Friday, 24 February 2017

This week's adventures: Soap

I've been wanting to try making soap for a while now. I bought most of the stuff to make soap in the fall. Depending on the recipe, I probably had everything, but it sat in my craft room for a while. I kept finding different recipes that I wanted to try.

Two weeks ago, I started a new bar of soap, and out of curiosity I looked at the ingredients. The ingredient list was, normal soap stuff, normal soap stuff, normal soap stuff, tussah silk.

Wait. What? There was silk in my soap?
Time to hit Google. I was surprised to find that people do sometimes put silk in their soap. It is supposed to give it a soft feel and a bit of a luster, to offset the dullness added by clay and/or mica, which is supposed to be good for the skin.

I was intrigued. I found this recipe: and scheduled a time on my calendar.

I think my original plan was to not worry about colors or scents, but this recipe had you divide the proto-soap into 4 cups to add various colors. I know I could have left that part out, but I wanted to try it. You can make some really pretty soaps by using multiple colors.

Here are the ingredients in my first batch of soap. Let's see if I can list off why the different stuff is included.

Coconut oil. This oil lathers well and lends hardness to the bar. The harder the bar, the longer it will last.

Shea butter: For moisturizing. In general this is supposed to be good for the skin, so you see it in many skin products. It includes compounds that aren't actually turned into soap, so the amounts in soap will be low.

Olive Oil: This gives the soap a nice feel and is good for moisturizing. Lotion bars that I've made in the past also included olive oil, if I remember correctly. You can actually make soap with 100% olive oil for the fat.

Castor Oil: Good for lather and also nourishes/moisturizes. This also will make the soap softer, so the percentage is usually kept low around 5-10%

Distilled water: Well, you need something to dissolve the lye in.

Lye: This is the heart of true soap. The lye reacts with the oils by turning them into soap in a process called saponification.  Be careful working with lye. It is caustic, which means it can burn you chemically. When you add it to the water (it can react very strongly if you add water to the lye, so don't do that) it creates an exothermic reaction, which means it heats up. The couple batches I did where I used a thermometer indicated that it gets to about 170 degrees F or so.

Silk peptide: This recipe uses a silk peptide powder. I didn't have that, but I did have tussah silk that I had purchased for spinning. 18 grams is a lot, all of that in the bowl in the picture, in fact. I figured that I wouldn't be able to get all of that to dissolve and it just seemed like way too much. Further research showed that I could use a cotton ball size bit of silk, so that's what I did.

The process:
It's not as scary as it may seem.

The first step is to weigh out all the ingredients. Yes, that includes the liquids.  I have a kitchen scale that I use.

My bit of brilliance that I came up with is that I bought two coffee carafes at the thrift store to use for soap making. Not the carafes that you use for storing coffee, but the ones that go into coffee pots. They are glass, so you don't have to worry about the lye reacting with it (don't use aluminum, the lye does bad things to it), they are meant to be heated and they were about $1.50 for the two of them. I got a smaller one and larger one. They work great! I may try to get a couple more for if I want to do a couple colors.

After weighing out all the stuff, I put the solid oils (coconut oil in this case) in the larger carafe. Then I put the water in the smaller carafe and placed it in the sink with the window above the sink open. I poured in the lye and stirred it with a metal whisk until it was fully dissolved, being careful not to breathe the fumes.

After the lye was fully dissolved, I added the silk and returned to stirring. The silk wanted to stick to the whisk, but slowly dissolved. Which was weird.

Once the lye and silk were dissolved, I poured this mixture into the large carafe with the coconut oil. Because the lye is hot, it melts the coconut oil. Since the other oils are liquid already, they don't need to be melted, so I added them after the coconut oil was melted.
My carafe with the lye, silk and melted coconut oil 

This is the point at which it all gets mixed together. I hear that this can be done with a whisk, but immersion blenders (dedicated for soap making) make this part easier.  You need to mix it until it reaches a light "trace".  It's at trace when it looks like pudding rather than oil. It will start to not completely go flat when you remove the mixer.

Now it's time to add scent. For this recipe, it says to divide into 4 cups. I used Solo cups because it isn't as hot at this point. When weighing out ingredients, I added the color, which had mica in it, and clay to a bit of olive oil to prepare the color for the soap. It is a thin paste at this point. I added the scented soap to each cup and stirred. This bit was a bit of a pain. The soap thickened enough at this point to be difficult to pour nicely. I alternated pouring the four colors into the mold. If the soap were thinner, I would have gotten more color changes along the face of each slice.

