Your Natural Home
Creating a cozy hearth for the family


Aunt Lilly's Farm Soap

I think it’s appropriate that my last soap project for this series is a re-make of the soap that started me off on my soap adventures 50 years ago. If you remember from the castile soap project I mentioned that when I was a young woman my mother introduced me to an old woman named Lilly who lived on a farm near Iowa Falls, Iowa. Lilly was straight out of the pages of The Foxfire Books edited by Eliot Wigginton. She was the real deal and she showed me how to make tallow soap on her wood stove.

The only thing I’m going to do differently this time is I am going to use rendered pig fat (lard) instead of rendered beef fat (tallow). I purposely chose lard because I decided that if I had any leftover after rendering it that I could use it for cooking. Yes, I rendered my own lard for this project. Store-bought lard is—in my opinion—odious stuff. The texture is grainy. I simply don’t like it. Who knows how those pigs were raised and with what chemicals they were fed? I was also able to source pig fat from an organic pig who lived a good life and who was humanely dispatched. If you can’t do this please do what you are comfortable with.

By the way, soap made from animal fat is particularly good for skin irritations like poison oak or ivy and has a nice creamy lather.

soap 2
This is my best soap so far. Photo by Renee Benoit

Rendering Pig Fat into Lard

  • 3 lbs of pretty clean pig fat (That means: as much of the meat removed as you can)
  • Slow cooker

Chop the pig fat into 1” chunks or smaller. If you have a meat grinder you can run the fat through the grinder. It will melt all that much faster. Put the chopped or ground fat into a slow cooker on LOW. If you put it on high it could brown the fat which will make it have a strong scent. Let it slow cook for a long time. It might take 6 hours. When it’s all melted and there are little brown bits (cracklins) floating in it, scoop the cracklins out with a slotted spoon and then strain the melted fat through a sieve and then cheesecloth to get rid of all the cracklins and particles. Letting particles stay in the soap can make the soap go rancid. You can fry the cracklins until crisp and eat them if you wish. No carbos there! The melted fat will be a light golden color but when it solidifies it will be white and gorgeously smooth.

This will keep in the fridge, covered, until you’re ready to make Farm Soap.

Lilly’s Farm Soap

Ingredients

  • 248 g (8.75 oz) distilled water
  • 103 g (3.65 oz) sodium hydroxide (lye)
  • 794 g (28 oz) rendered pig fat also known as lard
  • 25 g (.88 oz) lavender essential oil (optional)
  • 8 g (.28 oz) tea tree essential oil (optional)

Equipment

  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Face and/or eye protectors (a weed wacker mask is awesome because I can wear my glasses with it)
  • Rubber gloves (regular dishwashing gloves work fine)
  • Immersion blender (you can blend by hand and there’s more control over splashing but it takes longer)
  • Stainless steel pot (I use 3 qt with high sides and a pour spout)
  • Silicone molds enough to make 12-1”x2”x3” bars
  • Wax paper
  • Tea towel or cloth
  • 2 Measuring cups (plastic is fine)
  • Candy thermometer
  • Digital scale (important: I wouldn’t try making soap without it. In the old days of guess-and-gosh sometimes soap would have too much lye in it and was very hard on skin!)

Using the digital scale measure out your distilled water and pour it into your high sided stainless-steel pot. I use gram measurement because I think it is most accurate. By the way fudging on the ingredients can put you at risk for having not enough or too much lye in the soap. (By the way, if you have too much lye in your soap you can grate it and use it for laundry detergent.)

Put on your protective gear and, using the same digital scale, measure out your lye. I use a dedicated plastic measuring cup for the lye especially. It just makes it easier to keep the equipment separate from my cooking utensils.

Still wearing your protective gear, stir the lye into the water with a stainless-steel spoon or the end of the immersion blender. Be careful not to splash. Just stir quietly. You’ll notice that the lye kind of crystallizes. Just stir and it will break up and dissolve. Then it will heat up. Stick your candy thermometer to touch the liquid and set it aside. It will probably heat up to about 150 degrees. Set it aside some place safe while you get the oil ready.

