The Right Tools for the Job

After many attempts at using crochet hooks to manipulate stitches on my knitting machine, I broke down and bought the tools that were missing from my thrift store knitting machine. With the right tools, I’m able to do a couple of closed cast-on and bind-offs, correct dropped stitches fairly quickly, and have even learned how to do a tuck stitch. 

Tuck-stitched wash cloth
My first tuck-stitched wash cloth

Now I need to figure out how to remember where I’m at in the tuck stitch to avoid the rows of holes I have at the top and bottom.

Thrifty Knitting Machine – Singer Silver Reed LK-140

A couple of years ago, I really wanted a knitting machine. I like yarn and the thought of making pretty things with yarn has always appealed to me. I started teaching myself to knit and crochet while I was pregnant with Finn. He is eleven now, and it takes me two days of work to make a single dishcloth. So, a knitting machine seemed like a good compromise to speed things up a bit. They are kind of hard to come by, though, especially a well made machine. Besides, I knew nothing about how a knitting machine works, so I got my embroidery machine instead.

Fast forward to two Sundays ago. The family and I were having fun thrift shopping for some office furniture. (That could also read as, “Chris and I were dragging the kids around to thrift stores, with much protesting on their part.”) The first Goodwill store we went to didn’t have much in the way of office furniture. They did have lots of bins out full of miscellaneous stuff that I really wasn’t interested in digging through, until I happened to notice this long rectangular box poking up out of one bin.

That’s the one. It for is a Singer LK-140, made by Silver Reed. It is a plastic bed hobby machine, but a durable hobby machine. I’ve since learned that, except for having ten fewer needles, it is identical to the newer LK-150 knitting machine. That means parts are easy to come by.

The box was so well taped, and it had a good weight to it, so I decided not to even open it before buying it. I figured I probably wouldn’t even know what may have been missing. Also, let’s zoom in on the price tag:

Back when I was actively looking for a knitting machine, I would have thought getting one for $80 on eBay was a fairly good deal. At $5.49, it was worth it even if it was only good for parts.

When I finally opened it at home, I did notice a few parts were missing, but only the table clamps, manual and transfer tools. I found a free manual online, and the other two items are easily and inexpensively replaced. They also aren’t essential, so I have played with it a bit.

I did need to replace the sponge strip. That’s pretty standard for an older machine. Luckily on this machine, foam weatherstripping works great as an inexpensive replacement. I also needed to clean the needles, because they were covered with gunk from the old sponge strip. With that, I was able to set it up and play.

There is definitely a learning curve, but it is fun. I have noticed, though, that you can still tell it is my own handiwork.

See the dropped stitch. It’s like my signature. The best part, though, is it only took me a minute or two to make that swatch, as opposed to a day or two. A little more practice, and I might be able to make two or three dishcloths a day without dropped stitches, or a scarf with a few holes. Seriously, though, it is fun, and I look forward to coming up with new projects and products to make.

As for office furniture, I felt bad that I got a new toy but we hadn’t found the thing we really needed, so I did a quick craigslist search. There just happened to be a desk posted locally in the free section.

Excuse the mess. That photo was taken while everything was getting tossed around with moving in the desk. There is a trim piece that needs to be put in place on the top. Overall, it is in good shape. More importantly, it provides us with the two main things we needed for the office: more desk space and shelving. Best of all, it was free!

Quick Drawstring Bag Tutorial or How to Reuse Your SubEarthan Cottage Soap Wrapping

I wrap my soaps in fabric because it looks nice, it allows the soap to breathe (read here for why), and because it feels better than plastic. I often wonder what happens to the wrapping. I’m sure there are some that toss it. I know of one person who collects the fabric for quilts. For those of you who, like me, don’t want to throw away something that could be useful but don’t know what to do with it, I have a tutorial for a drawstring pouch, just for you.

This is done with the wrapping from one of my soaps, but you could make it in any size you like.

Materials
Cloth wrapper from soap (roughly 8×11 inches)
Jute string from soap (about 29 inches)
Thread

Tools
Needle or Sewing machine
Safety pin or Bodkin
Scissors
Iron

First, iron your fabric flat. Then, fold down a long edge about 3/4 of an inch to one inch and press. This is for the casing. It doesn’t have to be super precise.

Sew a straight seam along the bottom of the flap to form the casing. All the sewing can be done by hand or machine. I have no time or patience, so I choose machine. Fold your material in half with right sides together like a book.

The fold is at the bottom of this photo.

Next, starting just below the casing seam, sew down the side and across the bottom. I use anywhere from a 1/4 to 1/2 inch seam allowance for this. Again, it doesn’t have to be precise.

With scissors, clip the bottom corners, being careful not to cut your stitching. You could probably skip this step, but it helps the corners look square and crisp. Turn your bag right side out.

Now it’s time to thread the string. Tie one end of the string to a safety pin, large paper clip, or attach a small bodkin. This makes it easier to work it through the casing. Thread it through the casing, safety pin first.

Once you get the string to the other side, remove your safety pin or other tool and adjust the string so that the ends are even.

Knot the ends together once or twice to keep it from coming out.

Ta-da! It’s done! Perfect for organizing your purse, storing jewelry or other small items, or as a small gift bag.

Or holding your favorite bar of soap.

Tutorials are always a little complicated to write because it’s easy to overlook small steps in things you do frequently. If something is unclear, please ask. 🙂

If you have any other creative uses for a SubEarthan Cottage soap wrapper, I would love to hear it!

