Thursday, October 29, 2015

Homemade Coffee-Coconut Scrub

I've always had a weakness for nice bath and beauty products. Unfortunately, I've never really had the budget for them! Fortunately for me, I am quite handy at making, well, lots of things.

Consider the sugar and salt scrubs that have been all the rage for years. Once upon a time, I would wait for Bath and Body Works to put their sugar scrubs on sale for half price, then stock up. But I don't have to resort to such desperate tactics anymore. I also don't have to settle for the array of questionable ingredients that make up many of B&BW's products!

I came up with my recipe for coffee-coconut scrub after a fair amount of internet research and a bit of experimentation. It smells completely scrumptious, almost like a dessert. Technically it's edible (aside from the essential oils)—but with oils and all the salt, I bet it would taste horrid!

Did I mention sugar scrubs make great gifts?

Coconut Coffee Scrub

  • .5 cup sugar
  • .5  cup brown sugar
  • .5  cup salt or sea salt
  • .375 cup ground coffee*
  • .25 cup shredded coconut*
  • .25 cup oil of your choice†
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5-10 drops essential oil(s) (optional)


  1. Mix together dry ingredients. 
  2. In a separate container, combine oil, honey, and vanilla; add essential oil if desired. 
  3. Slowly add wet ingredients to dry, stirring well. Add more oil if desired.

For ease of use, store in a wide-mouthed container. Stir before use to redistribute liquid as needed.

*For a finer texture, make sure your coffee is finely ground, and pulse your coconut in a food processor, blender, or spice grinder.

† The choice of oil is up to you. There are a wide variety of skin-friendly oils: grape seed, olive, jojoba, hazelnut, pumpkin seed, coconut, sweet almond… Go with what you like, what you can afford, or what you have on hand. Do keep in mind that the scent of the oil could affect the scent of the scrub; some oils have a strong fragrance, while others are nearly unscented.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Herbalism: Practical Crafting

Herbalism time! Made a batch of my favorite cough syrup: fresh ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, raw honey, vinegar. Should have been taking this all week; bet I would have my singing voice back by now! (Pharmaceutical cough syrup never worked for me!)
Cough syrup: ginger, garlic, vinegar, honey, and cayenne.
I just love making things; I always have. But so much stuff I can make doesn't really contribute much to my quality of life. (My art journal and ATCs do not qualify – they are pure art for art's sake.) Herbalism, though, makes my life better in so many ways.

First, making things allows me to control some aspects of my environmental exposure to toxins. (Do you know what's in your Softsoap? Did you sign up for a formaldehyde releaser? It's not in my homemade soap!)

Second, it improves my health. An example: since I discovered fresh ginger tea with cayenne, honey, and lime, I've been able to ward off some of the colds my husband brings home! When my husband got food poisoning, I remembered reading about apple cider vinegar. It worked immediately, fortunately; Atlanta was practically shut down by snow and ice all week.

It saves me money, too; I made my own "hot cloth cleanser", AKA "waterless cleanser" for a fraction of the cost of equivalent store-bought products. And mine is perfectly balanced for my skin. And it contains frankincense essential oil, which is awesome for my rosacea-prone skin. (Seriously, I made about two ounces for less than five dollars, including the cost of the jar!) My friends and family love my homemade sugar scrubs, which are very inexpensive to make but high quality and effective.

Harvesting aloe from my houseplant. 
I've also reduced my environmental impact. I buy the raw ingredients – oils, honey, beeswax, herbs and spices – and make it myself. Much of it I can buy from the bulk department, like the spices and olive oil I get from my local natural foods store. Honey and beeswax I buy from a local beekeeper; my honey comes in mason jars, which I reuse, and he puts the beeswax chunks in my cloth bag. Garlic and ginger come from the local international market, without packaging. Even the stuff that gets shipped is better; minimal packaging and minimal processing translate to less trash produced by the manufacturer. (Check out The Story of Stuff for an explanation of how that works.) I'm pretty sure I produce a lot less waste making a salve than Johnson & Johnson creates for a tube of Neosporin. Much of the packaging of my ingredients is reusable or recyclable. The containers I use (mostly mason jars and tins) are safely reusable long term.

I can choice ethical and sustainable sources. I've been able to make a lot of replacements. Local raw honey and sustainably-produced coconut sugar instead GMO beet sugar. Homemade vinegar made from fruit scraps replaces Windex. Small-producer, ethically sourced coconut oil has eliminated the need for Crisco shortening or a lotion like Jergens. If I choose to, I can grow many of the herbs in my yard.

