Soap and flannel*

by Patricia Collinspat soapAn American friend sent me these lovely soaps for Christmas and I’m doing my best to work my way through them because of the packaging.  My mother would not be pleased. She had far more patience and self control and would keep soap, no matter how pretty or enticing, in our clothes drawers for months before thinking of using them. This not only scented the clothes, but apparently hardened the soap so that it would ‘go further’ when finally put into use. Has anyone else come across this trick? Usually I still save soap before use, but is there science to prove saved soap goes further?

The reason I’m racing through these soaps is the packaging! Each one is wrapped in a pretty piece of pure cotton. The wrapping is secured with two small stitches so that it comes undone easily, and I just can’t wait to make something of these pretty pieces of cloth. Each one is  7×5.5 inches – I still sew Imperial. For those who don’t that’s 17.5x14cm and I will have five pieces. Any thoughts on what to make? Having complained of poor packaging on numerous occasions, I just can’t wait to get my hands on this lot.

PS This isn’t an ad for the soaps, but anyone interested can see from the wrapper who makes  and sells them via the internet.

-oOo-

* Well, fabric, really

 

Bathtime

Personal hygiene is important whether you are a human or a hen. We have an area of wood chip in the part of the garden that the hens occupy and this provides perfect conditions for a dust bath when the weather is dry. The new girls seem to be especially keen

I even managed to get a little film of Mags in action:

Oh for it to be that easy for humans! Over the years of writing this blog, I’ve pondered several times about eco-friendly grooming, finally settling on buying shampoo in bulk (I haven’t yet found a shampoo bar I like, although I haven’t given up on the idea) and washing with real soap (bars not liquid). I’ve tried a number of different soaps and particularly like the stuff made out of goats’ milk. Sadly, the little business that I bought some from a couple of months ago don’t have any in stock at the moment, so a new search was required… and I’m pleased to say that I’ve found a company that not only makes soap without the use of any palm oil, they also don’t use plastic in their packaging. I’ve only just ordered from The All Natural Soap Company so I can’t show you a picture and I can’t say for sure whether they live up to their own description, but I have high hopes… I will report back.

Wash and brush-up

I had intended to write a little more in ‘Plastic-free July’ about reducing the amount of ‘short-term’ plastic in our house, but somehow the month got away with me and here we are on the 27th already!

As I’ve said before, I think it’s impossible to cut out single-use plastics without a complete life-style change. However, it is possible to re-use and repurpose plastic items and to look for alternatives to many plastic objects so that we minimise the amount in the waste stream. In recent weeks I have found (or re-found) several plastic-free options related to cleaning and grooming which I thought might be good to share.

More like a hedgehog than a tortoise

More like a hedgehog than a tortoise

I already introduced you to my plastic-free washing-up brush, but it now has a companion at the sink – a tortoise! Years ago I found a vegetable scrubber in a local wholefood shop (alas no more) made with plant fibres and a metal core to hold them together. I used it for years and years until, eventually it started to shed its bristles and I had to give up on it. At the time I assumed that I would easily find a replacement but, despite a thorough search, I had no luck and ended up buying a plastic brush. Admittedly the plastic version did last a long time (certainly not single-use) but recently its bristles flattened and it ceased to function. Luckily, I came across a really great website selling a variety of green household items and they had a version of my old original brush… called a tortoise (although it looks more like a hedgehog to me)! They come in packs of two, so I already have my replacement lined up… or perhaps I’ll pass it on to someone else. On the web site they are shown as coming in plastic packaging, but mine arrived au naturel.

I haven't got a panda to test it on, but I quite like it

I haven’t got a panda to test it on, but I quite like it

It was from the same website that I bought myself a new toothbrush to try out – bamboo handle and bamboo bristles. We still have an electric toothbrush that I use once-a-day and this is mainly plastic, but the rest of the time I’m using the bamboo one and it’s holding up rather well (I am usually rather hard on my toothbrushes). There are a number of bamboo toothbrushes on the market, but this one seemed to get the best reviews. It’s quite small and has a small head, but it does seem to work and none of the bristles have fallen out, so I am reasonably impressed so far.

And finally, my little plastic-free shopping spree yielded a coconut shell soap dish. I have been using soap rather than shower gel for some months now. First because I can buy it locally-made; second because it reduces that amount of water that is being transported round the country; and third because it’s packaging-free. However, soap goes soggy if left in a wet place. Above the bathroom sink we have a magnetic soap holder:

Soap-on-a-magnet

Soap-on-a-magnet

but for the bath I wanted a soap dish with drainage holes. I had hoped to find a locally-made wooden one because I wanted one that wouldn’t break if dropped. I was unsuccessful in this, but this coconut shell one is simple and does a grand job:

Carved coconut shell

Carved coconut shell

And you can even see that I’m using every scrap of soap by sticking the remnants of the old bar on top of the new one in a decorative swirl!

All-in-all I’m pleased with these small steps to reducing plastic in our home… now if I could just find plastic packaging-free pumpkin seeds, I’d be a happy snail.

