On a Good Mom

May 6th, 2011 § 6 comments § permalink

MomI am grown now.  And I am strong.  Yet sometimes I trip.  And I am helped up.  Mostly by you.  When I have a bad dream, I tell you.  And you listen.  When I am alone, mostly you are far, yet you are with me every day. When I am feeling less than strong, I remember your steadfastness.  At the end of the day, when I am completely stuck with a dinner idea, I am reminded of your innovative baked concoctions of leftover spaghetti, ham, meatloaf and wild rice.  Or your trendsetting salad soup.  And I am saved.  When I’m worn out and overwhelmed by piles of waterlogged laundry sitting on a flooded basement floor, it is your small practical voice that says to run an underground downspout drain away from the house.  It is that very same voice that reminds me to reuse my teabag.  Save twisty ties.  Put on a patch.  To walk there.  Don’t take too much you can always go back for seconds.  And don’t worry about the mold.  You can just cut it off.  You are the one who taught me to play the harmonica, tie a good knot, and watch out for poison ivy.  You are the one who taught me to remain happily married through a particularly long ragweed pollen season.  And to love my girls and dress up with them often in superhero costumes.  You are the one who taught me to watch the telltales and head up when the wind picks up.  To make it past that point.

Mom, it is you.  You are the one.  Happy Mother’s Day.

I love you and your amazingness.


The School Garden

May 3rd, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

Happy Bean

Early last spring, through a local educational grant, I helped students, teachers, parents and administrators establish a vegetable garden at our small grade school.  Permanent above- and below-ground fencing surrounds our 25’ x 40’ garden to guard it from hungry critters.

MulchingWe designed and installed an underground high-efficiency drip irrigation system to water our 9 rectangular wood-framed raised beds.  Following garden construction, we all helped weed the garden beds, plant seeds, transplant seedlings, maintain the beds and harvest the veggies.

Preparing bedsOur small gardening program provides benefits that reach well beyond the garden gate.  In addition to enhancing the classroom curriculum, the program inspires personal and social responsibility.  It nurtures community spirit, common purpose, and cultural appreciation by building bridges among students, school staff, and local organizations.

Many handsKids learn from maintaining the garden throughout the year: weeding, thinning, fertilizing, mulching, composting, monitoring pests and diseases, and harvesting.  Kids gain a sense of ownership and accomplishment and a willingness to try new foods.  As well, they obtain life skills.

Planting herbsThe kids experience a deeper understanding of natural systems and become better stewards of the Earth by designing, cultivating, and harvesting with their own hands.  Our small garden helps teach an environmental ethic, helps demystify the concept of food production, and helps get kids really dirty.

Garden handsThis week I am busy dirtying many small hands—preparing the beds and planting lettuce, radishes and sugar snap peas.


The Times

April 26th, 2011 § 3 comments § permalink

LunaThere have been moments at the end of a long sleepless night followed by an even longer day crammed with laundry and dishes and kid-carrying and skirt-tugging topped with a fever or two and a pinch of thankless whining, when my patience is shot and that recycled-glass-half-full feeling has all but vanished.  There have been times when it is all just too much and, admitting defeat, I’ve cried uncle (or just cried) and have simply surrendered.

To my little team, these very same moments are at the end of a long sleepless night followed by an even longer day of sitting a restless little body in a chair or on the floor for hours and wishing to somehow concentrate and think hard amongst the squawk and talk and clatter and bump of wild, passionate little people; topped with scattered ideas about how things and people work or are supposed to work, and a pinch of hunger.

When all is said and done, I wish I could just take a gigantic breath and listen.  Just listen.  For sometimes, many times, these are the times that give us the best stories to reveal in years to come.  And sometimes it is within these times that we grow.


