Author: Simon (page 3 of 3)

Eight: Soap-free soap

I’ve sometimes wondered what exactly is in soap, as well as “soap-free” soap, and also wondered just how necessary they are. Turns out it isn’t hard to make a soap-free alternative for everyday showering out of very simple ingredients. So I tried it out.

Please note that this is not some attempt to go “chemical-free” or “all-natural”, though maybe I could agree that it is a little bit anti Big Soap. Mostly, the fewer reasons I have for going to a supermarket the happier I am. But I digress.

This was easy, and cheap. I followed a recipe from here which only has four ingredients: Colloidal oatmeal, coconut oil, honey, and the inessential lavender oil. I had the oil, honey and essential oils (well, we had lemon not lavender, but near enough), and we had oats. But what is colloidal oatmeal?

Turns out the internet says you can make colloidal oats by just grinding oats as finely as possible, and we just got gifted a very handy op-shop find from Zara’s dad: a grain mill attachment for our Kitchenaid. Awesome.

Well, almost. It seems the internet is a little bit misleading. Colloidal oatmeal is oats milled extremely finely, or “micro-fine”, not just an oat flour. But near enough is good enough right?

Anyway, after combining the ingredients, I now have a very tasty soap-free soap.

Six: Mint Cordial

Not long after we moved in to our current house I found some mint growing in the back corner of our small garden. Fast forward to today and it now has taken over quite a bit of real-estate, and is continuing to expand. We thought it prudent to utilise some of this fresh mint (which I just researched to find out is spearmint), and decided a mint cordial would be a good way of using some up.

It was pretty easy, so I’ll quickly run you through the process. After gathering a basket full of mint, I removed the leaves from the stems and washed them. I was roughly following a recipe, however I didn’t have enough sugar, so I reduced my ratios to the following:
2 cups mint : 1 cup sugar : 1 cup water (the original recipe called for closer to 2:2:1).

After washing it was just a matter of pounding the mint leaves with the sugar into a paste and then steeping with the boiling water for at least 2 hours, or wait until it is completely cool. (I was a little strapped for time when doing this, so let it sit overnight in the fridge, this may have contributed to the murkiness of my end product.)

Once finished steeping, strain (or filter with muslin) the mint leaves out then bring the liquid back to a simmer to ensure the sugar is dissolved. Once all the sugar is dissolved, pour into hot sterilised bottles. Simple.


I’m not sure how long it will keep, as information on making shelf stable cordials is surprisingly scarce on the internet. If I make it again I might add lemon juice to decrease the pH which should help it keep longer.

I ended up adding some green food dye to swing the colour away from brown towards green, which helped with the visual appearance considerably, but the end result is a dark, brownish, mint syrup with a hint of lolly flavour (I might have cooked my sugar a bit). My murky ‘Spearmint Pond Water’ is quite refreshing with soda water, but as yet untested with bourbon.

Four: So Crates!

Separate to this venture I finally began brewing my own beer at the end of last year. I enjoyed both making and consuming my first batch of pale ale and I plan to continue the practice into the foreseeable future. But beer needs bottles and bottles need a neat and orderly method of storage. So I decided some beer crates were in order. After a little thought, I came up with some initial criteria:

  1. Stackable — my crates needed to stack on top of each other for convenient storage and be relatively stable when stacked.
  2. Sturdy — my crates needed to be hard wearing and last a lot longer than my beer.
  3. Simple — my crates needed to be easy enough for me to build and use minimal materials: to reduce costs and tare weight.
  4. Smart — my crates needed to fit my bottles.

With this in mind I began the lengthy design phase. I quickly checked what the internet had on offer as far as guides and instructables had to go, but could not find anything that fit the bill. I did find this photo however, and based my drawings from the design of these made by Dan B.

I took my time measuring bottles, drawing my plans, labelling dimensions and checking my maths. I really did not want to be making these up as I went. After getting my initial idea down, I spent a bit of time on the Bunnings website checking out my timber options. I find it best to design something after working out which timber is the cheapest and best fit, and work that timber into the design from the beginning.

I currently have two different size bottles—330ml and 750ml—so I wanted to make a small and large size crate for each. With a bit of number crunching, I was able to design the crates so that two large crates equal the height of three small crates, which I was pretty happy with.

