Category Archives: crafts

Etsy

One of the goals I had from my 101 in 1001 was to set up an Etsy account and actually sell something. Today, that happened.

I set the account up months ago, but never listed anything. Today I added a banner and listed my first three items: cute little bags for storing your skate wheels.  They’re designed primarily for derby girls, but anyone that skates on quad skates could use them, or skateboarders could use them to store two sets of wheels.

To my surprise, I sold a bag today! I was so excited that I had to run right out and ship it. My friend, Rochelle ordered it. While you’re on Etsy checking out my shop, not just Derby Bella, you should go see hers too: Sink or Swim Treasures.

Hopefully the shop will help me reach my Spending Diet goals but right now I am at the break-even point. For now I am happy just to have crossed another thing off the list.

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Stuff I Love

Well, it’s Thursday and even though I haven’t posted since the start of the month, I am trying to get back into a rhythm after The Hiatus.  So, time for another edition of “Stuff I Love”.

My last edition of Stuff I Love introduced you to my new friend, “Olan”.  This week I want to share with you his latest accessory:

Completed clothespin bag

Isn’t it lovely?

I looked around in stores for a bag to hold my clothespins, but had no luck.  Google, of course, didn’t let me down.  I found several different patterns for clothespin bags including a pattern for a clothespin apron.  I finally settled on this one and got to work.  I won’t post all my pictures and the directions because My Lucky Chicken did a really nice job and includes photos of each step, but I’ve included a photo of the necessary notions:

Necessary notions for the clothespin bag

I only used the colored thread.

And, after using the bag for a couple of weeks, I would recommend some modifications.

  1. Instead of using a precut quilting fat quarter, I would use some heavy duty canvas, or outdoor upholstery fabric.  There are some lovely patterns available for lawn furniture that would be quite pretty as a clothespin bag.  The quarter I used was 18″ x 30″ so a sturdier fabric cut to about that size or similar would work.
  2. Mr. Hippie thinks the bag should have holes at the bottom for drainage.  With the lightweight cotton I used, that isn’t really a problem, but if a sturdier fabric or something that is waterproof is used, drainage might be necessary.  I think that could be easily accomplished by adding a row of narrow buttonholes across the bottom before the bag is sewn shut.
  3. When I first hung my bag on the line, I hung it directly on the line.  If you have a long, straight line, or a line on a pulley, that should be fine but for my umbrella style clothesline it meant that I was spinning the line ’round & ’round and frequently digging under two or three layers of damp clothes to reach my pins.  If you use an umbrella-style or multi-line clothesline, I would highly recommend hanging the bag on a child-sized hanger like My Lucky Chicken suggests so that you can move your pins around easily.   If you know you are going to be using a hanger, you could skip the buttons and sew the bag directly onto the hanger; the buttons and buttonholes were the most difficult part of the project.

    clothes peg bag

    With the addition of a hanger for convenience.

This was a super simple project and I love the results.  Plus, since finding the tutorial, I have perused the archives of My Lucky Chicken and love the site so much that I have added it to my links.   She has posts about all the Stuff I Love including her clothesline and her snack bags!  Check it out!

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Stuff I Love!

My friend Lindsey at Life Full of Whimsy is trying to purge her house of all her extra “stuff”.  That’s something I understand.  But, she also realizes that there are things in life that are useful, helpful and even necessary.  Yesterday she posted “What’s in Your House~Wednesday” and shared the reusable bag that she got from the Family Wisdom Conference on Saturday.  She wants you to share the things in your house that are really useful. 

I decided that in the spirit of “What’s in Your House” and in honor of Earth Day I should share my Abi*bags with you. 

reusable sandwich bags

Fully lined reusable cloth sandwich bags.

I asked her for “boy” prints because I ordered these mostly for my son.  She knows I have chickens, so I especially love the rooster print but I really like all the patterns she picked for me. 

