Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Knitting and Reading and Making Soap, Oh My

 
Just can't seem to finish this book.  I've been reading it steadily, but it always seems as though I'm stuck 3/4 of the way through.  Sorta like when you're knitting a scarf, and it seems like you enter a new dimension of time whereby the more you knit, the more the length stays the same...

And mom's sweater is slowly starting to be seamed, but I'm hating the process.  Never again will I voluntarily design a pattern that needs seaming.  Never. I'm kicking myself for not making this sweater a seamless knit.  When will I ever learn?  It's not that seaming is beyond my capabilities.  It's simply that I HATE DOING IT!!! It takes time away from my true love --the knitting itself!

If you're a knitter and a reader, join the yarn along at Small Things.


 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Did We Skip October This Year, Or What???


Theoretically, I know that October came, but man alive it passed so quickly.  I simply can't believe it's over already and we're halfway thru November, to boot.  One of the reasons I know it came is because I have a trio of little decorative punkins that was the sum total of my decorating efforts.  Sheesh.  How 'bout the colors in these socks, though?  Aren't they gorgeous?  Here's a little photo essay of the knitting that occurred in October (while I was apparently too busy to pull out the ole laptop and blog already):
Designed by MagsKnits (that's me) for a custom order

Another MagsKnits design for special customer

The piece de resistance - A MagsKnits design blanket to complete the ensemble


 

Finished these socks and gifted them but forgot to take a picture of the finished product.  D'oh.
Lang wool socks for Nick (Friend of Sevy)
Knitting both socks in this pair at the same time, just for kicks.  Sometimes I do that.  It defeats the Second Sock Syndrome.

Mountain Colors Bearfoot, darned if I know the name
Now, on to the next activity...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

That Lady What's Always Knitting Made....Soap!!! Or, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

What Fall Looks Like Chez Nous
 

Wow.  I was shocked when I logged in and saw that the whole month of October came and went without a single blog entry from yours truly.  There certainly was plenty to blog about, but it is now lost in the haze as though it happened decades ago.  That's what it's like inside my brain these days.  If I don't get it down right away, it just evaporates.  In any case, I'll try to capture some of the high points from the photos I managed to take. 

Let's start with the soapmaking adventure, shall we?  And adventure it surely was.  They aren't kidding when they say the learning curve is steep.    I made 4 batches, with the first one the week of Halloween.  The next 3 were all made over the past couple of days, and while each was somewhat of a failure in several aspects, I did learn a lot and all of them actually turned into soap, albeit not very visually appealing...Baby steps, I always say.  As long as they lather, and feel good, I'm reasonably happy. 
 
Here's what I learned from each batch:
 
Batch the first: Lavender and sage - Loved the fragrance.  Took a looooong time to trace.  That's because I stirred by hand (never again) and there was a lot of olive oil in the recipe, which can take a long time to trace.  Also, being brand new to this, I didn't recognize trace and continued to stir much longer than I needed to.  It set at a pretty low temp, so I wasn't expecting much, but it turned out fabulous.  Beautiful creamy white color, set properly, everything was spot on.  Until I tried to get it out of the flipping mold.  I didn't prepare the mold at all, and it was impossible to get it out.  I ended up having to cut up the very expensive plastic mold to get it out.  Not happy.  I didn't take pictures of this one, and made it at mom and dad's.  I'll get a picture of it next time I go over there.  Next!
 
Batch Number Two - Lemon and Sage Fragrance

Having learned from the experience with batch number one and the fiasco of the unmolding process, I prepared this mold.  I lined an empty cardboard juice container with parchment, and felt pretty smug that I had licked that problem.  Foreshadowing, anyone? 

This time I recognized trace, and used a stick blender (the only way to go, if you ask me), but kept at it a bit too long, especially after adding the turmeric (for color) and the fragrance, which sped up trace quite a bit.  Wasn't sure this was going to gel properly.  It was nice and warm, which it was supposed to be when I wrapped it in the towel and set it to gel, but I was a little bit worried that it had traced too heavily.  Happy surprise: it gelled just fine and turned into soap.  Yay.  However...

