DIY Envy – Yes, You Can Knit!

Knit cotton washcloth

Have you ever thought, when your friends share great projects, “I wish I could knit”? You can! I have devised the simplest knitting project you are ever going to meet to help you knit a reusable cotton washcloth.

Like the best of punk music and country music: all you need is a red guitar, three chords, and the truth. In this case, all you need to make a profoundly useful and sustainable kitchen tool is cotton yarn, needles, three stitches, and a desire to make it yourself.

There are a lot more than three stitches in all of the fancy sweaters you see, and you will probably want to learn several more ways to do each of these stitches, but one way is enough for now. Just press on, and you will be wiping up with your own handiwork within hours.


Why Make Wash Cloths?

Knitters need to knit. Once you catch the bug, you will be looking for more and more projects to knit. Knitting your own washcloths keeps those knitting hands busy, but it also saves you money and lets you create exactly the color and style of cloths that you want to use. If you were looking for the right time to replace paper towels with reusable cloths, this is a quick and easy way to do it yourself. Plus, when people say, “Where did you get these great cloths?” you can then talk to them about your new hobby: knitting.

My mother made all of our wash cloths, and I’m still using those same cloths 30 years later. These are some of my very old kitchen cloths.

Old knit washcloths

1. A popcorn pattern that is good for scrubbing
2 & 3. A flatter pattern that absorbs well
4 & 5. A nubby pattern that I think is the easiest to grip. I grab these first.


The Super Easy Pattern for a Knit Cotton Wash Cloth

  • One skein of cotton yarn (Pictured is Lion Cotton Worsted Weight because that is what my local store carries.)
  • Needles, size 7
  • Tapestry needle

Cast on 40 stitches. Work every row knit (no purl), creating garter stitch. Knit until the whole piece is square then bind off and sew in ends.

That’s it! This sample took me about an hour and a half to finish.

Handmade knit cotton wash cloth

There are a lot of fancy ways to make cloths with special stitches or crocheted edges, but I think plain garter stitch works best.

If you are new to knitting, I hope these photos will help.

Cast On
Single Cast on (or backward loop cast on) is the simplest cast on. It isn’t elegant or fancy, but it is a fine way to start. There are many better ways to get this job done. You can think about those later.
Loop for simple knit cast on Slip knot on knitting needle
Make a simple slip knot Put the slip knot on your needle and pull it tight (though not too tight)
Yarn through fingers for tension Yarn ready for knit cast on
To keep tension steady, thread the yarn through your fingers. Turn your hand palm facing you
Cast On, finish
Backward loop knit cast on Simple knit cast on
Slip your needle up your finger to get the stitch on the needle And, you have your first stitch
Knitting cast on stitches  
Repeat until you have 40 stitches on the needle  
Knit Stitch
When I taught my children to knit, I used this simple rhyme to help them remember the steps to a knit stitch. It’s a common knitting teaching tool. Under the fence, catch the sheep, back we come, off we leap. Note: in the photos, my daughter knits holding the yarn in her right hand. I knit holding the yarn in my left hand (continental style). Either works. Do what feels most comfortable.
Beginning of knit stitch Wrap yarn for knit stitch
Under the fence. Stick your right needle into the bottom of the first stitch on your left needle Catch the sheep. Wrap your yarn around the right needle from the back, around the left and to the front
Pull knit stitch through loop Finish knit stitch
Back we come. Using your right needle, pull the yarn you just wrapped back through the first loop Off we leap. Pull the loop all of the way through then off. That’s your first knit stitch. Repeat to the end of the row, turn, and knit the next row the same way
Bind Off
In this simple bind off, all you do is pass each loop over the next to give a finished appearance like a chain. It isn’t stretchy at all. You can learn many other binding off techniques that give your knitting more stretch, but this basic technique will serve you well.
Ready for bind off Knitting bind off
Knit the first two stitches on your last row Stick your left needle into the first loop on the right needle
Bind off knitting One stitch bound off
Pull the first loop over the second loop Now you have just one loop left, so knit another stitch and repeat until you have one stitch left on your right needle
Finishing
Once you finish knitting, you have just two tails to sew in for a tidy finish. I like to use a tapestry needle for this, but you can also use a crochet hook if you already have one.
The last knit stitch Pull the last loop long
Knit until the last stitch is on your right needle Pull the last loop until it is 3-4″ long
Clip long loop Wash cloth with tails
Clip the loop and pull the rest of your skein of yarn out of the loop You have a nearly finished wash cloth
Finishing, sewing in Tails
Sew in knit ends Sew knit ends into cloth
To hide your tails, sew into the loops of one row down from your binding Pull the threaded tapestry needle through the stitches
Pull cloth edge Stretch edge of wash cloth
Stretch the edge of the cloth Stretch the edge a bit more to lose the tail completely


Resources

There are a lot of yarn stores online, but you probably have a local shop. Go there and talk to the owner. Ask about yarn. Ask about favorite needles. Ask about classes. Ask about knit nights. My local yarn shop has a late open night every Thursday where a dozen or so people sit around a table knitting, snacking, and just talking. You don’t get that shopping online, so find a local yarn store.

