Category Archives: crafts

Diary, December 2014

The Resilience Garden glitters with frost, which should finally put a stop to the ravages of slug and snail. The September rocket sowing bolted due to the warm weather, a November replacement sprang up with enthusiasm but then settled down to wait out the winter as seedlings, and the molluscs ate most of the spinach.

Feeding the leeks has worked, though.

Waiting for a book to get published is an arduous task. I’m using the time to develop my own Resilience Plan some more.

This has involved me in adventures with an anti mould paint based on calcium hydroxide. The resilience pioneer can study the manufacture of this and other basic chemicals in The Knowledge. Use your Xmas tokens. It’s a good ‘man book’.

I’ll be appearing on The Knowledge website as a guest writer in the New Year, covering some of the amazing projects I’ve found on my travels!

Meanwhile, I’ve been designing learning modules to go with the Resilience Handbook, exploring more strange landscapes, repainting the house….

…and working with CREW HQ to organise a series of free craft workshops next year!

These will be held fortnightly on Sunday afternoons at the Red Brick Building between Glastonbury and Street, in Somerset. The first one is to be on February 15th. We’ve been part-funded by Aster Communities, and about thirty local craftspeople signed up at the Frost Fair last month.

Traditional crafts are going to be demonstrated and visitors can learn some simple techniques on the day. You can learn to fix things, get advice on your own projects, and generally network with skilled artisans. If you’d like to talk about a Repair Cafe, starting or joining a community crafts group, building a career as a craftsperson or anything like that, do come along.

I’ll be there teaching resilience. How resilient are you now? Why are practical skills important? Try out the questionnaire and design your plan.

Best Wishes for the New Year!

Shop Local for Xmas

It’s beginning to seep into national awareness that independent, locally based businesses might serve their communities better than identikit chain stores with obscure agendas.

With the destructive competition these small enterprises face from multinationals, the few that still populate the High Street need your support. It’s estimated that around £40 billion will be spent on Xmas in the UK this year; over £750 per household.

Spent locally, remaining in your area instead of instantly vanishing into a remote Head Office, this money could bring about a serious increase in prosperity.

Take a long tea break to think about this, and plan your holiday spending. Shopping in the scattered local outlets will take longer than a trolley dash. Spread it over a few weeks. Be organised so you don’t buy something twice in the last minute rush.

Set a budget for presents. See what you can find at craft fairs. Socks, especially good hand made ones, are underrated. Bath products are often welcome.  Of course you’ll be able to buy more industrially produced items for the same money. Quality is the point here. It’s a gift; it’s the thought that counts not the weight.

Traditional crafts are struggling to stay alive, despite their key role in a resilient society. The few people who persevere have to price their goods at the luxury end of the market to compete with factories. They need your custom more than the supermarkets do, and give far more back. Choose your loyalties.

Half of the total Xmas spend is on gifts. In Somerset alone, this comes to over £80 million, the same as a quarter of the annual County budget.  Another third is spent on food and drink.

Write a shopping list. There’s plenty of food you could buy well in advance. Farm shops often sell chutneys, jams and pickles. Xmas cakes keep for weeks and are often on sale at markets. Consider making your own mince pies.

The best way to buy your Xmas dinner is to order fresh locally reared organic meat from the independent butcher. If you’ve never done this before, consider there may be a bit of a queue on collection day. Bring an umbrella, a newspaper, be prepared to chat to people, live a little slower.

Spend your Xmas surrounded by food, drink and gifts which that have meaning, not just labels. Start planning now!

local craft shop
Buy craft materials for friends at shops like Glastonbury’s Over the Moon
Stevens butchers on Glastonbury High Street
and while you’re in the High Street, check out the more exotic preserves at Steven’s Butchers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diary, September 2014

Here at the house with the resilience garden, I’m in the last stages of getting the Resilience Handbook ready to publish – just the Interludes and Conclusion to do, then choosing some illustrations.

How do I persuade you how easy it is to jump on the Resilience bandwagon?

Off we go, waving hand made banners and singing, to the future that can exist! If we get a flat tyre, we’ll all pile out while it gets fixed. Some people will build shelters for the night, others cook up a meal for everyone, then away we go again in the morning! We know where we’re going and how to get there, even though it will take a while.

Sustainability with meaning. A defined goal with measurable steps.

And a Resilience Plan is fun, of course. It’s part of the core plan.

Between the hours of typing on to a screen and counting words, I’m making wine. It’s that time of year. The elderberries – which make a deep rich red – are gone now, but I may catch some blackberries. Sloes are easy to collect but the wine needs to mature for several years; then there are rosehips and apples to see me through till December.

If the weather stays nice, there’s an expedition to Carymoor eco centre on the cards. They aren’t using their blackberries, and they have willow beds. I need to make some willow fencing to go across the front of the garden. Having failed to explain to the neighbours why this would be a better replacement for their storm-downed solid panels than more of the same, perhaps I can show them instead.

