Thursday, November 12, 2015

Adventures in Cold Process Soap Making




Conversion into soap, denoting the hydrolytic action of an alkali on fat, especially on triacylglycerols; in histochemistry, saponification is used to demethylate or reverseblockage of carboxylic acid groups, thus permitting basophilia to occur.

[sapo- (sapon-) + L. facio, to make]

(I have been absent from this little space and blogging generally.  I attribute the absence to the death of google reader and my smartphone. I do not like posting from my smart phone / tablet and at the same time, because of I have been more or less connected throughout the day, I no longer feel the need to turn on the computer in the evenings.  I still enjoy reading blogs (although it is again difficult to comment on the smart phone) and think blogs remain useful - especially when the author wants to share something more than a single photo which can be easily posted on Instagram.)

Anyway, a neat small business opened in my neighbourhood called Pitchfork Company . Pitchfork offers interesting courses such as pasta making, canning, pastry, etc. Last year, I took a course in jam making and the other night I took a course on cold process soap making. Our instructor was Rebekkah of Alchemy Pickle who has been make cold process soap for about 10 years and guided us through all the steps.

I did not know anything about cold process soap making, but after experimenting with homemade lip balm last winter I thought it would be interesting to learn the process.

The class of 12 was divided into two groups and each group had a chance to make a version of “Sherry’s Fantastic Soap” – the recipe can be found here.   The main ingredients are sunflower oil, coconut oil, cocoa butter, castor oil, olive oil, water and lye.  

The lye (lye is highly corrosive and should only be used under very strict safety precautions  ) is mixed with water and put outside to cool. As soon as the lye crystals hit water it becomes extremely hot and there are also vapors. I can’t stress enough the importance of safety (this site has excellent safety precautions – gloves, mask, goggles) and that is why it is a good idea to take a course if you are interested in cold process soap making.

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We then melted our solid oils and added them to our liquid oils.

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Once the lye water and the oils reach the correct temperatures,it is time to pour the lye water into the oils and mix -  preferably with a stick blender. The mixture will become  custard-like and will eventually start to stick (called “trace”). The blender must remain submerged so that there is no spray as the mixture is still caustic.


Once the mixture has reached the “light trace” consistency, it is time to add essential oils or colours to personalize your soap.


Our group made a cocoa cinnamon soap and the other group made a lavender soap. After adding the essential oils, the mixture can be poured into the molds to cure (we used cardboard loaf molds) – again, take strict precautions.

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If you want the change the colour to add a swirl effect or two colour – like my group - you can keep some of the mixture as reserve, add cocoa mix and pour on top. It sort of looked like mashed potatoes and gravy.

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After 24 hours the soap will harden and it can be sliced into bars with a knife.  Try not to handle the soap too much as it is still not ready to use.  The soap must cure for at least 3-4 weeks before using.


Below is my soap which has been sliced, but still needs to cure for the 3-4 week period in a safe place where air can circulate.

IMG_8951 I am not sure whether I will try this at home. I am a little anxious about the lye. It might be fun to do it as another group. Our instructor mentioned another method – melt pour (blocks shown below)– which is an easy method and no lye involved and might be better suited for the kids. I will investigate this further and report back.


Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Vintage Crafts:Nelly Bee Weaving Loom

In early July, Lily attended a quilting and weaving summer camp and expressed an interest in further weaving projects.  A couple of years ago my sister gave me a vintage 1945-ish Nelly Bee metal weaving loom. It has been sitting in my craft room waiting for some love and the timing was right.  I was so excited when I spotted some craft loops at Michaels for a couple of dollars per bag.  These “Color Zone”  loops work perfectly with the Nelly Bee loom!
This loom has been perfect for young fingers. I have scanned the instructions below.

