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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 Chores: Tips to maximize sewing time

Even if you love sewing, there’s some parts that can be a chore. Ignoring those tasks or leaving them for later can result in wasted sewing time and money. Here’s a list of chores I try to tackle when I have a few minutes so that my real sewing time is spent actually sewing.

Bobbin winding

If you have a Side Winder, bobbin thread running out mid-project might not be a big hassle. If you rely on your machine to wind bobbins, though, running out means stopping your work, re-threading your machine to wind a bobbin and then setting it back up to sew. To prevent this headache, when you have a few spare moments, wind a few bobbins in your most commonly used colors. If you have a project in mind, wind a couple of bobbins in the needed colors. Keep extra bobbins on hand and wind at least one for every different thread color you have. 

Pre-winding extra bobbins makes this notice less annoying.

Clean your machine

Lint, threads and dust build up over time and can cause poor stitch quality or even damage your machine. It’s a good idea to make a habit of brushing the debris out at the end of each project, or during projects with linty fabrics.

If the inside of your machine looks like this, you should probably clean it more often.

Periodically you’ll want to vacuum out your machine to really clean it. Vacuum attachments made for cleaning computers work well for this. Some people use canned air, but that’s not recommended. It pushes some of the debris deeper into your machine.

Oil your machine

Once your machine is thoroughly clean, take a moment to oil it according to your manual. This will keep it running smoothly and reduce the need for costly repairs. If you don’t have the manual, you can usually find one online. 

After oiling, always sew a few rows on scrap fabric to soak up excess oil. That way, you won’t risk ruining a project with oil spots. 

Tidy up

The best practice is to put away tools and excess fabric as you go. It’s easy to get distracted and forget, though. Taking a moment here and there to run through your sewing area to tidy up when you aren’t working on a project can save sewing time later.

Keep a shopping list

Nothing is more annoying than having to stop work because you ran out of a necessary supply. Make note of supplies that are low or that have run out on a notepad to take on your next shopping trip.

Prewash fabric

Unless you know your final project will never be washed, you should always prewash your fabric. One way to make sure this happens is to wash it as soon as you bring it home from the store. You could also work it into your usual laundry schedule. Having a prewashing routine prevents delaying a project or worse, giving in to the temptation to make something and have your final product ruined in the wash.

Tip: Serging or zig-zag stitching the cut edges will prevent excess fraying in the wash.https://subearthancottage.com/random-sewing-tip-painless-prewash

These are the chores that, for me, are the biggest sewing time-wasters when neglected. Please share your dreaded sewing chores and tips to keep them from becoming time-wasters in the comments.

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Easy All in One Instant Pot Meal

When my kitchen was torn apart, I had to get creative with cooking. One of the easiest meals I did was Chicken Korma with broccoli and rice.

This is more of a how-to than a recipe. You can really use however much of the ingredients based on how much food you need and your pressure cooker’s size. For my family of five with two little appetites, I used about four chicken breasts, three cups of rice and water, one jar of sauce and all the broccoli I could squeeze in and around everything.

To make it super easy, I started with a jar of Korma simmer sauce from Aldi. You could easily substitute any store bought or homemade sauce. I also used frozen chicken breasts that I keep on hand for last minute meals.

I used an old rice cooker pot for the rice. Any heatproof container that is big enough to hold the rice and cooking liquid but small enough to fit in your pressure cooker’s cooking pot would work.

I put the chicken and broccoli under and around the rice pot. Then I filled the rice pot with appropriate amounts of rice, water and salt.

The Korma went on top of the broccoli and chicken, and I added about half a cup of water just to make sure there was plenty of liquid.

Finally, I set the whole thing in my pressure cooker and cooked it with the “Rice” setting. My electric pressure cooker is a Go Wise brand. Recipes for the Instant Pot brand usually work as written for mine, so I assume that setting would work for the Instant Pot and other similar pressure cookers.

Here is a terrible picture of the end result. I promise it tasted better than it looks. A homemade sauce would have been healthier, I’m sure. When you are strapped for time or having to make do without a fully functioning kitchen, though, it’s lots better than having to rely on fast food.

 

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Children’s Messenger Bag

This morning I made a messenger bag using Merriment Design’s Kid-sized Messenger Bag Free Pattern and Sewing Tutorial. The size is also nice for a small messenger-style purse.

Her tutorial is awesome, so I’m just going to share the minor change I made. Instead of making a fabric strap, I used some webbing I had on hand. Not only did that save time, but it allowed me to make the whole thing with two fat quarters. You could also use a thick ribbon, upcycle an old belt or an old purse strap for the handle.

I like using a light colored fabric for the lining in most bags I make. It makes it easier to find whatever is inside.

The fabric is from a fat quarter bundle I found at Tuesday Morning. I always find fun things in their sewing and craft section.

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