Socks of Many Colours

In an effort to get an early start on the first of my New Year’s resolutions, I spent a good chunk of this weekend knitting socks. Not just any socks, but socks (well, one sock so far) of many colours. I have a bag of yarn odds and sods of sock yarn that I inherited from a crafty friend when she passed away, as well as many years worth of my own leftovers. I thought that it would be nice to use up this bag, but to do so means that I’m going to have to make some very interestingly-coloured socks.

So far this sock has used six different leftover yarns, and I hope to use one or two more before it’s done. I divided the balls in half by weight and pattern, so the second sock should mostly match — although the colour repeat on some of the yarns is so long that it won’t be perfect. In the end, the pair of socks will be completely unique and hopefully a lot of fun!

I still haven’t decided what I’m going to do with the other leftover sock yarn, of which there is quite a bit. I don’t have the patience to turn it into a blanket, but a shawl is not out of the question. Or maybe a scarf; an infinity scarf might be nice. I haven’t knit a scarf in years. I’ve already made a couple dozen mini sweaters as Christmas ornaments over the last few years, and I’ve run out of people to gift them to. Given how cold my hands get at night when I’m on the computer, I may have to knit a new pair of wrist warmers, though. Hmmmmmm…

Resolutions

1. Crafting

This is a two-part resolution. Firstly, I’d like to use up the materials I have purchased over the years, and/or use recycled or thrifted materials whenever possible.

Secondly, I’d like to participate in more group or community projects, like Mochimochi Land’s Let’s Knit a Ball Pit — ideally using materials previously specified. The ball pit will be a part of Vogue Knitting LIVE in New York City, and once the event is over they will be donated to the American Foundation for Children with AIDS. I contributed the two knitted balls in the photo above to this project, and I really enjoyed it! I hope that they arrive in time. I’d like to keep the ball rolling, as it were, and donate my time and skills to other events, even if it’s something as simple as hats for the newborn babies at the local children’s hospital.

2. Environmental

I would like to try to decrease our household’s reliance on single-use plastic, and to continue to reuse, repurpose, and recycle. To me, that doesn’t mean being rid of plastics entirely; actually, I think it would be rather wasteful to completely be rid of the plastics we do have, just to buy all new replacements in another material. Rather, I’d like to commit to using recycled plastics, either post-consumer recycled commercial products, or finding a new home for second-hand plastic products, like the lunch boxes above that I bought at a thrift store.

3. In the Kitchen

I want to expand my cooking knowledge, skills, and style — while at the same time trying to keep it reasonably healthy. I think I’ve been stuck in a bit of a rut lately, and I want to do better! To that end, I have purchased even more second-hand cookbooks that I’m not only going to try out, but that I’m going to read through for ideas. At Thing 1’s request, I am looking into more Japanese food:

Sushi by Ryuichi Yoshii (1998)
The Japanese Kitchen by Kimiko Barber (2004)
Ten-Minute Bento by Megumi Fujii (2007)

Of all of the books that I have thrifted lately, I think I am most excited about The Japanese Kitchen, which helps break down and de-mystify each ingredient, and Ten Minute Bento, which is all about quick and easy (and I think will become a favourite cookbook to pull out to prep dinner on busy weeknights). There is a lot about Japanese cooking that I don’t know, but these books look like they’ll really help me get a better grasp on it.

In a more general vein, I have also picked up:

Gordon Ramsay’s Passion for Flavour by Gordon Ramsay (1996)
Deliciously Dairy Free: Fresh and Simple Lactose-Free Recipes for Healthy Eating Every Day by Lesley Waters (2015)
Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens by Jennifer Schaertl (2010)
More Bread Machine Magic by Linda Rehberg and Lois Conway (1997)
Jamie Oliver’s FoodTube Presents: The Cake Book by Cupcake Jemma (2014)
Cocktails for Book Lovers by Tessa Smith McGovern (2014)

Now, some of these, like the cupcake book and the cocktail book, are just for fun — but shouldn’t cooking be fun? The dairy-free one and the one about cooking in small kitchens (and I have to say, that title grabbed my attention) are probably the ones I’d use the most, though. Yet every cookbook is a kind of inspiration for me, even if I don’t try a single dish.

