Monday, August 4, 2014

Adventures in (extremely easy) liquid soap-making

I have become a convert to liquid soap. It has its pluses - the small person enjoys squirting it out (and anything that encourages hand-washing round here is a plus); it's handy to use when your hands are very dirty - say, covered in sheep poo just for example; and thirdly, I'm hoping it will be resistant to my mother's soap destroying tendencies - as someone who always washes the bar of soap after using it, she somehow manages to turn our soap to a bowl of goopy liquid within but a few hand washes. 

So, liquid soap is the new flavour of the month round here. But jaypers* **, the stuff is expensive. 
 A quick intermediate-length internet search later and a little tweaking, and I have an easy recipe for it that works. And is really cheap, hooray!

This recipe is for making liquid soap from bar soap, but it seems that not all soaps are made equal. I used olive oil soap - cheaply available from health food shops and known as Castile soap in the States. I believe a good quality handmade soap would be good for this recipe too. And smell even nicer. 

Without further ado:

How to make liquid soap from olive oil soap.

You need:
50g olive oil soap, grated
600ml water
Some essential oils if you want a smell

 Bring the water to the boil, turn off the heat, throw in your soap and whisk or stir to melt.

 Leave for 12-24 hours.

 That's it! Yes, it is THAT easy.

This recipe makes about 2 bottles worth of soap.

I added some essential oils to half of it and popped it in an empty soap dispenser. I had to use a whisk to get the oils mixed in as it was pretty set by then, so I wonder in the future about leaving the soap to cool for a while - just until it is cool enough to pour in a bottle, and then adding the essential oils and pouring it in your bottle - it would be much easier to pour in as a liquid than a soapy gel.

Perhaps my life has been reduced to a shell of its previous excitement pre having kids, but I found this extremely satisfying. I think that is because nice liquid soap (of which I have bought 2 bottles in my entire life) is 5 or 6 euros + a bottle, and this one cost me about 50c for 2 bottles worth. 

A note on essential oils:
I added 12 drops of lavender oil, 2 drops rosewood and 1of neroli to half of this quantity of soap but could easily have doubled that as it is quite mild smelling. But use your own nose for that one.

A note on quantity:
The ratio is 1:12 soap to water, so it is easily scaled up to make lots. I just wanted to make a couple of bottles worth and stored the excess in an old jam jar.

* Project stop-cursing-in-front-of-the-child is working.
** I was going to try and explain what jaypers is for those not familiar with Irish habits of mild cursing. But I have no idea what jaypers is really. Feel free to enlighten us all if you know!

Saturday, June 28, 2014


Small hands have been picking flowers. Every flower available is carefully picked clean of its stem and placed in a bucket for arranging later in a jar. The odd stem remains on which is handy for the flower arrangements.

Larger hands have been making gnome finger puppets and drinking rose tea - one of my favourite things about June is picking a big handful of petals and making rose tea...mmmm...

Life as a parent is this weird split reality where I have plenty of time on my hands while I am with my son, and while I am away from him I am working non-stop to try and get as much done as possible. So while I feel so busy and overwhelmed with all the stuff I am trying to get done while working, there are these really quiet, slow and often boring times where it takes about half an hour to get the post because Every Single Daisy on the driveway needs to be decapitated picked. I still don't quite know how to handle this split, but at the moment I am enjoying the slower times with the wee man. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Doubling the flock

Our stock has doubled in number from 5 to 10. (I'm including the sheep and goats together there.) It has been a big learning experience and we have a better picture now of what work is involved in lambing and kidding, which is quite a lot! 

We have tried to learn from this year for subsequent years. In the future it would be great to have better ways of corralling the sheep. We have one very nervous sheep and it would be great to have a run to catch them in so that they can be housed easily without too much handling or stress. We will use pallets to make separate lambing pens in the barn.

The goat on the other hand thinks she is a human, and is totally easy to handle. I'm looking forward to increasing the goat herd and in the future having goats to send to Bothar

For now, we have plenty of new animals and are glad to be out the other side of lambing. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Bag

Warning: Extremely nerdy and overenthusiastic post ahead.  About a bag. Yes, thats the kind of excitement my life is filled with folks.

Having some issues with my back has always meant being very choosey about bags. I have made several purpose-designed bags before to take the cushions I carry about with me and always made them very light and as small as I could - easy to carry.

Enter being a parent, and it has become apparent that NO bag is big enough for all the crap you need to carry around to feed/clean/entertain the small person in your life, never mind your own stuff.

In the early days of parentdom we carried roughly 47 bags around with us all the time, including my cushion bag and a massive changing bag, with enough equipment to change a whole daycare centre worth of babies' bums.

(We have since learned the error of our ways and edited the changing bag down to The Small Changing Bag (essentially a small pouch) and The Auxiliary Changing Bag -  The Small Bag being enough for a couple of changes and the other one just living in the car for restocking.)

