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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Rose and Orange Blossom Cream

I just suddenly got the urge to make a cream, so I did.  And now I have the softest extremities imaginable.  I haven't made a cream in ages.  No special reason for that.  I think it was that I made so many infused oils and started to use those straight on my face and really liked that.  But this evening I was surfing the webpages that I have in my Blog roll on the right and came across Curious Soapmaker's Rose essence facial cream recipe, all pink and pretty.

So, like scratching an itch, I immediately dove into my cupboards to dig out the cream making stuff.  I resisted the strong urge to add everything but the kitchen sink and chose just one additive, Allantoin, which is a nature identical substance that is derived from the roots & leaves of the Comfrey plant.  I love Comfrey and grow it in my garden.  It has loads of medicinal benefits, mostly due to that wonderful substance.  I have tons of other stuff, but the appeal of the Rose face cream was it's simplicity, so I restricted my use of ingredients this time.

Being, of course, completely unable to follow other peoples directions, my recipe is different from hers,  but I started out with the same proportions as she did: About 20% oils, 6% emulsion wax and 74% water phase.  The proportions changed as I weighed my ingredients because I didn't have as much of as I wanted of the Rose water, but I improvised and added the Orange Blossom water and selected my favorite (at the moment) oils and other ingredients.

The exact recipe (as far as I remembered right after I made it (my process tends to be very organic, I use whatever strikes my fancy at the moment I make things)) is as follows:

Oil phase:
Argan oil               22 g / 0.77 oz
Borage oil             10 g / 0.35 oz
Evening primrose   8 g / 0.28 oz
Peach oil                6 g / 0.21 oz
Lanolin                  4 g / 0.14 oz
Oils total: 50 g / 1.76 oz

Emulsion: I used CreamMaker wax from Making Cosmetics 15 g 0.53 oz

Water phase:
Rose water                      30 g (that was all I had) / 1 oz
Orange Blossom water    90 g / 3 oz
Glycerin                          10 g /0.35 oz
Water                              20 g / 7 oz
Allantoin (from Making Cosmetics) 2 g / 0.07 oz
Water total: 152 g. / 5.3 oz

Preservative: Potassium Sorbate 1 g / 0.035 oz

I knew I wanted the oil phase to be mostly Argan oil.  It's simply lovely on the face as well as the hair.  And then I found the Borage oil and Evening Primrose, both of which are very nice.  I wanted to add Lanolin since I'm not allergic to it and it's just the best softening ingredient for the skin.  This much I know from spinning raw wool.  I just love the way my hands get all soft from the Lanolin in the wool.  The Peach oil I used to fill up the quantity.

I dug out the rest of the Rose water I knew I still had from the Italy visit and weighed it, only to be slightly disappointed there wasn't more of it.  But I quickly decided to use Orange Blossom water since I love that scent and I had some sine my last time in Paris.  And I wanted to use Glycerin. I like that as a humectant. And then I filled up with water so the scent would't be overpowering.  I didn't have any beetroot powder, but I had beetroot, so I cut of a small sliver and put it in the water phase along with the allantoin and the preservative.

Then I heated both the oils and the water up in a water bath and whizzed it together using a stick blender.  I added quite a bit of Rose Maroc essential oil which I had in a diluted form (5% with coconut oil) and a little bit of Neroli oil until I liked the combination of the two scents.

I now have several weeks supply of the loveliest light and airy pink face cream which I put into the two wonderful Onix cream jars my little sister gave me for Christmas.  They have been begging for something luxurious and this cream just fits the bill.  I put the rest into two small metal jars and three plastic pump dispensers ready to go to the gym with me.

And now I really want to make a soap to go with that cream.  Since I almost used all my Rose Maroc oil I guess I'll use some Rose Geranium or maybe Rosewood.  And since it begs to be pink, it would need to have Rhubarb root oil...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The embroidered velvet - Baldýring


One of the most beautiful parts of the national costume is the embroidery. Embroidery is used extensiely in the oldest form of the costume, Faldbuningur.  There is a large flower border on the skirts, although it was also known to make them without embroidery, but with velvet lines instead.  The embroidery can be of two different types, Skattering and Blómstursaumur.  The latter is a special Icelandic embroidery stitch, very pretty, but I do not know the origin of the other one or if it is known in other countries.

And then there is the embroidery on the velvet borders of the vest, and on the jacket of the Faldbuningur. That is always done in an embroidery technique called Baldýring which is known as Gold embroidery in English.  In the older costumes it was done either with gold and silver thread or with silk.  I love the silk myself because it is so colourful.

I took a course in Baldýring and I am making the border for the vest.  It is not an easy technique to master, but I found that sewing the twisted gold threads down was fairly easy.  The Baldýring itself is not and I need to practice a whole lot before I can tackle the real thing.

Making the borders is quite involved and I want to write it down so that I do not forget it.  And also so that others can know how to do it.  I really think it is important to share knowledge, especially about old handwork and methods because they might so easily be lost.

So here is the start of a tutorial for making the velvet borders.  Since I am making the 19th century version, it will mostly talk about that, but I will put in notes about the differences in that and the 20th century version when appropriate.



The borders themselves are made from 3 layers, 2 good quality fabrics and a parchment or cardboard :

8 cm x 25 cm - Black cotton velvet
5 cm x 25 cm - Acid free light to medium stiff cardboard (it must be flexible) or parchment which is what was used in the old days
5 cm x 25 cm - Thin white cotton material

Cut two of each, one for the right side and one for the left.

The needles that are used are very fine needle nr. 9 or 10 for the Baldýring itself (the same type that as is commonly used in quilting). And also a nr 7-8 for general sewing. And a ver large needle from the gold twisted threads.


The borders for the 19th century vest are 4-5,5 cm wide, the length varies slightly with the size of the vest, but it should be cut around 25 cm long.  It's finished length depends on the vest on which it is eventually sewn.

For the 20th century costume, the border is wider, about 8,5 - 10 cm, depending on the chest measurements of the woman. The length is the same.








The thin white cotton is stitched to the cardboard around the edges. This can be done by hand or machine. There is no need for a seam allowance.

