DIY Envy – Yes, You Can Knit!

Knit cotton washcloth

Have you ever thought, when your friends share great projects, “I wish I could knit”? You can! I have devised the simplest knitting project you are ever going to meet to help you knit a reusable cotton washcloth.

Like the best of punk music and country music: all you need is a red guitar, three chords, and the truth. In this case, all you need to make a profoundly useful and sustainable kitchen tool is cotton yarn, needles, three stitches, and a desire to make it yourself.

There are a lot more than three stitches in all of the fancy sweaters you see, and you will probably want to learn several more ways to do each of these stitches, but one way is enough for now. Just press on, and you will be wiping up with your own handiwork within hours.


Why Make Wash Cloths?

Knitters need to knit. Once you catch the bug, you will be looking for more and more projects to knit. Knitting your own washcloths keeps those knitting hands busy, but it also saves you money and lets you create exactly the color and style of cloths that you want to use. If you were looking for the right time to replace paper towels with reusable cloths, this is a quick and easy way to do it yourself. Plus, when people say, “Where did you get these great cloths?” you can then talk to them about your new hobby: knitting.

My mother made all of our wash cloths, and I’m still using those same cloths 30 years later. These are some of my very old kitchen cloths.

Old knit washcloths

1. A popcorn pattern that is good for scrubbing
2 & 3. A flatter pattern that absorbs well
4 & 5. A nubby pattern that I think is the easiest to grip. I grab these first.


The Super Easy Pattern for a Knit Cotton Wash Cloth

  • One skein of cotton yarn (Pictured is Lion Cotton Worsted Weight because that is what my local store carries.)
  • Needles, size 7
  • Tapestry needle

Cast on 40 stitches. Work every row knit (no purl), creating garter stitch. Knit until the whole piece is square then bind off and sew in ends.

That’s it! This sample took me about an hour and a half to finish.

Handmade knit cotton wash cloth

There are a lot of fancy ways to make cloths with special stitches or crocheted edges, but I think plain garter stitch works best.

If you are new to knitting, I hope these photos will help.

Cast On
Single Cast on (or backward loop cast on) is the simplest cast on. It isn’t elegant or fancy, but it is a fine way to start. There are many better ways to get this job done. You can think about those later.
Loop for simple knit cast on Slip knot on knitting needle
Make a simple slip knot Put the slip knot on your needle and pull it tight (though not too tight)
Yarn through fingers for tension Yarn ready for knit cast on
To keep tension steady, thread the yarn through your fingers. Turn your hand palm facing you
Cast On, finish
Backward loop knit cast on Simple knit cast on
Slip your needle up your finger to get the stitch on the needle And, you have your first stitch
Knitting cast on stitches  
Repeat until you have 40 stitches on the needle  
Knit Stitch
When I taught my children to knit, I used this simple rhyme to help them remember the steps to a knit stitch. It’s a common knitting teaching tool. Under the fence, catch the sheep, back we come, off we leap. Note: in the photos, my daughter knits holding the yarn in her right hand. I knit holding the yarn in my left hand (continental style). Either works. Do what feels most comfortable.
Beginning of knit stitch Wrap yarn for knit stitch
Under the fence. Stick your right needle into the bottom of the first stitch on your left needle Catch the sheep. Wrap your yarn around the right needle from the back, around the left and to the front
Pull knit stitch through loop Finish knit stitch
Back we come. Using your right needle, pull the yarn you just wrapped back through the first loop Off we leap. Pull the loop all of the way through then off. That’s your first knit stitch. Repeat to the end of the row, turn, and knit the next row the same way
Bind Off
In this simple bind off, all you do is pass each loop over the next to give a finished appearance like a chain. It isn’t stretchy at all. You can learn many other binding off techniques that give your knitting more stretch, but this basic technique will serve you well.
Ready for bind off Knitting bind off
Knit the first two stitches on your last row Stick your left needle into the first loop on the right needle
Bind off knitting One stitch bound off
Pull the first loop over the second loop Now you have just one loop left, so knit another stitch and repeat until you have one stitch left on your right needle
Finishing
Once you finish knitting, you have just two tails to sew in for a tidy finish. I like to use a tapestry needle for this, but you can also use a crochet hook if you already have one.
The last knit stitch Pull the last loop long
Knit until the last stitch is on your right needle Pull the last loop until it is 3-4″ long
Clip long loop Wash cloth with tails
Clip the loop and pull the rest of your skein of yarn out of the loop You have a nearly finished wash cloth
Finishing, sewing in Tails
Sew in knit ends Sew knit ends into cloth
To hide your tails, sew into the loops of one row down from your binding Pull the threaded tapestry needle through the stitches
Pull cloth edge Stretch edge of wash cloth
Stretch the edge of the cloth Stretch the edge a bit more to lose the tail completely


Resources

There are a lot of yarn stores online, but you probably have a local shop. Go there and talk to the owner. Ask about yarn. Ask about favorite needles. Ask about classes. Ask about knit nights. My local yarn shop has a late open night every Thursday where a dozen or so people sit around a table knitting, snacking, and just talking. You don’t get that shopping online, so find a local yarn store.

