Saponification!

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I like to learn one big major skill in DIY every holiday season and turn it into my showcase gift for friends and family. This year, the Pie and I learned how to make soap, from scratch. There are four main methods of soap preparation:

Melt and pour: basically you get a kit containing a block of solid soap, goat’s milk, glycerin, whatever, and some nice moulds and you melt the soap in the microwave, mix it with pretty flowers, and pour it into the moulds. You may recall a disastrous outcome we had once with one of these kits. They are, however, super trendy right now and many DIY bloggers have instructions on making pretty layered soaps and things.

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Hand-milling: more or less a fancier version of melt-and-pour, in that you grate up a bunch of super nice soaps, melt them down, add things to them, and then chuck them in a mould.

Cold process: This is the from-scratchiest way to make soap, wherein you combine specific oils with a lye solution and cause the chemical reaction that leads to saponification. SCIENCE! Of course this is the version we did. Do not do this process with small children, as it is quite dangerous. To start, I began with the very clear and simple instructions I found on Garden Therapy.

Hot process: Essentially the same as cold process, except you speed things up by “cooking” the soap, usually in a slow cooker. We did a bit of this with one of the batches that didn’t turn out right the first time.

Safety Equipment

Lye is an extremely strong chemical, and you’re using it in a pretty violent reaction in this DIY, so safety should be your number one priority.  Lye can burn or blind you and inhaling its fumes is a really bad idea as well. You must, therefore, have good quality safety goggles (the kind that touch your face all around) and some strong rubber gloves with long sleeves.

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Wear long sleeved shirts and long pants, and make sure to wear shoes while you do this. If you have a chemical ventilator, I recommend you use it as well. This one cost me about thirty bucks at Home Depot and it’s great.

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Keep a large amount of white vinegar handy. The acid in the vinegar will neutralize the strong base of the lye should you happen to spill it on yourself.

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Work in an area as well that has access to fresh air either through a window or a fume hood (the first time we did this I went outside). I do not want to feel responsible for you people if you die while doing one of my DIYs. So please behave yourselves and BE CAREFUL!

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Non-Chemical Equipment

You need a lot of stuff for soap-making that doesn’t necessarily tie into ingredients and/or safety equipment.

You’ll need at least 3 heatproof bowls (glass or metal, doesn’t really matter), and at least 3 silicone spatulas.  I should also note that once you use these tools to make soap you probably shouldn’t use them in connection with food anymore, so plan accordingly. I used old spatulas I was going to throw out and/or picked up at the Dollar Store, and bowls I grabbed from Value Village for a few dollars each.

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You’ll need a double boiler or access to a microwave. I prefer using a double boiler because it’s easier to measure temperatures that way.

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You also need a highly accurate scale and thermometer. For that reason, a digital scale and digital instant read thermometer are probably best.

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If your scale is super tiny, like mine is, you’ll also need some wee dishes for measuring your oils. If you have a big one, you can measure your oils all together in one big bowl.

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You need something to put your soap in when it’s ready. You can use all sorts of fancy actual soap moulds for this, but the amounts I used in the recipes below produce enough soap to fill a 1L (~1qt) milk carton, which has a nice non-stick interior. Just make sure you wash and dry the carton carefully first.

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Also handy will be a set of old towels or blankets for wrapping the soap cartons.

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Not shown, but that is more or less necessary, is an immersion blender (again, you can’t use it again for food, but you can buy a new one off Amazon for twenty bucks). I dedicated my old one to the cause and bought a shiny new one for myself.

You may also need a wide mouth canning funnel, for pouring your soap mixture into your cartons. You might not need it, depending on how steady your hand is, but I found it very useful.

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Soap-Making Ingredients

Now we’re getting down to business. Soap at its most basic is composed of oil/fat and lye. That’s it. How you put those together is up to you. So you’ll need assorted oils (vegetable, castor, olive, coconut, etc.) to get you started. I recommend doing a little bit of research into the different properties of each oil and what they do before you make your selections. I found this article to be particularly helpful.

