Secrets revealed!

So, I’m starting a soap company.

It’s been strange to have had such a big project in the works for months without even hinting about it here, but it’s been a lot of fun too. Schoon Soap–‘schoon’ means clean in Dutch–is luxury soap made in small batches without palm oil (because orangutans), synthetic fragrances, or animal products of any kind. Since it takes about a month from when soap is made to when it can be used, the R&D and testing phases were pretty extended. I spent several months developing a base formula that produced soap that would be hard and long-lasting–it’s the palm oil and animal fats that contribute those qualities to commercial and many handmade soaps and since I wasn’t using those, finding other ways to achieve those qualities took some doing–but also rich and moisturizing. The final recipe uses coconut, olive, sunflower, avocado, and castor oils, as well as shea butter, to achieve that balance.

Then I spent another few months developing the fragrance line. There are three varieties that have no added fragrance whatsoever: a completely Pure/Unscented one; one with homemade Almond Milk and Oatmeal; and the only variety that uses a different base: Olive Oil & Cocoa Butter. The other varieties include Grapefruit & Bergamot, Lavender Lemon, Lavender Eucalyptus, Bay Rum & Vetiver, and Lemongrass Basil, in addition to more complicated fragrances that I named after counties in New York State: Ulster (geranium, ylang ylang, West Indian sandalwood, black pepper), Tioga (cedarwood, fir needle, juniper, petitgrain, black pepper), Rensselaer (howood, which is a more sustainable and less expensive alternative to rosewood, cardamom and nutmeg), and Herkimer (clove, cinnamon, rosemary, eucalyptus, and litsea).

The superfantastic logo and packaging and eventual website are the work of Anna Dorfman, who you may know from her (also superfantastic) design blog, Door Sixteen. The labels are purposefully a bit obscured here, but I’ll do full and detailed reveals once we’re live. 🙂
20140818-083902.jpgMy goal for the launch date is 9/15, so I’ll be in heavy production mode until then. There’s still a lot left to do–finalizing product descriptions and other text for the site, getting tax IDs and the other staying-one-step-ahead-of-the-law details worked out, sorting out shipping details. Rob will be handing shipping and customer service since he’s good at that sort of thing and I’m not available during the day. We’re starting out small and will be selling strictly through Etsy at the beginning, but I have a lot of ideas for things I’d like to do and ways I’d like the company to grow and I’m really looking forward to getting this show on the road.

On the road

I’m writing this from my phone on a bus upstate, which is kind of amazing if you stop to think about it, which I will NOT because I hate everyone on this bus, especially the woman in front of me, who is on her way to a meditation or yoga retreat but keeps slamming her seat back into my kneecaps, which i hope is destroying her karma.
I have started a new sweater, Baby Cables and Big Ones too, which is making me a little carsick to work on but I won’t stop; I’d rather get to my destination a little green around the gills but with something to show for my time than feeling normal and useless.

More sewing

20140728-082334.jpgI worked on my bat dress this weekend, and it went pretty smoothly until I set the sleeves in, mostly because of my lack of experience with setting in sleeve caps with woven fabrics but also because sewing is stupid and I hate it.

No, not really. But maybe a little?

Doing things you’re not good at frequently enough to become good at them is really hard and disheartening and also the only way to get good at anything. Ugh. Everything is just the worst.

Washi II

20140724-074608.jpgThis is the exact same pattern as this Washi dress, but worked up in Nani Iro cotton double gauze. The fabric is a dream to sew, especially after that nasty poly satin, which slithered all over the place and promptly sprung back from any attempts to press hems up and whatnot. Double gauze holds pressed folds like a dream and gripped itself quite obligingly–I barely needed pins–and is soft and lightweight and just altogether lovely. Most of the patterns and colorways are a little sweet for my taste, but these floral rings are both pretty and geometric and the background is my favorite shade of purple-gray. The yardage is narrow though; I didn’t have enough of it for the pockets and ended up using some lavender cotton scraps.

