Archive for the ‘handmade’ Category

New(ish)! Lavender Tea Tree Charcoal Handmade Soap

Newish because I added it to my shop last summer. I haven’t shared all the yummy goodness of it here, though.

I’ve wanted to make a soap with activated charcoal for a while. Traditionally, activated charcoal is used to draw out impurities. I’m not sure if that quality carries over to the soap due to the fact that the lather is rinsed away fairly quickly. It definitely adds a kind of soft, creamy feel to the lather and a gorgeous, deep marbled grey color to the soap. This is most impressive after one or two uses when the water has polished the soap. So pretty!

https://www.etsy.com/listing/243788831/lavender-tea-tree-charcoal-artisan-soap?ref=shop_home_feat_1

While it can be used as a hand or body soap, the activated charcoal made me take it in a facial soap direction. I love my Tea Tree Oil facial soap, but wanted to change it up a bit, so I added lavender essential oil as the main note with the tea tree oil as a mellower, supporting note. I think the reduction of tto in this soap makes it a bit milder than my Tea Tree Oil soap as well. Both essential oils are thought to have beneficial properties for your skin, and they smell lovely together.

My Lavender Tea Tree Charcoal Soap is in stock in my Etsy shop. My Tea Tree Oil Soap is currently sold out. Look for more soon. 🙂

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Quick Drawstring Bag Tutorial or How to Reuse Your SubEarthan Cottage Soap Wrapping

I wrap my soaps in fabric because it looks nice, it allows the soap to breathe (read here for why), and because it feels better than plastic. I often wonder what happens to the wrapping. I’m sure there are some that toss it. I know of one person who collects the fabric for quilts. For those of you who, like me, don’t want to throw away something that could be useful but don’t know what to do with it, I have a tutorial for a drawstring pouch, just for you.

This is done with the wrapping from one of my soaps, but you could make it in any size you like.

Materials
Cloth wrapper from soap (roughly 8×11 inches)
Jute string from soap (about 29 inches)
Thread

Tools
Needle or Sewing machine
Safety pin or Bodkin
Scissors
Iron

First, iron your fabric flat. Then, fold down a long edge about 3/4 of an inch to one inch and press. This is for the casing. It doesn’t have to be super precise.

Sew a straight seam along the bottom of the flap to form the casing. All the sewing can be done by hand or machine. I have no time or patience, so I choose machine. Fold your material in half with right sides together like a book.

The fold is at the bottom of this photo.

Next, starting just below the casing seam, sew down the side and across the bottom. I use anywhere from a 1/4 to 1/2 inch seam allowance for this. Again, it doesn’t have to be precise.

 With scissors, clip the bottom corners, being careful not to cut your stitching. You could probably skip this step, but it helps the corners look square and crisp. Turn your bag right side out.

Now it’s time to thread the string. Tie one end of the string to a safety pin, large paper clip, or attach a small bodkin. This makes it easier to work it through the casing. Thread it through the casing, safety pin first. 

Once you get the string to the other side, remove your safety pin or other tool and adjust the string so that the ends are even.

 Knot the ends together once or twice to keep it from coming out.

Ta-da! It’s done! Perfect for organizing your purse, storing jewelry or other small items, or as a small gift bag.

Or holding your favorite bar of soap.

Tutorials are always a little complicated to write because it’s easy to overlook small steps in things you do frequently. If something is unclear, please ask. 🙂

If you have any other creative uses for a SubEarthan Cottage soap wrapper, I would love to hear it!

Proper Care and Feeding of Your Bar Soap

One of my peeves is soggy, mushy bar soap. One, it’s gross. Two, it makes a mess. Three, it’s a waste of soap to let it melt away in a dish rather than being used. There are a few ways to prevent the mush and have a long-lasting bar of soap.

The biggest enemy of soap is moisture, so the key to a long lasting bar of soap is to keep it as dry as possible. All soap requires some liquid as an ingredient. The trick is to keep it to a minimum and allow it to cure properly. The longer a soap cures, the more moisture will evaporate and result in a harder bar. This is one reason I wrap my soaps in cloth: the cloth allows the soap to continue to harden even after it’s wrapped.

One thing you can do at home is to allow your soap to harden is to store it away from the humid bathroom and, if it is packaged in plastic or other non-breathable material, unwrap it. You can take advantage of fragrant soaps by storing them in someplace like a linen closet or dresser drawer. That way, you’ll scent your linens or clothes while hardening your soap.

Once you’re ready to use your soap, consider where you put it. The absolute worst place is in the shower where the water will hit it continuously. Observe where the water flows and use a soap dish out of the water’s path. If you don’t mind an extra step, take it out of the shower when not in use. Personally, I don’t do this or I would probably forget to grab it on my way in and have to step out dripping to get it.

Finally, the most important thing you can do to make your soap last is to let it dry out between uses. To accomplish this, you need a soap dish or surface that allows proper drainage. The best option is something that raises the soap up and allows water to drip away and air to circulate under the bar of soap. Something like this is good for a handmade option. If you already have a soap dish you like that doesn’t drain well, I’ve found spiky plastic soap savers similar to this in packs of two at the dollar store. You can use them with a soap dish or alone on the counter. Depending on the shape of your soap, you can also rest the soap up on it’s side rather than flat. This doesn’t allow the soap to dry as well on that edge, but it does limit the surface area that stays damp. I’ve used all of the above methods to allow my soap to dry and have had success with each. I’m sure there are others I haven’t tried.