With my design sorted, a trip to Bunnings for supplies, and a handy borrowing of Zara’s Dad’s drop saw, I set to work on the prototype/first crate. As I had spent so long getting my design spot on I made sure my cut lengths were as accurate as possible, and when I began assembly I was pleased to find that everything was very precise and square. I did however have to adjust for one design oversight and made one other slight change on the fly, but other than that everything went to plan nicely.

In the end I am very happy with how they all fit together.


One: My new coat

Some Saturday mid-way through the second half of last year I found myself in the Salvos in Collingwood. I’ll often have a quick look through the coats on the odd chance of actually finding something nice that also fits me (it seems most male op-shop donators are 5′ tall and 3′ wide), and this day was one of my luckier ones. I spotted a nice grey mid-length coat—just what I was looking for. I tried it on and it seemed to fit nicely! But then I noticed it was actually not all that clean, to the point of it being a little bit gross. I was ready to give it a pass, but Zara confirmed it looked quite good on me and that it should come up nicely after a little dry-cleaning. Plus it was only $15.25. So I bought it.

After getting it home I tried it on again, and that’s when I noticed that the lining in the sleeves was completely gone. As in, it wasn’t there at all. I’m not sure what the previous owner had done with it or why, but the only theory I could come up with was that their arms were too buff to fit into the sleeves, so they removed the lining to make space. I do not suffer from this affliction and was quite sad that my new coat was so damaged.

Zara helpfully pointed out that it wouldn’t be overly difficult to repair and, as luck would have it, we already had some material that would be suitable. So I set about getting Zara to show me how to measure up the sleeves and cut out the pattern.

Quite a few months then passed, then we decided to start this whole making/mending thing and my coat seemed like the perfect project for me to tackle first. I pulled it out and realised I don’t really know anything about tailoring. Luckily I have Zara, who was kind enough to work out how to open up the lining, sew the new sleeve lining on to the original, and then put it all back together again.

I attempted to do as much as I was able, however I hadn’t used a sewing-machine since probably 2001, so Zara did do some of the trickier bits. As simple as I thought it was going to be, it took a considerable amount of brain power for me to keep track of where everything was supposed to be and which way out to sew things. My hand stitching certainly is nothing pretty, but I feel very satisfied with the finished product. To be able to wear something that could very easily been just another piece of landfill is very satisfying, and I feel that I possibly value my clothes that little bit more, which is surely a good thing.

All in all, I can say making relatively simple repairs to high-value clothing is certainly worth it. If you lack the skills yourself, you might be surprised how easy it is to find someone in your friend/family circles who can help, or there a plenty of tailors around who still do repairs and alterations. Definitely worth trying.

Zero: We want to make that!

We’re both creative types, who rarely take the time to create. Often, we’ll look at things and say to each other “I could make that”, but it’s much easier to quaff red wine on the couch in stretchy pants. The last couple of years has been a whirlwind of study, organising a freakin-fabulous wedding, new jobs, setting up a house together and more study! These sort of life changing events do not lend themselves to spare time. While we are not sure how much spare time we will realistically have in 2017, we have decided that this year we will prioritise making and mending in our lives.

We would both like to pursue a simpler life. A life that that is less reliant on the machine that we find ourselves a part of and a life that considers how we engage with our world. Increasingly, we are becoming aware of how our daily choices contribute to the deterioration of our planet. An aspect of this undertaking is to educate ourselves on how our lifestyle affects others and to hopefully start conversations within our circles around seeking change.

Somewhat selfishly, there is a particular kind of satisfaction that comes with making or mending something with your own hands. Being able to say to a friend “I made that” after they compliment your creation is rewarding (albeit smug). In an era where we are encouraged to outsource and seek convenience we want to know how to fix a chair when the zompocalypse strikes.

Our aim is to complete 52 make or mend projects through the year. As a couple, we will share the load between us and write about our experience. Ideally, our posts will be on a weekly basis, but sometimes watching another episode of 30 Rock is much more appealing. This is part of a larger goal, that we sustainably live outside the machine, man! We want to ensure that we are gracious to ourselves and each other avoiding making our projects a chore that we have to tick off a list.

So, why are we writing about this? 80% accountability, 20% ego. It also means we are likely to spend less time watching Pointless television. So join us, follow our projects and please, if there is anything you think we should make, let us know!


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