Monday, January 16, 2017

Soap-On-A-Rope and Other Soapy Stuff in the Canning Kitchen

I have been wanting to make Soap-On-A-Rope for a long time.  I searched online soap making supply companies for the rope parts and found them, but there were super expensive, in my opinion anyway.  So I had to find a more cost effective solution.

I found some nylon cording at Hobby Lobby for about $1.99 or $2.99, can't remember exactly, but I was able to use a 40% coupon.  Anyway, it came in a lot of colors, but I thought basic white was the best choice, because it would go with anything.  Also it was about 2 miles long, so I'll have nylon rope for lots of future projects.

I used my basic bath soap recipe and scented it for men, using leather, sandalwood, and vanilla fragrance oils, and cedar essential oil.  I didn't add any color because the fragrance oils tend to darken the soap batter. 

I measured and marked on the liner paper where the bars would be cut so that  would know where to place the ropes.

I cut the ropes into what I thought were good lengths and slightly melted the ends and stuck them together.  I used a knife to push the ropes down into the soap batter.  I made a two pound batch of soap and got 8 bars.

I also made a batch of Goat's Milk, Honey and Oatmeal Soap to give away.  The family members who live further away had never tried my soap so I sent some of this, along with Charcoal, Tea Tree and Lavender Face Soap.

The goat's milk soap is made differently from the first one.  It is what is known as "cold process" as opposed to the soap on a rope recipe, which is "hot process".  Hot process means it is cooked until the oils and lye have saponified and excess water is cooked out.  That type of soap is ready to use right away.  That's the way great-grandma probably did it, in a cast iron kettle over an open fire.


Nowadays, we use a crock pot. 

Cold process soap is mixed and poured into molds right after it reaches "trace" (the point where the saponification process is taking place).  The excess liquid has to evaporate over time - usually 4-6 weeks.  

Goat's milk can cook when it is mixed with the lye, turning it brown, so I freeze the milk and mix it with the lye while frozen.  This eliminates the dark color.  I added local Ozark honey and finely blended organic oatmeal. to this soap.  There is no fragrance or color of any kind in this soap. The honey tends to turn it a more golden color (due to the sugar).   I used only a one pound recipe, which turned out to not be enough to my liking, because the bars turned out thin.  I lined the mold with bubble wrap, top and bottom, to give the soap a honeycomb look after unmolding.

Soap covered with bubble wrap

Below is a pic of my work space.  This is the kitchen in the "Little House".  The only problem with this house is that there is a floor joist that needs to be replaced and some rotted floor boards too and the floor has a "buckle" in it in the kitchen.  Some day I'll get around to fixing it....  but for now it works just fine for all my crafty projects.

Not shown in the pic: Canning jars and equipment are stored in the cabinets and pantry.  We use this kitchen for butchering, so butcher paper, tape, a commercial meat cutter, saws, etc. are located here, as are the four freezers belonging to the kids  (mine is in my house).  There's a wooden work table in the middle of the room.  I cover the top with freezer paper for soap making.  We also have a "plastic" folding table that we use for butchering.  I also have my soap supplies located here.  This is a perfect place to do these types of activities, because I don't have to worry about lye in the house and I can walk out and leave the mess for another day!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Hand Made Bath Tea

One of the home made Christmas presents I made this year was a "bath tea".  The teas can be made of various things, including milk.  The idea is to suspend the tea bag from the faucet while filling the tub, and/or drop one or more tea bags into the tub as it is filling.  My tea is made from botanicals, herbs, and essential oils.  I used dried calendula flowers and lavender buds (purchased from the health food store), dried rose petals, mint and clover blossoms harvested from my yard, and lavender essential oil.  I mixed up the ingredients, sprinkled on the essential oil and stored it in a jar for about a month to let the fragrance soak into all the plant products.

I had purchased the DIY tea bags at the health food store.  I bought them to make home made tea from my mint and clover blossoms.  Quite a few come in the package.  The tea bags come joined together, but perforated for easy separation.  One side is open for filling. They come with a little "tag" and string just like a regular tea bag.

Each tea bag is a regular size tea bag. The larger "family size" tea bags definitely would have been better for this purpose.  But it's what I had on hand...