On Dyeing Naturally

April 20th, 2011 § 5 comments § permalink

Eggs Dyed CloseupMy friend Minty Pea recently sent me some disturbing information concerning synthetic food dye.  Following a mandatory food-dye labeling requirement that came into effect in the EU last year, the FDA advisory panel convened in early April to review the safety of eight current food dyes.  After many years of denial, the FDA is reviewing the evidence linking synthetic food dyes (synthesized from petroleum derivatives—even coal tar) to behavioral problems in children.  Evidence that these petrochemicals affect some children’s behavior is quite convincing.  Most of these dyes have no nutritional or preservative value whatsoever—they are merely cosmetic.  Surprisingly, even foods that aren’t particularly colorful—instant mashed potatoes, bread, pickles, hot chocolate, white frosting, and cheese—are, for mostly cosmetic reasons, dyed.

BeetsThankfully, a growing number of natural food dyes—like red (betanin from beets), orange (annato from achiote seed), and green (chlorophyll from chlorella algae)—are now being commercially produced.  Of course, it makes sense to be aware of what goes into your own body, or into the little bodies you’re responsible for.  My design team—naturally drawn towards charming concoctions with infinite potential for furniture discoloration—has been experimenting with natural dyes.  Some of these can be used for projects involving tie-dye, homemade Play doh or fiber (like wool) dyeing.  Mostly, we use them to dye eggs.

CabbageTo get started, prick a hole in each clean white (or brown) egg with a needle.  Hard-boil the eggs.  Collect the dyestuff—leaves, flowers, vegetable peelings, spices, roots—from your kitchen, garden or local market.  See below for a list of items that have worked especially well for us.  Fresh flowers and greens, vegetable peelings or berries require 2 cups material per quart of water.  Dried leaves or flowers require 2 Tbs per cup of water, ground spices require 2 tsp per cup of water. Something to consider: the eggs will turn out to be a lighter shade than what appears in the pot. So, don’t be skimpy!

Place ingredients in several stainless pots and simmer for 30 minutes.  For uniform color, strain each eye mixture through a cheesecloth or fine strainer.  For a whimsical mottled, tie-dyed or spotty effect, leave all solid material in the pots.  Let the liquid cool to room temperature.

  • Onion Skins Onion skins:  Red and orange
  • Shredded red cabbage:  Teal
  • Beet roots and cranberry juice:  Purple
  • Blueberries:  Deep blue
  • Raspberries:  Light fuschia
  • Liquid chlorophyll:  Deep green
  • Tumeric:  Gold
  • Paprika:  Bright orange
  • Annatto seed (Achiote):  Yellow

With a slotted spoon, place eggs in pots and add enough water to cover the eggs and dye material.  Add a little vinegar.

ChlorophyllWhy use vinegar?  The egg-dying process is a lesson in polarity as well as acids and bases.  The shell of an egg is made up of mostly calcium carbonate and is protected by a very thin layer of protein called the cuticle.  The cuticle is neutral—not much is attracted to it.  The dyestuff has a negative charge.  To get the dye to “stick” to the cuticle, the cuticle has to be made positively charged.  Vinegar is a weak acid.  It causes a reaction that releases carbon dioxide bubbles—seen on the surface of the egg.  It lowers the pH of the cuticle and causes it to become positively charged.  Thus the love affair between dye and egg.  So sweet!

Natural Egg DyeSlowly bring all to a gentle boil, reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes.  At this point, either remove the edible eggs and run under cold tap water or place the eggs and dyestuff in sealed glass containers in the fridge for a few hours (or overnight) to deepen the shade.

Steeping EggsSteeping the eggs overnight may cause the dye to seep through the shells, and, though these dyes are natural, the flavors and natural occurring byproducts may be somewhat inedible and downright yucky.  These refrigerated eggs will most likely be overcooked and quirky on the inside, but will be beautifully elegant and refined on the outside.  Something to think about.

Egg SilhouettesMy design team and I are slightly fancy and we opt to produce natural silhouettes of feathery fern tips and small, light flowers with crisp outlines before or during the dyeing process—fern, dill, cilantro, thyme, mint are all good.  Dip the greenery in water-thinned egg white and place on the egg.  Wrap the greenery-wrapped egg in a square of cheesecloth or nylon stocking and tie.  Dip.  Dry.

