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Sewing Machines

I’m a bit of a sewing machine hoarder. If you don’t count the one that is Finn’s, I have four sewing machines. That includes my sewing and embroidery machine combo, but not my two sergers. Also not including the knitting machine, because it knits.

While I’m certainly not an expert, I do have my preferences. I would take a well-built, old metal machine over a new machine any day. Mainly because when they break, I tend to do this:

Sewing Machines- Beige Vintage Montgomery Ward Signature.

That is my first sewing machine. It is a Montgomery Ward’s Signature sewing machine from the 60s, I think. I got it from my mom who got it from my grandma. I can’t remember what was wrong with it that time, but it sews nicely now.

The Signatures at that time were made by a Japanese company that specialized in industrial machines, I think for sewing feed sacks. That translates to a heavy duty, domestic sewing machine that will sew through anything. It also has a set of cams. Cams are interchangeable disks that allow it to sew pretty embroidery stitches.

My next sewing machine is another, slightly older Montgomery Ward’s Signature. This one was rescued from a lot of machines that were destined for the junk heap.

Sewing Machines- Blue Vintage Montgomery Ward Signature.

I love the blue color! It reminds me of cars from that era.

Like the other Signature, it uses cams. You can see them in the little accessory box. I actually like this one a little better than the other. It sews the prettiest straight stitch out of all my machines and has a cam that stitches a row of teeny tiny hearts!

I’ve never actually made anything on it, though. Unlike the other, this one is in a portable case, which is hilarious. I lift my 40+ pound four year old all the time and lifting that machine is still a struggle. Since I don’t have a dedicated place for it, I don’t have the motivation to lug it out.

My workhorse is a 90s model Kenmore, made by Janome. The case is plastic, but all the internal workings are metal. I know, because I’ve had to open it up a few times now to fix the hook timing. (Posts on that here and here.)

That is the best photo I could find of it not undergoing repairs. I love that machine because it isn’t as quirky as the Signatures. It also tells me how to thread it right on the machine, and when it comes to sewing machines, threading is half the battle.

My final machine is the Brother SE400 embroidery combo. I keep it set up as an embroidery machine because I have three other sewing machines. Also, it scares me, so I want to risk messing it up as little as possible. I haven’t had it opened up beyond the bobbin area, but I’m guessing there’s some plastic, and I know there are scary electronic components. With the other machines, I am freer to play because I know that if something happens, it’s not likely to be catastrophic. With this, something like a timing issue would definitely mean a big repair bill.

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Playing with fonts on my new toy.

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But, it makes pretty embroidery, has loads of decorative and utility stitches as a sewing machine, and has the most awesome needle threader I have ever seen. Seriously. Finn’s machine has a needle threader that I will never use, because it is complicated and I stabbed myself with it one time. Brother’s needle threader is like magic. It is especially handy when embroidering with multiple colors. Color changes take mere seconds.

Just to show I’m not as much of a hoarder as I could be, here is a photo of the White machine I couldn’t get working and sold on craigslist.

Sewing machines - White Rotary

Then, while I was waiting for the buyers to show up, I decided to play with it a bit and figured out what was wrong. I hope they love it, or at least open it up to look at from time to time. Sigh.

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OMG! There’s lye in handmade soap!

For those unfamiliar with making soap, seeing lye, aka sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide as an ingredient in handmade soap can be a little scary. Today I thought I’d share why it’s in there and why it’s nothing to scare you away from handmade soap.

The basic chemistry of soapmaking

From the Wikipedia page on Saponification:
Saponification is the hydrolysis of an ester under basic conditions to form an alcohol and the salt of a carboxylic acid (carboxylates). Saponification is commonly used to refer to the reaction of a metallic alkali (base) with a fat or oil to form soap. Saponifiable substances are those that can be converted into soap. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saponification

The basic soapmaking process involves adding a solution of lye and water or some other liquid to oils. The lye reacts with the oils to make soap (saponification). Lye is necessary for saponification to occur and is therefore used in making all soap. In other words, if there wasn’t sodium hydroxide (potassium hydroxide for liquid soap) , aka. lye involved in making a product, it’s not soap.

Is there lye in the finished soap?

Short answer: No, absolutely not. Assuming the maker’s calculations are correct, all of the lye reacts with the oil, thus leaving no trace of the lye in the final product. Because of this, you will often see terms such as “Saponified Coconut Oil” or “Sodium Cocoate”. Both terms refer to coconut oil that has reacted with lye to saponify.