If you stored your lard in the fridge you need to melt it again. A double boiler works well for this. Set it aside until the lye water cools down to 100-110 degrees. Then carefully pour the melted lard into the lye water. Start by stirring with the immersion blender without it being turned on—it won’t take long—then turn the blender on low and mix until the mixture comes to “trace”. You know, the texture looks like rippling thin pudding. When the lard is barely starting to come to trace this is when you add essential oils if you want. Continue blending until it's fully at trace.

Now fill your molds and let them set for 24 hours.

Put all your soapy equipment in the sink. Don’t wash it now as the equipment is covered with mixture where the chemical transformation is not complete. It’s still “hot”. Wait for 24 hours because then the transformation will be complete. No more lye!

When the soap has set up sufficiently—maybe a couple hours—cover it with wax paper and a light towel so it won’t set up too fast and crack or get "ash" on the surface. If it looks like it’s cracking move it to a cooler place (not freezing) just cooler. Ash is not a disaster by the way. It doesn't look great but the soap works fine all the same. Check it after 24 hours but if it’s not hardening and coming away from the edges you might have to leave it longer up to 2 – 3 days. Then you’ll be able to unmold the soap to cure on a cooling rack. Cure it for about 4 weeks to make it harder so it will last longer.

If you want to use tallow instead of lard, increase the amount of lye to 105 g (3.7 oz)

If you follow my instructions you’ll never buy soap at the store again! How cool is that?

 

Homemade Shea Butter Soap

Everybody has to make ugly soap once in a while and this was my time. My first three soap projects were pretty much glitch-free with no big surprises. Even so this is not a complete disaster. Sometimes soap turns out ugly and that’s OK because my family can still use it. It will be very good and work very well. After a couple uses the rough look that makes it not good for gifts or to sell will have dissolved away and it will look like “normal” soap. Nice and smooth. Mom used to say, "Beauty is as beauty does."

This was my fourth soap project. In hindsight I think that my oil mixture was too warm when I added it to the lye water. It set up extremely fast – within a couple minutes - and was too thick to easily pour into the mold. It came to trace so fast I kept blending it too long.  I should have stopped. I just didn’t believe it would be ready so fast. As a result, I had to use a stainless-steel spoon to scoop it into the mold and then smooth out the top with the straight edge of a stainless-steel knife. This resulted in a very textured, not-smooth soap.

So... if I've learned anything it's Respect The Trace! If it looks ready, it's ready! Also if you think you need to leave the mixture on the stove over the double boiler to keep it melted, don’t. Take it off the heat and set it aside.

Shea Butter Soap

ugly

Ingredients

  • 227 g (8 oz) distilled water
  • 101 g (3.55 oz) sodium hydroxide (lye)
  • 595 g (21 oz) olive oil
  • 128 g (4.5 oz) shea butter
  • 71 g (2.5 oz) castor oil

Equipment

  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Face and/or eye protectors (a weed wacker mask is awesome because you can wear glasses with it)
  • Rubber gloves (regular dish washing gloves work fine)
  • Immersion blender (you can blend by hand and there’s more control over splashing but it takes longer)
  • Stainless steel pot (I use a 3 qt with high sides and a pour spout)
  • Silicone molds enough to make 12 - 1” x 2” x3” bars
  • Wax paper
  • Tea towel or light cloth
  • 2 Measuring cups (plastic is fine)
  • Candy thermometer
  • Digital scale (important: I wouldn’t try making soap without it. In the old days of guess-and-gosh sometimes soap would have too much lye in it and was very hard on skin!)

Using the digital scale measure out your distilled water and pour it into your high sided stainless-steel pot. I use gram measurement because I think it is most accurate. Using inaccurate measuring tools to measure the ingredients can put you at risk for having not enough or too much lye in the soap. (By the way, if you have too much lye in your soap you can grate it and use it for laundry detergent.)

Put on your protective gear and, using the same digital scale, measure your lye into the plastic container. I use a dedicated plastic measuring cup for the lye. It just makes it easier to keep the equipment separate from my cooking utensils.

Still wearing your protective gear, stir the lye into the water with a stainless-steel spoon. Be careful not to splash. Just stir quietly. You’ll notice that the lye kind of lightly crystallizes. Just stir and it will break up and dissolve. Then it will heat up. Stick your candy thermometer to touch the liquid and set it aside. It will probably heat up to about 150 degrees. Set it aside some place safe while you get the oil ready.