Natural soap made with a friend.
Most of all, I have learned an important skill that is satisfying to practice. I can take care of my husband, my extended family, and my friends. I have options; I am not entirely dependent on the medical or beauty industries to take care of me. I can try simpler treatments first – an herbal steam, a neti pot, or an epsom salt soak. If I decide I really need to, I can head to the doctor then. As for rosacea, my all-homemade beauty regimen has worked far better than the Metro gel a dermatologist prescribed (once upon a time). Is there an ice storm? Is it a holiday? I have options, which are right in my house or yard.

How's that for an improved quality of life?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

All-Natural Honey Brown Sugar Scrub

Years ago, I fell in love with sugar scrubs from Bath and Body Works. They left my hands feeling fabulous, and even my husband used them every time we went in the store, but boy were they expensive!

Fast forward a few years. They had discontinued my beloved bergamot coriander fragrance (a very unpopular move, according to every B&BW clerk I ever spoke to). Besides, I wear high-quality, natural, artisan-made perfume oils from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab; Bath and Body Works simply smells too artificial now. (Thinking back on it, I cringe, knowing what I know about the stuff I was putting on my skin.) I was pretty much out of my stockpiled sugar scrubs, and besides, I wanted to give some as gifts.

So began my semi-obsessive research on sugar scrubs, which led to brown sugar scrubs. And THAT led to my playing around with sugars, honey, fragrances, and oil. The recipe that made the cut got packaged up in mason jars (so very handy!) and given as Christmas gifts.

Years later, I still get friends asking me how I made them. I've posted my recipe before for friends, but now I'm putting my recipe out in the wild. (After all, I relied heavily on recipes other people had posted to come up with mine!) If the list of oils is too long, just use 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil; it will still feel great.

So here it is, a traditional oil-rich sugar scrub.

Honey Brown Sugar Scrub
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons grape seed oil
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet almond oil
1 tablespoon jojoba oil
1 tablespoon honey
perfume oil, natural fragrance oil, or essential oils of your choice

1. In a small bowl, combine the sugars.

2. In a larger bowl, combine the oils and the honey.

3. Add your fragrance source of choice to the liquids. Start with a very tiny amount and add a bit more at a time, until the scent is a bit stronger than you want. (Depending on whether you're using perfume oil, fragrance oils, or essential oils, or even which scent you're using, the amount will vary wildly!)

4. Add the sugars to the liquids a little at a time, stirring to make sure the oil is evenly absorbed.

This amount of scrub will fill a half-pint (8 oz) mason jar. I usually use regular-mouth quilted crystal jelly jars, but it's easier to use in a wide-mouth half-pint jar, if you can find them. Or put them in a small half-cup (4 oz) mason jar; this recipe will fill two.

When you get to the bottom of the jar, you'll probably find there's oil left. Add in more sugar and keep using it until it's gone!

Recently, I've been seeing lots of "dry sugar scrubs," particularly at Whole Foods. These aren't actually dry, but all the oils are absorbed. I found that my basic recipe works great with only a small change: more sugars!

Honey Brown Sugar Dry Scrub
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons grape seed oil
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet almond oil
1 tablespoon jojoba oil
1 tablespoon honey
perfume oil, natural fragrance oil, or essential oils of your choice*

Mix as for the traditional scrub. Keep adding the sugar mixture until pretty much all of the oil is absorbed; you may have to mix up more sugar.

*It may take more fragrance to create the same intensity of scent. Remember, you've got a lot more sugar now!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Embroidered Metal Mesh Pencil Cups

When we were at Ikea buying a pencil cup for my office desk, my husband mentioned he needed a pencil holder for school. He's an elementary school media specialist, and teaches some classes in the library.

I mentioned that all the teachers were posting "sharp" and "dull" pencil cups to Pinterest. He immediately grasped the classroom management principles, so I offered to make a pair for him. He liked the price of Ikea's Dokument pencil cups ($2.99 for 2), so I told him about the embroidered metal mesh pencil cups I had seen on Ikea Hackers.

A week later, he had a pair of pencil cups in the school colors, and I had a new pencil cup for my desk.

At the bottom of the cup, I embroidered a line of heavy chain stitch. At the top, I made two lines of back stitch three rows apart, working over two openings. In between, I worked a row of herringbone stitch, which I planned out to follow the lines of the mesh.

