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DIY Soft Scrub Cleaner

I like getting my kiddos involved in housecleaning. Not just because they are highly involved in making messes, but because it is important that they know how to take care of themselves as adults. I’m pretty choosy as to what cleaning products I will let them use. So many cleaners are irritating to the skin, eyes and lungs.

Not only do I want my cleaning products to be safe, I like things that multitask and don’t cost an arm and a leg. Often, I’ve found the best way to achieve this is to make them myself, like with my natural furniture polish. With a few simple ingredients I keep around the house anyway, I find I can cover most cleaning needs.

My most recent cleaning concoction is soft scrub. It works well for when I need a little extra scrubbing power than I get with my usual all-purpose water, vinegar and dish soap mix.

Soft scrub in a jar
Soft scrub in a jar

Soft Scrub Ingredients

  • 1 cup of baking soda
  • 1/4 cup of liquid soap
  • 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide
  • Optional: 2-3 drops of essential oil

Instructions

Place all the ingredients into a big bowl and mix until a uniform paste forms. To store, I like to scoop it into a wide mouth canning jar, but any lidded container will work. The mix will expand, so use a container that allows for at least double the amount to be safe.

Mixing the soft scrub
Mixing the soft scrub

Variations

Type of Soap

Liquid castile soap will work, but for extra cleaning power I prefer a detergent soap, like Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds or even Dawn dish soap. You could probably get away with any liquid hand soap or liquefied bar soap, but I haven’t tried those yet. The only time I haven’t liked it was when I made it with Ajax dish soap because that is what I had on hand. I think there was something in the Ajax that reacted badly with the baking soda or hydrogen peroxide. That mixture was fluffier and had an odd smell. I’m not quite sure what it was that caused it, but because of that, I recommend staying away from any dish soap that advertise extra cleaning additives. For the soap, basic is better.

Scent

I rarely add any essential oils for fragrance. Usually the soap I have is already scented, so I don’t see the need. Really, unscented is fine, too, unless you just prefer a scent to signal that something is clean. If I were to add an essential oil, though, I would probably use either peppermint, lemon or tea tree oil. If you choose to use an essential oil, please be aware of safety guidelines for using them around children, pregnant women, pets, and other sensitive individuals.

How to use

To use, I scoop out a dollop of the soft scrub and apply a layer to the area I’m cleaning. I usually let it sit for a minute or two then buff it off with a rag. If there’s a residue left, I’ll either wipe it down with a damp rag or mist it with my all purpose vinegar, dish soap and water solution and wipe it clean.

Results

I almost forgot to take a before photo. This is an embarrassing photo of tomato sauce splatter left on my stove overnight.

Before using soft scrub to clean last night's spaghetti sauce.
Before using soft scrub to clean last night’s spaghetti sauce.

This is a photo of what it looks like after using my soft scrub and minimal elbow grease.

Shiny stovetop
Shiny stovetop

I do apologize for the blurry photos. Lighting in my kitchen isn’t the greatest, and also I was in the middle of cleaning.

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How I Make Soap: An overview of the hot process soapmaking method

Making soap is like magic. Seriously, think about it: You take stuff that makes things feel greasy, mix it with stuff that would eat your face off and, if you do it just right, the end result is a wonderful bar of non-drying, skin-loving, fluffy-lathering soap.

Soapmaking is fun, but safety is a priority when dealing with sodium hydroxide, aka lye, aka the eat-your-face-off stuff. This is just a brief overview of the soapmaking process I use. Please do not use this as a complete how to guide. If that’s something you’re interested in, please, leave a comment and I will direct you to some more thorough resources on soapmaking.

Melting the Oils

Creating soap takes two basic things: oils or fats and an alkaline solution. In order to combine the oils and alkaline solution, the oils have to all be in liquid form and uniformly mixed. So, step one is measuring and melting the oils. For precision, all measuring is done by weight. Since I use a Crockpot for my hot process soapmaking, I add all my weighed oils to the Crockpot, then melt and mix them in the pot. For soapmaking, I generally use the low setting, but if I need to jump start the melting process I will start it on high then turn it down after a few minutes. This Crockpot is similar to the one I use.

Melting the Oils
Melting the Oils

Measuring the Lye

While the oils are warming in the Crockpot, I weigh the lye. It is important to be very precise when measuring the lye. Too little and the soap will be too soft. Too much and the soap could burn your skin. This is also why you need to be very careful about the soap recipes you use. If they are not correctly formulated, the end result could be dangerous.