My favorite knitting site is Tech Knitting because the illustrations are absolutely clear (and often colorful). There is a lot of information on Tech Knitting, so check the index. As an example, this is the cast-on that I most often use.

When you become addicted and need a community, consider joining Ravelry, where you will find patterns, a personal notebook where you can record your stash and your projects, discussion groups, and friends.

My mother taught me to knit when I was 3 years old. I have been knitting steadily ever since. My husband and I talked about our favorite knitting yarns the first time we met. My mother knit my wedding shawl—a wedding ring shawl, it is called, because it is so fine that it can be pulled through a wedding ring. (I tried. It did work.) My husband, my mother, my mother-in-law, my baby, and I trekked to a knitting conference together to give the grandmothers a good excuse to spend time with their new granddaughter when she was very tiny. I taught my children to knit when they were small. Now, when we read school books aloud to one another, two of us knit while the other reads. (“Would you like to read now?” one asks. “Let me finish my row,” says everyone else.) I inherited a huge double cedar closet full of yarn, and we often, as we say, “go shopping” in my mother’s yarn closet. Currently, I am knitting dolls, my husband is swatching a new sweater, my 15-year old daughter is knitting a sweater from a 1939 pattern she tracked down after seeing it online, and my 12-year old son is knitting a cabled sweater. We are a knitting family.

I hope you have a great experience knitting this simple wash cloth. Even after all of the very complex knitting that I’ve done over the years, I loved knitting this simple piece. Let me know if you have questions.

Thanks to my daughter, the knitting hand model.

DIY Envy – Yes, You Can Make Soap!

Homemade DIY soap

Have you seen soft, milky homemade soap and thought, “I wish I could do that”? You can! The simplest of homemade soap is very easy to make because all you do is melt the base soap, add the fragrance or color you want, and pour the soap into molds. That is why this is called melt and pour soap, and this is the simplest of introductions to this simplest soapmaking.

Some will tell you this isn’t really making soap, and they’re right. You aren’t making soap from scratch, but ignore them anyway. You’re just dipping in to see if you might want to learn more. This is just the beginning.


Why Make Soap?

If all you are doing is melting soap that is already made, why would you want to make your own soap?

Savings. You can save a lot of money. Depending on the ingredients you choose and how fancy you make it, it will probably cost you $.50-$1.00 per bar of soap. If you are trying to save money, this is one more little way to squeeze a few dollars from your monthly budget. It is only a few dollars, though, so saving money isn’t usually the first reason one thinks of to make soap.

Health is an even better reason to make your own homemade soap. Replace mystery ingredients and chemicals with whole, natural ingredients like olive oil and goat’s milk. Especially if you have sensitivities or allergies to chemicals commonly included in cosmetics, making your own soap can be a way to soothe your skin.

Taste and style are easy to match when you add your own color, scent, and texture.

The best reason to make your own soap is just the pure DIY (do-it-yourself) joy of it. It feels great to make something useful, healthy, and beautiful for yourself and your family.


The Process

Basic melt and pour soap couldn’t be easier. You buy a base, melt it, add a little fragrance or color, add texture (like oatmeal for soft skin or salt to exfoliate), pour into a mold, let it cool, then cut.

You will need base soap, fragrance and color (optional), a double boiler, a stirrer (a wooden spoon will work), and a mold. A glass thermometer will also help, and you may already have that for candy making. You may also want to wear gloves. Some molds require lining. You can use parchment or butcher paper to line a square mold, so there is no plastic required.

Look for a base soap that you like. If you can buy it in person, that’s even better because you can touch and smell it to get a better idea of what is available. Olive oil and hemp seed oil soaps will moisturize. Aloe vera and honey are soothing and healing. You will have plenty of choices for natural soap bases.

When you are ready, bring the water in your double boiler to a boil then turn it to low. Cut your soap base into small cubes and add to the top pan. Stir occasionally, and be patient. It takes a while to melt.