These projects will be doll house carpets.
If you spot one of these looms at the thrifts, I highly recommend it!  Thanks for stopping by and happy crafting!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Little House on the Prairie Road Trip

Replica of the Little House in the Big Woods, birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pepin, WI
This summer, our family reunion was held in   Osceola, Wisconsin -  since we would be close to a few of the Little House historical sites, we planned a road trip to Pepin, WI; Burr Oak, IA, and Walnut Grove, MI.
If you are interested in planning a LHP road trip, I highly recommend  William Anderson’s “The Little House Guidebook.” It is a starting point for planning a LHP adventure (we have already visited Almanzo’s childhood homestead in upstate New York (you can read that post here).
IMG_8775You may also want to secure a copy of Laura’s autobiography.
IMG_8778Our first stop was Burr Oak, Iowa.  The Ingalls family lived in Burr Oak from 1876 to 1877. The family moved from Walnut Grove, MN to Burr Oak, IA  after grasshoppers destroyed the Minnesota crops.    Grace was born in Burr Oak.  This childhood home is not mentioned in any of Laura’s stories, however it is mentioned in her autobiography and William Anderson has written a book about this “lost era”.  Later in life, Laura was asked why this period was not included in her stories. Her usual response is something along the lines of  - what I wrote about in my stories was the truth, but I couldn’t write  all the truth. 
After about a year in Burr Oak, the family returned to Walnut Grove to resume farming.
In Burr Oak, the Ingalls family lived in a small room in the Masters Hotel where they owned/operated with the Steadmans. Coincidentally, our visit coincided with “Laura Days” so the small town was very crowded and there was a tour bus group visiting the site at the same time. We enjoyed a guided tour of the hotel  which covers the lower dining/living quarters, main floor, and upper guest rooms.
The Ingalls family lived in the lower room.   This is where Laura, Mary, and Carrie would have recovered from measles.IMG_8591
From Burr Oak, we drove up the beautiful Mississippi River to La Crosse, Wisconsin where we stayed overnight with the goal of visiting Pepin - the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867).   In Pepin, we visited the Laura Ingalls Museum. It is a small museum with a variety of historical records and objects covering the “Little House in the Big Woods” period.  There is a covered wagon and a model school house.  Our visit was self-guided.
About seven miles from the museum, there is a historical marker and replica cabin on the property which was owned by the Ingalls family.
After our family reunion, we headed southwest to Mankato, Minnesota which was an important center in frontier life and a town where Pa often had to make deliveries. In the television series, Mr. Edwards was synonymous with Mankato and saloons.  We stayed in Mankato one night before travelling to Walnut Grove which is about 1.5 hours from Mankato.
On route to Walnut Grove, we passed through Sleepy Eye, which in the television series, was where the Ingalls family would catch the stage coach and where Mary and Adam established their school.
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At Walnut Grove, we met up with Rachel from Nest Full of Eggs and enjoyed the museum with her two youngest. 
Of the three sites we visited, Walnut Grove has the largest collection and plenty of interactive activities for younger visitors.  I thought the museum did a fantastic job recreating the dug out home. There is also a jail cell, general store, school house and chapel.IMG_3268
In addition to many personal items belonging to the Ingalls family, the museum’s collection has a vast assortment of props and collectibles from the television series.  The mantel from the television set is shown below.
IMG_3252 A close up of the replica mantel where the initials CI were engraved and the porcelain figurine shepherdess, Ma’s dearest possession.
The museum’s gift shop did not disappoint. I picked up some patches for our blanket and a charm bracelet of the historic sites.
One of our family’s favourite characters from the television series is Miss Beadle (Charlotte Stewart).  She stitches up bags for sale in the museum gift shop and they are autographed, but they don’t smell like lemon verbena.
We concluded our visit to Walnut Grove by visiting the banks of plum creek.  The dug out home and the wood frame house are long gone, but you can share a moment at the site where Laura would have fished.  The property is actually privately-owned working acreage. 
I have posted photos on my flickr stream (Walnut Grove, Pepin, Burr Oak), but I think this post captures some of the highlights.  Literary road trips are my favourite and this was a special one.  In the future, we hope to see the other Ingalls sites in South Dakota, Kansas and Missouri – not certain when we might get there, but it is always good to have a bucket list. 
Thanks for stopping by and I hope you are having a wonderful summer!