Soap Opera: Vanilla Sundaes

soapmakingthenaturalwayPanda and I got into making soap as gifts last year and the hobby has lain fallow since, but now once again, ’tis the season, and we’ve caught the bug again.  We’re helped this year by this awesome book I found at Michael’s, Soapmaking the Natural Way, by Rebecca Ittner.  It’s not hardcore, true pioneer, ashes-and-lye soapmaking, but apothecary fun of mixing glycerine soap blocks with essential oils and pantry ingredients to create very cool little soaps.

We went through and picked a few to try out, and I had to go in search of a few specialty ingredients, mostly the essential oils and things like kaolin clay or goat’s milk powder.  Essential oils at the local health food store were the rough equivalent of my monthly phone bill, so I hunted around online and found three sites that between them seemed to have everything we could need at pretty decent bulk prices:

Bramble Berry Soap Making Supplies

Bulk Apothecary

Essential Wholesale

I had all three open at the same time, comparison shopping, and in the end went with a few things from Bulk Apothecary and the rest from Essential.  After this recon, some soaps we wanted to make got rejected because the cost of their materials was just unjustifiable.  Neroli essential oil?  It’s a mortgage payment, I’m not kidding.

So a few things arrived in the mail on Thursday, we hit the test kitchens and have two soaps for you, one is a brown sugar vanilla clear soap, the other is a two-tone Vanilla Sundae.


Brown Sugar Vanilla

This is very straight forward melt-and-pour, and the additives are not specialized or weird.

  • 1 lb clear melt-and-pour glycerine soap (I have been buying my soap blocks at Michael’s, they come in a 2-lb package so this was half of it)
  • 1 teaspoon vitamin E oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla essential oil (on which many purists call bullshit, apparently there is no such thing as vanilla essential oil, and what you really get is a real glorified vanilla extract.  It certainly looked like vanilla extract and cost about the same so draw your own conclusions)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • Small spray bottle with alcohol (I found one in a little travel kit I had under the sink for some strange reason)

In a large glass or pyrex measuring cup, melt the glycerine soap in the microwave.  Stir in the oils and sugar, and then pour into molds.  Spray the tops of the molds with alcohol to remove air bubbles.  Let cool and fully harden, then pop out of the molds.


Vanilla Sundae Soap

This soap is a little more labor intensive because it has two layers.  But it is gorgeous and smells amazing and really once you have everything set up, it’s not a lot of time to make them.  I have one at my kitchen sink and the other in my shower.  They’re really great, lather up nice, and the scent is just divine.  And you made them, how cool is that?

White layer:

  • 1/2 lb shea butter melt-and-pour soap
  • 1 tsp sweet almond oil (this hadn’t yet arrived so I used the vitamin E oil)
  • 1 tsp vanilla essential oil (cough, extract, cough)
  • 1 tablespoon goat’s milk powder, dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water and whisked smooth

Melt soap in microwave in large pyrex measuring cup or bowl.  Stir in the oils and the goat’s milk.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside while you make the second layer.

Clear layer:

  • 1/2 lb clear glycerine melt-and-pour soap
  • 2 tsps honey
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder

Melt the soap in the microwave, stir in the honey and cocoa powder.  A whisk works best to get the cocoa fully incorporated.

Microwave the white layer about 20 seconds to wake it up.  Pour into the molds until they are half-full.  Spray the surface with alcohol to remove bubbles.

Pour the clear layer into the molds until they are full.  With toothpicks, swirl the colors together.  Spray the surface again with alcohol.  Let the soaps fully cool and harden, then pop out of the molds.



Bloody Dragonflies

Failed attempt #13

Failed attempt #13

And bloody they are.  It took me twenty-eight attempts and a video tutorial from my cousin Donna to master this damn stitch.  I found it on via Pinterest and whoever wrote the directions is just plain mean.  Here they are as lovingly deciphered, decoded and put down by Donna, with a few tweaks by yours truly for those of us who like everything spelled out.

Dragonfly Lace Stitch

Cast on 16 stitches

Row 1:  P2, K4, K2tog, YO2, Sl1, K1, PSSO, K4, P2

Row 2:  K2, P3, P2tog, Slip 1 of the YO’s purlwise, YO2 purlwise, Slip the other YO purlwise, Sl1, P1, PSSO, P2, K2

Row 3:  P2, K2, K2tog, drop all the YO’s off the left needle – there should be 2 long strands; take them up with your right needle, YO2 knitwise, then go under the YO’s again; Sl1, K1, PSSO, K2, P2.

