Archive for August, 2011


Project 31: Making soap

August 20, 2011

I made soap today! And since it is Saturday and my husband was home I was able to get more process photos to share with you.

Lye water

Above you’ll see the list of supplies I started with: A bread pan, plastic wrap, and waxed paper to make the mold; gloves for safety; distilled water and lye (Roebic crystal drain opener from Lowe’s) for the lye water; coconut oil, olive oil, and castor oil for the oils; heatproof glass measuring cups; and a cool infrared laser thermometer (not required, but fun to have). I forgot to include our kitchen scale or the hand mixer in this photo.

The first step was to make the lye water. Lye can hurt you so I tried to be extra careful, even though safety isn’t really my strong suit. Fortunately I had my husband around to remind me to be cautious. We mixed the lye water outside because of the potential for dangerous splashing and fumes.

Something kind of awesome happens when you mix lye and water: it heats up. I’m sure that people who know things about chemistry know why this happens, but I just thought it was cool.


Next we headed inside and I measured out the oils. I used 6 oz coconut oil, 10 oz olive oil, and .5 oz castor oil. I’m told that the castor oil helps the soap be more lathery, but I included it because it was in the recipe.


It was at this point that I realized that I had mixed the ingredients kind of backwards. I wanted the lye water in one vessel and the oils in another. The two would then combine into the bigger of the two measuring cups for the rest of the process. However, for safety’s sake I was supposed to have mixed the lye water in the small cup and the oils in the big cup so that I was adding the water to the oil and not the other way around. Oops. I carefully poured the oil into the water with no disastrous consequences.

The next step was to agitate the mixture so it will trace. My original reference recommended using a stick blender so it will thicken in a matter of minutes (as opposed to a whisk which could take an hour). Our stick blender is kind of broken and I didn’t want it to fall apart into the lye mixture, so I decided to use a hand mixer. Well, after 20 minutes of using the hand mixer we had a hunch that something was wrong. It just wasn’t thickening. That was when my husband found this video: How to get ‘trace’ in soapmaking. It clearly shows trace happening in a matter of minutes with the stick blender. We got ours out and tried it and it worked like a dream. In just a couple of minutes the mixture was nice and thick and pourable.

Pouring soap

I poured it into the prepared mold — in this case a bread pan lined with both plastic wrap and wax paper. It needs to cure in the mold for 2 days. Then I’ll take it out, cut it up, and let the bars cure for 3-4 weeks. When everything is done I will report back and show you how it turned out.

Yay soap!


Project 31: Oops

August 19, 2011

Did you know that it is Friday? I had no idea it would come so soon. Pretend you can see me looking sheepish right now. The bad news is that I have not yet made soap. The good news is that I have all of my ingredients.

My new plan is to make soap on Saturday. I’ll post the whole process as soon as it is done. You can follow along with me by reading this instructional post at See you then!



Project 31: Soap

August 15, 2011

sea buckthorn soap

This week I’m going to make soap. I’ve never made soap before, but aside from the scariness of working with lye the process looks kind of easy. Have you made soap before? Do you have any tips?

Photo by mwri on Flickr


Project 30: Done… for now

August 12, 2011

Knitting gauge

I’m declaring my laser project week finished because I did, in the end, successfully cut something on the laser. Whether that thing fulfills its intended purpose is another question entirely. But look! There is my knitting gauge. It certainly looks like it should work — it is full of holes and everything. It is modeled here with my husband’s 3 year-old unfinished scarf for those cold winter trips to New York.

Gauge detail

The gauge has a little knitting ball detail on top so I can remember what it is.


Here it is telling me that my scarf needles are a size 4. Are they really? I don’t recall, and given the sizing issues I had with my design file I don’t think I trust my gauge. I think this ultimately makes it a decorative object and not a gauge at all. It certainly can’t claim to be any sort of proper ruler despite the little tick marks on the sides.

Still, it’s mine and I kind of love it. Maybe I can call it art?

Lessons learned:
– Some projects are trickier than others.
– In design, as with anything, it helps to have the proper tools and to devote enough time to their use.
– Despite the flaws of the user, lasers are awesome.

See you next week!


Project 30: Failure?

August 11, 2011

There was much frustration during my laser reservation last night. The Inkscape file that I so carefully designed wouldn’t print and wouldn’t import into the program that works best with the laser. I had hoped to not waste my 2 hours redesigning, but I had to do that anyway. And this was after begging for help to just get my file into an editable state!

By the time TechShop closed I had managed to cut something that looked like a knitting gauge, but the holes are the wrong size, the rulers I included are the wrong size, and the font is completely unreadable. I’ll show you my finished gauge tomorrow and will hopefully find an open time on the laser to reprint it sometime soon.



Project 30: Designing for the laser

August 9, 2011

Photo from

Caution: the descriptions on this page are from my brain and are by no means a technical explanation. If you need more detail holler in the comments and I’ll find someone smarter to answer you.

The most important thing to know when designing for the laser is the difference between a raster and a vector. If you have always worked in Photoshop then you have always worked with rasters. The laser interprets any raster image as something that will be etched, not cut. The reason for this is that there are no clean edges in a raster. See the graphic above? The edge of a raster image is made of lots of little boxy pixels. A vector image is made of lines.

So to design for the laser you need to download a program that can create vectors. I chose Inkscape, then spent most of the evening Googling for my specific questions because their help files assume you’re an engineer.

I’m going to spend the rest of the day drawing circles of various sizes for my knitting needle gauge. When I check in tomorrow my design will hopefully be done and I’ll be on my way to the laser. Wish me luck!

Photo found at




Project 30: Laser Cutting

August 8, 2011

Lasercutting is fun

This week I’m going to use the Epilog laser cutter at TechShop to make something for myself. I’ve been considering making a knitting needle gauge so I can finally get my mystery needles in order. Really I just want an excuse to play with the laser.

Join me as I design my piece, get my holes the right size, and cut things with laser beams. I’m excited!

Photo by Sascha Pohflepp on Flickr