Mark the direction of the nap with an arrow, so that you don't get confused and make sure to have the two borders, left and right, facing in the same direction.




The black velvet is faced right side down, and the nap facing up (away from you).

The white cotton/cardboard is then placed on top of the velvet, cotton side facing up.

Center the white cotton/cardboard sideways (horizontally) on the velvet. The length should be equal for both pieces.



The edges of the velvet are wrapped around the cardboard and the velvet is pinned in place.

Make sure you do not pin into the cardboard.

Stitch the edges of the velvet to the white cotton, using overcasting and taking care to stitch only the white cotton and velvet.

Do not puncture the cardboard itself.
Next you need to cut out a piece of thin paper to be 8 cm x 30 cm. Tracing paper works really well.

This paper is wrapped around the velvet and stitched in place with a running stitch, this time going through all layers, puncturing the cardboard.

This paper serves to protect the velvet from getting dirty while being handled when embroidering.



The last step before you can start the actual embroidery is to stitch the line drawing of the flower pattern in place.

Be careful to leave enough space above the pattern, at least 4 cm.

The line drawing is traced onto a thin mylar type of paper.

The stitching is done with a running stitch all the way around the rectangular shape and also around the shapes to be embroidered, through all the layers.

And now you need to make another one, with the drawing mirrored.








There are a number of patterns one can use and a multitude of colours, so the choice is not easy.  I went through a whole lot of patterns before deciding to draw my own.  Some of the patterns are quite old, while some of them date from the early 19th century.  But that is the subject of the next post.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Spring in the North - So much better.

I've been like a mad woman in the last year or so, taking courses in all kinds of strange things.  Mostly old handiwork.  This is not typical of me.  It's kind of not at all like me.  I have always told myself that I can't be taught.  I'm too impatient and arrogant to take instruction from others.  Or so I have always thought.  But it turns out that I can actually listen to what others say and learn from them.  Of course I knew that.  It's not like I haven't learned everything I know from other people.

I spent last weekend with eight women in the north of Iceland, at an agricultural college learning to weave on a warp weighted loom.  This is the old looms that basically date from the stone age and were used right up until 1750 in Iceland.  By that time, weaving had, in Europe, long since become a matter of Guilds and was the domain of men.  Except here, where the vertical loom was found at every farm and women wove every piece of cloth that was used.  And all the yarn used to weave was spun on a drop spindle too.  Right up until the 1750 there were no spinning wheels in use in this country and no horizontal looms.  So it may come as a surprise that this method of weaving has almost become lost in this country.  But now there are at least 8 of us, who know how.

Maybe it doesn't matter that the old ways of doing things get lost.  Some people don't seem to mind.  Maybe most people don't mind.  I don't know.  I have no idea why this had started to matter to me.  But I feel privileged to have been a part of the small group that got to learn this.  And it's not that I was chosen or anything.  I just happened to hear about this course by chance and immediately got interested and signed up.  They needed six people, but had to cancel because they couldn't fill the spaces.  Even if I offered to sign my mother up if needed.  So I kept telling everyone about it.  In the end they had a waiting list.

This really is a most satisfying way to weave.  The loom doesn't take much space.  One can take it down and put it up again, without finishing the piece.  Something that can not be done in the modern looms.  The construction is quite simple and it's not really hard work, although progress is undoubtedly slower than on horizontal looms.

We wove with tufts of "tog" to make a type of cloth that was used in Viking times as a warm and waterproof outer clothing.  It made for a shaggy fabric that hippies would have been proud of in the sixtees.  But my little piece may end up as a cushion cover one of these days.

It took about 7 hours to set the looms up and then the going was slow since we were two to each loom and had to co-ordinate our weaving.  We all did pretty different pieces, some using the natural sheep colours and others using natural dyed wool.  One can weave quite complicated pieces on this loom, twill being the very traditional Icelandic fabric that was so well known in the olden days and was exported in large quantities.  Twill uses 3 shafts on this loom, but we only used one shaft and did a pretty basic basket weave.

I fell in love with this type of weaving and I'm almost planning to build a loom in the garden.  They really look quite good, rustic and solid structures made of sturdy branches and woods.  It would make for a really cool garden sculpture.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I Hate Winter

Did I ever mention that?  I'm not sure that I did.  Winter here is quite all right up until New Year's day. Then it gets really depressing.  Even if it starts to get lighter, the weather is miserable and I think it's worse with the light.   In the deep darkness of winter it makes sense to crawl into bed, light some candles and just snuggle and then put up Christmas decorations and celebrate.  But you kind of expect the lighter evenings to turn into warmer days.  But... No!  It's not happening.  Not in March. Winter here doesn't leave until mid to late May or like last summer, June.  We had frost almost into the middle of June and after that it just rained.

The old Icelandic calendar only had two seasons, Winter and Summer.  It makes sense in this climate since there really isn't any spring or fall.  There is just that small window of opportunity when growth bursts forward and desperately tries to set seed.   It hardly deserves the name summer.

The best way to ignore the miserable weather is to draw the curtains, light a few candles and knit.  I have been working on this triangular lace shawl.  It's a fairly well known traditional pattern, called Þórdís, and is available for free on Knitting Daily.  I had originally intended to make a shawl called Halldóra, from a wonderful book, Icelandic Handknits but after frogging that from the 19th row about 6 times, I gave that up.  The pattern just didn't seem to stick in my mind.  I was getting so frustrated that my daughter suggested this other one and I like it even better than the first one.  Both are very much traditional Icelandic shawls.

In the olden days all women used shawls instead of sweaters.  They were most commonly triangular and quite big.  Not always as delicate as the one I am making, the daywear would have been quite plain and the women would wrap them around themselves and tie the ends at the back.  Sunday best, would have been spun from the silky tog, or the soft þel into very delicate creations.  The finest of which one could draw through a finger ring.  Or so the stories tell.  I saw a few of them hanging in a museum last summer and they looked so etherial.  I especially loved the green colour and knew I wanted to dye the yarn myself.  And I knew that I wanted light and delicate colours for my shawl, even if I have seen some really beautiful ones in the natural sheep colours, both greys and browns.

