Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Felting in a Front-loader

I've been collecting some old wool sweaters with the thought of felting them and turning them into pillows, purses, yoga mat carriers, etc. A couple of weekends ago I cracked Felted Knits by Beverly Galeskas and read that the sort of heavily supervised felting Bev advises should most vehemently NOT be attempted in a front-loading machine.

So of course I did it. And the results were not bad!

I have a high-agitation, energy-conserving model that only puts in the amount of water appropriate to the size of the load. This is a good thing, since Beverly says that for large items, you want less time in the machine and a smaller amount of water -- a little counter-intuitive. I threw in an old Fair Isle sweater and put a thimbleful of Eucalan in the detergent dispenser. Then I set the machine for Normal wash on hot, and also selected "no spin." Beverly says that you NEVER want your machine to rinse and spin. Rinse isn't so bad, just means you end up with your item in cold water instead of hot and you have to re-fill the machine with hot if it's not fully felted. But rinsing isn't necessary with Eucalan, so it's a waste of water. Spinning is bad -- you can make permanent crease marks in the felted item.

One major problem with front-loaders -- the door locks, so you can't check your work as you go. Beverly freaks out at this idea, since she wants you to check every five minutes. I decided I would risk it, and hit "Start."

After about 15 minutes, I noticed that the machine was draining and getting ready to re-fill for the first rinse. I stopped the machine, but the door was still locked, so I canceled the cycle completely and opened the door. Definite felting going on -- but not ready yet. I re-set the machine to the start of the cycle. Now that I knew the length of the first wash cycle, I was ready to stop the machine and re-set two or three more times until I was pleased with the results. I didn't mind the 15-minute intervals between checks, seemed to work just fine.

The huge problem with this system, of course, is the wasted water and detergent, since it insists on draining before you can open the door. Only a manual dial-type control system will let you avoid draining the water -- and those are rarer and rarer these days.

For example, Spinnity has a top-loading machine, so while we were over at her house last weekend making a birthday dinner for B-i-L, I figured I'd try felting the other two sweaters there. Because her machine is top-loading, you CAN open the lid every five minutes and check on your progress. However, her machine is new enough to have a digital control system, and you can't just crank a dial to keep the machine from rinsing and spinning. In fact, her machine doesn't even have a "no-spin" option. The machine wanted to drain and rinse after only about 11 minutes, and the ridges on the bottom of the agitator started to leave creases on one of the sweaters. (I did them separately so they wouldn't acquire each other's fuzz.) If I canceled and started over in time, some hot water seemed to stay in the machine, but it added more anyway.

Overall, I don't think the top-loader felted any better than my front-loader -- in fact, I think it took longer and left creases. All three pieces felted reasonably well. They're now drying and awaiting further inspiration. Beverly says you shouldn't throw your felted items in the dryer -- they can lose their shape.

I'm pretty sure experiences are as different as individual washing machines, but here's what some other people did. There are some other forums in which people relate differing experiences, easily found with a Google search. I have to admit I was a bad girl and did not put the sweaters in zippered bags first, for lack of having any at hand, but I certainly will as I continue to do more projects.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Props to the hubs

Occasionally there comes a time to pay tribute to those green influences in our lives. Yeah, I know, we all love Al Gore. My biggest green influence, however, never ran for President or made a documentary or posed for photo ops with Leonardo di Caprio. It's my hubs, Mr. Wiz.

When I first met Mr. Wiz, I recognized right away that he was a crank. You have to understand that coming from me, this is a compliment -- I'm English by heritage and when I lived in London, I frequently visited Cranks, a fabulous vegetarian restaurant. Cranks are people who aren't afraid to hold unpopular opinions. They don't care what other people think. They sing loudly (and often off-key) to their favorite iTunes playlist, especially when they are cooking and the list includes the entire musical output of Abba. They pick up trash in public, bring their own Tupperware to restaurants, and have been known to wear swim trunks with collared dressy shirts. (The ensemble Mr. Wiz sported the day I met him. Thank God I attributed the bizarre sartorial choice to some unexplained wardrobe emergency, and only found out later that he had dressed up SPECIALLY in anticipation of being introduced to me.)

