Before and after: shower curtain

before after shower curtains wordsThis isn’t a tutorial because my sewing skills are actually pretty rudimentary, so no one would profit from me passing on the details of how I made this thing. But hey – I made this thing!

The old shower curtain.

The old shower curtain.

I have had an eye out for a new shower curtain for quite some time because the old one (which was a wedding present to us 7 years ago) was faded and stained. As with many consumer goods, the ones in my price range were gaudy and hideous and the simple, attractive ones were laughably expensive. So I wasn’t having much luck. But I had a little birthday money left over last week when I went to the thrift store and among the other scores that day I found a like-new queen size sheet orphaned from its set (no matching fitted sheet or pillowcases in sight) with thin, bold stripes in just the grassy shade of green I was looking for – not mossy, not chartreuse. Finally.

The new shower curtain.

The new shower curtain.

I trimmed and hemmed it down to the size of the old curtain and inexpertly smooshed some grommets in place for the rings and the result looks pretty good! The little areas of perpendicular stripes on the top outer corners are double-thickness patches I added for Matt to use as handles. Other than the inevitable sun-fading, the biggest trouble I had with the old curtain was that Matt’s grubby logger fingers left indelible smudges at those two corners that no amount of pre-treating or color-safe bleach could expunge. If he can keep his filthy hands off the rest of the curtain I can pretty easily remove and replace the patches, hopefully giving this curtain as long a life as the last one enjoyed – but with a more graceful decline.

— Amanda


DIY log tote (free!)


Crap. I didn’t realize I was wearing living room camouflage. Only in my house could you be invisible when wearing mustard yellow.

Google log totes. I dare you. Don’t take a sip of that coffee, though – you might do a spit take. Expensive, no?

Well, ours wasn’t. Matt whipped it up a few years ago from a pair of jeans in the rag pile. He sliced off one half of a leg (the front or back, I forget which) right at the seams (which is why it hasn’t frayed into oblivion) and whacked it off under the pockets. He detached the waistband and cut it in half legnthwise and attached it to the ends of the leg piece (see below) as handles. He sewed the snot out of it on my sewing machine, making good use of the reverse button.


What matters is that the table will be clear in time for dinner, right? Failing that, I say we eat on the couch.

If you don’t have a machine or the inclination to hand sew you could punch a hole in the leg, feed the handle through and knot it.

— Amanda

Rag and bone mini notebooks


I folded over a page so that you can see the used backside of my paper. That was really Wednesday’s to do list.

I cannot be without a scrap of paper and a writing instrument. In my brain, ideas have a super-short lifespan. Also, every one of them seems irrefutably brilliant at the moment that they occur to me. If I don’t write it down it will be lost forever (or until my next shower, when I’m truly unable to write) and until I see what I’ve written I don’t know whether it’s the seed of the next great American novel or my ninth self-reminder of the day to update my reading list on Tumblr.

At the thrift store and the bargain grocery store, mini notebooks (the 3″ x 5″ spiral bound kind) are usually $0.50 to $1.00. This was perfectly OK by me. But then I ran across this spiffy idea on a blog called The Creative Place (by way of an equally cute and clever tumblog called Scissors and Thread). Wait, so, using stuff I have laying around the house I can make cute mini notebooks? For free? Ow, ow, my arm! Quit twisting my arm!

Admittedly this may not be a rag and bone* project for everyone. Perhaps just me. I have a half case of used paper that I’ve been toting around since . . . oh, 2000? Every useless fax confirmation sheet and accidental print and copy I found at the office – so long as it didn’t have someone’s personal information on it – went into this box. For over a decade I have been doodling on this stuff, drawing maps on it, sketching out mad ideas and project plans, and cutting it down to fit in my grocery store list pad on the fridge. It’s still 2/3 full. (A half case, for those of you who aren’t fluent in Office Supply-ese, is 2,500 sheets.)

The directions from The Creative Place call for the pads to be 3″ x 4.25″ inches. I’m not sure why. Standard pads are 3″ x 5″. The size I made was 2.75″ x 4.25″ because if you cut one letter size (8.5″ x 11″) sheet of paper into 8 pieces that’s what you get. For the pretty spine paper you could use wrapping paper, plain kraft paper (or grocery or lunch sacks), magazine cutouts, or scrapbooking paper. I used old wallpaper because I have two rolls of the stuff languishing in the back room. I wouldn’t hang wallpaper again except as retribution against mine enemies and the stuff is neither recyclable nor compostable** so I use it up in craft projects (and as drawer liners).

