more grip and spring than your standard dolly peg, but still ooze oodles of charm. And the crafting possibilities are legion. They’re scarce as hen’s teeth over here, but more commonplace in the US. I’m selling these bundles of nine at my Christmas fairs, but I don’t have many so get there early!

Flat clothes-peg bundles

Square pegs tied with red organdie ribbon

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May 24


It’s Monday, and I have been doing laundry: some sheets that I got in a job lot with those aforementioned eiderdowns. I thought they were beyond redemption initially – generally very grubby, stained and yellowed – but on closer inspection I found that they’re actually a nice quality dense linen. They’re hanging on the line drying now, and I’ve just spotted a wartime utility mark on one so have some idea of its age (made some time between 1941 and 1952). The stains haven’t all lifted, and they’re still quite yellow, but I don’t mind. They’ll find a use.

One thing that interested me is the way they were folded and pressed – right down the centre, twice. It’s as though they’d been fed through a mangle.

Which reminded me that this disintegrating Ewbank mangle is currently an ornament in my garden.

Ewbank mangle

A mangled mangle

I’m so glad that I wasn’t washing those sheets when they were new as I’d probably have been using the Ewbank or one of its wringer-mangle cousins. I can only imagine the blood, sweat and tears of the average wash-day in those days.

Serious cogs

Back in the Victorian era, sheets and flat-linen could be sent out to a “mangle woman”  for smoothing: a method of ironing, in this case, not squeezing water out (there were dedicated mangles for each function).  A mangle woman worked from home. She was often a widow as it was commonplace for well-wishers to buy a widow a mangle to set her up financially after her husband’s death. She’d work for pennies. Such pathos! It’s enough to wring a tear from your eye.

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