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Easy Paper Towel Replacement with Upcycled Reusable Cloths

Relying on paper towels to clean up spill after spill stinks. Sure, it’s not so eco-friendly, but, even more immediately distressing to me, at least, is it’s practically throwing money away. Plus, a paper towel is usually not as good at cleaning up a mess.

There’s always the option of buying a huge supply of kitchen towels and cloth napkins, but the initial cost of buying enough to keep up with a toddler’s destructive capabilities is off-putting to say the least. Retiring old clothes, sheets, etc. to rags is a viable and frugal option, not to mention you’re upcycling (or is it recycling? or repurposing?). I don’t really mind just using scraps as rags, but I prefer something a little more aesthetically pleasing, especially if guests are involved.

There’s also the convenience factor to consider. I have limited storage space, so devoting a kitchen drawer or part of a cabinet to hold all the towels isn’t practical. Neither is a basket on the counter, because counter space is even more limited.

My reusable paper towel solution

Here’s my solution. First, I cut up any appropriate worn fabric (t-shirts, flannel sheets, old bath towels, anything soft and absorbent) to whatever size I want. I started with something close to paper towel size but then started cutting some smaller to make more use of the fabric. Then I serged the edges to make them pretty. You could also do a zig-zag, overcast stitch or even just a straight stitch a little in from the edge on a sewing machine. If you are really ambitious you could do a real hem. I’m going for nice but quick to do in bulk. Any edge finishing is unnecessary for t-shirt knits, but they will be more durable being finished. Wovens like flannel will need something to keep them from fraying.

Easy storage with limited counter space

For the storage, I made a hanging tube similar to a plastic bag dispenser. If you have one of those around it will probably work perfectly. If not, there are tons of tutorials for them floating around. The basic design is a tube of fabric with a handle at the top and elastic at the bottom. The elastic tightens the opening enough to keep the towels/bags from falling out. This solves my lack of space problem because I can hang it anywhere and it’s as easy as pulling a paper towel off a roll. They stay in and dispense better if I just shove them in the top without folding them, so no extra laundry folding time.

Un-paper towel dispenser
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This was my quick nap-time prototype. I made it out of half a t-shirt. You can easily make one out of any fabric to match your décor.

I also made a little tote bag to hang in the kitchen to put the dirty towels in. Unless they are really gross or soaking wet, there’s no reason to keep them separate from the rest of the laundry.

Since making these, I have almost eliminated my need for paper towels. I do try to keep a roll on hand in case the cats do something gross because eww. I have to hide it, though, to keep other people from reaching for them out of habit.

If you need some heavier cleaning cloths, double up the fabric. To use up smaller scraps of flannel, finish the edges of small squares to use in place of cotton balls.

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Simple DIY Rainbow Cupcake Crayons

rainbow cupcake crayons

I originally shared this tutorial for rainbow cupcake crayons almost ten years ago when Finn was my little preschooler and I made rainbow cupcake crayons for him using all of our broken crayons. It’s easy, and you can get little ones to help with peeling the paper off of the broken crayons, and they get fun new crayons to play with once they have cooled.

Unfortunately my photos of our project got lost, but a quick Etsy search shows lots of examples of similar multicolored crayons in fun shapes. If you like the idea but don’t have tons of broken crayons around, consider supporting one of the shops on Etsy by purchasing from them.

rainbow cupcake crayons
Photo by Kristin Brown on Unsplash

DIY Rainbow Cupcake Crayons Tutorial

  • Line a muffin pan with foil or a double thickness of cupcake liners. (Note: The wax will likely melt through, so you probably want to use a pan that you reserve for non-food projects.)
  • Remove all the paper from your crayons.
  • Break into smaller pieces if needed. I just broke them as small as I could with my fingers. Most pieces were about an inch long or smaller.
  • Sort the pieces into the lined cups. I sorted by color, but you could also mix for super swirly crayons.
  • Fill the cups to the top but don’t overfill.
  • Melt in the oven at about 200-250 degrees F. I recommend setting a baking sheet under the muffin pan. You really don’t want to have to scrape melted crayon off your oven.
  • Check about every 10-15 minutes. I let them cook until there were just a few solid chunks in the middle. Then I gently swirled them with toothpicks to sink the chunks and blend the colors.
  • When they are sufficiently melted, turn off the oven. You can carefully remove them at this point or let them cool in the oven. I didn’t need my oven, so I let them cool in there overnight.
  • Once they’ve cooled completely you can remove the papers and color away.

