Not Quite Rags

I don’t use paper towels to clean up anything but mess from a pet. While yes, you could call it an environmental thing, I use cloth for cleaning the same as I use cloth napkins for everyday.

I find buying stuff specifically to throw away a waste of money. If you can safely wash it and reuse it for cleaning purposes, it’s cheaper to do so. You can find all kinds of cleaning cloths out there that’ll last years.

I don’t find most commercial cleaning cloths sturdy enough for my liking, so I make my own out of worn-out towels. I have a couple of sets that have been getting frayed around the edges and have ample newer ones, so it’s time to make a cleaning cloth.

I got the idea from Is There Life After Housework? by Don Aslett. You take a rectangular piece of cloth – preferably something strong and absorbent. Old cotton towels are great for this, and so are old diapers.

The cool part is that instead of rags, you make a tube out of the cloth. By folding, you get a pretty sturdy cleaning surface, and when it gets a bit dirty, you can refold and turn it inside out for fresher cleaning surfaces. When you’re done, toss in the wash, no biggie.

Since I use towels for this, I’ll show you how I do it.

So by folding a towel in half widthwise, cutting then doing the same again to the two halves you’ve generated, then cutting those four pieces in half again, you can get eight pieces of cloth out of your old towel.

And there’s no reason in the world not to go ahead and use them as cleaning rags right then, of course. If that’s your thing, go for it.

I like the tubes, so I go a little further and sew up these babies.

I do use a zig-zag stitch along the long edge, or use a serger to finish what will be the open edges of the tubes. It makes them last longer instead of falling apart from fraying and leaving fluff everywhere. Notice I used black thread on the old pink towels I used. I confess this was not done for contrast and an example, but out of sheer laziness because I didn’t feel like bothering to match the thread for cleaning supplies. You want yours to look pretty, go ahead and show me up. J

After I’ve finished the long edges, I go ahead and sew them into tubes using a zig-zag stitch. I do this for strong seam with a bit of self-finishing on one go. They’re meant or cleaning, so I don’t feel like it’s necessary to spend an extraordinary amount of time on them. Eight in a half hour is plenty enough time to spend.

These cloths also make great potholders. The double layer of thick cotton cloth is pretty good at protecting from heat.

As long as it’s not damp.

Here’s the set I made today. Did it because most of the old ones I made ten years ago have frayed apart from heavy use and I’m on a spring cleaning spree.

Fifth Grade Reading

I’ve been reading a biography of Lillian Moller Gilbreth, industrial psychologist and efficiency engineer, and thinking of a book two of her children wrote about their family, Cheaper by the Dozen.

I first encountered the Gilbreths in the fifth grade because my teacher, Sharon McKenna, read to the class for about a half an hour a day after lunch. Now, my readers know that for all I love to read, there are few pleasures I enjoy more than being read to.

“Read to kids in the fifth grade?” I hear you cry indignantly. “Shouldn’t the lazy little monsters read for themselves?”

Nonsense! It was a brilliant idea. No-one had to convince me to read. The trouble was prying books out of my hands long enough to do other things. No, it was the brilliance of having the teacher pick some books and read them aloud. Captive as I was in school anyway, it exposed me to books I might not otherwise have read. While my fondness for science fiction ensured that I’d pick up A Wrinkle in Time at some point, my general tastes would never have pushed me to get a book about a boy and his dogs like Where the Red Fern Grows, nor is there any way I would have picked up what I would have seen as essentially a fluff nostalgia piece like Cheaper by the Dozen.

Yet these books remain among my favorites to this day.

I learned more than I realized. A fifth-grader doesn’t have the sophistication to read between the lines and figure out that “Mother” in Cheaper by the Dozen was essentially a simply drawn foil for the over-exuberant “Dad.” But, the charm of the book stuck with me and led me to investigate the actual lives and professions of Dr. and Mr. Gilbreth many years later.

Though, no, I’ve never been able to use a tesseract.

Being Your Own Designer

As is not unusual in our Northern New England winters, I’ve been knitting a great deal. Being as it’s been a somewhat rougher winter, weather-wise, than usual, I’ve been using more than my usual amount of spare time for knitting.

I’ve got a sock and a sweater on the needles at the moment. Why? Well, socks are a portable project. They’re easy to toss in a purse and perfect to keep one distracted in waiting rooms, on buses and to relax on a lunch break. The sweater I am working on is in the bulky stage. I usually knit in the round, so sweater sleeves might be delightfully portable, but when you attach them to the body, any sweater for an adult becomes really bulky. That’s my writin’ chair project.

