Practical boatlife (part one)

Sophie from Unicorn Designs has some small people who are very interested in boat life. I thought that a few more of you might also be interested, so I’m answering their questions here!

WARNING, there’s a fair bit of poo-talk, but that’s very normal for liveaboard types. Get a bunch of boat ppl together and we talk about our toilets all night.

How does the toilet work – and where does all the poo go?

There are three different toilet options – and I have probably the least common. Anyway, they are;

  1. A blackwater holding tank, usually with a macerator which chews everything (liquids, solids, paper) up into a stinky sludge. If you have one of these on the marina where I live, when your tank’s getting full you call Andy, the marina manager and general all-round amazing person, and he potters along in a little boat with a big tank on it, and pumps out your stinky sludge into his tank, and then pumps the tank out down into the big waste drain.Good points – you don’t have to empty it all that often, and you don’t usually have to get up close to your stinky sludge.
    Bad points – when a blockage happens it’s RANK – and someone flushing something they shouldn’t means blockage. And the sludge is pretty stinky – you usually end up adding chemicals to the tank to stop it getting too bad.
  2. A cassette toilet, which is a little portapotty with a removable box at the bottom for collecting the wee and poo. There’s a little water reservoir which you flush from (but flushes use much, much less water than a regular toilet). When your toilet gets full you detatch the box at the bottom and pour it into the waste drain. I have one of these tucked away for emergencies – it’s what I used until I got my own toilet installed.Good points – lovely and simple! There’s not much that can go wrong.
    Bad points – you need to empty it every three or four days (although most boats will have a spare cassette for emergencies), and you need to use chemicals to stop it getting stinky.
  3. A compost toilet. (This is what I have! It is the best!) It’s designed so that when you sit on it wee is funnelled one way and into a little tank, and poo is collected in a big bucket, along with any paper you’re using. (Stand-up weeing types must aim carefully.) Most of the stinky stink is avoided because just poo, or just wee, is not nearly as stenchy as the two mixed together can be. My toilet also has a little fan (solar powered from a little panel on my roof) that helps keep the smell away. I have a 25litre tank (and a spare for emergencies) which I usually empty once a week. I put it in a wheelbarrow and cart it over to the big waste drain. The big buckets of poo need to be emptied every few months. I have a hot composter on the deck (it’s insulated, so the contents get really hot which kills off all the nasties) and I empty it in there. All the other compost goes in there too. And once a year I harvest the bottom third and use it to grow my flowers.
    Good points – the most environmentally friendly, as you don’t need chemicals to de-stink it, it uses no water, and you get lovely tasty compost for your plants.

    Bad points – you need to heft about a tank of wee every week, and a bucket of poo every few months. Guests need instructions on what to do, and it’s probably the version that squeamish people like least.


There is a fourth version, which is a sea-toilet that just flushes straight out into the water, but those aren’t generally allowed on rivers or canals or marinas. Our boat came with one, and I had to cut it out before we could install the compost one.


Boats have batteries – big ones, like car batteries – that power 12volt or 24volt electricity systems. (I have 24v, but smaller boats like narrowboats usually have 12v.) I also have a mains hookup, which uses the regular electricity you have in your house. That electricity right now keeps my batteries fully charged – but if I was heading off out on an adventure the engine would keep the batteries charged when it was running, and I might also have solar panels or a wind turbine.

On my boat, the overhead lights all use the 24v, and I can also charge little things like phones from it. Most of the other things use the mains electricity – although I don’t use a lot! I have a couple of silver-making things that need to be plugged in – my pendant motor and my barrel-polisher, for example – and I have a laptop, and an electric blanket for when it’s cold, and (several!) radios, but I don’t have a TV or playstation or anything like that. (Most of the boats near me do have TVs, though – sometimes they even have satellite dishes!)

Is it scary in a storm

It is a little bit, sometimes, especially when there’s just me and the cats on the boat! I’m in a marina, tucked up with other boats, but I still rock around quite a bit when the wind’s blowing hard, and it can be very noisy. And where I am – down the Thames from London – it can get very windy!

But one of the best things about living here is all the lovely boat-neighbours. Everyone pitches in to help out if there’s a problem, so if it gets too scary I know that I have lots of people around. And it can be really nice, when it’s stormy outside, to be tucked up below decks with a lovely big fire burning in the stove and the cats snoozing in front of it, and the radio burbling away, and a big mug of tea and my knitting.