To “flavour” your soaps you will also need an assortment of essential oils and some dried and ground herbs. The essential oils will add your desired scent while the dried herbs will add texture, and ground herbs will contribute to colour. Here is a handy list of ingredients that will change the appearance of your soap.

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Very importantly, you’ll need some distilled water. Use distilled over filtered or tap water simply because the varying mineral compositions in undistilled water will make your results unpredictable.

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Equally important is lye. That’s what makes the magic happen. For solid soap, you want to get yourself sodium hydroxide (potassium hydroxide is used for liquid soaps). Get the lye that comes in free-flowing crystals or pellets – they’re easier to measure and less likely to get everywhere.

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For those Canadians who don’t have access to specialty soap suppliers, you can purchase lye at Home Hardware.

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And the final magic ingredient you will need is a LYE CALCULATOR. I found the SoapCalc to be helpful and easy to use (and it’s free). There’s also a handy link in the top menu that explains all the calculations. Basically, you begin by figuring out how much soap you want to produce – for our purposes, 700g soap fits in a 1L milk carton. From there you calculate what percentages of oils you want to go into your soap, and then the software will do the calculations to tell you the exact measurements of oil, lye, and water that you will need. And then it tells you the quality of soap you will produce with those numbers. And it does it in metric AND imperial. Then you can print it out and keep it handy. I love things that do math for me.

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The Cold Process Process:

Once you get the hang of this (i.e., like me, you do it five or six times in a row), it’s super easy – you just have to pay attention so you don’t hurt yourself and make sure your measurements are accurate. One of the most important things you need to do first is measure out your raw ingredients as accurately as possible.

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You’ll notice in this, our first batch, that we used olive oil as one of our ingredients. Olive oil, we learned later, is hard to make into soap because it doesn’t always form a trace (you’ll see in a little bit what we mean), so we actually had a lot of trouble with this first batch. But that’s good for you guys, because I can show you how we fixed it. And we had no problems with any subsequent batch. Anyway, keep measuring out your ingredients. Accuracy is key.

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When all your ingredients are ready and laid out (this includes the water for your lye solution and all your flavourings), then you can put all the oils together (except for the scented ones) and start gently heating them in your double boiler with one of your heatproof bowls.

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A note on temperature: Always, always, ALWAYS make sure that your oils and your lye solution are the same temperature when you mix them together. This is very important. Every recipe differs, as will the humidity levels and relative temperatures of your environment, but generally you are aiming for an ideal temperature of between 110° and 120°C for both your oils and your lye solution. They don’t have to be exactly the same, but in that range would be best.

So, once your oils reach about 120°-125°C (I like to get them hot and let them cool a bit while I do the next step), you can work on your lye solution.

Take another one of your heatproof bowls and fill it partially with water and ice to create an ice bath. Set that aside for a moment. Measure out your room-temperature distilled water into your third heatproof bowl and have your lye crystals measured and at hand. Do this in a well-ventilated area. As I mentioned above, the first time we did this I sat on our balcony in the fresh air. In subsequent times I just put everything on top of the stove and did it with the window cracked and the stove fan going at full blast. But this looks way more dramatic.

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When you’re ready, grab one of your spatulas and your lye crystals and ever-so-slowly pour the lye into the distilled water. SLOWLY. Stir gently the whole time.

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At first it will look like nothing is happening. I feel like my neighbours were suspicious at this point.

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But then the lye will start to dissolve and the water will turn cloudy and begin to steam. DO NOT INHALE THIS STEAM. IT IS NOT GOOD STEAM.

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Make sure to get every last crystal into the solution.

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Continue to stir the solution until it starts to clear, then take its temperature. The lye/water reaction means the liquid will get really hot, really fast. You want to cool the lye solution down to the same 110-120 range as the oils, and that’s what the ice bath is for. Feel free to use it (because we were doing this particular batch outside in November, it didn’t take long for it to cool).

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When the lye solution and the oils are the same approximate temperature, you can add them together. Slowly. Stirring the whole time. And ALWAYS add the lye to the oils, not the other way around.