Many soap makers, including myself, also take a small discount in the amount of lye used. This adds a cushion to further ensure that there are no traces of lye in the final product. It also produces a milder bar without sacrificing the cleaning properties of the soap.

tea tree oil soap: no more lye

A word about labeling

When labeling soap, you can either list the starting ingredients or list the end products. So, some soapmakers’ labels will list things like “lye (or sodium hydroxide), olive oil, coconut oil,” etc. Some will list “saponified coconut oil, saponified olive oil,” etc. Others choose to list ingredients as “Sodium Olivate, Sodium Cocoate,” etc. All mean the same thing.

Personally, I find listing the starting ingredients simpler and more easily understandable. It does mean that my labels list lye or sodium hydroxide, which might seem scary if you don’t know that there are no longer traces of it in the finished product.

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Want to be Featured?

Want to be featured

Want to be featured?

In the past, I often featured handmade or vintage shops on Fridays. Over the years, the world of crafting and blogging has changed dramatically. I would love to resume Feature Fridays, but with a broader scope.

Handmade shop and websites are still welcome. I also want to feature guest writers sharing tutorials, tips, advice, recipes, etc. Categories that I feel are a good fit for this blog are crafting, sewing, sustainability, refashioning, healthy living, parenting, hair and beauty tips for busy moms, homeschooling and homesteading. I am open to other topics as well, so if you are interested but don’t quite fit into one of the above categories, please contact me anyway with your idea.

Guest posts will be promoted across my social media sites frequently throughout the week they are published and then periodically after.

Handmade shop/website features

For handmade shop/website features, answer the questions in the following list and email them to csloan@subearthancottage.com. I will contact you before your shop is featured and if any clarification is needed. You can give as much or a little info for each section as you are comfortable with sharing. Be sure to include links to your shop, web page and blog, if you have them. If you sell your products in a brick and mortar store and would like to include that info, you may include that as well.

I also choose a favorite item from your shop on the week that you’re featured and briefly tell why I like it. The first image from your shop for both your favorite item and my favorite item will be included in the blog.

  • Name and Business Name
  • Tell us a little about yourself and your business.
  • What made you get started in your business?
  • Anything else you’d like to share?
  • Tell us about your favorite item listed in your shop.
  • Links to your shop, website, blog, etc.
  • Email address (This will NOT be published)

Guest posts, tutorials and everything else

Please contact me at csloan@subearthancottage.com with your idea. If you already blog, a link to your blog or site where your writings are published is also helpful. Newbies are welcome, too. I’m also not opposed to reposts if they are a good fit and your own work.

If I think your idea is a good fit for SubEarthan Cottage, I will let you know and we will work out the details from there.

Matisse Creativity Mug Mugs featured
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New Year Goals for 2020

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! I’ve never been one for making resolutions. For some reason, with resolutions, it seems like anything but perfection is a failure and an excuse to give up. Setting goals, while essentially the same thing, seems to work better. With goals, it’s expected that you’re working toward something. It doesn’t seem so all-or-nothing like with resolutions. With that in mind, I decided to set and share some of my New Year’s goals for SubEarthan Cottage.

Goal 1: Move toward more eco-friendly packaging.

I already wrap my soap in fabric that can be reused or recycled and only print packing slips when requested. Some of my other items, though, like the wax melts are in plastic containers. They are recyclable, but I would like to find ways to minimize the amount of plastic. Even better, I would like to find suitable containers that are easier to recycle or compostable.

I like packaging my bath salts in glass because it is reusable, recyclable and has a nice presentation. At the same time, glass is heavy and fragile, requiring more packaging to ship safely. I may not move away from glass entirely, but I would like to find a lighter, more durable option that is still practical and eco-friendly.

Goal 2: Don’t let perfection stop progress.

This is kind of a subcategory of my first goal. I’ve been hesitant to offer as many new varieties of wax melts and bath salts due to the packaging concerns. I already have the cups and jars I currently use, though, and not using them is wasteful. Better to use what I have and phase them out in favor of better options rather than let them sit unused on a shelf.

Likewise, I plan to introduce reusable wax wraps soon. One of the reasons I haven’t yet is because I currently have a good supply beeswax on hand from another project. Beeswax works well for the wraps, but a plant based wax would be more optimal. In this case, I plan to introduce them first with beeswax to not be wasteful but switch to something like candelilla wax when I run out.

Goal 3: Take and share more project photos.

My shop is just one aspect of SubEarthan Cottage. Sharing ideas, teaching techniques and life skills, and even sharing when things don’t work are all part of SubEarthan Cottage as well. When things get busy, though, I tend to jump into doing without documenting. Photographing as I go will not only help me be able to repeat my successes, it will allow me to share and hopefully inspire others in the new year and beyond.