Note:  at this point, the slipped loops and the YO’s in the middle make what Donna and I call THE TANGLE.  THE TANGLE is ugly but don’t let it frighten you.  THE TANGLE is a metaphor for life, just keep going and it will work out in the end.

Row 4:  K2, P1, P2tog, drop THE TANGLE off the left needle , it is now 3 strands; take them up with your right needle, YO2 purlwise, then go under THE TANGLE again; Sl1, P1, PSSO*, P1, K2

Row 5:  P2, K2tog, drop THE TANGLE which is now 4 strands; take them up with your right needle, YO2, then go under THE TANGLE again; Sl1, K1, PSSO, P2

Row 6:  K2, P1, 4YO cast-on style**, drop THE TANGLE and P1, K1 into it – keep tension as even as possible and pull tight as you are doing the final “draw-up” of the wings; 4YO cast-on style, P1, K2

Row 7:  P2, K12, P2

Row 8:  K2, P12, K2

Row 9:  Same as 7

Row 10:  Same as 8

* On the even rows, this PSSO was a little tricky (for me) because that slipped stitch liked to “hide” under a long strand.  Just be sure you’re passing the correct thing over.

** YO cast-on style – Donna had to show me what she meant by this.  You don’t want to simply wrap the yarn around 4 times, it will all fall apart in the next row.  Do a yarn over the right needle, then take that loop off, turn it 180 degrees, and put it back on the right needle.  Repeat 3 times.  If that doesn’t make sense, give me a holler, I’ll try to explain better.

So the Dragonfly is 16 stitches wide.  Below I attempted a double swatch with 2 lead off knits, 2 knits in the center, and 2 ending knits, so I cast on 38 stitches total.  Those 6 knits are always knit, odd and even rows.  This is one that takes a ton of practice, I’m still not happy with the final P1, K1 into THE TANGLE on row 6, I wish I could get it tighter.

If you try this and find it incredibly difficult and frustrating, do tell me about it, please!  Remember it took me twenty-seven times to finally get it so don’t get discouraged.

(If you breeze right through it on the first try, I don’t want to hear from you)


Paint Swatch Art: Fall Tree

If you want to lose an hour of your life, search “Paint Swatch Art” on Pinterest.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  Nobody warned me, next thing I know Panda and I are skulking out of Home Depot with an innocent 5 or 6 swatch cards in our hands, but about 200 more stuffed in my purse.  How many can one take before it qualifies as theft?

Anyway, Panda wanted a heart punch and a butterfly punch.  I already have a heart one, I think I may have three, that’s another post.  As for the butterfly, we found this awesome 3-in-1 layered punch by EK Success and it’s great with the paint swatches because the colors are already coordinated for you.

20130924-230131.jpgI got a little oak leaf punch.  I had picked out mostly fall swatch colors; I had a very specific vision of a tree collage I wanted to make.  It’s sort of my take on Marimekko.  Possibly Marimekko meets Ikea.  Marimekkea?

There are so many great ideas out there for paint swatch art:  making garlands out of punched shapes, folding them into little boxes, framing them under glass to make a dry-erase calendar.  A lot of teens copy lyrics or inspirational sayings onto them.  They are very fun things to have around.  And very (cough) reasonably priced.

So here are our projects and my warning.  Let’s be careful out there.


The Cutting Edge: Halloween Lanterns


The love affair with the Silhouette continues (click here to read how it all began).  This project is one of the reasons I bought the cutter in the first place.  These lanterns scream “seasonal crafting,” don’t they?  And why wait for Christmas when Halloween is filled with shadowy outlines of iconic objects?

I used Nanetta Bananto’s basic design with the scalloped flourish at the top, and then from the Silhouette library I downloaded different Halloween shapes to go in the window of the lantern (they are very reasonable at .99 cents each).  I experimented with making the lanterns different sizes.  The pattern for the small ones will fit on a standard 8.5×11″ piece of cardstock, but to go larger I needed to reduce the pattern to just two sides of the lantern, and cut it twice.

After cutting this set, I also got the idea to experiment with replacing the scallop flourish on top with something complementary to the window.  So in this example, I’m taking the small witch lantern and making it larger, and replacing the scallop with the outline of a cat.