The kids and I have been using wax-lined paper bags for our sandwiches for a while now but these are keeping our bags out of the landfill and saving me money on bags in the long run.  Mr. Hippie has always used plastic wrap to seal up his sandwiches.  When he found these in the kitchen drawer he became a convert.  The skull and crossbones bag on the end is now Mr. Hippie’s sandwich bag of choice.  Since Mr. Hippie packs his lunch almost every day, his reuseable bag is keeping a ton of plastic out of the garbage and saving me money on plastic wrap.

Each bag is lined, seals with velcro and easily holds a sandwich or snacks. 

Sandwich on a large hamburger bun.

Sandwiches fit nicely into the bags.

This is Dylan’s club sandwich on a bun.  It fits easily into the baggie and my 8-year-old can even pack it himself. 

So, that’s “What’s in My House”.  If you like the bags and want them in yours, check out Lindsey’s Etsy site.

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How I Made Homemade Soap (and Didn’t Screw it up)

I’ve attempted this before, but it didn’t work out so well.  You can see the finished, botched soap in this post

This time, things worked out much better.  Just like the first time, I started with bacon fat.  

Jar of dirty pork fat

Upcycling this dirty old jar of grease.

 And, just like last time, I washed the fat.  However, this time I decided to use only one jar of fat instead of two.  This helped speed the process up measurably.   I washed the fat twice just like last time to get out all the residual bacon bits.  

What I knew this time that I didn’t know the first go round is that washing the fat takes longer than any other step in the process.  You can save yourself a lot of time in your soap making by using other fats that are already clean.  Olive oil comes to mind.  So does coconut.  You can even find directions on the internet for Crisco based soaps.  For now I’m sticking with bacon fat because I always seem to have some around and I don’t have to buy it.  Someday I would like to try an olive oil (castille) soap but I’m going to refine my skills with bacon grease first. 

Fat after washing twice.

Washing the fat is the longest step in the process.

Now that you’ve washed your fat, it’s time to actually make some soap.  My directions from the first experience were pretty thorough, but I learned a few things along the way so I’ve added those golden nuggets of wisdom so that you don’t make the same mistakes I did.  

  1. Clear your workspace of young children and pets.  Lye is not dangerous if you respect it and follow safe handling precautions, but children and chemicals don’t mix.
  2. Weigh and melt the fat. 
    Melted soap fat

    The fat liquified and ready to be made into soap.

    THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT.  Inaccurately measuring my ingredients was the biggest mistake I made the first time I made soap.  I used too much lye and the result was a chalky, crumbly soap.   This time I got a more accurate kitchen scale.  I want this fancy-shmancy one but I’m not willing to spend that much money on it.  I found a used one for $60 but I wasn’t ready to spend that much either.  We’ll see how much soap I actually make before I start forking out the big bucks on equipment.  My new kitchen scale cost $1 at the Women’s Resource Center.  It seems to work just fine for what I need. 

  3. Once the fat is melted, use this lye calculator to determine how much lye you will need. 
    Water on the scale

    The mass of the water only; I set the scale at zero with the measuring cup on it.

    It will tell you how much water and lye you need based on the type and mass of fat you have.  It will even let you use multiple types of fat so that when you become a soap expert you can create new recipes. 

  4. Once you have calculated how much lye and water you need, sprinkle the lye into the water IN A HEAT-PROOF GLASS CONTAINER and swirl with a silicone or rubber spatula.  (This is an exothermic reaction and gives off A LOT of heat; use caution.)  This is where I made my second mistake the first time I made soap.  I knew the lye mixture would be hot.  I knew it needed to cool.  I just wasn’t sure how much it needed to cool. 
    The solution is cool enough to use now.

    The lye-water solution has cooled to about 82 degrees.

    I talked to my soap-maker friends and learned that the temperature of both the lye-mixture and the fat are critical to the finished product.  Here the lye has cooled enough to combine with the fat.  It is just over 80 degrees.  The fat should be about the same temperature; warm enough to be liquid, but not too hot.  If your fat and lye solution are too warm, the resulting soap can be brittle.  (Like mine was last time.) 

