Once a week, Mum and I have lunch and then we head out to explore a Salvos Store. For those of you who don’t have these in your area – the Salvos Stores are thrift shops (we call them “op shops”), run by the Salvation Army. All the goods on offer are donated, and in a typical week, the charity will provide 10,000 meals to those in need. For us, it’s a happy compromise, Mum likes browsing, and opshopping is the only retail therapy I can tolerate. Plus an afternoon’s entertainment rarely sets us back more than $20.

This week we decided to check out the Moorebank store. It’s not particularly flashy (although all the china and kitchenware are surprisingly expensive) but there was still lots to look at. As usual, I headed straight to the sheeting section.

I spied a couple of homemade quilts in a large bin filled with blankets and towels. There was a ticket on the item, but no price.

“How much are these?” I asked.

“Oh, they’re the ones in poorer condition – that’s why it says ‘Dog’ on the tag. We keep them for folks to use as dog blankets. They’re $2 each”

$2!!!! For handmade quilts!

So, much to my mother’s dismay, I bought them, plus two Australian made vintage woollen blankets. All were a little grotty, but as you all know, I love a rescue project! Mum was truly appalled that I wanted used, stained, quite stinky manchester (as we refer to bed linen here), but offered to buy them for me nonetheless. She’s completely adorable like that, but I told her I was good for the $8 outlay…

I brought them home and showed them to our friend Mark, the oracle on all things vintage fabric related. The peach coloured one was badly stained and had significant shredding, so Mark suggested tacking down the loose patches to help it survive the wash…

I spot treated the numerous stains with Dynamo laundry liquid, then gave it a looong soak in Napisan Vanish. The water turned a murky brown as years of dirt was dislodged…

The second quilt was simpler in construction but in much better condition. My genius friends Amanda and Tania were able to date both of them by their fabrics – the checked one was probably assembled in the late 1970s and the sampler one around the mid 1980s.

The quilts were given a 40C hot wash followed by a tumble dry. And they both came out ALMOST SPOTLESS.

I’ve mended the checked one (some fraying at the seam lines between pieces) using sashiko thread from The Sewing Basket Balmain…

It’s now repaired, completely stain-free and good to go…

The peach coloured quilt is a much bigger project but I’m hoping to patch it with a vintage sheet that I picked up from another Salvos Store a few weeks ago (also for $2). I’ll report back when it’s done…

Funniest bit of the story? My mum now can’t stop raving about how good they look!

As I said in my previous post, I’ve learnt to always look twice at old textiles, even if they’re stinky or badly stained. We can’t rescue everything, but I’m always amazed at how often a grotty piece can be rejuvenated with just a little bit of time and effort. And it was incredibly rewarding to be able to breathe life back into two old quilts that had been relegated to dog bedding!

Hmm…an addendum: please don’t think I’m judging the Salvos Moorebank for putting these items into the dog blanket bin. On the contrary, I’m incredibly grateful to them for trying to give these textiles a second life – most op shops discard any donation that is stained, torn or musty because they lack the capacity to clean and repair items. In fact, I’ve never seen this bin in any other Salvos store, but I wish they’d all offer something similar!

What are you working on at the moment? I’d love to know about your latest rescue or restoration project if you have one on the go! ♥

Craft, or “quaft” as it’s known in our house (you can read why here), has always been an integral part of my life.

It really is my therapy and over the years, I’ve spent some serious dollars on buying supplies. These days I’ve learnt to find joy in making things from rescued materials, which has the double bonus of costing very little, and more importantly, keeping valuable resources out of landfill. It’s mentally soothing, creatively satisfying, sustainable and frugal, all at the same time.

Since retiring last year, I’ve deep dived into quaft big time. I try to make or mend something every day, and seeing my handiwork, even if it’s just the tiniest darn, has been incredibly satisfying. I have several projects on the go at the moment which I’ll show you over time (my slow stitch journal needs its own post), but let me share just a few of them with you today.

Remember the little $3 secondhand book I picked up at the end of last year?

I not a huge cocktail aficionado, but the Kat Macleod illustrations in this book were delightful, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed turning them into quirky gift tags…

I framed three of the pages and gave one each to my girlfriends Anita and Jenny. The frames were all sourced secondhand from the Salvos warehouse in Rockdale…

My obsession with old sheeting continues, and I’m always scouring opshops looking for a bargain.

