Cheat’s pot pourri and revamped ear defenders

In my first engineering job after graduation I was issued with a hard hat and a pair of ear defenders. The hard hat was thrown away years ago – the shells gradually degrade when exposed to sunlight – but the ear defenders have survived, unscathed, until quite recently. I went to try and find them in the garage before doing something noisy and could only find the ear cups themselves, not the headband.

On closer inspection I realised that the rubber bits that hold the ear pieces onto the headband had perished and the headband, I’m guessing, had fallen behind the racking in the garage. Finding it would involve removing about a tonne of stuff on that racking so that it could be pulled away from the wall, and I seem to remember that the headband wasn’t in great shape anyway. I decided to 3D print a new one.

I used a few tap washers to replace the rubbery bits that keep the ear cups in the right place to suit the wearer’s head size, plus a couple of nuts, bolts and washers. While I was at it, I removed the foam from inside the ear cups and gave it its first wash in nearly 40 years.

Now reassembled, my ear defenders look as good as new and should protect my hearing for a few decades to come.

Faking it with pine cones

I have a little glass box in the bathroom that’s filled with pot pourri to keep it sweet smelling in there. I noticed the other day that the dried rose petals were faded and rather mouldy-looking. The pot pourri definitely needed changing, but I didn’t have any more and I don’t even know where I can buy it locally.

What I do have is a little bottle of “reviver oil” that came with some expensive pot pourri I was given a while ago. It still smells gorgeous. I gathered a few tiny pine cones from a place I’d noticed on one of my lockdown walks and gave them a good shake before microwaving them to kill any remaining bugs. Then, while they were still warm, I dripped a little of the scented oil on them and shook them around in a plastic bag to try and distribute it evenly.

Result! It may not be true pot pourri but it does the job and the pine cones look pretty in their box. I like the fact that I can adjust the amount of scent released by moving one or two of them to prop the lid open as much as is needed.

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Blue hedgehogs

These crocheted bookmarks and brooches were supposed to be for a sale in a few weeks’ time. But as fast as I give them to the friend who volunteers at the hedgehog rescue centre, she sells them to people she knows. Which is all fine, but I’ll have to try and get ahead of the demand at some point or there’ll be none for the stall.

I long since used up the original brown cotton yarn that went into my Stripes Gone Crazy cardigan and I’ve now gone through the remains of the medium blue from the Color Affection shawl too. (In case you’re wondering why anyone would be mad enough to produce blue hedgehogs, the general opinion amongst those who’ve seen them is that kids will like the colourful ones.)

I also have a little of the navy from the shawl, but I think it’s too dark to be appealing to children so I’m hoping someone in my knitting group has some of the same yarn in a brighter shade in their stash.

Several of us bought it from the same shop at a bargain £1 a ball back in 2015. The chances are someone will have over-purchased – well, you would at that price, wouldn’t you? – and I’ll be lucky.

I’ve based the pattern on a picture I saw of a crocheted hedgehog on Ravelry. My version – I don’t know about the original – uses nothing more than chains, slipstitches, double and treble crochets, mainly because that’s about all I can do.

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Another inner tube project

After last week’s no-sew inner tube makes I bit the bullet and tried sewing the rubber “fabric”, after reading lots of online advice. Here’s the result, a pair of pencil cases:

2 pencil cases

The three things advised most frequently are to oil the surface liberally to help the presser foot slide over it, to crank up the needle thread tension, and to use a leather needle with a long stitch length. I opted to treat oiling as a last resort, because even using vegetable oil it was going to be very messy.

I tried my roller foot first and it worked reasonably well, but the line of stitching curved, indicating that one layer had moved relative to the other. I contemplated swapping to a Teflon foot but decided to go with the walking foot first. That worked a lot better. Coupled with an incredibly high thread tension – 9 on a scale of 1-10, and I almost never go above 5.5 normally – a leather needle and a stitch length of 4mm, I achieved a reasonably neat and even seam on my practice piece.

So, what to sew with this new-found material? I wanted to keep the number of seams to a minimum for the first project. I decided on a pencil case using one of the 10cm wide (after slitting) inner tubes. Joining two of these 10cm strips side by side with a zip seemed like the best option.

Loopy zip insertion

Inserting the zip was a nightmare because the walking foot is much too wide for such a task. I tried the zip foot with vegetable oil. Thankfully, as I was sewing with the zip tape underneath it was only necessary to oil the seamline of the upper, inner tube layer so that the foot would glide over it, and it wasn’t too messy. It worked better than I’d expected, but it did leave a lot of upper-thread loops on the underside, even after winding the tension up to 10.