I haven't knitted much lace patterns before and I have to say that it does make sense to use lifelines and A LOT of stitch markers.  I didn't at first and that resulted in some frogging.  So I have learned my lesson.  The yarn I used is Love Story, a lovely single spun Icelandic wool made by a lovely french woman who now lives in Iceland. It is a combination of the þel and tog and is such a lovely, lovely soft and delicate yarn that it is a plesure to touch it.  Helene, a former lawyer, is a textile designer and has done great things with the Icelandic wool.  She has a blog, The Icelandic knitter and a webstore.  I love everything she does.

I did dye the yarn myself and I have to admit that I am absolutely in love with the colours.  I used cochineal for the pink, woad for the blue and green (with weld) and then Parmelia saxatilis for the yellows.  That yarn has the wonderful smell which I love.  That is the main reason  used that colour.  Just to get a small whiff that will last as long as the garment.  I dyed this yarn at the same time I dyed the silk for my embroidery.  I had plenty of dye left over from those tiny amounts so it made sense to do that at the same time.  I was really pleased with the outcome.  The colours just make me smile and give me the promise of a spring that will surely be here soon.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Day of the Woman - First Day of Góa

Today is the first day of the old Nordic month Góa.  Góa is thought to have been a goddess is the old Nordic religion, but nothing is known of her other than the first day of her month is dedicated to women.
The name is konudagur in Icelandic, but kona is the word used for both woman and wife.

Similarily, the first day of Þorri, the previous month, is dedicated to men or husbands.  The name is bóndadagur, and bóndi means farmer or man as in the ending of the Icelandic word for husband, húsbóndi.

Those days are still celebrated here and they are much more traditional than Valentines day, mothers day and fathers day, all of which are imports by flower merchants.  Both days are celebrated gratulating the wife or the husband on the occasion of the day and it is now traditional to give flowers as a present.  In the olden day the husbands were supposed to hop around the farm on one leg, wearing only their shirt, but dressed in one pant leg, draging the other behind.  No similar feat was required of the women, as far as I know.  Not surprisingly, few (if any) men keep to this tradition today.

But anyway, today I get flowers from my hubby and a cake from the bakery.  All of which I am grateful for.  But I have to admit that I am a bit more excited about the flowers that I am in the process of making myself.  The wonderful flower borders for the national costume.  I had a hard time deciding on a pattern and ended up drawing my own, using elements from older patterns.

I really wanted to have flowers that I know and like and most of the patterns were too stylized to be recognizable.  Haveing been brought up by my biologist parents and taught about plants from an early age, I didn't want that.  So I searched for flower patterns that were recognizable and made a sketch of those.  The flowers I chose were Eyrarrós / Dwarf fireweed (Epilobium latifolium) at the top.  It is a member of the Evening primrose family and the national flower of Greenland.  It is quite magenta in colour and I used Cochineal to dye the embroidery silk pink.   I also love the tiny blue flowers of Gleym-mér-ey / Forget-me-not (Myosotis arvensis) and Woad blue captures the hue of those beautiful little flowers perfectly.

I also wanted to use Holtasóley /Mountain avens (Dryas octopetala) a member of the rose family, with eight white petals and a fairly large yellow middle.  It is the national flower of Iceland, but since white is never used in the special embroidery, that posed a problem.  I toyed with the idea of making it yellow, but gave that up altogether.  Instead I settled for two indistinct half opened buds from and old pattern.  That could be the common buttercup and I dyed a strong yellow with Weld and a darker one using lichen.  And at the bottom I put a half opened Eyrarrós again to repeat the pink.  The flowers are emerging from a flower pot, a well used symbol of the 18th century and a very common feature in many of the older patterns.  For the flower pot I intend to use both gold embroidery and the lovely golden yellow from the lichen Parmelia saxatilis (Shield lichen, or Litunarskóf in Icelandic).  It is the one that gives the lovely aroma.

I really like the outcome and look forward to starting to embroider this.  Dyeing all the colors wasn't as much trouble as I had feared and I love the outcome.  They are just gorgeous.  And since I also plan to knit a traditional triangular woolen shawl, I used the opportunity to dye the very fine wool for that, since the tiny amount of embroidery silk left me with plenty of dyeing liquor left to use.  Those colours also came out beautifully.  I have to admit that now I am getting really impatient to get the full costume.

The process of embroidering is the same as is used in Gold embroidery.  The Icelandic tradition uses both silk and silver and gilded silver thread.  I love the colorful silk and it was used on the older types of costumes and it really pops with the background of black velvet.  I have been attending a course in learning to embroider in this way and it does take a lot of time and practice.  The process of making the flower borders is also quite involved and laborious.  But hopefully well worth it once it's all done.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Milk Paint - How Cool Is That!


I heard about milk paint a few years ago and was really excited.  Paint made from milk!  Wow!

I immediately made plans to make some and test it out.  However I lacked some of the material and the plans were put on hold until I had gotten hold of them.

I ended up ordering some stuff from Kramer pigments in Germany (they apparently also have a shop in the US), but never really did anything with it.  But the other day I got an excuse to start that process again and made some paint.

I want to refinish some dining chairs that I got for little money in a thrift store.  I have plucked away the old and ugly fabric that covers them and am working on sanding the frames.  I want to paint them with milk paint in an ivory or creamy colour and upholster them in linen.  I have a thing for linen these days.

Milk paint is made from milk, lime and pigment, sometimes with the addition of Borax.  The Borax helps the lime dissolve the casein protein in the milk so it makes for a smoother paint as well as provide some preservative qualities to it.  But milk paint spoils easily so it should be used within a few days once it is mixed. Store it in the fridge in between uses, but let it reach room temperature before painting with it.

Milk paint adheres well to fresh wood and will give a strong and durable finish.  It is a very good alternative to the plastic water based paints that are available.  

For this recipe use 1 liter non-fat milk, ½ cup vinegar. 1 tsp borax and 1 cup of lime putty.