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Now you keep stirring. Only crazy people do this by hand because it can take up to four hours for this stuff to start working. Use your immersion blender in thirty-second bursts to emulsify the mixture. There is some spatter involved, so make sure you’re still wearing all your safety equipment. I find it useful to do the blending with the bowl sitting in my empty sink. What you’re looking for – and this may take a while – is what is called “trace”. This is when the mixture thickens and starts to resemble pudding, and when you drip a bit of the mixture on top of itself (like it falls off the blender back into the bowl), you can see the trace of the drip on the surface). At this point, you have to act quickly (hence the blurry shot).

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Now you add in your solids and your essential oils and blend it up again.

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Pour your new almost-soap into your milk carton and tape down the top. Wrap it in a towel and put it somewhere warm (like on top of your fridge or near a heating vent) for 48 hours. The carton will feel warm and then actually hot over the next little while as the saponification occurs.

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Neutralize your dirty dishes with vinegar before you wash them. And keep your gloves on while you do it, just to be safe.

Now, sometimes, you don’t get a trace, no matter how hard you try. Sometimes this means you weren’t mixing hard enough (so that’s why you use an immersion blender). Sometimes the temperature isn’t right – the ingredients don’t have the same temperature, or they’ve cooled too much. If you are having trouble achieving trace, try putting the bowl back on the double boiler and heating it up a little more again. And if that doesn’t work, then just shove it into the carton anyway, and hope for the best. You’ll know in 48 hours if it worked or not. In this case, the olive oil combo we used, combined with our inexperience and inexpert technique, meant that when I ripped open the carton 48 hours later I had a chunk of soap and then a bunch of oozy liquid. Always wear your gloves when you open a mould, just in case something like this happens. There’s no way of knowing how much of that liquid is reactive lye.

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But this is fixable! Just mush it all up (newly saponified soap is very soft).

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And put it back on your double boiler to melt it down.

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You won’t get the same smooth texture you had before. In fact, it’s kind of weird.

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And then you can shove it into a new milk carton, seal it up, and wait another 48 hours.

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Now it looks a little bit weird and rough, but it’s real soap! You can always trim off the rough bits.

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So after 48 hours, you can cut your soap into manageable pieces. It’s very soft, so it’s not a difficult task. Make sure to wear gloves as you do it, in case there are pockets of lye hidden in the soap, and also because freshly made soap is really drying.

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Set your soap upright on a rack or in a box (you want as much airflow around it as possible) and put it in a cool dark place to cure for at least 3 weeks. After that time, you can buff it to a shine with a soft cloth and wrap it for gifting!

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I made six different batches of soap in my experiments. Here are the percentages and shots of the finished product, for your edification.

Olive Oil

  • Coconut Oil 34%
  • Olive Oil 34%
  • Avocado Oil 23%
  • Castor Oil 9%

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I cut off some rough bits from this soap after we re-melted it, and saved them to use as inclusions in another recipe.

Lavender / Rosemary Mint (two separate batches with the same oil base)

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  • Coconut Oil 34%
  • Crisco 30%
  • Castor Oil 14%
  • Sweet Almond Oil 11%
  • Avocado Oil 11%

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Ground Lavender flowers and essential oil added at trace. Dried Ground Rosemary and Mint added at trace with Peppermint essential oil.

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You can see in the pieces on the left that I originally forgot to add in the ground herbs before I poured it into the mould, so I emptied it out, stirred them in, and poured it back in, leaving trace amounts of plain soap on the bottom. You can do this on purpose too, to layer your soaps.

 

Chocolate Orange

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  • Crisco 40%
  • Coconut Oil 30%
  • Canola Oil 20%
  • Cocoa Butter 10%

Sweet orange essential oil added at  trace. Turmeric added at trace for orange colour. Cocoa added and swirled in.

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Coffee Cocoa

  • Crisco 40%
  • Coconut Oil 30%
  • Cocoa Butter 10%
  • Sunflower Oil 10%
  • Castor Oil 10%
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It’s hard to see in this photo, but it is more of a brown than the chocolate orange, which has a ruddy undertone. They do look very similar, however!

