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A Few Changes

Just before Thanksgiving, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I finally began treatment last week after many, MANY scans and tests. Hopefully now that everything is in place I will be able to get back into something of a routine, but I have one more biopsy tomorrow that could change my treatment plan a bit, so we’ll see how that goes. Fingers crossed that this one is normal and everything can proceed as planned.

Because chemo does wear me out, I will be limiting any made to order items in my shop at times and may add a day or so to expected shipping times just in case.

Blog-wise, I’ve debated how much I want to share. After thinking about how much reading other people’s cancer treatment stories help me with knowing what to expect, I’ve decided I will probably be pretty open about it. There will still be plenty of crafty posts and recipes, too, so it won’t be a complete change in subject.

I also may share some other blogs that I think are fitting from time to time. If you are interested in writing a guest post or having your work featured, please check out this page Want to be featured?

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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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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.

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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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.