My favorite knitting site is Tech Knitting because the illustrations are absolutely clear (and often colorful). There is a lot of information on Tech Knitting, so check the index. As an example, this is the cast-on that I most often use.

When you become addicted and need a community, consider joining Ravelry, where you will find patterns, a personal notebook where you can record your stash and your projects, discussion groups, and friends.

My mother taught me to knit when I was 3 years old. I have been knitting steadily ever since. My husband and I talked about our favorite knitting yarns the first time we met. My mother knit my wedding shawl—a wedding ring shawl, it is called, because it is so fine that it can be pulled through a wedding ring. (I tried. It did work.) My husband, my mother, my mother-in-law, my baby, and I trekked to a knitting conference together to give the grandmothers a good excuse to spend time with their new granddaughter when she was very tiny. I taught my children to knit when they were small. Now, when we read school books aloud to one another, two of us knit while the other reads. (“Would you like to read now?” one asks. “Let me finish my row,” says everyone else.) I inherited a huge double cedar closet full of yarn, and we often, as we say, “go shopping” in my mother’s yarn closet. Currently, I am knitting dolls, my husband is swatching a new sweater, my 15-year old daughter is knitting a sweater from a 1939 pattern she tracked down after seeing it online, and my 12-year old son is knitting a cabled sweater. We are a knitting family.

I hope you have a great experience knitting this simple wash cloth. Even after all of the very complex knitting that I’ve done over the years, I loved knitting this simple piece. Let me know if you have questions.

Thanks to my daughter, the knitting hand model.

Caring for Cloth Pads and Menstrual Cups

Lunpads Maxi cloth menstrual pads

Another easy product to replace with reusables is menstrual pads or tampons. Instead, you can use cloth menstrual pads or menstrual cups.

I keep saying that using cloth diapers, cloth baby wipes, cloth kitchen towels and other reusable products is easy, but that’s only after you cross over that lack of familiarity to the other side. If you haven’t washed your own menstrual pads before and you haven’t known anyone who has, making that leap to reusable can be intimidating.

If you find the idea of washing cloth pads or inserting a Diva cup intimidating, I suggest that you search YouTube for videos. A lot of women have shared their experiences, and seeing these friendly faces talk you through the process can help you understand the basics of use and care.


Care During Your Period

Planet Wise mini wet-dry bag

First of all, be prepared. If you are away from home a lot, be sure that you have a pad or cup in every purse or bag. My Planet Wise mini wet/dry bag is perfect. I love this bag. There are two zippered compartments. I keep clean pads in one side and used pads in the other. Though the bag lays flat with unfolded pads inside, it can also fit folded pads, natural sponges, or menstrual cups.

If you need to carry used pads home, any moisture-resistant, washable bag will do.

Cloth pads. At home, where will you store your pads until you wash? I used to just set them on the floor next to the toilet, which works fine if you have no pets. If you have pets, you need a barrier, like a cabinet door. A lot of women put pads dry into a small, open top bucket or pot then soak them all together at the end of their cycles. If you have pets, you can put this bucket under the sink. I have a small pedal bin with a removable liner. My clever dogs have learned to operate the pedal, so I just turn the pedal toward the wall.

During your period, you just need a place to carry and store your pads safely.

Menstrual Cups. When you use a menstrual cup, just empty the cup, wash it with hot, soapy water, then reuse. If your soap might leave a scent or an oily residue, you can buy liquid soap formulated specifically for menstrual cups. Be sure to wash your hands in hot water before handling your cup.


Care After Your Period

Organic cotton menstrual pads

After each cycle, clean your reusable menstrual products thoroughly before you store them.

Cloth pads. Before washing cloth pads, I find it helpful to soak the pads to help release the stains. You can use oxygen bleach, peroxide bleach, or an enzyme soak (which digests organic materials like blood). Do not use hot water, since hot water can set the stains. Keep in mind that dirt and organic material are easier to remove at the same temperature they were when the stain was made. That means, soaking at body temperature is ideal. Leave to soak for several hours at least.