Good zip insertion

I tried with the walking foot (without oil) on the other side of the zip. It rode over the teeth and consequently didn’t press down very firmly at all along the seamline, but by positioning it carefully I found I could get it to hold the rubber layer in place. The result was much better than it had been with a zip foot, with no loops on the underside.

The next problem was the seam across the back of the pencil case. I had to seam it there rather than at the top and bottom edges because otherwise there would have been an ugly crease across the back – it’s impossible to get rid of the fold lines in these inner tubes. A conventional, right-sides-together seam wasn’t going to work because you can’t just press a butyl rubber seam open (any more than you can press out a crease), meaning that the seam allowances would have been very bulky inside the case. Instead I needed to sew an overlapping seam across the back, and I had to insert a narrow strip (like a Chanel seam!) to compensate for the increased height of the front half due to the zip. If only I’d thought about that at the beginning I could have cut a narrow strip off the front edge of each piece before inserting the zip.

The first seam across the back was simple because the case was still flat at that stage. The second one turned it into a tube and I had to stop the machine a couple of inches before the end of the seam and finish the stitching by hand – sewing blind down a tube with a walking foot is no fun.

Back of pencil cas

That done, it was a simple matter of turning the tube inside out and seaming the ends.

First inner tube case

I had a request for one of these pencil cases from a fellow maker, so I had to make another – the loopiness on the inside means this first one is fit only for me.

The next one is much better. It doesn’t have an insert at the bottom of the zip for a start, because even my powerful and trusty Bernina machine nearly threw in the towel at being asked to sew through four layers of rubber in the seam at that end. Also, I trimmed a strip off one of the pieces to make the zip non-central so that it doesn’t lie on top of the seam across the back, which results in less bulk in one place in the side seams. And I used an ordinary weight sewing thread rather than a thick topstitching thread, which meant a tension setting of 9 was enough to pull the thread through the rubber without leaving loops on the underside.

Slim pencil case front

I even managed to sew a triple stitch without problems.

Slim pencil case back

Most importantly, I figured out a way of sewing the rear seam without turning the thing into a narrow tube in the process. I think I’ll make a few more of these, they’ll go down well with my cycling friends.

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Nothing to crow about

I’ve long wanted to try making something out of inner tubes, after seeing a picture of a handbag made from a tractor inner tube. While taking the car to be serviced the other day I asked whether they ever got any inner tubes from tractors or trucks and was told that no, the only vehicles they ever see that still use inner tubes were the occasional classic car. And they never remove an inner tube from such a vehicle because they don’t supply replacements. I got the same tale from the local branch of Kwik Fit, who specialise in tyre replacements.

Undaunted, I called in at a bike shop and was led off to a storeroom out the back where there was a large cardboard box that was overflowing with used inner tubes. They collect them until they have enough to send back to the manufacturers for recycling, but were quite happy to let me take a few.

Old bicycle inner tubes

A bicycle inner tube is obviously much narrower than one from a tractor or even a classic car, but nevertheless they have possibilities, especially the ones that go under fat mountain bike tyres. The first thing I made was a stretchy harness for my mobile phone, based on a number of designs I saw for sale on Amazon and eBay.

Mobile phone harness made from inner tube

It’s always annoyed me that there’s no anchor point on a mobile to which you can attach a wrist lanyard or permit it to be tethered to a bicycle, dinghy or other item of sporting equipment. This prototype harness holds my phone very securely but I worried at first that it might be so tightly stretched that it would fail prematurely. However, a little research revealed that inner tubes – the black ones, at least – are made from butyl rubber which is quite stable. I might make a slightly longer version though and see if it still holds my phone tightly enough.

The smaller the wheel, the more curved these inner tubes are, naturally enough. And the curvature makes it harder to sew the strips together into a flattish fabric that can be used for larger items. I was delighted to find that someone else has encountered this problem and solved it, to some extent at least. Following the advice in Straightening/Flattening Bicycle Inner Tubes for DIY Projects I stretched an un-slit inner tube around a board and ironed it before clamping it down under a second board and letting it cool. It did actually work, lessening the lumpiness caused by the difference in curvature between the inside and outside edges considerably. This surprised me, given that butyl rubber is a thermosetting plastic (ie it cannot be remelted), but hey, it works whether or not I understand why.