Eggs Naturally DyedJust a note:  Although your kitchen may take on the appearance of a chaotic chemistry lab, egg dyeing is not an exact science.  Like everything in nature, it is quirky and has its idiosyncrasies—the most obvious being the illusion of color.  A plant does not necessarily resemble the color of its dye—a yellow onion skin yields rusty red hues, a red cabbage yields vivid teal hues.  As well, the color of the dye bath may not necessarily reflect the final product.  With natural dyes, the character of each eggshell emerges.  Some eggs appear mottled or etched like a wild bird’s egg, others absorb the dye in streaked bands.  Science attributes these variations to an uneven distribution of calcium within the shell.  Explore and prepare for puzzlement!



How to Make A Good Listener

April 14th, 2011 § 8 comments § permalink

Felted sweater owl closeupToday you will learn how to make a good listener.

For this project, you will need a 100% wool sweater and a small collection of wool sweater scraps and cotton fabric scraps.  Solid, striped or patterned.  As with the Tiny Birdhouse, Swittens, and Sweater Mouse projects, add your wool sweater (do not dismantle it yet) to the laundry batch and wash and dry on normal to felt.  This project also requires a needle, thread, an embroidery hoop, embroidery thread, and some stuffing like organic cotton stuffing, hemp fibers or wool.  We are known to borrow synthetic filling from retired threadbare elderly friends.  I’ll admit, I’m kind of fancy and I opt to insert a small bean bag or pebble-filled bag in the base of the owl to provide ballast.

Owl PatternFinal owl size is determined by the size of your sweater.  Cut a sleeve off your sweater near the armpit, leaving the side seam alone.  Lay the sleeve flat so the seam sits naturally at the side.  Trim the armpit end (SLEEVE BOTTOM) in a semi-circle about 10” away from the wrist end of the sleeve, matching front and back.  Cut a long symmetric lens-shaped piece (BASE) from the sweater fabric, matching the length of SLEEVE BOTTOM.  Turn SLEEVE inside out.  With right sides together, sew BASE to SLEEVE BOTTOM.  Turn right side out.  Place a pebble-filled fabric bag (this is simple to make) inside the sleeve.  Insert stuffing into the owl, filling ¾ up to the sleeve.

Now, you and your starry-eyed design team must do a little research and envision your friend’s outcome.  Things you should probably consider: curved beak, facial disk, wings and ear tufts.

All owls have a short, curved, downward-facing beak that is hooked at the end.  It is designed for gripping and tearing prey.  As well, the bill is curved downwards in order to keep the owl’s field of vision clear.  To make the owl beak, cut a diamond shape out of lightweight wool sweater scrap material.  Fold the diamond in half and sew at the edges.  To provide some shape, insert a teensy bit of stuffing inside before putting in the final stitch.  To provide a curve, use small internal stitches to “grab” the pointy tip and pull it down and back toward the base.

Felted Sweater OwlMany owl species have large parabolic facial disks called “ruffs” that focus sound—not unlike a parabolic microphone.  Its shape ensures that all distant sound waves that strike the surface parallel to the central axis (the direction the owl’s face is pointed) will be focused exactly on the owl’s ears.  To make the owl’s facial disk, place a lightweight contrasting sweater into an embroidery hoop.  Sew on the beak.  Add eye “patches” with frayed fabric scraps, stitching at the edges.  Embroider curved sleepy eyes with a backstitch.  Just in case you need it, Purl Bee has a fantastic backstitch tutorial.  Embellish the owl’s face with frayed wool or cotton fabric scraps—add a “cere” or “operculum” at the top of the beak where the nostrils are set, add “brows” above the eyes—use your best judgment.  Then, remove your sweater from the embroidery hoop.  To make the owl’s facial disk., cut a large oval around the beak and eyes.  Sew it to the front of the owl’s body.

An owl’s ear openings are often asymmetrically-set (one ear is placed slightly higher than the other) which increases sound reception.  This is fantastic news for someone like me who finds symmetrical sewing to be somewhat challenging.  Some owls have ear tufts—these are located on the top of the head and are often referred to as “horns” or “ears” but are really just clusters of long feathers and have nothing to do with the owl’s ability to hear.  There are several interesting hypotheses about just why these exist (e.g. provide camouflage, threaten predators, provide intra-species recognition), but the mystery remains unsolved in the scientific world.  Just a small something for you and your tiny team to think about.