Mask Update

I made a few of the fitted masks I mentioned in Wednesday’s post. Overall, I think they fit well, but they are a little tedious to make, particularly if you have lots of interruptions.

Awkward photo of me modeling a fitted mask.

I looked into it a little more and found that it seems more hospitals are asking for a more simplified mask, so I’m switching to ones made by this tutorial. With batch cutting and then sewing two or three assembly line style, I can make 3-4 in a hour, even with interruptions.

Shop update: Freebies and a sale

Knowing that so many are stuck at home right now needing distractions, I’ve decided to make all of my machine embroidery design files free until April 7. That’s the day my area’s shelter in place order expires. If it is extended, I’ll extend the embroidery design freebies, too. If you make something with one of my designs, I would love to see it.

My full shop is still open, and will be as long as everyone in my household is healthy. I’m using extra care with handwashing and using hand sanitizer before coming into contact with products and packaging as well.

All of my handmade soaps are currently on sale for 20% off. You can find them here.

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Quick Superhero Costume Mini Tutorial

With schools closing down due to coronavirus, there’s likely to be a lot of kids at home looking for fun things to do. Dressing up is always fun, and who doesn’t love a cape and mask? I first shared this quick superhero costume tutorial about ten years ago when Finnian was my crazy only child. It is super easy, and all it takes is an over-sized t-shirt and some scissors.

My son is really into superheros right now.  He started asking for a superhero costume yesterday.  Given that he’s three and impatient, I needed something quick and easy.  Here’s what I came up with:

I took one 2x mens t-shirt and cut it straight down the sides, removing the sleeves.

Then I cut off the front panel, leaving the neck band and a 3-4 inch curved section attached for the

front.  That way there’s no ties so he can put it on himself. Splitting the neck in the front and adding a Velcro hook and loop closure is also an option.

Finally I cut the front panel into three long strips.  One got holes for the eyes and tied around his head for the mask.  The other two I sewed together at one of the narrow ends. I tied it around his waist for the sash.

quick superhero costume

The mask is getting a little stretched out, but he likes the bigger eye holes, so that’s working out well.

He left his plain, but decorating the costume is another fun project. Kids could draw their own designs with markers or cut designs out of felt or other fabric scraps and attach with fabric or craft glue.

While I try to write tutorials as clearly as possible, it’s easy to miss a step or make assumptions. If anything is confusing, please don’t hesitate to comment with your questions.

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7 Amazing Uses for Aloe Vera Gel

I’m always on the lookout for simple, natural products that don’t cost an arm and a leg. It’s especially important when it comes to products that I use on my skin. Skin absorbs so much. One product I’ve found that is natural, inexpensive and a great multitasker is aloe vera gel.

Aloe Vera Plant

Skin irritations

When you think of using aloe topically, you probably think of soothing a sunburn. You can also use it to sooth other burns as well as minor cuts and scrapes.

Aloe vera hand sanitizer

There are tons of recipes online for diy hand sanitizers using aloe vera as one of the base ingredients. I’m not a big hand sanitizer fan, but I like the look of these recipes from Wellness Mama. She has two different formulas. One is a gentle aloe and essential oil only recipe for home or children to use, and one is a stronger formula for when something more potent is needed.