  5. Once the fat and lye are both under 100 degrees slowly and carefully pour the lye solution into the fat and stir continuously with a stick blender.
    lye mixture combined with the fat

    Stir the mixture constantly once you have added the lye.

    It will take quite a while for the mixture to thicken up to the right consistency.  (Especially if you have measured your ingredients correctly; my soap reached trace really quickly the first time because I used too much lye.)  Don’t stop stirring even when your arm gets tired.  The soap is finished when it reaches “trace”.  Trace is when you can see where you have been mixing.  In the photo you can just see the path where the blender was.  

    Soap is almost ready

    The soap is ready when you can see where you were just mixing. This is called "trace".

    And, in the sake of complete disclosure, this photo is from the last batch of soap; the picture of trace from this batch wasn’t so great.  If you are going to add fragrances or herbs, now is the time to do it.  Last time I added dried lavender blossoms.  That was a waste of perfectly good lavender blossoms.  They turned brown in the process instead of being lovely little purple flecks like I’d imagined.  This time I stuck with straight essential oils.  I’m particularly fond of lavender in my soap so of course, I used that but I added lemongrass again too.  

    essential oils

    Lavender and lemongrass essential oils.

    I didn’t add enough oil this time so the soap is only slightly scented.  Next time I will add much more.  One of the reasons I like homemade soaps (both mine and Fish Creek’s ) is that they make the bathroom smell lovely instead of all soap-y like commercial soaps.  The last time I opened a bar of store soap, it about made me gag.  It’s amazing how artificial artificial fragrances smell when you get used to smelling real smells again. 

  6. My friend Alicia keeps me in soap molds. 
    Will this make my soap goldfish-shaped?

    Upcycling trash into treasure.

    She provided the silk container (which wasn’t big enough for two jars of bacon fat-soap last time) and this giant Goldfish container (which was actually too big for only one jar of bacon fat this time).   Once you have blended in any fragrances you want to add, pour the liquid soap into the mold and let it cure for 18-24 hours. 

    Soap poured into the soap mold

    Finished soap in my fancy soap mold.

    Once the soap has cured for a day, you can remove the soap from the mold.  Or, if you upcycle an old container like I did, you can just peel the mold off of the soap and discard it.  I forgot to take a picture of the soap before I started cutting it, so I had to push it back together to provide you the illusion of “whole-ness”:  You get the idea.

  7. After you’ve cut your block of soap into bars, all you have to do is wait.  Soap needs to cure for awhile.  At least three weeks is recommended, but the bars will get harder and drier with age. 
Nothin' left to do but wait.

The freshly cut bars biding their time.

So, I haven’t used the bars yet but they cut smoothly and didn’t crumble or get chalky like the last batch so I’m assuming all’s well for now.  They seem to be curing nicely and will be ready for use soon.  Now that I’ve figured out the process, I think I’m ready to start playing with some recipes.  Like maybe this one.

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How to Raise Worms

As I may have mentioned before, I am very cheap frugal.  Our city doesn’t provide garbage service so each household is responsible for contracting their own service.  There are four or five different companies that provide service to my street (and unfortunately, four or five trucks that drive down my alley every week because of it) so there are a lot of options for trash pick-up.  Most of the companies offer recycling as part of their fee but they only take number one and two plastic so I haul all my recycling to a drop-off site that takes batteries, small corded appliances, glass, cardboard and paper, metal and ALL plastic including numbers 1-7, plastic bags and STYROFOAM.  Recycling all that “junk” eliminates a huge chunk of my garbage output.  Compost takes care of another chunk. 