Owl PairTo make ear tufts, you must first tuck in the SLEEVE TOP and stitch, leaving about 2 inches un-sewn on both sides.  These unsewn sides will form the owl’s ear tufts.  To fully form ear tufts, make indentations with stitching on outer sides.  Embellish the ear tufts with frayed cotton remnants.  Use lightweight contrasting sweater remnants for wings.

There.  You are done.  You have made a good listener.

And everybody likes a good listener.



April 11th, 2011 § 12 comments § permalink

Eggling zinniaWhoa, finally.  Spring has sprung. For short-summered gardeners like me, it is particularly important to get started early.  My gardening team and I start many tender annuals indoors.  We avoid purchasing seedling trays or pots and try to start most seeds in biodegradable handmade pots.  Cardboard tubes, newspapers, grapefruit halves are great options—we use eggshells.

To get crackin’, eat lots of eggs.  Prick a small drainage hole in the bottom of the shell with a pin or needle.  To remove the contents, create a small opening in the shell—about the size of a dime—with a sharp knife.  Reserve the egg contents for cooking my friend Jenny’s Back Pocket Quiche.  Carefully pinch the opening until 1/3 of the shell is removed.  Wash each eggshell.  Surprisingly, it does not take long for hungry, motivated gardeners to have a full carton of clean, empty shells.

Select some seeds.  Really, any annuals will do.  For a nice selection, see previous post on Spring Planning.  My gardening team is partial to fancy pinkish flowers and cherry tomatoes.

Egglings dozenWith small green fingers and thumbs, fill each eggshell with damp seed-starting mix to about ¼ to ½ in below the shell opening.  Place the soil-filled shells into an egg carton.  Using tiny finger, create a small indentation in the center of the soil. Follow the instructions on the seed package for proper planting depth.  The general rule is to plant three times deeper than the size of the seed.  Place a seed or two into the indentation and lightly cover the seed with soil.  Use a permanent marker to label each eggshell with seed type.  Moisten the soil again gently with a few drops of water.  Allow the water to saturate the soil before adding more water.  Be careful not to drown them!

Seed MorphologyThere are so many many types of seeds.  In a typical dormant seed, like a French bean or sunflower, two future cotyledons occupy most of the interior.  The outer covering is called the seed coat.  The seed coat is usually hard and protects the softer parts of the seed.  There is a tiny hole in the seed coat called the micropyle.  When the seed is ready to germinate, water is absorbed into the seed through the micropyle.  Rapid growth of the seed’s embryo ruptures the seed coat, allowing the radicle to emerge in search of nutrients.  The radicle becomes the root of the plant.  The hypocotyl, the space between the radicle and the colyledons, extends and emerges from the soil.  The hypocotyl is exposed to sunlight, straightens out and develops into a stem.  The cotyledons, two thick, leaf-like thingies, become new green leaves.  The tiny plumule rises up between the cotyledons and develops into the plant’s true leaves.

Seedling growthClearly, seed germination is highly dependent on water.  So, to help retain necessary moisture, cover the egg carton lightly with a large transparent plastic container. Monitor your seedlings daily for growth and water needs.  They should be kept evenly moist, but not saturated.  You should begin to see sprouts in 10 to 14 days, depending on seeds selected.  When the seedlings emerge, they will need space for growth, and sunlight for photosynthesis.  In general, sunlight on a warm windowsill is best.  Keep them in inside until they have 3 to 4 true leaves.

Eggling bunchBy the time playground weather comes around, your eggshells will house a flock of able-bodied, rosy-cheeked seedlings.  Before moving them out of the hen house, take a few weeks to “harden them off”—gradually introduce them to their new growing conditions. Move the “egglings” to a shady spot for increasing amounts of time, several days in a row.  Bring them back inside or cover them if temperature looks like it will drop.  Progressively increase the amount of time and sunlight they receive outside until they appear ready to venture out on their own.  This gives the seedlings a chance to acclimate to sunlight, drying winds and climate changes.  On a cloudy day, plant them directly in the ground, crushing the bottom part of the eggshell so the roots can emerge.  Water the transplants well, but gently.