4. Business

I think that it’s time for my business to expand from flea markets to online. I think I will start with local sales, since a lot of my products are both heavy and quite breakable. I just don’t know that it would be cost-effective to try to ship vintage Pyrex or, heaven forbid, cast iron cookware. But vintage Tupperware is both hardy and light enough to make the trip! I think that this expansion will challenge my photography skills (since product photography is quite different than casual snaps) and my organization skills. I’m also looking at how to make it all as environmentally-sound as possible; I especially don’t want to package items in styrofoam, bubble wrap, or air-filled bags, since they’re all single-use plastic. I’m looking into wool and straw and other biodegradable options. People shipped things without breaking them long before plastic was invented, so there have to be options. The question is, can I keep it cost-effective? Challenges, challenges!

So what are your resolutions for the New Year?

Portable Cutlery Set Tutorial

Recently, a video about a sea turtle that had to have a plastic straw removed from its nose went viral on the Internet. So powerful was the suffering of the poor animal in this video that it sparked plastic straw bans in many cities. As much as I appreciated the sentiment behind this move, my personal opinion is that it treats a symptom rather than the underlying disease. For example, to reduce plastic straw use, some restaurants redesigned the lids of their disposable cups — but continued distributing single-use plastic lids that could not be easily recycled. Bans also left many people with disabilities in a tight spot, since they have no options but to use disposable straws. Plastic straw bans don’t help any of the old straws already out there to get recycled instead of going into landfills — and according to this site it takes 100 to 500 years for a plastic straw to decompose. It doesn’t address recycling policies that keep plastics from being properly recycled in the first place. And once the furor raised by the video died down, a lot of people — and more importantly, a lot of companies — went back to single-use plastics without a second thought. As it stands right now, 89% of plastic is not recycled in Canada.

So I asked myself, what can I do? Well, I personally I can stop using plastic straws whenever possible, that’s a given. But in all of the viral-video-fueled excitement for people to buy their own personal reusable straws to use with their takeout food, I think a lot of people forgot about the disposable cutlery that goes hand with those straws. While personal cutlery sets have been available for years (and are especially popular with those who camp), and they’re definitely better than disposable, I think it’s possible to do better. Why? Because these are generally made with new materials.

If you go out to any thrift store you will find that there is lots of perfectly good, used, stainless-steel cutlery that can have a second life as a portable cutlery set. Not only that, it’s generally quite affordable! When I buy vintage kitchenware for my market stall, it often comes with old cutlery thrown in; a lot of people don’t see its value. But all it needs is a recycled travel case to put it in so it can be thrown in a purse, briefcase, backpack, desk drawer, or lunch box.

I made up a bunch of these sets and brought them with me to the 613Christmas this past weekend. However, I think it’s more important to encourage everyone to use them than it is for me to make a profit, so I thought I’d share a tutorial online. It is very basic and can even be hand-sewn if desired. Of course, if you are a master sewer, you can probably make something even nicer, and I encourage you to do so! Experiment! Use even tinier scraps of fabric and quilt them together in incredible designs! Knit a case! Crochet! There’s no limit to the techniques you can use. What’s most important, to me, is that your materials be recycled — not only the cutlery, but also the textiles.

So your first step is to pick your cutlery. If you’re lucky they will all be from the same set, but they really don’t have to be. I recommend the basics of a knife, fork, and spoon, but you can also include a steak knife (although probably not if it’s to be brought to school), reusable chopsticks, and a reusable straw.