Let the milk and vinegar be at room temperature before your start.

Stir ½ cup of white vinegar into 1 liter (about a quart).  Stir to mix the two liquids, but do not stir for long.

Let it sit still at room temperature overnight so that the milk protein curdles and separates from the whey.  This is very similar to making cheese btw.  


The next day the curds should have formed and separated from the whey.

Line a sieve with cheesecloth and strain the whole lumpy mess.

After the whey has been separated then from the whey (which is discarded in this instance) the curds are given a good wash in cold water to wash away all the whey.

Strain.

Do this three times in oder to remove all vinegar and whey from the curds.


After a thorough washing the clean curds are strained well.

I did this by tying the cheesecloth (ok, I used a cloth nappy) above the sink until only a few drops are dripping from the cloth.

Scrape the curds into a bowl.

Now take a stick blender to mix in 1 tsp of Borax.  This helps to get a smoother mix and also acts as a preservative.

Add the lime putty and stir with the stick blender.

Now measure out the pigment.  I split the milk paint mixture into 4 parts and measured 1 tbs of pigment for each part.

The pigments needs to be mixed with water prior to mixing into the milk paint mixture in order for it to disperse properly.

Mix it with equal amounts of water and let it sit for a bit before adding it to the paint.




My colors came from Kramer pigments as did the lime putty.

I used a lovely earthy red, yellow, green and gray.  All natural and sumptuous colours.

Let the paint sit for 15-20 minutes and then start to paint.

It is best to use milk paint on a freshly sanded surface, where it will adhere well.

It dries very quickly, so one can paint several layers without having to wait forever for it to dry in-between.

The amount of pigment does matter to the saturation of colour.  They will dry lighter than they look, but the colour can be adjusted by the addition of more pigment.

The colors do tend to be soft and old fashioned, which is part of the charm.

To finish off the painted surface, it can be waxed with beeswax or furniture wax or alternatively given a final coat of a transparent glaze made of milk curds and linseed oil.

To make the glaze, make the curds as above, but do not add borax or lime.  Instead drizzle linseed oil into the glaze as you use the stick blender to mix.  Add pigment if you wish to tone the glaze.  The pigment always needs to be slaked, which means: Measure equal amounts of water and pigment and let sit for an hour.  Use this to glaze over the paint.  Let dry.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Nut Crispbread

I went on the GAPS diet just over a year ago.  I did it mostly because I was disgusted with arthritis drugs and decided to do something myself to get rid of the pain in my body.  I have osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, the former causes pretty constant pain in my hands and the latter makes me feel, on occasion, like I was hit by a truck.  The drugs that are used to treat those pretty much all have in common the danger of the patient's heart stopping or the patient having a stroke.  Neither of those is preferable in my opinion.  So I did GAPS by the book, intro and all.  I planed to be on the diet for the prescribed 1.5 years and then, hopefully, I would be in less pain.

I loved the diet.  It really is very much like the traditional Icelandic diet used to be for centuries.  Lots of meat, some vegetables, fermented dairy and pretty much fermented everything. Fermentation by whey was one of the best preservation of food possible here.  So I felt great.  I lost weight rapidly and noticeably a lot of water weight, which I could feel, made my joints much easier to move.  So I was very happy on that diet.  I ate so much good food and I was never hungry.  People felt sorry for me, but I was happy as a lark.  Yumm!

Then hubby and I went on a vacation and I started cheat and eat bread when we were in Italy.  Two days later I realized, that the pain had returned.  Returned!  I hadn't even consciously noticed that I had had no pain in my hands for weeks.  I had just noticed that I felt great.  Anyway, for those who are interested in trying this diet there are many books on the subject as well as websites.  Here are some of the ones I found useful: The Nourishing Gourmet, Keeper of the Home, The Healthy Home Economist, Gaps Diet Journey and of course this: Gaps.me.

There was only on thing that I found incredibly difficult on this diet and that is not eating bread.  I love bread with butter and cheese.  Especially my own fresh baked sourdough.  But that isn't allowed on the GAPS diet and I was doing it correctly.  By the book.  So no bread.  No toast.  And I missed my toast.

But then I discovered that one can make crisp bread with nuts.  And it's very easy.

I use a variety of nuts, just depending on what I have in the cupboards.  I also like to include seeds, like sesame and pumpkins seeds.  I just eyeball it into my food processor, but a typical recipe might look something like this:

½ cup Almonds
½ cup Pecans
¼ cup Hazelnuts
¼ cup Sesame seeds
¼ cup Pumpkins seeds
1 TBS Salt
2 large (3 small) Eggs

Put the nuts, seeds and salt into the food processor and pulse until the mix is very fine.  I usually mix the eggs into this in a bowl by hand because the mix is fairly dry and I have a very small food processor.  I put half of this mix on a silicone sheet and roll it out using baking paper on top.  I roll it out to make it pretty thin, but it is a matter of taste.  This amount of nuts will make two sheets for me.

Bake at 180°C /360°F for about 20 minutes (depending on thickness) until the edges are golden.
Cut while still hot into the size that suits you.

This will keep for at least 2 weeks on my countertop, but I usually eat this within the week :)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Lavender - Last One of the Year

I just had to make a Lavender soap if only for the Grandmothers.  I don't dislike Lavender, but it's not a great personal favorite, but I know that many people really love it.  That includes the family's grandmothers.

I continued with a similar recipe to the ones I had already made, determined to use both Lanolin and Jojoba, but this time I also remembered the Cocoa Butter that is sitting on a shelf in kitchen.  Since I don't have steady supply of lard, I thought it would be a great addition to the recipe to make the soap harder.  I also had some Shea butter that I added to it.  One of the grandmothers loves that.

For colour I turned to the Alkanet infused oil that I have, lovely and dark red, ready to give it's blue to purple colour as soon as it comes in touch with the alkaline caustic soda. I never tire of the colour magic that soap making is.