Next up: the hidden bats dress.

Five for Friday

1. Current projects on the needles: a Cobblestone pullover in some gorgeous Blue Sky Alpaca melange I was lucky enough to get when a friend was cleaning out her stash. I think it’ll make a really great knockaround sweater for this fall. I’m making the smallest size and my gauge is a little tighter, so it won’t be as loose-fitting, but the drape of the alpaca is so fluid and dreamy, I think it’ll still read as a relatively flowy garment. And my Stripe Study is back on track. I tried a few different cream yarns, but preferred my original selection (Swan’s Island merino/silk) in the end. It’s a little lighter weight than the gray, but I don’t have anything in the stash that’s the right color and the exact right grist; the Blackberry Ridge wool/silk I tried was a little heavier and that looked inelegant and clunky, while a couple of other wedding-dress-option yarns whose labels are lost were even lighter than this. I think it’ll even out pretty nicely when it’s blocked, anyway.

20140718-090442.jpg2. I really like Colette’s new pattern, Myrtle, and the face that it can be made in either knit or woven fabric. I’ve been keeping an eye out for a pattern to use with this fabric and I think Myrtle might be it. I’ve been picturing it used in a dress or skirt that was ankle-length and sweeping to show off the gorgeous pattern and take advantage of how well that fabric will move. It’s 58″ wide, so there should be plenty of room to lengthen the skirt and make sure it’s very full at the lower edge

3. I know it’s hot and humid and so very, very July out there, but I have fall knitting on the brain already. Partly, I think it’s because I’ve been dipping my toes into Project 333, which really deserves a post of its own–I think I’ve mentioned it before, but the idea here is that you choose 33 items, excluding underwear, workout clothes, and sleepwear, and that’s what you wear for the next three months–and I’ve been thinking about what sweaters I’d want in a very limited wardrobe. When my friend Rachael did Project 333, she didn’t count handknits at all toward the 33 items, but I already give myself so many outs, I’d like to reign myself in a little if I can. So for fall, I’d really like to have a black Baby Cables and Big Ones Too. It’s patterned enough to be interesting, but not so much so that it would look weird with patterned clothing. And I’d like a fair isle cardigan in a relatively small gauge with small geometric patterns in natural sheep shades of gray, white, and black and raglan sleeves. I haven’t been able to find one that meets my specifications, so I’ll have to come up with one. This is the closest I’ve come across, but the gauge is too big and it has drop shoulders and while I love the cross motifs, I’m not wild about the floral ones. I have the cable pattern and some gorgeous black Italian finewool on cones that’ll be perfect for it, so should start that sooner rather than later.

4. A few things I’ve enjoyed lately: Rosamund Hodge’s debut novel, Cruel Beauty, which mixes Greek mythology and the Beauty and the Beast story in very smart, well-crafted story. Happy hour at Maison Premiere in Williamsburg, where I enjoyed some $1 oysters and a couple of French 75s yesterday while sitting at a marble bar with my husband in one of the prettiest spaces in New York City. And I finally watched Frozen, which is thoroughly charming. I was struck by the fact that Elsa has gotten so much attention when it’s really Anna’s story–she’s the one who meets new people and goes on the quest and makes things happen. Elsa spends most of her time shut away, either in her room or in her fancy ice castle.

5. My office is moving this weekend from west SoHo to the Financial District. I don’t really know that part of town very well and am looking forward to exploring a bit. I know about Les Halles and The Dead Rabbit, but any other leads on good places for lunch/after work/interesting things in the neighborhood would be much appreciated.

Paint it black

I recently came into possession of eight glass candlesticks when I made an offhand comment about not having any to a friend of my in-laws who was looking to offload some.


I’ve always admired the Mosser glass candlesticks from Schoolhouse Electric and, since my benefactress had assured me that these weren’t anything particularly special or valuable, I got it in my head to try spray painting a few of them.