Melt the shea butter in a double boiler. Add the olive oil and castor oil to the melted shea butter. Set it aside. When the lye water cools down to 100-110 degrees carefully pour the oil mixture into the lye water. Start by stirring with the immersion blender without it being turned on for a little bit then turn the blender on low and mix until the mixture comes to “trace”. The texture look like rippled thin pudding.

Fill your molds filled and let them set for 24 hours.

Put all your soapy equipment in the sink. Don’t wash it now as the equipment is covered with mixture where the chemical transformation is not complete. It’s still “hot”. Wait for 24 hours because then the transformation will be complete. No more lye!

When the soap in the molds has set up sufficiently - in a couple hours - cover it with wax paper and a light towel so it won't set up too fast and crack. Peek at it and if it looks like it’s cracking move it to a cooler place (not freezing). Check it after 24 hours to see if it’s hardening and coming away from the edges. If it's not you might have to leave it longer. Up to 3 days. Then you’ll be able to unmold the soap to cure on a coated cooling rack. Curing it for about 6 weeks will make it harder so it will last longer.

If this is the first you are reading this I love making soap because now I know what is in it for sure. I'm not guessing what a long, unpronounceable chemical might be and I know what I'm putting on my body and what is going down the drain. I'm also saving on packaging in the landfill. Always a good thing!

 

Easy Homemade Coconut Oil Soap

I was going to make Shea Butter Soap this week but then I realized I didn’t have the castor oil additive so I changed plans and made 100% Coconut Oil Soap. This is also very easy but a little bit different in one way so let me tell you how it went.

First, here’s the recipe and instructions.

coconut soap

Pure Coconut Oil Soap Recipe

Ingredients

  • 248 g (8.75 oz) distilled water
  • 116 g (4.10 oz) sodium hydroxide (lye)
  • 794 g (28 oz) coconut oil

Equipment

supplies

  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Face and/or eye protectors (a weed wacker mask is awesome because I can wear my glasses with it)
  • Rubber gloves (regular dishwashing gloves work fine)
  • Immersion blender (you can blend by hand and there’s more control over splashing but it takes longer)
  • Stainless steel pot (I use a 3 qt with high sides and a pour spout)
  • Silicone molds that make 12-1”x 2”x 3” bars
  • Wax paper
  • Soft lightweight cloth
  • 2 Measuring cups (plastic is fine)
  • Candy thermometer
  • Digital scale (important: I wouldn’t try making soap without it. In the old days of guess-and-gosh sometimes soap would have too much lye in it and was very hard on skin!)

Using the digital scale measure out your distilled water and pour it into your high sided stainless-steel pot. I use gram measurement because I feel it is most accurate. Now, using the same digital scale, measure out your lye. I use dedicated plastic measuring cups for these 2 items. It just makes it easier to keep the equipment separate from my cooking utensils. The high sided stainless-steel pot is also dedicated. The pouring spout makes it easier to decant the finished soap into the molds.

Put on your rubber gloves, long sleeved shirt and eye/face protection. Stir the lye into the water with a stainless-steel spoon. Be careful not to splash. Just stir quietly. You’ll notice that the lye kind of hardens or crystallizes. Just break and stir. It’s not that hard and it will break up and dissolve. Then it will heat up. Set your candy thermometer to touch the liquid and set the pot aside. It will heat up to about 150 degrees. Set it aside some place safe while you get the oil ready.

Melt the coconut oil in a double boiler. Set it aside until the lye water cools down to 100-110 degrees. Then carefully pour the melted oil into the lye water. Start by stirring with the immersion blender without it being turned on – it won’t take long – then turn the blender on low and mix until the mixture comes to “trace”. Do you remember from my last post what I said about “trace”? This is when the chemical transformation occurs and the mixture looks like thin pudding and has soft ripples in it.

Right away pour the mixture into your molds. This is where I got caught by surprise. The mixture hardens rather quickly. Much faster than the 100% Olive Oil Castile or 50/50 Olive Oil/Coconut Oil Soap. Scrape the remnants out with a stainless-steel spoon if you have to. If you have the molds on a cutting board covered with paper towels you can gently shake the board to settle the soap in the molds. Don’t feel bad about smoothing the soap with a stainless steel spoon or knife and don’t expect perfection! We’re just learning and professional looking refinement can come later.

