Making a Stuffie

One of my favorite gifts to make for kids are stuffies.

There are easy and fun and quick to make.

When I’m making two-dimensional stuffies I start with two pieces of fleece and sketch the outline of the critter I want to make.

This time it was a knock-off of an Ugly Doll for my nephew’s first birthday.

I like to use a fabric marker with disappearing ink, though I have used plain old Sharpies too.

When sketching your critter, make sure not to make parts too narrow or it will be a pain to turn it back right-side out.  If in doubt, go a little wider.

The nice thing about the disappearing marker is that I can use baby wipes to “erase” any parts of the sketch I don’t like.  When I’m designing something new it sometimes takes me a few attempts to get it the way I want.

When I’m happy with my sketch, I take a good look and determine where the best place to leave the opening (for turning) would be.  I usually look for as straight a stretch as possible.  This time it was on the side of my little monster.  I like to mark where the opening will be so that I don’t forget and stitch it right up.

When it’s time to sew, I start at the bottom of the opening (back stitching to secure) and sew right on the line all the way around the critter.

After stitching, I trim off the excess, leaving about 1/4 all the way around and then clip all the corners and curves.

Once that’s done I use cut out facial features out of felt or bits of fleece and play around with them until I like what I see.  Buttons are good too.  It usually takes me a little bit before I find the right personality for my critter, but settle on it I hand-stitch down all the pieces.

Then comes the stuffing and (in this case fiber-fill, though leftover quilt batting works great too) starting at the limbs and other smaller areas and ending with the belly.  Then I hand stitch the opening closed.


The Target Tote

I have a new bag and I’m calling it the Target Tote.

Because it is made out of two dishtowels from Target.

(They were on sale for $2.50 a piece.)

It has a little pleated front and contrasting handles.

It’s quite roomy too.

No lining to mess with and only one cut.

Super easy peasy.

Here is how you make one for yourself:

Hacking the Welly Sock

My first attempt at making Welly socks for my thrifted Hunter boots was a total hack job.  To construct the socks I cut the arms off an old fleece jacket and then attached a sock that I made by tracing my foot.

I left the seams on the outside to maximize the comfort and I was successful but I wouldn’t say they were pretty.

Enter version #2.  I’m so happy with how these turned out!

I made them out of a piece of butter-soft fleece given to me by a friend.  I think the fleece originally was a blanket of some sort.  This time I left the seams on the inside, but I did a nice overcast stitch with my machine to make it look pretty.  I also cut down on the number of seams so there wouldn’t be any irritation when wearing the boot.  The cuff is a double piece of fleece that really helps secure the sock over the boot.

I finished them off by adding a little flare.  Love it?  I do!  They turned out just as nice as anything I’d find in the store.

This is what my pattern looks like.  It’s about 24″ in length and though I could have made it shorter I think the extra length helps the sock not pull down when I walk.  The width at the calf is 8″.  The dotted line marks the place where I want to put the gussets for the heel and is placed at about my ankle bone.  Each sock consists of three pieces.  I traced the template exactly for for the front piece and then for the back piece I allowed an extra 4″ of material at the top.  When you are pinning the front and back together, start with the toe and the top.  Using a fabric marker, mark the dotted line on the back piece and use that as a guide for where to put the fold of extra material from the back piece.  This fold will be your gusset.

The cuff was a piece of material cut to 10″ by 16.5″.  I sewed the short ends together and folded the tube inside itself to hide the seams and give it a double thickness.

Here is a picture of how the pattern compares to my foot.  In the picture my foot has slid a little too far forward, but you get the idea.  Basically you want a nice roomy fit.

The actual construction of the sock is super easy.  Sew along the edges of the front and back piece, stopping at the fold and flipping the extra material out of your way before continuing on.  Once you’ve finished stitching, try the sock on your foot (inside out) and pin the gussets to fit your foot.  I removed the sock and used a fabric market to draw a line where my pins were, then I removed the pins and sewed on the line, trimming the excess material.  The cuff gets attached next, just make sure your sock is inside out when you pin the two together.  Sew around the edge and flip the sock right side out.  Lastly add some top stitching around the top edge to secure the cuff and tack on any flare you are wanting.