So I stuffed each bag with as much tea as I could get in it.  I then heat sealed the open end.  I keep a cheap, 1 inch hair straightener in the kitchen for sealing mylar bags and other items.  After using these tea bags, I can see that I could have made my own using interfacing and stitch witchery to seal the edges, at a MUCH cheaper cost. That way I could have made the bags an size I wished.

I don't know how they worked out because I haven't received any feedback from the recipients.  These little tea bags would also be great to put in a drawer as a sachet.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Christening Gown for Baby Boy

I sell Christening Gowns on Etsy and my "niche" is that I create them from the mother's (or grandmother's) wedding gown.  I like this because it is a special way to use an expensive gown that will almost certainly not be used as a wedding gown in the future.  Also, it helps that each gown is unique so then each project is unique.  Keeps me from getting bored I guess.

Note in the picture it looks like the tucks on the bodice are uneven,
but rest assured they are all perfectly spaced and even!!

One lady wrote and asked me if I would make an ensemble for her soon-to-be-born son.  The thing was, she didn't want to use her wedding gown.  I told her, that's what I do.  No, she wanted newly purchased fabric and lace.  To further complicate matters, she was in Australia. Australia.

I tried to talk her out of it.  I said surely there's someone in all of Australia that can make it for you? She said no, in fact, there wasn't.  I told her it would be prohibitively expensive, as would the shipping (customs and all).  She didn't care.  

So, then we had to decide on fabrics.  Most people who don't sew haven't a clue as to what types of fabrics are available, what's suitable for a particular purpose, or where to buy them.  But she had an idea of what she wanted and I found it for her.  Of course, all of this was done via conversations on Etsy (on Etsy they're called "convos") so it was a bit cumbersome and took some time.  

The fabric is a beautiful sateen in a soft ecru color.  I had used the same brand of sateen to make a dress for Journey and it turned out beautiful.  Funny how using really good fabric makes a project easier to sew.

She also wanted a particular type of lace.  I sent her scads of links to online heirloom lace sellers but in the end she selected something much, much cheaper.  She had this "look" in mind and wasn't hung up on whether it was heirloom quality or not.  

She wanted lace, but no ruffles or gathers.  Lots and lots of tucks.  She was very specific about the design, including how the lace trim was to be inset in the waist seam.

She had this idea of what she wanted and it turned out just as she had envisioned it.  

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Sweatshirt to Jacket Transformation for a "Tween"

Here's yet another sweatshirt to jacket project.  I bought this sweatshirt from Nancy's Notions, along with several others, on sale.  I used the quick fitting method on this very fast jacket project.

When I went to the Quilt Festival in Houston a few years ago I bought some Fusible Stay Tape (pictured above) from Londa's Creative Threads booth, as well as some of her books.  This Fusible Stay Tape is so easy to use - it is narrow (unlike others I found) and stabilizes the knit fabric by simply fusing it (fusible on one side only) so no stay-stitching is required.  There are two types: "Knit" and "Straight".  I use the "knit" tape on necklines or curved areas.  I use the "straight"  tape on front openings (after cutting open).  Before I found this product I "tried" to stabilize with fusibles, but couldn't find anything narrow enough.  There is a LOT in each package.  I still haven't used it all yet.

Since this jacket was for a "tween" I used sweet and fun flower appliques from BunnyCup Embroidery.  It was free! It stitched out very nicely and I resized it with no problems.  It's amazing how many free designs are out there.

The brown print was a small amount  bought years ago to "audition" for baby bedding.  It was ultimately not used for that purpose and I've since used just about all of it up.  I had just enough for this project.  I didn't have quite enough for true bias tape, so I had to make due with simple foldover.  If you look closely at the neckline you can see that bias would have been better, but... I used the same fabric as a ruffle at the sleeve.

Closure detail
In this close-up of the closure you can see that I used a black hair elastic and two covered buttons.  The one on the left anchors the elastic and the one on the right is the one the elastic goes around to secure. (not sure if that even makes sense, but it's late).  I love covered buttons and they're so easy and cheap to make!

Close-up of the appliqued flowers.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Home Grown Kidney Beans

When shopping for seeds at the feed store this past spring, I saw a package of kidney bean seeds.  I've never grown them before and thought it might be a fun experiment.