Before I measure the lye, I measure the water or other liquid for the lye solution, also by weight. I do that first to limit the time I have the lye out.

Weighing the Lye
Weighing the Lye. Gloves and goggles on.

Lye Safety

I make sure to measure the lye into glassware and all containers and utensils that come into contact with lye or the lye solution are reserved solely for that purpose. Once the lye is out, I never leave it unattended. Lye crystals resemble table salt, which would be a potentially deadly mix-up. That’s also why my soap production has slowed since Thaddeus was born. Until they are old enough to understand the importance of staying out of the room and can be trusted out of sight but in earshot for the time it takes to get the soap cooking, I only make it when they are either out of the house or asleep with Chris there to tend to them if they wake up during the process.

Mixing the Lye Solution

Once my lye is measured, I add the lye to the water and stir with a wooden spoon until dissolved. Lye fizzes up when mixed, so it is important to have the liquid in a container with plenty of room. The solution with also get really hot and put off fumes, so be prepared. I like to have a window open or fans and the vent a hood running. Some soap makers mix the solution outside, but I like to stay close to my work space to limit the chance of spills.

Blending the Oils and Lye Solution

For cold process soapmaking, it is important to have the oils and lye solution at about the same temperature. With the Crockpot hot process method I use, I find I can mix the lye solution into the warmed, melted oils without having to measure the temperatures first.

When you first add the lye solution to the melted oils, the color will change from clear to opaque. In order to properly combine the lye and oils, I use a handheld stick blender. You can stir by hand, but it is much harder to get everything properly blended and it takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r. I have had a stick blender die in the middle of making a batch of soap and it is a crazy long arm workout. I do not recommend it.

Adding the Lye Solution
Adding the Lye Solution

Goal of Blending

The goal for all the hard mixing is called “trace”. Basically, I’m wanting to be able to lift my blender out of the mixture and trace a design on top. With cold process, there are various stages of trace that guide when to add any fragrance, essential oils or other add-ins. Since I use the hot process method, I add almost everything after the cook. Because of that, I can mix my batches to a full, hard trace where my traced design doesn’t melt back into the mix. This limits the possibility of a false trace, or the mix seeming to quickly come to trace when it isn’t thoroughly mixed. When that happens, it might separate or have lye heavy spots.

Hard Trace
Hard Trace

Once it is at a hard trace, I stop mixing and put the lid on the Crockpot. If the mix seems too hot, for example, I had a false trace that I had to stir through, I will either turn the Crockpot to warm or off for a few minutes. Otherwise, I make sure it is on low and busy myself with cleaning up, lining my soap molds, and preparing essential oils and other additives.

Cleanup

Any lingering lye solution or soap mixture on the blender is still a risk for lye burns, so I’m cautious with the cleanup. For the whole soapmaking process, I keep a good amount of water with vinegar and a bit of dish soap ready in the sink. The vinegar helps neutralize the lye, so anything that comes into contact with lye goes directly into the vinegar solution, and I use a similar vinegar solution to wipe down my soapmaking area, just in case.

Stages of Saponification

During the cooking, the soap mix will change from an opaque, milky color to a shiny, translucent gel like texture. A pool of liquid also forms on top. that pool of liquid is glycerin, a byproduct of the saponification process. This transformation starts at the edges of the pot and happens in a wave moving towards the center. I find it really fun to watch.

Soap Waves
Soap Waves

Finishing the Batch

When the entire soap mixture is translucent and the consistency of mashed potatoes without lumps, I turn off the heat and stir the soap by hand for just a couple of minutes to let it cool. At this point, if done correctly, the mixture completely transformed to soap. I don’t want it to cool too much, or it would be hard to add the essential oils, but too hot and it will burn off the scent.

Glycerin Pool Forming in the Middle
Glycerin Pool Forming in the Middle

I then add any essential oils blended in my chosen carrier oil and any other add-ins I’m using in that batch, stir thoroughly by hand, and plop it into my molds. Since it is thick, I generally have to tap my molds on my counter firmly to eliminate air pockets.

Adding the Blended Essential Oils and Carrier Oil
Adding the Blended Essential Oils and Carrier Oil

Curing the Final Product

Because the saponification process is completed during the cooking, the soap is totally safe to use as soon as it is cool enough to touch. It needs to cool in the molds for 12-24 hours or so to hold it’s shape, though. Once it is firm enough to cut, I cut and wrap the bars. While not necessary, hot process bars still benefit from curing for at least a week or two to allow excess moisture to evaporate. As I discussed in my Proper Care and Feeding of Your Bar Soap post, the firmer and drier a bar of soap is, the longer it will last. That’s one of the reasons I wrap my soap in cloth rather than plastic. Cloth allows the soap to continue to harden for a longer lasting bar.