Small lantern pattern:  all 4 sides fit on one page

Small lantern pattern: all 4 sides fit on one page

Trim to just two sides, enlarge, erase scallop and replace with cat

New look of lantern

New look of lantern

20130919-175123.jpgNow it’s time to cut.  You use a special cutting mat which has a light adhesive layer on it to hold your paper or cardstock in place.  Watching it cut is fascinating but one downer of this machine is IT IS REALLY LOUD!  All right, not drive people out of the house loud, but still it makes a racket.  I’m not sure if that’s because it’s an old model or a used machine or what, but there it is.

Peeling the cut image off the mat is a little anxious.  Slow and steady does it, especially with the detailed parts like the ribbon coming off the witch’s hat.


While the other two sides are being cut out, I cut vellum to fit on the inside of the lantern and stuck it down with Mono adhesive.  Then I adhered the two panels together to make the lantern.

20130919-175322.jpg  20130919-175336.jpg

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All you need then is an LED votive.  Oh, and by the way, I know this isn’t necessary, you are all intelligent people, none of you would ever think that using a paper lantern over an ACTUAL VOTIVE CANDLE OR TEALIGHT WOULD BE A GOOD IDEA, RIGHT?  Right, you’re intelligent people, you use these with the fake candles.  I’m glad there’s no need to have that kind of conversation with you, that’s why you’re my friends.

So the gallery of lanterns is below.  I like the haunted house a lot, especially since if a bit of it tears – like the crossbars of a window or a railing – it doesn’t matter because it’s supposed to be a crumbling wreck.  A little distress works well with these.  You can see by the last one, the tree, I was really going crazy.  I love the tree and how the branches stick up above the top of the lantern.  It took a lot of work in the software with the overlapping branches, making sure the cut lines were right, but it’s my favorite.


The Cutting Edge: a Love Story

SilhouetteStyleIt started in Michael’s when I saw this book: Silhouette Style by Nanetta Bananto. In particular I was taken with the votive lanterns on the front cover, aren’t they keen? Did she cut all these projects by hand? Leafing through the book, I learned she used a digital cutter. I had heard of die-cut machines through Stampin’ Up, and seen a few on the market like Cricut and Cuttlebugs, but it seemed to me that with such machines you were locked into a particular system that could only use a particular set of designs. The Silhouette Style book came with a CD of the designs used, but what kind of cutter would you need to use them? Could I, perhaps, become the owner of such a thing?

I did a little research and when I saw the price tag of digital cutters who could use independent design software, I decided such a thing was not for me at this point in time.

I set that idea aside but then I started having an affair with the blog How About Orange (she ruined my life), which in turn led me to the incredible blog PaperMatrix and these AMAZING WOVEN PAPER SPHERES, I MEAN HELLO?!


Aren’t they just the greatest things you’ve ever seen, they totally blow away those paper strip ornaments which still remain pretty awesome but come on! The PaperMatrix blog also ruined my life, but also very generously gives you the pattern to make these spheres. As I looked at both the intracacy of what had to be cut out along with how many you needed to cut out, I realized that what was truly needed here was (sigh) a digital cutter. I wondered if they’d come down in price since last I looked…?

Not really.

But I really wanted one.

So I did some creative visualization and put it out to the Universe, I would like to have a digital cutter. In fact I started acting as if I already had one, I love my digital cutter so much, I’m having so much fun with it. Then, because I feel the Universe likes it when you do your part, when I took out cash for the week, I started socking away a $20 in the mason jar I keep by the washing machine (because I don’t know about you, but any money I find in pockets when doing laundry belongs to me, finders keepers). And I started doing some comparison shopping in earnest, seeing what models would work best for me and the kinds of projects I wanted to make. Eventually I settled on the Silhouette brand, with their Portrait model as the ideal, and I started trawling online and on eBay. Finally, one showed up: not a Portrait or Cameo, but an earlier Silhouette model that the owner said still worked with the Silhouette Design software and was a great starter model for those just venturing into this world of digital cutters. $150 with free shipping. The Universe was not just putting this into my hands but hitting me over the head with it. I said “yes, ma’am,” cashed in the mason jar and I bought it.

It arrived.

I screamed and I hugged it. And now, I am in love.