I made these big generous chunks of soaps and the recipe turned out to be:

Olive Oil - 40% - 7oz / 200g (80g of that was Alkanet infused)
Coconut Oil - 30% - 5.3oz / 150g
Cocoa Butter - 10% - 1.8oz / 50g
Shea Butter - 10% 1.8oz / 50g
Sunflower Oil - 5% - 0.9ox / 25g
Lanolin - 2.5% - 0.45oz / 12.5g
Jojoba Oil - 2.5% - 0.45oz / 12.5g

I used water with a teaspoon of sugar.  And to continue the theme I decorated with Achillea flowers, Lavender flowers and Birch leaves.

The grandmothers got their soaps for Christmas. One of them remarked that the saves hers for special occasions and was just running out.  It pleased me that she would get a new one.  But this year, rather than give soaps as presents for christmas, I had people choose some to take with them when they left the Christmas dinner.  I still have enough left for me and plenty of soaps begging to be created in the New Year, among them a Vanilla soap and there is is definitely a Yellow one on the horizon.

Happy New Year and very best thanks for the one about to pass.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Cream of the Crop

I had a vision of the lightest creamiest soap since I knew I had some whipping cream in the freezer. I had put it there a long time ago, anticipating a soap making session in a distant future.  When making milk soaps one needs the milk/cream/yoghurt to be frozen, so when I had some cream that I didn't need, I threw it in the freezer knowing that one day I would be grateful for my foresight.

I decided that it would smell soft and gentle.  The inspiration was a soap that I made some time ago, but that was unscented and now I had vanilla in mind.  Since vanilla makes soap brown I couldn't use that. Bensoin resin is a favorite of mine and an acceptable substitute because it is quite a sweet scent.  I also thought of Ylang Ylang.

I have used Titanium Dioxide in my milk soaps before, but decided to do without that this time and take my chances with the colour.  I was careful to mix just a little bit of the Caustic Soda with the frozen cream, using a quarter at a time, and throwing the whole thing into the freezer in-between.  As expected the whole thing turned a strong yellow colour and that made me reach for the dried yellow rose petals to use for decoration.
This was a pretty complicated mixture of oils and waxes. I'm still intrigued by lanolin in soap and wanted to test that better.  I also really like to have some castor oil so that it doubles as a shampoo bar.  And the Jojoba... Well, I had some.

Olive Oil            40% - 7oz / 200 g.
Coconut Oil       35% - 6.2oz / 175 g.
Cocoa Butter     10% - 1.8oz / 50 g.
Sunflower Oil    10% - 1.8oz / 50 g.
Jojoba Oil            2% - 0.35oz / 10 g.
Castor Oil            2% -  0.35oz / 10 g.
Lanolin                1% - 0.18oz / 5 g.

Water  5.8oz / 200 g.
Caustic soda 2.4oz / 68 g.
10% superfat

I mixed Bensoin, Neroli and Ylang Ylang with a little bit of Sweet Orange and Sandalwood Amyris. Decorated with yellow Rose petals, Chamomile, Achilla and Birch leaves.  The soap started to seize pretty quickly so I jammed it into the mold and then I put it in the freezer to prevent it from overheating.  I smells wonderful.  It doesn't look as good, some strange thing going on in the middle, but I look forward to testing.  This one will probably also only be for me.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

This One's Just for Me

I made this very strange recipe.  I have no idea how it will turn out at all.  I knew I wanted to use lard.  I don't use palm oil mostly because I can't find it here and lard makes for very good hard soaps.

I also wanted to use up some oils that I had a little bit left of. Additonally I wanted to make soap just for myself.   Something luxurious and pretty.   A soap that I would use on my face, and therefore I wanted all those exotic oils that I normally would use in face creams rather than soap.

So it became quite a cocktail.  I'm still waiting to see how it will turn out.  It just might be an almighty flop.  But it could also become my new favorite soap.

I know this is a crazy recipe. It's not supposed to be very conditioning, but since I used both jojoba oil and lanolin, both of which really are waxes rather that oils, I'm counting on them to do the job. Plus this is more superfatted than I usually do.

The thought with this soap (if there was any, I did this pretty instinctively) was to make something similar to my old facial soap that I did ages ago. That soap seemed to take forever to cure, but turned out to be one of my all time favorite soaps. And that one aged quite well too.

Coconut Oil - 36% - 5 oz / 160 g
Lard - 30% - 4.7 oz / 134g
Almond Oil - 17% - 2.6oz / 73g
Avocado Oil - 10% - 1.6oz - 45g
Olive oil (Rubarb root infused) - 3.5% - 0.5oz / 15g
Castor Oil - 1.8% - 0.3oz / 8g
Jojoba Oil - 1.6%% - 0.25oz / 7g
Lanoline - 0.5% - 0.1oz / 2g

Water - 5.2oz / 66g

Lye - 2oz / 58g which makes it 15% super fatted, but always check a lye calculator (I always use Soapcalc myself).

For fragrance I used Neroli, Ylang Ylang and Benzoin, with a dash of Rosewood, Sweet Orange and a dash of Geranium, Vetiver, Sandalwood Amyris and Cubea Litsea.   I put it in this silicone cake form that I got in a thrift store (and have never used for cake) as well as my heart shaped ice cube mold from Ikea.   I like to have small soaps for the bathrooms.

The scent is nice and fresh and the colour also turned out to be a very nicely pink.   But this soap is also going to take a lot of curing.   Oh, well. Patience is the mother of all virtues, as they say.   I need more of that, and as they also say: Practice makes perfect.  So it's all good.

Update: Like I expected, this soap took some time to cure, but once it did it does make for a nice very creamy lathered soap that feels quite gentle on my skin.  I have also used it as a shampoo bar and my hair likes it.  The fragrance didn't hold up as well as I hoped.  It turned into a kind of indistinct something.  So even if I like that Neroli, Ylang Ylang and Benzoin combination I should probably have skipped the others or made one of them dominant.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Making Soap My Way - A Tutorial Of Sorts

I made soap again.  Just suddenly got the urge and then I thought I should document my process.  I never did a tutorial before.  Mostly because when I started this blog I was a complete beginner in soap making and I was reading other peoples tutorial to learn from them, not ready to teach others.  But now that I have become pretty seasoned in soap making, I thought I should write down my steps.

