Category: Crafts

Baseball Shirt

Anya’s preschool class has “baseball day” on Friday, and they are to wear their baseball shirts. It’s an interesting assumption that everyone has a baseball shirt to wear. Three years ago, I happened across an Indians t-shirt on post-season clearance. It was a size too large, but she grows. Beyond my “you cannot go wrong with a 4$ t-shirt” purchase, we don’t have anything baseball related. I don’t particularly want to pay inflated MLB-licensed in-season (and the Indians are doing well) prices.

I picked up a bunch of blank t-shirts for embroidered designs, so I decided to make Anya a baseball themed shirt. She chose the green shirt, and I drew a heart and added baseball stitching. The black and white image was printed on this Transfer Eze paper that I love. Then I cut out a slightly larger heart of white satin and a same-sized heart from a very thin quilt batting. Laid out the t-shirt, centered the quilt backing, then affixed the Transfer Eze heart to the satin and laid it on top of the batting. Going with the quilting principal of working from the center out to avoid bubbles, I started with the red stitching. Now I’m using a satin stitch around the edge to needle turn appliqué the whole thing onto the t-shirt.

Peppermint Swirl Dress

I started cutting the peppermint swirl dress. I cannot wait until fabric can be 3D printed (yes, I’ve seen Electroloom … but they went under, so don’t really count. I totally would have purchased one and started a custom fabric business. In the solid color realm, you could do some amazing pre-cut kits. Or white and hand dyed the printouts). This dress would be so much easier to make if you didn’t have to cut twenty eight little swirl strips 🙂

Wow does this use a LOT of fabric! Especially if you don’t think about it for a second first and cut the fabric folded wrong sides together. *Not* symmetrical. D’oh! So now I have to order another yard of the cream fabric. I’ll get the rest of the cream cut, all of the blue cut, and start assembling the dress. It’ll be 75% done before I actually need that last cream strip. I’m curious to write an algorithm to place the pieces on a length of fabric. It seems like the S-shaped combination of the two strip pieces could be nested to decrease the length of fabric required to get seven sets. Haven’t yet, so I’m getting two sets from a 44″ wide piece of fabric — cut the fabric in half and laid them together with both right sides up. Important, that.


Cold Whipped Shea Butter

We’ve evidently had a problem with our thermostat not properly reporting humidity, so our HVAC was not maintaining the desired humidity level. The installer replaced the thermostat last week, and we’ve gone from 60% to 49% relative humidity downstairs. We’re intentionally keeping the lower level cooler than the upper — there’s a lot of solar heating even with curtains drawn. And, well, relative humidity is relative to temperature. So our 60% was more like 50% upstairs … still high. Our 49%, though, is 39% upstairs. And for the first time since I started making my own soap, my skin is a little dry. So is Anya’s. We can just slather on some coconut oil — it melts in your hand and absorbs fairly well — but I wanted to try something a little fancier. And I happened across a good deal on shea butter a few weeks back, so whipping a combination of shea butter and coconut oil seems like a winner.

1 cup unrefined shea butter
1 cup coconut oil
2 tablespoons vegetable glycerin

  • Mash the room-temperature shea butter in the mixing bowl. Add essential oils if desired (or melt coconut oil and infuse with herbs).
  • Stir in the coconut oil. If the whole thing is a little melty, stick it in the refrigerator to solidify a bit
  • Whip with a stand mixer until it’s fluffed like whipped cream. Fin. Scoop it into jars (we have a bunch of wide mouth canning jars, so I’ll be using a few of those) and store in a cool room or the refrigerator.

Furls CAL – Sun Hat

WooHoo! The sun hat crochet along finally reached the pattern stage! I used the same cream coloured yarn for the main hat, but have a slightly iridescent light green yarn for the accent. I’m thinking about making Anya’s hat in reverse – using the green for the main yarn with cream as an accent. Partially because I don’t like having the exact same thing and partially because inverting the colours uses the yarn more efficiently (otherwise I am going to have a heap of the accent colour left over!)