My New Toy

So, I got a new toy for my birthday:


Yay! Now impatient me with no time and a fear of leaving needles around accidentally in the baby’s reach can do embroidery too! It’s also a regular sewing machine. I’ve never sewn on a computerized machine before. I’ve never sewn on a sewing machine newer than from the early 1990s for that matter. Most sewing machines I’ve used have been older than me. Not that I don’t like old machines. You’ll have to pry my trusty metal mechanical Kenmore and back up Signature(s) from my cold hands.

It’s been fun learning how to use it. I also may or may not be a bit obsessive about switching off the power strip and then going back and unplugging it from the power strip and then making sure I’ve unplugged it again later, lest some random lightening storm attack my precious.

It’s a brother se400. I haven’t done much regular sewing with it yet, so I can’t do a full review. I can say that I worried a little about getting annoyed with all the threading and re-threading involved with a single needle embroidery machine. Brother took care of that by giving it the most amazing needle threader I’ve ever seen. I usually skip “automatic” threaders as I find them harder to use than just sticking the thread through the eye by hand. This one is some sort of magic. Seriously, if you were to stop over, I’d probably briefly introduce you to my family and then insist you come see me thread my sewing machine.

Aside from just playing, I’ve rescued a few shirts from (probably coffee) stains by embroidering things on them to hide the stains. Considering my clumsiness and love of coffee, that alone will probably help me get my money’s worth out of it.

I am looking for decent digitizing software so I can do things like embroider the SubEarthan Cottage logo and make traditional monograms a little easier. Embird seems to be the go-to, but it’s a little pricey. Stitch Era is more my price range, but I’m not sure it’s as user-friendly. I’ve also seen Sew What Pro mentioned, but haven’t looked into it enough to know what it’s like. Any advice on software would be appreciated.


Kombucha Questions

Here’s a few common questions about kombucha. I’ve answered them based on my research and personal experience.

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How much should I drink?

If you’ve never had kombucha before, you’ll want to start slowly. Kombucha can have a detoxifying effect that can be unpleasant if you rush it. It is recommended to start with about an ounce per day at first and gradually increase until you reach a comfortable level for you. If you notice any ill effects cut back or stop for a few days to let your body catch up. Drinking lots of water can help, too.

Of course, you should always listen to your body. If you feel like you can’t tolerate kombucha don’t push it. There are plenty of other ways to get probiotics. Also, I’m not a doctor, and the above might not apply to everyone depending on your personal health. If you have any concerns, definitely consult your doctor.

Can I use metal utensils when making kombucha?

Metal tea kettles for boiling the water are fine. It’s fine to stir the tea and sugar together with a metal spoon before adding the SCOBY. What you want to avoid is the SCOBY coming into contact with metal as that can damage the SCOBY. Even then, I have heard very brief contact is ok, such as when cutting up a giant SCOBY. I prefer to peel apart the layers and avoid metal touching my SCOBYs, though.

Can I use honey/stevia/coconut sugar/some other sweetener?

The sugar is food for the SCOBY and plain white sugar is recommended because it is easy for the SCOBY to digest. I have heard of some people having success with other sugars, but I haven’t tried it myself. If you want to try another form of sugar, I would start with a small batch and keep another SCOBY in a tea/white sugar brew as backup.

Stevia or other zero calorie sweeteners will not work because they don’t provide food for the SCOBY.

Can I use flavored teas?

Not for the main brew. You can use flavored teas to add flavor in a second ferment.

Can I use decaf teas?

This is another one where I’ve heard conflicting information. Most say not to use decaf tea. If you want to try decaf, as with different sugars, I would start with a small batch and keep another SCOBY in a regular tea/white sugar brew as backup.

My SCOBY looks funny. Is it bad?

Most SCOBYs look funny. They can be smooth and creamy colored or have air pockets and brown spots. The bottoms usually have brown stringy tentacle things hanging down. New SCOBYs grow on top of older ones until they look like a stack of slimy pancakes. (Eww.) All of this is normal, and there’s probably a million variations I haven’t described.

There are two main things to watch for: mold and black. If your SCOBY molds, it will look like blue-green dusty mold, just like what grows on bread. If you get mold, throw it all out and start over.

Black means the SCOBY is dead or dying. Toss it.

My kombucha tastes like vinegar. What happened?

Kombucha is supposed to taste vinegary, but if it’s too strong you can always mix it with something like juice to make it more palatable. You can also use super-vinegary kombucha in place of apple cider vinegar in recipes. If it’s straight vinegar with no sugariness left, you could use it as a hair rinse or for household cleaning where you would use ACV.

To make future batches less vinegary, there’s a couple of things to try.

1. Kombucha brews faster in warmer weather. If it’s been hot, try a shorter brew time and/or increasing the amount of sugar in the brew.

2. If your SCOBY is getting super thick, split off some layers. More SCOBY = shorter brew time.

My kombucha is too sweet. What happened?

The easiest fix is to let it brew longer. If it’s cold, moving your jar to a warmer location may help. I think the ideal range is somewhere around 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

You should also check the condition of your SCOBY. If it is turning black, you’ll want to replace it.

Should I store my SCOBYs in the refrigerator?

No. You want to avoid extreme temperatures because they can damage the SCOBYs. The best range is between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

To store your extra SCOBYs, place them in a lidded jar with at least enough kombucha for them to float and store in a cool-ish location, such as a pantry or shelf out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources.

Find more of my kombucha posts here:  http://subearthancottage.com/search/label/Kombucha