When Mr. W started his green crusade, it wasn't anywhere near as trendy as it is now. He even had roommates who would walk across the room on purpose to throw things in the trash if he threatened to recycle them. Even I had initial disorientation with the idea that he re-uses everything -- he saves every plastic container and bag from the grocery store, washes them, and re-uses them. He saves orange peel to make orange soda. He saves every cardboard box and every piece of packaging for the next time he has to mail something. He makes his own toothpaste and re-uses little glass cosmetic jars to keep it in. One time a Whole Foods cashier had to give him something like 25 wooden donation nickels for the number of re-used bags he brought in.

Annoying? Maybe, for about 5 minutes. Over time, though, I started to think it was pretty cool. This is a guy who's managed to reduce our personal garbage output to one small bag a month -- the rest goes into the composter or recycling bins. And he's not stopping there -- now he wants to reduce our recycling to similarly miniscule amounts.

If you want to be a crank like Mr. Wiz, here are some tips:

1. Buy from bulk containers (at Whole Foods or other shops that carry bulk), and bring your own bags to take it all home in.

2. Get yourself a composter if you haven't already.

3. Buy your clothes at Goodwill. Even better, work at home so you don't even have to wear clothes.

4. Get yourself one of these. We're told they're all the rage in Germany. We call ours the "Zizzer."

5. Stop accepting styrofoam takeout containers. Carry your own Tupperware. Yes, people will look at you funny in restaurants. It's okay, you're cooler than they are.

6. Make presents for people instead of buying them, or give "experiential gifts" like theatre tickets or special outings. Very few people in America really need more STUFF.

6. Whenever you start thinking that it's not worth it, the world is going to hell in a proverbial handcart anyway and you might as well dance on the flames, go plant a kitchen garden with your god-daughter and remember this: it's never a bad thing to keep one more piece of plastic from floating into the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New blog focus for Earth Day

Once upon a time about a year ago, I more or less abandoned this blog. I felt like I didn't have anything very exciting to add that was any different from all the better knitting blogs out there. So I went to live on Ravelry and share projects there instead, and it's been great.

Meanwhile, in life and in art, I've continued to evolve my personal commitment to living as green as possible. This is hard for a shopaholic/yarnaholic who was raised to believe that if something is on sale, it is therefore virtuous and good to purchase it. I had to think about consuming less, shopping less, getting rid of all those tempting catalogues, and living with the bounty of STUFF that I already own.

I vowed that I would buy no new yarn in 2008 unless it's extra yarn for a project that's already underway. I think I've fallen off the wagon only once. I have enough yarn to last me a good five years, might as well start working through it.

Even harder, I'm trying not to buy new clothes unless they are as eco-friendly as possible. That means not just organic cotton, but organic cotton that hasn't been imported from the other side of the planet, therefore negating its virtuousness with a cloud of fossil fuels. Mostly I'm trying to live by the principal that there's already enough STUFF in the world, let's just pass it around a little and make it look different and interesting.

So last Saturday, as part of my Earth Day observance, I went to the Swap-o-rama-rama at the Coyote Point Museum in San Mateo. I brought along a bag of old clothes, and left with a bag of other people's old clothes. Somehow when clothes used to belong to someone instead of you, it's like getting brand new clothes.

Even better, at the Swap-o-rama-rama, I sewed pretty flowers on an old tank top, and learned to screen print designs on an old skirt. Now my new-old clothes are unique as well as recycled.

Swap-o-rama-rama is coming back to San Mateo for the Maker Faire. If you've never been to this event, it's great -- like Burning Man with kids (and fewer drugs and naked people). Crazy creativity and genuinely something for everyone -- the hubs can check out cool new eco-vehicles and robot wars, the kids can do art and science projects, and the shopaholics like me can shop local designers and hang out in the knit and crochet booths.

I'm planning to go back and swap some more, do more screen-printing (my new obsession), and enjoy a fun, creative time with some great people. Come and join me! And happy Earth Day, everyone.