Soap in the mold

It looked nice in the mold apart from where I scraped the extra off of the plastic spatula.

I tapped the mold on the counter to attempt to get out air bubbles and then set it aside for about 48 hours. I removed it from the mold and sliced it.

At this point it's mostly soap. The saponification reaction is mostly complete, but the last traces of lye will react with the last of the oils over the next couple weeks and the soap will become milder.
There is a way to speed up the last of this reaction by keeping the soap warm in a crock pot for a while before molding, but the soap still benefits from curing a bit.
Since I didn't use a crock pot, this soap will cure for the next 4-6 weeks and then I'll get to try it.

Since this post has gotten rather long, I'll discuss the next couple batches another day.
Thanks for reading!

Saturday, 18 February 2017


My daughters and I love the movie My Neighbor Totoro. If you haven't seen it, I recommend watching it and other movies by Studio Ghibli.
I decided that I needed a Totoro sculpture. At the time I started this project, my medium of choice was wool fiber. Since Totoro is gray and white, I could use naturally colored fibers to make it even easier.

This is the process of how I made my Totoro.

Undyed Targhee combed top
I start with loose wool fiber. The specific fiber that I'm using for this project is white Targhee (that's the breed of sheep) combed top. Targhee is pretty good for felting. Here it's shown in the washed, combed prep that is combed top.
The only tools I use to make these sculptures are a wicked looking needle and a block of foam to hopefully save my fingers from too much poking. Sometimes I'll use a bit of wire for armature, but Totoro won't need it. The needle is 3 inches long and has 9 little barbs on it that catch the fibers and push them into the sculpture, felting it.

A basic Totoro shape
 The first step was to rough out a shape. Since Totoro is kind of a big oval, that wasn't too difficult. I will worry about things like noses, ears, arms and legs later.

Making the gray parts gray
 Then I needed to start making the gray areas gray. On the right side, you can see where I added some fiber that I haven't stabbed into place yet and the needle that I'm using to do so.

Now with arms. One is ready to hold an umbrella
Arms! My plan is to make him holding an umbrella, so I put one arm up.

Legs to stand on
Legs! With each step, he's becoming more and more recognizable.

Ears! Are those his ears? I was never quite sure.

A tail helps him stand
Shortly after giving him legs, I also gave him a tail. I failed at getting pictures of his tail in progress, but here is his tail after I finished the rest of him.

The beginning of a mouth
He started looking a bit demonic at this point. I don't think that's totally inappropriate, but the mouth gave me trouble. It kept wanting to look crooked. I could have left him with a smirk, but was trying to make it look somewhat even. Looking carefully, you may be able to see a bump of a nose just above the center of the mouth. Totoro doesn't have much of a nose, but there is a definite bump seen in profile.

Tooth definition and eyes
I added some black for his nose and started adding the eyes and divisions between the teeth.  Here, the white of one eye is mostly finished and the other...isn't. Yes, I seem to use his head for needle storage at times.

Mostly finished eyes and nose
A mostly finished face. I've added the pupils to the eyes and the rest of the lines between the teeth. The black lines spent a while being way too dark before I went back over it with some white to make it look less glaring.

A leaf to who knows what kind of tree
Again, my plan was to make him holding an umbrella. When we first see him in the rain, he has a leaf on his head, so I've added a leaf. The leaf was made separately before being added to his head. I did the same for the arms and ears.

Whew, the leaf fits between his ears

Belly spots!
I also added the gray spots to his tummy.
He isn't quite finished. I still want to give him an umbrella, but my first attempt to make his umbrella went pear shaped and looked horrible. It's got me defeated for now. I will get back to making his umbrella, and succeed at it, but it may be a while before I get the chance to figure it out.
He also needs his whiskers. I plan to use some black wire, but since they will need to be glued on and be a bit fragile I want to get the umbrella made and on before I add the whiskers.

Smaller Totoros for my girls
During this process, my girls both wanted their own Totoros. I made a smaller Totoro for each of them. I wasn't as concerned about details because my girls are young yet and would be rough with them.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Alt National Park Service hat

I have continued to craft every day. One of the things I've been working on is a hat by recommendation of a friend. She said she wanted an Alt Natural Park Service hat. I thought this was a great idea, so I went with it.

I had fun figuring out the chart and how to knit the pattern without driving myself crazy. It was also interesting to get a picture of the top of my head by myself. 
Unfortunately, some of my creating time has gone to writing and editing the pattern, but it is still creating. Deb Jaworowicz really helped me get the pattern clear and looking nice. I will definitely think of her when I next need a tech editor.

I'm rather proud of how it turned out. I think I could do a better job with the knitting as I'm horribly out of practice with intarsia. If I knit another, I will likely try duplicate stitch for some of it, like the green in the trees.

Alt National Park Service hat
by Michelle Trudeau Fleming

I've been wanting to do hats to support the upcoming science marches. A friend commented “I want an Alt National Parks Service hat” and I thought it was a great idea. I charted it out and got to knitting.

Difficulty level:

Skills Required:
Bind off
Cast on
Color chart reading
Intarsia (worked flat, not in the round)

Chart 1:
MC: dark brown
CC1: light brown
CC2: white
CC3: light green
CC4: dark green

Chart 2:
MC: desired hat color
CC1: light brown
CC2: white
CC3: light green
CC4: dark green
CC5: dark brown
CC6: gold

Sample uses (amounts are approximate):
Wool Ease (80% acrylic, 20% wool)
Avocado: 20-40 yards
White: 5-10 yards
Forest Green Heather: 10-20 yards
Heartland (100% acrylic)
Sequoia: 125 yards
Vanna's Choice (100% acrylic)
Toffee: 20-40 yards

US 6/4.0 mm. Hat is worked both flat and in the round. Needle length for your personal circular knitting preference should be used (double points, 2 circs, Magic Loop)

19 sts/24 rounds = 4 inches in stockinette in needle size required to obtain gauge.
A US 6 (4.0mm) to US 8 (5.0mm) is a suggested starting point.

Yarn needle
Stitch marker

CC, contrasting color
CO, cast on
K, knit
MC, main color
P, purl
Rnd, round
RS, right side
Sts, stitches
WS, wrong side

Finished dimensions:
Height: 12 inches with 4 inch unfolded brim.
Width: 17 inch circumference across stockinette section.
Fits snugly on my 23 inch circumference head.

Pattern Notes:
There are 2 charts. You will use the first chart if your main color is the same as the darker outlining. The second chart is included if your main color is a different color or if you want to include the outer outlining. Chart 2 is 4 stitches wider than Chart 1.
You may wish to make mini skeins for each color to minimize tangling and to maintain even tension. Certain small chart areas may be done with duplicate stitch if desired.
When changing colors be sure to cross the old color over the new color to avoid holes.

Stitch Pattern:
2x2 rib:
Rnd 1: *K2, p2. Repeat from * to end of rnd.
Repeat rnd 1 for pattern.

Using MC yarn and preferred cast on, CO 80. Place marker and join to work in the round, being careful not to twist.
Work 2x2 rib for 4 inches for a turned up brim, 2 inches for a non-turned brim.

Knit 4 rounds.

Chart 1 set up:
Prep row 1: (RS) K7, work row 1 of chart, k26, turn
Prep row 2: (WS) P26, work row 2 of chart, p27

Chart 2 set up:
Prep row 1: (RS) K5, work row 1 of chart, k24, turn
Prep row 2: (WS) P24, work row 2 of chart, p25

Complete desired chart as written, working in rows rather than rounds. Chart should be read from left to right on purl (WS) rows, and from right to left on knit (RS) rows.

Once the last row of chart has been completed, rejoin to work in the round.
Knit 2 rounds.

Rnd 1:*K8, k2tog. Repeat from * to end of rnd.
Rnd 2:*K7, k2tog. Repeat from * to end of rnd.
Rnd 3:*K6, k2tog. Repeat from * to end of rnd.
Rnd 4:*K5, k2tog. Repeat from * to end of rnd.
Rnd 5:*K4, k2tog. Repeat from * to end of rnd.
Rnd 6:*K3, k2tog. Repeat from * to end of rnd.
Rnd 7:*K2, k2tog. Repeat from * to end of rnd.
Rnd 8:*K1, k2tog. Repeat from * to end of rnd.
Rnd 9:*k2tog. Repeat from * to end of rnd.

Cut yarn 6” from hat. Using a tapestry needle, thread the tail through the remaining stitches and pull tightly to close.


Weave in ends.
Close seam using MC and your preferred seaming method.

Designer and pattern information:

Contact Information
Michelle Trudeau Fleming

Photographer: Michelle Fleming
Model: Michelle Fleming
Tech editor: Deb Jaworowicz
Test knitter

Copyright Statement
© Michelle Fleming, 2017

Date, Version Number
Version 1, February 2017

Maple syrup

This year is the fourth year that I've tapped my very large maple trees. I don't remember the date that I tapped the trees the first year, but the last two years, the date was a day apart in the first week of March. The high yesterday was 46 degrees (F) after a day of bitter cold, so I probably should have tapped them a couple days ago, but I tapped them with my daughter this morning.