Put all your used equipment in the sink. You can wash it easily in 24 hours because it will be soap at that point and the chemical transformation will be complete. No more lye!

Cover the soap molds with wax paper and a light towel. With this recipe it hardens so fast you will be able to put the wax paper on it and light cloth over that pretty fast. It won't stick. After 24 hours you’ll be able to unmold the soap to cure on a cooling rack. You can put it in the freezer for a couple hours to help make it easy to remove. Pure Coconut Oil Soap only takes about 4 weeks to cure and then you can use it. Unless you’re impatient like me….

I used one of my 100% Olive Oil Castile bars to shower with when it was only 3 weeks into its 6 weeks curing phase. It worked great!

Epilogue: I'm getting addicted to making my own soap. It's very easy and not scary at all if you take the right precautions. Now I know exactly what I'm using to clean myself off with. Now I know there aren't any chemicals getting on my body or going down the drain. I'm not using packaging that goes to the landfill. What other benefits can you think of when making your own soap? I bet there are a lot!

A Guide to Zero Waste Cleaning

Switching to zero waste cleaning is not only great for the planet, but also better for your wallet and your health. Conventional cleaning products contain a bunch of questionable ingredients. I mean, just look at bleach: That stuff will make you cough and sneeze your head off. It can’t be good for you. Plus, one quick walk down the cleaning aisle reveals tons of plastic packaging everywhere. From sponges to detergents to spray bottles—it’s all plastic. Thankfully, it’s easy to fix that! You can save money, help the planet (and your own health) by switching to greener, more natural cleaning supplies. Here’s how to clean, waste-free. 

 IMG_6302_opt
Zero waste cleaning is both rewarding and aesthetically pleasing!

Rags, Wooden Brushes, Mops and Brooms 

First things first, take a look at the cleaning tools you’re using. You probably use a lot of paper towels, sponges, disposable cleaning wipes, and a Swiffer, right? But that’s a lot of waste, if you think about it. Try swapping it out for more sustainable, reusable options.  

One big game changer for me has been using rags. You can make your own rags to cut down on cost pretty easily — just cut up an old shirt or sheet you no longer wish to use. You can use these to wipe down surfaces. The best part is they’re reusable and washable.

For items that need a good scrubbing, there are all kinds of wooden brushes you can get. They’re not only beautiful, but also compostable at the end of their life. For the sink, I wash dishes (and clean the sink) using a wooden pot scrubber. There are so many other kinds of wooden brushes available though, ranging from wooden toilet brushes to wooden hand broom and dust pans. You just have to know where to look. Life Without Plastic and Wild Minimalist sell a bunch you’ll fall in love with. 

Also, consider investing in a mop and bucket – it cuts back on waste compared to a Swiffer you have to keep changing. If you must use a Swiffer, use a rag in place of a disposable with it. 

A wooden broom is also a good idea to sweep up dust. More power to you if you find one with plant-based bristles! You can get a wooden pan or a metal pan to match.  

All-Natural Cleaning DIYs 

When you’ve assembled your plastic free cleaning tools, you’ll now need your actual cleaning DIYs to put them to use.  

For general cleaning, I recommend using an all-purpose spray, one that will be effective in any room of the house. I recommend my orange peel vinegar cleaner or my lavender vinegar cleaner. They’re very similar, but with varying scents. They’re excellent to use on almost any surface and can be used to clean a variety of things, such as tables, counters, mirrors, windows, baby toys, etc. Also, the orange peel cleaner is a great way to give orange peels a second life! 

For more specific cleaning needs, here are some DIYs to keep your house spotless: 

Find more DIYs I use to keep my home clean and fresh smelling (I totally recommend them!).  

Laundry

It’s also important to develop a low waste laundry routine, as this also counts as cleaning. As a general rule, I recommend swapping out disposable dryer sheets with wool dryer balls, and traditional detergents with DIY ones (or soap nuts). This will help you reduce waste and prevent polluting waterways, as conventional detergents do. 

Here are some laundry detergent DIYs: 

For a more in-depth guide, here’s my personal zero waste laundry routine

Stains 

To get stains out is a tricky thing. It depends on the kind of stain. Generally speaking, I recommend using a stain stick of some sort to get stains out. I personally love Ethique’s stain stick and it also doubles as a laundry bar to hand wash items in the sink. However, you can also try using baking soda, lemon juice, coconut oil or vinegar to remove a stain. Here’s a stain removal chart I reference often for more specific stains. 