But I have been dreaming of a one-bag solution. A bag that fits The Small Changing Bag inside it, along with my cushions, a bag of food, hats, suncream, jumpers, etc, etc. A bag so adaptable it could be carried in one hand, or on one shoulder, or on my back. A tall order for a bag.

I have been dreaming of The Bag. Obsessing about The Bag. Researching The Bag. 

It turns out many other people have made their own versions of The Bag. It turns out when I start researching convertible strap bags that many of these people are also parents who carry too many bags/children. I am not alone.

So welcome to The Bag. And thank you to all those people on the Internets who have made their own Bag and blogged about it, because I got a lot of inspiration from you. Mistakes were made, as were prototypes, and it may be further refined, but without further ado, I give you...
(insert drum roll)...

The Bag.

"Is it a messenger bag?" I hear you cry.

"Aha, a messenger bag with handles to make it a tote then?"

"And a backpack? What magic have you worked?"

"With a recessed zip on the top so nothing need ever fall out?"

"AND inside and outside pockets?"

Yes, all of these things my friends, and more...

Behold, the boxed sides and upper and lower tabs with rings to affix the strap onto. (The strap adjusts length to be a short messenger-style strap or a longer one that slides through a tab to become two shoulder straps.)

The top can be flipped over when the bag is less full to create a less enormous bag. Which brings me to size - this bag could contain a small goat-kid. (Okay I haven't checked but I'm pretty sure.) It will certainly carry all I need.

Yes, you may have noticed that I am ridiculously happy with The Bag. I have been boring those around me with details of all the design solutions I have fixed with The Bag. I have been banned from talking about The Bag. I have lain awake in bed at night thinking of how to sew certain elements in The Bag.

And finally, The Bag is here. All hail The Bag.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Lambs and rain

 How cute is this boy? Look at that wool!!! Look at those markings! He was born outside on Sunday morning and got a wee bit cold in the rain and wouldn't feed. After getting a few bottle feeds and lots of care from The Shepherd (AKA The Fabulous K), he recovered well and began to feed from his mammy. He's a very wee fella - excuse the dark shot below for scale.
It's a strange thing to be caring intensely for this little animal in the hopes he makes it - only so you can kill him when he gets big enough and eat him! Perhaps it is best it wasn't me that bottle-fed him! I was really hoping he was a girl as that wool is just gorgeous. We will keep him over a year so that we can at least shear him once.

 The rain has been raining and the wind has been blowing and the tulips have all fallen over with the weight of all those drops.
 The Lady's Mantle is filling with raindrops.

And empty eggshells are falling out of the trees.

We are very much enjoying Spring!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Feeling so lucky to live where I do. 
Marveling at the wonders of spring; tulips and forget-me-nots...

 ...the first cheese from our goat (a simple soft cheese made by heating the milk to just-boiling, adding lemon juice and allowing it to separate, then straining it), so creamy and unexpectedly rich...

 ...the bluebell woods in full bloom, perfect in the evening sunshine...

...and ferns, unrolling themselves in the undergrowth behind the house, getting ready to spread their leaves. 

I'm so grateful for the wonders of spring. Even though our winter was mild and easy in comparison to some we've had recently, the new season - the freshness of things, the sunshine and the growth is a balm to the soul.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook

My amazing friend and knitting comrade Felix AKA Felicity Ford has been working with wool to recreate her environment in knitting, and to write a book to teach you how to do the same. This post is an interview with her about her awesome book-to-be, which she is running a Kickstarter campaign to fund this month. The campaign runs until the 27th April 2014. Felix's campaign reached its funding goal incredibly quickly thanks to serious support from the online knitting community, but the best way to be sure you will be in line for a copy of her forthcoming book is to go and pledge the value of the book on the campaign page. 

So read this and then go bag yourself a copy of what is lining up to be a thoughtful, beautifully executed and incredibly informative sourcebook on creating your own colourwork patterns from the world about you. 

 Leg warmers from beer mats

In Felix's words, here is what the book will be about:
It's the book I always wanted to own but could never find! It shows you how to turn things you see in your everyday life into gorgeous stranded colourwork. It contains a nice straightforward system with a how-to-section and easy to follow tips to assist you in developing unique charts from the things you find inspiring in daily life. 12 case studies based on my life here in Reading demonstrate the concept in practice, and there are charts for all the things I love here as well as instructions on how you can make charts based on whatever you love where you are!

Here is the full interview with Felix:

All images copyright Felicity Ford

Bricks in Reading

An Snag Breac (ASB): I love the images from the book. There is this amazing depth to them that seems to come from how deeply you engaged with the subject matter of your pattern before making the chart/knitting. I love the idea of knitting a jumper that had the solidity that your brick patterns have. It would feel like an incredibly protective garment, solid, warm - my own brick wall that both held me up and protected me from the elements - like wearing a wall, but one that is comfy and warm!