Why use eggshells?  Eggshells provide good moisture retention for germination, less transplantation shock, a good source of beneficial calcium (especially important for fast-growing tender annuals), and the obvious environmental and monetary advantages.

Cheap cheap.


Celebrate The Day

April 4th, 2011 § 7 comments § permalink

Handmade RibbonOne has eyes that laugh like moons, a dimple, and full lips that whistle just one single piercing note.  She is sharp and lively, and ready for battle.  The other one has a quietness that moves right through me.  Her steps are still and steady.  She is deep and contemplative, and tenderhearted.

Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, I worry.  Sometimes after a challenging day, I hold a small hand and look into those wild-earth teary eyes and I am sad.  Sometimes I say I’m sorry that the world is not perfect, that tragedies happen everyday, that people can be unkind, that people suffer.  People we’ve never met.  People we know.  People we see everyday.

My girls.  Mostly, I want the world to accept and appreciate them.  To pay attention to them, compliment their uniqueness, listen and respond to them, encourage and help them when they struggle, laugh and cry with them, high-five them, teach them when they don’t understand, and recognize all the good they have to give.  To love them.

Handmade Fabric Scrap BannerLife moves on, and quickly, and there will be more tears.  But always there is us.  Our family.  And we embrace this and make something out of it.  Life moves on, and so we celebrate the moment.  We unwrap the small, secret gift of everyday.  The messy, the comical, the unexpected.

We celebrate big milestones, of course—birthdays, anniversaries, holidays—but we also celebrate small moments.  The clean plate, the book read, the first crocus blossom, the last snowflake, the new friend—all have the potential to be acknowledged in some small way.

Birthday GirlWe keep banners on hand for momentous occasions, constructed out of fabric scraps and remnant bias tape.  We have special hats to be worn by special friends.  And a big big ribbon to wear.  No four-layer cake, ice sculpture or elephant ride—a simple hand-written note placed under a pillow or in a lunchbox or in a small hand will do just fine.  Or a smile.  Just a smile.  And so, as time flies slowly by, we will hold tight to our family and know that we are lucky.  I feel lucky.  I feel there is a story here so beautiful that we will someday tell.  And look, we get to live it.

Hurray!  Hats off to today!


Felted Sweater Mice

March 23rd, 2011 § 10 comments § permalink

Felted Sweater MouseSometimes small fingers (and old fingers) find small projects to be tricky— tying a shoe, handling scissors, zipping a zipper, buttoning a button—they all require precision and a steady hand.  As does hand sewing.  Sewing not only demands dexterity, but also requires patience.  On top of this, it adds the threat of a potential finger prick.  Followed by little watery eyes.  Yowch!

This is incredibly unfortunate, since small people frequently like playing with small friends.  Dollhouse people, finger puppets, Lego people, tiny wooden animals—they are all good company and don’t seem to eat much.  My small people have been captivated by my friend Charlotte’s small friends for quite some time now. This has been a challenge for both them and me since Charlotte’s small friends, remarkably sweet and delicate, are very very small.  They are hand-sewn mice—reflective, contemplative furry friends with strikingly large personalities.  As well, they have microscopic eyes and noses, giving them extra bonus points.

Tortured by the opposing forces of teeny, wild fingers and the love of all things small, my design team and I made futile attempts at replicating Charlotte’s mice.  In the end, we designed a simple, slightly larger pattern with exposed stitching that is just perfect for small fingers.

For this project, you will need a small collection of 100% wool sweater scraps.  Solid, striped or patterned.  As with the Tiny Birdhouse and Swittens projects, add your wool sweater to the laundry batch and wash and dry on normal.  This project also requires a needle, thread and some stuffing like organic cotton stuffing, hemp fibers or wool.  We are renowned for borrowing (well, stealing, really) synthetic filling from retired threadbare elderly friends.  Those of you who are fancy may opt to insert a small rice or bean-filled fabric bag in the base of the mouse to provide some weight.

Pattern: Size is up to you.  I recommend that you size your first mouse on a slightly-larger-than-life size (dare I say, rat size?).  As with the Swittens project, I have found that there is a significant positive correlation between successful project outcome and project size, when measured by various indicators, such as big smiles.  Don’t start out too teeny.