There isn’t really anywhere I can do a spray-painting project at home, but luckily we spent this past weekend at my mother-in-law’s house in Connecticut. I used three thin coats of this spray paint in flat black, which went on very smoothly and dried surprisingly quickly, and I completely love how they turned out.   


Unfortunately, they’re a little dinged up right now since they were on the floor of the backseat when we were going home and a bag of groceries fell on them when Rob hit the brakes hard to avoid running into someone who cut him off on some parkway or other, so they should probably get another coat of paint at some point. I still love them though.



On taking your time when fabric shopping

Earlier this summer, I stopped by B+J Fabrics and picked up a few yards of this cotton for a summer dress. I was in a hurry and when I a bolt in the cotton prints section that was still mostly wrapped in paper caught my eye, I grabbed it.  I liked the purple-y gray and black colorway, I liked what I could see of the somewhat abstract geometric/mountain pattern, and I figured it would make a great dress.
20140711-093220.jpgThen I got it home and unfolded the yardage to put it in the laundry:20140711-093228.jpgI had accidentally bought three yards of novelty bat-patterned Halloween fabric.

I actually wasn’t especially bothered by it, though, and thought the whole situation was pretty funny. Plus, I like bats and I wouldn’t not wear a bat dress, even when it isn’t Halloween. Still, I had a really hard time deciding whether to use the fabric bat-side-up or bat-side-down. On one hand, if you HAVE novelty fabric, you might as well commit to it. I think a bat dress could be thoroughly charming. But on the other hand, I’ve been working pretty hard to edit down my closet and get rid of things I only wear occasionally (I’m thinking about doing Project 333—have any of you ever tried it?) and novelty dresses don’t really fit the direction I’d like my wardrobe to be going in.

I waffled and waffled and waffled some more, but last night I finally cut out a dress with the fabric positioned so it’ll read as mountains to passersby. But every time I look down at the dress, I’ll see the bats and crack myself up all over again.

Study break

I’ve been working on this Stripe Study off and on for a few months. I had a bit of trouble getting going with it — hard a hard time figuring out a way to do the short row wraps that I was happy with — but eventually got it down and was sailing along. The yarn is super gorgeous; the gray is Jade Sapphire’s cashmere in Tanis Grays and the cream is Swan’s Island merino/silk, which was one of the yarns I was considering for my wedding dress.
20140709-083545.jpgThen last night I realized I’d dropped a stitch about an inch back and there is no way to ladder it back up through the stripes that will look neat enough to satisfy me. So it’ll get ripped back again. I would be a lot more disappointed, except that this will give me a chance to fix something that’s been bugging me about it: the yarns are not quite the same weight. The cream is a little lighter than the gray, so those sections are slightly sheer. I don’t think it would be especially noticeable in the finished scarf, but I’m happy to have a chance to use something else. I have a skein of Blackberry Ridge’s wool/silk (which was also in the running for the dress) that’s a little heavier than the Swan’s Island and I think will be an excellent match for the cashmere.

Sunday morning


Not where I am right now

I’m up early today and sitting out on the deck listening to the birds and watching lovesick squirrels chase each other around the trees. A collection of old rusty rain gutters are leaning over the fence from our neighbor’s yard and the peaches on the tree next to them are the size of ping-pong balls and sparser than I remember them being the last few summers.

I got a few plants again this year; the best thing I can say is that none of them seem to be dead yet. Apparently plants like sunshine? And being watered regularly? I’d like to have a real garden someday, but it won’t happen at this place.