Brick swatch

Felix Ford (FF): I am glad you like the bricks! The more I have explored Reading, the more appreciation I have for those anonymous bricklayers who have given this town such a distinctive feeling. There is a clear relationship between a bricks-and-mortar house, and a nice woolly jumper. As you say, they are both things which wrap around your body and keep you warm and safe. I also like that brick walls are made row by row; the pattern emerging one round after another, just as in knitting. Walking around Reading taking photos of the bricks gives me a feeling of familiarity in my neighbourhood, and it got me thinking that knitters everywhere might notice details in their "patch" which would be nice to knit. So the ideas are connected; warmth, solidity, comfort, and the feeling of being at home on your turf.

ASB: I really like that you have this desire to translate the world around you into knitting - this engagement with your environment. I understand the desire to connect with your environment, but why knitting specifically? What do you think gave you that desire? What made you want to wear your environment?

Biscuit tin swatch

FF: I think it's something to do with wanting to emphasise my connection with Reading, where I live. I don't really have roots anywhere - I lived in Croydon for a long time, then in Ireland, then in Oxford, now in Reading, and there has been a lot of International travel in recent years for artist residencies and commissions... the feeling of being rooted to just one place is special, and somehow the whole process of studying the environment around me and then painstakingly recreating it in knitting affirms my bond with this place; it makes me feel I belong. I also love the poetry of having clothes which echo the landscape and history around me; how mischievous and jolly to one day go to the site of the old Huntley & Palmer biscuit factory clad in a big poncho designed to resemble their old biscuit tins! How fun to one day pick sloes for making sloe gin wearing arm-warmers inspired by those very same bushes and their bloomy fruit! I've not yet made these exact garments, but starting out with the charts is the beginning of the process. 

As for "why knitting specifically", knitting I think is appropriate because of the timescales involved; it's very slow and thoughtful so each massive swatch I am making becomes a long, reflective activity which allows me to go into a lot of detail thinking about the exact shades of blue, red and cream on an old biscuit tin; the very specific bloominess on the surface of a sloe and how on earth to recreate those elements in stitching. It's a very appreciative process... and once you have spent an afternoon charting the brickwork of a nearby terrace, you never look at it the same way! So knitting because of the time involved, because of how it forces you to see things and break down the world into rhythms and patterns and shades, and because how lovely to celebrate everyday things in the everyday medium of things you wear.


ASB: How does the geometric and almost pixellated world of colourwork knitting work for more organic subject matter? I can see how it would be easier to translate a brick wall or other geometric patterns into knitting, but how do you deal with the challenge of more fluid shapes? How do you sort out the jumbled mess of the natural world and convert it into a neat geometric pattern? 

FF: This is a great question. I have made some hideous stranded colourwork in the past, trying to recreate the jumbled mess of the natural world! I can show you a chart I made based on lichen, and you'll see at once that it would never work as knitted fabric...  

Lichen chart

...when I began exploring this concept a few years ago, I rather arrogantly thought that the repetition in Fair Isle knitting was something I would like to avoid, and I sought to make patterns which would - while using the same technique - be far less rhythmic and repetitive. The results were dire and made no sense! You can see where I have tried to make leaves that "flowed" one into the other in this tam...

Failed leaves! me the pattern looks blobby and a little clumsy and doesn't resemble either the lovely underlying patterns of Fair Isle or the giddy chaos of actual plants!

I realised I was looking at knitting like an artist who paints and draws, and not like a knitter that knits. The rhythm and repetition in traditional Fair Isle knitting and the stranded knits of Estonia is precisely its strength; it is what gives stranded colourwork its structure coherence, and what creates that magical effect of being able to look both in detail and at an overall impression comprised of smaller parts. I think that you have to think carefully about how to work with organic shapes whilst respecting the architecture of stranded knitting. The process undoubtedly tames and restricts the wild lines of tree branches and the curl of leaves, but I have learnt that if you don't adapt the flowing wilderness to the constraints of your medium, you end up making knitting that perhaps will not be so wearable! 

Sloe swatch

You can see here how I have worked with the leafy shape of my blackthorn bush, and also with the constraints of stranded colourwork to resolve the "leaves" issue! In the revised version I've respected the need for rhythm and repetition; for not-too-long sections of the same colour; diagonal lines to make sure there isn't too much puckering etc. and I think it is an improvement on my initial tries at knitting leaves! That said, I have some ideas for doing something with tree branches which I am really looking forward to exploring in the book. Some knitters have done lovely things with very wide charts which allow them to create a design which is different all the way around a yoke or a sleeve; that is definitely something I will explore in the book, too!