I’m taking a break from knitting because my hands hurt. Yes, I know, knitting too much, and I’m not sure typing an article is really the way to relieve the problem, but it’s a different motion, right?

After I finish it, though, I’m going back to review some material in Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitter’s Almanac
for my project.

When I picked it up, I really got to thinking. I’m a knitter and a reader, so I do have a pretty good knitting library. Stitch dictionaries, books about techniques, books full of patterns… I enjoy them.

But I keep going back to Mrs. Zimmerman’s books.

Why?

She taught me how to knit. No, I don’t mean basic techniques. My mother, though not into knitting to the insanity I am, did know how and taught me casting on and the garter stitch when I was a little kid. It wasn’t until several decades later that I wanted to make sweaters and stuff. I experimented with several methods before reading Knitting Without Tears. It was like the heavens opening.

Zimmerman was indeed a very clever knitting designer, but she did something I found even better. She taught the underlying concept behind the patterns, why the garment worked up the way it did, and strongly encouraged her readers to become their own designers and not worry too much about what a pattern said. I loved that.

“I knit all year, day in, day out. It is my passion, and I rarely knit the same thing twice in the same way.” Elizabeth Zimmerman, Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Knitter’s Almanac.

I’m similar. I’ve knit the same sweater twice exactly once – Roll Your Own Braided Yoke Sweater. That’s mostly because Mom and I have the same basic shape, so when I liked how it looked on me, I had to make one in a different color for Mom.

But for the most part, I’m always tweaking and changing and I like knitting that way better. The problem is, of course, that I can’t follow a pattern worth a damn.

The Fanfic Knitter

In a way, I’m a fanfic* knitter. I take things I like from other people’s work and make something new, concentrating on the design elements that make me happy and expanding on them.

By the way, fanfic means “Fan Fiction.” A fan of a series, or television show or whatever will take settings, characters and worldbuilding from an author’s work and expand on it, creating stories of their own. It’s a not too unusual way for people to learn to write stories. Keep that concept in mind. It’ll be important later.

So, I’m working on finishing a sweater I started back last April. It’s a seamless raglan sweater, and the sleeves are done. I cheated and used the process of making the sleeves as a gauge swatch. It worked quite well and I’m pretty comfortable that the body will fit just fine.

The front panel is going to be this lattice diamond pattern framed by a cable called “Riptide Wave” in my favorite stitch dictionary.

I’m slowly making my peace with the idea that I just never going to knit a sweater directly from a pattern. I feel weird about it, as if I don’t truly knit well if I can’t seem to do this. (Yes, I know. I knit just fine.)

It’s not that I never carefully follow a pattern. I’ve knitted a couple of sweaters from The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns (a wonderful gift from a friend when I was whining that I couldn’t find a sloper kind of pattern like you have for sewing), and learned seaming sweaters ain’t my thang. I still use it for gloves, hats and mittens.    

Then I read Knitting Without Tears and learned that the design canvas I like best for a sweater is one that is knit in the round. One of these days, I’m going to get the courage to steek a sweater to make a cardigan, honest, but that’s scary.

I’ve knit directly from patterns the We Call Them Pirates hats and gloves. That’s where I learned stranded knitting, and where I started to realize I knit like a lot of people write fanfic. Boy, howdy have I done the knitting fanfic on that design with sweaters and stockings. I’m not even done. I have a cardigan mentally planned out using it that is going to be so awesome I bounce up and down in my chair a little whenever I think about doing it.

After I learned stranded knitting, I started to knit from basic templates and add design challenges for fun and to expand my skills. To be very honest, many of my projects have one tiny little element that’s outside my comfort zone, but are mostly things that I’ve done before and feel comfortable with. To me, it seems like a good way to gain skill without driving oneself crazy. But I’m always reading about some design or technique I like, but I almost never knit the pattern. I take the design element I like and use it.

So, essentially, most of my knitting is one form of fanfic or another.

Never Wear Them????

As you know, Bob, I’m a knitter and my favorite things to knit are socks and sweaters. Mostly because then I wear them.

I’m knitting the first thing I’ve knit in a good eight months. A Life-Eating Project seems to have sucked away my mental energy to the point where it was beginning to worry not only me, but my family. I needed to do something at least moderately creative and soothing that would make me feel good without long-term commitment. That meant knitting and it meant a small project.

