Showing posts with label Making. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Making. Show all posts

Monday, July 25, 2016

I made soap!

And like a terrible blogger, I took exactly zero photos of the process! (Also I was doing this with my mom, sister, and a friend, and I was a little embarrassed about playing at "blogger.") We followed the recipe in a book I happened to pick up from the new release shelf at my local library. It's called The Complete Guide to Creating Oils, Soaps, Creams, and Herbal Gels for Your Mind and Body: 101 Natural Body Care Recipes Revised 2nd Edition (Back to Basics) by Marlene Jones. Quite a succinct and elegant title, no?

Anyway, I'm always up for playing around with body care and household products, just trying to make an effort to avoid harsh chemicals as much as possible, and attempt to be a bit sustainable. Whether or not I'm actually successful is debatable, but there you go. My sister had been talking about making soap for awhile, and I'd seen some classes though the timing didn't work out. There are actually a lot of local soap makers here in Milwaukee, so I even asked one of them if she did workshops, but I didn't hear back. Then when I saw this book, I decided to go for it on my own!

I ordered my supplies through Brambleberry , which I had heard about several months ago on the Craftsanity podcast. I probably could have found most of the ingredients at my local food co-op, but the lye seemed to be mail order only....or drain cleaner. Part of my goal for soapmaking was to try to soothe eczema, so I was really concerned with getting pure lye without anything else funky in it, so I just ordered everything.

While there are some things that I wasn't crazy about in this book, one thing I really liked was the description of allllll the different kinds of oils and fats that can be used to make soap, and why you might use one over another, and which combine well together. As you can see....I took notes.


I used the basic cold process recipe, but I swapped out some of the oils to include those that were good for eczema of very sensitive skin. We used a combination of calendula oil (marigold petals which I infused in olive oil for a couple of weeks before), palm kernal oil, castor oil, and vitamin E oil. We also decided to use goat's milk....because it seemed good and fancy.

As for the mixing, we knew that the lye+liquid step was the most potentially dangerous. The book warned of a "volcanic type explosion" and also that it would get extremely hot. I can't recall offhand what the exact temperature we were looking to achieve was, but the gist was that the chemical reaction could get to about 200 degrees and we needed to cool it down to something like 120. So we took our materials outside, added the lye to the liquid with our ice bath standing by. At first it seemed like nothing happened, which was good and also sort of disappointing!. As we mixed it, the milk took on a bright, egg yolk yellow color (the lye was also white to start). That was exciting! Then we put the pot in the ice bath and took its temperature...and it was something like 80 degrees. This made us a little worried that it wasn't going to work out, so we decided to heat it up on the stove to the target temperature. I have NO idea if this was the right thing to do, but we did it. Once we were at temp, we added our other oils and some lavender essential oil, and Kate took on the stirring job until we think we achieved trace. Basically it thickened up a little, but not super dramatic. By then it had been about an hour though, and we were kind of done. We poured it into silicone square molds - on a cookie sheet so you can move it later! - wrapped it in towels, and left it alone on a shelf in my mom's linen closet, because her house is so big she just has empty shelves, which is crazy.

We let the soap cure for a little over a month. I checked it once before then, and was pretty happy that it seemed to have hardened! The first bar had its inaugural bath last night, and it sudsed up pretty satisfyingly! I was pleased that it seemed pretty moisturizing as well....which was the whole point. I'll try to pop back with a picture when I get the rest of the bars out and ready to divvy up between our little coven of witches / chemists.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Trials in product photography and new listing in the shop!

Right off the bat, I am not a good photographer. In fact, I'd just go ahead and say I'm a downright BAD photographer. It's just one of those things that I can't get to click (oh lord, no pun intended) for me. For years I decided it was just my point and shoot, as everything I took came out blurry and dark, and my solution was just to not take pictures. Win! However, on the rare occasion when I could get over my awkwardness about even taking out the camera to begin with, I'd go to download them to the computer, and realize that the Christmas pictures I was saving were the first pictures there since the Christmas before. Now I'm not saying I want to photograph every waking moment of my life, but I'd like to be able to look back on more than one day a year!