Once the base soap is melted, add fragrance oil or essential oil. You can add food coloring, including natural, powdered food coloring like turmeric for a bit of yellow, beet powder for rich red, spirulina powder for green, or cocoa for a light brown. These won’t add scent to the soap, so you are adding it more for the mild color or decorative effect.

It is fun to make clear soap for kids by adding bright colors and little toys. Notice: I wrote “for kids” not “with kids.” More on that below.

When your soap is melted and your fragrance and color is added, pour into a mold. A juice box coated with a light layer of oil makes a great size for a small bar of soap. You can tear your mold off the soap and send it on to the recycling bin after you are done. If you don’t get juice or milk in cartons, you can buy silicon molds fairly inexpensively, and you can make your own beautiful wooden mold quite easily. Try soap making before you jump in and make your own mold, but this is a great way to bring the spirit of DIY to your future soap making obsession.

Let your soap fully dry. If you were making soap from scratch, you would need to wait weeks for your soap to cure, but simple melt and pour soap just needs to cool and dry.

Caution: whenever you melt soap, it is very hot and can be dangerous. Only use with children when you know they won’t grab for it or distract you. That probably means only making soap with much older children. Especially for your first batch, make soap when your children are not around.


Resources

Once you are hooked and confident with melt and pour soap, try cold processed soap making. This is real soap making. You use lye (caustic soda, sodium hydroxide) in the process of saponification, a chemical reaction in which the fats or oils react with the lye to create soap. You need to leave this soap to cure anywhere from a few weeks to a couple of months depending on the ingredients you use. You will need more soap making and more safety equipment to make even basic cold processed soap, so melt and pour is a good way to try out soap making to see if you want to invest more time and money.

Don’t have DIY envy anymore. You can make your own simple homemade soap.

Image © Alla Shcherbak | Dreamstime.com

Make Your Own Cloth Baby Wipes

Reusable cloth baby wipes

If you are working to replace throw-away products with reusable products, start with the simple things. When you are already cloth diapering, it’s easy to use reusable cloth wipes as well. Recycle and re-purpose what you have to make what you don’t have. I got so many baby washcloths at my baby showers the first time around that I repurposed them as wipes.

It’s quick and easy to make your own cloth baby wipes. All you need is:

  • Old or surplus wash cloths
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine

That’s it.

If you don’t have cloths, try old towels, sheets, worn flannel blankets. Look around to see what you have that you would like to renew or repurpose as baby wipes.

CUT

I find that 3.75" x 7.5" fits perfectly in a commercial wipes container. I usually cut them square, but it takes some sewing skill to turn a square corner well. If you don’t have that skill, round the corners and make your life easier.

Old washcloth
Cutting old washcloth into baby wipes
Cutting washcloth into baby wipes
Cutting round corners on baby wipes

 

SEW

Ideally, use a serger or overlocking machine. This makes a tough edging that can withstand a lot of washing.

If you don’t have a serger, you can zig zag the edge, either right on the edge (the quick and dirty way) or turning the edge first (longer lasting but harder to do).

Sewing edge of cloth baby wipes
Finishing edge of cloth baby wipes

 

FINISH

Sew in the end. If you just cut the threads, they will unravel. Trust me on this one!

Finished homemade cloth baby wipe
Sew end in into cloth baby wipes
Trim threads from cloth baby wipes
Finished homemade cloth baby wipe

 

Easy! Now you have a stack of your own homemade baby wipes. Start to finish (including the time it took to take photos) I spent 10 minutes making 4 wipes. If you get on a roll, you can easily make one wipe per minute.

While you are into DIY, make your own wipes solution. It’s very easy.


Basic Baby Wipes Solution Recipe

1 Tablespoon mild soap (baby shampoo or castile soap)
1 Tablespoon oil (calendula, almond, olive, or other carrier oil)
2-8 drops essential oil (tea tree for antibiotic properties or any for scent)
1 cup water

Start with what you have on hand rather than buying ingredients. Don’t make too much at once because it won’t last a long time. Plus, it’s nice to change the scent with each batch. I like to keep a spray bottle of the solution near the wipes and spray directly on each wipe as needed, but I also tried putting solution and wipes in a wipes warmer to avoid shocking the baby with cold wipes. See if you can get away with cold wipes before resorting to a warmer.

Following up on a couple of weeks of cloth diaper focus, I’m covering other reusable products you can easily introduce into your family’s routine. Last week, it was reusable sandwich bags and wraps. Next, it’s my favorite recent idea. I’m making a cool reusable product I saw on Pinterest and sharing the photos with you.