Repealing the 8th – why we need it, and how to help

So this will be a bit personal, and a bit political. Those are very often the same thing here in Feminist CatBoat HQ.

In Ireland right now there’s a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment to the constitution. I’m not going to go on about it in any great length – Wikipedia can tell you all about it – but it essentially gives a foetus the same rights as the person carrying it – outlawing abortion almost completely.

I – and so many other Irish women – grew up in the shadow of the 8th amendment. I was a teenager when the X case happened. I was terrified to think that the state could exert that much control over me – to the point of actual nightmares. This was also a country where contraception was very difficult to obtain and where sex & relationship education was almost non-existent, so unplanned and unwanted pregnancies were common. I remember adverts for abortion clinics here in the UK being blacked out – actually censored – in magazines.

I got out. I got a university place in the UK, and I never moved back. The Ireland of twenty years ago didn’t feel like a country I could ever be happy in. When I go back now it feels like a far more open, liberal and accepting place. I cried actual tears (of joy) at the same-sex marriage referendum result a few years ago. I can almost see myself moving back someday.

But there’s still the 8th amendment.

The thing is, Ireland has abortion.

People travel over here every day to access abortion, and they take illegally procured (although usually safe) abortion pills. The pills can – although I don’t think there’s ever been a prosecution – lead to a 14 year prison sentence. They’re often seized on the way into the country, which is a huge source of worry. And someone experiencing problems or side-effects is less likely to seek medical help and ‘fess up to what they’ve taken.

The travelling over to the UK – the more common option – is expensive, and lonely, and difficult; scraping the cash for flights and hotels and the procedure together, very often organising childcare, taking time from work, fibbing to friends and family about where you’re going, and why. And – as with the pill option – aftercare can be a problem.

Ireland already has abortion. We just make a hard choice really horrible and difficult.

The other big problem with the 8th is that it makes healthcare during pregnancy and birth really difficult. You don’t want to have a caesarean, or an induction? You can be over-ruled. You’re miscarrying? It can be fatal. You discover that your much-wanted baby can’t survive? Carry it to term anyway.

I’m getting angrier as I type this post up – can you tell?

What can you do? What can I do?

I can’t do enough. I can’t vote. I can’t canvass. All I can do is rant about it from a different country.

If you’re an Irish/UK citizen and living there – make sure you vote!

If you’re an Irish citizen or resident, you can donate to Together for Yes.

If you’re not an Irish citizen/ resident

You can shop! (I’m the worst seller-of-things. I really don’t want people buying stuff they don’t need. And here I’m telling you to buy stuff?)

Let me know if I should add something to this list?

And you can help Irish people get home to vote

I’ll keep this updated!




An Caitín Beag, and how to pronounce it

An Caitín Beag is Irish for The Little Small Cat, or The Wee Small Cat, or The Tiny Little Cat, or any other variation on diminutive felines that you fancy putting together.

It breaks down like this: An means The, Cait is cat, and the -ín at the end makes it a small cat. Beag also means small, or little.

And it pronounces like: On Cat-een BeUG.

The ín / een is interesting. It’s added to nouns as a diminutive – making them smaller, or younger (or female, thanks the patriarchy).

Young beasts often get an -een. So my caitín could be a kitten, and not a small cat. A cat óg (prounounced cat ogh, meaning young cat) would also be a kitten. Or – and this is one of best words ever – piscín also means kitten. That’s pronounced pish-keen, and it’s such a kittenish word! A duck is a lacha, and a duckling is a lachín, as another example. A little house (teach) is a teachín. A little road, or path, is a bóithrín (or boreen). The -een is very common in names, too. – especially girls’ names. Roisín means little rose, Realtín is little star.

The accent over i is known as a fada. It only appears on vowels, and it elongates them. (I was always appalling at remembering to add it. I still am, and I just use it on the one word nowdays.) But it can be essential for telling words apart. Ceád (prononced kayd) means a hundred, cead (pronounced key-ad) means permisson.

Small disclaimer: I haven’t used Irish for YEARS and I might have errors here! Also I’m terrible at trying to write out pronunciations. Happy to take correction, or to try to answer any questions, though!

