Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Making papercrete - Yet another way to use rubbish

Over this winter I have noticed a breeze blowing through the gap in our lounge room floor; the difference in height between the tyre floor and the pavers. This sneaky little breeze makes my feet cold while I spin (and I'm obviously metamorphosing into a cranky old lady) so I decided to try to block off this gap.
Enter the idea of papercrete; I have newspaper in abundance so it seemed a natural progression to mix up some papercrete and plug the gap with it. Papercrete is made by mixing newspaper soaked in water with concrete. The similarity between the recommended procedure and what I did ends there.


This is the gap I hope to fill. In addition to a sneaky breeze this gap also lets in antechinus, snakes and allows dropped cutlery to escape into the wild.

The recommended procedure says to soak the paper in a tow mixer designed to shred the softened paper and mix in the cement.

I shredded my paper...well ripped it up small, and soaked it in water in a bucket
 I was only doing a small test patch to see if it will work so I began by tearing up a bucket full of newspaper. The paper soaked for a week so it was good and soft.

I used a half bag of cement mix I had in the shed.

I added the whole half bag of cement...forgetting to pour off the extra water.

I mixed the lot into a sloppy slurry and began to pack it into the gap. The bucket full of goop went further than I thought it would, but it is still very rough and I think it will crack when it dries.

The filled up gap

As you can see it's rough.

While this was a very quick and dirty experiment I can see a lot of potential for this building material. If the papercrete holds in this gap I am thinking of using it to fill the gaps and cracks around doors and windows. I might even go as far as building a tow mixer to make HUGE batches as I am lucky enough to have access to almost unlimited newspaper.

 In other news...I went on a little field trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Brisbane last weekend and found this amazing piece there. It reminds me of the tumors that grow on really old gum trees.




Saturday, 23 July 2016

The fire wood cycle at the humpy

Our cooking stove and house and water heater.

Sitting by the fire on a cold winter's night is so pleasant isn't it? I love to sit and knit or spin by the fire when the day's work is done. Our stove is a third hand wood heater we inherited from my partner's parents during a shed clean up. It had fallen off the back of a truck (literally, not figuratively) and had a crack in the corner. We took it home, got a new flue piece made up (by a local engineering genius) and put it in the humpy. That was five or six years ago, it has never given us any trouble and if fed right stays alight from about June until September.

The fire gives us heat for our home, hot water from the eternal boiler on the top of it and a stove to cook on. All it asks in return is a steady flow of wood. We are lucky to own enough land to supply our firewood needs, in fact harvesting wood in the form of fallen branches and logs is part of our fire safety plan.

Fallen branches and dead trees are a bit of a fire hazard close to the humpy. Sparks from piles of burning wood can drift into the humpy via a multitude of gaps and holes, setting the whole place alight. The usual solution is to burn off; set sections of land alight and control the burn, removing fuel from the area. To me it always seemed sort of counter-intuitive to say to yourself "Hmm, that looks like it might burn....could be dangerous....I'd better set it alight", not to mention the multitude of small reptiles coming out of torpor and the tiny birds with nests in the grass who have their first batch of babies for the year in the early spring (when most people burn off). Our solution is to collect as much of this fuel as we can as fire wood within a 50 meter (about 50 meter) radius of the humpy. We don't collect wood from the whole property as a lot of birds and animals use fallen branches and logs as homes. In fact the Bush Stone Curlew has been driven almost to extinction by people who are too neat as they use tangles of fallen branches to nest in and their breeding has dropped due to lack of nesting sites and cover for foraging.

Anyone who lives in the bush will tell you that wood lying on the ground will absorb water and not burn well and that a lot of types of wood (tree species) are no good for firewood. This is unfortunately true, the usual solution is to fell a standing dead tree. Large dead trees, and sometimes small ones too, are generally homes to possums, gliders, birds and insects so we try not to cut down standing trees very often. However, because the wood we gather from the ground is sometimes damp or does not burn hot enough, we sometimes cut down small standing dead trees to mix with it. We choose very small standing trees and check them for life as best we can before cutting them down.

Cutting down a small dead tree

Cutting the tree up into chunks or rounds

We bring it all home in the trusty farm trailer

Then wheelbarrow it to the house

and stack it by the fire

All to keep the dogs warm
While collecting firewood may seem like a simple weekly task, it actually has a lot of considerations attached to it (for us at least). We try not to disrupt the ecosystem of our property while carrying out our daily life, we try to minimise the dangers inherent in living in the bush and we try to make the best use of our resources. These concerns are sometimes in conflict and compromises have to be made. Do you collect firewood? What are your considerations?