Old-fashioned Licorice with Fennel Flavor

Homemade licorice

Homemade licorice

Last Wednesday, I cleaned up my overgrown herb garden. I have a whole winter’s worth of mint tea, the fresh sage went into turkey dressing that I’ll be eating in about an hour, and the fennel seeds and leaves my children convinced me would make nice licorice.

My cleaned up fennel plants

My cleaned up fennel plants

Licorice is usually made with licorice root and anise seeds. Because of the potential side effects of actual licorice root (raised blood pressure, edema, and toxicity to liver and cardiovascular system), it made sense to me to use a substitute that has common culinary uses. Fennel seed is also used medicinally to prevent gas. A licorice-like fennel candy makes a nice after dinner treat.

Fennel is much more mild than licorice, so you will need to make a very strong infusion of fennel. I used both seeds (dried for a few days then crushed to release their oils) and leaves (crushed into powder). Next time, I’ll make it stronger.

Fennel seeds I picked last week

Fennel seeds I picked last week


Infusion of Fennel

1/4 c. fennel seeds, crushed
2 Tbs. fennel leaves, powdered
1 c. water

Pour boiling water over the seeds and leaves as for tea. Cover immediately and leave until room temperature. Strain.

I left the infusion overnight then boiled it down a bit to try to concentrate the flavor. Because I added the liquid to a syrup, I wish I had boiled it down more. The whole process would have been faster if I had concentrated the flavor in less liquid.


Fennel Syrup

1 c. blackstrap molasses
1/4 c. oil (I used canola/rapeseed)
1 c. liquid (my fennel infusion)
3/4 c flour, sifted

Makes about 12oz of licorice.

Mix molasses and oil in a heavy saucepan. Add liquid and mix. Use a candy thermometer to bring the mixture up to soft ball stage (~230-245 degrees F).

Long before the syrup reached soft ball stage

Long before the syrup reached soft ball stage

It took me about 40 minutes to bring the syrup to soft ball stage because of the amount of liquid I added. Reduce the liquid, and the process may be faster for you.

Once my slightly fennel-flavored molasses mixture held together in a ball when dropped in cold water, I removed from the heat.


Licorice Dough

Remove from heat. Add flour 1 tablespoon at a time but quickly. The longer the syrup is off the heat, the less time you will have to shape the candies.

The amount of flour you need may vary depending on humidity and temperature. When the mixture forms a thick dough that becomes difficult to stir, put a spoonful in your hand. (Be careful! It could still be quite hot.) If you can roll it in your hands without it sticking, it’s ready to roll out.

Mixing flour into licorice syrup

Mixing flour into licorice syrup

Now, move fast!

Use a heavy metal spatula to scrap all of the mixture onto your working surface before it can harden onto the pan. (I didn’t.) Break off a couple of tablespoons at a time and roll in your hands to make 1/4″-3/8″ wide ropes.

Licorice ropes about 4 to 6 inches long

Licorice ropes about 4 to 6 inches long

I had helpers, and we still lost about 5% of our mixture on the edges of the pan due to our slowness.

We used the candy stuck on the pan to try a version of the licorice water that my children have wanted to try from the Just William stories thinking might work better than the version with modern, store-bought licorice. Around the time of rationing during World War II, licorice was one of the few sweets that children could get, and they got creative in making sweet drinks. It was horrible, according to the children. I think they just don’t have a concept of how what is sweet has changed over time.

Once you have all of the licorice in ropes, use kitchen shears to snip them into ½” pieces. These look just like the licorice I used to buy as a child.

Cut homemade licorice

Cut homemade licorice


Reviews

My daughter very diplomatically asked if she could finish her fennel licorice later and said that it was probably a very adult taste. She’s probably right. The flavor is intense. This is not the hard gelatin goo that generally passes as licorice. With the only sweetener being reduced molasses, it is a bit bitter but it tastes great to me. My husband said it’s kitchen magic.

To make the flavor more palatable to a child, you may need to use sugar or some other sweetener. Many recipes recommend rolling licorice ropes in powdered sugar to keep them from sticking to one another, and that would lighten the flavor a bit.

Or, help your children develop a taste for less sweet treats. That’s my plan. One little piece of fennel licorice after dinner will seem like a treat. Both children have agreed that it would be easier to see a small piece as a flavorful treat.

As the season of horror and candy (and horrible candy) approaches, I’ll post a few ideas how to deal with the onslaught and avoid the sugar jitters.