Sunday 27 March 2011

Feeling Soapy!

Happy weekend, dear readers! And now for something completely different....

Behold my first batch of handmade soap for 5 years!

As a diversion from knitting, I've started to have a little reversion to the past and thrown myself back into cold process soap making. This used to be one of my major crafty obsessions from the late 1990s - just one of the many building blocks in my crafty journey through life. At some point oil painting took over as my number one obsession, not to menton knitting, and my love affair with soap was put on the back burner...

But recently a series of things have conspired to reignite my soapy urges. First of all, I used up the last of my lovely handmade bars and was filled with regret at having to revert to shop-bought soap. Then a few weeks ago I listened to the soapy episode of the iMake podcast and recalled how much fun I used to have with this, bringing evocative memories of a time when my house smelled like a fragrant pharmacy.

Finally, I discovered my intact (and delightfully anal) soaping spreadsheet, which contains my recipe calculator and detailed notes about all of my previous batches. (Sadly I was not a blogger back in my soapy days, but the spreadsheet meant that I still had a full set of records to refer to - hoorah!) This time around, I intend to supplement my spreadsheet notes for each new batch with a blog post and photos... so watch this space.

These bars are currently 'curing' to firm up a litttle and will be ready to use in a couple of weeks. They're made from a combination of olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil - mixed with sodium hydroxide and coconut milk. The yellowish colour is a result of combining olive oil with the warmed coconut milk and the deep hue of one of the essential oils. When the soap became ready for moulding, I added calendula petals for decorative effect and scented the batch with my personal favourite blend of Lavender, Ylang Ylang and Patchouli essential oils. Scent blends are a very personal thing, but all I can say is that this one makes my heart sing. Each of the oils is changed in nature by combining it with the others and, as it matures, this blend becomes reminiscent of light rain on a summer evening.

This week I've been testing the curing of this batch by using offcuts like these to wash my hands.

I've noticed that the lather is geting fluffier by the day and the soap milder. Once these offcuts are fully dried out, I'm going to try something new, by grinding them to a powder and combining with finely ground oatmeal to make a softening skin scrub... (will blog the results of that later!)

For now - if any of you are interested in giving cold process soaping a go, I'd recommend a copy of Smart Soapmaking by Anne Watson - it's a great beginners' guide that demystifies the process beautifully.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Fast and chunky

I spent last week bimbling around the heavenly lanes of Venice, with yarn far from my mind.... until I happened to pass a shop whose window display was a veritable shrine to the colour grey. (Those who know me well are aware that showing me grey yarn is like offering me crack... in fact I probably own enough grey yarn of varying fibres to knit myself a pack of life-sized huskies.)

So - even the presence of a belligerent, tourist-hating shop owner having a fag outside the shop and doing all in her power to block my entrance was not enough to hold me back from the grey fondley goodness. (And in fact she cheered up considerably once she spotted me breezing past the 'fun fibres' and heading straight for the cashmere).

But I was very good and managed to be quite restrained, coming out with nothing other than with two balls of Casma yarn - an Italian branded baby alpaca that is gloriously soft and, in this case, marled in lovely shades of grey.

It was just the thing I needed to make a birthday gift for an old friend of mine and, once I returned home, I found an excellent free pattern on ravelry to complete the project. It's called "simple braided cable scarf", by Madeleine Berrevoets.

The scarf knits quickly on 8mm needles and uses a simple cable pattern to result in an undulating shape. It's ideal for people who like a long, narrow scarf that can be wrapped around the neck several times or one that can be worn long, in the style of a lariat.

Click here for full ravelry details.

And here are a few more pics...

Tuesday 1 March 2011

My new favourite podcast

This week I'm pleased to report that I have discovered a new crafty podcast called iMake.

Having listened to the first ten episodes, it has become a favourite for various reasons. For one thing, it makes a nice change to listen to something that is about general crafts - as opposed to just knitting. It keeps making me want to try out new things, or rediscover crafts that I used to do and have forgotten about. For another, it's just rather lovely to put my headphones on during my hectic daily commute and listen to a gentle, enthusiastic voice wittering on about soothing crafty things.

The presenter is very easy to listen to, being a softly spoken Guernsey lass. So far she has talked about jewellery making, precious-metal-clay, papercrafting, sewing and knitting (and I can see that later episodes will be covering soap making and other crafts).

If you'd like to listen to her 30-second promo for the podcast, click here

To visit her craft blog and subscribe to the podcast, click here