While browsing Instructables I came across a great project, a crow made from inner tubes. I’ve assembled one using staples instead of sewing it as per the instructions.

Inner tube crow

I hoped that it would stop pigeons from sitting on the fence and making a mess on it but it appears to be acting more like a decoy than a deterrent.

Crow and pigeons

Although the poor crow had developed something of a list by then.

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Two steps forwards, one back

I applied 3 coats of Danish Oil to the first of my constellation coasters – Auriga – and I’m very happy with it even though it’s far from perfect. This unknown hardwood from a window manufacturer looks rather like Sapele.

Auriga, the charioteer

Thinking I knew what I was doing after this success, I started hammering copper inlay into a second coaster, Cassiopeia, and it cracked!

Cassiopeia coaster with a crack
Cassiopeia, cracked

My mistake, I’m pretty sure, was to orientate the constellation such that two neighbouring stars were almost on the same grainline. Clearly, the stresses caused by cramming in a pair of inlays close together were too much for a thin piece of wood.

The Plough constellation coaster, drilled
The Plough

I’m now working on a third coaster, the final one from the original slice of wood I sawed off the block. This is The Plough (aka Big Dipper) and has more stars than the other two. Partly because of that, and partly because I’ve lost confidence, I’ve tapped the copper wires in more gently than before and one or two are slightly loose and will have to be glued. They are also a little proud of the surface and will need careful filing unless I gain the courage to hit them a bit harder.

I’ve also cut a second slice from the block, to make another three coasters. One will be a replacement for Cassiopeia, I just need to find another two suitable constellations that will fit within a square.

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Hedgehogs and stars

Crocheted hedgehog bookmark

A friend is helping out at the local hedgehog rescue centre and is looking for things to sell to raise funds, preferably hedgehog-related. Their monthly vets’ bills are enormous. I had a look on Ravelry for things that could be made quickly – always the best bet for bazaars, bring-and-buy sales and the like, because it’s easier to get 10 people to spend a couple of quid than one person to spend £20 – and found a crocheted bookmark. It could probably be turned into a brooch too.

I didn’t have any black cotton yarn so I’ve cheated by marking on the nose and eye with an indelible pen instead of embroidering them. Even with my very limited crochet skills, it’s a speedy make.

Constellation coasters

The other new thing I’ve done this week is to make a start on some coasters. This is yet another project involving The Wood I Rescued from my Brother’s Log Basket, like a Mayan blade yarn spinner, a soldering iron stand and I forget what else. It’s manufacturing waste (from a window maker) that was being sold in short lengths for firewood, but in my book kiln-dried, planed, square-edged tropical hardwood is much too good for burning.

One of the blocks I saved from a fiery death was square in section and about the right size for coasters. And I do need a few more coasters, there never seems to be one on the surface I want to put a mug or glass down on. I’ve cut a slice from the block and, inspired by a How to Make Drinks Coasters With Nails Inlay Instructables project, I decided to inlay it with metal. Unfortunately, I don’t have the requisite beefy power saw that will slice through steel nails as per the Instructable, so I’ve had to go down a different route.

What I do have is some 3mm copper wire. I found maps of star constellations on a website called Stardate and picked one that didn’t have too many stars, nor any too close together: Auriga, The Charioteer. I have to say, I’d never heard of Auriga before.

Auriga constellation coaster and test piece

Being a methodical sort of person, I drilled lots of holes in a piece of scrap wood first and tried various ways of fixing in the wire “stars” and getting them level with the surface. Sticking them in with superglue was unreliable – I don’t want my stars falling out in the future – and 2-part epoxy was too messy, it was impossible to keep it off the wooden surface. Also, getting the lengths of wire to exactly the right length before gluing them in was nigh-on impossible; trying them in the holes first only worked if the holes were a little big (in which case there was an obvious gap around the star), otherwise they got stuck. Filing them flush afterwards was no good because it left file marks on the wood.

In the end, what has worked for me is cutting the wires a little long, annealing them to soften them, then hammering them into the holes hard enough to squash them down and fatten them out. They are then held tightly in place without the need for any glue, and with care it’s possible to get them pretty much flush with the surface. Auriga isn’t perfect, but hopefully I’ll improve.

I need to apply a finish to this coaster and make a few more with different constellations, then I’ll write up an Instructables project explaining my technique in more detail.

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