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!

Green bath puff 3… I can’t believe there’s another sequel

A woolly washball (Jacob wool, awaiting decoration) and a woolly bath puff

A woolly washball (Jacob wool, awaiting decoration) and a woolly bath puff

When I started this business with the bath puffs, I had no idea that it would come to occupy so much of my time and my blog… but that’s life isn’t it: you take a small step and it leads you down a very long path! ‘The road goes ever on and on’ as JRR Tolkien wrote.

Early on in my quest for the green bath puff I dismissed¬† sheep’s wool as a fibre because of its propensity to felt. However, over the months I have learned more about wool, its properties and the way it is processed. I’ve also come round to the idea that felt might be a desirable material to wash with for some people (yes – I know some people can’t stand it on their skin, but they do seem to be in the minority). Anyway, in terms of the ethics of knitting/crochet yarns, unless you want to avoid animal products, there is a great deal to recommend wool, especially for those of us who live in the UK where few plant fibres for yarn are produced, but where we have lots of sheep.

When you buy wool yarns or garments, the label often says that they are machine-washable: this means that they shouldn’t felt when agitated in a washing machine at a warm temperature. Sometimes the label says ‘Superwash’ but this just means they have been through a patented process; there are other techniques to facilitate machine-washability. On investigation, I have found that the process required to stop wool felting and, thus, make it machine-washable,¬† is to either remove the scales on the wool by stripping them off with acid, or coating the wool with a polymer. Neither of these approaches sound particularly environmentally friendly to me, but the acid can’t be too strong otherwise it would completely dissolve the wool and I’m not sure about the use of a polymer. The Natural Fibre Company have an interesting little piece about Superwash wool that suggests that the fibres from some sheep breeds (and other species) are difficult to felt anyway, so can be washed without the need for pre-treatment. I feel that these might be worth investigating in the future.¬† Again, however, I return to the idea of upcycled yarn because I have some I can experiment with…

Inspired by the woolly wash balls (I’ve just made one from Jacob sheep wool that’s lovely) I decided to make a wool bath puff. Using some wool that used to be a cardigan* and that I know was sold as being machine-washable, I produced yet another prototype, which I tried out this morning. It was nice to use and produced some lather (although I was using Green People Aloe shower gel, which is very concentrated)… it’s hanging up in the bathroom now to see how long it takes to dry – it can’t be as long as 100% cotton! I suspect that it will felt after a while, but perhaps that doesn’t matter.

And, finally, for the time being on bath puffs, I notice the large number of searches arriving here on my site from people who want a pattern for a knitted bath puff (as I did originally). I am guessing that, unlike me, many people are not prepared to put aside their prejudice against knitting and learn to crochet. So, over the next week or two, I’m going to design a knitting pattern… watch this space!

-oOo-

* You might also recognise it in the snails at the top of the page.

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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