ASB: I'm really looking forward to the parts of the book devoted to telling readers how to translate their own environments into knitting. It's awesome that you have devised a method for observing your environment and converting it into a pattern - this is the magic part for me! Can you give us a sneak preview of any of the thought processes that you go through on that journey from observing to knitting?

FF: Haha! Yes - without giving too much away, I have developed - mostly through making mistakes and studying textile collections from Shetland and Estonia - ways of breaking down everything I see into elements of colour, shade and pattern. I've also developed a simple way of swatching-to-learn. Every time I have got stuck in my own knitting, I have noted down ways of getting unstuck. Colours not working? Here's why. Shading is a disaster? Try this. I've made loads of messes and have thought quite carefully about how to solve each one; the book saves lots of time for knitters who are keen to translate things into stranded colourwork but don't know quite where to start... I hope my mistakes will save you some time! It's about learning to see the world in a very specific way... 

Seaside swatch

ASB: What processes do you go through in picking the colours for your designs? Do you narrow down to a small section of what you see in front of you? For example, I look out my window right now at the woods behind my house and as I've been writing this I've been thinking about how I would knit that view and there are so many colours!!! So many greens and browns and greys and yellows, I think I wouldn't know where to begin! What is your colour editing process?

FF: I like to start with a few main shades which very approximately convey what I'm looking at, and then add and remove from that selection as I go. I pick the main things that jump out, and usually have a question mark around which EXACT blue or which EXACT pink or whatever, so that there are always a few shades in reserve, either side of the main selection. What is interesting is that things which stand out very strikingly from one another in nature might not work at all in stranded knitting, and then you have to exercise some license in how you interpret what you see. Many browns and greens - which appear distinct from one another in the environment - become very muddy and non-distinct in stranded colourwork. The actual environment communicates through light and texture as well as colour, whereas with stranded colourwork you are working in a very reduced way with the uniform texture of knitted wool. The green leaves stand out from the tree because they are shiny, but without the textural contrast of bark/leaves, the two shades - brown and green - just melt into one another. In that case, I will take one shade up or down in value, to introduce contrast between the shades and to compensate for the lack of contrast in the textures of the two yarn shades.

Biscuit tin designs

ASB: Tell me more about the album. What will the connections with the designs and sources in the book be? I'm wondering how you can record the sound a brick wall makes for example!

FF: Thank you for asking about the album! The KNITSONIK Audible Textures Resource will be related to the book, but it's not a completely literal relationship. You are quite right that pointing my recorder at a brick wall will not create an instant sense of BRICKNESS, for instance! However in my wanderings I have found some lovely places to listen in Reading. There are some very nice streets lined with beautiful brickwork where you can hear Blackbirds singing throughout the spring, and we have Red Kites in our street which cry above the clay chimney pots. Making biscuits according to the Huntley & Palmer recipes also produces some beautiful domestic sounds! The album will be full of these daily textures, very nicely mixed, with explanatory texts to provide context. If you listen to my podcast you will know that I love to work with everyday sounds and the sense of place which can be shared and celebrated in audio. The process of feeling I belong in Reading is achieved as much through listening to its familiar corners as through processes of knitting them. The slow timings involved in making recordings and knitting are related, and the album will be crafted through my investigations of the city with a microphone, rather than with my little exercise book and charting pencils. The album will also contain a very nice version of The Shetland Wool Song, which reveals the concept for the book in its lines!

Shetland Ram

The Shetland Wool Song

I live in Reading and I like it here,
It's brickwork brings me inspirational cheer,
And I like to gather from familiar streets
Ideas to knit into hand-knitted treats

But - oh no! - what can I use to knit up my ideas?
You can't knit colourwork from seed packets and beers!
What I need is a wool that's soft and yet strong,
That's bouncy, from sheep that are short-tailed not long....

If places were graded and sorted for their sheep,
Then Shetland would be at the top of the heap,
For its kindly-wooled sheep, and also its rough...
For who doesn't love sheep that are made of strong stuff?

Finally - as the song suggests - The Shetland wool I'm using for this book from Jamieson & Smith is a really important aspect of the project. It's hand is both soft and grippy, (kindly-wooled and rough) which makes it perfectly suited to stranded colourwork. Therefore the Shetland sheep whose fleeces are the basis for the whole KNITSONIK Stranded Colourwork Sourcebook will also feature on the album!

ASB: If you like the idea for the book and think it would be something you would love to add to your knitterly library, please go to the Kickstarter page to to bag your copy! The campaign for the book is running until the 27th April only, so get on down there if you'd like to hold Felix's fantastic sourcebook in your hands later this year, and get knitting from your environment!

There is more information on the Kickstarter page, or if you'd like to read all the other great articles in the blog tour then there is a list here.