I have always made soap in the kitchen using my regular pots and kitchen stuff.  I have read a lot of books about making soaps and most of them are very good and thorough, but sometimes I feel that they make it sound so difficult and complicated.  I like things to be easy and simple.  So my favorite book about making soap is by Anne Watson "Smart Soapmaking" (even if the subtitle is a bit more complicated: "The simple guide to Making Traditional Handmade Soap Quickly, Safely, and Reliably, or How to Make Luxurious Handcrafted Soaps for Family, Friends, and Yourself".  I love the humor in that).  She gave me the courage to go ahead and try it.

Over time I have developed my own way to do things and I have gotten pretty set in my ways.  I always use the same equipment: same pot, same glass measuring jugs, same spoons, same everything.   Except the recipes.  I just can't make the same recipes again and again.  I always need to tweak them a little bit, at least.  And now suddenly, I have a need to make soaps.  There are a few that are asking to be made.  I have sometimes wondered what kind of soap I would make first.  Once I started again.  It was Rhubarb oil soap.  A very strange recipe, if I'm honest.  I have no idea how it will turn out.  Might be a total failure, although I thought of it as a luxurious face soap.  But that is another post.  This one is about the process.

My equipment consists of:
  • A pot - I use that for the water/liquid and to dissolve the caustic soda
  • A large pyrex class measuring jug with a handle - That is for the oils
  • A small pyrex class measuring jug with a handle - This one is for the caustic soda
  • ---I do not use the measuring jugs to measure, just as containers---
  • A slotted spoon - to stir the caustic soda solution
  • Two thermometers - one for the soda and one for the oils
  • A digital scale - to measure everything
  • A stick blender - to mix everything
  • Moulds
  • And the most important equipment of all is my computer... and SoapCalc www.soapcalc.net/.  I use that for every single recipe and save them as pdf.  
  • And then there is the camera, or the phone these days.  (Which I know isn't good because the photos are not nearly as good as on a proper camera.  But I have gotten a bit lazy.  I need to change that.)
I put my recipes straight into SoapCalc as I work.  I usually make either 500g or 700g depending on which mould I'm using.  I put in the total weight and my preferred water ratio (usually about 33% these days) and super fat % (varies from 5-10% usually).  I would recommend that beginners stick to the default setting in the beginning.

I would also recommend goggles and gloves and an apron.  Lye is very caustic and it does burn.  The raw soap is also very caustic and it does burn.  You do not want to splash this stuff on yourself and definitely not get it into your eyes.  Having said that, I have to admit that the hazmat-like outfit that I wore in the beginning has given way to a bit lighter safety gear.

Before I do anything else I get my mould ready.  I like the wooden moulds with freezer paper. But one can use silicone moulds (for baking) and just about anything that has a shape resembling soap.  In the beginning I used milk cartons and yoghurt pots.



Then I start measuring the oils one by one, resetting the scale after each time.

Sometimes I pour a little bit more than I intended and then I go back to SoapCalc and adjust accordingly.

I melt the oils in the microwave.  About a minute at a time and I stir in-between.  

Next I measure the caustic soda.

I prefer not to store it among the foodstuff in the kitchen so
I keep it in the garage.

I take the small pyrex jug and the scale and measure out there and bring it back to the kitchen.


I then measure out the liquid into the pot.  I usually just put the pot on the scale and pour in whatever liquid I'm using.

Then I put the pot on the stove and turn the exhaust on full while I slowly pour the caustic soda into the liquid.

The liquid gets very hot so I let it sit and cool down.

If I need to hasten the cooling I'll simply let some cold water run on the outside of the stainless steel pot.  That cools it pretty quickly.
Once everything is the same temperature I pour the liquid into the oils.

I try not to heat the oils too much and often leave a little bit of the solid oils to melt on their own while the oils cool down to the correct soaping temperature.  Or even have some solid bits still floating like here.  The stick blender takes care of it.

I prefer to soap at about 40°C / 100°F, so I let both oils and water cool to around that temperature.

Here is why I love to make soaps.  The Rhubarb oil is yellow with a strange greenish, almost iridescent cast to it.  But once the lye hits it, it turns red.

I love that.

I use an old Bamix stick blender that I got in a thrift shop.  I really like it.  It's very sold and rather quiet.
Next is the fun bit: Turn on the stick blender and watch the swirls.

I don't really mix for very long.  I'm not too bothered about trace.  The soap mixture will reach trace on it's own if it is properly blended.  At least I have never had any problems with that.


I then pour in my essential oils, which I have already poured into a small bowl.  I do not have a scale that is sensitive enough to measure essential oil blends.

Since my recipes are small, I may use only a few drops of this and a dash of that.  My scale can measure down to +/- 2 g (that's around 0.07 oz) and that isn't enough accuracy to use it for fragrance.  So I just make my fragrance blends on instinct.

I usually try to avoid using the stick blender too much for the essential oils, since they are so volatile.

Once all the ingredients are blended, I pour the soap into moulds.  I have wooden log moulds and I like those.

I'm usually not concerned if they gel or not.  I just let it happen.

But, if I do not want them to gel I'll put the moulds into the fridge or even freezer overnight.

Or sometimes I use smaller mould to avoid gelling, but that doesn't always work. 



I always use a small pin (knitting needle, the end of a thermometer or a chopstick) to make swirls in my soaps to decorate the tops.  I studied the way other peoples soaps look like and I tried to get different looks.  But mine always looked the same.  The funny thing is that when my cousin and I were doing this together and she would use the same implement and the same type of movement we could easily tell our soaps apart.  So I guess this is my look.

I added dried flowers.  That may be too cutesy for some, but when I was looking through my old photos as I uploaded them to Flickr I really loved the look of them.  So even if they get spoiled when they get wet I still like them like that.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Peppermint Potato Candy

It sounds like an oxymoron.  How can a potato make a delicious candy?  I wish I could say that this is an old family recipe and my grandmothers have used potatoes in candy for generations.  But I'd be lying.  The truth is that I had agreed to give a talk about potatoes on "The Day of the Potato".  This is a part of a series of happenings that the Agricultural college of Iceland hosts to increase awareness of the importance of preserving genetic variety.

I happen to be the foreman of the vegetable club of the Horticultural Society and I had also given a talk on Rhubarb a few years ago.  So I was asked to do this and I said no.  So a few weeks later they talked to me again and said that no one had wanted to take this on.  So I said yes.

Then I sat down at the computer and looked for interesting recipes.  Because unlike Rhubarb, on which I had been collecting recipes, I just boil and bake potatoes and that would be a very boring talk.  So I concentrated on finding unusual recipes with potatoes.  And much to my surprise I found them in droves.  Apparently, making candy with potatoes was quite common in the 40's and 50's.  So I had to try pretty much every recipe I found.  Some were better than others and this one was a favorite.  All of them used boiled and mashed potatoes and combine it with powdered sugar.  I always have some leftover from dinner.  It's nice to be able to use them for something fun like candy.

¾ cup Mashed boiled potato
2 tsp Soft butter
1 tsp Peppermint extract

Whip all those together (a machine is best for that)

Add a little at a time:
7-8 cups Powdered sugar.
It will, and should be, a pretty stiff dough.
Push into a square form (I line mine with baking paper)

Melt together over a bain marie:
2 cups of a Dark chocolate
1 tsp Butter

Pour over the peppermint dough.
Put into a refrigerator  and let it get cool.
Remove from the form from the fridge and cut into squares.
Enjoy!



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Washing Icelandic Wool Fleece

There is something incredibly cool about being knowing how to work wool from being a heap of freshly shorn fleece to a finished garment.  After I learned to spin I was only missing the first link (apart from the actual sheering).  I bought fleece from two sheep this spring when I was  doing the course on spinning.

I knew they would be rather smelly and dirty and that washing it would require the bathtub for a couple of days at least.  So it's been sitting in a plastic bag (not the best storage) in the garage because hubby wouldn't like it at all if I barred him from the bathtub for days.  But this weekend I found myself alone in the house and out came the fleece.

I don't mind the smell.  It's actually kind of nice.  Very farm-y, if you know what I mean.  But perhaps not a smell one would want on a garment.

The fleece was even dirtier than I expected and didn't really know if I could get it white nor was I hopeful that I could get rid of that farm-y smell using only water.

I had only gotten verbal instructions from my spinning teacher about how to wash the wool, so I searched the internet to get some more viewpoints.

Most people seem to use soap or detergent, but since my teacher only uses hot water, I decided to stick to her method and see if that worked.  I do have to admit that using stale urine sounds awsom and it probably is the best method.  It was used traditionally here, as well as in many (if not most) other countries, to get the wool really nice and soft.  It does make sense to a soapmaker that an alkali (the stale urine) and oil (the lanolin, although it is more of a wax than an oil) would make some sort of soap and therefor it should work quite nicely.  Something that I'm sure to try at some point.  Right now the collection and storage is a bit of a problem.  I need to negotiate with hubby about where I might put a collection container.

My biggest worry was that the wool would become felted by too much movement, but since I wasn't using soap I just decided to go for it.  Wool can take quite a bit of heat without felting, it just doesn't like sudden changes in temperature.

The washing is quite straight forward, but takes a bit of effort and time.

I filled the bathtub with 50°C / 120°F hot water and gently pushed a big chunk of fleece into the water.  I let it sit for about 30 minutes and then drained the filthy water.  I found it easiest to do that by putting the wool on a wooden thingy (it used to be a playpen, but I made a dog-gate with one part of it).  Then I filled the bathtub again with some more hot water, slightly cooler this time.  I think I did this four times in all or until the water was running pretty clear.  I let the wool sit overnight to drain and dry.

By the next morning it was quite dry, at least it was far from dripping.  So I hung it up on a coat hanger to dry completely.  It made a nice sculpture by the stairs for a while.  It seemed a shame to take it down.  I had some more hanging in the garage.  That was quite a lot of wool, and I only washed the cleanest bits from the middle.  So I still have quite a bit of wool in a black plastic bag in the garage, ready for the next time hubby is away overnight.

After drying the wool, I needed to separate the coarse outer hairs (tog) from the softer undercoat (þel) and that is done simply by pulling the long silky hairs from the coat.  The texture of the two is quite different, the outer hairs are very long and shiny, almost like human hair.  While the softer inner wool is lovely and nice and soft.

Since I didn't use soap there is still quite a bit of lanolin left in the wool and that makes it very nice to touch and lovely to spin.  I intend to spin some of it like that and leave it un dyed and make something nice out of it.  Preferably something that I would wear next to my skin.  The lanolin really is the nicest moisturizer and to imagine wearing a garment that contains a natural moisturizer.  What could be more luxurious.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Old Fashioned Ice Cream

I bought an old fashioned Ice cream maker a few years ago.  I didn't really know what it was, but the colour was adorable and whatever it was intrigued me.  The people at the thrift store were excited that I bought it and asked me what it was because they had no idea either.  These are not at all common here and I assume that it was bought in the States by some seaman who thought his wife would enjoy using it.  Since it is practically unused and mint condition, I'm assuming the wife didn't really think it was such a hot idea.

But I love it and I have so often planned to use it, but never taken the plunge.  It's so funny how doing something that I haven't done before is so impossibly difficult.  And then once I do it, it's really easy.  So I decided to make Rhubarb Ice cream in it.

I love Rhubarb ice cream.  Nobody else seems to, which I find very strange.  But I had some rhubarb and there was a family party and I offered to bring dessert.  The family was a bit skeptical.  My daughter confessed to having serious doubts beforehand, but once they tasted, they were converted.  Or at least that is what they told me.

The recipe for the ice cream is very easy, I posted it before here.  Except this time I used a whole Vanilla pod for the ice cream instead of the vanilla sugar/essence that is specified in the recipe.  It's not a lot of ice cream, probably about a quart (or 1 liter).  There were 8 of us and all had a nice portion each, but it was also served with Rhubarb soup and whipped cream.  I actually like smaller recipes of ice cream since I like to make more flavors rather than a huge amount.  Coffee ice cream is probably my favorite, along with the Rhubarb and of course real Vanilla.  The taste is just so much better.