I’m thinking about sewing projects and what I’d like to make for the summer and fall. Another Washi Dress or two, at least one of those Simplicity dresses I fit on myself in Liesl’s workshop. I’m out of range of our wifi out here and don’t feel like checking. I sorted fabric yesterday and rehoused it. There isn’t much of it, relatively–a small plastic bin of old sheets and pillowcases and black and charcoal prints for a quilt idea I’ve been noodling around with; a small bin of [the alarm on my phone went off just now; there’s something so ensmuggening about being up with coffee before one’s alarm] leftover fabric from completed projects, nothing big enough for a whole garment on its own, plus muslins [what do you do with completed muslins? I’m tempted to take them to the fabric recycler at the greenmarket today, but feel like I should keep them for reference or something]; and one small bin of fabric that’s enough to use for garments, whether it’s earmarked for anything yet or not. I don’t want to start hoarding/stashing/stockpiling fabric. I want everything that comes in to be assigned to a project and used quickly. I’d like to be smart about sewing.

That cabled sweater I just finished needs to be ripped out. I probably should have taken a picture, but I got started on that last night. I’d done a sizable gauge swatch before I started and figured out all of my numbers to account for the fact that the fabric would grow a fair bit in width but not much in length after it was washed. Turns out: not so much. The garment behaved exactly the opposite as the swatch and left me with too-tight sleeves and a too-long armscye and neckline that was just plain peculiar. It happens sometimes and it’s inexplicable and discouraging and there’s nothing to be done about it except start over.  It’s lovely yarn; I’ll enjoy working with it again, I guess.

These squirrels must have been this spring’s crop of babies. They’re awfully scrawny compared to the well-fed monsters that I usually see waddling around the neighborhood, the ones that are barely able to scramble up a tree when the landlady’s cats are in the yard. And too energetic. Squirrel life seems like it’d be pretty easy around here; it breeds lethargy.

Making jam on a perfect summer weekend

It’s a tricky thing, wanting to make jam when you live in New York City. Good fruit in jammable quantities is expensive, far more expensive than buying an equivalent amount of really good jam. But without a car, you can’t get anywhere to pick your own. And we don’t have a car. So I go on wistfully reading preserving sites and books and continue to buy the jam we eat.

But this weekend the stars aligned. A vacationing friend lent us his car for a week, the weather was gorgeous, and it’s peak strawberry season in New Jersey. Using this site, I found a place about an hour away (Sunhaven Farm, Hillsborough; no website) that seemed to function exclusively as a farm, rather than an activity-packed family fun day destination. I get why those places exist, but I don’t need to pay the bouncy-castle surcharge when I just want to breeze in, get my berries, and GTFO.
20140623-071140.jpgWe brought home just under eight pounds.
20140623-071150.jpgSince we had the car, we took a little detour to Princeton so one of us could pay homage at the Record Exchange and the other could indulge at The Bent Spoon (blood orange sorbet and sour cream ice cream = best creamsicle ever).
20140623-071202.jpgI washed and prepped all the berries when we got home, setting about ten cups aside for jam, and leaving the rest for eating. Then we headed up to Prospect Park, where Dum Dum Girls were playing a free show. One of my favorite neighborhood restaurants, The Farm on Adderley, has the concession at the park’s free music series, so I was able to get some really good food, which I needed pretty badly at that point, having had mostly strawberries and ice cream so far that day: a codfish sandwich and crisp-tender garlicky broccoli.
20140623-071212.jpgI made the jam Sunday morning. It was my first time using Pomona’s pectin, and I’m converted. The amount of sugar you have to use with traditional pectin is just staggering, typically equal to the amount of fruit. Pomona’s jelling isn’t sugar-dependent, so I just used 2.5 cups with 10 cups of fruit and it was plenty sweet.
20140623-071228.jpgI got five and a half pints in the end.

20140623-071243.jpgSomewhere recently, I saw someone mention throwing their strawberries tops in a pitcher and steeping them with water. Turns out, it’s delicious, especially when you mix the strawberry water with a splash of elderflower cordial for the summeriest drink possible.
Sunday afternoon, while the jam was cooling, we took a quick trip to the beach at Jacob Riis Park and were back in time to watch the USA v. Portugal match with some friends.