Thursday, October 29, 2020

Cold-weather clothesline


Every time I pin laundry to the clothesline, I think of my mom. 

While I have memories of the T-posts in my childhood backyard, I more often recall my mom's stories of earlier times. How the more experienced neighbors in Texas surveyed the sky and told newlywed her that she had just enough time for the laundry to dry before the storm on the horizon rolled in. How she'd carry baby me in the basket with the laundry. How I, as a sleepy toddler, would stand beneath the clothesline, clinging to my special naptime blanket. How the cloth diapers would freeze stiff on the line when she hung them out in winter, and she'd know they were dry when they finally started flapping free in the wind.

It's this wintertime laundry story I was thinking of when we hung clothes out yesterday morning. Snow had fallen two mornings in a row here, but the latest forecast was mostly sunny, high in the low 50s. It wasn't cold enough for the damp fabric to freeze, just cold enough in the morning to numb my fingers. 

A hot, sunny, windy day makes for the best line drying, of course. But the anecdotal evidence suggests line-drying is still possible in less-than-perfect conditions. On cool, cloudy days, I've learned to make adjustments, like pinning the shirts' sleeves out a bit so the armpit section gets full air circulation -- this is the part of the shirt that otherwise remains damp longest. If you don't have the heat or the sun, wind is even more important. And, you especially need time.

I got to wondering. At what point in the colder season does it stop being worth it to dry laundry outdoors?

Humidity is a key factor. A dry winter's day with plenty of sunshine and wind -- bundle up and get out there! Maybe I'll experiment by hanging just one towel in January to see how long it takes.

Your own comfort level is another factor. I can stand to brave a merely freezing day to keep from using the gas dryer. Maybe I'll wimp out when the temperature dips into the low 20s. 

Definitely I'll wimp out at sub-zero.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Scrap-Fabric Draft Stopper


The 110-year-old house has a 110-year-old front door, and it's super drafty! Time to get super crafty. Because sometimes weather-stripping just doesn't cut it.

I think it goes without saying, but here I am saying it anyway, that this year's most popular and practical sewing project is the face mask. Yes, I've made a couple, and I might make more. At this moment of dropping temperatures, however, energy efficiency is a priority. Cold air is rushing into the house through this gigantic gap under the front door.

Draft stoppers in their simplest form are tube-shaped beanbags or pillows, or even just a rug kicked up against the door. You can find DIY draft stoppers all over the internet. I browsed and decided to go for the two-sided, under-door type.

Even improvisational sewing
requires some planning.
My door is 36 inches wide, and 2 inches thick. My plan was an 8-inch-around tube for the interior side and a 5-inch-around tube for the exterior side, connected by a 2-inch flat strip under the door. All 36 inches long.

I came up with the tube sizes just making circles with my measuring tape and thinking, "Yes, that looks good."

Basic materials:
Heavy fabric (can stand up to wear and tear)
Fleece interfacing, batting, or similar for inner lining
Unpopped popcorn kernels 
General sewing notions

I pieced together some fabric scraps and planned to have the nice patterned fabric for the interior side of the door and the plain, utilitarian fabric (old khaki pants) for the exterior, so I had extra sewing to do, but this project could be made easier by using a single large rectangle of fabric.

About 18 inches across for the 8-inch tube, 5-inch tube,
2-inch middle strip (x2 because it will be folded),
and seam allowances.

Line the wrong side (what will be the inner side) of the fabric rectangle with fleece interfacing. 

Then, fold. For a single tube with traditionally neat seams, you'd fold in half wrong-side-out, stitch up all but one side, and flip it right-side-out for filling. Just like a very long, skinny beanbag.

For my double-sided version, I kept it right-side-out when I folded it, and I stitched three lines down the long length of the rectangle: 

One to sew the two loose edges together (shown as the middle here), 
one at 4 inches from the fold to sew off the 8-inch tube, 
and one 2.5 inches from the fold to sew off the 5-inch tube. 

The space left between the two tubes was the 2 inches for the flat middle section to slide under the door.

Then, at one end, I just folded an edge seam and stitched it there, visible but not too shabby. After filling the tubes, I sewed up the other end with the same simple fold.

Could you get away without the fleece interfacing? Yes. Just like you could choose to fill your tubes with pillow stuffing instead of popcorn kernels. But, I like the combination of the two. The fleece gives the fabric a little extra cushion and shape, and it helps fill some of the space inside the tube for a more balanced fill. You get the heavy sagginess of a beanbag, which is better for sinking into and filling the gap below the door, without it being so heavy and saggy it's hard to move. 

Carefully fill each tube with the unpopped popcorn kernels.

Now, if you noticed, I said earlier, "My plan was..." 

I tested my dual tubes before stitching up the open end. Slide the 2-inch, flat middle section under the door, with the larger, decorative tube on the interior, and the plain, smaller tube on the exterior side of the door where, when the door is closed, the tube will sit on the threshold between the wooden front door and storm door. In theory, the two-sided draft stopper provides extra draft stoppage and also moves with the door as it opened and closed. Well...

The threshold is considerably higher than the floor—one of the many modifications in the house's history to try to weatherproof that gap under the front door. The dang exterior tube wouldn't slide over it very easily. I could get the door shut, but not without carefully adjusting the draft stopper as I pushed. Not very user-friendly.