I apparently jostled it a bit when I set it to gel, and some of the soap overflowed the container on one side.  Also, it turns out that cardboard juice containers are not the best mold.  "Why?" you ask?   They are too flimsy.  The sides of this one bulged out and consequently, the bars are only about 2 inches tall.  It's not apparent from the photo, but they are too small, and very, shall we say, "rustic" in appearance.  Also, the scent is a little too sage heavy and the lemongrass scent I used to boost the lemon scent didn't work out very well.  Back to the drawing board...
 
Batch the Third - Jasmine Honeysuckle
Being confident that "I had this" by now, I soldiered on with my third batch.  The learning here was enormous.  I was confident that I could recognize trace, and decided to challenge myself with a little creative coloring, because everything else was sure to go perfectly, don't you know.  Ha. 

Let's see, what went right?  Well, the scent is beautiful, although it turns out I could have achieved an equally beautiful scent while only using a third of the honeysuckle fragrance oil, thus saving product and money.  D'oh.  I can now recognize when trace is so heavy the soap is about to seize.  Because, yes, this one escaped seizing by a hair's breadth.  In fact, when I poured the gloopy, lumpy mass into the mold, I was quite sure it wasn't going to gel, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it had.  Also, the color experiment didn't go that well. 
 
I used 1 tsp of alkanet root in 1/3 of the batch and spooned this on top of the uncolored 2/3.  Having heavily traced, the alkanet root didn't mix in very well, but I just shrugged my shoulders and poured it anyway, because I knew that if there was any possibility of saving this bad boy it was to get it into the mold and insulated ASAP.  That top layer was an ugly dark gray.  It is supposed to turn the soap a color ranging from a light purple to a light pink, depending on how much lye is in your soap.  In that regard, it is a good colorant to choose, because it acts as a litmus test that shows you from the color how much lye is left in your soap.  Ideally, it should lighten to a light pink during the saponification process, indicating your soap has proper Ph level.  As you can see, the color in my batch is a very dark purple, bordering on black.  I'm hoping that as the curing process continues (4-6 weeks), the color will lighten, indicating that the lye is properly reacting with the oils to completely saponify...  We shall see.  Because if it stays this color, the soap will be too caustic to use. 
 
Also, again, the juice container thing didn't work out so well as a mold. I'll make a mold from a cardboard box for the next batch.  Because, yes, soapmaking is fun, darn it.  And I plan on doing it a lot more.  Next!
Batch Four - Bergamot Neroli

Oh boy.  Let's start with the positive, okay?  Poured at the proper stage of trace. The orange juice container stood up well as a mold this time.   Liked the citrus peel I added for exfoliant and visual interest (the brown specks). 

Now for the flipside: Wanted a nice deep yellow color, which the bars actually are, although you can't tell from the photo, so used 2 T of yellow palm oil to get the color.  Big mistake.  Should have only used 1 T.  Why? Well, because the recipe already included a lye discount, so the addition of the extra palm oil was too much superfatting.  I think. The soap gelled well, yay! However...It feels oily and there are air pockets which leak liquid palm oil.  I'm hoping for the best during the curing phase, but I fear these bars will be too soft to use. 

As for the fragrance....I used 1 tsp of roman chamomile to "fix" the bergamot and neroli fragrance and I no like.  That chamomile fragrance imparts an earthiness to the citrus notes that is not pleasing to me.  Hopefully, it will mellow during the curing phase and become more appealing. 
 
So there you have it.  Despite the failures of each batch, I find the process intriguing.  Working with lye was not as scary as I thought it was going to be.  I'm planning on making some cardboard molds later today and trying my hand at another couple of batches tomorrow.
 
Also, there was quite a bit of knitting during October.  I'll show that in my next post.
 
Till then, have fun and try something new, why dontcha?