Friday, 8 July 2016

Upcycling old tiles into wall art



Coffee, craft and off colour jokes.
A while ago my dad bought down a pile of old mismatched tiles he had found while cleaning out his shed. These little beauties sat on the useful pile for a few months waiting to become something. Yesterday inspiration hit... the girls are home for a visit and we were having a craft day...fueled by ill-advised internet searches (damned Pinterest). We made Popsicle stick bracelets,tile wall art and did some applique.

The wall tiles were so easy and so much fun. I don't usually make decorative things; I prefer making useful items, but my daughters convinced me. I must say the process was easy and very satisfying.

Three of my finished tiles

First we found a tutorial that we understood; The Crunchy Betty blog is written in easy to understand language (just follow the link). Then we dug around and found all the essential ingredients we needed;

tiles
photos and/or diagrams
Mod Podge
foam applicators
Spray on varnish
felt sheets
hot glue gun and glue
Super glue
picture hanging hooks

 I didn't take any photos of the ingredients gathering, but the list isn't long.


 Then we spread out some newspaper and painted Mod Podge onto our tiles. This step required making a new pot of coffee and telling off colour jokes (just to keep things interesting). We glued our pictures onto the tiles; one of my daughters had to re-glue hers as it wasn't exactly straight and she couldn't live with it. The next step was to wait for the first layer of Mod Podge to dry clear...so we started decorating some Paddlepop stick bracelets we had made previously (ADHD is rampant in my family).

Spreading out our first layer

Decorating our bracelets

This fox design is burned into the wood with an old soldering iron.

As an aside....we soaked our Paddlepop sticks in vinegar for about 15 minutes then bent them into coffee cups (as in this photo) and left them to dry by the fire. When they were dry we took them out and decorated them.



Our tiles with the pictures glued down and the second coat of Mod Podge on

 We coated our tiles with Mod Podge a total of three times, waited for them to dry between each coat, then sprayed some varnish over the top. We put the tiles in the sun to dry for an hour or so and did a spot of sewing.

An applique blanket as an ode to my eldest daughter's favourite TV show.

As a finishing touch we super glued some picture hooks to our tiles and covered the backs with felt squares (hot glued on).

Super glue will hold the little hook things on the tiles...we hope

Felt squares glued to the back finished off our tiles.

Our craft day was a lot of fun and we learned a couple of new things;

Don't allow free roaming birds on the craft table when using Mod Podge (Barry was very interested) and;
Get your pictures straight the first time (or you have to reprint them).

Now I have to make a wall to hang my new tiles on.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Musings about our lifestyle- Rambling post with gratuitous photos warning



A gratuitous photo of the bush around our humpy

This morning I was searching the internet for a tutorial about making wall lining out of newspaper (I'm on holidays...that's what you do on holidays isn't it?) and the closest I could get was a post or two on 'brown bagging'; which is basically using brown paper as wallpaper over existing wall lining. Being unable to find anything about making actual wall lining, I extended my search to cover building in slum conditions and alternate wall linings, all to no avail. This search started me thinking about my position in the blogging world....

Another gratuitous photo of my dogs watching me spin


I know of many people living as we do here in our humpy; living in knocked together shacks made from scrounged materials and making improvements slowly as low incomes allow. This cannot be a phenomenon indigenous to our area alone, surely there are humpy dwellers all over the world, so why is there so little information about it on the internet? My musings came up with a few possible reasons;

People who live in humpies tend to not be computer literate; While I can't speak for other areas, where we live this tends to be true. People living in the bush are mostly older, perennially low income earners who have never had the opportunity to use computers for recreation and have no desire to do so. This has led to a situation where really clever and useful ideas are not shared among humpy dwellers as we tend to be anti-social beings who don't talk to others or have people over much. It also leads to non-humpy dwellers viewing us as lazy or incompetent, when in fact it requires  huge amount of work, ingenuity and determination to maintain any semblance of social acceptability living in a humpy (showering outdoors at mid winter comes to mind).


People are ashamed to be seen as 'living rough'; While I haven't found this to be the case here (as humpy dwellers are a large minority there is no shame in it), the reactions of a few people visiting my place for the first time has led me to believe that they expect me to be ashamed. I casually mentioned the fact that we still take all our waste water out of the house in buckets at a social event recently and had a lady goggle at me (until that point I had only imagined what a goggle looked like but now I know it is quite a comical facial expression). She avoided me for the rest of the evening (obviously fearing that low standards are communicable). Reactions generally range from outright wonder to shock and pity, but most people come to the enjoy their visits to the madness that is my home. I don't believe I need to be ashamed of my home....yes it's a mess....yes it's open to nature (which is often smelly)...but it's warm and dry and it provides me so much entertainment I rarely want to be  anywhere else.


People want to keep their lifestyle private; This is a very valid reason, people in my area tend to be private (we move here to be hermits) and enjoy being unseen and forgotten in the bush. Being private is perfectly acceptable and should be respected. It is a shame not to share all the amazing things we contrive to make life more comfortable in our humpies, but privacy is a right we need to respect.