And occasionally I get to have an evening in on my own listening to DVDs and working on my Turkish style rug. It’s nearly six inches long now!

Knotted rug on frame loom with resilience garden behind
Knotted rug on frame loom with resilience garden behind

How to use a Spider to braid cord

for the people I met on my travels this summer

Find some thick card which does not crease easily, yet isn’t too thick to cut. A scrap of mounting board is ideal. Draw a circle about 9 cm across and cut it out. Divide the circumference into 8 sections of roughly equal size. Cut a thin notch, no more than 1 cm long, along each dividing line. Around the centre of your circle, cut out a hole about 1 cm across.

This is a spider.

Cut seven equal lengths of wool, ribbon or thread and knot them together at one end. Push the knotted end through the hole in the spider and lay the threads on top.

preparing the spider for braiding cord

Slot each thread into one of the notches around the edge. The notch should grip the thread quite tightly. There will be an empty notch. Hold the spider so that this is at the top.

Count three threads to the left. Take the third thread and lift it over the first two, slotting it  into the empty notch.

taking the third thread from the left across the other two and into the empty notch

Turn the spider clockwise so that the new empty notch is now at the top. Repeat the process, lifting the third thread to the left over the other two. Your cord will start to form in the centre.

spider 3 v2

Keep the braiding firm but not overtight.

As you work, the loose ends waiting to be braided get tangled. Separate them every so often. This limits the length of your starter thread to about two arms’ length, but once you get the hang of braiding, you can splice new lengths in. Do these one at a time to avoid unsightly lumps, and to maintain the cord strength.

Once you have had some practise and know what you need this tool to do, you could cut a longer lasting version from thin plywood. Try making cord from wild grasses, braid heavy duty cables from thin rope using a much larger spider.

The use of braided wicks was a key development in candle technology. Can you replicate this process? Could you invent a simple machine to braid cord? Why might you need to?

Willows and Flooding

The Somerset Levels have grown willow since prehistoric times; the remains of a basket were found by the Glastonbury Lake Village. Willow trees are plentiful in marshlands as they can thrive in waterlogged soils. Their long flexible shoots have many uses, including furniture, fencing and fish traps.

Traditional methods of pruning, or pollarding, cut the tree back to its main trunk. A shock of long straight withies springs out from the cut, and can be harvested. The trees are quite tall and have a distinctive knobby shape. Pollarded trees need to be maintained, which is difficult when the trimmings have no value.

Many modern willow beds are coppiced. The growth is cut back, even to ground level, every couple of years. Material which could be used for craft products is burned as biomass fuel. Willow beds established by grant funding have no budget for upkeep.

The Levels grew nearly 40 square kilometres of willow in 1930, but this has declined to a mere 1.4, mainly due to replacing basketry with disposable bags and packaging. Garden furniture is made from imported, oil based plastic and most people would struggle to recognise a fish trap.

Planting willow around the banks of rivers stabilises them, and can be extended into a buffer zone. This would aid the retention of water in a managed flood plain, protecting urban land further downstream. Willow is particularly good at removing toxins from contaminated land. It could be planted straight after a major flood, but it won’t be, as no-one can earn a living from it.

The decline of willow production needs to be reversed by creating a market.

The storms that often accompany flooding have wreaked havoc on garden fencing. Tall solid panels which resist the wind have fallen in heaps. Woven willow fencing allows the light and air through, while affording privacy.

Order some from a local willow craftsperson. It will be more expensive than cheap imported products. If you have a garden and a fence, though, it makes sense to support the farmers upstream who are preventing them flooding. Think about what else you could replace with locally sourced willow.

Alternatively, find a project which needs help with coppicing and negotiate your own materials.  Carymoor Environment Trust in Somerset have a volunteers’ day every Tuesday.

willow crafts

 

The Hemp Twine Project – Introduction

There are just over half a million people in Somerset. Imagine if, just once a year, half of those people bought an item on which a local supplier made fifty pence profit. That would generate an amazing £125,000 for the local economy. More jobs created and investment in local initiatives…..at Community Resilience and Emergency Welfare CIC they have developed this concept into the Hemp Twine Project.

They were looking for an item, not too large or expensive, that always comes in handy and could be fully sourced locally. Although there are a few things made in Somerset, such as lavender oil, they decided to start a new product. This was an educational exercise rather than a commercial venture after all.

Everybody uses string. It’s not on the regular shopping list, but it’s not a luxury item either. It keeps very well, is easy to store and cheap to buy. Most household string is made of oil based plastic or imported cotton. Replacing this in your home with a locally sourced, organically grown, biodegradable string is definitely Good for the Environment.

As well as wool and apples, Somerset can grow large amounts of hemp. This used to be processed into fibre and supplied the local shipyards in the days of sail. Hemp as a material is remarkably resistant to rot, even in challenging salt water conditions, so it was often used in ropes and canvas. Nylon and plastic ousted natural fibres awhile ago, and the industry fell into decline. The soil and weather conditions which favoured hemp production are still in place though, and it is a crop which requires no chemical intervention to thrive.