What goals do you have for the new year? If you would like to keep up with SubEarthan Cottage in the new year, please sign up for my newsletter here.

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This week’s featured artist: Valerie, aka Crochetgal

Name and Business name: I’m known throughout the crochet world as Crochetgal but my close friends call me Valerie

Tell us a little about yourself and your business: Right now, the business is involved in three distinct lines. Firstly my wearable art pieces. Many are my own designs and yarn blends. Secondly is my ‘yarn shop’. Yes, I’m a terrible yarnaholic, but its more of an adventure than an addiction. I love to buy yarns and tend to buy much more than I will ever use in a lifetime. As a result, there are always new and exciting yarns in the shop.

The third portion of the business is beautiful wooden soap dishes. We started supplying these to some of the local soap makers a few years ago but never thought of selling them online until my partner saw an alchemy request for a 2″ square custom soapdish. As a result, we now carry the ‘mini’ and the standard size in varying quantities. These have been a great seller for us.

What made you get started in your business?: The business started as a result of seeing one too many television advertisement with a young child watching a battery operated toy play with itself. There was absolutely no play interaction for the child at all. I turned to my partner and said ‘That’s it. For Christmas this year, the grandkids will get absolutely no plastic and no batteries. Each toy MUST have some intrinsic value.” And that’s how it all began. And then we had to come up with some ideas for two young grandchildren!! Since I had learned to crochet as a child, I figured that I would pull out some patterns and make a couple of stuffed animals. That’s basically how we started! Before Christmas had arrived, I had two or three friends ask about purchasing a set of the Winnie the Pooh characters that I had made… Winnie, Piglet, Tigger, and of course Eeyore. Before I knew it I was selling my work.

By the time Christmas arrived, I had sold 4 sets of animals, From there I branched out into making Christmas stockings, wash cloths and anything else that intrigued me. But I really wanted to do wearable art. After playing with some yarns and some different patterns over the years, I developed a style that I like to call ‘exploded lace’. Basically I use antique doily patterns for inspiration and let my imagination run.

About three years ago I was contacted by a small fashion house here in Phoenix who wanted me to come and do finishing for them. I was really excited! And my boss is an absolute gem! She was the inspiration behind my blending of yarns to make my own unique ones so that each piece that I make is a one of a kind.

I love to design and can often be found with a sketch book full of ideas.

Anything else you’d like to share:

I’m a proud member of the EtsyHookers and the CreateCrochet team here on Etsy. I’m member of the SASsy team (Sellers Assisting Sellers) and can often be found in the Etsy Labs doing a workshop for both new and experienced Etsians on various topics.
I’m a member of the Crochet Guild of America http://www.crochet.org/ and a member of the local crochet guild.

Tell us about your favorite item currently listed in your shop: I’m not sure if I really have a favorite item but if I had to choose, it would have to be one of my elegant shawls.

Check out Crochetgal here:

My Etsy shop is http://crochetgal.etsy.com – affordable luxury
I blog at http://crochetgals.blogspot.com – confessions of a yarnaholic
My twitter channel is http://twitter.com/crochetgal .
I can also be found locally at many of the various art festivals located throughout the valley.

My Favorite from Crochetgal: I love this shawl from Crochetgal. It looks like it would be so warm and cozy to have wrapped around me. The different yarns and colors keep it looking fresh and easy to wear.

I also have to add that I recently purchased the three-pack of soap dishes from Valerie’s shop, and they are wonderful! I have one in the kitchen, one at the bathroom sink and one in the shower, and they really do let the soap dry quicker and more completely. They’re a great way to keep your handmade soap longer.

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My Favorite Things

It’s so hard, for me at least, to buy things online without getting to see the product in person first. I thought I’d make a list of my personal favorite things about my different bars of soaps to give you an idea of what they’re really like. I’m starting with the ones I use almost every day.

Beer Soap – Smells yummy and makes my hair soft and shiny
Pine Tar Soap – Soothes and prevents my eczema flare-ups. Also makes my hair super soft when I use it as shampoo.
Tea Tree Oil Soap – Nearly eliminates my acne problems without drying out my skin.
Simply Soap Lard Soap – Great, firm all-purpose bar, the type I keep by the kitchen sink.
Unscented Aloe Soap – Super silky feeling lather that makes me feel pampered just using it.
Simply Sweet Honeysuckle Soap – Has a girly floral scent that lingers after I get out of the shower and it’s moisturizing, too.
Hazelnut Latte Soap – Mmmmmmmm, coffee. This bar also hangs out near the sinks. The coffee helps remove odors like garlic from my hands.

That’s all for now. I’ll post some more soon.