My sewing machine needed a little help to get through fifteen sheets of #20 paper, plus a scrap of tagboard (cut from a cereal box) and the wallpaper, but it managed well enough. I don’t know how the original poster magically kept her thread from unraveling but I backed over mine a few times just like I was sewing fabric.

And there we have it: one more item I don’t have to buy.

— Amanda

*Made out of leftovers or waste.

** I only checked one source, but here it is.

A month of garbage [updated]

[Updated 03/19/15. Updates are in brackets]

L to R: 1) Henna hair dye. Not plastic-free, but a readily-available product that let me see if I like henna. Now I can order the bulk stuff and mix my own! 2) Plastic-free, biodegradable floss in recyclable packaging. 3) Compostable household gloves in recyclable packaging.

I don’t mean that March sucked. Quite the contrary: I enjoyed the heck out of it. But it was also the month I arbitrarily chose to conduct an experiment on myself. I wrote down everything I threw out and then took a good hard look at it to see if I could avoid throwing it out in the future. (Waste stream analysis and reduction is what the municipal professions would call this kind of nerdery.) Click here to see my spreadsheet. (I can’t believe I just said that.)

To make the experiment feasible I only wrote down what I threw away (ignoring Matt, who usually just leaves stuff on the counter for me to dispose of anyway), and only what I threw away at home (not at restaurants or gas stations or what have you). I’m not ignoring this other garbage, I’m just focusing on one thing at a time.

I learned that the following items are compostable: cotton swabs, toilet paper (used as facial tissues), toothpicks, unwaxed pizza boxes, used matches, the stuff in the dustpan (sweepings, I think, is the term), masking tape, pencils and pencil shavings (minus the eraser and the ferrule), vacuum cleaner canister contents, and dryer lint (the man-made fiber content is usually negligible because things like rayon and polyester don’t shed like cotton and wool do). I was able to keep all of these things out of the trash.

One item that is still stumping me is eggshells. As I’ve mentioned before, they aren’t breaking down in my compost bins in a timely fashion – and they attract rats. An internet search tells me that I can wash and crush them and feed them back to the hens, use them in coffee to take out bitterness, use them as a scrubbing household cleanser, scatter around plants to deter slugs, and even make sidewalk chalk out of them. I haven’t decided what to do yet, and given our limited space I am not yet diverting them from the garbage can, either. [In the end I decided it was easiest just to throw them away. I know, sad face.]

Now that I’ve analyzed my data I’ve made (or will be making) the following changes:

  1. Keeping that one thing *ahem* out of the bathroom garbage. That means that what remains in the can is all compostable. (Once I’ve used up my current package, which was purchased in a hurry, I go back to the plastic-free compostable kind.) [This is no longer an issue because I have switched to a menstrual cup! Read about that here.]
  2. Found a new source for glass-bottled milk, which means I can make my own sour cream and yogurt again and not have to deal with plastic tubs or “waxed” cartons. [Local stores stopped carrying glass-bottled milk but now that I have proper recycling available the plastic tubs are no longer garbage.]
  3. Buying CFLs from the local (non-big box) hardware store, where they sell them wicked cheap and in recyclable cardboard boxes instead of plastic clamshell packaging like at the grocery store.
  4. When I run out of waxed paper I will go the co-op and get the If You Care brand, which uses soy wax and is compostable. [The same brand makes 100% recycled tin foil and compostable parchment paper. I use and love all three.]
  5. Got myself a “new” (thrifted) reusable travel mug for the smaller size I now drink. At least one of us isn’t generating plastic-lined cups and straws anymore.
  6. Next time I need lime or lemon juice I’ll just buy a lime or a lemon.
  7. Started using henna instead of grocery store hair dye. Available online without plastic packaging. [Henna was a giant ugh. I have gone back to the boxed hair dye but I am also investigating DIY options.]
  8. Started making my own almond milk again to avoid those cartons. [Making it myself got to be a huge pain and my new curbside recycling service accepts the cartons.]
  9. My eczema demands that I use gloves when washing dishes or cleaning. If You Care makes 100% latex household gloves (which are compostable!) in a 100% recyclable cardboard box. They carry them at the food co-op and I will use them exclusively as soon as I use up the plastic pairs I have on hand. (On hand . . . heh.)
  10. Since I seem to be addicted to microwave steaming (even though I own two steamer baskets) I’m looking into reusable lids for this purpose. There are several on the market.