Making ice cream from scratch is very easy.  I started with two egg yolks, one tablespoon  powdered sugar, seeds from half a vanilla pod and mixed it together with a fork.

Five stalks of  rhubarb are chopped into little pieces and boiled with a little bit of water and 3,5 oz sugar.  Or one can use rhubarb mash from making the rhubarb soup.  The rhubarb is cooled while 1 and 1/4 cup of whipping cream is whipped.  Once the rhubarb has cooled, it is folded together and poured into the ice cream maker.

I had never used this old fashioned ice cream maker before, so I had little idea how much salt would be needed, but I bought 4 kilos (8punds) of rock salt.  I used about half of that, 2 kilos (4 pounds) and all the ice I had, alternating a dash of salt and a smattering of ice.  But I did make this recipe twice, and could churn it with that amount of salt and ice.  (This meant that I had some ice cream that was for me only after the party.  Oh, joy.)

Then churning by hand.  The mechanism of this is really interesting and I would actually love to have a smaller unit to use.  This large bucket is just a bit too big for the kitchen and so it has to reside in the garage, even if the turquoise  colour is just fantastic.

I didn't really know how long it would take to churn the ice cream.  It actually took shorter time than I thought, but then the amount of ice cream was only about half of the capacity of the ice cream maker.  I think it only took 15-20 minutes to churn the ice cream.  I loved peering into the ice cream  maker and watch how it moves the ice cream so slowly.  It all looks a bit weird, but then suddenly everything starts to flow smoothly.  I took the thing apart, emptied out the container and put the ice cream into the freezer to store it until it was time to go to the party.

I served the rhubarb ice cream with the fabulous rhubarb soup and lots of whipped cream.

There is nothing in this world that doesn't taste better with lots of whipped cream.  And then it was sprinkled with dark chocolate.  Although some cocoa nibs are also very good with this.  As is chopped dark Toblerone.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Lupine dyeing - Lupinus nootkatensis

The Alaskan Lupine (Lupinus nootkatensis) is one of those invasive species that are impossible to eradicate.  But it is pretty with it's blue and violet flowers and it does give great colour as a dye plant.  The leaves will give a good yellow, but it is the flowers that are more interesting because they give very bright and beautiful greens.  Most of the time lime green.

I got some pretty amazing colours this summer.  I went with my daughter to pick them down by the river where they grow in frightening abundance.  We picked the darkest coloured flowers that we could find and stripped them from the stalks.  We were careful to remove all leaves, because we didn't want too much of the yellow colour.   After picking a few full plastic bags we went home and dumped them into a large pot and filled it up with water.  The flowers simmered for over an hour and then was left to cool a bit before squeezing all the liquid from the flowers.

The liquid is a very deep wine colour, but the most common colour that comes out of the dyeing in a strong lime green.  It never ceases to amaze me, the tricks that colour plays in this process.  I used alpaca yarn to dye, skeins of 50g /1,8oz.  I've been using that for most of my dyeing lately, since I want to knit a soft and comfy sweater.  The Icelandic wool isn't necessarily what one wants next to the skin.

Since I didn't have any pre-mordanted yarn, I decided to mordant simultaneously with the dyeing, something which I haven't done before.  And because I am forgetful I first dumped wetted yarn into the pot and started to heat it up gently (it's important to take at least an hour to heat wool up to the 80-90°C / 180-200°F or so that is needed to dye) only to realize that I had completely forgotten to put in the mordant.

I added 10% (5 gr.) alum and 2% (1 gr.) cream of tartar, which I dissolved in hot water.  And then proceeded to heat up the liquid to about 85°C / 190°F.  I kept that temperature for an hour.  When I lifted the yarn out of the pot, I was floored by the turquoise colour that I got.  I have never seen a  colour like that from Lupine, so I wasn't about to chance loosing by letting it stay in the dye liquid any longer.  Therefore I didn't let the yarn sit and cool, but took it up and let it air cool before washing it out in clear water and some detergent.  The second skein I put into the dye liquid turned a very pretty green, I added the same amount of mordant to the dye liquid.  And finally I put in a third skein and got a lighter green.

Now I had to repeat this to see if I could replicate the colour.  I was a bit nervous since I had not really been careful to write everything down as soon as I did it.  That is a big mistake in dyeing.  Really, seriously.  One needs to take very careful notes and write everything that one does, times, tempertures, any deviations from the norm.  Just write everything down.

I had to try to replicate what I had done and write down every step of the way and lo and behold, I did manage to get almost the same colour.  I haven't tested it to see how lightfast it is.  I guess I should do that.  I did however see a shawl that someone had done with beautiful yellows from lupine and greens from lupine overdyed with indigo.  And there was no sign of fading in that.  However, I realize that the flower colours are the ones that are the most likely to fade in strong sunlight.  But on the bright side, there has been very little sun here this summer, so that isn't such a huge problem anyway.
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I’m a fun loving person who loves to do things, make things, grow things, repair things. I love it when my husband gives me power tools as presents! The next best thing is getting ingredients. Any type of ingredients, oils, pigments, building materials, old pieces of wood or used textiles, especially. I love the fact that anything can be made. Need glue? Well, go to the kitchen and make some! Don’t have a recipe for glue? Google it! (Isn’t the internet a fantastic invention) Need lettuce? Grow it! On a window sill if you don’t have a garden . I have two daughters, two dogs, one son in law and one husband. Born and bred in Iceland (I think that was a horrible mistake, I like warm weather and sun). Still live there though and of course I like it, really. But the weather could be better. I read a lot. Some fiction, but mostly factual books. I have an oppinion about most things. They may not be the right opinions, but I’ll stick to them unless you convince me otherwise. And I will change my mind give new facts and strong logic! I generally like my life. I like most people and love the fact that nothing that really matters to me can be taken away.