Thursday, January 30, 2014

Denim Rug

For those of you who don't know, I've done a lot of moving in the past year.  Around October, I knew that my biggest move -- the one across the country -- was upcoming, and I had a lot of denim jeans that I was trying to save as fabric. Knowing that they would be easier to pack if I cut them now, and needing a little break, I decided to take on a quick project: a Denim Rug.

I got the idea and directions from this link on Intractables.

First, I followed the instructions here
to get the most out of my jeans.

Then, I placed all the waistbands on the floor, organized them how I wanted, and began to sew.  In between each waist band, I had a think piece of seaming.  I also used several thick cuffs instead of waist bands and edged the entire project in the seaming.  Full details are in the project link.

This went very well.  It was easy to make and the sewing was quick.  I did break my needle a couple of times in the thicker parts, and I would only do this with a machine that can sew denim.  I also find that the edges of the seaming fray a little bit.  Over all, I really like it, though!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Homemade Soap - How and Why You Should Make It

Last year, I got into Soap Making.

If you've never made soap before, this may sound a little strange.  Here are some basic misconceptions about making soap at home:

1. It's difficult.
Soap-Making is pretty simple!  It basically involves knowing three parts, and you just make sure to combine them at the right time!

2. It's expensive.
This one is also false.  Homemade Soap is a fraction of the cost of store bought soap.  There will be some up-start costs, and if you choose to use exotic oils in your soaps, then yes, it will be a bit more expensive, but even then, buying exotic soaps in the store would cost more, too.

3. The soap is bad quality.
Again, this is not true.  Like any hobby, soap making takes practice, but with time, beautiful, high quality soaps can be made at home.  The soap you make is also NOT less effective.

4. It's dangerous.
There is a little bit of truth to this.  While making soap, you are working with Lye and very hot oils.  Use basic chemical precautions and keep animals or small children away from chemicals and soap-making.  However, when done with care, this can be a safe and easy hobby.

Now that we've expelled some basic misconceptions, lets go on to explain other reasons why you should make soap at home!

1.  It's cheap. Very cheap.
2.  It's easy.  You make a batch and it lasts for a while.
3.  If you like it, you can experiment.  Add scents, essential oils, color, oatmeal, whatever!
4.  You control what goes into your soap.

Let me say that again.

4.  You control what goes into your soap.

Why is that so important?

Well, first off, there are tons of chemicals in store-bought soaps that are harmful to your body.  They seep in through your skin and can affect your mood, your homeostatis, and your brain.

But there's another reason.  Lets say you live in a family of five.  There's a baby with dry skin that needs gentle soap.  There's a teenager with acne.  There's a child whose skin gets little bumps from not being exfoliated enough.  There's a grandma with soft wrinkles.  There's a parent with dredlocks.

When you make your own soap, you can tailor each batch to a certain person.  No need to go to the store and buy expensive dredlock shampoo --  you can just make a soap with extra beeswax and jojoba oil instead of olive oil and they can use it as shampoo.  Soaps with oatmeal or coffee can exfoliate.  Some oils are more moisturizing, some are harsh, some are gentle, some are fairly typical.  You can learn the properties of each oil and each superfat and you can adjust to your loved ones, refining each batch a little more.

Store bought products might say "for dry skin" or "for blackheads," but each person's skin is made of different chemicals, and so it might be dry for different reasons, and what helps one person might make another worse.  When you make your own soap, you can avoid this trial-and-error with expensive products that just go to waste.  Make a small batch.  Does it work?  Great!  Make more!  Is it not the best fit?  Use it until it's gone, or bring it to the kitchen, or donate it, or shred it to make homemade laundry detergent.  Make another one!

Do I have you yet?

If so, read on, and I'll explain the basic idea of soap making.  If not, read on, and see how easy it is!

No matter which soap making process you're using (more about that later), there are several basic ingredient categories.

1. Fats.  These are usually oils, and any combination of different kinds of oils can be added in here.  Some recipes call for beeswax.