So, socks…

I’m knitting some basic toe-up socks out of leftover yarn I have around. I have special sock yarn, but this stuff isn’t it. It’s Wool of the Andes Sport that I have left over from various knitting projects. It’s a bit thick, but I live in Northern New England and it’s cold. Thick wool socks are nice.

I took the risk on this yarn when my LYS owner commented that she doesn’t really bother to buy special sock yarn, but knits them out of leftovers from the truly extraordinary Nordic sweaters she knits. They are thick, but about like hiking socks.

Which, after nearly two hundred words, brings me to the main point of this article.

I ran across a sock-knitting block post by a knitter who cannot bring herself to wear socks often. After cost of the materials (she quoted $20 for a pair of socks) and the time put in, she didn’t want to wear them out.

The comments got to talking about how yeah, you can buy a pair of socks at a department store for five bucks, so hand-knit socks are so expensive.

I don’t knit to save money. It’s a hobby, but a not-too-expensive one for me. I spent less than $100 in yarn last year planning to do a mess of knitting for Christmas presents that never panned out, so I still have a larger stash than is usual for me. The socks I’m knitting now are from leftovers from the two sweaters I did knit and used about two balls of yarn, totaling five bucks to buy.

But if I bought those 100% wool socks, I’m still looking at between $8 and $10 for an inexpensive pair of wool socks. L.L. Bean, my preferred winter gear go-to, charges more.

But after I’ve gone to all that trouble, expensive or not, darn right I am going to wear the socks I made. Will they wear out? You bet. Socks do. It’s the nature of the garment. I’m easy on my socks – wearing slippers in the house rather than just the bare socks, and hand-washing the hand-knit ones. But, I’ve been knitting socks for eight years. Of course I’ve had a pair or two wear out.

I wonder why someone would go to the trouble to make them then not use them. What’s more of a waste, keeping them in the sock drawer, or enjoying them after you make them?

Does Cooking in Advance Save You Money?

My primary motivation for prepping freezer to crock pot meals is not to save money. Please don’t faint.

I do it to save time during the week.

It does save money. It saves a lot of money.

I did not do much in the way of freezer to crock pot cooking this November and December. In looking at my budget book, I spent an embarrassing amount of money on groceries. Yes, yes, it was the holidays. Yes we cooked things we don’t ordinarily. Yes, we ate out more. But when I looked at what we spent on food for December 2013, I cringed. Even with the inflation factor, I’ve fed four adults and two kids on less, and my household only has three adult appetites at present.

The problem was two-fold. I didn’t make bento as often as I ordinarily do, so we bought lunches more than we should have. I also did not have any freezer meals ready. We were busy, so that meant more expensive convenience food items and more eating out.

You see that picture? That’s going to make about 20 dinners – meals for weeknights and some leftovers for various lunches. Let’s say five meals person per crockpot full. I spent $200 on the food. This wasn’t cheating by shopping from a semi-stocked home pantry. That sucker was bare. I even had to restock my spices.

Friends, when I do the math, I find it comes out to $2 a meal for people who are not light eaters. Please understand that I’m not claiming I’m feeding the family on $200/month. We’ll spend another $150 or so on food for breakfast, lunches and weekends if we’re not feeling excessively frugal.

That’s still significantly less than I spent on food for December! So yes, doing the prep-ahead thing saves money like you would simply not believe until you do it.

I would also like to point out the picture on the right. My artist husband likes to draw illustrations on the family calendar. He is gently needling me for pointing out that bento are really just food in a box.

I suppose I should have said meals in a box. Doughnut holes are breakfast, right?

Tights Aren’t Pants

Apparently it’s a Thing to analyze people’s garments (okay women’s garments, and we all know women aren’t quite people and need a bit of extra scrutiny to make them fit to exist) and decide whether or not the bifurcation is tights or pants and then get all up in a fit if somone is wearing tights with a shirt.

My take?

I don’t care.  Not because I don’t care about fashion or personal adornment.  I care a great deal about it, enjoy adorning myself to my personal tastes and have a hobby of making clothes, for pity’s sake.

I don’t care because unless someone walks up to me and asks me for a critique of their outfit, I don’t need to spend mental energy analyzing their clothes.   Few people dress to my personal tastes, and I’m okay with that.  The world doesn’t owe me a consistent esthically-pleasing view.  I mean, sure, I’m arrogant and entitlement-minded, but there are limits. 

I have Views on dress appropriateness, oh very yes.   But if you don’t ask me, I’m going to presume my opinion doesn’t count in that instance.