This is how I clean without creating waste, and it totally works for me. Will you give these tips and DIYs a go? How do you keep cleaning low waste? 

5 Weeks to Homemade Soap Expertise

There I was standing over a hot wood stove stirring a pot of the most stinky, simmering beef tallow. The little old lady standing next to me shouting out instructions - because she was pretty deaf - was a scrawny little 85-year-old firecracker named Lilly. I was 19 years old and I had gotten a bee in my bonnet about making my own soap. My mom found Lilly somewhere back on a farm near Iowa Falls, Iowa. Lilly was an expert and she flew around the kitchen and handled the whole thing like she’d been doing it her whole life... and she had! When we got done we had a giant tray of the most gorgeous old fashioned lye soap. I was hooked!

This was the beginning of my lifelong affair with soap in all shapes and forms. I got soap from Spain, England, France, Japan and India. Mom always used that old standby Ivory. When I got older and went into my “woods hippie” phase I wanted something better than Ivory. I thought Kirk’s Castile and Dr. Bronner’s were the bee’s knees. Then I got the inspiration to make my own soap from one of Eliot Wigginton’s Foxfire books. Lilly was the perfect teacher.

Now I’m older and my interest in making soap has revived. I recently made Castile soap with my friend Sarah. The finished soap is now sitting on my table and it’s two weeks into curing. I learned a lot about olive oil soap as we made it. Turn out it takes a very long time to cure! 4 to 6 months! I’m going to take the next 4 weeks and make 4 more soaps, each week a different soap.

Here’s how my test drive with Castile Soap turned out.

castille

(Caption) Week 1 Olive Oil Castile looks layered. A small mistake.

We forgot to cover it with wax paper and a towel as it was drying so the top layer is lighter in color than the bottom. This is because the top layer dried faster than the bottom layer. It’s only cosmetic and won’t affect how it works. I’ll remember to cover the next batch.

This week I’m going to make Castile Soap again but add coconut oil to improve the lather and curing time. In week 2: Shea Butter Soap. In week 3: 100% Coconut Oil Soap. Week 4: Old Fashioned Lye Soap.

Coconut Castile Soap

Ingredients

  • 227 g (8 oz) distilled water
  • 108 g (3.8 oz) sodium hydroxide (lye)
  • 142 g (5 oz) coconut oil
  • 652 g (23 oz) olive oil
  • 35 g (1.23 oz) lavender essential oil (opt)

I measure by grams for more precision.

Equipment

  • Long sleeve shirt
  • Face protector (a weed wacker mask is awesome) at least have eye protectors
  • Rubber gloves (regular dishwashing gloves work fine)
  • Immersion blender (you can blend by hand where there’s more control over splashing but it takes longer to blend)
  • Stainless steel pot (I use 3-with high sides that has a pour spout)
  • Silicone molds enough to make 12 -1 inch x 2 inch x 3 inch bars
  • Wax paper
  • Tea towel
  • 2 Measuring cups
  • Candy thermometer
  • Digital scale (important: I wouldn’t try making soap without it. In the old days of guess-and-gosh sometimes soap would have too much lye in it and was very hard on skin!)

Instructions

1. Put on your protective gear. I wear painter’s overalls, rubber gloves and a weed wacker face protector.

2. Carefully sprinkle the lye into the distilled water. Stir with the end of the immersion blender NOT turned on. To facilitate dissolving. Set the lye water aside in a safe place to cool until the temperature drops to 100 – 110 degrees. Use the candy thermometer so you know.

Sidebar: The Chemistry of Soap

Soap is the result of a chemical reaction (called saponification just so ya know) that occurs when lye and fat or oil are mixed. Both substances are chemically transformed to create soap. Neither of the original ingredients exists anymore. All the lye is consumed in the reaction.

So, while soap is made with lye, the lye is all gone when the process is complete. Modern measuring scales allow soap-makers to use the proper and exact mixture of oils and lye, so all lye is consumed. This is why I use a digital scale. Not old fashioned but definitely better.

