Pant project

I’m making a pair of pants for sibling C. We don’t have a lot of pants patterns around (and those that we do have are from a past era), so I drafted a pattern based on C’s measurements and Donald McCunn’s book How to make your own sewing patterns. (I have read another book of his that is slightly more useful for creating new designs from an existing pattern.)

Sibling C’s measurements and the drafted patterns for pants front and back pieces. As you can see, the back piece is looking a little odd…

To make sure the pattern actually makes an item resembling a pair of pants, I mocked up a mini version about 15 cm long.

They do indeed look like pants. It remains to be seen if they fit C well, so the next step is to make a full-size pair!

The pants will be made out of silk dupioni (or maybe it’s shantung? It was bought used from Austin Creative Reuse, so there is some question and I’m not well-versed in silk fabrics). C want them to have a drawstring closure – hopefully the fancy fabric will be able to pull them up to dress or party level! The pants will be lined with flannel, since C gets cold easily.

This will be my first time fitting a garment – wish me luck!

Dyeing with spinach

Using this article for reference, sibling C and I dyed some of her cotton-and-nylon socks with liquid leftover from cooking spinach. Spinach produces yellows to greens, but doesn’t stick very well (isn’t “fast”). We added some iron (from an iron supplement) to make the color more green, and to hopefully make it darker and more fade-resistant.

The finished socks in rinse water. Spoon for scale.
We got a nice pale green-gray. It is almost discernible from regular dirt.

The socks looked like something at first, but, like many naturally-dyed articles, quickly faded. Very sad 🙁 Sibling C is amassing a very pastel army of naturally-dyed socks. The one upside is that they coordinate very well.

More hair soap for C

Since I had J’s handy-dandy digital scale available (my parents only have a poorly-calibrated analog postal scale), I decided to make yet more soap, this time focusing on better hair soap for sibling C.

The first bar soap I made was 100% tallow, about 5% superfat (in excess of the saponification stoichiometric ratio), with some amount of sodium hydroxide. The lather is thick and creamy, but not voluminous or stable.

To attempt to fix this, the new bar of soap was made with mostly tallow (since I can get this locally, cheaply, and fairly sustainably- it’s considered a waste product of meat production), some coconut oil (supposed to make cleansing soap), and some hemp (because I had it on hand). I used sodium hydroxide again because I wanted to make bar soap (and I don’t have KOH).

Here is the full recipe, made using SoapCalc. There are other soap calculators, but SoapCalc has a whole bunch of pre-loaded oils so you can easily play around with your soap’s properties (how hard, cleansing, moisturizing, etc it is).

The soap seemed to turn out fine. It’s curing now. I used my dad’s 40-year-old pH paper (left over from his days in grad school) to make sure the saponification reaction proceeded as expected.

I like the puck shape. Bars with square edges are so uncomfortable to hold. I molded the soap in plastic take-out cups, the taper of which caused the pucks to have slightly different diameters.

Trying to make shaving soap

I made a previous batch of tallow-based bar soap (in January) that turned out fairly well. In fact, sibling C swears by it for washing her hair! Interestingly, hair washed with the soap feels very similar to hair habitually washed with only water. The soap is just okay for shaving, though, so I’ve been wanting to do a second improved batch.

The internet says to use a lot of stearic acid to make better shaving soap. Stearic acid makes stable lather, but it is a palm-oil derivative, so definitively not sustainable. However I discovered that soy wax, that is, fully-hydrogenated soy bean oil, can be used as a substitute for stearic acid. So I was planning on buying that until I discovered that… people sell everything on eBay! So I ended up buying “used” stearic acid (from someone who used to make their own lotions).

Apparently, there are tons of things that can go wrong with soap. It seems like most of them only happen when you try to do fancy things (e.g. coloring, fragrance, milk) and I haven’t done those particular things.

However, the combination of stearic acid (very high melting point), tallow (grass-fed from the farmer’ market! moderately high melting point), and sodium hydroxide (used to make hard/bar soap, as compared to potassium hydroxide, which is used to make liquid/soft soap) makes extremely hard soap. It’s super crumbly now that it is completely hardened… On the bright side, the harder the soap, the longer it lasts.

I used SoapCalc to formulate the final recipe. Don’t try to replicate this soap; I’m including the recipe for reference purposes only! You could try the same proportions of oils and use KOH instead of NaOH, that might work.

I made the lotion!

I made the lotion. The recipe yielded about two cups. I ended up using a KitchenAid stand mixer with the whisk attachment, in place of the advised blender. I don’t think hand-whisking would work.

Looks a lot like mayonnaise.

I substituted water for the aloe vera gel (found some pre-owned on eBay, but it was too expensive. I bought some fresh as a second resort but had trouble extracting the pulp, then tried to eat it so it wouldn’t go to waste and found it incredibly bitter…). I used sweet almond oil for the liquid oil, coconut for the solid, and left out the lanolin (you can also buy this pre-owned on eBay).

The product is very appealing! Lightweight, similar to commercial lotion, and much less greasy than just using plain oil. I plan to make future batches. The addition of aloe vera and lanolin can only make it better! I will probably use shea butter in place of the coconut oil so that the lotion can be used on the face without fear of it causing acne.

Lotion recipe

This lotion doesn’t need to be stored in the fridge, unless you will consume it slowly or you used ingredients that tend to go rancid quickly. The texture is light and quickly-absorbed, much like commercial lotions, so it’s a good option if you don’t like the greasy feeling of using oils straight.

This recipe is adapted from Rosemary Gladstar’s book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. I learned about the book from a low-waste Youtuber who gushed about all the cool recipes in the book. This was the only one I was interested in; I’ve been looking a long time for a lotion recipe that produces something like commercial lotion.