Cut the sweater as below.  In addition, you will need a tail.  It should be a long, skinny rectangular piece (that will later be folded and sewn).

Felted Mouse PatternSewing Instructions:  Fold the tail in half and secure with a blanket stitch.  (Just a note:  Futuregirl has a fantastic photo-filled tutorial on blanket stitching.)  With wrong sides together, stitch down the back of the body.  Stitch from the nose down, stopping about ½ inch before the end.  Insert end of tail at bottom of back and secure.  Finish stitching bottom of back.  With wrong sides together, stitch the bottom edge of the body to the oval base, leaving approximately a 2-inch gap for stuffing.

Insert stuffing into the mouse, filling the nose first.  When almost full, insert bean bag and continue stitching to close the back seam.  Fold the base edge of ears in half and secure with a few central stitches.  Flatten the seam and position the ears on the mouse head.  Stitch.  Use a felting needle and wool roving to make eyes and nose.  Use strong button thread for whiskers if you are most able.

(And, “most able” sort of sounds like “vote on Babble,” which reminds me to ask for your vote, since Mossy has been nominated on Babble for an important thingy, and if you enjoy the post you’ve read or any you’ve read in the past, or if you plan to enjoy any posts you’ll read in the future, please give Mossy a “thumbs up.”   It’s just a click.  Here on Babble.  Thank you in advance.  I will mail you a hug.)

Felted Sweater Mouse with CoatNow you have a new small friend.  And you and your family will love your friend more than you ever thought was possible.  I mean love.  More than anyone should.


The Science of Felting

March 18th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Tiny Felted BirdhousesSeveral folks have expressed interest in the actual felting process—Geez, Mossy, how does it all work?

Here’s what I know.  Felt is a mass of dense wool and/or fur.  It is not woven, but rather pressed and manipulated in a centuries-old process using heat, moisture and pressure or agitation.  The result is the strongest, smoothest, most water-resistant natural fabric known.  Soap helps in the felting process.  Heat and moisture cause the outer overlapping scales along the wool fiber to open, and the soap allows the fibers to slide easily over one another, thereby causing them to become entangled.  Wool fibers are made up of a protein called keratin.  The keratin in the fibers becomes chemically bound to the protein of the other fibers resulting in a permanent bond between the fibers.  The felting process is irreversible.  Sometimes this is unfortunate if you are like me and have several unintentional child-sized sweater casualties on hand as silent reminders.

Since wool felt is not woven and doesn’t require a loom for its production, it can be made rather easily.  Because of this, felt is the earliest known form of fabric.   The true origin of felt is unknown, though I am aware of several cultures that take credit for the discovery of felt.  One Sumerian legend tells of Saint Clement, a wandering monk, who cleverly wrapped flax fibers between his shoes and feet to prevent blisters.  Upon arrival at his destination, he removed his shoes and discovered that the flax had, in fact, felted due to the heat, pressure and perspiration.  Saint Clement became the patron saint for hat makers.

The steps included in making felt have changed little over time.  Felted fabric is produced using heat, moisture and pressure to mat and interlock the fibers.  While machinery can be used today to accomplish many of these tasks, the processing requirements remain unchanged.  One exception is that until the late nineteenth century mercury was used in the processing of felt for hatmaking.  Mercury was discovered to have debilitating effects on the hatter, causing a type of poisoning that led to tremors, hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms—hence the term “mad hatter.”

What makes a good sweater to felt?  When looking for a thrifted sweater or two to upcycle for a felting project, I usually choose 100% wool.  Other animal fibers will work as well—mohair, cashmere, alpaca, etc.  Be sure the tag is not labeled “superwash,” since this “washable wool” will have been chemically treated to avoid shrinkage (felting).  Remove all buttons, ribbons, labels, etc. from the sweater, cut it apart at the seams (completely cutting away the seams), and throw it in the hot-water wash and cold-water rinse with the (relentless) laundry pile.  Often, I wash and dry twice.

Felt made with a thrifted sweater has all the benefits of wool—stability, durability, earthy texture—and has the eco-friendly attributes of being natural and second-hand.  Hurrah!