Secondly, you’ll need a piece of fabric, preferably recycled. It can come from old clothing, bedding, or draperies, but another good resource (if you don’t sew much yourself) is a friend or family member who sews, who will inevitably have lots of scraps and remnants that they just can’t bear to throw out, but would be happy to see used.

Cut a piece of fabric that, when the fabric is folded in half length-wise, is at least 6″ longer than your longest piece of cutlery. Width-wise, you want it to be twice as wide as the widest piece of cutlery, plus 4″ or so to allow for the depth of the deepest piece. I found that a 30″ x 6″ strip of fabric was adequate to comfortably accommodate every style of cutlery that I tried.

Fold the fabric in half so that it is long and skinny; in the case of our demo, it became 30″ x 3″. Make sure that the wrong side of the fabric faces out. Sew a seam with half of a centimeter of seam allowance around the two longest edges. Alternately, you can serge the edges, which is what I did. (Seams indicated by blue lines in the photo above.)

Turn the tube you have made halfway inside-right, so that the right side of the fabric is visible on the outside. The tube will now be half as long as when you started (15″). Press flat.

On the unfinished end, fold the top layer back about 4″. Sew a seam on the inside layer about 1″ into the fabric, as per the blue line in the photo. Leaving an allowance of about half a centimeter, cut off the excess fabric at the end.

Fold the top layer back so that it lies flat. Fold the two unfinished edges of the top layer inside the tube, and stitch the end of the tube closed as close to the edge as possible (blue line on the right). Making sure to catch the inside layer, sew a second seam parallel to the first, about half a centimeter further in (blue line on the left).

Insert your longest piece of cutlery (usually the knife) into the tube, making sure it goes all the way to the bottom. On the middle of one side of the tube, mark a spot 1″ down from the top of the knife; sew a button on there, making sure to sew it only to one side of the tube. On the other side of the tube, mark a spot 1/2″ from the top of the knife; sew a loop of elastic onto this spot. The length of the elastic will depend on the level of stretch and how big the button is, so it may take a bit of experimentation.

Insert all cutlery pieces in the tube, roll the top closed, and loop the elastic over the button to secure it.

There you have it, your own personal recycled portable cutlery set. Make them for your friends and family this holiday season! They make great stocking stuffers and teacher appreciation gifts. And after many years of hard use, when the cutlery does finally wear out and the bag falls apart, the steel is recyclable and many fabrics are biodegradable. Even if you chose a synthetic fabric, it’s better that it be reused instead of going directly in the trash. Perhaps only the button (depending on the kind you chose) will end up in the garbage at the end of life of your portable cutlery set — and with any luck by then our recycling programs will accept them too.

Cleaning Coloured Pyrex

At my last flea market, one of the other vendors (a lovely lady selling the most fabulous knitwear) asked me how I get my Pyrex so clean and shiny. She’d had some issues keeping hers looking its best, and was wondering if I had any tips or tricks. I kind of brushed it off with an, “Oh, I just wash it!” But later I thought about it and realized that I really do have a process that I use. I thought I would share it here so that I can help other collectors.

For the purpose of demonstration, I’ll use the two pieces that came into my possession recently. The top one is a JAJ Pyrex casserole in the Market Garden pattern from 1971. (James A. Jobling’s company produced Pyrex in England from 1921 through 1973, when the patent rights reverted to Corning; after this point, the “Pyrex England” backstamp was used.) The bottom is a rectangular casserole from 1956 by the American Pyrex division in the Snowflake pattern, which is the very first pattern that was ever screen printed onto Pyrex. Given the age and condition of these pieces, I really want to keep the designs intact. Most importantly, when I got them there were no chips or nicks, which is something even the best cleaning can’t fix!

To be honest, these dishes aren’t in the worst condition of the ones that have come into my collection; some good examples of how bad it can get are in my old Cleaning Glass post. As is quite common, the inside of the casseroles were in pretty good shape, since people are most picky about keeping the parts that touch their food in the best shape, but the bottoms were worse off. But do not despair if you see this brown residue on a dish that you want, since it will totally come off with a bit of work!