3. While the lye water is cooling melt the coconut oil and add it to the olive oil. Stir by hand a bit to blend.

4. Then mix the warm oils and lye water. Start stirring by hand to blend the lye solution and the oils. Those of you who have used immersion blenders know that they’re robust little tools. They’re like blender but smaller and they really blend! You might be taken aback at how much power they have so if you want to get used to it I suggest try sticking the “shootin’” end of the blender in water and see how it performs. Then there won’t be any surprises.

5. I start stirring with the end of the immersion blender while it’s not running until the mixture starts to look a little bit mixed and then I turn on the blender. If you need to, tip the pot a little to deepen the mixture. A shallow mixture where the blender is not fully immersed will splash up. We want to avoid splashing. Stir until soap reaches “trace”.

trace
Trace looks like pudding.

Sidebar: What is “trace”?

Trace is when the mixture starts to “harden” but is not fully hardened yet. It will look like pudding and when you lift the blender (TURNED OFF PLEASE) from the mixture it will create light swirls.

6. At trace, this is where you blend in your essential oil quickly if you want it. Don’t over blend. Then pour the mixture into the molds. Don’t worry if they’re not perfectly filled. This is your first try and you will learn a lot from this try. If you over fill, take a knife and with the flat edge scrape off the extra and either discard it or put it back in the pot.

mold
Soap in molds

The chemical transformation of the lye mixture will not be complete until after 24 hours so set the equipment aside. After 24 hours the pots will clean up nicely because, after all, it’s now soap!

7. Cover the soap with wax paper. Wax paper because it allows air in while plastic wrap does not. Wait until it’s hardened up a bit before you do. Maybe a couple hours otherwise the wax paper will stick to it.  When it’s really starting to set up a few hours later then cover it with a soft towel for further protection. Then let it sit until it looks like it’s coming away from the edges of the mold. This might take 2 or 3 days. If you try to unmold it before it’s ready you run the risk of breaking it. Patience, my dears!

side by side
Week 1 - Olive oil Castile on left. Week 2 - Coconut Castile on right

8. Set on small edge on a coated rack to cure for 6 weeks if you want your soap to get really hard enough. Hard soap lasts longer. By the way, if you’re home schooling this makes a great science or chemistry lesson! The time to start is now to be ready for homemade Christmas gifts!

DIY Linen Hand Towels

I love to think of ways to reduce, recycle, and re-use. This is a good one for that and also a very easy project for beginning sewing. You can keep them for yourself or they make very nice gifts. As a matter of fact, I am making these as a house-warming gift for my daughter.

These towels will be approximately 16” wide x 24” long but you can make them any size you want. It just so happened that I could get four out of a yard of linen fabric. You can get linen blends mostly cotton and linen and these fabrics are very nice but I really wanted the super absorbent quality and beautiful soft "hand" (which means "how it feels to your hand") that 100% linen has. You can use 100% cotton or terry cloth, too, as long as it is 100% natural fiber. Most yard goods are polyester blends and they are not very absorbent. Even though linen might cost $21 a yard it’s well worth it because when you divvy it up into four towels you are only paying $5 per towel. Anyway, the joy is in the making, isn’t it?

towels

Simple Handmade Linen Towels

Supplies:
Sewing machine
100% cotton thread to match your cloth
Iron and ironing surface
Scissors (optional pinking and regular)
1 yard of 100% linen or linen/cotton blend

Instructions

1. Start by washing your cloth in warm or hot water. You’re probably going to wash your finished tea towels at some point after they get dirty and the cloth will shrink. Why not start by knowing what your finished size will be with very little shrinkage? Dry the washed cloth in your dryer on hot or medium setting. This will shrink it further. This is a good step to take any time you sew something. Now you’re ready to iron and cut the cloth.

2. Iron as many wrinkles out as you can. Now you’re ready to cut to size. I conveniently bought striped cloth which makes it easy to know that you’re cutting straight. I evened up the edges with a pinking shears.

3. The first step in sewing the hem is to create the mitered corner. You don’t have miter the corner but mitering the corner makes it look that much more tidy and professional. Mitering the corner is the hardest part of this whole project. Mitering the corner is basically folding the corner so it’s a diagonal.

We’re going to make a 1/2-inch doubled hem all around. We don’t want a raw edge that will fray. The raw edge will be tucked in and sewn over.