If you're going to work with the Ikea Dokument cups, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. It's a diamond mesh, so ditch any pattern that relies on a rectangular grid. These cups flare out. The spacing between the rows is a bit irregular. It may not be absolutely straight, either. Also, there are a pair of big raised dots or bumps on each side. (If you look closely at the center of the photo, between the two cups, you can see it a bit on the sides.) And finally, there's an overlap on one side; this is the seam. I was able to work around all of this, but some embroidery designs may not work as well.

When using metal mesh for embroidery, keep in mind that it's very open. Knots may show through if you're using floss instead of thicker yarn, especially if you're using a very open stitch (like the herringbone stitch). I put up with the inconvenience of very long threads just so I could avoid knots, on the herringbone. Instead, I tied the starting end to the finishing end once I completed the round.

The cardstock label is sewn to the mesh at the corners, carrying the thread behind the label so it's invisible from the front.

By the way, my husband is very happy with his new pencil cups, and claims they'll be the coolest in the school. And I realized metallic embroidery floss is evil.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

An Introduction to Pamphlet-Stitch Books

Though I'm a graphic designer, that's not my first love. At heart, I adore books. I read them by the score, from children's books to science fiction and fantasy to nonfiction. I can't get enough of them.

And what's almost as fun as reading books? Making books! No, not writing books. Making books. I'm absolutely addicted to book arts and papermaking.

I fell in love with book arts when I was a senior at Georgia State University. (Many years there's only one book arts course, and it was limited to sixteen or so when I was there. So if you weren't a senior, you would never get in!)

Like any addict, I want company. So I'm going to show you how to make one of the simplest of books: single signature pamphlets.

Here's the idea. One sheet of paper is folded in half, to make a "folio." Nest several of those together, and you have a "signature." If the outside sheet is heavier, like cardstock, you can stitch it all up and have a basic little book. These can get fancy, but they also make excellent little notebooks. The best part? You can use whatever paper you have on hand.

How to Make a Simple Book

This is a folio. Nest them together to make a signature.

  • Four sheets of lighter-weight paper (pages)
  • One sheet of cardstock or heavy text-weight paper, same size (cover)
  • Bone folder or other implement to smooth the folds
  • Ruler or other straightedge
  • Pencil
  • Embroidery floss or bookbinding thread
  • Awl, pushpin, or heavy (sharp-pointed) needle
  • Embroidery or similar needle for sewing

Prepare the Pages and Cover

To make a pamphlet-stitch book, first you'll have to assemble the signature.

  1. Fold each sheet of light paper in half, as shown at left. (If you're serious about this, you'll need to fold your paper along the grain. However, if you don't tell, I won't!) Do not fold the cover yet.
  2. Run your bone folder (or whatever) along the fold of each folded sheet (folio), flattening and smoothing it.
  3. For best results, find the center of your cover. Align your ruler with it and run the edge of your bone folder along the fold line. This will press a crease into your paper (called "scoring"), making it fold more neatly.
  4. Fold your cover and smooth with your bone folder.
Assemble the Book
Open one folio and lay it flat, with the fold down. Use your ruler to find and mark binding holes along the fold line: one in the center, and .5" to 1" from each edge. (Keep the marks light!)
  1. Using your awl, pierce a small hole, just larger than your sewing needle, at each mark.
  2. Using this folio as a guide, pierce the cover and remaining pages. Make sure all holes go exactly through the fold.
  3. Insert the page you used as a guide inside the cover. Nest the other three pages inside it. (This hides any errant pencil marks!)

Sewing It Up

It's easy. Really.
This method leaves your knot in the center of the book. You can experiment with this. If you start at the outside, at the top, you can tie on a tassel with the tails of the thread. (I love to do this!)
  1. Thread your needle with a length of thread equal to four times the height of the book.
  2. Bring your needle up through the middle hole, leaving about four inches of thread as a tail. Your thread will come out of the book through the middle.
  3. Bring the needle down through the top hole, to the inside. Pull it snug, and check to make sure you still have enough of a tail.
  4. Bring the needle up through the middle hole again, being careful not to pierce the first thread.
  5. Bring the down through the bottom hole, to the inside.
  6. Bring the thread back up to the middle and run it between the pages and the first thread. Do not take the needle through the cover and pages!
  7. Snug up all the threads and tie a secure knot in the tails. A square knot is fine.
  8. Optional: Dab a tiny dot of glue on the knot and let it dry.
  9. Trim the thread ends.
This may seems complicated, but it's actually very straightforward. And once you've made one or two, it's unlikely you'll need the instructions. It's that easy.