Nobody likes to see money washed down the drain. Whether you buy your soap at a supermarket or handmade from a soap maker like me, I hope these tips help you to get the most out of your soap.

Bar vs. Liquid Soap

Over the past few decades liquid hand soap and body wash have gained popularity over bar soaps. Bar soaps have gotten a bad reputation for being dirty and drying. While we’re pretty solidly team bar soap now, fifteen years ago we may have had one or two lonely bars sitting dry and cracked in soap dishes while bottles of the liquid variety cluttered the tub and counters. As with any personal care product, needs vary and it’s important to find what works for you.

Before I start the comparison, I should mention that not all soaps, bar or liquid, are created equally. Many things sold as soap are actually synthetic detergents, sometimes called syndets. To be a true soap, the product needs to be a fat or oil added to an alkali (lye) to form soap salts, glycerine and sometimes excess fats or alkalis. Some find syndets harsher on their skin while others actually find them to be gentler. True soap is what I know, so that’s what I’m referring to unless I say otherwise.

Cleanliness

Since soap’s primary function is to clean, let’s start there. My searching has found many references to a 1988 study where e.coli and another contaminant were put on a bar of soap then subjects washed their hands with the e.coli soap. When their hands were tested afterward, the e.coli hadn’t transferred to their hands. One such article can be found here http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/10/science/10qna.html?ref=science&_r=0.

My personal, non-scientific thoughts: Liquid soap requires a dispenser of some sort. Unwashed hands have to touch said dispenser (unless it’s an automatic dispenser). The dispenser itself doesn’t get washed after each use, so some bacteria may be transferred to your hands when you use the dispenser. They will most likely be washed away when you wash your hands.

Likewise, bar soaps are touched with unwashed hands. The process of rubbing your hands over the bar with it under running water for a few seconds to create lather probably removes some of the bacteria. Properly washing your hands removes the bacteria from your hands as shown in the above study.

My verdict: They will both get you clean, so use what you like.

Drying

Before delving into natural, handmade soaps, when I thought of bar soap I either imagined “manly” deodorant soaps or the “lye soap” my granny talked about burning her scalp when she was little. Ouch! While the soap my granny knew would have been natural and possibly handmade, if it burned, it was not formulated properly for cleaning people. Back to my brief lesson on soaps vs. syndets, a soap with excess alkalis would burn. This might be okay for heavy house cleaning purposes, but not for personal use.

Most all soapmakers, myself included, formulate their soaps to both fully bond the lye and leave a “buffer” of unsaponified oils to protect your skin. This is known as superfatting. When done properly, you won’t feel the oil, but your skin will feel clean and hydrated, not dry.

Another factor with natural soaps, whether liquid or bar, is that they should contain glycerine as it is a natural by-product of saponification. Glycerine is a humectant, meaning that it attracts water. This helps your skin feel hydrated. Unfortunately, the glycerine is sometimes removed to be used in other products. This can leave your skin feeling dry.

Syndet bars and liquids often contain added moisturizers to hydrate the skin. Some people are sensitive to the detergents and other ingredients, which can cause dryness and other irritation.

My verdict: It depends. Everyone’s body chemistry is a little different, so what works for me may not work for you. Personally, I am one who reacts badly to syndets. If you are looking to avoid syndets, either because you react poorly to them or because you want a more natural product, it seems easier to find natural soaps in bar form. Natural liquids are becoming more available, though.

Waste

Waste is a subject more take into consideration, either from a frugal or a “green” standpoint. Liquid soaps generally come in plastic containers. Some are recyclable depending on what recycling programs are available in your area. Bar soap can be unwrapped or wrapped in a variety of materials. Even if the wrapping is plastic, the amount of plastic is much smaller than the plastic bottles used for liquid soap.

As far as the product itself, with a bar of soap, you tend to use just as much product as necessary. With liquids, I find it harder to get just enough. This is especially true with pump dispensers. I usually find they give enough soap for at least two people to use.

My verdict: Bar soap is the clear winner if you are looking to reduce waste.

All in all, the deciding factor should be what works for you. If you’ve decided to give bar soap a second chance and would like to learn more about the soaps I make, please visit my shop. I’m also more than happy to answer any questions you may have via this contact form or at csloan@subearthancottage.com

Kombucha Questions

Here’s a few common questions about kombucha. I’ve answered them based on my research and personal experience.

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How much should I drink?

If you’ve never had kombucha before, you’ll want to start slowly. Kombucha can have a detoxifying effect that can be unpleasant if you rush it. It is recommended to start with about an ounce per day at first and gradually increase until you reach a comfortable level for you. If you notice any ill effects cut back or stop for a few days to let your body catch up. Drinking lots of water can help, too.