There are a couple ways to so this. If you’re experienced you can fold, iron, cut and sew without guides. If you want helpers then I suggest marking your fabric with a chalk pencil to serve as your guides when folding and cutting.

Let’s miter the corner with guides first. I made a schematic on paper here so you can see what you need to do. You will draw lines with your chalk pencil on to your fabric.

scheme 1

scheme diagonal cut

scheme fold 1

scheme fold 2

scheme fold 3

Note: Sometimes fabric does not have a right side or a wrong side. Mine does not have a right side or wrong side. If yours does, you will be folding the fabric over towards the wrong side. I colored the “right side” pink so you could see how it works.

4. After you have made the miter with the guides you will most assuredly have figured out how to fold, pin baste, iron and sew without the guides. It might seem difficult to visual at first but once you've done it once or twice your brain will "get" it and your hand/eye coordination will be there to get it without guides.

Here is a picture of actual fabric with the mitered corner. I used a purple fabric to make it more obvious.

simple miter 4

5. When ironing to create the folds be CAREFUL. I burned the heck out of my index finger. Boo hoo!

6. Pin basting really helps as the fabric will most likely not lay flat on its own. You can stitch right over the pins if you insert them into your fabric so they will be perpendicular to your sewing machine needle track.

7. Once you get all your folds ironed and your folds pin basted down sew a row of top-stitching close to the inner edge of the hem.  Sew as many rows of top stitching as you desire.  I only did one. That’s enough for me. Pivot at each corner and be sure to backstitch at the beginning and end to secure your thread.  Once you are finished top stitching, press your hand towels.

Nice work!

Zero Waste DIYs: 5 Items to Start Making + Stop Buying

One of the first things I made when I went zero waste was DIY toothpaste. To this day, I still follow the same recipe for it. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right? But creating one DIY kind of just lead to creating more. I realized, as time passed, there were so many products I had been buying from stores in packaging that I could just whip up at home, package free. Plus, making my own products is always cheaper, not to mention healthier. Often, we don’t realize health of the planet is linked to health of self as well. There are so many zero waste DIYs out there to try, but here are five items to start making and stop buying ASAP to get you started.

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There are so many great zero waste DIYs to make! Photo by Nice Tips on Flickr.

Toothpaste

As I mentioned earlier, conventional toothpaste was one of the first things I ditched when I went zero waste! You really don’t need to buy toothpaste ever again. You’ll save so much money if you just DIY your own toothpaste instead. Here’s my go-to zero waste toothpaste recipe.

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons of baking soda
  • 25 drops of peppermint essential oil

Directions:

  1. Make sure the coconut oil is melted first, then add everything into a bowl. Stir to combine, then transfer to an empty glass jar of your choice. To use, simply dip your toothbrush in and brush your teeth as normal!

Deodorant

I really don’t like packaged deodorant. Not only does it come in wasteful plastic packaging, but it also contains tons of questionable ingredients you shouldn’t be putting on your skin. Make your own zero waste deodorant instead! Here’s the recipe I use and adore. It's nice and creamy!

Ingredients:

  • 1-1/2 tablespoons of shea butter
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons of coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons of baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon of arrowroot powder
  • 20 drops of lavender essential oil
  • 20 drops of lemon essential oil

Directions:

  1. Place the shea butter and coconut oil into a bowl. Heat it up in a microwave or over a double boiler so it’s fully melted.
  2. Mix in the arrowroot powder and baking soda. Make sure to combine everything thoroughly, as it should form an off-white, liquid paste that resembles pancake batter.
  3. Add the essential oils of your choice and mix it together.
  4. Then, pour your mixture into a small glass jar and store in the fridge for 20 minutes, or until it hardens. To use, just scoop some onto your finger and smear it under your pits.

Mouthwash

Mouthwash comes in this huge plastic container. Plus, the liquid inside of it is a very bright artificial neon color that can’t be good for you, or the environment once it heads down the drain. Talk about water pollution! I recommend making the switch to a much safer and eco-friendly alternative – zero waste mouthwash! It’s ridiculously easy to make, and you can just store it in a glass bottle of some sort. Bonus points if it’s a glass jar you emptied and re-purposed!