Because I compost and recycle most of my garbage, my family of four creates less than one eight-gallon garbage can full of trash a week.  So, why would I pay $10 or $20 a month to have that little bag hauled away every week?   A couple of the garbage companies offer a “pay for what you use” plan for garbage.   You buy the color-coded bags from them (ten bags for $25) and only put out the garbage when you fill the bags.  I can fit three or four of my little garbage bags into one of their big bags.  If you do the math, that works out to about $2.50 every three-four weeks.  This ends up costing me under $50 a year instead of $120 or more.  So, even if I didn’t use my compost in the garden, it is worth its weight in gold!

Many people have tried their hands at composting only to find that they don’t have the space for a big pile, or can’t manage turning the pile, or just can’t get the balance of carbon (brown things) and nitrogen (green things) to work out for optimal composting.  I was am one of those people.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still compost.  I have this giant pile in the back corner of the yard:

Compost heap

Compost heap buried under snow.

And I have these two (soon to be three) compost containers: 

Duelling Composters

The one on the right is full and working. The left one is nearly full. I'm going to get a third and make a three-bin compost system.

But, several years ago I was introduced to vermicomposting.   I have been in love with it ever since.  Vermicomposting is a fancy name for “worm farming”.  Yes, I am a worm farmer.  I usually keep a worm bin at school and one at home.  Right now I have both bins at home, but plan to return the old bin to school in the spring.  In the summer I keep the bins in a shady area of the yard but for now they are in my “dining room”.  (The realtor called it a dining room, but he was being generous.  It is actually a wide hallway between the kitchen and the back entryway and more of a mudroom.)  I’d keep the worms indoors all year, but for me they are just easier to deal with outside.  I never have to worry about  fruit flies, and I get six square feet of floor space back.

There are lots of things I love about worm farming.  The biggest reason is obvious: worms eat my garbage.  Mary Appelhof wrote a book by the same title.  Worms eat garbage all day every day.  A pound of worms will eat a half a pound of garbage a day, or three-and-a-half pounds of garbage a week.  Worms are more efficient than a compost pile.  Worms eat garbage and turn it into rich compost in a very short time span.  This compost is called “castings” which is just a fancy word for worm poop.   Castings can be added to houseplants or garden beds.

As I mentioned before, I often keep my bin inside.  This makes vermicompost much more manageable for people with small yards.  Even an apartment owner could compost using this system.  I keep my bin out in open sight, but a bin could easily be tucked into a closet or cupboard.  So convenience is a big reason I love my bins; you never have to leave the kitchen to compost if you keep the bin close by.   You’re probably thinking, “Don’t they stink?”  No, they don’t.  A properly maintained bin smells like soil.

The best thing about a worm bin is that it requires no turning.  To get compost from a pile or bin in a reasonable time frame, the pile needs to be stirred or turned.  If you have a small pile, this isn’t too difficult, but small piles aren’t as efficient as large piles.  Large piles are faster, but are a real pain to turn.   Worms actually prefer that you don’t turn them. 

So, now that you know why you should have worms, let’s find out how to raise them.  There are a number of resources on the internet to help you get started, but let me walk you through the basics.  First you need to provide suitable habitat for your worms.  There are many vermicompost systems available for sale and for a fee, I’d be happy to build one for you but it’s pretty easy to do yourself.  You’ll need a plastic storage contanier and two lids, a drill and a 1/8th inch bit.  The plastic tub must be opaque; worms don’t like light.

Rubbermaid tub and two lids

Scavenging extra lids can be a problem. I had these two left over from when I built my newest, deluxe, three-tiered worm bin.

Flip the tub upside down and drill drainage holes in the bottom of the tub.  Make sure you drill the holes in the low spots of the tub or liquid will pool in the bottom and create less than ideal conditions for your worms. 

Bottom of the bin with drainage holes drilled in it.

Once you have drilled the holes in the tub, turn it right-side-up and put ONE of the lids on it.  Drill holes in the top to provide air flow to your worms. 

Finished worm bin lid

Worm bin top with air holes drilled in it.