I’m proud to say that we don’t generate enough trash to warrant pickup from the garbage men. It takes us three months to fill up our three 30-gallon cans. Our local dump (and by local I mean two miles away) is startlingly beautiful (You heard me. Beautiful. It looks like the freaking Hoh Rainforest.) but I still wouldn’t mind going there less often, since I have to pay to get in.

— Amanda

Rag and bone cotton balls


My new “cotton balls” may be cotton (or at least 50 cotton), but they sure aren’t ball-shaped.

I take perverse delight in not buying things. Mind you, I love to consume as much as the next person: just watch me go bonkers in the thrift store on books and sweaters. But there is a strange satisfaction to be had in saying “no” – or, in my case “no thanks, I make my own.”

We now produce our own stock, bacon, veggies (to an extent), ham, eggs, shampoo and conditioner, hair gel, soap, jams and other canned goods, dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent, chicken, pork, pasta, bread, yogurt, sausage, sour cream, vanilla extract, and beer. (Hot damn, what a list!) But we still buy these things from time to time. Sometimes I really don’t feel like spending half an hour grating soap into flakes for laundry detergent, or slaving over a stove for a lengthy but indeterminate amount of time to render fat and saponify it. Sometimes we don’t have any pork on hand to cure into bacon or ham. Sometimes the chickens are sick or fussy and egg production goes down. But by and large we make our own.

(Wow, that was a lot of tooting of my own horn. On to the subject at hand.)


Those little white things are gun cleaning patches commercially made from underwear remnants. This is what got me thinking. And thinking is dangerous . . .

Inspired by the growing tower of discarded clothing in the corner of the bedroom, known as the rag pile, and also by the little cotton jersey squares cut from commercial underwear remnants that we use as cleaning patches for our guns, I decided to forgo buying any more cotton balls.

When Matt is done with a T-shirt there is no question of taking it to the thrift store. Because when Matt is done with a T-shirt it is well and truly done. Swiss cheese. Holey holey holey. Positively indecent. Fit only for rags. And, apparently, cotton balls.


Wax on. Wax off.

I am not a big user of cotton balls to begin with. I have only recently started using nail polish again with anything approaching frequency and I rarely wear makeup (and when I do, it doesn’t require cotton balls for either application or removal). For the purposes of nail polish removal, Goo Gone® application, and cleaning up hair dye drips, these little squares of old T-shirt work just fine.

When (if ever) we run out of gun patches I’m sure we’ll use T-shirts for that, too.

— Amanda

Making soap from used cooking oil





I wrote the bulk of this post on January 5th, when I actually made the soap, but I wanted to wait until I knew whether or not the stuff was worth a toss before I went and gave out the recipe. I finally used a bar of it a few nights ago and it works just fine and dandy. No weird smell, no slime. Doesn’t lather as much as I’d hoped, but it got my hands nice and clean.  Next time I should use more lye. (For the record, those are Matt’s meaty mitts in the pictures, not mine!)

I have always wanted to make soap – but I have always been terrified of lye. A lifetime of reading books and articles on home soap making, with their dire warnings, and about a hundred viewings of Fight Club put a terror of chemical burns in my brain.

Well, consider that fear conquered. With enough vinegar you can kill anything, and apparently having two and a half gallons on hand will kill one’s fear of sodium hydroxide. As Matt has said many a time: “People have been making soap for millennia. It can’t be that hard.”

It’s not.

I found some very simple, straightforward, and well-researched instructions on a website called and followed the instructions, using my thrice-filtered used canola cooking oil, filtered tap water, and lye. There were no poison gas clouds, no burning flesh, no scorch marks on my kitchen, and I didn’t cry. (I will admit to doing the panic dance once or twice, very briefly.)

