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I always try to post positive things whenever I can, but I never want to present an overly polished, shiny version of our lives. Honesty and authenticity have always been important, but they’re particularly essential as we all struggle to deal with a relentless pandemic and its devastating consequences.

So let me share this: whilst our lives are always filled with love and community and a great deal of wonder, there are also times when my anxiety runs riot. I’ve written about this before and it’s taken me fifty years to accept that it’s just the way I’m wired. It’s not a weakness or a flaw, but it can sometimes feel overwhelming. I’m grateful for the amazing support I have from my family and friends, but occasionally I’ll just hide in my cave until it passes, hence the dearth of posts in the past couple of weeks.

Having said that, I’ve found that one of the best ways to deal with the emotional roller coaster is to keep my hands busy.

So…I’ve been sewing masks for the Addison Road Food Pantry. When I heard that this wonderful organisation needed masks for their volunteers, I stitched 50 for them from rescued Sewing Basket scrap fabric, interfacing and elastic. It was a win all around – the $30 I paid for materials went directly to Achieve Australia to support their charity work, the materials had been diverted from landfill, and I had a soothing couple of days immersed in craft…

Our friends Kevin and Carol came around for Friday night takeaway, then they, Small Man, Pete and I finished up and packaged the masks. I wouldn’t normally package in plastic, but I made an exception for these, as I felt it was important that whomever received a mask knew that it was hygienic and hadn’t been overly handled. I used cellophane bags that I’d originally bought for Christmas chocolate over a decade ago…

More upcycling…we figured out that 2cm strips of our stripey socks (the story starts here if you haven’t heard about them before) made a perfect substitute elastic for masks…

I used them on my new favourite mask…

I also read this article by Nancy Zieman and after some experimenting, figured out that I could divvy up drawstring elastic from The Sewing Basket Newington (donated to them by Bonds, apparently) into mask elastic and cord for mesh bags. The elastic isn’t quite as robust as hat elastic, but there’s a shortage in Sydney at the moment, so we’ve had to improvise. This particular one doesn’t fray at the cut edges, although it won’t work for every type of elastic…

The leftover middle section is gorgeously soft and stretchy. It will make perfect garden ties and kitchen bands…

In non-sewing news, we’ve been teaching Small Man to cook! He whipped up a brilliant cottage pie from leftover roast beef and 50% more potato than the recipe specified…

…and a delicious chicken curry! As he was putting it together, he said “this is ridiculously easy, Mum”.

“Shhh…” I replied. “It’s a family secret. No one knows except everyone who reads my blog.” (The “recipe” is here.)

Finally, Pete and I escaped the house for a couple of hours yesterday to visit the Biennale of Sydney at the newly reopened Carriageworks. It was uncrowded and spacious, but we wore masks anyway because it’s the right thing to do. There are half a dozen or so installations to view, including this wonderful stain glass window by Indigenous artist Tony Albert. I think it might be my favourite piece of the entire Biennale…

The work by Teresa Margolles is also worth seeing – beautiful and serene, although both of us felt it could have been improved with more content (perhaps video or photographs) about how the materials were actually collected…

. . . . .

What’s been happening in your world? I hope you’re all traveling well and keeping safe. ♥

I am VERY excited to tell you about these!

As you know, we’ve been on a long quest to live more sustainably. We’ve managed to find alternatives to almost all the disposable items in our kitchen – crocheted dishcloths in place of paper towels and chux wipes, beeswax wraps have replaced cling film and plastic bags, cloth napkins have eliminated our daily use of paper serviettes.

But the one area where I was stuck was finding a sustainable alternative to potscrubbers. The crocheted ones I’d made didn’t pass muster – the cotton ones lacked the necessary abrasive texture, and the acrylic ones shed microplastics into the waterways. For the past couple of years, I’ve been properly stumped.