Now that you have a container for your worms, you need to fill it.  Worms need bedding.  Remember when you cleaned out your filing cabinet and shredded all your old documents??   Go get them and use them to fill the bin most of the way.  If you don’t have any old documents or junk mail to shred, you can use shredded newspaper or cardboard. 

Upcycling your junk mail

Finished worm bin with bedding added.

Many sites will advise against using colored paper in your worm bin because the inks can be bad for the worms.  I have never had trouble with it, but I don’t add a lot of colored paper; in small doses, colored papers are fine.   (Note: Don’t shred the plastic windows from your junk mail into your worm bin unless you want to pick plastic ribbons out of your castings until the end of time.)

You are probably wondering what’s up with the extra lid.  Unless you want water and worm tea dripping out the bottom of your worm bin all over the floor, you will need to invert it and place it under the bin as a saucer to catch drips.  If you keep the bin outside, you won’t need the extra lid.  If you haven’t been able to scavenge an extra lid, you can place your bin inside another tub or rig some other way to catch the drips.  However, the extra lid is the easiest method.

Finished worm bin

The finished worm bin. This particular worm bin was auctioned off at the Family Wisdom Conference's Wise Woman Ladies Night.

Worms, like humans, are mostly water.  The environment needs to be damp.  If it isn’t, your worms will lose moisture through their skins, become dehydrated and die.  We’ve all seen those poor worms dried out on the sidewalk after a rain; no good worm farmer wants to do that to his stock.  To create the right humidity, dampen the bedding but DO NOT flood it.  The bedding should feel like a wrung out sponge after you have added the water.  If your bedding is too damp, either squeeze most of the excess out, let some drain out the holes before you add your worms, or add enough dry paper to the bin to absorb the excess moisture.   If your tub starts to accumulate too much moisture, the worms will start trying to escape just like earthworms do after a rainstorm.  Once your bin is established, you generally won’t need to add too much water but if the box ever seems dry, sprinkle a little water in until it seems damp enough.  Most of the kitchen scraps you add are mostly water and will keep your box adequately moist.  Adding a piece of cardboard, a piece of burlap or an opened newspaper to the top of your compost helps retain moisture, but I rarely do this.

Now that you have a container and bedding, you are ready to start.  Worms don’t have teeth.  They have gizzards instead.  In order to function properly, a worm’s gizzard needs small stones in it.  A handful of sand or dirt from your yard sprinkled onto the bedding will provide enough stones for your worms to get started.

Next, add some food for your worms.  The worms will eat the paper you have provided for bedding, but they prefer rotten food.  Rotten is the key word here.  The worms actually eat the mold and fungus that consumes the food so the more rotten your food is, the better it is for the worms.  If you don’t have any rotten scraps, fresh ones will do; they’ll rot soon enough.  Don’t add too much food to your bin at first.  Your worms will need time to adjust to their new surroundings.  Once your worms become established, they will reproduce and will be able to eat more garbage.  The more you feed them, the more worms you will have.

You are finally ready for your worms!  Believe it or not, there are many, many types of worms.  The common earthworm, nightcrawlers or bait worms you buy at a fishing shop are not good for your bin.  They don’t eat enough garbage and will probably die and smell up your bin.  Your worm bin needs red wiggler worms.  There are many sources for worms online.  Most of these sources are very pricey.  If you are in the Traverse City area, I’d be happy to sell you a pound of mine for $20, but at the moment I am not set-up to ship worms and I wouldn’t want them dying in the mail. 

That’s it.  You’re done.

Now that you have your bin set up and the worms have moved in, what should you feed them??

