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Well. Look, it’s November!

My laptop just broke so I’ll cruise along with the ‘net at work and my first ever smartphone I just got delivered. Naturally, “just when I was going to get started with blogging regularly again”, as if anyone still following this blog would believe that.

This means that I will not be updating (at least not with any quality pictures) until March 2016, when my budget will allow a new laptop (no money trouble, just strict budgeting). Lots of scanned images are lost, unfortunately. I did have everything safely backed up, except pictures.

I do plan on making a post or three from my iPad, if I manage to get the new smartphone to work as a router (ugh). I know it is not difficult, but the day job and life in general have been keeping me insanely busy and tired this year (still loving the work, though).

I do have some blogging plans. I have made an order from Goulet pens and one from Cultpens.co.uk with many exciting pens to review (Namiki Falcon, among others). I have finally gotten orchid seed to germinate asymbiotically on agar gel nutritious media in my small home laboratory (an aquarium, a spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide solution, gloves, canning jars and lots of clear garbagebags). I recently started sowing and growing (in a more standard, low-tech way) tropical hibiscus hybrids. In October I participated in a LARP based on Gaimans American Gods. I bought and borrowed some fantastic books (currently reading China Miévilles Three Moments of an Explosion). I played boardgames and music. I even did some drawing, mostly calligraphy stuff. In a professional capacity I have had to learn a lot about image processing, so I hope I will get the opportunity to apply this knowledge to illustrations and drawing in 2016.

In May I visited Faroe Islands with a friend and a smaller friend (pictured). I had a lovely time and I will definitely return in the future.

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Back from spending the better part of three weeks at my childhood home. I had a great time, reading a lot. Among others by Jo Walton and Zoo City by Lauren Beukes were two of the books I looked forward to reading the most and I am not regretting it, having read them (gah! Wonky grammar! Good thing this is not a blog on writing). The links lead to the Little Red Reviewer, one of my favourite book bloggers.

I love all sorts of herbs and have a special spot in my heart for Lavender. I am not sure which cultivar this is. One of the purchases I made at Kew Gardens this year was a book on Lavender. I cannot seem to remember the exact title and the book is in a box somewhere by now. Sigh. I’ll get back on you about that. This cultivar is originally from a 50s suburb in Stockholm. It is on the greyer side of the scale compared to many other varieties. It is amazing how much they differ if you bother to look. The thread is linen, from ropemakers at Beck & Rep at Fardhem, Gotland. I cannot recommend them warmly enough.

Lavender and linen thread

Back at my other home, the vivarium I started in May have, well, exploded. The image below is after some severe pruning of the Ficus pumila (a species which really isn’t suitable for a vivarium this small). The Java moss have been especially vivacious, but there has also been some growth of the smaller mosses I found in the forest. The small sinningias which were nonexistant in May are now ready to flower. Pics upcoming.

Vivarium expansion

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I’ve got more than 50 followers! Yay! Six new since the last post. Welcome, everyone.

As I wrote the day before yesterday, I made soap again. “I used smoked tea, Clary Sage, Green Mint, propolis and spirulina algae. If all goes well, this soap will have an earthy, green, smoky and minty type of fragrance and a pretty three-colour swirl in dark brown, grey and dark green. If it goes not-so-well I will have a vague minty smelling disaster in three shades of muggy brown. I will know tomorrow. It is very exciting and fun still, this soapmaking thing.”

Soapthree1

Well, above is the soap poured in milk cartons (very handy if you haven’t got a soap mould/tray/whatever). This time, with two previous batches under my belt, I decided to up the ante and make something more advanced. A swirl. Now, if you google “cold process soap swirl” you’ll get giddy, hungry and maybe a bit intimidated. There is a lot of pretty soap out there. To add to that, I wanted to only use natural colourants and decided on spirulina algae for green, black (smoked) tea for brown and actually LUSH deodorant powder, mostly powderized herbs, which turned a dark gray in the oils. This is the result:

Cold process soap with spirulina and Spearmint...