2. Caustic. Usually lye, every recipe needs a caustic.  Basically, this chemical interacts with your fats and chemically produces soap.  This process is called saponification.

3. Carrier/Liquid.  You'll need a liquid -- usually water, but sometimes milk or tea -- to dissolve your caustic.

Okay, so now that you've got an idea of what you'll need, lets learn about how to combine these ingredients.  There are two main processes for soap making -- hot process and cold process.  There are others, but they are more obscure are are better done with practice.

In both processes, first, you weigh out your fats.  Using a lye calculator, you can determine how much lye you'll need.  Always use a lye calculator.  Different oils have different amounts of fat, so your lye amount can change.  You usually leave a certain percentage of fats left un-reacted, called a superfat, as a buffer.  Too much lye can burn the skin!  Too much fat just makes it mushy.

Once you know how much lye you'll need, you can dissolve it into your liquid.  Always put the lye in the water, not the other way around.  If your oils are solid at room temperature, melt them, and combine them all together.  Then, you add the two mixtures together and stir them to trace.  Trace is a big spiffy word for "it looks something like pancake batter."  It means everything is mixed up.

This is where the processes differ.  In cold process, you pour your mixture into a mold and you let it sit for several weeks.  Then, you can use a spiffy tool to check and see if all of the lye has reacted.  If so, cut and use!

In hot process, you pour the mixture into a crockpot and basically bake the lye out.  There's a certain look it gets when it's done. (I suggest you google a picture).  At that point, you pour it into the mold, let it harden, and as soon as it's hard it's usable.

Soon, I'll post about some of my favorite recipes.  Stay tuned!

Has anyone else made soap at home before?  What are your favorite techniques and recipes? Which process do you like better?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Wool Dryer Balls

While I was on my homemade laundry products spree, I started looking for a way to make homemade dryer sheets and they all seemed really messy and complicated.  I just wanted something I could throw in the dryer to make my clothes smell good and to keep them from getting staticky.

That's when I stumbled across this DIY Wool Dryer Balls Tutorial.  As a knitter, I immediately was in my comfort zone.  Felting?  I can felt!  I had almost purchased dryer balls at the store the other day, but I was glad I didn't!

So, for those of you that aren't familiar with felting, here's the way it works.  It's actually pretty easy.  Have you ever had a wool sweater that you weren't supposed to put in the washer, but you did, and when it came out, it was smaller, tighter, firmer, and fuzzy?  You felted it.  Felting is where you take non-washable wool, usually in the form of yarn, and throw it through a washing cycle to shrink and bind it together.

So basically, to make these balls, I pulled out some old balls of feltable wool yarn I had left over.  You can use an old shirt, too, but just unwind it, and make sure it's non-washable wool and that it hasn't been washed before.  You make them into balls, tuck in the ends, and tie a small knot.

Here comes the fun part.  Take some old pantyhose and slide your first ball down to the toe.  Tie a knot in the pantyhose right around the ball, or, alternatively, tie some yarn or string around it.  MAKE SURE THIS YARN IS NOT FELTABLE, otherwise you'll have a caterpillar when you're done.

Add all the other balls in the same fashion. You can see my caterpillar here on the right, after it's been through a cycle.  (Look at the fluff leaking out from the felting process.)

Then you throw your caterpillar in with a normal load, through both the washer and the dryer.  Undo your caterpillar and take a look at the balls.  Can you undo them?  If you run your fingernails across, do the strands move?  If so, repeat the caterpillar cycle, but if they're not budging, you have successfully felted your wool dryer balls!

The next step is just to throw them in your load!  They bounce around, fluff the clothes, and reduce drying time.  You can also put a little bit of essential oil in the wool balls right before you throw them in the dryer; this will scent the clothes naturally as they get fluffed!  During this cycle, I was washing some sheets, so I used Bergamot and Petigrain, which help fight insomnia and anxiety, both of which keep me up!