Hair gel

Aloe gel can be used as a hair gel, too. In my experience, it provides a light hold, and isn’t stiff or sticky as long as you don’t overdo it. It also leaves your hair soft and silky afterward, unlike most hair gels which contain alcohol or other ingredients that dry your hair. To tame flyaways, I like to rub a drop of aloe between my palms and smooth over the ends of my hair.

Brows

Try aloe on your brows to keep them in shape. Since aloe gel is clear, you don’t have to worry about finding the right color to match. Dip an old, cleaned mascara wand, eyebrow brush or toothbrush in aloe and brush your eyebrows into shape. It’s also great for soothing your skin after plucking or waxing your brows.

Hair conditioner

If the ends of your hair dry, rub a little aloe on them to help smooth and condition them. I’ve also heard you can use aloe gel in place of a regular, rinse out conditioner, although I haven’t tried it yet.

Moisturizer

Aloe is a great moisturizer for your skin. It leaves your skin feeling soft but not greasy.

Skin refresher

I’ve heard that aloe gel works well to refresh your skin in situations where you may not be able to wash your face regularly like camping and traveling. Just massage it on and gently wipe off the excess.

Exfoliating with aloe vera

Mix aloe with salt or sugar for a great exfoliating scrub. When making scrubs, sugar tends to be a little more gentle, but salt is more antibacterial.

Which aloe vera gel is best?

The way to get the freshest aloe gel, of course, is to grow your own aloe plant. If you’re like me and have a hard time keeping plants alive, or you just want to pick up a bottle or two so you’ll have plenty on hand, spring and summer are good times to get it. Specialty health stores will stock it year round, but right now it’s easier to find in discount stores and supermarkets with their seasonal products.

The most important thing to look for is 100% pure aloe. Pure aloe will be clear. Steer clear of the blue and green aloe gels. They contain added ingredients to help “cool” a sunburn. These ingredients are okay (although unnecessary) for sunburns, but you don’t want to use these aloe blends for anything other than soothing a sunburn.

One brand that’s fairly easy for me to find is Fruit of the Earth. I think I paid around $5-$7 for a 24 ounce bottle. Not bad when you compare it to a comparably-sized bottle of lotion, or conditioner, or moisturizer, or hair gel, all of which can be replaced with aloe.

What aloe tips have I left out? Share yours with me.

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Aloe vera uses
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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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8 Healthy Snacks for Kids on the Go

healthy snacks

One of the best things about homeschooling is that we’re not tied to a schedule. We can take advantage of off-peak hours to visit parks, museums, and libraries, or take day trips just to explore. Being on the go, though, means at some point someone is going to say they are hungry. Eating out or grabbing convenience store snacks is expensive, not to mention usually not healthy. Better to be prepared with snacks so whenever that first little voice says, “I’m hungry!” I can offer them a snack before they get the idea that a trip to McD’s sounds like a great plan or have a hunger-induced meltdown.

healthy snacks and chess at the park
At the park during homeschoolers-only hours. We also bring chess boards and snap circuits everywhere.

Here are some of my favorite healthy snacks for kids on the go. Keep in mind the age and ability of your kiddos when choosing snacks. Things like nuts and grapes can be choking hazards for little ones.