How I make the little penannular pins

How I make the tiny penannular pins – with pictures! 🔨🔥🔨🔥🔨🔥🔨🔥🔨 I usually make these in batches of between five and ten, but they all emerge looking a little different. 1. Form a coil out of silver wire. 2. Slice through! I use tape to keep the coil from slithering around. I’m aiming for asymmetric pins here, so I’m cutting down at an angle. I 💛 my swish saw. 3. Cut some slightly flattened wire into pin lengths and form little tight loops at the top of each. Check they fit! They should move freely but not be loose. 4. Place them over tiny pieces of solder (called pallions), drench it all in flux, and solder! To solder silver, you heat the whole piece to the melting point of the solder, that silver melts the solder, and capillary action lures it into the join. These are heated to about 750c, and the metal glows red with heat. 5. These are textured pins, so I hammer and straighten the pins. (Untextured pins will get hammered with a rawhide hammer to harden them – the soldering has left the silver very soft. I’ve also checked all the joins and filed and polished off any stray solder. 6. I hammer very gently the top half of the circle, slide on the pin and flatten them a little in the rolling mill. 7. Big hammering! I bash the flattened ends to pleasing shapes. 8. Open the rings to file and sand the edges smooth and shiny. 9. I use a cup burr to round the ends of the pin. It’s attached to my pendant motor (like a dremel but fierce and amazing). This is the only time i use an electrical tool making these tiny pins.) 10. Into the pickle! This will take off the tarnish from my earlier soldering. If I need things pickled quickly I heat it in an old slow-cooker bain marie, but I’m going to leave the pickle cold and let it work its magic overnight.

Fibre East, and some fine new things

It is Fibre East next weekend and I’ll be there (in Jacob again – come say hi!). Fibre East last year was my first show ever, and I was petrified! What if I sold nothing, and sat sad and lonely in my booth all weekend? But it went amazingly.


I’m really looking forward to the return, and to see how much things have evolved over the last year. I’ve developed so many more new lovely things.

I’ve been doing a much-neglected update to the online store, and you can now buy the knitters’ notebooks and journals, as well as brand new embroidery kits and (also new) handy little cards and tags to keep track of your WIPs and scrap yarn.

I’m off on holiday – a long planned train and boat adventure around Sweden, Denmark and Norway – for three long lovely weeks in August. So orders after the 7th of August will get shipped out at the start of September. I have been planning my holiday knitting for months, and I still don’t know what I’m bringing! (I might have to do a Sunday afternoon sweep around Fibre East for inspiration & acquisition!)

On the needles: not so much! The start of a sweater that I’m still not sure about and I think I’ll end up ripping back and finding a less fluffy yarn for – I am picturing loose and drapey but the yarn has aspirations towards lofty and fluffy.

Fresh off the needles, though – we have two recent stars!

Election Shawl

I stood for Parliament for the Green Party, which was fascinating and exhausting and amazing and terrifying in roughly equal measures. I needed some easy knitting to see me through the campaign. I cast on this shawl shortly after the election was announced, and cast off a few days before polling day.


I refrained from knitting during hustings, but it came along with me to meetings and gatherings and radio stations, and it gave me essential little patches of downtime when I needed them most. (It also came to the cricket at Lords, when Ireland generously let England win.)

It’s a simple crescent shawl, mostly stocking stitch with some moss stitch stripes and a picot edge, and knitted in Dye Ninja’s Battle Hymn of the Republic and Easyknits‘ Dark Nebula set. It’s gotten loads of compliments, but I’m sure the stars of the show are the yarns – such amazing colours and glorious squishiness!

Gradient Cardigan

Last year at Fibre East I picked up a gradient pack and a fine fat skein from Woosheeps, planning a cardigan, and I had a self imposed deadline of this year’s Fibre East for completion. I am SO nearly there – I have found the right buttons (enamelled metal, v cute!) and just need to sew them on and graft the arms. (At some point I need to make Pocket Decisions.) This one doesn’t have the same sense of occasion as the Election Shawl – the poor cardie pretty much got abandoned in favour of something not requiring DPNs and counting and any brain at all.

I’m really pleased with it, though! The steek was a bit fretful – the yarn is superwash, so I double-reinforced it with blanket stitch in two differently-felty yarns from the scrap bag, and it is so far holding up just grand. (Why yes I have been wearing the buttonless, ungrafted cardigan around the boat. It’s just to … check the fit? The cats don’t judge me! They just sit on my knitting.)

Edinburgh Yarn Festival

I’ve settled back home after a glorious EYF – the catties have ceased showering me with affection and expressing their delight at my return, and the unpacking is done.