Round four completed:

I have trouble keeping track of the start and end of rounds — not a problem unique to this pattern, Anya’s star blanket was just as tricky for me. Easy enough to re-count the stitches on early rounds — and frogging a few stitches isn’t such a big deal. As the project progresses to the point where a round comprises 40 or 50 stitches, adding or missing a stitch is a pain to correct. I’ve tried using those little round stitch markers, and honestly I just don’t get it. If they had splits in the rings and could easily slip back off of the project … that would make sense to me.

I’ve come up with an easy method to keep track of rounds — a water soluble marker I use for marking dress patterns. Test it on your yarn to make sure it comes off completely (and mark in an inconspicuous spot just in case). Which stitch it makes sense to highlight will vary by pattern. Here, the chain stitch which starts each round does not count as the first stitch. I chose to mark this ‘skipped’ stitch. The round should end immediately before the marked stitch, and the first hdc from the round into which the last hdc is slip stitched is immediately after it. Chain one and mark again. See the little blue marks on the “inside” of the hat? Those are my ch stitches. Voila, two rounds without frogging anything 🙂

Soap Fluff Explosion

I made our saboun al ghar inspired soap today. First attempt at hot processing soap, and I had a massive soap explosion. I’d read that your container should be at least three times the volume of soap you are processing. I went with five times in an attempt to stave off a big mess. Blended my pomace olive oil and lye/water/salt mixture to a light trace, and set it over medium heat. It thickened, just like it supposed to. It turned into a gloopy oily mess, just like it supposed to. For future reference — the gloopy oily mess stage is where you want to keep a close eye on it and don’t look away for a minute. I turned back around and saw odd foamy soap stuff pouring out of the pot. Oops!

I scooped the soap fluff off the side of the pot and back into the pot and stirred it down. The fluff quickly turned into a slick substance that did look exactly like petroleum jelly. I added the laurel berry oil, stirred well to incorporate, and let cook for a few more minutes until it looked like petroleum jelly again.

The whole mess was glopped into my large silicon lined wooden soap mold. Now it just needs to set for a while and harden.

Bar Codes

I realized, recently, that my experience in manufacturing inventory management systems is actually useful for smaller craft businesses. Someone inquired about using bar codes in their soap making business. The first question is why are you using bar codes. For personal use (like inventory management) or codes used by outside parties? Or both — you can have both internal maintained inventory management bar codes and a UPC maintained code for finished products.

If you are trying to sell products in a store that uses laser scanners for checkout, then you need to use a system with managed number assignment. Otherwise two companies could randomly assign the same code to a product — you ring up a bar of soap and get charged for a hundred dollar handbag. What that system *is* depends on where the product would be sold (and, to some extent, what the product *is* — books use an ISBN system). UPC in the US (, EAN in the EU ( The price to use these codes depends on how many unique products you have ( Up to 10 codes for a 250$ initial fee plus 50$ annual renewal. Up to 100 codes is a 750$ initial fee plus 150$ annual renewal. Up to 1,000 codes is 2,500$ initial fee plus 500$ annual renewal. The price tiers are economical for companies that do not have variants of a single product (different sizes, different colours) because multiple codes are not used for essentially the same product.

I’ve only worked with companies that manufacture single variations of a product. In small craft manufacturing, the number of codes you need can get out of control. Using registered bar codes creates a financial incentive for streamlining product offerings — you could package your bath bombs individually, in two packs, three packs, four packs … ten packs *but* that uses nine different UPC codes! Add a pot of lip balm, a tube of lip balm, a guest bar of soap, and a full size bar of soap and the the renewal fee triples. Some small vendors will accept a single code for same-price items (“4 oz soap bar” or “bath bombs, four pack”), but larger vendors require a unique code for each unique iteration of the product because they manage their inventory through UPC codes. You need to understand who will be using the codes and what their requirements are before you can determine how many codes you need to purchase.