I picked up a locally made cotton Actil sheet in near perfect condition and used it to make a pair of sleep shorts for Small Man. He put them on and wore them for two days straight, so I knew I was on a winner! Luckily the vintage flat sheet was queen sized, so I was able to whip up another four pairs for him, and then turn the offcuts into napkins. It was a pretty good result for my $6 investment, but more importantly, it gave all those precious resources a second life. And I find heavy cotton sheeting very addictive to sew with…

The following week I found a beautifully thick Sheridan doona cover and matching pillow cases at the Salvos for $12. But it was seriously stinky – we suspect it had been stored while damp. Instead of throwing it away, the Salvos staff were happy to let me have it at a reduced price of $7. I soaked it in Napisan for four hours then gave it a 60°C wash. It came up beautifully clean and odour-free.

I’ve learnt over the past few years not to give up on beautiful textiles because of stains or smells. Most of the time (definitely not always), the resources can be rescued and repurposed. This morning I turned the pillow cases into four tea towels…

I’m also a bit obsessed these days with vintage fine needlework – this piece of Chinese silk languished in my stash for years until my clever friend Mark suggested a way to use it. The delicate hand embroidered design lay in the middle of the strip, but Mark suggested carefully cutting it in half, sewing the opposite ends together, and creating a pashmina with border detail…

It worked a treat! Now I just need a place to wear it…

Finally, I made a paper dragon for Chinese New Year! I’ve wanted to make one for years, but I could never figure out how to do it. Then last month I came across rolls of industrial adhesive reflective tape going for a song at Reverse Garbage. On the same visit, I also found red corrugated cardboard and assorted cutout circles, and a project was born…

I cut the base from cardboard, then covered half the discs with reflective tape…

Big Boy and Monkey Girl were roped into helping over dinner. They made the talons, mane and tail, I hot glued all the discs in place…et voila! We’ve named him Falkor after the luck dragon in The Neverending Story…

Here’s what he looks like photographed with a flash…

Pete took a low light evening pic…

. . . . .

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately! Plus lots and lots of mending, but I’ll spare you more pics of my darned tea towels and socks.

Can I segue for just a moment and share my thoughts about frugal crafting? Retirement, coupled with a growing awareness of the environmental impact of overconsumption, has meant that I buy all my craft supplies these days from charities and NFP corporations. My favourite stores here in Sydney are The Sewing Baskets, Reverse Garbage, The Bower and the Salvos warehouses.

It has led to a different sort of making – one which is reactive rather than proactive. I don’t head out with a long list of materials I need to buy for a project; instead I search for resources which can be repurposed or given a second life. In this way, my spending no longer puts pressure on new resources – cotton, for example, is one of the most environmentally harmful fibres to grow, but I absolutely love it, so by only buying secondhand, I’m able to use it guilt-free.

I’ve learnt to look past the original use of an item and see its future potential – torn jeans can be remade into aprons, vintage sheets become beeswax wraps and napkins and shorts, a book on cocktails is turned into gift tags. Old linen shirts offer beautiful fabric for masks, patches and drawstring bags, even if they’re holey and therefore unwearable.

Now that I’m no longer earning a monthly salary, it’s important that my “frivolous” expenditure is carefully managed. Sustainable quafting is a joyous and easily affordable pastime. Furthermore, by only buying from charitable or community organisations, the few dollars that I do spend help benefit others. It’s a win all around!

Are you a maker too? If so, I’d love to know about your craft hobbies or latest project! 💚

My favourite Steve Sheridan tea bowl has been given a new lease of life!

Some of you might remember how Pete bought it for me in July 2015 at the Brewery Yard Markets. I wrote about it again last year after it was chipped, reflecting on how my daily use of it had become an exercise in mindfulness.

After it was damaged, my friend Little Kevin turned it into a candle for me

When that had burnt down I was planning to repurpose it as a succulent pot, but Steve mentioned that he could mend it for me. He popped in to return it on his way home from the markets last Saturday, and I couldn’t be happier to have it in my hand again…

The repaired patch has been sanded perfectly smooth…

I have several of Steve’s tea bowls and I love them all, but this was my first and I’ve missed drinking out of it. And now that it has an extended story to tell, I’ll treasure it even more! ♥

A friend once said to me “you’re always adding up what everything costs”. She was right too, and I don’t seem to be able to stop.

I think it started in our thirties when we went through a bad cash crunch for a couple of years. Pete was retrenched at the same time that Small Man was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.

Worrying about paying the bills would wake me up in the middle of the night. I kept endless spreadsheets, constantly trying to figure out how to trim our budget. And in hindsight, we learnt some amazing life lessons as a result. Never waste money, but make it a goal to be free from the burdens it imposes. Be smart enough to be content. Don’t incur debt recklessly. Don’t fall into the trap of measuring your life against other people‘s. Importantly, be prepared, because the universe can pull the rug out from under your feet at any time.