Today, hemp twine is sold to the home craft market, for use in beadwork or macrame. Sourcing a larger quantity was difficult but, with the aid of the amazing desktop ball of string maker, finally translated into a product at the right price.

old fashioned string winding machine
The old fashioned winding machine is fed from a reel on the right and makes neat balls of twine

If enough people buy hemp twine, the hemp industry could revive faster than it fell. Farmers would be paid well for a low cost crop, a small industrial unit would suffice to process the fibre into twine and local shops would profit from the sales. Spin offs include hemp oil, valuable as a source of Omega-3, hemp cake for cattle and hempcrete for building material. Each of these can underpin another entire small industry.

All that is needed is a market – your one ball of string a year – and the local economy could be richer by a whole new industry! With a steady income from conscious consumerism, businesses can plan ahead. Instead of playing the customer loyalty game with uncaring multinationals, bring it home.

Think what else you could create by buying local.

The Apple Juice Project – Part One

Somerset, famed for its cider, is still a good place to grow apples. Many gardens boast at least one tree, but few people are able to make full use of the fruit and it often goes to waste. Collecting spare fruit to make apple juice could be a resilient way forward.

So we collected bags of sound apples. They need to be in good condition for juicing, not bruised or chewed. We borrowed a scratter, a press and a pasteuriser from Somerset Community Food and spent the afternoon pressing apples.

Much hard work later, we had fifteen bottles to fill the pasteuriser, and some left over. Unpasteurised apple juice will only keep for a few days, even in a fridge. The pasteuriser sat on a chair in the kitchen, full of very hot water, for several hours.

Although the juice did keep well – we opened a bottle eighteen months later, which was fine – it had taken a lot of apples and hard physical labour to make not very many bottles. If ever a process called out for mechanisation, this was it.

We knew a local firm would take apples and press them into juice for a fee, which no longer seemed so unreasonable. It would be possible to make a profit of £1 a bottle. Could this finance a larger project?

This year, we explored Plan B. Collecting fruit from an overgrown orchard in West Pennard, we estimated that one tree provided enough apples for one crate of the five needed for a minimum order. Two people took an hour to clear the ground of rotten apples and windfalls, then pick the good apples from the tree.

The profit margins are too small to offer the householder free apple juice, and you must be careful how much you sell at cost. Most people who have unused fruit trees, though, are pleased to have the ground underneath them cleared. Fallen fruit attracts wasps, is slippery and interferes with lawn mowing.

People already doing gardening work could combine this with harvesting the apples. A cider company might buy the windfalls, increasing the profit margin. Careful planning of collection rounds can minimise fuel use.

One crate of apples gives you about 12 bottles, from which you need to pay for your fuel and the time spent selling the juice. You would need to invest the money in having the juice made, and maintain a small van. It should be possible to earn a small living from the wasted apple harvest for one quarter of the year though.

The project may be a good income for a community group using volunteer labour. They would have the added benefit of being able to access a market, funding for a pilot scheme and better publicity networks.

 

preserved apples
Keeping apples in a sealed bin can preserve them for months

The Hemp Twine Project – Part One

One of my planned projects involves encouraging the sale of hemp twine to promote the local economy in Somerset. Everyone needs string. Hemp was once a major crop here, supplying huge quantities of rope for the Bristol shipping trade.

You can still see some of the long sheds where the ropes used to be twisted together from fibres.

Accordingly, after my summer adventures in the field, I set about ordering some hemp twine. Reluctant to create yet another customer profile for a possible single purchase, I called my chosen supplier and spoke to a friendly chap from the north of England.

I deplored the price of hemp twine, given the ease and low cost of hemp cultivation. He told me the sad tale of the decline of the natural fibre rope making industry faced with competition from oil based plastics. The hemp I was buying came from Egypt. Could I believe that unscrupulous sellers even tried to pass off jute fibre as hemp?

Uncomfortably aware that, although my grandfather would certainly have known the difference, I could be thus hoodwinked all day long, I moved the subject to purse nets. The hemp twine – the largest and cheapest reel I had found – was destined to make and repair these nets, commonly used for catching rabbits.

Alas, there was a sad story there too. Modern lads take no care of their hunting gear, but are content to stuff wet and muddy nets into a plastic sack at the end of a day. Left in this condition, even the spectacular ability of hemp to resist rot is overcome. Cheap imported plastic nets, however, can be abused endlessly.

Lads – do you realise that your careless lazy habits are having this impact? Take a minute or ten just to rinse out your nets and hang them up to dry before opening that can and slumping in front of the TV! Buy hemp purse nets or better still have some pride in your craft and make your own. There are instructions on the internet.

Hemp can and should be widely grown in this country. As well as fibre to replace imported oil based plastics, it yields nutritious seeds ideal for livestock feed. All it lacks is a market. Hundreds of new jobs could be created.

See how it’s all connected?

Start paying attention.