Marc planted three rows of kidney beans, next to the regular bush beans.  The bean pods took a bit longer to flower and set than other varieties but otherwise, they looked very similar.

I had the idea that I would pick them as they matured and can them without having to dry, soak, cook, etc. As I said, I'd never done it before, but had this bright idea.  Turns out, that's not how it works at all.

There's really not a lot of info out there on raising these types of beans.  I'm guessing that's because not many people do it nowadays.  Everything I read said to leave the pods on the plant until dry, shell and store.  That was about it.

As a couple of beans matured, I picked them and ate them raw.  Nothing to write home about.  As I did a little more googling I learned that eating raw kidney beans will make you sick! Supposedly even a few will produce vomiting, diarrhea, etc.  I literally learned that right after I'd eaten those few raw ones.  I waited for the violet illness to set in but it didn't happen thankfully.  I'm pretty sure I'd have thrown them all out. Anyway, they must be well cooked before eating.

For the most part, all the beans were ready at once and before I knew it they were all dry on the plants.  It was a very simple harvest job - just grab the dry bean pods and dump them in a bucket for later shelling. Unlike the fresh eating beans, the dry pods are brown and stand out against the green bush, making them easy to spot.  There were a few green ones still not dry when I harvested them, so I popped out those beans and put them in the dehydrator for a bit to get good and dry before storing.

We had 3 rows about 25 feet long total, and harvested 5 pounds of beans.  That may not sound like much but again this was only 3 small rows.  The beauty of the whole thing is you drop in the seed and walk away until they're dry on the bush.  So little effort, unlike the fresh green beans, which have to be picked as they mature and canned, these can sit around until it's convenient to deal with them.  At the height of harvest and canning season, it was nice to have something that I didn't have to worry about going bad before I could deal with it.

I made a pot of chili with some the other night and they were quite good.  Maybe it's my imagination but I think they were better than store-bought.  ; )

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fun in Kindergarten

Home schooling was a family affair this past year.  Mom and Grandma taught Kindergarten (and PreSchool to little Sis). We were fortunate to have space to create a fun school room.  We painted the walls and floor, installed a white board, bulletin board and Mom created a fun life size 3-D tree. Our theme was "Owls".  We set up the play kitchen and light table.

Dad painted some vintage school desks in aqua and pink.  We found that the more modern desk/tables were preferred by the girls.  They have a larger flat surface and weren't so confining.

Aunt Dana provided a really fun language arts curriculum - "Sing Spell Read and Write".  We used colorful posters, music, songs, games and more.  We used Singpore Math for the math curriculum.  We tried to incorporate lots of fun into the lessons.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Paprika Peppers

Fresh Paprika Peppers
This year's tomato crop would probably seem large to most people, but it was a small one for us.  We had about 125 plants in all - about 1/3 of the usual number.  The first few trays of seedlings died (due to operator error).  So, since the harvest would be smaller, salsa was the number one product we wanted to put up.

I have shared the Salsa Recipe I use before, but for the last couple of years we have been adding something extra - about 1 tablespoon of SMOKED paprika.  This really is the best salsa we've ever made, and really the smoked paprika is the difference.

We have canned about 65 jars of salsa and that's got to last us till next tomato season. That's just slightly over 1 jar per week. In our minds, that's not much at all!

I had never tried smoked papriks until sister Dana picked some up at a really neat spice and meat processing supply shop called Townsend Spice in Melbourne, Arkansas, and ever since I tried it, I'm hooked.  I love it. 

I set out on a quest to make my own smoked paprika.  It seemed simple enough - find paprika pepper seeds, plant them, harvest peppers, smoke, dry, grind, etc.

The first challenge was finding paprika pepper seeds.  I only found a couple of different sources on the internet.  I ended up buying seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.  They carry two varieties, and I bought the Leutschauer Paprika Pepper.  They are supposedly originally from Hungary.  The package contained only 25 seeds and almost all seeds germinated.  The plants stayed quite small (probably because we neglected the seedlings) but produced a lot of peppers.  They are a lipstick red when ripe. 
Peppers in the dehydrator
The fresh and dried peppers are too hot for my taste, even though I remove the seeds and membranes before drying.  My next experiment will be to cook the peppers before drying them.  Cooked jalapenos don't seem nearly as hot so I am hoping this will help the paprikas as well.