Even now, more than 20 years later, I’m still counting. Not out of fear any longer though. These days the habit (and it really IS a habit now) is fueled by a desire to waste as little as possible, and the personal power that comes from knowing we’re living – thriving – within our means.

So please indulge my excitement at last night’s ridiculously delicious dinner of chicken stew with dumplings, made from the carcasses I wrote about last week.

The entire pot, easily enough to feed four, cost us under $5 in total. It was incredibly good, not just for a frugal meal, but rather serve-at-a-dinner-party good. It was also a doddle to make – the stock and pulled meat were in the freezer, the dumplings were just self-raising flour and butter, and the vegetables were in the fridge and pantry. The recipe came from Save With Jamie and it’s available online here. We left out the bacon and fried the veg in chicken fat instead, and substituted a tin of corn kernels for the button mushrooms. It was a wonderful way to start the week! ♥

Today was Stock Making Sunday!

Every few months, I’ll purchase three bags of chicken carcasses from Chicken George at nearby Marrickville Metro (nine carcasses for $5 total), stash a few in the freezer and turn the remainder into stock and schmaltz. I wrote about this last year, but we’ve added a new step to the process, so I thought it warranted a revisit. I also thought it was worth adding a little more detail on how Pete renders down the chicken fat, so here’s a step-by-step rundown.

Step 1: we trimmed the fat off five carcasses then roasted them in a 175C fan oven (unseasoned) until golden.

Step 2: the carcasses then went into our large stockpot with a knob of peeled ginger, a sliced onion, a tablespoon (four teaspoons) of flossy sea salt and five litres of water. It was brought to a boil covered, then simmered covered for 30 minutes. The heat was then turned off, and the pot allowed to sit covered for a further 30 minutes.

A side note: this is now my preferred method of making chicken stock. I don’t boil it for hours or use a pressure cooker any more, although I’ve done both in the past. I’ve found that roasting the bones first and simmering covered for just half an hour produces a lovely, full-flavoured stock and plenty of it – I ended up with a full five litres (possibly a bit more) for the freezer. The shorter cooking time is more energy efficient as well.

Step 3: we cut the trimmed fat into small pieces with kitchen scissors, then put them into a saucepan just large enough to fit them all in a single layer. Water was added to just cover the fat and brought to a  gentle boil with the lid on. We then uncovered the pan and let it simmer very gently until all the water was gone and the remaining liquid (fat) was quite clear, the bubbles had mostly subsided (we had to watch it carefully near the end to make sure it didn’t darken and burn), and the solids had turned crispy and brown (these are Pete’s instructions, he’s in charge of fat rendering).

Step 4: we removed the carcasses from the stock and picked the tender meat off the bones, leaving the bits that were too dry.

Step 5: (and this is where it gets exciting) after picking the meat off the bones, we broke them up and roasted them in a hot oven (200C – 220C with fan). They took about 30 minutes to dry out completely but Pete kept a close eye on them – they needed to be very dry to the point where they were just starting to burn around the edges (see photo below)…

Step 6: once the bones had cooled a little, we blitzed them in Henry the Hot Mix (Pete says any robust blender with a glass or metal bowl or jug should work, but probably not a food processor. He also warns not to use anything with a plastic bowl as it would probably scratch it very badly).

Step 7: we then mixed the resultant bonemeal with wood ash saved from Rosie the Smoker, in a proportion that has at least 50% bonemeal (we use about 2/3 bonemeal, 1/3 ash). We also added dried and ground up egg shells. Pete says that the ash is to help dry out the bonemeal but it needs be added judiciously – not all gardens can take a lot of ash (apparently it depends on the soil pH).

Voila! Homemade blood and bone…

So to sum up: our $2.78 worth of chicken carcasses (five of the nine we bought for $5) produced:

  • 8 boxes (5 litres) of roasted chicken stock for the freezer
  • 1 box of picked chicken meat (which we’ll use in soups and risottos)
  • 1 jar of chicken fat (schmaltz), and
  • 3 cups (approximately) of homemade blood and bone

There’s something incredibly satisfying about starting with what was already a waste byproduct (chicken carcasses) and being able to turn them into so much goodness for the kitchen and garden. Best of all, we were able to use up every bit of the carcasses – not a single scrap ended up in the rubbish. It felt like a big win! ♥

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