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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. 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:

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.

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 carry/wrestle a 31 lb. two year old every day and lifting that machine is 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 had to open it up when my walking foot vibrated the needle loose and messed up the timing. Photographic evidence on Instagram.

That is the best photo I could find of it. 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 is 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.

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.

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.

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.

This site has a cool animated diagram showing the chemical reaction:

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.

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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 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 – affordable luxury
I blog at – confessions of a yarnaholic
My twitter channel is .
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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Powdered laundry detergent recipe

I often use my handmade lard soap to make my own laundry detergent. It works great, it’s cheap, and I don’t have to worry that it will irritate my skin.

There are many recipes for both liquid and powdered laundry detergent on the web, but almost all use three basic ingredients. They are: soap, borax, and washing soda. Borax is found with laundry and cleaning supplies. I’ve found most grocery stores carry it. Washing soda is also with the laundry detergents, although it can be harder to find. My local Kroger store does keep it in stock.

For the soap, you can use a commercial laundry soap, but I prefer to use my handmade soap. When choosing a soap, you’ll want to look for a firm bar. Lard soaps work really well. My favorite to use is my Simply Soap Lard Soap. I can usually get 2-3 cups of grated soap per bar. If you’d prefer to use a vegetable-based bar, bars high in coconut and/or palm oil are a good choice.

The recipe I use is for powdered detergent. It calls for 1 cup of borax and 1 cup of washing soda for every 2 cups of grated soap. Simply grate your soap with a cheese grater, add the borax and washing soda and mix. If you’d like to add scent, you can include your choice of essential oil a few drops at a time until you get the scent you want. Store the detergent in an airtight container. I use an old coffee can.

To use the detergent, add 2 tablespoons per load. It’s best to add the detergent first, let it dissolve and then add the clothes.

For other laundry detergent recipes, check out this site:

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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.