Healthy Snacks for on the Go

  • Fresh fruit Fresh fruit is a perfect, portable snack. Choose fruit that requires minimal prep work to keep it fresh without having to keep it cool. Things like bananas and oranges are easy to peel on the go. Apples and pears are great for kiddos old enough to bite into them whole. They can also be sliced and stored in an airtight container with a little lemon juice to keep them from browning if you know they will be eaten within a short time. Grapes are perfect, if your kids are old enough to handle them without choking.
  • Fresh vegetables Fresh vegetables are another good choice. Celery or carrot sticks, bell pepper slices, and cherry or grape tomatoes are all portable. Nut butters or shelf-stable dressings can be brought along for dipping if that makes them more palatable.
  • Dried fruit While I think they are gross now, raisins were one of my favorites as a kid, and my children love them as well. Dried cranberries are also nice.
  • Trail mix Trail mix is nice, because you get fats from things like nuts, seeds or coconut to help balance the sugars from the fruit. Make your own to tailor it to your families liking and dietary needs.
  • Dry cereal Choose one that has less sugar to keep is relatively healthy.
  • Applesauce While I don’t like the trash created from single use items, the applesauce pouches are great to keep in the car for those times when you find yourself out and forgot snacks or errands took longer than expected.
  • Hard boiled eggs Bring along a small insulated bag or ice chest to keep them cold. If you peel them ahead of time, they’re easier to manage on the go.
  • Popcorn Pop your own and season it with salt and herbs to avoid the weird microwave popcorn butter. I either pop it on the stove in coconut oil or use my air popper. If I use the air popper, I give it a light mist with olive oil to help the seasoning stick. Two of my boys like it with just a little salt. Finn and I are more adventurous. Some of our favorite seasoning combinations are salt and black pepper, chili powder, dill weed, or even a little bit of cayenne pepper. Do be cautious with popcorn, as it is a choking hazard for little ones.

All of those snacks are easy to make work with gluten, dairy and nut-free diets, if you make your own trail mix and choose a cereal based according to your dietary needs.

What about drinks?

Along with healthy snacks, it’s a good idea to bring along something to drink. We like to bring a big water cooler along with cups when we’re out for a long time. We have a one gallon one like this, or we just bring along our big five gallon cooler that we keep filled with filtered water for home.That eliminates the need to buy bottled water and cuts back on sugary drink splurges.

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healthy snacks
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T-Shirt to Yoga Shorts Refashion

If you’re new to refashioning or sewing clothing in general, loungewear is a great place to start. It’s less intimidating because, since you’ll only be wearing it at home, it doesn’t have to be perfect. This refashion project is perfect for a beginner because you only need two t-shirts to make it, and it’s mostly straight lines or slight curves.

I originally shared this tutorial a few years ago, before Thaddeus. The weather is beginning to warm up , so it’s a great time to sew some shorts.


I went on a little Pinterest binge a couple days ago looking for ideas to help clear my refashion stash. Saturday night I decided to make a pair of yoga pants out of a t-shirt using this tutorial. I wear a size eight on average, and used an XL adult t-shirt.

Adaptations from the original refashion project

I did make a few changes to the design. First, instead of cutting the shirt down the middle, I cut it down the sides from the middle of the underarm to the hem. This also means you’ll have an inseam and no side seams. That keeps any design on the front or back intact and moves them to the hips.

For the waistband, I cut the underarm seam from the sleeves and squared them up to be two equal rectangles, leaving the hem intact. I sewed the short sides together making a big, short tube from the sleeves. I then put the tube inside the waist of the pants with the pants right side out and the right side of the tube facing the inside of the pants. The raw edge of the tube lines up with the raw edge of the pants. I serged the top together like that. This made it so when the tube is folded down to the outside, the seam is covered.

T-shirt yoga pants refashion
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Sorry for the awkward pictures. No one was around to take the pictures and Doctor Who was about to start.

I sewed it all on my serger. The entire refashion project took less than ten minutes. I probably should have added two minutes and switched from white to black thread. Or not.

If you don’t have a serger, you can use a zig-zag stitch to prevent breakage. Many sewing machines have specialty stitches for sewing knits, too, so check your machine to see if that is an option. This DIY T-Shirt Bag Tutorial has more information on stitch selection for knits.

Final verdict

They are a little loose at the waist. If I were planning to actually do yoga or wear them in public I should probably add some elastic at the seam. Since they will probably be used mainly for watching Doctor Who while sitting on the sofa, I probably won’t bother.

I personally don’t mind the length, but you could easily make them shorter by cutting them off to the length you prefer. Knit doesn’t unravel, so you can leave the edges raw, or turn them under and hem.

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T-shirt to yoga pants refashion

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