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of distilled (boiled) water
  • 1 tablespoon of baking soda
  • 5-10 drops of peppermint essential oil

Directions:

  1. Boil some water over the stove, then remove from heat and allow to cool.
  2. Using a funnel, pour the water into your chosen jar. Now add the baking soda using the funnel for the least mess. Add the essential oil too.
  3. Cap your jar and give it a good shake to combine the ingredients together. For a stronger mouthwash, consider adding some more peppermint essential oil. Use as you would regular mouthwash – swish it around your mouth for a minute or so, then spit it down the drain.

All-Purpose Cleaner

Most cleaning products are packaged in plastic and contain hazardous ingredients. Not sure about you, but whenever I get a whiff of bleach it’s enough to make my throat sore and irritated. Plus, when cleaners go down the drain, they contaminate our waterways. It’s better off for your health, your wallet, and the environment to switch to green cleaning products. Big name brands will convince you to use 20 different products, but all you really need are a select few amazing ones. My personal favorite is orange peel vinegar cleaner – it acts like an all-purpose cleaner you can use on just about any surface. Plus, it helps you give orange peels a second life before tossing them into the compost.

Ingredients:

  • Orange peels (from multiple oranges)
  • White vinegar (enough to cover orange peels in jar)
  • Water
  • 10 – 20 drops of citrus essential oils (lemon or orange - optional)

Directions:

  1. Eat a few oranges (maybe 3 or 4), making sure to save the peels.  Stuff them into a mason jar (the size of it is totally up to you, and depends on how many orange peels you have), then cover them with white vinegar. Secure the lid nice and tight, then store your infusion somewhere cool and dark (like a sink cupboard) for two to three weeks. This will infuse the vinegar with the oranges.
  2. After infusion, strain the orange peels and compost them. You’re left with the infused vinegar. In a glass spray bottle, fill less than half of the bottle with the infused vinegar, the rest with water. You can add essential oils if you choose to help capitalize on the citrus scent – I recommend orange or lemon essential oil. Cap the bottle and use the spray to clean just about any surface!

Vegetable Broth

Are you one of those people still buying vegetable broth in a package? Stop what you’re doing right now! You don’t have to waste another cent on that. You have everything you need at home to make your own vegetable broth using food scraps. That’s right, you heard me: Food scraps. Believe it or not, things like carrot peels, the ends of celery stalks, and onion skins can all help you make a delicious vegetable broth for free. All you need to do is save up your scraps as you make them, then once you have enough, make some veggie stock! It helps to know which vegetables are best for making stock with though (different veggies make different flavored stock). Here are some vegetables to consider saving that will always yield a yummy broth: Carrots, celery, onions, garlic, shallots, mushrooms, herbs, bell pepper, scallions, leeks and parsnips. Save any skin or ends from these veggies to make your broth!

Ingredients:

  • Water
  • Food scraps

Directions:

  1. Add the food scraps into a large pot and then add water. Don’t completely cover the scraps because they’ll shrink over time.
  2. Keep the heat on low and simmer for about half an hour to an hour. The longer you leave it, the more potent the broth will be.
  3. Next, set a strainer inside a big bowl and pour the scraps and broth inside. The strainer will catch the food scraps.
  4. Using a mason jar and funnel, pour the broth into the glass jars of your choice for storage. If you intend on freezing it, make sure you leave enough head space at the top so it can expand without cracking the jar.
  5. Compost the leftover soggy food scraps.

These are only a few of my favorite zero waste DIYs. There are so many more to try! That said, these are great to help start your zero waste journey.

You’ll find that lots of things can be made from scratch you never thought could. For example, did you know powdered sugar is literally just regular sugar blended up inside a blender? You can easily make that at home, along with tons of other things like body lotion, ketchup, peanut butter, nut milk and so much more. The possibilities are endless.

Just don’t get stressed out if you can’t DIY everything yourself. While the zero waste community certainly does encourage you to make things from scratch, it’s also totally okay to support small, ethical businesses when you can’t make it yourself.

Also, try to find the ingredients needed to make these DIYs as package free as possible. Be sure to check your local bulk food store to get ingredients like baking soda, arrowroot powder and shea butter package free in your own jars. Essential oils and vinegar can be found in glass containers relatively easily, making them easy to recycle or reuse at the end of their life.

Browse Mother Earth Living's natural beauty and green cleaning content to find more simple, natural DIY recipes. Which zero waste DIY will you try first?







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