It didn't occur to them that others may benefit from the information; This is a common reason, I often see some system or contraption at someone's humpy and rave over how clever the idea is (e.g. using old bathtubs as a reed bed system which produces mulch for an orchard) only to have the inventor say "but..everyone knows how to do that.." or words to that effect. We need to realize that our little niche lifestyle is highly specialized and we have skills not shared by the rest of humanity. People new to the lifestyle could benefit greatly from learning the simple skills we possess (like learning to shop once a month and managing time in town so everything gets done).

A new trellis for passion fruit made from an old industrial window shade

Our combined pavers and cement floor

A gratuitous guinea fowl

Book Book one of our yard chooks


If you are a humpy dweller (or have been a humpy dweller), please feel free to share your wisdom here in the comments section, or on your own blog, or even by talking to the neighbors. We have valuable skills...it's time we started valuing them and sharing them with others.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Natural dye experiments- logwood on cotton and linen

Another natural dye experiment....
I have been looking for a natural purple dye for a while and came across logwood as a possible candidate. There are some problems with using it however; it is not really environmentally friendly as it uses the heartwood of a tree (destroying the tree in the process of gathering dye material is not really friendly) and it is exclusively an American product (so a lot of miles of shipping are racked up in it's cost); it is expensive (see previous problem) and hard to find.

But.....I really love the purples and browns it gives in the dye vat.

Logwood has been used as a dye since the 1600s and has been expensive and valuable since it's discovery. Apparently pirates loved to hijack a shipment of logwood sawdust on it's way from Jamaica to Europe. After using the dye, I can understand why.

Not having access to a pirate ship, I had to resort to buying some online (possibly from pirates). It then sat in my dye box for a month or two waiting for the perfect project.

I had been given some 'teacher clothes' by a friend (thanks Louise), they are all cotton or linen and very high quality clothes...but, they are all either white or pastel colours (I can't wear pale colours, they end up VERY dirty). I decided to try out my newly purchased logwood dye on them.

First step was to mix up the dye;

Logwood dye in it's jar. I mixed it at a rate of 1 teaspoon per litre of water.

Then I mordant-ed all the clothes with Aluminium Acetate and plopped them into the dye bath. I left them there on the wood heater for a few hours and then took the pot off to cool. The results were a set of mottled purple clothes which I love. I think the mottling comes from my not having enough mordant in the mix; some areas attracted the dye more than others because they had more mordant on them.

A cotton shirt.

Cotton and elastane shorts

See

This linen skirt was originally pale blue. Over dyeing has given it a beautiful depth.

The tag from the linen skirt

A lovely linen shirt

See

Of course I won't be able to wear them together (I would look like an over ripe eggplant), but they should add interest to an outfit.
I also had an old cotton hospital sheet (these sheets are virtually indestructible and must have Kevlar somewhere in their makeup; perfect for work) which I mordant-ed and dyed as well. The sheet then became a pair of elastic waisted pants. The dye bath was getting exhausted by the time I got to the sheet so I ended up with mottled beige and purple, to add some interest I mixed up a tiny bit more dye and flicked it onto the wet material with a paint brush (the purple spatter patterns).


They turned out pretty well I think



So now I have a lot of purple mottled clothes. I love the colours I got from this dye bath, but I won't be buying it often because of the aforementioned unsustainability of the dye stuff.
I have concerns about the light fastness of the clothes too, but time and wear will tell. Of course I can always dye them again (or with a different colour) if they fade....I love natural dyes.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Finished my degree- now on with life

Well...not quite. I still have the matter of a ten week intern-ship to complete (trying not to stress too much), but the academic part of the degree is finished. It has been a long four years of study, most of it enjoyable, some of it torturous (maths units spring to mind) but all of it educational.

By the end of 2016 I will be a fully qualified, card carrying Primary School Teacher.


The last four years have been spent largely either working or studying, with little snippets of craft or building squeezed in around them. Now I plan to spend some time....

Building the garden;
Building a new cover over the trailer bed and replanting.

Refurnishing the Hugelkultur beds and planting.


Crafting with fibre;
Making fulled bags



Spinning cotton and wool

Knitting

And more knitting

Dyeing homespun yarn

A lot of homespun yarn



Building my business;

Trying to attract more customers

Adding new products...both hand made and....

Naturally harvested.

Learning new skills


Increasing my stock


Building a house;

Well...maybe I'm dreaming.



Spending time with my animals (and family and friends);





Also...enjoying the finer things in life;

Like unravelling old jumpers by the fire...with wine

And watching sunsets...with wine.


It has been a long, life changing journey so far, I wonder what will happen next?