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.




It’s nearing the end of October.  Commence holiday crafting!!

(Like we need an excuse)

I got these fabric pumpkins out of an issue of Martha Stewart Living, many moons ago, and I love love love them.  Once you make one, you can make a lot, and they are very conducive to “assembly line” tactics.

Everything you need to make these is probably already in your house, with one sole exception being a piece of specialized equipment called an embroidery needle.  A LONG embroidery needle.  You can do without it but when it comes time to wrap the pumpkin and shape the “ribs”, a long embroidery needle can’t be beat.

You will need:

  • Fun, autumnal fabric of any kind, color, texture, pattern.  Oranges and yellows are lovely but don’t be afraid to experiment
  • Green and/or brown felt for the stem
  • Thread in all colors
  • Stuffing
  • Sewing and/or embroidery needles

Cut your rectangles.  The basic rule of thumb is that the rectangle should be twice as long as it is high.  If the height is taller, it will be a tall pumpkin.  If the length is longer, you will have a squatter, flatter pumpkin.  In fact in the photos that illustrate the tutorial, I’m making a pumpkin that is on the flatter side.  Whatever size you cut, sew one short seam together.  It’s good to assembly line this because the rest of the project is hand sewing.  You can sew a bunch of seams and then put the machine away.

With the rectangle still wrong-side out, do a running stitch along one long side, about 1/4″ from the edge.  Pull the thread to gather the edges tight and then do some whip-stitches across the puckers to hold it in place.  Don’t stress too much about neatness because one side of the pumpkin will be facing the table or shelf, while the other side will have its gathers covered by the stem.

Turn the pumpkin inside out and stuff generously .  Do another  running stitch 1/4″ from the top edge.  Pull tight, get all the stuffing in there, and again, whip stitch across to keep everything tight.  This is kind of awkward to begin with, and you’ll find yourself wishing you had a third arm.  Now imagine trying to take pictures at the same time!

Now you have your stuffed pumpkin.



Thread an embroidery needle with a generous amount, maybe two arm lengths.  Do a few whip-stitches on the bottom side of the pumpkin to secure the thread – if you merely knot off the end it will pull right through the fabric.

Push the needle through the center bottom of the pumpkin, straight up through the top.  Wrap the thread around the side – you can follow the wrinkles in the fabric that are already occurring as a guide, and then push the needle in through the bottom again.  Up through the top, and pull tight, making the thread sink into the stuffing.  Wrap around the side, in through the bottom, up top and pull tight.  Repeat until the pumpkin looks the way you want it to.  Whip-stitch and knot off like crazy at one end of the pumpkin.


For the stem, I start with a rectangle of felt about 2″ x 3″.  I fold it in half lengthwise and then hold it up to the pumpkin to visualize how much I want to cut off.  The basic shape looks like this when unfolded:


(By the way, if you’re wondering about my lurid orange-and-black nails, it’s because I’d worked the school harvest fair that day, at the “Monster Manicure” booth)

Thread a needle with green thread, hold the stem edges together, and start blanket-stitching down to close the seam.  Sew to about 1/2″ of the bottom.  Actually, I forgot to tell you you should round off the corners of the stem, I’ll do that now:


Stuff the stem lightly, leaving the 1/2″ of bottom stem free.  This free part gets spread out on the top of the pumpkin, hiding all your sloppy stitchery, and you blanket-stitch around it, securing it to the top.  Smoosh up the pumpkin, twist and fiddle with the stem until it looks the way you want it to.


Awesome.  These are so much fun.  Quick, easy-to-make, and unlike those infernal paper ornaments, these are totally non-addicting……


Absolutely non-addicting.  There is no need to make more than, say, three, and tuck them among your Halloween decor…




Un Petit Livre

From May to September I move my laptop upstairs to the dining room table.  This is because the dining room has the best view of the yard, and with all the work I put into my gardens every spring and summer, I want to be able to see them.  My office downstairs has no windows.  So I work upstairs and make a mess of one end of the table, and then every fall, right around this time, I move back downstairs, get reacquainted with my desk and all my craft supplies and get itching to make something.

Today I made a book.

I didn’t write a book, I made one.  It’s 2 inches square.  Isn’t it cute?  I made it during my lunchtime, it took like 10 minutes.  I have no idea what to do with it…I’m letting Panda take it to school tomorrow to see what her friends think.

Anyway, I got the tutorial off How About Orange which is one of my very very favorite blogs.  Jessica has no end of clip-arts and crafts and free downloads and projects.  If you have a love of paper (I’m looking at you, Kelly) I highly suggest going to check her out.  She actually got this little book tutorial off Paper Kawaii, another awesome site for paper crafts.  The tutorial goes step-by-step with pictures so I’m not going to transcribe all the instructions here.  I’ll just give you my illustrated version of events.

You make one too.  You can do it.  And then tell me what you’ll do with it because I still have no idea.