Has anybody else done this?  How did it turn out?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Bridesmaids Shawls

Common tradition states that, as a bride, you are supposed to give gifts to your bridesmaids.  I had heard tales of amethyst pendants, shoes, and heartfelt cards.  I didn't have the money for something like a pendant, and I knew, more importantly, that most of my bridesmaids would never wear it.  They all had completely different shoe styles and things that they would like, so I briefly thought about getting them each something personal, but realized quickly that might cause drama if one was "better" than another.

Then it dawned on me.  The wedding was to be in December, and they were all graciously wearing sleeveless, knee-length dresses.  I would make them all shawls!  Though I knew at least two of them would probably never wear the shawls again, they would all use them at least once, and they would be knit with love.

I found a pattern on Ravelry called "Old Shale Shawl" that was perfect!  The yarn was think enough that it would provide some actual warmth, the pattern simple enough that I could be assured that it wouldn't clash with any shoe or jewelry flowering, and elegant enough that even the most tomboyish of my bridesmaids would enjoy wearing it.

I shot up to JoAnn's fabrics to get five skeins of Caron One-Pound Yarn in Cream.  The color scheme of the wedding was browns and creams, with the theme of wood and candles, and so the flickering light shone brilliantly on the satin brown dresses under the cream knit-work.

Over all, I really liked this pattern.  It was repetitive enough that I could work on other things, like reading, while I was knitting, but sophisticated enough to avoid boredom.  It did seem to stretch out toward the end, though, because the pattern starts with the shortest rows on the bottom.  Each shawl took about two and a half weeks, knitting a few hours a day.  I highly recommend this pattern!

Later, I realized that because of the "wood" theme, our bouquets were made of beautiful Cedar Rose pinecones (from Seasonal Bounty on Etsy), and so my lovely maids got to keep those as well! (PS: Sarah from Seasonal Bounty is a pleasure to work with and did an amazing job dealing with my incredibly complicated and specific 24 piece order!)

Amy's Ravelry Project | Hannah's Ravelry Project | Rachel's Ravelry Project
Katie's Ravelry Project | Kat's Ravelry Project
Ravelry Pattern

If you liked this idea, here are some more posts you might like:

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Homemade Laundry Detergent

When I moved to San Francisco, I moved into what had once been my husbands bachelor pad.  During the time before our wedding, he continuously expressed his interest that I would "hurry up and graduate so I could make this place a home and not just a place to sleep."  Well, needless to say, when I got here, there was quite a bit to be done!

One of the things that my husband did was buy a box of laundry detergent.  Because he'd been using it for six months before that, it had about ten loads left by the time I got here.  As someone who's always been on the "do-it-yourself" edge, I decided that while we were waiting for it to finish off, I would research making my own laundry detergent and fill the box up with my own concoction when it was empty.

I based my version off of DIY Natural's recipe.

-1 (or 1.25) cups of Borax
-1 (or 1.25) cups of Soda Ash
-4.5 (or 5.625) ounces of Grated Ivory Soap
-A container for your finished product

The first step is to obtain your ingredients.  The container was easy, since I was just using an old one.  Any jar or box would work.

I made my Soda Ash by hand the day before, and pulled out some old Ivory soap I wanted to get rid of.  You can use any natural, Castille, or handmade soap in this recipe, which I usually do in my cleaning supplies, but I had some old Ivory bars I wanted to use up from before my soap-making days, and since the recipe said go for it, I did!

Grating the soap turned out to be a laborious process.  I used a simple cheese grater, but I'm sure there are other ways to do it.  The original recipe called for a 4.5 ounce bar of soap, but I found that if I grated two bars until they were just about stubs I couldn't hold anymore, I ended up with 5 and 5/8 ounces of grated soap -- exactly 125% of what the recipe called for -- so I simply added an extra quarter-cup of the other two ingredients and wha-la!

