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.

Friday, July 1, 2016

So 2016 is for classes apparently

I took my first knitting class a couple of weeks ago, and now I basically want to take all the classes. I attended a sweater class taught by Ann Budd (of the "Knitter's Handy Book of...." series) at Wild Haven here in Milwaukee, and I loved it. This week I got an email from Joann's about a free Craftsy class, and I snapped up - and actually watched part of! - the drafting class by Jacee Boggs Faulkner that I've heard about over and over again. (That's drafting for spinning, not architectural drafting!) Now this morning I read Susan B Anderson's latest post, and I am SO tempted by her double feature class at the Knitcircus retreat this fall in Madison, Wisconsin. I'm on a self-imposed spending freeze right now....but it's only $120 to take in a whole day of classes from a teacher who I think is a pretty big deal.....Decisions, decisions.

I was lucky enough to have dinner the night after the Ann Budd class with a yarn rep, Ann's event coordinator, the owner and other teachers at Wild Haven, and Ann herself. The rep, Kim Lui, had an interesting question to pose to the group. She was wondering how you go about creating an engaging yarn shop that keeps people coming back again and again, and how classes can be a part of that. I feel a little silly even considering myself a "teacher" because I've taught all of one class. My second session was cancelled. We aren't sure if it's summer thing - maybe people aren't up for learning to knit as the weather warms up? - or if it was an over-saturation thing, as maybe monthly 101 sessions are too any case, it was a really interesting discussion. I have a lot of ideas, but am a little unsure how to implement them...especially since it isn't MY shop. I mean, I like it there, but I don't run the place! Oh well, we will re-evaluate this fall, and for now I'm happy to take all the knitting time for myself!

I didn't manage to finish my sample sweater in class, but am nearly finished with it now. Having that in person demonstration, I'm finding, was invaluable. I went to pick up the underarm stitches on the sleeve, and it was a breeze compared to some of my past attempts. (also Ann commented on my instagram post - a brush with knit celebrity!)

I find the same thing when I manage to make it to knitting group - I can learn so much by watching someone demonstrate a technique. I've mentioned before that I'm mostly self-taught, and I'm surprising myself with how much I like in-person learning. Maybe it's an evolution, or a season in life where I just don't have the time to search down multiple tutorials online. The act of paying for a class and getting my butt in the chair and getting as much out of that time as I's resonating with me right now.

I'm hopeful that I'll finish the sweater this weekend. I actually knit the whole body, but had a little brain glitch, as we modified the sizing to get a lot accomplished in class. Basically my stitch count works for 6-12 months....but the length chart I was following was for a child size! I've more or less knit a sweater dress that will go down to the knees. I have finished the sleeves, and will rip the body back to a more typical length. Fingers crossed for few mistakes. I tested about 3 bind off's on the first sleeve, before landing on the sewn bind off, which Ann recommended in the first place. Last night I bound off the second sleeve first with a too tight i-cord bind off. I ripped it back and did a lovely, looser i-cord bind off. And yet....the cuff still wasn't as stretchy as....or matching....the first can that be? Oh yeah landed on a SEWN BIND OFF. back again, complete sewn bind off, put self to bed.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Classes are in session!

Remember how I said I was going to teach a knitting class? Well, I did it! I had 5 lovely students, which was a full class and a really good number to manage. All of them were brand new knitters, except one woman who had learned to knit as a child from an aunt. She thought she didn't remember anything, but it was amazing to watch how quickly it came back to her! Muscle memory is a magical thing. And it was such a great experience that I'm doing it again! I've got 2 more dates lined up on the calendar - both Wednesday evenings, May 11 and June 1. Here is the link if you are interested:, or you can give Kate a call at 414-744-0009 to sign up.

So that first class. I wasn't really nervous per se, but I did spend several days ahead of time creating a little packet of basic information about the essential stitches, along with some swatches and step by step photos that I hope were helpful to everyone when they got home.

I also wrote up my version of the pattern that I mentioned in my last post. It probably wasn't strictly necessary, but I wanted to make sure that I was super familiar with it, rather than referring them to something written by someone else. The idea was that I really wanted to give them something useful that they could make with just one skein of yarn that wasn't just a scarf. That long strip of knitting can feel really endless when you are just getting started!

Despite my preparations, man, it's hard to go all the way back to the mind of a beginner. I've been knitting for about 8 years now, and while I definitely don't consider myself an expert (I'm not sure how you can ever consider yourself an expert in an area with as much breadth and depth and history as knitting!), it's been such a long time since I was a beginner that I took for granted that not everyone knows what a "cast on" might be! I'm very grateful that this first round of students was pretty kind to me and was confident enough to ask those questions - otherwise I'd have kept talking thinking that they were with me!

I seriously give major props to those who jump right in and take a class as a very new beginner. It's so not the way I learn, but I think that it would be SO much easier. I tend to hunker down with a pile of books (you should see the pile surrounding my laptop right now, about a whole variety of subjects...the library is my happy place!) or videos. I guess I like to get frustrated on my own? I'll definitely say, that for some things, there is just no substitute for in person instruction. When I started spinning, I did my usual. I got a ton of books, read a lot online, watched some you tube. But every time I would sit down at the wheel? Frustration, big clumps of fiber going through the wheel, not enough fiber going through which led to horrible over-twisted bits of rope, stress. It was just terrible. I was about ready to throw in the towel, but I ended up taking a 2 hour class at Wool and Cotton Co, and it was a world of difference. Something about watching someone make the motions right next to me, and stand over my shoulder to see what I was doing and make just enough adjustments to my technique....I swear within about an hour I was going from making horrible ropey broken bits of twine to something that resembled yarn a person might knit with. I guess I just like to learn these lessons the hard way!

But speaking of learning, I've learned a ton from teaching that first group of knitters - yes, they were all knitting by the end of the first class! Everyone got there by the end, but I know I want to introduce certain things a little differently next time, and I want to have some swatches sort of pre-set so that I can more easily demonstrate knitting in the round vs. in the flat.

I was thrilled to see one of those ladies at open knit night the following week. It's so cool, thinking that I could be part of someone's "knitting journey." I know that it doesn't quite click for everyone right away. I had several clumsy attempts before I made that first "dishrag" out of acrylic yarn while watching and re-watching a DVD I checked out from the library (it's Learn to Knit, vol. 1 if you're interested!) (omg, why didn't anyone tell me that you shouldn't make dishrags out of acrylic yarn!) before knitting really STUCK for me. That was back in 2009. Who knows why that thing inspired me to keep going. Maybe it was just that it actually resembled what it was supposed to....lord knows it didn't actually absorb any water! I don't think I even have it anymore. In any case, I fell down the rabbit hole, and I'm happy to keep falling. I feel like I've ticked off a ton of my goals - cables, charts, sweaters, socks, even designing a few patterns myself. I've got colorwork on the horizon...sometimes I practice continental knitting for a row here or there to try to get ready. (I don't know why that's so hard for me - I learned to crochet long before I learned to knit, so it's not like I've never tensioned yarn with my left hand before!) That's what I love about knitting. It's as much or as little as you need it to be. The simple, meditative repetition of pure garter or stockinette dishrags or socks, or the full attention absorption of complicated lace or cables, it can really always be there for you. You can totally zone out and let your hands work out the stress of your day, or you can throw yourself into complex masterpieces of intricate lace or unusual construction. And at the end of the day, you'll probably at least have warm feet. :)

Oh and if you're interested, I went ahead and added the pattern that I'm using for the 101 class for free on Ravelry. There are links below to both the pdf itself as well as the Ravelry link. Please feel free to take a look and let me know what you think!

download now via Ravelry

pdf download here: