Dec 282011

Making homemade hand soap from bar soap is all over the blogosphere lately.  When I first read about this, my first reaction was, “Interesting but I don’t think I will ever do that.  Nice, scented, liquid hand soap is so cheap anyway.”  But in a classic “never say never” example, I found myself in a situation where this particular project suited the job perfectly.

You see, it is pretty easy to find liquid hand soap in every color of the rainbow and every scent imaginable.  But it is almost impossible to find liquid hand soap without any scents, colors, or antibacterial agents in it!  Believe me, I have looked!

We also happen to have a member of our family who is very allergy-sensitive to various soaps and must always use Dove white bar soap.  So, the bar soap to liquid hand soap project was a perfect fit!

There are a lot of recipes out there to try.  I was in a bit of a hurry to make mailing deadlines when I had to make my batch so I went with the simplest recipe possible, which was this one.

First, assemble your tools.

You will need:

  • A bar of soap
  • A cheese grater
  • A medium-large microwave safe bowl
  • A funnel
  • Water (preferably RO, distilled or filtered water)
  • Glycerin
  • A decorative pump bottle to put your finished hand soap in

First, grate the bar of soap into little shreds.

Be careful with small children who might mistake it for cheese!

Mix with 3 cups water

And two teaspoons glycerin.  (You can find glycerin at CVS pharmacy in the facial soap section.)

Microwave for 3 minutes.

You will have  a bubbly soup.

Let it cool and use the funnel to pour it into your bottle of choice.

You can create a nice label for the bottle by printing on a computer label, sticking that to the bottle and then putting a piece of clear packing tape over the label to make it somewhat waterproof.



This recipe made a lot of soap.  In addition to this bottle, we had at least another bottle’s worth left over.  We poured the rest into a large soap pump we already had with some remaining soap in it.  The consistency of this soap is quite watery.  It is not thick and gelatinous like regular hand soap.  It is more like milk.  But it does the job and is a little more convenient to use than bar soap and doesn’t make a mess in the soap dish/counter like bar soap does.

We have another bar to convert and may try it without the glycerin this time to see if it thickens up a bit more.

 Posted by on December 28, 2011 General Tagged with: ,
Dec 282011

Another handmade gift this Christmas arose from another family request.  Several Christmases ago, I ordered custom screenprinted shirts with my eldest daughter’s artwork on them.  They turned out great and I received requests to do it again with my younger daughter’s artwork.  The only problem is that the screenprint order minimum is pretty high (at least 25 or so) and while we peppered our family and friends with shirts from the first go-round, I wasn’t sure if we wanted to do that again.

So, I needed another alternative to put my daughter’s artwork on a shirt in a high quality way but in a limited quantity.

I recently used my embroidery machine for one of our Halloween costumes so I wondered if I could embroider a custom design onto shirts.   It turns out that you can but you have to have special software for your machine that converts designs into instructions the machine can read.  I was in a hurry and didn’t have such software nor any time to find someone who did.

After a little Googling, I found two YouTube videos suggesting that you could “embroider” with just a regular sewing machine.  Some recommend that you use a “free hand” embroidery foot that allows you to flexibly manipulate the fabric and sew in multiple directions but some people don’t use even that!

Artist Julie Dunbar is the queen of freehand machine embroidery and while I was inspired by her YouTube video profile by Threadbangers, I just discovered that Martha Stewart also did a profile on her a while back and you can even download some of her cute design templates from Martha’s site.

While I loved the look of Julie Dunbar’s designs, it wasn’t exactly what I needed for my artwork project since my daughter did not draw in lines of uniform thickness.  Some were thick and some were thin.  So, what to do?  My inspiration came from this YouTube video of a woman embroidering cat appliques using just the zigzag stitch by varying the thickness of the stitch as she sewed.  You can tell she has had a lot of practice and her technique is pretty amazing.

So, I ended up using a cross between the Dunbar technique and the cat applique technique.

Warning:  If you are a perfectionist you will not like freehand embroidery.  There are a lot of imperfections to this method, which just add to the handmade quality.  If you are trying to reproduce the results of machine embroidery and everything has to be exact or match, this method is probably not going to satisfy you.

Before you start, preshrink the clothing you want to attach the design to (i.e. wash and dry it as you normally would, preferably in hot water).

First, trace your pattern with a waterproof marker onto water-soluble stabilizer.  I used the sulky SuperSolvy brand that I found at Hancock Fabrics (just coincidentally when they were having a 50% off sale on sewing notions).

Then attach the stabilizer to your fabric.  Julie Dunbar likes painters tape.  I just used sewing pins.

Play around with your sewing machine to find a stitch and stitch width that gives you the look you want.  It might be the zigzag stitch or a buttonhole stitch.  I am not sure what the name of the stitch is that I used.  It was number 20 from a list of unusual stitches.

If you want, you can try putting an embroidery hoop around the stabilizer and the fabric but sometimes this doesn’t work so well.  Julie Dunbar doesn’t use a hoop and I found it was generally easier not to as well.

Begin sewing your design.  It won’t always sew exactly perfectly in line.  You have to move the fabric through the machine at a steady, slow pace.  If you have the freehand foot, you can just back up and go forward again as you need to.  Sometimes you might slip off the design a bit so it won’t be 100% accurate but it will probably be about 90-95% accurate.

If you don’t use the hoop, you have to be conscious of keeping the fabric and stabilizer taut (but not too taut—again this is one of the imperfections of this method).

When you are done, your design will look something like this.