Cold process soap with spirulina and Spearmint…

It is hardly visible that I used three different colours. The yellow is the uncoloured part of the batch and the green is mostly spirulina infused oil with some undissolved spirulina powder in it as well. The dark dots are propolis (getting propolis to fully dissolve is practically impossible). The colour and swirl turned out great (although I confess I choose one of the nicest cut bars to show in the pic above). The scent I am less satisfied with. Mostly spearmint and a vague whiff of black tea. No smoke, no Clary Sage. The soap needs to be cured at least 6 weeks (maybe longer since this is an ungelled cold process soap). I look forward to see how it develops but I do not have high hopes of the (expensive) Clary Sage to magically appear in the scent palate. Still, I am satisfied with this first step in creating a soap to fit me perfectly. I do have plenty of ideas to improve this recipe, but this was a great beginning. I made approximately 20 bars.

The jars in the background contain freshly picked spruce shoots and honey. A couple of weeks in the sun makes for a good cough-syrup.

Upcoming: I have one more batch of soap planned this summer, a lime-coconut bar inspired by this post from http://offbeatandinspired.com. After that I have enough soap to last me forever and I will try to refrain from soaping til I have had time to try everything out, see how curing will affect the soap I have already made and of course work out and develop my recipes.

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Well, I do have a lot of time on my hands.

Some months ago I got bitten by some sort of beekeeping bug. With that came honey, beeswax and related areas of intrest, one of which was soapmaking. At the time, this was sort of frustrating, since I lived in the flat of a friend and didn’t really want to handle caustic chemicals in her kitchen (or maybe I just couldn’t get my hands on any lye). Now, I have moved and I live with my father who – not that surprisingly – happen to have plenty of lye in his cellar (don’t ask, someone was probably trying to toss it and there you go).

A couple of weeks ago I made a honey and lavender olive oil soap:

Soap1

I was a bit heavy on the honey (and perhaps also on the raw beeswax), which probably is the explanation of the small red dots in the soap (not pictured). According to Google-wisdom, this apparently disappears with the curing of the soap and doesn’t affect the quality of the soap. Double-checking the numbers I discovered that I had made an extreme water reduction (water at 25% of oils, when 35% is recommended for beginners). Maybe this was the reason for the red spots? I rebatched everything (hot process soap, see pics) but a couple of slices of the soap, adding some milk-and-honey mixture. The rebatched soap still smell good, has the expected tan colour (from warm milk and honey) and is very soft (unlike the non-rebatched bars I saved). The smell is lavender, but with a caramel over/undertone, which is very nice. It is supposed to be cured for a looong time, at least six months, but preferably longer. Looking forward to see how t developes.

Sort of embarrassed over miscalculating the water-oil ratio I decided to make another batch today. This time a beer soap. Beer is another one of my obsessions. I used one of my favourites, actually. Sotholmen Extra Stout by Nynäshams ångbryggeri, my close-to favourite Swedish microbrewery. I calculated (correctly, this time) and made sure to reduce the beer with a pince of salt and the peels of two lemons until I reached the proper amount of fluid. Making cold process soap is not that difficult, but it is very important to get the oil-lye balance right. I recommend lye calculators and/or the iPad app Soap Calculator before making any cold process recipe. There are a couple of different calculators available. I bought the Soap Calculator for a small sum, choose it for the easiness in changing to metric (seriously, change your bloody measuring system already!).

Sotholmen

Sotholmen Extra Soap
Oils: Olive oil 600g, Coconut oil 180g, sunflower oil 20g, canola oil 60g, beeswax 10g.
Fluid: 300g, 150g reduced stout boiled in lemon peel and some salt and honey. 150g water.
Lye: 120g (in a 45% solution, so 120g lye and 150g water was already in solution).
EO: 5g lemongrass essential oil.