Then I started experimenting with the hessian that lovely Pauline at The Sewing Basket gave me to play with. Success! Not only do our new potscrubbers work well, they’re also washable and completely biodegradable! Here’s how I make them…

Start with a square or rectangle of hessian (burlap). The size isn’t really important, but my most recent ones are made with a 30cm (12″) square. Make sure the hessian is made from jute – some manufacturers now use synthetic fibres. You can test this by carefully burning a strand – if it completely burns away without leaving a hard bead, then it should be fine…

Fold two of the edges in to meet at the middle. Crease by running your thumb on the folded edges…

Now fold the other two edges into the middle. This process encases all the raw edges, which ensures the hessian won’t fray or come apart in the washing machine…

Finally, fold the whole thing in half again and pin. This results in eight layers of hessian…

You now have two options. The easiest way to make these is to machine around the outside edges with a zig zag stitch. I like to stitch a couple of lines through the middle of the scrubber as well to hold all the layers together. I used cotton thread from The Sewing Basket rather than polyester, firstly to ensure that the end result was completely biodegradble, but more importantly to keep any potential microplastics out of the waterways…

Using a sewing machine makes this a very quick project…

The finished scrubbers hold up well in the washing machine, particularly if you wash them in a lingerie bag. I don’t put them in the dryer though…

I was pretty happy with these, but my engineer husband thought we could do better – he was concerned that sewing cotton still takes a very long time to breakdown. He wanted a scrubber which we could use and wash repeatedly, then put into the worm farm at the end of its life. So I unraveled long strands of jute from the remaining hessian…

…and used double strands of it to handstitch the scrubbers together. I started with a row of running stitches near the fold to hold the layers together…

…then whipstitched around the edges to finish…

The final potscrubbers will now biodegrade quickly when we’re ready to throw them out…

The handstitched ones have held up well in the wash too – I didn’t want to put this post up until I’d washed them a couple of times…

These are great for scrubbing pots, but they need to be laundered regularly, so it’s worth having a few on hand. Also, it’s best not to leave them sitting in water. They probably won’t have a long working life, but I’m okay with that – I’m just so happy to have a sustainable option! ♥

When the pandemic hit, I stocked up on frozen roti.

Have you ever tried these? They’re wickedly good. They fry up in a dry pan to make the perfect accompaniment to Indian and Malaysian curries. Of course, they have a squillion calories each, although an Indian friend once told me that they’re much better if you fry them in ghee (I’ve never been game to try it). Our local takeaway turns them into wraps – filling a cooked roti with curry and salad – and it’s a completely delicious and brilliant way to eat them.

They’re also very reasonably priced – this pack of 30 cost me $10 at Costco…

A few days ago, I wanted to make apple pie for dessert, but didn’t have the energy to make dough from scratch. I don’t keep frozen puff pastry, but my friend Graeme had suggested this roti dough as a substitute in the past, so I thought I’d try it out.

I let the sheets defrost a little, then filled them with chopped apple that had been tossed in a little sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon…

It was easy to use the plastic sheet the dough came on to fold it in half and squish the edges together…

We baked the turnovers (I guess they weren’t really pies) in the oven at 200C – 220C with fan until golden. I forgot to time it (sorry), but we just kept checking it until it was ready and the juices were bubbling a little. It took longer than we thought, which gave the raw apples time to cook perfectly. We rotated the tray halfway through, but the pastries didn’t need flipping over, as the dough browned evenly top and bottom…

The finished turnovers were dusted in icing sugar. They were a huge hit with both Pete and Small Man!

As the roti dough is a little salty, it’s worth adding a bit of extra sugar to the filling. And while we all prefer a more traditional shortcrust pastry apple pie, it was hard to beat this for sheer mid-week simplicity. I hope you’ll give it a go! ♥

Apologies for the radio silence, friends.

I haven’t been away on holidays (remember those days?), or pottering in the kitchen, delightful as that would be. Instead, I’ve been frantically sewing masks.

As COVID19 continues to spread in parts of Australia, NSW Health has urged us all to wear masks whenever we’re unable to socially distance, and I’ve been trying to make enough for our family and friends. I’ve got the process quite streamlined now, having churned out nearly a hundred in the past few weeks. Here are some thoughts…

#1: In my personal opinion, ties work better than elastic ear loops. It does, of course, depend on head shape, but we’ve found that ties give a snugger fit with less gaping.

Stretchy cotton lycra makes extremely comfortable ties which tend to stay in place. We’ve been cutting 3cm (1¼”) strips across the width of the fabric (selvedge to selvedge), then giving them a good tug until they curl. I thread a 90cm (36″) continuous strip through both sides of the mask and then tie behind my neck. I’m actually using bamboo lycra which I found as a remnant at The Sewing Basket, and it’s gloriously soft…

. . . . .