So 2 years ago, I decided, well maybe it's not all me! Maybe it's the camera! I mean, what problem can't you improve by throwing money at it?! However my thrifty side said that there was no way I was dropping $4 or 500 at a DSLR for something that realistically probably wasn't going to improve my pictures, so I went to Craigslist. I managed to find a 10 year old Canon Rebel XT. Definitely not a top of the line model, but I figured it was something that I could try to learn on. So I got my camera for about $200 I think, and I proceeded to put it in auto and use it just like my point and shoot! Yeah...that didn't help a ton! I mean, things got less blurry, and I had the courage to actually use it more, but still, there are so many buttons and modes that I just didn't know anything about.

For my birthday last year, I decided to go ahead and learn this darn thing. I tried looking at a lot of tutorials online, and actually reading my manual, but it still just felt like Greek to me. I decided that the best thing would be to take a class, so that's what I asked for as my present - one of those extended learning seminars for beginners through my alma mater. This...kind of worked. I mean, at least I now kind of know what a lot of the modes do, and in certain circumstances I feel ok putting it into manual for low light situations, which seem to be all of my situations inside my house. But I'm still bad. I can't seem to get a grip on white balancing, and I end up doing a lot of adjusting after the fact in Photoshop. I think what I probably need to do, apart from practice, is sign up for an intermediate class. Maybe I'll ask for that for my birthday this year!

In the meantime, I want to try to make sure my Etsy listings don't look like total garbage. #1, I want people to look at them. But #2, I can't say in the description, "hey, this totally looks better in person! Trust me! Just buy it, then you'll see!" So I need to try to make my items look realistic and try to convey the cuteness through the screen on a plain, non-distracting background. I was reading a book that talked about a super simple construction of a light box. Just clip smooth white paper onto cardboard and set it up like a box with 3 sides, aim a lamp into it, and shoot away!


I mean, I guess it's a little better than just putting my little hats on my white desk and shooting from above. But not much. I think maybe my biggest problem was scale. Even for the baby hats I'm mainly working on, an 11x17 sheet of paper wasn't big enough so that I wasn't catching the edges of the cardboard in the shot, which just seemed to throw off the colors even with my feeble attempts at editing the photos after the fact. Also, I even went ahead and started writing up a listing for this cute little pumpkin head hat, and that little leaf just seemed so feeble! It was late, and I decided that it really needed more work before it was ready for sale, so I knew I'd have to retake the pictures anyway, so I might as well try to make them better.

I poked around a bit on Etsy to see what other people were doing. Of course the cutest and most common photo set up was the hat on an adorable baby's head. Duh! And I even have one of those lying around. However, I've taken a stance of not wanting to splash my baby all over the internet. We've not posted a single picture of her on line, even on Facebook. (We do all our family photo sharing via emails and texts.) really didn't seem like a good idea to bend my rules to sell something! Then I saw some pretty attractive shots set up either outside, or in a little vignette somewhere in the house. I opted against an outdoor option because I work for a living and most of my spare time - when I do this stuff - is in the dark. So somewhere in the house it is!

We have espresso colored dining chairs and off-white curtains, so I thought that might be a nice and somewhat consistent background I could use for most of my items.

Except, well, reflection. No matter where I aimed my lamp I just got this hot spot on the not-leather leather-ish fabric of the chair. And then I thought....wait....couldn't I just take that curtain and use it like a photo backdrop?


Yeah, it's still way less good than a professional would do. I think ultimately if I keep this up with any level of success, my best bet would be to swap props for photos and have a pro shoot my knits. But this is not that time, and if we're going to go, we're going to go grass roots.

Does anyone have any other tips for product photography that a total photography neophyte like me could try to pick up?

And also, what do you think of the new hat? I added a second, larger leaf that I think balances it out a little. I can't wait to see my little one sporting it all next month!!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Classic Halloween

It is my personal opinion that the most classic first Halloween costume is....the pumpkin head! So maybe it's not technically the first around here, but last year some of us were too tiny and too sleepy to even bother with an actual costume. So now that we have a little walker (!!!) on our hands, it's officially time for the first real costume!