I choose to rebatch/Hot process parts of this soap (just because), adding cocoa powder, ground coffee and ground oats. This is the result:

SOap2

Home-made soap is different from commercial soap in several ways. The glycerin (an humectant) in industrial soap is commonly extracted, making common household soap more of a detergent bar than a soap bar. Of course, there are more fancy forms of commercial soap as well, many of which have added glycerin and other ingredients. Another advantage, making your own soap you can be perfectly sure what goes in it. It also gives you an opportunity to avoid palm oil, which is very common in commercial soap. Besides, it is fun!

There is plenty to read about soapmaking on the internet. Below is some links to get you started, or just to gawp at the pretty swirls and colours (my next soap project).

Soapmaking Forum: a great forum with plenty of inspiration.
Miller’s Homemade Soap Pages: plenty of information.
Offbeat + Inspired, category soapmaking: a great DYI blog with a very nice design. I can warmly recommend the Introduction to Cold Process Soap Making for Beginners-post and I can’t wait to try the Peppermint Mocha swirled soap.

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This sketchy sockbird will keep an eye on the blog while I am away.

PreSockbird

I hope to visit Cass Art again, this time to buy some Windsor & Newton Series 7 brushes. I’ve been planning to buy some for several years and I now feel that I have earned it since I have practiced and perfected my technique with the one series 7 brush I own. I am also going to Cornelissen, hopefully to get ahold of a proper lumpe sanguine and perhaps also silverpoint equipment. I plan to draw at both the British Museum and Natural History Musem. We’re also visiting Pollock’s Toy Museum, another place where I hope to make a lot of drawings and drolleries. A visit to Kew is planned as well, as always. A small cactus I bought at Kew a couple of years ago perished in the move, so I hope to find something to add to my plant collection.

Speaking of plant collections, I bought a nano terrarium yesterday. I plan to grow small orchids, mosses, ferns and gesneriads there. Pics upcoming. Also, I made cold process soap. Yep, I do have a lot of time on my hands at the moment!

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This is an Interlude. Presented to you by Thumbbirds.

2013
I have several hopes for this year. Mr Maslow would not protest, since the first hope is roof-over-head and getting-work-to-be-able-to-feed-myself (I am officially job- and homeless in less than three weeks). Another thing I hope for is to network more with the blog. I hope, with a new place of work and no night shifts (EVER!!!), that I’ll get more time and peace of mind to put some thought into what I want to do with my immediate future when it comes to art-making. I have some frightening plans on going digital as well, though I am very reluctant, really. I feel I do have to learn som digital maneuvering to develop some of the (secret) boardgame ideas I have.
Another thing I hope to develop is more steampunk attire and more steampunk illustration. As soon as I find somewhere more or less permanent to live (hopefully in 2013) I am going to modify a couple of headlamps I have had around for some time.

In other news: I have been hit over the head with another area of interest. Beekeeping. Don’t ask me where it came from, it just landed and stuck. I love it.

Upcoming: The 22nd of January will be the second anniversary of this blog. Expect Sockbirds.

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I love my fathers candles. Next year we are probably going to make another batch. He mixes old candlestubs with wax from cheeses and beeswax. The candles are incredibly drippy, sparkly, horribly unpractical and as much the epitome of candleness as you could ever imagine.

In the background is one of my ensouled creatures, Lillnos. The name is a compund of “little” and “snout” in Swedish. In 2011 we were visiting Kew Gardens in London, as we do every year (well, since -09, anyway). On the 50% off-table I see this bulky little creature. The only one of his kind there. I stare at him, for some reason. We make our (hours long) tour of the garden, have our usual picknick. On our way out we take another tour of the gift-shop. I decide to buy him, for rather expensive 8 pounds. The woman at the check-out informs me that he is a book-end, that all the other bookends sold in pairs. That his mate somehow got lost, making Lillnos the odd one out and only one left. Outside of the shop, I unexpectedly burst into tears. I felt like I had saved him. At home, he quickly made friends with an as yet unnamed little creature who now resides on his shoulders at all times.

Happy holidays, whichever one you are celebrating!

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