Bubbling over

A few weeks ago I went to visit the lovely Jo at Mill Cottage Soap, to buy supplies for my woolly wash balls. I came away with four different soaps: naked (no scents, just soap), orange and cinnamon (a glorious, rich scent, but not overpowering), mandarin and lemon (a zingy refresher) and bergamot and patchouli (requested by all you old hippies out there!).

Soap blocks curing prior to use

Soap blocks curing prior to use

Jo makes her soaps on a relatively small scale in her kitchen, so it really is a cottage industry. As a result she doesn’t always have all the varieties available, but I was still spoilt for choice. When I visited, some of her soaps were still ‘curing’ in big blocks… two of these were varieties that I was keen to have, so I returned home with slabs cut specially for me that I had to promise not to use for several weeks (not a problem with my busy life).

Orange and cinnamon woolly wash ball: 100g of soap in a felt coat

Orange and cinnamon woolly wash ball: 100g of soap in a felt coat

However, the naked soap and the orange and cinnamon were ready for immediate use and so those are the ones I have been experimenting with. By using only the soap that goes in the centre of the wash ball, the whole article becomes permeated with the appropriate scent and is perfect for immediate use. So far, all my trials with Jo’s soap have been with Blue Faced Leicester wool, and both the fibre and the soap are lovely to work with. To aid identification, I am colour coding the wash balls, so orange and cinnamon ones are being embellished with orange and yellow. I didn’t entirely think this through, because I’m not sure what I’m going to use for mandarin and lemon…perhaps yellow and red.

Now I just need to sort out my labels and some cellophane packaging and I will be ready to open my etsy shop!

All in a lather

Today I am very excited about soap… I have just spoken to the lovely Jo from Mill Cottage Soap in Llandrindod Wells. And some small samples will be on their way to me soon so that I can select some soaps to start making wash balls with.

Woolly wash balls... soon to be filled with lovely soap from Mill Cottage Soap

Woolly wash balls… soon to be filled with lovely soap from Mill Cottage Soap

I’m really pleased to have found someone in Wales who is producing their soap in a way that’s kind to the environment. I was particularly keen to buy soap that doesn’t have palm oil in it. I know that it is possible to buy ‘sustainable’ palm oil, but there are still concerns about the lack of regulation in this sector and the fact that pristine forest land in Indonesia and Malaysia is being lost to new plantations.

However, Jo uses mostly olive oil plus some coconut and sunflower oils. She uses essential oils, such as lavender, geranium and orange to scent the soap and adds no colours. We discussed the relative merits and qualities of soaps made out of different oils and talked about the soap making process and what types of soap are popular and I feel comfortable that I have chosen a good company to buy from.

I have written previously about keeping money in the local economy, and using Mill Cottage Soap will allow me to do this too. In addition, I can go over and collect. I travel quite regularly from my home in west Wales to Shropshire and Herefordshire, and Llandrindod is on the way. I will thus be able to save on postage, cut down the packaging and reduce my ‘soap miles’!

So, any requests for specific scents? I quite fancy Rosehip and Geranium, but I think Lemon and Lime or Peppermint and Tea Tree both sound very refreshing. And then there’s Bergamot and Patchouli, which sounds quite exotic… so many choices!

Stocking up

So, after much dithering, I am starting to create stock for my planned shop – mainly bath puffs.

Bath puffs - upcycled acrylic, organic cotton, and recycled cotton + acrylic mix

Bath puffs – upcycled acrylic, organic cotton, and recycled cotton + acrylic mix

I have a variety of yarns to use – recycled cotton and new organic cotton (which will make very soft and absorbent puffs – more like a flannel than a nylon scrubby and ideal for the bath); upcycled acrylic (the closest I can get to the familiar nylon scrubbies and better for the shower); and a range of twines, including hemp, nettle and bamboo. I have come to accept that nylon is nylon and other fibres simply do not have the same characteristics. If you want a nylon bath puff, that is what you will have to buy. But if you want a greener option, then there are a range of fibres with a variety of properties that can easily be turned into a puff.

Woolly wash balls (left merino, right Shetland wool) and their little soap 'hearts'

Woolly wash balls (left merino, right Shetland wool) and their little soap ‘hearts’

My exploration of bathing products is not finished, however. Thanks to inspiration from my friend Anja (have you checked out her blog Free food for rats?) I am now creating what I am calling woolly wash balls – felted bars of soap*. I think that these will work well – they are self-soaping, but once the soap is used up you have a lovely felted scrubby or puff. I’m currently working with soap that was in my store cupboard, but I’m hoping to get hold of some lovely locally made soap. I’m also testing out different wools – I particularly like the idea of undyed wools (like the Shetland in the picture) and have just bought a variety of these to play around with… more on this in a later post.

The trouble with making things to sell is that I don’t get to keep them! So, I’m trying to have at least two projects on the go at all times – one for me and one for the shop. Compared to knitting a pair of socks (20 hours) a bath puff is relatively quick (haven’t timed it yet but perhaps 6-8 hours), so I should be able to make a couple of bath puffs for every pair of socks if I share the time out right. And felting is quicker, but a lot messier and not something you can just pick up whilst you’re watching the telly. At last I have decided where to start now…

-oOo-

* Which has led me to an exploration of soap… a whole new can of worms that, no doubt, I’ll write about in the future

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