Homemade Gift Idea – Melt and Pour Soapmaking

Making homemade soap as gifts can be pretty easy and a lot of fun. Homemade soap bars are great gift ideas because you can also whip up pretty large and attractive batches of them in a day or two and satisfy your entire holiday gift list. I made these as gifts for the holidays a few years back and some of the recipients were sincerely unsure whether these were purchased at a boutique or if I had actually made them.

The process to making these gifts is quite simple. Simply melt the soap base for a few minutes in the microwave, add the natural scents and exfoliants, pour them into molds and let them cool. That’s it! Creating unique names and gift labels can add to the creativity and presentation of these gift to make them even more memorable. Soapmaking purists might use a more difficult process that requires the use of lye and therefore there is a safety issue, but I found that the melt and pour soap variety as gifts can be just as elegant, much easier and safer, and creativity can be involved in every step of the process.

Soap Base…

Brambleberry.com can be your one-stop shop for all the supplies. I have had a lot of success, and have been very happy with their site and products. They specialize in everything that is soapmaking, from soap base and molds, to exfoliant and essential oil ingredients, to even boxes and labels. You can get an olive oil soap base (as well as some of the other ingredients) at Michael’s, or other craft store if you can’t wait for the shipping, but brambleberry.com has so many interesting and quality choices of soap bases that it would be a shame not to use them. I have used their aloe vera base, their creamy and dreamy goats milk base, shea butter, organic clear, a honey base and they even have shaving base, that would make a homemade gift idea that is more accessible for guys.

Ingredients…

As soon as your base is melted, you can add your ingredients. Now there are far too many options to mention here but I will mention a few. As far has scents, Brambleberry carries an enormous variety of essential oils and other types of scents. Again, you can get a few of these at Michael’s, or better yet your local health food store, Whole Foods or grocery co-op. They tend to be a bit pricey depending on the scent, that is why Brambleberry carries cheaper options like extracts and fragrance oils. Essential oils, though expensive, have a stronger, purer scent than any of the other types of scents, so if you are making large batches I would recommend getting a few of the basics. The ones I’d recommend as essential oils are a nice soothing lavender, a citrus oil like bergamot which is a great uplifting, “wake-up” scent, and maybe a rosemary, eucalyptus, or peppermint. You can get a essential oil sampler kit from Brambleberry. They also carry a wide variety of exfoliants. My personal favorites are their shredded loofah and pumice. You can also be creative and use oatmeal, (which a lot of people combine with honey) a light exfoliant like bamboo extract, and walnut seeds, or even cornstarch. You can also look in your kitchen for ingredients like cinnamon and coffee grounds. You can find soap recipes to start out with at teachsoap.com. They also have a detailed tutorial on melt and pour soap making. You can use dyes and colorants, but I have found that once you add the other ingredients, the bars take on an already attractive, and natural looking character.

A few tips on scenting…

The scents listed here are pretty universally enjoyed by men and women alike. I would keep the scents on the subtle side, and stay away from the overly floral scents unless of course you know that the person receiving the gift will enjoy it. When experimenting with scent combinations your smelling sense will often soon become overloaded, making it difficult to sample each smell. A tip that a local soapmaker once told me is to keep coffee grounds nearby, and smell them to sort of cleanse your olfactory palate between batches. Coffee grounds, by the way, are a great ingredient to include in a kitchen soap as it tends to remove or at least disguise strong smells. This is great for when you have chopped a lot of onions for instance.

Molds…

Brambleberry carries carries a wide variety of soap molds. You might also find molds at your local craft store or Michael’s. I personally use just a standard rectangular soap mold I got from Michael’s. Again, I think that the soap ingredients make the bars attractive enough, and have found that unusual shapes might just make them look chaotic and busy.

Here is a video tutorial on the complete melt and pour soapmaking process.

Presentation…

Yes, brambleberry.com also carries gift boxes for homemade soap. If you use these sliding gift boxes, make sure your soap molds are rectangular and small enough to fit. They also carry natural-looking gift bags for homemade soap. These gift boxes are excellent for applying your own personalized gift labels that you can make from Avery’s full sheet labels that you can get from any office supply store. It was fun for me to come up with an overall design and unique names like “lavender dreamtime” or “sunny citrus”.If that is too much work for you, wrap them in some raffia ribbon from your local craft shop, and tie a little gift label to it.