I recommend reading the “Homemade Soap” page on, but here’s the rundown of what I did:

  1. Weigh the fat you want to use. I found 2 pounds to be about the amount I felt comfortable sloshing around.
  2. Consult the handy Lye to Fat Ratio Table on to determine how much water and lye you will need to saponify (essentially, to “soapify”) your fat.
  3. 19e0e-soapmakingPour your lye slowly into your water in non-metallic and sturdy container. Not the other way around! I’ve heard some scary stories about what happens if you put water into lye instead of the other way around. It will rapidly heat up and give off stinky steam you don’t want to breathe. Stir (with a wooden or plastic spoon) until it’s clear and let it cool to about 85ºF.
  4. cdce3-soapmaking2Heat your oil to about the same temperature, in a non-reactive container. The only metal you can use is stainless steel.
  5. e1d9a-soapmaking252832529Slowly drizzle the water/lye mixture into the oil, while stirring.
  6. 4937c-soapmaking252842529Stir, stir, stir. Everyone recommends a stick blender for this part because it can shorten your stirring time from an hour to a few minutes depending on your ingredients. I used a stick blender and it took about half an hour for my ingredients to reach the mystical “trace” stage. (Fats and oils that are liquid at room temperature take longer to saponify than those that are hard at room temperature.) At this point your mixture is the consistency of soft-set pudding and when you pull the spoon out the liquid that sheets off of it leaves a trace on the surface before it is reabsorbed. Add whatever smelly stuff you want now.
  7. 7495d-soapmaking252852529Pour into non-reactive molds and put them out of the way for a few days.
  8. No one ever explains how to clean up the large and hazardous mess you’re left with at this point! No one! No one, that is, but me. Common sense told me to wipe everything down with vinegar, which neutralizes the lye – and I do mean everything, even stuff you’re putting it he garbage can, so that it doesn’t go nuclear and eat through the bottom of the can. That done, cleanup was no more thrilling than any other sinkful of dishes or splattered cooktop.
  9. It takes anywhere from one to five days for saponification to be truly complete. When your soap feels nice and hard it is fully saponified and you can unmold it and, if necessary, cut it into bars. Leave the soap alone for another two weeks minimum, to cure (that is, for all the water to evaporate so that the soap doesn’t turn back to mush when you try to use it). Many soapmakers recommend curing for 4-6 weeks before using your soap on your body.

Before adding the lye my oil smelled like oil. Nothing exciting, nothing rancid, no food odors. After saponification there was the faintest whiff of hashbrowns, so I added just a few drops of essential oil to take the edge off. After curing I couldn’t smell either hashbrowns or essential oil.

This solves a rag and bone dilemma for us: what to do with all that used cooking oil? It’s nowhere near enough to bother with making biodiesel but I can’t fathom tossing it. Now we can reuse it!

The pigs were slaughtered on Saturday so we should be getting the fresh (non-smoked) cuts back in a few days. Like last year, I asked to keep the lard. We didn’t much of a kick out of cooking with lard, but I have heard it makes some spanky soap!

— Amanda

Rag and bone petticoat

Admittedly, most of you are likely not in a vintage fervor like me and don’t yearn to wear Dior New Look dresses day and night, particularly while mopping and slopping and all those great things that come with homesteading. (I want to live Jenna‘s life, but I want to do it while looking like Solanah.) However, homesteaders don’t slop and mop 24/7, we get out sometimes, too, even if it’s just to the feed store.

This project was sort of a gap-filler for me. It’s froofy enough to make me feel fancy-pantsy, but not so froofy that I will stand out (any more than usual) in line at the supermarket. Also, it gave a large portion of a worn, holey bedsheet another lease on life – which means it also cost me nada.

The rest of the sheet will meet a more traditional, less glamorous end: being reused to rag curl my hair, strain kitchen liquids, making muslins of sewing patterns, dusting the living room, etc. And that’s likely how the petticoat will end up someday, too. Reuse, reuse, reuse . . . then recycle.

I made this baby by following this tutorial on BurdaStyle.


One of my favorite dresses, sans petticoat. Damn, that’s a blue picture.


Same dress, with petticoat. Not a big difference – just a bit of swish. I hope the petticoat doesn’t always show like that – I had the camera at toddler-eye-level, so hopefully adults can’t see it. Props to me for finally figuring out the timer function on the camera after four freaking years!


And here’s a peek at the petticoat. I canted the middle tier 90 degrees so that the stripes would run counter to the top and bottom tiers. That’s about as complicated as I get with alterations.

I’ll try to cough up something a little less frivolous for my next post – but no promises.

— Amanda