Once you have all your ingredients, the next step is to add them together and stir for five minutes.  Easy enough, right?  WRONG.  I kept having to stop because I was coughing from breathing in all the soap particles.  While you're stirring, the volume of your mixture actually decreases a lot, partially from breaking the bits up more, partially from minimizing empty space, and partially from all the dust it releases into the air.  I highly recommend doing this step outside or in a well ventilated room!

When I was done, the finished product fit nicely in my old box, so I threw a rubber-band around it and put it in the closet.  I can't wait to use it!

For each load, you only need a tablespoon!  That's right, just a tablespoon of the detergent.  I'm estimating there's just over 3 cups of detergent in the box right now, which is about 50 tablespoons.

Let's take a look at the cost:

Box of Borax: $4.29
I used: 1/4
Borax: $1.08

Box of Baking Soda (to make Soda Ash): $1.35
I used: 2/3
Soda Ash: $0.90

Ivory Soap 10-Pack: $4.50
I used: 1.75 bars
Grated Soap: $0.79

Total Cost of Detergent: $2.77

That's about half what the original box of store-bought detergent cost!  Now here's the kicker:

Homemade Detergent: $2.77
Makes 50 Loads
5.5 cents a load

Store-Bought Detergent: $5.50
Makes 15 Loads (as per box)
36 cents a load

Look at that!  You've saved 85% of your cost of detergent!  What's not to love?

Next time, I'll tell you about another way I found to cut costs on laundry.

Has anyone else tried this?  How does it work?  Any tips?  Let me know in the comments!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

How to Make Washing Soda/Soda Ash

When I first arrived here in San Francisco, I had a lot on my plate!  I'll talk more about that tomorrow, but one of the first things I looked up was how to make my own laundry detergent. It seemed pretty simple: three ingredients, two steps, what could go wrong.

Something pretty serious went wrong -- one of the key ingredients, Washing Soda (also known as Soda Ash), wasn't available anywhere in my area!

I started wondering: what's the difference between Baking Soda and Washing Soda, anyway?  Can I just use Baking Soda?

That led me to this post, by Penny of Penniless Parenting.  And then this post, by Jill of One Good Thing.  And then this one, from Nature's Nurture.  There seemed to be a pattern: bake Baking Soda to make Washing Soda!

This was perfect!  As a soap-maker, Soda Ash is a must-have to counteract lye spills, and I'd never gotten around to getting some, so here I was, discovering that I could shoot two birds with one stone.

So I gave it a try!  Here in our tiny apartment, we don't even have a real oven, so I spread some Baking Soda into a Bread Pan that could fit in my mini-oven I brought, and baked it at 400F for an hour.  If I were you, I would use a cookie sheet.

I took it out and it looked clumpy.  Not what I wanted.  I put it back.  Much grainier, but still a little clumpy.  I stirred it, looked at pictures on the posts mentioned above, and decided it was good enough.  I ended up doing three "shifts" with the Bread Pan to get through a box of Baking Soda, but it worked!

The one problem I've had so far with moving across the country is that I lost my container collection!  Ah, well.  I put the Washing Soda in an old Ricotta Cheese container from last week's lasagna and labeled it.  Stay tuned to find out how I used it!

Has anyone else done this before?  How did it turn out?  I'd love to hear about it!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

T-Shirt Quilt (Take Two)

In case you missed it, I've been out for the past nine months due to homelessness, marriage, and graduation, so here's an update on what I've been up to!

In February, I posted about the T-Shirt Quilt my fiance and I were making as our first craft together.  Well, during April and May, when I was thrown in an empty dorm building, I found an empty room and managed to set up shop and sew.  I finished it, but I had a lot of snafuus along the way, and so I'm here to give advice to those looking to make their own.

The first thing that I did is cut and pin all the t-shirts into squares that were 20" by 10".  For a few of them, I cut two shirts each 10.5" by 10" and put them on top of each other as a single square in the quilt.
I made the quilt six shirts wide and four shirts tall, which is almost exactly the size of a queen-sized quilt, but I'm not sure I would have done it the same way if I were to do it again.  I don't know.  Play around with it!