Julie Dunbar advises that you then pull the top threads to the backside of the work and tie a knot with the bobbin threads to keep the threads from unraveling.  I tried this and sometimes I was able to figure out how to do it and sometimes I didn’t have time or it didn’t work so I just clipped the threads short.

I then cut away the excess stabilizer from the design (may not be necessary).  I found that while you can run the finished design under a faucet to rinse off the stabilizer, the stabilizer tends to get a bit gummy when wet so it worked out better to just wash the shirts again in the washing machine with soap.  After washing, here was the result:

Here are some of the other finished designs:

I used cotton knit fabric so my finished designs show a little puckering from the nature of the fabric but again, this is all part of the art of the shirts.  Each one is a unique original.  From regular viewing distance, no one will notice all those imperfections.

The perfect gift presentation for these shirts was to roll them up and wrap them in our eco-friendly accumulated stockpile of lesser art works that I showed you last year.

I like how they came out, imperfections and all!

What do you think of this technique?  What would you use it for?  Please share in the comments.

 Posted by on December 28, 2011 General Tagged with: , , , ,
Dec 232010

"Blogging -- What Jolly Fun!" By Mike Licht, From the Flickr Creative Commons.

There have been so many wonderful blog posts this year celebrating the holidays.  I could probably make a list of 100 or more ideas but the following half-dozen were the ones I kept coming back to for inspiration.

1. Wreath ideas from The Nesting Place. The Nesting Place compiled dozens of front door wreath decorating ideas here.  If you are looking for a way to festively welcome guests at your front door throughout the year, you can’t help but be inspired by these suggestions.

2. Sweet Paul’s holiday countdown has been beautiful and wonderful with a tip each day for crafts, cooking or decorating.  Some of my favorites include this family photo wrapping paper idea and these candy and popcorn wreaths.

3. The Reluctant Entertainer’s ingenious remembrance to a departed loved one by preserving their handwriting in ceramics. You could either use the stenciling technique she suggests or hire a potter (here in Fredericksburg there are plenty of potters to choose from at Liberty Town Arts Workshop) to make you a custom piece with engraved writing.

4.  June Cleaver Nirvana’s Hilarious Post about Holiday Photos with Children.  Anyone who has ever had to stage a family portrait with small children knows how fidgety and unpredictable this can be.  This post about a traumatic experience with a mall photographer will guarantee a laugh.

5.  Fun French-inspired Holiday Outfits from Les Chateau des Fleurs by Frenchy. This blog is a really fun read with many great ideas for adding a little French sophistication to your life.  There are many posts I could choose from this month but I thought her adorable holiday photo outfits were just charming and original.  Here is the one she wore for her own family holiday card. And this cute 1950’s inspired photo shoot, complete with some sort of Photoshop manipulation of the finished photos to give them an antique look was Vogue-worthy. There was also this incredible Parisian snowy day outfit.

6.  Relaxing Yoga Routine from Esther Ekhart at Esther Ekhart is one of my favorite yoga instructors.  In addition to being beautiful to watch, she has a lovely, soothing voice.  She posts regular videos on her website at that you can view for free.  She offered up the simple one for holiday stress below that I love.  The beauty of this routine, is that if you are too stressed to actually sit quietly and do it yourself, just stream it in the background while you do something else and it still has a calming, relaxing effect on you!

This will be my last post for the week. To those who celebrate, have a very Merry Christmas filled with love and joy!

 Posted by on December 23, 2010 General Tagged with: , , ,
Dec 232010

Looking for a great holiday gift for a neighbor or friend or a wonderful Christmas morning breakfast treat. I have just the thing!  A lovely, sweet-but-not-too-sweet cranberry bread.

We discovered this recipe over Thanksgiving.  We were supposed to be making a “cranberry chutney” for my daughter’s class Thanksgiving project but since none of us were that interested in eating the finished chutney we wanted to make something else.  We flipped over the bag of Ocean Spray cranberries and found this wonderful recipe for “Classic Cranberry Nut Bread.”

We just happened to also need to use up a large quantity of mandarin oranges and we had a ton of almonds on hand so it was perfect.

Cranberry orange can be a difficult flavor.  If the orange is too bitter (it can be surprisingly hard to find a sweet orange at the grocery store), our family generally dislikes the taste.  The milder flavor of the mandarin oranges was perfect for us.

It takes a little bit of work to get all the ingredients prepped.  You have to cut up the fresh cranberries (which I learned are white inside with small seeds!) into little pieces.  Since we were using fresh oranges, we also had a lot of squeezing to do to get the juice out and the orange peel grated.

The end result, however, is so heavenly!  You must try this!  My husband, after tasting it the first time said, “You should make this every weekend!”  Alas, it will be more like once a month but this is a new classic at our house.  Enjoy!

Recipe from Ocean Spray Cranberries (my modifications in italics)


2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup orange juice (we used mandarin oranges and squeezed our own juice)
1 tablespoon grated orange peel (again, we used the mandarin orange peel)
2 tablespoons shortening (I don’t remember adding this so I am not sure if I put this in or not.  If I did I probably used butter.)
1 egg, well beaten
1 1/2 cups Ocean Spray® Fresh or Frozen Cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I used sliced almonds.)


Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in orange juice, orange peel, shortening and egg. Mix until well blended. Stir in cranberries and nuts. Spread evenly in loaf pan. *Sprinkle top with additional sliced almonds.

Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely. Wrap and store overnight. Makes 1 loaf (16 slices).

 Posted by on December 23, 2010 Ruly Food Tagged with: , ,