I know there will be more pairs in my future.   I think a cabled sweater would make a great cuff too.  So fun!

Making Soap

I like making soap.  I do.  Right now I make two different kinds: one for laundry and one for skin.  I use the cold-process method which is pretty easy to master.  Soap making is a skill I plan to teach my kids when they get older so when I made a fresh batch last week, I took a bunch of pictures to record the process.

This IS NOT a comprehensive how-to-guide on making soap.  There is a wealth of information available online and at the library for people who want to learn more.  This IS a record of how I make soap.  That is all.

When I want to try a new recipe for soap, the first thing I do is use a soap calculator (there are many available online, just search for one) to figure out what combination of oils I want to use and how much lye I’ll need.  Making soap is a scientific process.  Different oils will produce different effects and will necessitate a different amount of lye.  The soap calculators will give you handy measurements in hardness, cleansing property, conditioning, bubbles and creaminess.  For body soap I want a good cleanser with high conditioning and a fair amount of bubbles/creaminess.  When I’m making laundry soap I shoot for a firm bar with low conditioning and high cleansing properties.

My current recipes are:

Body Soap:

20 oz coconut oil

30 oz olive oil

10 oz grapeseed oil

23 oz water

8.6 oz lye

Laundry Soap:

16 oz coconut oil

16 oz olive oil

5 oz lye

12 oz water

All purpose Soap:

16 oz coconut oil

16 oz olive oil

21 oz rice bran oil

7.4 oz lye

20 oz water

The ingredients:

I buy my oils wherever I can get them cheapest.  The best deal on olive oil (I’ve found) is Costco, the coconut oil I bought at Walmart (only place I’ve seen it), the grapeseed I bought at the grocery store and the rice bran oil was at my local Asian grocer.  Unfortunately, the grocer no longer carries rice bran oil and I haven’t been able to find a new supplier.  The oils are just normal cooking quality oils.

The lye is sodium hydroxide which is commonly used as a drain opener.  I buy mine from Lowes and sometimes Ace Hardware.  It’s in the toilet aisle along with Mr. Draino and other goodies.  The brand you use doesn’t matter, but make sure it is 100% sodium hydroxide and that it doesn’t have any other additives.

You have to use lye.  It is the reaction of the lye and oil and water that cause the whole chemical reaction resulting in soap.  Yes, lye is dangerous if not used properly, but so is Mr. Draino and I haven’t seen too many people afraid of unclogging their sink. As long as you are safe you’ll be fine.

As for the water, always used bottled or distilled water.  Just do.

The equipment:

I have separate bowls, spoons, measuring cups, etc.  for making soap.  I keep them all in a cabinet downstairs so that they don’t accidentally get used for food.  With the exception of the pot used to heat the oils, make sure you are using glass or plastic items that will not produce a reaction with the lye.  I use:

medium plastic bowl

large plastic bowl

large plastic cooking spoon

wooden cooking spoon

rubber spatula

medium pot

cooking scale*

measuring cup

candy thermometer

stick blender

*When making soap, you are always dealing with weights and not volume.  That is why a kitchen scale is necessary.  The only item you can measure is the water.

The process:

Measure water and pour into a medium sized plastic (or glass) bowl.  Using the kitchen scale, carefully measure out the appropriate amount of lye for the recipe you are using.  Do not touch the lye with your skin because it will burn.  (Wear rubber gloves if you want to.)  Carefully pour the lye into the water (never, never pour the water into the lye)  and use a plastic or wooden spoon to mix.  When the lye hits the water it will cause a reaction and some fumes will be produced.  The fumes subside quickly, but don’t lean your face over the bowl as you are mixing and be sure to open a window to get some ventilation.  Sometimes I’ll even step outside to mix the lye.

The lye will cause the water to instantly heat up super hot.  Once you’ve stirred the lye until it’s dissolved, just let it sit and monitor it with a candy thermometer.  You’ll need the temperature to drop to 100 degrees before you can mix it with the oil.  This can take some time so don’t feel rushed as you get the oil ready.  (I wish somebody would have told me this the first time I made soap!)