After I had all the squares cut, fronts and backs, I sewed across the rows.  Now, because I wasn't blogging at this point, I don't have process pictures, so I'll try my best to make them.

The first thing I did was sew each block that was made of two mini-shirts together to make a full block.  First, I sewed the two t-shirt fronts together, right sides together, with about a half-inch seam allowance (t-shirts fray alot!).  I did the same for the backs, and then pressed the seam allowances outward. 

I repeated that process, sewing the t-shirt fronts and backs together all the way across a row, making two long strips of t-shirts that would lie on top of each other.  When each strip was done, I ironed the seam allowances outward, to lie flat away from the seam.

After I had all of the rows done, I attached them to each other using the same method.  The front half of row one would be folded downward onto the top half of row two and sewed across with a half-inch seam allowance with the right sides together.  Because the seam allowances from the previous step were pressed out, if you were to look at the wrong sides, they would look something like this:

Once you've got two massive quilt-sized sheets, you line them up and attempt to sew over the edges like this:

I sewed all the way across each seam on both sides, sewing through the front, back, and both seam allowances.  The only problem is that on the back, it didn't come out quite as well.  Oh well.

I also didn't line my quilt with batting, which I could have done to make it fluffier.  To finish the edges, I simply sewed black bias tape all the way around.

Have you ever made a T-Shirt Quilt?  What process did you use?  How did it turn out?  Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

And I'm Back!

Hello everyone!

Phew! What a year this has been!

Last March, I blogged for what may have seemed like the last time.

And after that, I became homeless.
Yep, that's right; homeless.

For those of you that don't know, I had been living in a refurbished barn with several other college students owned by some great professors.  I loved it!  The community was encouraging, the couple that owned the place was compassionate, it saved me on my loans, and I had the freedom to do things like hang my own laundry, make my own meals, and personalize my closet!  Things were going great!

Then, on March 26th, a local inspector arrived at the barn.  Apparently, there had been confusion for the last few years over what township, exactly, this old barn belonged in, and since that had finally been sorted out, a friendly routine inspection was to take place.  Or so we thought.

He deemed it unlivable.  Not because there was anything wrong with it, but because the property owned by the married couple was listed as a "single family household."  They were not allowed to have others living in this massive building in the back of their land.  Nevermind that the people who owned it before them used it to house homeless.  Nevermind that they checked it out with their lawyer before purchasing the house.  Nevermind that we had nowhere else to go.  Too bad.

Needless to say, there was a lot of sudden stress.  The couple went to the college, who graciously agreed to let us live in an empty building for the remaining six weeks of the semester at a cost somewhere between room and board and the rent we were used to.

Around the same time, I realized that I had to graduate from college a full semester before I had planned to.  My fiance and I had our wedding set for December 21st, right before my last semester of college.  During that final semester, I would be student teaching, and he would be graduated, so neither of us would be immersed in college anymore, and this seemed like the least stressful time to have it, especially since I wanted a winter wedding.  However, around this time he got word that his occupation would be moving him to San Francisco.  From upstate New York, that's a long commute, and neither of us wanted our first four months of marriage to be long distance!  So I frantically applied to the school board, took three times the allowed credit load over the summer, did my student teaching in the fall, and graduated on December 14th, exactly a week before the wedding.

During the summer, I was taking enough credits that the school graciously gave me free housing, and so I worked part time at the local daycare, was thrown into another random dorm room, and worked my tail off.  For the second half of the summer, I moved back home with my parents, cleaned out all my worldly belongings (which I hadn't done since age 12), kept taking classes, and prepared to start student teaching.

During the fall, I moved into an apartment in the shady part of the city, planned a wedding, and student taught.

So here I am now, moved in to the new place in San Francisco, ready to start anew.  Crafting here I come!