One of the most important things I can say about cleaning old coloured Pyrex, whether it be solid-colour or screen-printed, is not to put it in the dishwasher. They won’t warp or chip in there — after all, they’re meant for the oven and even the oldest are safe for the microwave if there’s no metallic trim. However, the harsh chemicals and high heat of the dishwasher can fade or even completely erase the beautiful colours over time, so I really would recommend avoiding it! Of course, modern Pyrex and Corningware are dishwasher-safe, so if you’re not sure of the age of a piece, look for the stamp on the bottom that labels it as such.

On the Market Garden piece, the worse part was where food debris had collected in the edge around the rim. This is usually really hard to get out, but I have a technique for that which works for most dishes.

When cleaning coloured Pyrex, one of the things you want to avoid the most is heavy-duty scrubbing. So, no highly abrasive cleaning powders or scouring pads! (Although I’m quite enamoured of Lee Valley’s stainless-steel chain mail scrubber, which is great for cast iron, it would utterly ruin a Pyrex dish.) So your best bet is to fill up a sink with hot water and a generous helping of dish soap, and then let that sit overnight. Yes, the same technique for tackling the roasting pan from the Christmas turkey works with Pyrex, but why wouldn’t it?

When it comes time to scrub the dishes in the soapy water, I like to use the double-sided cleaning sponges with the green scrubber. I find that they’re generally abrasive enough to get rid of stains, yet not abrasive enough to remove designs (unless you scrub for a really long time — always be careful!).

And here you can see my secret weapon: bamboo skewers. They’re perfect for getting into tiny little areas that accumulate grime, but because they’re so breakable it’s really difficult to scratch the finish with them. The wide end of the skewer can even be used to concentrate your effort on areas with a thick layer of baked-on grease; I used them to great effect on my enameled cast-iron pan. As a bonus, they’re not strong enough to go through the enamel on cast-iron either (on which you also don’t want to use anything too abrasive lest you damage the finish).

I was lucky this time in that the Snowflake dish came completely clean with this treatment, even though it looked like it was in the worst shape. So I only had to do the next step on the Market Garden piece: a paste of baking soda and lemon or lime juice. The juice is acidic and the baking soda is slightly abrasive, which makes for a perfect cleaning combination. I left the past on overnight to dry, then added more lemon juice to scrub off the stains the next morning. Then, for a super-shiny finish, I gave it one more good wash in dish soap and water.

Sometimes, with dishes in really rough shape, you have to repeat these steps a few times. One other thing you can try, although only as a last resort, is a sink full of hot water and a single dishwasher detergent packet, left to sit overnight. I only do this when the dishes have resisted every other cleaning method, because the detergent is really harsh and concentrated. But I much prefer using one of the packets instead of giving up altogether! However, this time I didn’t have to resort to such drastic measures.

So here are my cleaning results:

Pristine bottom surfaces.

Edges like new.

And interiors from which you’d be happy to serve any guest.

So next time you see an old Pyrex piece that’s a bit worse for wear, don’t automatically discard it because of the amount of work that’d be involved bringing it up to snuff. It may take a couple of rounds of soaking, but it can look like new again without all that much elbow grease!

My First Market!

Tomorrow will be my first ever flea market as a vendor, and I am so excited! It doesn’t matter that I’ve worked retail off and on since I was old enough to get a job, or that I’ve worked in a second-hand shop, or that I’ve put together what seems like dozens of successful garage sales. This is the first time I’ve run what is essentially my own little shop. I’m both excited and nervous, as if I’m prepping for a really important job interview. I really, really hope I don’t mess it up!

I’ve set up a trial run of my booth in my half-finished basement so that I can be sure that I have everything together that I’ll need. At the same time, I have to make sure I don’t take more than I need (although I’ll need a bit of overstock to replenish the table as the day goes on), since I have to cram everything in my little hatchback. It’s really a balancing act.