Soap Log in the Mold
Soap Log in the Mold

The batch I photographed for this post is my Tea Tree Oil Soap. Find it and my other handmade soaps for sale here: https://subearthancottage.com/product-category/soap-bath-beauty.

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Easy DIY Talc-Free Body Powder

With all the concerns in the news surrounding talcum powders again, many people are looking for a talc-free alternative to their favorite body powder. While you can purchase talc-free powder, making it yourself is simple, allows you to customize it, and is super inexpensive. Better yet, you probably already have everything you need.

Body Powder Recipe

Ingredients:

3/4 cup of Cornstarch

1/4 cup of Baking Soda

10-ish Drops of essential oil (optional)

Make it:

Combine the cornstarch and baking soda in a bowl or jar. Give it a stir or shake to mix. If you’re using an essential oil, add it now, then stir or shake some more to distribute.

Use it:

I keep mine in a jar and use a fluffy makeup brush to dust it where I need it. It works great as an all-over dusting powder, deodorant and shoe deodorizer. You can also dust a little in your hair in place of dry shampoo. For that, I like to put it in my hair at night and then brush it out in the morning.

Customize it:

The basic recipe is 3 parts cornstarch to 1 part baking soda, so you can use that 3:1 ratio to make as much or as little as you need. 

Add more or less essential oil based on your preference. You can also use your favorite perfume to make a coordinating dusting powder.

If you find this formula too drying, reduce the amount of baking soda, or omit it all together.

Not a fan of cornstarch? Try using arrowroot. I personally haven’t tried it, so if you do, let me know how it works.

For babies, I recommend just plain cornstarch as baking soda might be too harsh. If you want to scent it, add a couple of drops of lavender essential oil. Essential oils aren’t generally recommended for babies under six months, so take that into consideration. 

If you like using this as a dry shampoo and have dark hair, you can add a little bit of cocoa powder to the mix to make it less noticeable if you don’t get it brushed out completely.

Re-purpose a shaker jar, such as a spice or Parmesan cheese jar, rather than using a brush or puff to dispense.



Find more of my tutorials here: Tutorials.

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Sewing machine repair: Hook timing

Hook timing is a fairly common problem that sends many sewers running to the repair shop. When it happened the first time on my older Kenmore, I decided to try to repair it myself first. My thinking was, since it’s a mechanical machine with mostly metal parts, as long as I was careful, I couldn’t really hurt anything. I probably would have thought twice before attempting it on a computerized machine.

All machines are a little different, so what worked on mine may not work on yours. Something I recommend to everyone who wants to work on their own sewing machine, is getting a copy of the service manual. Honestly, I still need to do this. There’s tons of info online, but having the actual service manual is even better. You should have an owner’s manual on hand, too. It  covers basic care and maintenance. For repairs, though, the service manual will give you technical instructions and confidence. 

Hook Timing?

Before taking things apart, determine if hook timing is causing the problem. If the needle (top) thread isn’t picking up the bobbin (bottom) thread, hook timing is a prime suspect. It’s always a good idea to rule out simple problems first, though. Try swapping the needle, rethread the machine and sew on some scrap fabric. If it’s been a while since you’ve dusted the lint out of the bobbin case or you’ve been sewing on linty material, give it a good cleaning.

Once you’ve tried the easy fixes, if it still isn’t working right, look at how the needle and the bobbin hook intersect. This page, https://tv-sewingcenter.com/general/sewing-machine-timing-hook-timing, has illustrations, photos and descriptions for where they should meet on both rotary and oscillating machines. 

Taking a look at my oscillating hook.

My machine is an oscillating machine, so the hook tip should pass just above the eye of the needle. Mine was passing below the needle’s eye, so clearly the hook timing needed adjustment.

Open it up

The first and honestly the hardest step was figuring out where all the screws were that I needed to remove to take off the casing. (Actually, the first step was to turn off and unplug the machine. If you’re attempting this at home, do not skip this step!) On my Kenmore, I have to take off the side by the hand wheel, a plate on the bottom, and the front panel. 

More cleaning

While I have my machine open, I like to take the opportunity to clean it out and oil it. Oiling a linty machine, using the wrong oil or putting it in the wrong places can cause tons of problems, though, so if you’re not sure, stick to dusting only.