 

Lye solution made with chilled coffee (to learn how to make lye solutions using other things than water, read this article). Lemongrass Oil added at trace, together with 2 tsp cocoa and 2 tsp oatmeal.

Guinness Oat

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Those lighter patches are the inclusions of plain olive oil soap.

 

  • Crisco 40%
  • Coconut Oil 30%
  • Shea Butter 15%
  • Castor Oil 8%
  • Sunflower Oil 7%

Lye solution made with chilled, flat Guinness Stout. Sage oil added at trace, together with 2tsp finely ground oatmeal. Inclusions from Olive Oil soap added.

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A Better Hot Chocolate

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The Pie found this recipe from Jamie Oliver and he thought it was worth a try. I think it will also make a great wintry gift.

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The interesting thing about the original recipe is it involves Horlick’s, a malted beverage very popular at the beginning of the 20th century and through the 1950s. Horlick’s is hard to find in Canada, but a close equivalent is Ovaltine.

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Ovaltine on its own is definitely an acquired taste (I personally find it revolting), but it will add a richness to the hot chocolate that improves everything. You will need 2 tablespoons Ovaltine or Horlick’s.

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You will also need 100g chocolate (pretty much a large-sized chocolate bar), your choice.

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I made some with dark chocolate, but the Pie and I both prefer it with milk chocolate, seeing as there’s also a decent amount of unsweetened cocoa powder in this, 4 tablespoons cocoa powder, in fact. Make sure you choose a cocoa that you like – don’t go cheap on this!

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You will also need 2 tablespoons cornstarch (corn flour in the UK) to make this a nice thick beverage.

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Here is 3 tablespoons icing (confectioner’s) sugar. You can adjust this according to your taste.

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This is also a pinch or two of sea salt and a pinch of ground cinnamon, which, again, you can adjust to what suits you.

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To put it all together, take your chocolate and pop it in your food processor. The original recipe calls for you to finely grate the chocolate but who wants to sit there and grate that much chocolate? Not me, and I made six batches of this.

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So I just pulsed it in the food processor until it formed little crumbs.

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Then you simply add in the rest of the ingredients.

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Pulse it until the colour is uniform, kind of a grayish brown. The crumbs of chocolate will mix in and get smaller while you do this, too.

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To prepare the hot chocolate for two people, dump about 3 heaping tablespoons of the mix into a small saucepan.

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Dribble in about 1/4 cup milk.

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Whisk that until you get a nice paste. This will prevent the finished hot chocolate from being lumpy.

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Then pour in another 1 1/4 cup milk.

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Stir that until smooth and start heating the milk until it’s a temperature you like.

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Serve hot!

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To give the chocolate as gifts, you can pack the mix into these cute jars.

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Or you can put it in a wee bag.

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And then pop it in a customized mug.

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Or whatever floats your boat!

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Last-Minute Gifts: Home Made Coffee Liqueur

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Okay so it’s not THAT last minute, because it takes a week to percolate, but if you do it NOW it will be ready for Christmas. Plus it’s SOOOO easy you can finish it in minutes and then spend the rest of your time procrastinating about your other gift ideas. And for me I could make it with stuff I had on hand, which was nice.

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First, you need 700 ml vodka. It doesn’t have to be super fancy vodka. I have three open bottles here. For the record, none of these were originally mine. I just keep finding new booze in my cupboard. I swear.

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Next, you need 200g whole coffee beans (I doubled the recipe so this is 400g, don’t freak out).

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And some SPICES: 1 vanilla bean, 3 cinnamon sticks, and 15 whole cloves. That’s it.

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Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds, and chuck it and the rest of your ingredients into a large sealable container. I didn’t have anything that would fit anything over a litre so I used my camping water container (which holds like 20 litres). It’s a bit of overkill, I know. But you want to be able to give the liquid a good shaking, and then store it in a dark place for a whole week. I figured with the dark sides of the container I could leave it somewhere accessible and that would remind me to shake it every day. Because that’s the other thing you need to do: make sure to shake the container at least once a day.