Does purchasing a single UPC through a reseller make sense? Again, the individual retailer requirements need to be checked — some companies require the company prefix be registered to the manufacturer (i.e. you cannot use a reseller to purchase a single UPC code). Assuming your intended customer allows resold codes, the cost effectiveness depends on how many products and for how long you want to maintain your codes. The reseller structure is good for someone test-marketing in a retail store – if the market test does not pan out, you are out ten bucks (current price from a quick Google search). Even long term, a single UPC reseller is cost effective for up to five products. If you have nine products, you save money registering with GS1 in the third year. Seven products breaks even after five years. Six products breaks even after ten years. But verify the services offered by the reseller — how do you update your product registration?

Printing the bar codes is fairly trivial — there are UPC and EAN fonts available. Some are free, some cost money. You type the proper characters (I prefer fonts where ‘9’ on my keyboard is the 9 bar code. A lot of free fonts are mapped oddly – like you need to type ‘c’ to get a 9) and change the font. I also prefer fonts with human-readable characters under the bar code. Firstly this confirms I’ve typed the proper thing, but it also allows for manual code entry in case the bar code gets obscured. You can print the code on your product wrapping, or include the code in your packaging design and outsource package production.

Could you use the UPC/EAN codes for inventory management? Sure — raw materials you purchase may already have a unique code assigned. Scan the bar code, enter the quantity … voila. But if you are purchasing raw materials that are not already coded … there’s no reason to spend money on a prefix that allows you to code all of your inventory! UPC prefix assignments are a little bit like network blocks — there are different “size” blocks that allow different numbers of products to be registered. A prefix block that allows up to 10 products costs a lot less than a prefix block that allows ten thousand products. If you grow a bunch of different botanicals in your garden, allocating a registered code to each item could get quite costly.

As an inventory management system (the majority of my barcode experience), you can use whatever format bar code and whatever numbering system you like. The number doesn’t need to mean anything to anyone else – and it does not need to be globaly unique – so the entire process is a lot easier. If the manufacturing company next door uses your code for resistance wire for their quart bottles … who cares. As long as you have a database that indicates that item 72 is magnesium oxide powder, people scanning inventory against your database will see magnesium oxide powder.

For printing bar codes, there are fonts available for free online. I’ve used code 39 in the inventory systems I’ve built out – to print the code, just type the numbers and change the font. We used sheets of sticky labels & printed the barcodes onto them – then stuck the label on the raw material bins. Work orders printed out on a form and had a sticky label for the product(s) being built. Scanning the product bar code brought up a list of materials that needed to be used and pull up the engineering draft for the product. Employees scanned raw materials out of inventory as they pulled parts, built the item, then affixed the label from the work order to finished product to scan the completed item into inventory. All of the number assignments were internal – generally using whatever manufacturing software the company already maintained, but I’ve done it in custom code with a PHP front end and MySQL backend too. You need a form for adding to inventory and a form for removing from inventory. Scan the bar code to input the item number, enter the amount being used, submit. You could even maintain your purchase orders and recipes as a batch of inputs — receive an order and check everything contained there-in into inventory. Select a specific recipe and check set amounts of ingredients out of inventory.

I generally also create a reconciliation form — similar to how stores will go through and do manual inventory counts to true-up their database inventory with reality, a reconciliation form allows you to update the inventory database with the actual amount on hand. Personally, I store deltas from true-up operations too — if we should have fifty ounces of shea butter but only have forty seven because of over-measuring or small bits left on scoops, we want to know that there was a loss of three ounces. Once you know your inventory deltas, then you can include that loss into the cost of goods produced.

Why would you want to put so much effort into tracking your inventory? I see a lot of people asking how someone calculates costs for finished products. Calculating cost is fairly easy if you track your inventory in and out (costs not associated with inventory [your time, electricity, space, taxes] still need to be accommodated). In the inventory database, you have an item number, a quantity, and a price per unit value. As inventory is checked in, the price per unit is adjusted to include the incoming items. A recipe — specific amounts of different items — can be represented as a cost. You can also track material cost over time (trend the price of an ingredient, see if there’s a better time to buy it) or compare costs for product reformulation – takes additional database space and a little extra coding, but it is good information to manage costs.