Ultimately, I emptied the popcorn from the smaller, exterior tube, leaving it as an extension of the flat section that slides under the door, which still helps fill the gap better than a simple, single-tubed version.



Thursday, October 15, 2020

Weekend Homesteader Ideas, October-December

More than two years later...

This is a continuation of my review of my weekend homesteading ideas and goals inspired by The Weekend Homesteader by Anna Hess and her and her husband's blog, "The Walden Effect." I hadn't looked at this list (or the website) in five years when I went back to it in, uh, early 2018 to see if I'd accidentally achieved any of these goals. 

Now it's late 2020. So many things have changed, while still so many remain the same, which is how it goes. We've just been doing, without the show-and-tell. We're in our new (but old, 110-year-old) homestead. From the pandemic's stay-at-home guidelines have sprouted a resurgence of homesteading practices, or at least attempts to practice them—I was amused by someone's reference to their dearly departed sourdough starter when asked if they had any pets.

I don't know that our own habits have notably changed, but since it's October, now is the perfect time to finish reviewing that idea list, where we left off at October through December. My original notes are in italics.

Quick hoops - look into. The mini greenhouse we made out of a double papasan frame with just a heavy plastic sheet and some staples is akin to these cold-weather tunnels for growing vegetables, but I have not been that attentive to the garden to make good use of it or to merit an actual hoop setup. I'll file this away under possible future idea that may never happen.

Storing vegetables on the shelf - look into. I just recently was remembering our first plot in the community garden, when we grew nothing but vining plants. That winter, we did store a bunch of butternut squash in our living room bookshelves. However, since then, we haven't grown enough of our own winter vegetables or found such a great deal on them to merit stocking up and storing up for winter in this way. We're still feeling out our capabilities in our new yard, though, so it could be a potential future goal.

Scavenging biomass - horse poo? Well, we did find a friend with a horse, and we hauled a couple of trunkfulls of horse manure from the barn to our community garden plot. Only for two seasons, and then we stopped community gardening. We compost our own kitchen scraps, wood ash, fallen leaves, and vacuum contents (mostly pet fur). In our former home, I suppose you could call our raking and composting of leaves "scavenging," because the land technically belonged to the homeowners' association. We have also relieved our neighbors of their rotting jack-o'-lanterns for compost.

Apprenticeships - meh. We're not in college anymore. I rescind my "meh" here. Learning some skills hands-on would be fun. The idea of apprenticeship is that it's not a class you have to pay for, and it's not a job that pays you. I'm open to something resembling a temporary apprenticeship should an opportunity arise, but obviously, I'm not looking to grow a career from it.

Garden rotation - look into. I get the concept. I have not really had the garden space or commitment to putting the concept into practice. I'll reiterate that we're still exploring what we can (and want to) do with our space now, so I'll keep this on the goal shelf.

Roast a chicken - sure
. Done, done, and done a hundred more times. OK, maybe just dozens of times. And roast a turkey—done that. And used the carcass to make broth. And been teased about using the word "carcass."

Storing drinking water - hm. This is an emergency preparedness habit we have not yet adopted. I imagine us storing some jugs and forgetting about them, and then when the emergency happens, they're all old and gross. It needs to be an active rotation. While I continue to half-heartedly measure my interest level in such an effort, I'll keep in mind we have a water filtration kit among our camping supplies.

Diversify your income - hm. Considering that our moderate homesteading comprises more hobbies and money-saving lifestyle choices and not so much our livelihood, we aren't facing risks like "What if the chickens don't lay enough eggs?" Our uh-oh scenarios would be losing a job or facing a disastrous expense like major health or property issues. While some people are ambitious and enthusiastic about finding additional income streams via their hobbies, I don't quite like turning my hobbies into work. Instead, we'll save, save, save what we can from our day jobs and maybe look at alternative income sources as retirement supplement should we be so lucky to retire with our health and other assets intact.

Plant a fruit tree - hey, check! Yes! We planted those apple seeds, and they grew and grew and grew and produced their own apples. And then we moved. I took scions of our baby (not so baby anymore) trees, ordered dwarf rootstock, and tried grafting this spring. One of the four grafted trees remains, and I think it's dead. Sad. New goal: order some heirloom fruit trees such as a couple of apples for cidering (and eating) and a Queen Anne cherry tree like my grandma's.

Soup - um, sure. Make a delicious soup using in-season produce, check. Cold soups, hot soups, smooth soups, chunky soups. Check, check, check, check.

Essential tools - hm. While we haven't made a list of tools, we have slowly collected plenty over the years. Some new, some even found, many gifted hand-me-downs or bought used. And, with our recent move, we even culled our collection somewhat to the most-used, most-loved, and this-only-does-one-thing-once-a-year-but-it's-important. I'll expand this from lawn and home mainenace to include kitchen gadgets.

Stay warm without electricity - look into, even feasible in our situation? Further reading reveals that this is basically camping in your home. Can you stay warm and prepare food and do other essential activities if you lose power midwinter? The quick answer is, sure, for a short while. It's actually the preservation of the home in such a situation that is more concerning. Freezing pipes and all that. Two subgoals here for us: improving the energy efficiency of our new old house by repairing/restoring the original windows to their historical glory and replacing the storm windows with better ones that actually fit (next year?), and make a draft stopper for the interior front door (now). Some subgoals we've already achieved: Adding insulation to the attic, sealing gaps and cracks, improving the fit and weatherproofing of external doors.

And that's the list.