Time to Come Clean

March 7th, 2011 § 8 comments § permalink

Soap at sinkTime to come clean.  And nothing does the trick better than a handmade soap bar wrapped in softly spun and felted natural wool.  Upon completion of this practical project, you will have a novel and crafty washcloth/soap combo guaranteed to tempt even the most stubborn grimy kid into a tub.  In fact, you and your crafty little team will be inclined to make oodles of these for deserving friends, dedicated teachers, or for yourself—yes, even you are entitled to a complete body exfoliation with relaxing aromatic organically-derived essential oils and spicy touch-of-citrus scent to draw out impurities, replace minerals, improve circulation, and ahhh!  getting carried away….

Point being, you might consider keeping one for yourself.

For this project, you will need the following: cheese grater, bowl of hot water, old stocking (tights/pantyhose), wool roving (carded wool), soap scraps (if you are in a hurry, simply use a solid soap bar), and hands willing to get wet and sudsy.  As mentioned in previous projects, wool roving may be purchased online from Halcyon Yarn—check out their “Babooshka Soup”—a random mix of remnant wool batts and pencil roving.  If you plan to use a solid soap bar, a good quality medium-milled round/oval soap bar is ideal for the job.  Too hard (like French milled soap), and it will not lather.  Too soft, and it will be squashy.  Too rectangular, and it will have weak points in the felting.  I mostly use soaps made with lavender or lemongrass oils, but recently I felted a soap made by my friend Jen Kovach labeled “Oatmeal Cookie.”  Yum.  Jen makes a well-air-cured goat milk soap that is just perfect for felting.  I have found that goat milk soaps are the best—easy to felt, fragrant, long-lasting, natural—but I’m not picky.  I’ll felt just about anything.

Grating soapBefore starting, remind everyone that soap can sting eyes and that it smells yummy but tastes horrible.  Yuck! If you plan to use soap scraps, or you plan to smooth the edges of a rectangular bar, shred the soap with a cheese grater.  Collect the shavings in your hand and press together, forming a ball, oval, or organicy rock-like shape.

Tightly wrap thin, even layers of wool roving around the soap until all surfaces are covered. Criss-cross three layers of wool (as in the Felted Wool Ball project) so that the fibers will lock together during the felting process.  Different colors of wool may be used to create different patterns.  I’m partial to bright, vivid colors for this one—luminous greens and blues, shameless oranges and reds—although, somber grays can make powerful stone soap.  Beware of browns—nothing worse than washing with something damp, mudlike and wooly.  I often add a narrow piece of thin (pencil) roving or wool yarn to create a natural sediment strip in the stone and to hold it tightly.  Alternatively, a design can be needle felted with contrasting colors (see previous post on Dry Felting).

Felting soap 2Carefully place your wooly bar into the toe of your old stocking. Tie the stocking, cutting away extra fabric.  Dip your stockinged wooly soap into the bowl of hot water until it is thoroughly soaked.  Gently roll it between your hands to build lather.  Continue to agitate the wool fibers, re-wetting and squeezing and lathering the soap.  Pay attention to the tiny sides of the soap—they need attention too.

Felting soap 2When the fibers become entangled and the wool becomes firmer, roll and press harder.  If you have a washboard or a bubble wrap sheet, rub all sides of the wooly soap on this.  When is it done?  When the wool is completely felted, it should form a semi-snug casing around the soap.  The entire process should take about 10 to 15 minutes.

Felting soap 3Carefully remove your wooly soap from the stocking and run it under very hot tap water and then very cold tap water.

Felting soap 4Place it on a cookie rack or folded towel to absorb excess water.  Dry for a day or two.

Kids love this project.  It’s messy, requires little elbow grease, and is somewhat magical.  To increase the soap’s lifespan, rinse it quickly under tap water and allow it to dry thoroughly between uses.

Drying felted soapAs the soap dissolves, the wool will shrink slightly.  When the soap is no longer, dry the pouf.  Make a small incision and use as a funky fragrant coin purse, cat toy, ornament, finger puppet, or herb-filled sachet for your prized collection of unmentionables.


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