The road to love has not been a smooth one. First of all, I didn’t have a PC to hook the Silhouette up to or run the software on. Using the house computer upstairs would involve hooking up the machine every time I wanted to use it, setting it on a stool nearby along with my materials and basically trying to be crafty in the middle of household chaos. Not to mention fighting the kids off to actually get some damn time on the computer. No, I wanted my own setup and I’d gladly petition the Universe and start socking money away in the mason jar again to obtain it. Lucky for me my brother fixes and refurbishes computers as a side business, and he was able to assemble for me a system out of mongrel parts. Finally I was set up, and so began the learning process. This had its own frustrations as I learned that creating Nanetta Bananto’s designs wasn’t as easy as opening the file from the CD and just cutting. I had to learn to use the “trace” feature of the Silhouette software to replicate the pattern, as I would for any JPG or PNG design I wanted to cut out. That was an eye-opener, and took a couple weeks to master. Then there was learning how to adjust the blade settings, cutting paper versus cardstock, and discovering that cardstock bought at Michael’s is flimsier than cardstock bought through Stampin’ Up, and settings that work for the former will not cut through the latter. And so on and so forth but finally I felt I was ready to attempt a project, and in my tendency to go for the hardest version of anything first, I decided to make one of those paper spheres.

A lot of you already know this story. I’ll skip to the ending and say that I did make one. But I don’t know if I’ll attempt making any more because while they are utterly fabulous, they were quite possibly the hardest, most frustrating project I’ve ever attempted in my life. You hear me? In my LIFE!


I set aside my sphere dreams and looked for something else to fool around with. Panda had recently downloaded and printed some pictures of One Direction which were, naturally, strewn across the kitchen counter. As I gathered them up to toss in the recycling (I’m so mean, I know, but you give clutter an inch and it takes your house), I looked at one of them, a basic group shot of the boys, but I was now looking with my new Silhouette-trained eye, seeing the outline of the group, not just the individuals. I can trace this, I thought, suddenly envisioning the cut-out silhouette in front of a Union Jack flag. I found the same image online, saved the picture as a JPG, imported it into the software, and used the Trace feature. It worked perfectly. I cut the shape out of black paper, then found a Union Jack design from the SIlhouette store which I cut from red and blue paper. I worked in secret evenings when Panda was away. Finally assembled, I took it up to her:


She screamed. She hugged it. She hugged me. Then she took a picture and put it on Instagram. I thought, this has possibilities.

Bit in teeth, I downloaded this picture:

1D 2

I traced it, cut it, assembled it, and presented it to Panda:


She screamed. She hugged it. She hugged me. Then she took a picture and put it on Instagram. After hanging both pieces on her wall, she wondered how she could have them surrounded by some 1D lyrics. “Like a wall decal?” I asked.

“Right, letters that just stick on the wall,” she said.

“Well that’s just contact paper,” I said slowly, “or rather some kind of adhesive…vinyl.”

“Will your machine cut that?”

But I didn’t answer her because I knew it could and I was having yet another vision, this time of making my own wall decals. Not just the ubiquitous ones you see everywhere: Live.Love.Laugh. Family. Peace. Famous Quotation. But a truly unique and useful decal that could go by the kitchen sink that said I love you…and please put that in the dishwasher. One over the hamper that said Is that dirty or are you just lazy? Or one that was posted just outside bedroom and bathroom doors, in a beautiful font reading: turn off the light! I could make decals of ballet poses and terminology for my best friend’s dance studio.

I’m now out of my head. I’m smitten, besotted, gone. I am so in love with this machine, I can’t even see straight.  I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a gadget since…um…never mind (shut up, Bridget). It’s awesome. I love it.

Valentine Lollipop Covers

It’s nearing Valentine’s Day which means the floor by my desk looks like this:


I send my friends love notes on the 14th.  I like Valentine’s Day to be about the message.  It kind of drives me crazy how it’s become a second Halloween in the schools but I play nice.  These lollipop “matchbook” covers are quick, cute and easy, and they satisfy my need for things to be handmade with kids’ need to be sugary.

For your generic lollipop, a piece of cardstock 2 3/4″ wide and 6 1/2″ long will do the trick.

IMG_5996  IMG_5997

Score at the 2 3/4″, 3 1/8″ and 5 7/8″ mark.


You need to punch a hole in the center of the thinnest section for the stick of the lollipop to go through.  A hole punch seems the obvious answer, but unless you have one of those special long-nose kind, it won’t reach to the center.  Among my more obscure craft supplies is this hand punch, hammer and setting mat.  I think it’s to set eyelets.  Tell you what:  I’ll just leave you to fend for yourself on this step.