#2: Fabric masks can be a sustainable alternative to paper ones. We’ve made masks from old jeans, rescued scraps, and materials sourced from The Sewing Basket (which I’ll henceforth refer to as TSB as I’ll probably mention them another ten times in this post).

These ones were made from Big Boy’s old jeans, lime green binding, interfacing and lingerie elastic that I found at TSB, and straps cut from Small Man’s old tshirts (see this post)…

The denim ones were so popular that I made a second batch. I was able to cut ten masks from a pair of $2 Salvos’ (thrifted) jeans, and lined them with fabric from a Japanese cushion cover that I also picked up for $2 from the Salvos Store in Croydon. All the components – including the interfacing and straps – were sustainably sourced from rescued and donated materials…

. . . . .

#3: Very little fabric is actually needed to make a mask, so they’re the perfect project for leftover scrap. My darling friend Dan recently made me this patchwork quilt from a $30 donated kit that I picked up at TSB…

She then gave me all the excess fabric back, and I was able to turn the scraps into nearly thirty masks…

Including a pair for these little monkeys…

I’ve had these  pieces of Schoeller Dryskin Extreme  in my sewing room for nearly two decades. When it was first released, the fabric retailed for an astronomical amount – over $100/m from memory – so I’ve hoarded these rescued manufacturing scraps like gold. The high tech material was originally targeted at adventurers hiking in the Swiss alps, so naturally I made pieced jackets for Pete and the kids from them. It turns out they’re perfect for masks, because water runs off the external surface but they’re still reasonably breathable and comfortable to wear.

I’ve said it a dozen times, if the universe doesn’t want me to be a quarter hoarder, then it really needs to stop positively reinforcing me for it…

. . . . .

Finally, something to make you laugh. I sneezed inside my fabric mask the other day (it was seriously gross) and basically proved the truth of this graphic which Jess sent me. Stay safe, folks! ♥

I’ve tried several patterns for face masks over the past few months, but the one I wrote about in April continues to be a winner at our house.

Here’s the YouTube tutorial by Keiko Olsson again, and a rough draft of the pattern that I sketched from her instructions…

Today I figured out that I could make the mask from a t-shirt! By ironing interfacing onto the lining piece, I ended up with a three-layered mask, as currently recommended.

I started with an old tee that someone donated on swap day

I cut the pattern pieces from the front and back at the same time…

Iron-on interfacing was applied to the wrong side of the lining…

I then followed the tutorial pretty closely up to the sewing of the casing…

Instead of turning the casing over twice, I just folded it over once and stitched it down. There were two reasons for doing this – firstly, knit fabrics don’t fray, so there was no need to fold under the raw edge. Secondly, I needed a slightly wider casing to fit ties rather than elastic…

After stitching down the pleats, I added a small diagonal seam in the middle of the bottom of the mask, sewing with right side folded in half on itself. You can see it at the top of the photo below. This contours the mask just a little so that it tucks in under the chin…

To make the ties, first cut the hem off the t-shirt, then cut a 4cm (1½”) strip straight across the body. Turn it inside out and cut off the seams…

Now give each strip a good tug and the edges will curl inwards to form a long cord…

With a large wool needle, feed each tie through one of the side casings. This bit can be a bit fiddly and you might need to improvise…

We find the ties work far better than elastic (which we all found very hard on our ears), and allow the mask to be worn in a number of ways. My personal preference is to tie one set high on the top of my head and the other behind my neck. Additionally, hat elastic is almost impossible to buy at the moment, so being able to make ties on the spot is a bonus.

My stitching was a bit wonky but the knit fabric is very forgiving…

Lastly, don’t throw away your scraps! Cut them into usable pieces, then stash them in the laundry for polishing shoes or dusting…

These upcycled t-shirt masks tick all the sustainability boxes, but they are in no way surgical grade or guaranteed to protect against COVID19. They might, however, help prevent the wearer from spreading the disease unknowingly. According to the information provided by the Department of Health in Victoria, face masks should ideally be made with a water resistant external layer. We’ve been experimenting with  outerwear scraps with some success, but have found masks made with completely waterproof fabric to be impossible to breathe through.

Have you been sewing face masks? Please feel free to list any patterns you’ve found useful in the comments below for discussion and comparison. ♥

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