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After the week is up, find yourself some appropriate bottles or jars. Since I used bottles for the Krupnikas I decided on jars for this, for variety’s sake. Wash them carefully (use Star San or other sanitizer if you can). This recipe makes about 1 litre of liquid, so plan accordingly.

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Strain the vodka through a sieve into a bowl for now (I used my trusty produce bag as a strainer to get all the wee bits that may have come loose in the shaking process). Do what you will with the boozy spices.

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In a large saucepan (that will hold the final amount of your liquid), dump 2 cups granulated sugar and 2 cups water.

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Stir over high heat to dissolve the sugar and bring to a boil.

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Add in your coffee/vodka and give it a good stirring before removing from the heat. And now your liqueur is ready to go!

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Pour the liquid into pretty containers, seal, and store in a cool, dark place for up to a year.  Aside from just drinking it straight or mixing it into the Pie’s favourite White Russians (or Trav’s White North), you could drizzle it on top of cake and ice cream and it would be amazeballs.

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For the Neon lovers out there.

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I have a friend who loves neon. It’s like she grew up in the eighties and nineties or something (to clarify, she’s a year younger than I am. I also grew up in the eighties and nineties). So when I found this on MakeKind I knew who was getting one for Christmas.

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So I began my search for a white umbrella, because she also loves all things white. But in the City that Fun Forgot (Ottawa’s nickname), you simply can’t find a plain white umbrella. And to order one online was to pay more in shipping than the umbrella cost to purchase. No sane person does that. So then I thought, why not a clear umbrella, with silver trim (because she also likes silver)? That I could find. And they’re much safer for trundling around in because you can see where you’re going.

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Then I grabbed some neon paint. I used the Martha Stewart multi-surface paint in four neon colours, because it is weather resistant after it cures (it’s the same stuff that we used on the wooden spoons and it’s held up to multiple washings). And then I set up my work surface. I threw a drop cloth across my dining table and over the chairs, creating a little lip I hoped would keep flying paint contained.

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Then I grabbed my brushes and got started. Use a nice stiff paint brush to get good flickage.

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I’d originally planned to do the little splots that you can see in the MakeKind version of the umbrella, but on a clear surface with the background invading they weren’t as obvious, so I went a bit more bold and started throwing streaks at the umbrella for more visual impact.

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You have to be very careful when you do this. I managed to get only one blob of paint on the wall. The dropcloth, however, was liberally speckled. You might also want to wear an apron, as there’s a bit of back-splash.

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I made sure to rotate the umbrella so all the streaks weren’t going in the same direction. This was quite a lot of fun.

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I let the umbrella dry, opened, for 24 hours to ensure the paint wouldn’t transfer somewhere I didn’t want it to go.

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Now it’s in my secret hiding place, waiting for Christmas!

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Two Willow Wreaths

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When I was a little girl growing up on the naval base in Victoria, there was a set of willow trees I used to play around. And, being the person I am, I would make wreaths out of the willow branches that fell off the trees and give them to my mother or hang them in my clubhouse. The little pond in the central park in my housing development also has a number of willow trees and on one walk with Gren I picked a handful of the fallen branches up to take home.

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When I was a kid I stripped the leaves off outside. Now I’m a grown-up and I have my own house. I make my own rules. That means leaves on the floor. Until the Pie yells at me. He makes some rules too.

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Anyway, then you’re left with a bunch of super bendy branches. I started by braiding together one of the multi-branches and bending it into a circle.

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Don’t worry. It gets less wonky and more circular the more branches you add.

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Then I just started wrapping more and more branches around.

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Sometimes they went quietly, sometimes they did not. Don’t freak out if you should be having difficulties. It’s just sticks.

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I ended up with two wreaths, one slightly smaller than the other. Then I left them for a week to kind of dry and harden.

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Then I just, kind of, started decorating. My objective was to create a nice little gift for the Pie’s grandmother, who recently moved into a retirement community.

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I remember when my own grandmother was living in her place, she liked to have seasonal decorations to put on her door. I figured why not make the same for my husband’s grandma? You may recognize those wee hearts from the impressions ornaments I made recently.

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I figured she’d already have a Christmas one, but I could do one for Valentine’s Day.