2/3 cup water

1/3 cup aloe vera

1% citric acid by weight (optional, acts as a preservative for the aloe vera)


3/4 cup liquid oil (I use sweet almond oil. Other skin-friendly oils, such as sunflower or jojoba, will work, although shelf-stable ones are ideal. Hemp oil, for example, would necessitate refrigeration.)

1/3 cup solid oil (coconut oil, cocoa butter, shea butter, etc)

1/4 tsp lanolin (optional)

1/2-1 oz beeswax

  1. Melt oils together. Let cool to room temperature, until thickened.
  2. In a blender on high, slowly add the waters to the oils. It is done when combined, thickened, and fluffy. The blender will probably start having trouble!


If you are going to use this on your face, use only oils with low comedogenic ratings! That means don’t use coconut oil or cocoa butter. Shea butter, on the other hand, is non-comedogenic and is very unlikely to cause acne. Sunflower, jojoba, and hemp oils are all non-comedogenic, but there are many other liquid oils to choose from.

I haven’t actually made this yet, and I’m planning on whisking it by hand. It may not be possible, but wish me luck!

Ceramics class?

I’ve been thinking of taking a ceramics class. I got my feet wet during college, and really enjoyed it. It’s amazing to think that you can make all your cups, plates, bowls, and more yourself! You could even make your own toilet.

I’m especially interested, though, in making onggi, which are traditional Korean fermentation vessels. Here’s a video on how they’re made.

Apparently the type of clay is very important, and detailed information is probably only available in Korean. I’d be satisfied with something like these crocks, which are also pretty and functional.

From this site. Look at those weights! They help keep all of your ferments submerged.

I worked in a research lab in South Korea for a summer during undergrad. I’m thinking of contacting the grad student I worked with to see what he knows about traditional Korean food (and onggi!).  Maybe he’d be willing to do some research for me (:

I also could make a donabe (see Toiro Kitchen for more info. The cookbook by Naoko Moore on donabe cooking is also quite good).

And, well, a ceramics class just sounds fun. I like learning new crafts!

Sake update

Our sake has been fermenting for almost three weeks now. It’s looking pretty good! The remaining experiments smell strongly of alcohol.

In order from left to right: rice + koji + bread yeast + brown rice syrup, rice + barley malt soaking liquid + brown rice syrup, rice + ginger + brown rice syrup, rice + chewing + brown rice syrup.

As I discussed in the planning post, you can use different sources of amylase to digest the rice. Koji works really well, chewing/saliva is fine, barley malt is less than desirable, and ginger doesn’t work (at all, as far as I could tell). The brown rice syrup, which started fermenting unaided in the cupboard, was added to provide a wild strain of yeast.

A close up of the koji one. The bubbles of CO2 from fermentation push the bigger bits of rice up to the top.

After taking these pictures, I threw away the ginger one. It wasn’t rotting, but it didn’t seem to be doing the right thing either. A few days later, I also threw out the barley malt one. It had a weird skin on the surface, maybe kahm yeast?

So I’m left with the koji experiment and the chewed experiment. Fortunately, they both smell strongly of alcohol. I hope they’ll be done soon (how do I tell when that is?). I may add another batch of rice to each. Doing this can push the alcohol content higher than it would otherwise be, since having more food available can trick the yeast into fermenting more.

Friend V from college is interested in sampling the experiments, including the chewed one! Yay! I thought I would be the only one trying it- it’s my saliva, after all.

Kimchi making!

J and I were running low on kimchi. The last batch was from 3 or 4 months ago, so we go through about 1 quart per month. College friend S was interested, so we all got together to make kimchi!

We used Maangchi’s recipe, omitting the minari (dropwort) and the Asian chives, and substituting bonito flakes for the brined shrimp. This time, we also decreased the red pepper flakes to 1 cup. We didn’t have enough Korean red pepper flakes, so I substituted cayenne pepper powder for the remainder needed.

So much cabbage! It weighed about 7 lbs.

In addition to Napa cabbage (tongbaechu) kimchi, we tried making green onion (pa) kimchi. J really likes green onions 🙂

As usual, the kimchi turned out deliciously. It is much more edible this time around, thanks to halving the amount of red pepper in the recipe! The key to the flavor is the fish. Without it, the kimchi tastes bland (not enough umami); if you get it wrong, it tastes horrible. There was a memorable batch of kimchi several years ago where I used Thai shrimp paste that unfortunately smelled like rubber…

We got about 1.5 gallons kimchi, some of which will be going to friend S for her help! I added extra water to the jars to make sure the cabbage was submerged…bad idea. The CO2 produced by fermentation caused all but two of the jars to spill by the next morning.
Here’s the finished pa kimchi!

Out of curiosity, I looked up what bacteria are present in kimchi.

The picture [the experiment] paint[s] is that the microbial population changes fairly radically over time. At first, the cabbage, which was soaked in brine, drained, and mixed with a variety of seasonings, was populated mostly by unidentified bacteria and ones from the Deferribacterales group, whose representatives have cropped up in oilfields and in the guts of deep-sea shrimp. These bacteria may have been on the cabbage to begin with, rather than having anything to do with the fermentation, because as the days passed, and the oxygen ran out, others began to take over.

By the seventh day, DNA from the Leuconostoc group, which converts sugars into lactic acid and are behind the fermentation of kefir, a fermented milk drink, and sourdough bread, was on the rise. By day 13, members of the Lactobacillus and Weisellagroups had joined in. Like Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus andWeisella produce lactic acid from sugar, and they’re also part of the team behind cheese, kefir, pickles, and other fermented products. Together the three groups dominated the kimchi for the rest of the experiment.

From BBC Future.

And I discovered that there’s a fermentation subreddit for all your fermentation needs! (The top post at the moment is titled “The number one mistake fermentation newbies make is paranoia“!)