The next thing I do is get my soap mold ready.  I use a silicone baking pan that I found at the thrift store.  It is awesome because it makes removing the soap so easy.  Whatever pan you use, coat it with a thin layer of Vaseline.  I’ve seen some recipes use cooking spray, but it always leaves a weird white coating on my soap so I prefer the Vaseline.  If you are using a silicone pan, you’ll want to have a cookie sheet underneath it for stability.  Trust me.

Now it is time for the oils.  Carefully wash out your kitchen scale and then use it to measure the oils.  Try to be as accurate as possible and transfer the oils to a medium sized pot on the stove.  It’s okay to use a metal pot but make sure it is non-reactive.  You will want to heat your oils to 100 degrees.  The purpose of heating the oils is to melt any solid oils (in this case coconut oil) and to bring the oil to the same temperature as the lye.  Make sure to heat your oils over low heat because it really doesn’t take that much heat to reach 100.  (If you don’t, you’ll end up sticking your pot into a tub of ice to try and cool the oils down.  Trust me, I know.)

When your lye mixture and your oils are both 100 degrees, it is time to mix.  Pour your oils into a large plastic (or glass) bowl.  Carefully pour the lye mixture into the oil, being careful not to splash.  Begin to mix the oils using your stick blender.  (I picked up mine from the thrift store for $2.)

As you mix it will start to look more like soap.

You need to mix until you see what looks like thick mayo.  It is called trace.  You’ll know it is trace because you’ll see ripples when you are mixing and when you lift your blender the soap with retain some of it’s shape.  It took me about 5 to 6 minutes to reach trace.

At this point you can add some essential oils for scent if you want.  I often leave my body soap unscented, but I’ll add some lemongrass essential oil to my laundry soap so that I can easily tell it apart from the body soap.  Once you add the essential oils, give it a quick blend to make sure the oils are evenly dispersed.

Pour your soap into your greased soap mold (pan).  If you want you can give it a cool texture using a rubber spatula.

Now you need your soap to cool slowly, so cover it with a towel (I place a piece of cardboard on top to keep the towel out of the soap) and set it somewhere to cool.  It needs to cool for 12 to 15 hours.

The next morning when you lift the towel you’ll see soap!  It may not all be one color, but it should be firm to the touch with just a little give.  Kind of like a ripe cantaloupe.  (I had some discoloration in this batch which I think was due to the essential oils not being mixed quite enough.  It will be fine.)

Unmold the soap and cut it into bars using a large knife.  It will cut easily.  You can also mark the soap using plain old rubber stamps which is really fun.  I like to do this with my body soap.  With my laundry soap (this batch) I don’t do anything fancy.

The bars need to cure so set them on a wire rack and turn them over once a day (or when you remember).  I put mine in my downstairs pantry and turn them when I go to get ingredients for dinner.  The soap will continue to harden and will be ready for use in about 4 to 6 weeks.  If you try to use it too early the lye will be too harsh on your skin.  I’ve heard you can test for readiness by licking the soap and if you taste a “bite” then it isn’t ready.  I don’t care to lick my soap, so I just wait the 4 to 6 weeks.

And that is how I make soap.

The end.

Laundry Detergent

Since I wrote a ridiculously long post about making soap, I figured I should follow up with my laundry detergent recipe.

Laundry Powder

1 bar of homemade soap

1 cup washing soda

1 cup Borax

Grate the soap on a microplane grater/zester.  Pour grated soap into desired lidded container such as a repurposed plastic container or mason jar. Add washing soda and Borax.  Place lid on container and shake to mix.  Easy Peasy.

I use 2 tablespoons of laundry powder for each load of laundry and typically I also add 1 tbsp of Oxyclean.  For brightness, softness and odor removal I pour 1/4 to 1/2 cup of vinegar in the liquid fabric softener dispenser on my machine.  Vinegar is like magic.

Another source of magic is the sun.  Yes, the sun.  I can lay out the most stained cloth diapers you’ve ever seen and the sun will take the stains right away.  More magic I tell you.  I’m thinking my towels need a little time in the sun too.