Pilot in Paris and NYC of products in reusable containers

Here’s the full article (and another with more info). In short, several large companies are partnering with TerracCycle (about), a company that recycles hard-to-recycle items, to offer waste-free versions of their normal products. This will include ice cream, deodorant, and shampoo in returnable, refillable metal containers. Although the program is currently just a pilot, it’s a step in the direction of extended producer responsibility!

There are a few big downsides to this approach, however.

Metal and glass containers (most plastic is not acceptable for commercial reuse because it is porous and can’t be completely cleaned) take a lot more resources to make than plastic, so using them is only more sustainable if they are actually reused and reused a large number of times. (The containers require a security deposit to receive which hopefully will mitigate this potential problem.)

The pilot program relies on door-to-door delivery, which introduces a last mile problem. The “last mile” refers to the last part of a delivery network. It is often the most complex and expensive (and thus energy- and resource- consuming) part of the network. Instead of going to the grocery store (which, by the way, is another “last mile”), each household gets individualized delivery, so someone still has to drive around. And since the program only includes a small number of products, the delivery route will be in addition to households’ normal grocery trips.

For my friends in New York, maybe you’ll get to try this out soon!

Cold weather!

It’s been quite cold the last few days, so cold that classes were canceled. The low was -2°F, or so, with windchill down to an apparent -20°F! I walked to the grocery store just to experience it (with an additional scarf and a pair of thermal ski pants added to my everyday winter wear).

“The coldest location in the U.S. on Thursday was Cotton, Minn., where the temperature reached minus 56°F. The coldest location in the U.S. on Wednesday was Norris Camp, Minn., where it was minus 48°F, with a wind chill of minus 65°F” (source: various news websites).

Winter Storm Jayden, the Polar Vortex, and Climate Change: 3 Factors that Matter


Sleep hat for sibling C

Since I’m trying to use up the merino wool from the failed sweater, I’ve been asking if anyone has knitting requests! Sibling C is perpetually cold and tries to avoid using a lot of energy on heating in the winter, so she requested a sleep hat.

I modified this baby pattern (pictures of the finished product here) by casting on 107 stitches and using short rows to make the top curlier and pointier and more elven (:

I-cord ties! They are knit top-down, with the initial stitches picked up from the edge of the hat.
Stockinette with a garter stitch border in a smaller needle size (3 mm).
Looks kinda dorky…
The hat has three points; one comes down on the forehead, the other two create ear flaps and allow for I-cord attachment.
Pointy top!


Many shoe-making methods require a last, a hard, foot-shaped form around which a shoe is molded to give it 3D shape. Since I am a fan of “minimalist” or “barefoot” shoes, I wanted to use a last that is actually shaped like my feet. The Munson Army last, developed for minimalist walking shoes by a military doctor shortly before World War I as detailed in his book, was an option but I was not able to find any for sale online.

So instead, I cast my feet!

There are several ways to do this. The standard alginate mold approach involves casting your feet (or other body part) in alginate jelly, then filling the negative with some other material (plaster is popular, but can only be used once). This method exactly replicates your feet in shape and size.

Casting kit I used. I now have quite a bit of alginate powder left over.

Since I wanted to have extra room for socks and wiggling my toes, I did not use the alginate approach. Instead, I wrapped my feet in fabric strips dipped in silicone, similar to how one would use plaster bandages.

Two-part silicone.
I made the lasts in parts, starting with the toes and working my way up the leg. I would periodically remove the cast to unstick it.
I cut out cardboard “insoles” to add structure to the bottom of the lasts while I built them.
The silicone cured quite quickly, within 5 minutes of mixing the components. I used slightly-but-not-quite-cured globs to start filling the lasts up to solidify them.
Wrapped up to the ankle for future boots, perhaps!
Currently, the lasts are flexible shells. For making shoes, they must be stiff and able to hold nails. My plan is to fill them with additional silicone (and maybe fabric as filler) to achieve this.

Felted slippers

I continue to be interested in making shoes. It’d be nice to make welted leather shoes (and I hope to eventually, since my everyday shoes are close to being completely worn out), but they require a lot of specialized tools (see the shoe-making Reddit community for more info). So I thought I’d start with an easier task: making felt slippers! If they turn out well, I may want to make felt shoes also (like Russian valenki, traditional felt boots).

I followed the directions in this tutorial, in addition to watching lots of Youtube videos (Christi Dea makes felt slippers and shoes, and does other weird fiber art).

Make a bubble wrap template by tracing your foot + allowance for shrinkage, and adding the desired ankle height. Fold the bubble wrap in half so that you get an attached, double template.
Gather all your wool! I used brown and gray Shetland wool that I bought from another spinner on Craigslist. According to the above tutorial, you will need about 500 grams (1+ lb) of wool, loose, roving, or batts are all fine.
Then you layer wool and felt it a little bit, just enough to hold together.
Then you full (fulling is the origin of the common last names Walker, Tucker, and Fuller!) it to shrink and harden the felt. It takes a loooooong time to do this by hand. I also put my booties through the washer and dryer, but they need to be shrunk further.
They are very voluminous at the moment. The instructions I followed incorporated a tongue into their shoes, so I was led to add extra space around the ankle. As you can see, this was a mistake. Hopefully I can shrink all the extra down to fit, or design a tie/button system to take up the excess. I’m aiming for slip-ons or easy-tie shoes.