Then, wash on cool or warm (not hot). You can wash with dark clothes or towels, or just wash a small load of pads and underwear.

Dry in the sun to bleach stains naturally or dry with clothes or towels in a dryer.

Menstrual Cups. If you have washed your cup after every use, it should be quite clean, but you may still want to boil it for 5-10 minutes IF this is recommended by the manufacturer. (We sell the DivaCup, which can be boiled carefully.)


Storage

Menstrual cup with bag

Once they are clean, store your menstrual supplies in a clean, dry place in the bathroom. I have a drawer just for pads. Put your menstrual cup in the small bag it came with. This allows air flow.

Caring for reusable menstrual products really is easy. Are you ready to try them out? My favorites are Lunapads. I like the products; I like the company (based in Canada); and I love that this is the product that convinced my teenage daughter to use cloth pads. More on that later this week.

Make Your Own Cloth Baby Wipes

Reusable cloth baby wipes

If you are working to replace throw-away products with reusable products, start with the simple things. When you are already cloth diapering, it’s easy to use reusable cloth wipes as well. Recycle and re-purpose what you have to make what you don’t have. I got so many baby washcloths at my baby showers the first time around that I repurposed them as wipes.

It’s quick and easy to make your own cloth baby wipes. All you need is:

  • Old or surplus wash cloths
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine

That’s it.

If you don’t have cloths, try old towels, sheets, worn flannel blankets. Look around to see what you have that you would like to renew or repurpose as baby wipes.

CUT

I find that 3.75" x 7.5" fits perfectly in a commercial wipes container. I usually cut them square, but it takes some sewing skill to turn a square corner well. If you don’t have that skill, round the corners and make your life easier.

Old washcloth
Cutting old washcloth into baby wipes
Cutting washcloth into baby wipes
Cutting round corners on baby wipes

 

SEW

Ideally, use a serger or overlocking machine. This makes a tough edging that can withstand a lot of washing.

If you don’t have a serger, you can zig zag the edge, either right on the edge (the quick and dirty way) or turning the edge first (longer lasting but harder to do).

Sewing edge of cloth baby wipes
Finishing edge of cloth baby wipes

 

FINISH

Sew in the end. If you just cut the threads, they will unravel. Trust me on this one!

Finished homemade cloth baby wipe
Sew end in into cloth baby wipes
Trim threads from cloth baby wipes
Finished homemade cloth baby wipe

 

Easy! Now you have a stack of your own homemade baby wipes. Start to finish (including the time it took to take photos) I spent 10 minutes making 4 wipes. If you get on a roll, you can easily make one wipe per minute.

While you are into DIY, make your own wipes solution. It’s very easy.


Basic Baby Wipes Solution Recipe

1 Tablespoon mild soap (baby shampoo or castile soap)
1 Tablespoon oil (calendula, almond, olive, or other carrier oil)
2-8 drops essential oil (tea tree for antibiotic properties or any for scent)
1 cup water

Start with what you have on hand rather than buying ingredients. Don’t make too much at once because it won’t last a long time. Plus, it’s nice to change the scent with each batch. I like to keep a spray bottle of the solution near the wipes and spray directly on each wipe as needed, but I also tried putting solution and wipes in a wipes warmer to avoid shocking the baby with cold wipes. See if you can get away with cold wipes before resorting to a warmer.

Following up on a couple of weeks of cloth diaper focus, I’m covering other reusable products you can easily introduce into your family’s routine. Last week, it was reusable sandwich bags and wraps. Next, it’s my favorite recent idea. I’m making a cool reusable product I saw on Pinterest and sharing the photos with you.

The Fresh Sandwich Problem

Reusable sandwich bags

With all of the focus on cloth diapers recently, I’ve been thinking about other reusable options. For a couple of weeks, I’m going to cover some of those easy, reusable products that anyone can introduce to their family.

Reusable Sandwich Bags and Wraps

Every eco parent who makes a sandwich every morning for their child has wondered how to keep that sandwich fresh without a zip-top plastic bag that gets thrown in the garbage at school. For some parents, a reusable bag is enough. I have picked these up many times and wanted to love them, but I just don’t. I don’t want to wrap my child’s food in plastic, even if it is reusable plastic. I realize that we don’t all share the same aversions to particular solutions to the fresh sandwich problem, so I’ve tried to cover every solution I can think of, asking the pros and cons of each.