My first market is at Russell Flea, which runs this Saturday, March 24th from 9:00am to 3:00pm at Russell High School (982 N Russell Rd, Russell, ON). I’ll be in the atrium this week, straight down the hall from the main entrance, on the right (in an classy spot directly across from the bathrooms).

Basically, I’ll be taking my passion for found, free, and flea, and turning it on its head to work behind the counter. I’ll even be bringing a few upcycled creations of my own to put on the floor. (No pics of those yet, since they’re small furniture and I don’t have an appropriately large area to photograph them at home free at the moment.) So please wish me luck!

Cleaning Glass

Because I am passionate about thrifting, a lot of second-hand items come my way from friends and family, garage sales, thrift shops, charity stores, estate sales and moving sales. I’d like to say that everything that I get comes in tip-top shape, but unfortunately that’s not the case. A certain amount of wear-and-tear is expected, especially when it comes to vintage or antique pieces that have seen everyday use. That doesn’t bother me at all. What I will not condone the level of filth of some of these items.

That isn’t to say that I won’t work with something that is scuzzy. On the contrary — but I won’t keep an item that I can’t get clean. Luckily, a lot of kitchen items are metal, glass, or plastic, which can all be recycled in this area if I can’t bring them up to an acceptable level. But I much prefer to put some elbow grease into it to get things spic and span again if I can. Reuse before recycling, if possible, as it were. If you factor in the time it takes me to clean pieces like this, it’s probably not cost-effective, but to me it’s still worth it to keep something perfectly serviceable out of a landfill or recycling center. Those teachers who repeated, “Reduce, reuse, recycle!” to me as a child should be happy that something stuck.


Before and after cleaning of some glass cookware that I came by recently.

Clear glass, especially Pyrex and Anchor ware, are some of my favourites when it comes to bringing things back up to snuff. The heavy, clear glass is impermeable, so even long-standing coatings of dirt and grease don’t sink under the surface. This glassware is dishwasher-safe, so often I can get the machine to do a lot of the work for me. I mean, there are all kinds of tricks online to help remove different kinds of gunge, but in my experience a lot of soap, hot water, soaking, and scrubbing usually does the trick. I’ve discovered that one of the best things to use to scrape off stubborn, caked-on food is bamboo skewers. You can put a fair amount of pressure behind the wood, but it’s still fragile enough that it will break before scratching or etching the glass.

There’s just something terribly satisfying about seeing what was once a shamefully dirty dish become something you wouldn’t hesitate to use to serve your grandmother.

But What Is It? The Sequel

Over this past summer I found a tool at the cottage my parents were renting and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was. After posting But What Is It? and But What Is It? Part 2, the general consensus was that it was some kind of homemade chopping tool, probably to aid someone who had limited hand strength.

Today I have a new quandary. I picked up a piece of Tupperware when I bought a big box of second-hand plastic containers, and I have no idea what it is. Here are some photos for your reference:

As you can see, it’s actual Tupperware brand (around here we often call any plastic container “Tupperware”, no matter the brand, so I had to specify). However, it doesn’t have a mold number, so it can’t easily be looked up online. Because of this, I suspect that it may be part of a larger item. Because of the colour/texture, I suspect that it’s of relatively recent manufacture, not vintage. It’s solid plastic, and one end tapers sharply, scraper-like. It measures 19.8cm (7 3/4″) at its widest point and is about 13cm (5″) tall at the highest point at the center of the arch.

I’ve asked my friend who is into collecting Tupperware in a big way, and she has no idea. My Googling has yielded nothing. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

EDITED TO ADD:

Karen and Peter over on my Facebook page pointed me in the right direction: it’s a food scoop! Its meant to scoop up food after you chop it so it’s easily transferred from food to pan. This makes sense, because the scoop was originally packaged with a five-slot knife block that had an attached recipe card holder. There’s a good example over on eBay. Mystery solved!