To get the slippers to fit my feet well, I’m going to shrink them around a set of lasts I made (with much difficulty!) of my feet:

They still need to be filled to be made solid.

So this project is very much in progress. I’ll update y’all once I get more done!

Janky umbrella repairs

I’ve had my umbrella for a long time. I think I got it in middle school. So the canopy is getting a little worn, especially where the skeleton folds. My first thought was to patch it, but the fabric is unusual. Fortunately, those nylon umbrella sleeves are perfect for cannibalizing. I often find them abandoned on the ground. We also have a ton at home that are never going to be used.

These patches are from an umbrella sleeve I found in Pittsburgh. The orange circle is also an umbrella part I picked up. Okay, my patch placement and shaping were not ideal… Maybe if they were all the same shape, size, and orientation it would work.
At least the patches were sewn very neatly! I even hid the raw edge of the fabric.

I intend to keep this umbrella forever, and I have many more, variously colored umbrella sleeves to use (: Hopefully my umbrella looks more purposeful in a few years, once I get a few more patches on.

Yearly soapmaking!

My mom bought me 6.5 pounds of tallow from the butcher for $0.88/lb! Tallow is so cheap (and sometimes free) since it is a byproduct of eating meat; most of the time, it is thrown away. The fat in the little bag to the left was trimmed off of a steak.
Then you render it, which takes forever
Then you add lye and other goodies, and mix. The soap in this photo is just about done. I’ve been making hot-process soap using our slow cooker since cold-process can be finicky and requires a lot of mixing.
Then you pour it into molds. I variously used a muffin tin and plastic drink cups.

I made four different kinds of soap:

  • pure tallow: 6 oz water, 2.2 oz NaOH, 16 oz tallow
  • tallow + coconut oil for more cleansing lather: 6 oz water, 2.3 oz NaOH, 13.1 oz tallow, 2.9 oz coconut oil
  • tallow + coconut + a mix of oils left over from another project: 6 oz water, 2.3 oz NaOH, 12 oz tallow, 2 oz coconut oil, 2 oz oil mix (coconut and almond oils, beeswax)
  • shaving soap (one batch with NaOH and one batch with KOH): 12 oz water, 3.4 oz KOH, 2.3 oz NaOH, 4 oz glycerin, 9.6 oz stearic acid, 20.8 oz tallow, 1.6 oz oil mix (coconut and almond oils, beeswax)

To create the shaving soap, I mixed the NaOH and KOH batches together to get a good texture. Stearic acid is too hard to use NaOH only, but not hard enough to use only KOH, which is meant for creating liquid soap. This is called a dual-lye soap.

One batch of attempted soap boiled over and was lost ): I pre-melted the oils and they got too hot, so that when I added the lye-water, it boiled immediately, forming a lye volcano. Fortunately, no one was injured (except the crock pot, whose paint is a little corroded…).

Hot-process soap is a little gloopy when it’s done, so it can be hard to put into molds. You can mix in additional water to improve pourability, but the soap will have to cure longer to reach the desired hardness.

Curing. Shaving soap in the back. The two front soaps are hair soap for sibling C, but could also be used for general hand and body cleaning.
The greenish one on the right was infused with plant materials from our garden (yaupon, rosemary, sage, and lantana). As it turns out, you need a ton of plant matter to do anything.
Shaving soap. The glycerin made it a little orange.
Tallow + coconut oil soap.

Until next year!

Failed sweater

I made a raglan shawl-collar cardigan out of Manos del Uruguay Maxima yarn, in the color “Reindeer”. The yarn is very pleasant to work with, but being made out of single-ply merino wool it wears very poorly and gets very pilly.

I was gifted a whole bunch of skeins of the yarn a few years ago for Christmas with the express purpose of making a sweater. But sweaters need to be durable. Also…

… it came out wonky. The front hangs open when you wear it and it’s not secure on your shoulders. I’m wearing my very nice Usaato shirt in this photo 😀
The pockets also gape open. The collar is too floppy and doesn’t sit close enough to the neck.
The body uses star stitch. The sleeves use raglan shaping. The front placket and collar use 2×2 ribbing and short-row shaping.
The buttons are (real!) leather with a metal shank. They were purchased from Austin Creative Reuse for a dollar. The yarn cost about $100 altogether.
Underarm panel of seed stitch.
The pockets are knit from ugly green alpaca yarn that I got for free from someone who thought it was too ugly to use. The darker green and gold stripes in the photo were my attempts to overdye the yarn with indigo and turmeric.
The sweater was knit back and forth, starting at the bottom. The sleeves were knit in the round down from the yolk. The front placket and collar were knit back and forth from stitches picked up along the edge of the body. The sweater has false seams between what would normally be separate pieces (front panels, back, and sleeves). I knit kpk, then sewed the two knit stitches together to help stabilize the sweater’s shape.

Since fit and material were major problems with the sweater, I decided to take it apart and make new items that would better suit the merino wool.

The first item will be a cowl (or a dickie, since it will include some shoulder/chest cover)! My current scarf is kinda itchy and the ends are always in the way or coming unwound.
The cowl so far. I’m using bubble stitch, which is currently in vogue. My goal is to create a textured fabric that better traps warm air, similar to how waffle-knit fabric works.

Future projects will include a night cap for sibling C and felted slippers for myself (: