Coming clean

The irony of soapmaking is that it’s a messy business. The oils involved slime everything. Bits of raw soap cling to your kitchen cabinets, molds, cutters and self. Equipment must be washed and put up. And everything smells of lavender. For days. (Obviously, it could be worse.)

Once you go homemade, though, you never go back.

It’s what the soap doesn’t do that makes it special. It doesn’t make you itch like a mad dog from head to toe. It doesn’t encourage angry raw places to appear on winter skin. And it doesn’t smell like horse piss and gardenias. At the risk of sounding like a Calgon commercial, it makes showering a lathery, sensual delight. (Get two soapmakers together and they'll talk suds and bubbles like spinners talk staple-length and microns.)

Unfortunately, I make butt-ugly soap. I’ve invested in molds, slicers, colorants. I take pains when I line my molds to smooth any creases in the wax paper. Still it’s ugly like a mud daub on an old fence. But ooh boy, get it into the shower…like butta.

You wanna see some pretty soap? Check out the work of this soap blogger. Lovely. If you want to treat yourself to some homemade bars, visit local farmer’s markets, indie health food stores or check out the amazing offerings at Etsy. (I’m partial to DesertBlends of Taos.)

And get ready to kiss your Dove bar, goodbye!

1. Soap curing in molds 

Itssoap1

2. Soap log languishing, ready to be cut.

Itssoap2

3. Soap log awaiting the knife in cutter.

Itssoap3

4. Soap cutting in process.

Itssoap4

5. Three more weeks of curing and it’s bath time!

Itssoap5

Where's Cher when you need her?

The Oscar’s were predictably dreary, though Ellen was an amiable breath of fresh air.

Hollywood, however, seemed disingenous in its deification of Al Gore. Folks acted like he was about to sprout wings and ascend to heaven. My question: Where were ya’all six-and-a-half years ago? (Thinkin’ he was Bill’s tight-assed VP, that’s where.)

There were certainly some lovely dresses. Cate Blanchett looked amazing in her second-skin Armani. As did Reese Witherspoon in that gorgeous ombre by Olivier Theskens. Jodie Foster was radiant in a soft blue-grey Vera Wang. And Diane Keaton actually struck a body-conscious note, looking comfortable and fabulous in a black blouse and skirt cinched with a wide patent-leather belt. (Though I’m not sure how I feel about Jack sans hair.)

Others will have snarkier and wittier things to say, as in what were those carbunkles doing on Eva Green’s gown? And where were the sweaters and shawls? Was the Kodak Theatre so warm one needn’t cover bare shoulders?

Thank goodness for Pilobolus.

Your take?

 

Fair Isle fever

Never say “never.”

I never thought I would like colorwork. Ever. Colorwork landed me in a quagmire of love, Rowan wool and really ugly stitches that upended my knitting for 10 years. I couldn’t forgive it for that.

Last month, though, after being cajoled into teaching Intermediate Knitting (I usually only teach beginners, the reason for which will become abudantly clear), a student shamed me by running over to Knittinghelp.com to learn two-handed Fair Isle. I could only teach her the one-handed, tangled-ball technique. I was mortified.

So, after reading that Michelle was also about to embark on a journey to Fair Isle with Eunny Jang’s adorable Endpaper Mitts, I thought, “Fine. I’ll copy her.”

Armed with some Shetland wool or something, I watched the Philospher’s Wool video about 60,000 times, in which Ann Bourgeois soothingly and patiently explains their method. Go watch her; she’s quite lovely. Finally, I dove in.

No ball tangling. No puckering. Only minimal swearing. Sigh. Another case, when I should’ve listened to my mother.

Endpaper

Wednesday Miscellany--Spring look book

I was going to foam at the mouth some more about soap, about how the latest batch seems to be developing DOS, which in online soap-speak means, “dreaded orange spots.” DOS is certainly not a fatal condition (lye chunks in soap, that’s fatal), but it does marr the esthetics. This is what I get for getting all fancy with honey additives and a big lye discount.

Sooo, let’s start amassing a knits look book for spring. Please send along any sweet numbers you’ve seen. And I’ll provide a start. Here’s a promenade of commercial sweaters recently spied:

1. Persian Rug Halter from Peruvian Connection. Of course, I would like Polish grandma draped in a rug from Wal-Mart, but she looks cute.

Persian Rug Halter

2. Eileen Fisher silk-cashmere cardigan from Garnet Hill. Love it!

Eileenfisher

3. Red Stamp Slingbacks from Anthropologie. OK, these have nothing to do with sweaters, but we have to wear something on our feet. But can someone explain why they cost $268?

Polkadotshoes

4. Rivamonti Wool-cotton cardigan. From Saks. So classic. But the buttons on the trousers are too matchy-matchy.

Rivamonti

Crafter gone wild: The soap edition

I haven’t made soap in years. Too much knitting, blogging, working and a bit of burnout—I did some craft shows when the economy tanked—retired my stick blender.

This winter, though, a bout of unremittant, body-wide itching forced me back into the basement to review my supplies. All my luxury oils—rancid. Olive oil—out. But my hard-come-by palm and coconut oils, sealed tight as drums and smelling just fine. A trip to Costco for a gallon of not-so-virgin olive oil and I was back in business.

Let’s make soap, shall we? (You can find Kathy Miller’s instructions for cold process soapmaking, here.)

1. This is lye, aka sodium hydroxide. This is bad, caustic stuff, but you don’t get soap without it. This is why the poor kitten spent part of the afternoon in the bathroom time out.