I don't remember when my Dad started making syrup, but I remember collecting sap with him until the time we moved when I was 15.  The trees he tapped were more numerous (but not as large in girth) and more widespread. Since I live in the city, I have only the trees on my lot (4 large maples) and two on the empty lot next door (since I have permission from the people who own the lot). If I wanted to make a greater quantity of syrup, I could find more trees. One year I tapped at the daycare that my daughters went to as a way to teach them about maple syrup and collecting more sap. We don't go through large quantities of syrup, except as gifts, so I'm not too bothered about ending up with more.

I hope my daughters look back fondly at this activity and perhaps make their own when they get older.

It didn't get cold enough last night for the sap to run well today. It's also dreary and drizzly out there today. The best weather for running sap is temperatures above freezing, sunny and no wind during the day and then temperatures below freezing at night. When it is warm, the sap runs up from the roots into the branches because of pressure that grows when the tree warms. During the cool night, the pressure drops and suction helps the tree renew the sap by pulling moisture in through the roots. is a great explanation of what's going on in the tree.

Since I was the one wielding the drill, I have no pictures of that part, but C helped me with the rest of it.

For the spiles (the part that sticks out of the tree) that I use, a 7/16 spade drill bit is what I use. Spiles, and other syrup making equipment can be found at smaller hardware stores. Since all I purchased for sap collecting is the spiles, I didn't spend much on this aspect of syrup making, especially since my Dad gave me most of the spiles I have.
Here, C puts the spile in the hole and hammers it in.

Once the spile is secure, so it doesn't fall out or leak, you hang a bucket from it. We use milk type jugs since we go through so many. Some collectors will use tubes to have the sap run to a central collecting area or to buckets at the base of the tree.

The tree will start to heal after 6 weeks or so and sap will stop running out of the hole. Six weeks is plenty of time to make it through syrup season here, but you don't want to tap too early.
I don't know what to expect from this year. We've had some very warm days. Last year was odd and I only had two trees that gave me most of the sap I collected. I only ended up with 5 pints of syrup.

It takes a lot of sap to make syrup. The ratio is roughly 40:1. In other words, it takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Other trees can be tapped as well, but their sugar content isn't as high so it takes even more sap per unit of syrup. I would be better off with sugar maples (there's a reason they have that name), but most of my trees are silver maples. 

The next step will be boiling the sap to make syrup. Boiling the sap reduces the amount of water and therefore increases the sugar content. I believe large companies will freeze the sap to remove water too.  I did that one year...unintentionally. 

I store sap in various containers outside unless it gets too warm. When I went out one morning to continue boiling the sap, I found a pretty thick layer of ice along the top and edges. I punched a hole in it (not with my hand) and was able to lift out this bin shaped chunk of ice that was hollow inside. We lose very little sugar with this method. The girls had fun breaking up the ice.

I'll post more information once I get some sap to boil.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 3 February 2017

365 days of making

This year, unlike most years, I decided to make a New Year's resolution. I resolve to craft every day.

Keeping this resolution will be easier than most because it's something I enjoy doing, but in the past, I've had weeks where I did little to no crafting and my mood suffered for it. I don't know for sure if the gloomy mood was cause or effect of the lack of crafting, but that's not important today. I tend to feel better when I make things so I want to make things every day.

While I should have started updating this blog at the beginning of the year, I'm going to try catching up on what I've worked on this year and keep this blog as a record of my crafting. I have so far kept my resolution, even if the crafting was 10 minutes of knitting snuck in wherever I could.

Let's start with Totoro.
For those who are not familiar with Totoro, I recommend that you remedy that, but in short he is the title character in the film My Neighbor Totoro by Hayao Miyazaki through Studio Ghibli. He is a wind spirit that takes a couple girls, roughly my daughters' ages when they first saw the film, on magical adventures.

I started Totoro toward the end of 2016, but one of the first things I made this year was the leaf that he wears on his head in one scene.

This brings him close to being finished. I have wire for his whiskers and need to make him an umbrella. I've been nervous about the umbrella, but I think I know how to do it, so I just need to get to it. Here is a front view of him before the leaf. Yes, he's supposed to look a bit demonic.
When I get him finished, I'll send pictures to I sent them pictures in December of the needlefelted Appa that I did a few years ago because they encourage the making of things and have a dearth of fibery goodness on their page. For those of you new to my blog, here's Appa: 

Yes, he's supposed to have six legs. He is a flying bison in Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Thank you for joining me on my 365 days of crafting journey!