Discussion of how to make liquid castile soap

The zero-waste dentist also has a very thorough article on replicating Dr. Bronner’s castile soap at home. Castile soap traditionally refers to soap made with only olive oil, so Dr. Bronner’s, which contains a large amount of coconut oil, doesn’t actually count. Apparently the coconut oil makes a big difference in texture, smell, and cleaning ability, too.

On the topic of Dr. Bronner’s, awhile ago I was reading an article reviewing the company and was super confused when the article said “she has a lot of nice scents.” Who the heck was this “she”? It turns out Dr. Bronner is a woman… :'(

Clothing repair

I regularly patch clothes โ€“ mostly the knees of J’s jeans, and recently some of J’s socks. I do boro-style patches (like this but less polished) and other forms of visible mending. They never look super awesome, but they are durable. (I’m going to look like a hobo one day, though.)

An earlier knee patch. More recent patches blend in better and have taken less time.
Maybe I should try other styles of patching. This one is particularly pretty ๐Ÿ™‚
The height of my patching attempts! I used this pair of underwear to pad ceramics for shipping. Unfortunately, a dish broke and made lots of tiny holes and some medium-size holes all over the butt of the garment. I really like how these fit and they were in good shape besides the holes, so I decided to patch them! I turned them into an under-the-sea scene, with the small holes turned into bubbles and the larger holes turned into fish. I made two jellyfish, a sea urchin, a squid, some seaweed, and 5 other generic fish. The patches are holding up well!

If you aren’t sure how to repair an item, take a look atย Make Do and Mend. It is a British WWII booklet on caring for and repairing clothing. It is super detailed! I’m sure everyone could learn a new technique from it.

Homemade yoghurt made easy, no special equipment needed!

My kefir culture (bought from a neighbor on Craigslist!) is no longer usable. The active culture went bitter somehow โ€“ probably contamination; the backup culture in the freezer died, apparently. I tried to make several batches of kefir with it, hoping for a revival, but nothing happened ๐Ÿ™

Although kefir is easier to culture than yoghurt since it is mesophilic (grows optimally at room temperature), I prefer the flavor and texture of yoghurt. Unfortunately, yoghurt cultures are thermophilic (grow optimally around 110ยฐF). It is difficult to maintain this temperature without special equipment (yoghurt maker or water bath) or lots of fiddling (e.g. with oven settings) for the 5-10 hours needed to make a batch of yoghurt. A recent read gave a good tip for getting around this: put the heated milk and starter culture into a thermos. Even bad thermoses are capable of keeping their contents hot for 5 hours, so it works out perfectly, no additional energy input necessary!

I tried the thermos approach with a squat, wide-mouth thermos from Goodwill ($2.19! Stainless steel! Thermos brand! Oddly, it is branded with images from some car movie). It worked really well! The yoghurt turned out thick (even thicker than the commercial variety I used as starter) and creamy. I will definitely do this again!

What came before vanilla?

We usually think of vanilla as ubiquitous in sweets, but it hasn’t actually been in use for very long. It used to be one of those super expensive tropical extravagances that only the wealthy could afford; the lower class people made do with rosewater (which, ironically, is considered fancier now).ย My mom originally saw an article on this topic on Atlas Obscura.

Unlike vanilla, you can make rosewater at home! Rosemary Gladstar’sย Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health has instructions on how to make your own. You set up a simple steam distiller. All you need besides that is water and rose petals (forageable!).

Rosewater is used in fancy cosmetics. I don’t know if it actually does anything, but it makes the product smell nice ๐Ÿ™‚


I have a pair of not super high quality socks that were getting major holes in them. (Oddly, the holes were under the ball of my foot…) I didn’t actually intend to repair them โ€“ they’re definitely not worth it โ€“ but in the end couldn’t bring myself to throw them away. At least I got to practice my darning skills!

Hole on the left sock, darn on the right. The thread that I used was among my maternal grandmother’s crafting supplies. It is specifically meant for darning and matches really well! Wow!

A darn is basically a little patch of woven material. You sew back and forth over a hole, then go back and forth the other direction, running your thread over and under the crosswise threads. See this post for detailed instructions.

The blogger who runs that site seems very into obvious patching and the distressed look. For example, see this patch, where he specifically says to not sew too carefully. You wouldn’t want it to lookย good or anything. He’s going to look like a hobo one day โ€“ and I probably will also…

Making a rag rug

Rag rugs are a great way to reuse clothing that is too worn to wear, repair, or donate. As my mom says, you can always have more rugs! Basically you tear or cut the garments and fabric into strips, then weave, knit, or crochet the strips into a rug. Super easy!

This is a great use for clothes that are too worn to patch and too worn to donate. Any material (cotton, polyester, etc) and any type of cloth (woven, knit) can be used. However, I try to use a single material and type of cloth within a rug. Knits and wovens in particular behave differently.

Cutting up a childhood dress.

There are a ton of rug-making methods:

A woven way

A braided wayย (you can do the same technique using an n-strand braid)

A knit way (using linen stitch)


This is definitely an accessible craft. For the simplest method (braiding), all you need is rag strips! You should try it!

The finished rug! It is in-front-of-sink-sized. I plan to give it to Sibling A.

For the rug that I made, I used a child’s dress (pink flowered), a robotics t-shirt (turquoise), a scrap of single-knit cloth (pink), an old pajama shirt of Sibling A’s (light blue), and part of a fitted sheet (white with turquoise stripes). It ended up way more themed than expected. I’m used to rag rugs looking more mismatched, which is a nice look, too!

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 โ€“ 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 โ€“ 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 ๐Ÿ™ 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.