The cover is now made, now you just need a little (or a lot) of decoration for the front.  Redman’s sole directive is that his Valentines not be too “lovey mushy”.  So we went through my drawers of rubber stamps and he picked this friendly one, to be stamped in brown and blue ink.

IMG_5999  IMG_6002

We mounted it on red paper and stuck it to the front.   Then slide the stick of the lollipop through the hole and stick down the flap in the back.  Done and done.

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IMG_6007Panda adopted the same matchbook design, but skipped the lollipop in favor of a single heart-shaped chocolate.  These go to her girlfriends as there seems to be an indefinite hiatus on boys receiving Valentines.

Fine by me.

Sweets to the sweet.

Christmas Crafts: Peppermint Stripe Soap

You can do this.  You can SO DO THIS.  It will cost you about $20, take two evenings tops, and in the end you will have awesome homemade gifts to give to teachers, babysitters, friends and aunts.

I know, you have two questions:  when do I have time? (I won’t answer that) and how do I come up with these things? (I will answer that!) This particular idea came from The Binder.

Take that, Mitt.

The idea of The Binder is to take all the cool ideas I find in mags like Martha Stewart Living and Real Simple, and keep just those pages:


As you can see from the stack on the shelf, I haven’t updated The Binder in three…four…ten years.  Whatever.  I’m busy.  But there are some very cool things in the Binder, most of which I’ll never end up doing, but it’s nice to know they’re there.  One of the things I’ve actually done is this peppermint stripe soap.  Panda gave them as teacher gifts one year, and this year it’s Redman’s turn to make them.

The materials are readily available at any craft store: head toward the section for candlemaking, the soap stuff is usually right next door.  You will need:

  • A pack of white glycerine soap
  • A pack of clear glycerine soap
  • Peppermint soap fragrance OR peppermint essential oil.  Essential oil you will probably need to get at a health food store, but may be worth the extra trip for you because its fragrance is superior to the synthetic soap stuff.
  • Red and white soap coloring.  Red food coloring also works.  The white is NOT necessary, it’s just that the red layers tend to bleed into the white ones, so I like to give the white a little boost.
  • 2 cheap microwave safe measuring cups
  • 2 mini-loaf pans
  • Popsicle sticks or wooden skewers for stirring
  • A spray bottle filled with rubbing alcohol

You will need 1/4 cup glycerine for each layer of soap.  The glycerine usually comes pre-scored and through trial-and-error we found that 3 squares = 1/4 cup.

Cut 3 squares of white glycerine into smaller pieces, place in measuring cup and microwave at 20 second intervals until completely melted.

Add about 20 drops of synthetic fragrance to melted glycerine and stir; if using essential oil, add 5 drops at a time until you get the level of scent you want.  Remember every white layer will have fragrance added so less is more.

Pour white soap slowly into one loaf pan – the slow pour avoids bubbles.  Cut off another 3 squares of white, repeat process to fill other loaf pan.  Let pans sit about 15 minutes to set.

Take a fork and score the surface of the white layer, lengthwise and crossways.  Pick out all the little scraps of white, then spray the scored surface with rubbing alcohol.  This process helps the layers adhere. 

Cut off 3 squares of clear glycerine and melt in microwave.  Add red food coloring and stir until it’s the shade you want.  Pour slowly on top of white layer in one loaf pan.  Melt another 3 squares, color, stir and pour into other pan.

Again, let sit for at least 20 minutes.  Before adding the next white layer, score with a fork, tap out the shreds and spray with alcohol.


And so repeat, alternating red and white until the pan is filled.  Let sit for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight, in a cool place.

The soap will release easily from the pan if you put it in the freezer for 20 minutes.  Hold the pan upside down, pull away the sides, press on the bottom with your thumbs, it should come right out.  If it doesn’t, I don’t know you, this conversation never happened.

Let the soaps come back to room temperature.  With a sharp knife, cut the soap into slices, slide into cellophane bags.  Martha says to tie with bakery string but I don’t know where you procure that.  Just tie with whatever you have, make some kind of label and be sure to tout the fact that this is a HANDMADE GIFT.

Store soaps in a cool, dry place until ready to bequeath to someone you love.

You rock.  How do you think of these things?