  • Coffee grounds
  • Tea bags
  • Fruit and vegetable scraps and waste
  • Spoiled food from the refrigerator
  • Shredded up junk mail
  • Eggshells
  • Nutshells
  • Old socks and non-synthetic clothing (No, really.  I once fed my worms a cotton sweater.)
  • Weeds and trimmings from garden or houseplants

Things you should never feed your worms:

  • Meat
  • Dairy
  • Greasy items
  • anything that wouldn’t biodegrade on its own
  • cat or dog waste

After a while, the bedding and food scraps in your bin will be unrecognizable because they will have been turned into rich castings.  When this happens, you will need to harvest your castings because worm castings are toxic to worms.  What?  You wouldn’t want to swim in your feces, would you? 

Check back soon for a post on harvesting your castings!

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28 Days Diversion

So, the room is coming around nicely.   I’ve purged a big box and a bag full of recyclables from my space, filled a grocery sack with items to donate to Goodwill, brainstormed some storage ideas with a friend and contemplated several different furniture arrangements. Furniture. It’s just one of those things that you can’t be sure of until you’ve drug all the pieces around and around the room to see how they look. In my head they look one way, but with such a small space, I have to be sure they work before committing to anything.  I’ll have to come back to the furniture.

I’ve also washed and dusted both windows and all the surfaces I’ve uncovered to this point, removed a dead television (that I’m taking to Best Buy to be E-cycled) and vacuumed the exposed carpet.  Despite the progress I’ve made, I still have a long way to go.  The old ‘wooden’ desk has to be removed still and there are many things in and on it that need to find new homes. 

I was feeling pretty good about the room when I got to this point:

Woah!  You can actually see the top of the desk!!

The top of the desk; exposed for the first time in I don't know how long.

The desk was clear and clean.  I couldn’t tell you the last time I saw the top of the desk.  It was inspiring.  Not only because it made me feel like there might actually be hope for the room, but because I suddenly had space to work!  This brings me to the diversion part of the story.  You see, my laptop case  is soo heavy that I can’t stand to carry it around.  Plus, when I bike across town to meetings, I always wish that my laptop was in a backpack.   I’ve been storing fabric swatches for weeks intending to turn them into a backpack for my computer, but haven’t had the space to actually start a project of that size.  Until now.

Here is the finished pack as modelled by my son:

Laptop backpack

My new, custom-made laptop backpack.

I scoured the internet for a pattern, but couldn’t find what I was looking for.  I found laptop sleeve patterns, and laptop envelope patterns, but none of the patterns were for a backpack.   I wish I had a “laptop backpack”  pattern to share with you, but this is more of a protoype.  I had to rework a couple of parts because they didn’t work exactly like I’d planned the first time.  And, I’d put a loop on the back for hanging the pack if I were going to do it again.  Also, I’d figure out a different closure system for the left pocket.  But, the pack does what I need it to do and my son has already put in an order for his pack for camping. 

The pack is quilted and fully lined to protect the computer and to keep it from hurting my back.  The pockets on the back are made from old jeans pant-legs from when Gwen was three or four.  She wore the knees out of the jeans, but the applique was so cute that I couldn’t bear to throw them away.  Sometimes being a packrat pays off.  The water bottle fits snugly in the pocket without any closure, so the right pocket is simply hemmed.  The left pocket is for the computer charger and cords.  I didn’t want them jumping out so I sewed zipper from an old pair of my jeans into the top.  It’s a little awkward, but it works.   The straps came from the same pair of jeans the zipper came out of.  I cut strips out of the length of one of the legs and sewed them onto the pack.  Another of the changes I would make in the future is to sew the straps on before the top flap so that I don’t have to work so hard to hide the raw ends of the straps.  If you look closely at the bottom of the pack, you can see two metal eyelets.  For some reason I thought that would be a good feature.  Keys or something could hang from there.

The side that rests on your back

This is the side of the pack that rests against your back.

For now, the pack will have to do.  Maybe someday, when I have more time, I’ll tear it apart and rework it.  If that happens, I’ll make a pattern and post it for you so that you don’t have to make it up as you go along like I did. 

Homemade Laptop Backpack

My laptop in its new, lightweight, easy-to-carry backpack.

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