 Soap1

2. This is water mixed with lye. When water and lye are combined the mixture gets really hot and really volatile. This is the second batch of water and lye I made after the first batch of water, honey and lye exploded. This is why you mix the water and lye outside.

 Soap2

3. This is coconut oil. It’s solid at room temperature. Coconut oil imparts a nice, bubbly lather.

Soap4

4. This is olive oil, coconut oil and palm oil combined. Cellulite never looked so good.

Soap5

5. Add lye and a stick blender and, voila, raw soap.

Soap6

6. Keep blending, you don’t want nasty fat chunks in your soap. This is when you add your essential oils. This is a batch of lavender/honey soap. After my little mishap, I zoomed through a couple off soapmaking references only to learn that this is the proper time to add honey.

Soap7

7. Pour into lined molds and cover with blankets for 24 hours. Soap is very shy when it’s young, so you need to keep it under wraps. It also continues saponifying and it likes to be warm when it’s doing this.

Soap8

8. The true joy of soapmaking. Cleaning up.

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9. But wait, there’s more. This afternoon I’ll uncover the soap and let it harden for several days. Then I’ll remove it from the molds, slice it like tea cakes and set it out to cure for three weeks. No instant gratification here.

 

Mad at McCain

He lost me with the hug.

Though I haven’t been much of a switch-hitter, I look at the other team. There might come a day when the Dems nominate a candidate so corrupt and unskilled as to prompt a protest vote. So I look.

John McCain has long interested me. He’s a true American hero who knows viscerally what it means to send troops into harm’s way. (Though I marvel at his unwavering support of this war.) I followed his 2000 campaign with interest and was appalled by the reprehensible tactics deployed by Bush’s apparatchiks against his camp. As the campaign wore on, it became clear that McCain was too hawkish, too gun friendly, too pro-life to win my vote. But I admired him nonetheless.

Until he hugged that son of a bitch.

To treat a president with distant civility is one thing. To physically embrace and campaign for a man whose minions impugned your family? Smells like the gray-water of ambition.

Had he chosen an executive position—governor of Arizona?—instead of the internecine environment of Congress, perhaps we would have seen more of the unvarnished McCain, the man who’s willing to anger the far right and left with the raw courage of his convictions. Instead, McCain’s become an awkward insider, a complex, confused prevaricator willing to sell big chunks of his soul for a shot at America’s highest office.

Curious. There’s part of me that still believes he’s better than all of this.

For a much better take on his candidacy, read Todd S. Purdum’s piece on McCain in Vanity Fair.

For McCain on McCain.

Back to the future

A while back (OK, like a year ago), I started Cheryl Oberle’s Little Edo jacket. In the ensuing months, I’ve knit many things, complained vigorously on these pages, grown older, visited foreign lands and even written about Oberle, but have made very little progress on this lovely garment. The other day, I returned to it, trepidatious because it is LACE, albeit easy LACE, but was able to sink right in. Just like a great novel. And the yarn, Oberle’s own hand-dyed “Reflections,” a 50–50 merino-mohair, like stitching with sapphires.

See?

Oberle

Itty bitty teeny weeny Edo

Wednesday Miscellany: Valentine history

The other day, Mitch and I were trying to explain why Valentine’s Day is not a Jewish holiday. We knew it had something to do with a saint. I thought there was a massacre, though that came later.

Turns out, the Catholic church recognizes three or so Saint Valentines. One such Valentine, a priest, defied an anti-marriage law imposed by the Roman emperor Claudius II, and married lovers anyway. He was executed. Another was killed for helping Christians escape from Roman prisons. One Valentine allegedly fell in love with his jailor’s daughter, and before his death, wrote her a letter, signing it, “from your Valentine.”

The February 14 part came in when the Church decided to coop the Roman Lupercalia Festival, a baudy and raucous rite of spring, and something Church fathers no doubt wanted supressed. Some think the modern Valentine thing took hold during the era of chivalry and courtly love, finally reaching popular expression in 17th-century England.

But the whole thing started with blood and death. Like a lot of holidays.

Perhaps the moral of this story is: Spread love, not mayhem.

So, kiss your pookey.

Some accounts to read:

History Channel

How Stuff Works

Infoplease

Christianity Today

Just another maudlin Monday

I had a couple of free hours yesterday and decided to finish an essay I started months ago. Remarkably, it has nothing to do with knitting, and therein may lie the problem, since all I can think about are sweaters, this being a current obsession:

Classiccoast

From the Rowan Classic Coast Collection

But I was in the mood to write, or at least thought I was, though revisiting the essay distressed me somewhat. I noodled with the diction, unsure I was striking the right tone. I revised clunky phrases; an English teacher I had long ago noted awkward sentences by writing “awk” beside them in red. There was a lot of “awk.” Ultimately, I had to admit that I didn’t know where I was going. Really, dear, what is your point?

So I lay down. Please tell me you do this: Shut your eyes so as to conjure different brain waves or at the very least, catch a few Zs? It works. And in this case, along with stealing a nice nappy, I realized where the piece needed to go. Problem is, my “point” just ain’t that deep.

Kinda put the whole day into a tailspin.

Squalid little turdballs of yarn

Margene was disparaging her handspun on Friday, so, in an effort to make her feel more accomplished, I thought I’d display an egregious effort at rolling some llama. So sad. That beautiful batting deserves better.

Llamaturds

Sable-colored llama from the Rocky Mountain LLama Fiber Pool