Find and adjust

Next, I tilted the machine on to it’s back so I could get a good look at the mechanism that rotates the hook. Once I had isolated that, I found a hex head set screw. Loosening that allowed me to gently adjust the hook position so that the tip passed just above the needle’s eye.

About in the middle, just above the motor is a silver piece with a round, black screw near the top. That is the set screw I loosened to adjust the hook timing.

When I was sure I had it properly positioned, I tightened the set screw. I turned the hand wheel a few more times, making sure everything still looked good before I put the casing back. A quick test run showed everything was working properly again.

Done!

It’s so satisfying to be able to make simple repairs to my machines myself, especially when most repair shops start around $75 and go up from there, depending on what needs to be done. 


Hook timing
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Attempting DIY Fashion

Lately Christopher and I have been talking a lot about fashion. It started as a discussion about not being able to find comfortable clothes and how hard it is to find clothing that goes against the trends. Being crafty, we explored making our own clothing. The cost of fabric, supplies, time it takes to cut and sew all highlighted how impossible it is to produce clothing ethically at the low prices charged for much ready-to-wear clothing. That doesn’t even take into account the raw materials that are used to make the fabric and problems with content, pesticides, sustainability, etc.

At the same time, like many, our budget, doesn’t allow us to spend a ton on clothes. We try to make the most of our clothing budget guilt-free by shopping thrift stores and second hand shops. That way we aren’t adding to the problem by purchasing new. Most thrift shops are charity-based, so our purchases help others. We often find better quality items than what we would otherwise be able to afford this way, too.

With thrift shopping, you’re not as limited by trends. If you’re looking for something in particular, unless it’s a common item, you’re still likely to come up empty handed. That has been our problem when it comes to comfortable men’s and boy’s pants. Both Finn and Christopher would prefer something a little roomier, like karate gi pants. Unfortunately, nothing like that has been in fashion since M.C. Hammer. That means it’s time to put my sewing machines to use.

Making a pattern from shorts

This summer, I started by trying to copy a pair of the cotton knit gym shorts they practically lived in, adding a gusset for comfort and mobility. I used to buy bulk bags of t-shirts from Thrift Town before they closed, so instead of using new fabric, I used some XL t-shirts I had on hand. That way, if things went horribly wrong I wouldn’t feel as bad.

If you follow me on Instagram, you might remember seeing this photo with some enticing caption like, “Working on a new project!” Then, nothing else was said. Sorry.

I have zero experience with pattern making, so this was a learning experience. Here’s a brief overview of how I did it.

I laid the shorts inside out and folded in half, front to the inside, smoothing them as flat as possible. Then I traced them, adding about an inch all around. The inch is for seam allowance and to account for the fact that it’s impossible to get finished shorts to lay flat. I always err on the side of too big, because that is much easier to fix.

At the waistband, I measured the waistband and extended the pattern by that amount plus seam allowance above the waistband. This allows it to be folded down for elastic and a drawstring casing. At the hem, I extended the lines two times the width of the hem to allow enough fabric to fold and hem. On the pattern, I drew lines straight across to show where the finished hem and waistband hit on the original shorts for reference.

Then I folded them in half , backs to the inside and repeated the above steps since the back is cut differently than the front.

Drafting the gusset

For the gusset, I drew kind of a triangle with the top point cut off. To do this evenly, I folded a piece of paper in half, drew a half inch line perpendicular to the fold, moved over about four inches and drew another perpendicular line measuring one and a half inches. Then I drew a straight line connecting the tops of the lines.  I cut along the lines and opened it up to get my gusset pattern. Sewing the gusset in with the wider part at the crotch seam and using a half inch seam allowance results the gusset tapering down to a point.

Shorts to pants

Shorts work for summer, but I needed to come up with a pants pattern for fall and winter. Chris suggested just making the shorts pattern longer, so I did by measuring the waist to floor measurement and extending my pattern the needed amount, including seam allowances.

I did this by taping the bottom of the pattern to a big piece of paper, sketching out the needed length and side seams and cutting it out.

Final Result

My pattern isn’t perfect. I think I’ve tweaked it each time I’ve used it. Since the pants are made to be loose and flowy it hides the imperfections.

These are my first attempt. I made them with a linen blend, elastic and drawstring combo waistband and no pockets. I added side-seam pockets later.

My goal is to find or draft a few more basic, customizable patterns for pants and shirts that can be made in linen or a similar material. Then I can buy a bulk amount of undyed fabric and dye it as needed.