How to reflect shipping costs on incoming inventory is a personal decision. The easiest way is to divide the cost equally over the items – this works well for flat-rate shipped orders. You could also divide the shipping cost over the weight of the shipment — 10 dollars in shipping over forty pounds of materials is twenty-five cents per pound. Then a three pound item cost seventy-five cents in shipping. A ten pound item is 2.50$ to ship.

The question was specifically asked regarding soap making, but the methodology is valid for basically any industry or home business. Most of my experience was garnered in an electric heater element manufacturer. The approach is viable for recipe-based manufacturing (knitting, crocheting, sewing, soap making) and even non-recipe based manufacturing … you’d just need to pull materials from inventory as you use them.

Making Soap Molds – Material Research

Before trying to print my own soap molds, I need to identify what characteristics I like in a mold. I find flexible molds easier to work with than rigid ones – I’ve snapped a number of molds trying to remove the soap.

So I am trying to find a material that will withstand heat generated by saponification. It looks like saponification can yield temperatures up to 88° C. I don’t want to buy pounds of different filaments to test them out, but GlobalFSD offers “sample” size filament cuttings that are perfect for experimentation or small niche products (e.g. printing glow in the dark mailbox numbers).

One material included information about temps for printed objects, so I’ve contacted the other manufacturers to see if they provide any sort of guidance.

Material Max C Min C Notes URL
NinjaFlex 65.5 -30
CrystalFlex  – Food safe
FlexFill 230 -40
F41 Flex 75 -20

Furls Crochet Along

Furls makes some beautiful crochet hooks — I picked some up a few years ago in a holiday promo coding failure (free shipping != 50$ off the order) and have been on their newsletter ever since. They’ve got a lot of cool project ideas – a lot of amigurumi critters and crochet along projects. I keep most of them, but nothing has been so awesome that I just had to do it. Until today.

This month’s crochet along project is a sun hat! I am really looking forward to making my own hat. I ordered the materials already – hopefully they’ll get here within a week so I can actually crochet along with the project.

Saboun Al Ghar Inspired Soap

Most old civilizations have traditional artisan production processes that are hard to sustain in the modern world. Some cheeses in Southern France were sustained through government grants until EU regulations considered such support unsporting. Su filindeu pasta now only made by three people in Italy. As war ravages a country, even well sustained traditional methods become endangered. The civil/proxy war in Syria has displaced most if not all producers of صابون الغار (‘Aleppo soap’). While we may not be able to faithfully reproduce the exact process to create what may be the world’s oldest hard soap, I think it is important to preserve the knowledge of the process. The ingredients and proportions. The time and temperature of processing, how the soap is poured onto floors to cool and set whilst being walked on with wooden boards to flatten it out. How it is cut and stacked to cure.

In addition to documenting and preserving the process, derivative processes are developed to preserve some facet of the original product. Fact is, a lot of products are not protected by AOC, PDO, or any of the other “X has to be made in Y using the historic technique Z” regulations. Like the unfortunate not-Cheddar cheese that I find in many American grocery stores, Aleppo soap could be made with coconut oil and dye. And maybe that’s where the objection to cultural appropriation comes from — not an objection to someone respectfully trying to reproduce a cultural artifact but of someone bastardizing the artifact for profit or fashion. Reproducing sacred items for frivolity.

After reading about the displaced soap masters, I want to make a soap inspired by the Aleppo process. I need more experience with hot processing soap to follow the traditional long cook method, but I want to hot process the soap to control which oils comprise the superfat. Fully saponify the olive oil, then add the laurel berry oil and saponify some of it.

Then comes the actual recipe – the challenge with traditional soap recipes is that the saponification factor of ash varies. Buying sodium hydroxide yields a consistent product useful in recipes with precise measurements. Ghar soap recipes have percentages of olive oil to laurel berry oil, but more or less call for enough ash. I’m debating between five and ten percent superfat. Five percent seems fairly standard for soap recipes, so I’m leaning in that direction. But I wanted to continue researching authentic recipes before finalizing my ingredients.