I have great memories of my mom making the most unique and special Halloween costumes for us when we were growing up. I mean, I think I was the only kid in town with a pink and purple unicorn costume. Yeah, she let us pick out our own costumes, lol. So of course I'm pretty pumped to carry on the tradition!

I'm thinking I'm going to get this pattern and make this sweet little hat instead of the beanie that comes in the pattern. Then she can wear it all month long! (and plus how cute would a little duck or ladybug be next year?!)

And of course, I was so darn impatient that I couldn't help but cast on for the hat already! Which is pretty silly because there is no way I'm going to have enough yarn to finish. We'll see how this goes...

(seriously...if anyone knows how to rotate these phone photos....)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Back in business!

Ok, well I did it. I reopened my Etsy shop! I'd been on the edge about it, which basically means I'd already decided to do it because if I've started talking about it out loud it won't take much to push me to just go ahead with it. So when my good friend Courtney told me that yep, she still wanted a couple of my baby elf hats, I felt like the time was right. If you're going to reopen, what better push than a sale? Those funny little hats are fun and quick to make, and they were one of my best sellers. True story, I thought they were a little weird at first, but everyone else seemed to like them so I went with it. I made a rookie mistake in making one in hot pink and white for a woman who DEFINITELY wanted one, and totally never paid for it. Derp. I mean, it's a cottage industry (ba dum cha) and it's just me, so it's not like I'm going to have stock sitting around. I mean yeah, I knit for fun, but not so I can have piles of unused baby hats, right? So I got sick of looking at this sad hot pink reminder of my lack of business knowledge, and my baby needed a hat, so I put it on her last year and we ran some errands. And wouldn't you know, we were stopped by just about every 3rd person to gush over how adorable her hat was? So now those little striped hats hold a special place in my heart. :)

Anyway, if you're out there, I'd love for you to stop by the shop, or let me know in the comments if there's anything you think would be a good addition! I'm on a bit of a roll, and I need projects to keep my hands busy!

(and oh my lord, what is it about iphone photos that simply will not rotate properly when I bring them into blogger! How annoying! Almost as annoying as the ridiculously low quality of my photo work lol, but I basically took this just to let Courtney know they were ready.)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Owl hat

I finished my little owl hat! And I can't figure out how to rotate my lovely iphone photograph! Oh well. My dad thinks it's ridiculous, but I had it on the baby for a little while yesterday morning, because it was actually cool enough that I thought her little bald head would be cold, and the very first person we saw totally gushed over how cute it was. Now to just get her to keep it on her head!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Getting back in the swing

I'm feeling better than I have in awhile, and with feeling better apparently comes the desire to create again. It's been 6 months since I really made much of consequence, and it feels good to stretch those muscles again. I should also stretch my sore neck, but hopefully that will be remedied by apparently long overdue pillow shopping this weekend. I made, and didn't mess up too horribly from the vision in my mind, a playhouse tent canopy deal that I think is pretty cool. And now I'm working on a winter hat for the wee one for this winter. I think it will be an owl, and it will be gray because I like gray and I had some on hand. And when I get the itch to start something I have to start it rightthissecond. Which is why it's crocheted and not knitted like I intended because I didn't have any correctly sized circular needles. So. 

It's nearly September which means its nearly fall which is my favorite. I have grand plans of making a pumpkin head Halloween costume, wee mittens with a mitten string (do you remember those?!), and many quilts. Can I quilt? Well not really though I did make a king sized one a few years back for our bed which I don't hate and hasn't fallen apart.We'll see I suppose. 

I'm undecided if I'll reopen the etsy shop. It boggles my mind that people actually want to pay for stuff that I've made, but a few people did last year so maybe I will. It's flattering for sure but crazy as I'm certainly no expert at anything and what do I know anyway. In any case it was quite lovely to take my little project over to the park during lunch to get some fresh air and listen to the rumble of bikes - darn Harley fest. Glad I brought my headphones!