Counting down 100 homemade gift ideas at http://100homemadegiftideas.com

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Book Binding By Hand

Simple bindings for your hand-crafted books are easy to do.  They provide a more elegant and longer-lasting solution than staples or binder clips. 

You can use a variety of materials for the cover.  The cover can be made from card stock, file folders, heavy-weight papers, fabric, vinyl, or leather.  Match the binding materials to the content of your book to reinforce the theme and protect it.  Be careful about using wood since it contains chemicals which will degrade the interior pages.  Use it only for a short-term decorative item.  You can make a soft cover by using your choice of material without applying stiff cardboard backing.  Make a hard cover by applying the material over cardboard cut to size.  Cut two matching pieces of cardboard to form the front and back cover.  Make them 1/16 of an inch larger in both height and width than the text pages.  There is no overhang in this binding. 

Any type of cord or string can be used for the stitching including yarns, raffia, leather thongs, jute string, twine, gimp, soft wire, thin ribbons, and fine braids.  These are some of the more unusual choices for thread.  On a traditional project you might use linen, embroidery, or carpet thread, strong nylon thread, or waxed dental floss. 

In your initial book layout, be sure to allow space on each page for the spine.  Spine depths will vary with the number of pages and the thickness of the paper.  As a general rule allow ½” to ¾” of blank space on the side of the page which will be attached to the spine in addition to the margin around the writing.

Equipment.  You will need an awl or a small nail and hammer, cardboard for a hard cover, material for the cover, cording or thread (eight times as long as the book’s height), binder clips, a needle, pencil, ruler, phone book or scrap wood to protect your work surface.

How to do it.  These instructions follow Japanese book binding techniques to create a binding that will last.

Step 1.  Measure ½” from the spine of the front cover and use your ruler to draw a line from the top to the bottom.  On the line you have just drawn, make a mark ½” down from the top and ½” up from the bottom.  Divide the distance between those two marks into thirds and mark two middle points.  You should have four marks.

Step 2.  Even up the pages of the book and place them between the front and back covers.  Clamp with binder clips.  Place on your protected work surface.  If needed, weight down the pages to keep them from moving.  Punch holes through the marks using the awl or a small nail and hammer.  Do this in batches of 20 pages or less; otherwise pages and holes slip out of alignment.  Once all pages are punched, stack them with holes aligned on the left hand side.

Step 3.  Thread the needle with the thread. Tie the ends together in a knot.  You now have a continuous loop of thread, the needle at one end, the knot at the other.  Anchor the thread by opening the book about 20 pages and pushing the needle through the lower middle hole.  Pull the thread until the knot is snugly fitted against the pages.  Wrap the thread around the spine and push the needle through the lower middle hole again.  Pull taut. 

Step 4.  Take the thread across the top cover to the upper middle hole.  Push the needle down through that hole, around the spine and back down through the same hole.  Pull the thread tight after each hole.

Step 5.  Take the thread across the bottom cover and come up through the top hole.  Go around the spine and up through the top hole again. 

Step 6.  Take the thread across the top of the cover so it crosses the top edge of the book (as opposed to the spine).  Wrap the thread around this top edge and bring the thread up through the top hole.

Step 7.  Take the thread across the top cover and down through the upper middle hole. 

Step 8.  Take the thread across the back cover and up through the lower middle hole.

Step 9.  Take the thread across the top cover and down through the bottom hole.  Wrap the thread around the spine.  Take the thread down through the bottom hole again.

Step 10.  Take the thread across the bottom cover so it crosses the bottom edge of the book.  Wrap the thread around this bottom edge and bring the thread down through the bottom hole. 

Step 11.  Take the thread across the back cover to the starting hole.  Bring the needle up through the starting hole.  Tie off the thread tightly by slipping the needle under the two top threads coming out of the starting hole and back through the loop.

Step 12.  Run the needle down through the starting hole and cut off the thread flush with the back of the book. 

You can vary this basic binding by using different spacing of the holes and patterns of sewing.  As a decorative feature, you can sew a stick, ribbon, or beads into the binding.  Add the decoration along the spine if it is thick enough or on the front cover.  Do remember to consider function first though.  If the decoration will interfere with reading the book, do not use it.

Celia Webb, President of Pilinut Press, Inc., publishers of advanced readers for children and ESL students.

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