February 19, 2013

Handcrank Singer 99 in the house

My two daughters (4 and 6 yrs) are always very interested when I do any sewing on my W&W D-9 treadle machine, and really want to use the machine themselves. This is difficult since they are not big enough to both have their hands manipulating the work and their feet on the treadle to drive the belt. Its also tricky to get the belt going the right way every time until you get used to it, and if the action is run in reverse for more than a stitch or two things will get tangled up or at least unthreaded. Most machines treadle D-9s have an anti-reverse pawl riding on the flywheel, but mine was broken and I haven't bothered to fix it yet.

I asked about a good people-powered kids machine on Treadle On, and the overwhelming response was that the Singer 99 in handcrank configuration was an excellent machine for kids. With the handcrank there is no ambiguity about which way its going to run the machine when you start cranking it. The kids can also reach the handcrank and guide the fabric reasonably at the same time, this machine being a little smaller than typical. I just finished reading an interesting biography of I.M. Singer by Ruth Brandon, so I was also happy to enjoy some fruits of the Singer empire.

February 11, 2013

Quinzhee snow huts

Well, we got a lot of snow in Somerville last weekend, a reported 71cm (28"). All the shoveling piled up some impressively tall snow heaps. While annoying from a shoveling perspective since one must sling the snow up higher and higher, these heaps looked like snow huts waiting to happen. A Quinzhee is a pile of settled snow that you dig the center out of to make a shelter. I've never made one before, but had heard about them from my friend Ben and read about them in mountaineering books.

 It was very windy, so it drifted impressively in many places.

I spent about 5 hours shoveling on Saturday in multiple stints, and another hour or so on Sunday.

Consequently my back and arms are now excruciatingly sore! Violet came out with me on Saturday to play in the snow.

On Saturday I piled up some additional snow in a few places beyond what was left by drifting and my shoveling efforts, and let it sinter overnight.

On Sunday the kids and I went out in the morning to play in the backyard and I hollowed out the snow pile I had made there.

Luckily I had some helpers with the shoveling!

Violet hanging out in the snow house.

Millie taking a turn.

Violet made a snow tower.

Child 1 spent quite a lot of time facedown in the snow.

After the kids went in I reshoveled the driveway from where the plows had filled it again, then hollowed out the two snow houses in the front yard. The first one was pretty small, more like a snow doghouse. Plus I misjudged the location of a bush in there, which cut into the interior space.

The other one in the front was the largest of the three.

When hollowed out, there was plenty of room for me and the kids to sit inside. This snow was perfect for building Quinzhees!

What Child 1, you don't think the roof is going to fall in do you?!?

February 8, 2013

Making Liquid Rosin Soap

Last year I started making soap. The initial impetus was to make shave soap to support my transition to homebrew straight shaving, followed by the desire to supply our modest needs for bar soap. I also wanted to supplant the Dr. Bronner's liquid soap I like to use for bathing, and this was my first effort in that area.

The library didn't have an orderable copy of Making Natural Liquid Soaps, by Catherine Failor, so I ordered one from Amazon. We considered using natural rosin for a project at work and didn't end up using it, so I had a ready supply of rosin which would otherwise cost money for my company to dispose of. I came to enjoy the scent of rosin, and liked the idea of reusing waste material, so I thought I would try making some rosin soap. I had also read that it makes a nice, dense lather. For this soap I used Honduran Rosin; not sure where it was originally purchased.

I made up a version of my soap spreadsheet for this soap, which is based on a recipe from Failor, and proceeded with the version of the process which entails hot processing the soap, then diluting with water.

I mixed up my KOH solution.

Heated up the oils. The pot in the back corner has the rosin, which I only add after the other oils trace since otherwise it causes the mixture to seize up prematurely.

Oils and hydroxide have traced.

After adding the rosin and cooking for a while.

Diluting with water after cooking for 3 hrs.

After simmering for a few hours, some soap was still not dissolved, so I added about an extra 50ml of water.

Child 1 helped me put the finished soap in jars, after adding borax solution and fragrance and cooling for a bit in the pot.

One thing I like about Dr B's (besides the wacky text covering the outside of the bottle, which is amusing) is that the peppermint variety leaves the tender parts of your skin feeling tingly and pleasantly scoured. I think this is down to the fragrance additive, since it doesn't really happen with the lavender variety. Failor's book recommends adding scent at 1%; I tried adding peppermint oil at 2%. Its quite noticeable, but not up to the skin tingling level of Dr. B's. Maybe next time I'll try 4%. Perhaps the difference is that I'm using Mentha Piperita while Dr. B's ingredients list Mentha Arvensis.

I put some of this soap in a poly squirt bottle and have been bathing with it for a couple weeks now. For better or worse, I don't have any hair to speak of on my head, so this bottle of liquid soap is the only product I need for bathing. In reality, I could just use the bar soap we have around and rationalize the personal care products a bit, but for now I'm used to using liquid soap. Its pretty nice, if not quite as exciting as Dr. B's. Its also lower viscosity than Dr. B's. Maybe next time I'll try for a lower dilution rate, or add a viscosity modifier.

February 7, 2013

Making Transparent Rosin Soap

Last year, I set out to make soap. My first try was a cold processed castile soap, which didn't turn out great. To satisfy our needs for hand soap at our house, I decided to try to make some transparent soap.

February 1, 2013

The Beauty of Home Rendered Leaf Lard

I have been on a constant hunt for leaf lard for 6-7 years now. The internets reported that this hard to obtain lard, gently rendered from the fat deposits surrounding the kidneys of a pig, made sublimely flaky pastry without imparting a noticeable meaty taste. At the time I first started looking, I turned up Flying Pigs Farm, which would sell me leaf fat but not rendered lard via mail order. They did however sell rendered lard at the green market in Brooklyn at Grand Army Plaza, so one time when we were visiting Becky's brother in Brooklyn we went to this market and I bought them out of the few tubs of leaf lard they had at the stand. I used this lard to make some fine pie crust (25-30% lard, remainder high quality butter), and have always wanted more.