I came up with characteristics of sandwich wraps and bags in these areas:

  • transport to school (waterproof, plastic next to food, can smash, can leak);
  • useful while eating (doubles as placement);
  • transportation back home (heavy, bulky/not flat);
  • care (single-use, wash & reuse, washing machine or dishwasher); and
  • material (plastic, polyester, cotton, glass, metal).

For potential solutions, I thought of:

  • the no-zip, single-use plastic bag and the zip-top plastic bag, both of which can be rinsed and reused a couple of times, but are still meant to be thrown away;
  • a lightweight paper bag, which might last for a couple of days if the sandwiches are dry;
  • waxed paper, though it is coated in petroleum-derived wax, or parchment or baking paper, which is available with or without a petroleum-derived coating;
  • a cotton bag with a drawstring or a cotton cloth (a napkin) just wrapped around the sandwich;
  • a waterproof sandwich wrap that can double as a placemat;
  • a waterproof sandwich bag with hook & loop or zipper;
  • a glass container with a lid; and
  • a metal container with a lid.
  waterproof plastic touches food smash leak placemat heavy bulky single-use wash machine wash material
no-zip plastic bag y y y y y plastic
zip-top plastic bag y y y y y plastic
paper bag y y y paper
waxed paper y y y y y paper + plastic
parchment paper y y y paper
cotton bag y y y y

cotton

cotton cloth y y y y y cotton
wrap y y y y y y cotton or poly + plastic
bag w/ hook & loop y y y y y cotton or poly + plastic
bag w/ zip y y y y y cotton or poly + plastic
glass y y y y y glass + plastic
metal y y y y metal

I don’t want this to be a list of products you should buy. I don’t think you should buy a lot of these. We at bynature.ca carry a lot of reusable food storage products, and we look for high quality in everything we stock. I hope that by comparing the characteristics of each solution, you will be able to figure out which fits best with your expectations.

Wean Glass Sandwich container

I love the resurgence of reusable sandwich wraps and other sandwich containers. There is such a variety of styles and prints made of fabric. It’s also really easy to make your own sandwich wraps.

DIY Caution!

If you make your own sandwich wrap, don’t use iron-on vinyl. That is not food safe. I don’t love the idea of using polyurethane laminate (PUL) next to food, but a lot of PUL has been tested for phthalates banned in the U.S. children’s product safety law, CPSIA, since this is a material used commonly in diaper covers. Still, it contains non-banned plastic softeners, and I can’t wrap my mind around the reason anyone would wrap plastic around food. If you are going to make your own bags or wraps, at least get “sandwiched PUL” (which doesn’t have anything to do with the sandwiches made out of bread until you make your wrap). In this type of PUL, the plastic coating is hidden between two layers of fabric, usually cotton or polyester. That way, you get your waterproof layer without it touching the food.

I hope this helps you think through what works for you in keeping sandwiches safe for a few hours from the time your child leaves home until lunchtime.

Lunch Bots Uno Sandwich container

Adding reusable products to your family’s regular routines is easy. I will share a few more ideas next week.

Stainless Steel Dishes for Children

Stainless Steel Dishes for Children

In our quest for the safest products for children, we’ve worked hard to avoid plastic, melamine, and other products that can leach dangerous chemicals or dangerous levels of naturally-occurring substances. One material that we really like for children’s mealtimes and lunch boxes is stainless steel.

High-grade stainless steel is considered food-grade or medical-grade. All of the stainless steel dishes and utensils at bynature.ca are made from high-grade stainless steel.


Stable Materials

One problem with plastics in direct contact with our food and our skin is its potential instability. Plastics can leach chemicals into food and into our bodies. Plastics are made with a huge variety of additives to mimic rubber, glass, and other stable materials. But, these additives are not all stable, especially when heated.

So, we look for stable materials for serving and storing food. Stainless steel is one of those stable materials.


Should I Be Cautious?

Stainless steel dishes and cookware can add iron and chromium to your food. Since our bodies need these, this isn’t a problem. Dishes don’t give off toxic amounts even if used every day for every meal.

They might also give off nickel, which isn’t toxic for most of us, but can be a problem for the approximately 10% of the population who are sensitive to nickel. If you or your child are sensitive to nickel, just don’t use stainless steel for cooking or eating.


How Long Will Stainless Steel Dishes Last?

Though stainless steel will last for a long time, it will show wear. You will probably see scratches from utensils, for example. These micro-scratches aren’t particularly unsightly. When you finally decide you are done with stainless steel dishes (maybe a generation from now!), they are 100% recyclable.