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And one for the fall. They’re not really my kind of style (you’ve seen my other wreaths) but I think she’ll like them just fine.

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Custom Carrying Caddy

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This was another birthday present for the Pie.  When he goes off to play Street Fighter, he brings what is known as a “setup,” which includes an XBox, the game, his fightstick and a display monitor.  He can put pretty much everything in one backpack, but carrying the monitor to and fro is more difficult, especially when negotiating doors and long hallways and preventing it from getting damaged while sliding around in the trunk of the car.  So he has often wished aloud that he had some kind of specialized carrier that would make humping the monitor to and fro less of a pain in the patoot.

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The idea percolated in my head for a few months, and then, about a week before his birthday, I figured it out.  I managed to make this, from concept art to completion, in about three hours, on a horribly humid and rainy Sunday afternoon.  I’m not sure if this particular DIY is practical for you, but maybe you have something awkward you need to carry around on occasion and if so I hope this inspires you to make something that is perfect for the purpose!

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First, obviously, I measured the crap out of everything.  I studied the front and back of the monitor, figuring out where the base stuck out of the back and how wide it was when it did so.  To make this custom caddy stable, it made more sense for the caddy itself to enclose only the screen, and have the base stick out the bottom.  This means that you can put the whole thing down on a surface without it overbalancing and tipping over.

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I picked up this absolutely awesome Spider-Man fabric at Wal-Mart.  I couldn’t resist.

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And if I turned it sideways, it was the perfect size for a custom caddy.

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This quilted stuff I grabbed at Fabricland, as well as some red velcro and some red strapping.

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In order to ensure the continuing accuracy of my measurements, I had to cut the stuff in the basement where the sewing machine was, and then carry it upstairs two storeys and hold it against the monitor in question. I would have brought the monitor down but it would have been harder to explain if the Pie had come home early.  This shot shows the fold-over flap at the top.

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Now I needed to figure out the hole for the base and stem.

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Measure, check, measure, check again, and then finally cut.  Fortunately I bought enough of the quilted stuff to have a do-over if I messed it up, but I didn’t want to waste it.

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The slit in the back of the caddy with the hole for the base.

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Here it is with the foldover flap pinned down for measuring purposes.

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Now to attach it to the outside fabric.

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I pinned it in place as straight as I could, and mitred the corners to avoid fraying.

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In order to have the Spider-Man fabric wrap properly around the quilting along the slit, I widened it slightly to give me a little wiggle room.

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Not much wiggle room, but some.

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The pinned slit.

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This gives you an idea of how it’s going to look from the back, with the top flap folded down.

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And the flap open.

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Then I sewed it all down.

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It’s not perfect in the hole but it’s the best I could do at the time.

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Now for all the bits to hold it together.

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Each strap is a metre long, and I pinned them far enough down on the caddy so they would support the weight of the monitor while not putting too much strain on the fabric.  They’re also at a comfortable spot for the straps to go over your shoulder, with the monitor balanced against your hip.

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Sewn in place with reinforced stitches.  You can see here how the foldover flap keeps the two sides split by the slit together.

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In order to keep the foldover flap in place I needed the velcro.  One fuzzy strip across the flap and a hook strip on either side of the slit.

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Sewing velcro on a machine is not easy.

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It was hot work, in fact, but the humidity outside didn’t make anything easier.

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But I did it!

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So basically here’s how it works.Custom Caddy 31

You open it up and align the slit with the base of the monitor, tucking the strap over the monitor (not shown in this shot, sorry).

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Slide the slit along the base of the monitor (sideways works best).

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Twist the carrier so the solid side is in front, covering the screen.

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Lift the caddy by the straps …

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… and fold the flap over to hold the two back ends together.

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So you can easily carry it and just as easily set it down.

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Here’s me trying to take a selfie while holding the thing on my shoulder.

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New DIY Gift Tab

Hi folks!  I had such an overwhelmingly positive response about my DIY gift guide that I decided to make it a permanent addition to the website.  If you’re stuck for a good gift idea at any time of the year, just check out the new tab above — more gifts are being added all the time, so check often!