Of course, you should always listen to your body. If you feel like you can’t tolerate kombucha don’t push it. There are plenty of other ways to get probiotics. Also, I’m not a doctor, and the above might not apply to everyone depending on your personal health. If you have any concerns, definitely consult your doctor.

Can I use metal utensils when making kombucha?

Metal tea kettles for boiling the water are fine. It’s fine to stir the tea and sugar together with a metal spoon before adding the SCOBY. What you want to avoid is the SCOBY coming into contact with metal as that can damage the SCOBY. Even then, I have heard very brief contact is ok, such as when cutting up a giant SCOBY. I prefer to peel apart the layers and avoid metal touching my SCOBYs, though.

Can I use honey/stevia/coconut sugar/some other sweetener?

The sugar is food for the SCOBY and plain white sugar is recommended because it is easy for the SCOBY to digest. I have heard of some people having success with other sugars, but I haven’t tried it myself. If you want to try another form of sugar, I would start with a small batch and keep another SCOBY in a tea/white sugar brew as backup.

Stevia or other zero calorie sweeteners will not work because they don’t provide food for the SCOBY.

Can I use flavored teas?

Not for the main brew. You can use flavored teas to add flavor in a second ferment.

Can I use decaf teas?

This is another one where I’ve heard conflicting information. Most say not to use decaf tea. If you want to try decaf, as with different sugars, I would start with a small batch and keep another SCOBY in a regular tea/white sugar brew as backup.

My SCOBY looks funny. Is it bad?

Most SCOBYs look funny. They can be smooth and creamy colored or have air pockets and brown spots. The bottoms usually have brown stringy tentacle things hanging down. New SCOBYs grow on top of older ones until they look like a stack of slimy pancakes. (Eww.) All of this is normal, and there’s probably a million variations I haven’t described.

There are two main things to watch for: mold and black. If your SCOBY molds, it will look like blue-green dusty mold, just like what grows on bread. If you get mold, throw it all out and start over.

Black means the SCOBY is dead or dying. Toss it.

My kombucha tastes like vinegar. What happened?

Kombucha is supposed to taste vinegary, but if it’s too strong you can always mix it with something like juice to make it more palatable. You can also use super-vinegary kombucha in place of apple cider vinegar in recipes. If it’s straight vinegar with no sugariness left, you could use it as a hair rinse or for household cleaning where you would use ACV.

To make future batches less vinegary, there’s a couple of things to try.

1. Kombucha brews faster in warmer weather. If it’s been hot, try a shorter brew time and/or increasing the amount of sugar in the brew.

2. If your SCOBY is getting super thick, split off some layers. More SCOBY = shorter brew time.

My kombucha is too sweet. What happened?

The easiest fix is to let it brew longer. If it’s cold, moving your jar to a warmer location may help. I think the ideal range is somewhere around 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. 

You should also check the condition of your SCOBY. If it is turning black, you’ll want to replace it.

Should I store my SCOBYs in the refrigerator?

No. You want to avoid extreme temperatures because they can damage the SCOBYs. The best range is between 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit.

To store your extra SCOBYs, place them in a lidded jar with at least enough kombucha for them to float and store in a cool-ish location, such as a pantry or shelf out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources.

Find more of my kombucha posts here:  http://mycrazycottage.blogspot.com/search/label/Kombucha

Natural Furniture Polish

I have quite a bit of finished wood furniture that I love, except when it comes to polishing. There’s always some sticky fingerprints or a glob of something unidentifiable (thank you, Beckett). Most commercial polishes do okay on relatively clean surfaces, but don’t do a great job on the really messy stuff. Sometimes I’d spray some polish right on the spots, polish the rest and hope the globs loosened up enough to wipe away. Once in a while it worked. Other times it resulted in a ring around the spot while the sticky may or may not have loosened at all.

I finally did a little research on homemade furniture polish recipes. Here’s the one I use.

Ingredients:

3 parts olive oil
1 part vinegar
Splash lemon juice (optional)

Combine everything in a spray bottle and shake to mix. Some recommend storing it in the refrigerator or only making what you’ll use in a day. I make about 1-2 cups worth at a time  and keep it at room temperature. So far I haven’t had problems with it spoiling.

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For light polishing, I spray the rag and wipe. For heavier cleaning, I spray directly where needed. I have never had it leave a ring, and it buffs nicely without leaving a residue. It works equally well on furniture with a matte stain and pieces with a high gloss varnish.

I love that this recipe uses things I have around the house and costs less than even the cheap commercial polishes.  I also like knowing that it is completely nontoxic. I can let Beckett help without worrying that it might hurt him if he sprays it in his face. Or my face. Seriously, you never know with this kid. 

You could probably customize it with a few drops of essential oils, too. I think something citrus-y would be nice. Also, if you don’t have olive oil, you could try swapping it with whatever you have on hand.

Give it a try and tell me what you think. If you’d like more “green” cleaning options check out my handmade laundry products at http://www.Zibbet.com/SubEarthanCottage. Right now all laundry products are 20% off.

New this week at SubEarthan Cottage

In case you missed them, here are my latest shop creations:

Holly Berries Handmade Treat or Gift Drawstring Bags

Teacups and Pots Print Green Lacy Handmade Half Apron

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