The view from our stranded train was quite lovely!

I’d love to start off this writeup with ‘The journey up north was uneventful… ‘ but I can’t do that.  We were on the train that was stranded for three hours  – and then spent another two hours hanging around York with an entire stand’s worth of luggage and many platform changes before we finally got onto another train. We ended up reaching Edinburgh far too late to set up the stand. Thursday evening saw me sitting on a hotel room bed trying to get as much sorting and pricing and organising done as I could (with a soothing glass of wine to hand). Friday morning was an early, early start, with just 90 minutes to get the stand up and ready for duty. And we did it! Things were more haphazard than I’d have liked, and I hadn’t time at all to tweak the layout, and we were far more tired than is ideal for the start of a hectic festival – but we made it.

The stand

The stall! Looking slightly more chaotic that I’d have liked.

Our little stand was hopping busy all weekend, and I had a wonderful time nattering to everyone who stopped by, demonstrating the use of penannular pins (video coming soon on here), and especially seeing things I’d made being worn and loved. There are few things (tabby kittens, maybe?) better than making something, sending it out into the world, and discovering that it is used and cherished.

We summoned the energy to head ceili-wards on Friday night, and the great company, dancing and food perked me right up despite a busy day on very little sleep. I may have danced more than was sensible for a tired person with a busy day ahead, and stayed rather later than I thought I’d manage.

My very restrained little yarn haul – and two of these were for someone else, at that!

Both myself and Sarah managed a quick sprint around the market on Sunday afternoon and scored a small but precious little yarny haul each. Apart from that we were pretty much chained to the stand, with occasional tea runs to sustain us, and I didn’t get to see half the festival – or take more than a handful of photographs, or pop by at least half the stalls I’d wanted to. (This isn’t a complaint at all – busy is good! – and I had a grand time behind the stall.)

Huge love to Jo and Mica both, for organising such a great event, and especially for Mica’s unflappable comforting calm as I phoned her fretfully while stranded on a train. Huge love too to all the volunteers that made it happen, the other exhibitors, and everyone who stopped by the stall.

Exciting new things

Knitters notebooks!

I took a couple of new things to EYF. There are these knitter’s notebooks and knitting journal, as well as some badges, new variations in button earrings, some great new bangles and pendants,  and little tubs of brightly coloured bulb pins.

They’ll be appearing in the shop sometime soon – they’re just waiting on me doing the proper photography.




On the needles

A big wooly jumper for wearing around the boat in winter (knitted just in time for the sun to come out and the temperature to soar, excellent timing there!)

Another cowl, because I fancied some fun indulgent (& portable) knitting last weekend, to keep me entertained on trains. And it’s nearly done – quick knits are great!

An incredibly lush grey cardigan, which just needs me to decide if I like the way the oversized button bands behave – some *sterling silver buttons* will be added if so.

Selfish knitting all ’round there!




New Blog! Same old news.

I’ve given the blog a little independence! You’ll still get all of the usual Caitin Beag news here, but a bit more craftiness too.

This year’s outings include Edinburgh Yarn Festival and Wonderwool Wales and Fibre East – and I’ll (fingers crossed) be at few more shows too.

I’m working on so many new things – if you want previews to a few of them, head over to instagram – but there’s a new needle gauge pendant, cute silver-nugget word necklaces, and several new shawlpin designs (plus repeats of some well-loved old ones).

I’m also putting together a wholesale pricelist, so if you’re a shop – or know a shop – who might want to stock some of the things I make please get in touch. I’m planning to start small and expand slowly.

And if you’re a designer, I’m introducing Button Support – like yarn support, but with ceramic buttons instead of yarn. Sample buttons for your samples and wholesale button packs to include in kits – and I can work with you to make the right button for your design. And also Shawlpin Support – if you’d like to feature my shawlpins in your photography I would love that! Email me with your requests!

On the needles:

img_20170204_151725A cowl. Again. I think this might be turning into a poncho, though.  It’s Experimental Train & Pub Knitting, and a pleasing mixture of linen stitch and a yarnovery thing. Let’s see what happens? It might be great!

img_20170203_234151_759A sweater, for lovely P, who finds he is often colder than me, and I’m sure that’s because I’m wearing wool and he’s not.  It’s a basic bottom-up raglan in West Yorkshire Spinners Jacob DK. I am onto the second sleeve, so getting there.

(also several stalled projects. sorry, stalled projects!)