Felted Knitting

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Have any of you who knit tried felting your creations on purpose? Most of us have done it by accident, when we didn’t notice those nice wool socks Aunt Maggie made for us last Christmas went into the washing machine, instead of being washed by hand. Oops! I’ll never tell.

Felted wool, sometimes known as boiled wool, makes one of the warmest, densest knit fabrics I’ve known. It starts as a double strand of worsted wool yarn, knitted on large needles, and a pattern specifically designed for felting. The finished slippers, before felting, will be huge and floppy! Don’t panic. They will fit perfectly once they are properly felted.

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Stout is a wonderful, substantial, natural yarn to make felted projects with, especially for guy gifts.

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My felted hat seems absolutely impervious to rain. My sister-in-law made it for me, years ago, and I still love it. It is at least eight years old, and in perfect condition, despite wearing it every day, for many winters. It doesn’t wrinkle and is easily hand washed. The best part is, if the sun comes out, I can wad it up in my purse or backpack and it doesn’t wrinkle or lose its shape at all. It is also a great place to sport wonderful, old antique pins found at the antique store.

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The slippers are warm and cozy, though I find the wool bottoms are a little too slippery by themselves. Adding leather soles and/or liquid rubber goop, or both, helps them to last longer and to be non-slip. You won’t want to take them off!

We always choose to live in old farmhouses, and because they have cold floors in the winter, cozy slippers are a must. Hafflingers are boiled wool slippers you can purchase at good shoe stores. I’ve had a couple pairs and have loved them. But after making felted slippers myself I can assure you that the homemade ones are much warmer and cozier.

The liquid rubber goes on like rubber cement, and is just as stinky, so that part of the project should be done in a garage, not the house. I learned to roll it over the sole with a mini paint roller for a more even coating. Allow it to dry, then repeat at least 3 times. The soles are non-slip and durable and have held up nicely through two years of wear and counting, but I have not worn them outside. If you add a leather sole and the liquid rubber, I imagine you could.

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Finished, completely, and ready to gift wrap!
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These are still a little lumpy in the sole area, so I will wash them one more time. That should take care of it.

Leather soles are available online, pre-punched with holes around the edges to sew them with yarn or leather laces on to the soles of the slippers. We are lucky to have a real Shoe Shop in my town, that makes leather items themselves. They will make leather soles to order with advanced notice.

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How they look after they are finished, but before they are felted.
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I love working with this yarn!

Felted knitting patterns are available online as downloads at Fiber Trends and other knitting sites.  Here is the link: http://www.fibertrends.com



Homemade Massage Melts

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You have probably seen massage melts or lotion bars for sale in tins at gift shops or been gifted with one. They are not new, but they are worth making to sooth winter dry skin issues, and good to have on hand. Know they are very easy to make. Because they are formulated to stay solid at room temperature, when you hold one in your hand, or rub it on your skin, the warmth from your hand will melt just enough to massage into your skin.

You’ll need a small soap mold, a plastic ice-cube tray, or similar multi compartment plastic container to use for a mold.

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You can use different oils and solid butters, cut the recipe in half or double it, if you keep the same basic ratios of oils to solids. I have tried shea or mango butter instead of the cocoa butter, but this recipe is the one my skin likes the best. Everyone’s skin is different, so making different combinations is the surest way to find your favorite.

If you don’t use beeswax, you could try Candelilla wax, but the finished consistency of the bar might be different. You might have to play with the ratios a bit to achieve the same consistency. The following recipe will produce 5 (2 oz) massage melts. I often double the batch as they make great gifts.

For an especially lovely skin treat, use herbal infused oil for the liquid oil component.
Part of my recipe was inspired by a recipe from the Mountain Rose Herbs newsletter. They suggested cocoa butter, and that just did it for me. The slight chocolate scent comes through beautifully in the herb infused oil. I weigh the first three ingredients on a scale to make sure the amounts are correct.

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3 oz. Beeswax
3 oz. Herbal infused Jojoba oil
3 oz. Cocoa butter
About a tsp. of Lavender essential oil

Herbal infused oil can be made by several methods, but for a small project like this, I often use a small (1-2 quart) crock pot on the lowest setting to hurry the process up.

First, select the herbs you will use to enrich the oil. I have chosen dried Lavender, Rose Attar Geranium leaves and Rose rugosa petals. Measure about 2 Tablespoons of each herb into the bowl. For a little touch of magic inspiration, I like to portion out the herbs in this sweet little nature bowl. It just makes me happy to see the sun, moon and bugs parading around the bowl.

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Crumble the herbs with your fingers while mixing them together, then place them in the crock pot. Cover with the Jojoba oil. Turn heat to low but do not cover. Monitor the temperature of the oil with a thermometer, and don’t let it exceed 115 degrees. Once the oil registers 105 degrees, turn off the pot as the sides of the pot are sure to be even hotter. Place the lid on the pot to hold in the heat as long as possible. Repeat 3 or 4 times. Leave covered, in the pot overnight. In the morning your oil will be sweetly scented and infused with the properties of the herbs.


Next, strain the infused oil by placing the herbs and oil in a mesh strainer, pressing the herbs with a spoon to release as much infused oil as possible. Allow gravity to help and don’t rush the process.  I forgot to take a picture of the straining phase, sorry!

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Place beeswax, infused oil and cocoa butter in a 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup on a rack inside a 2 qt. saucepan. Add water to equal the depth of the oils you are melting. Set burner to lowest setting and check it frequently. (I use a small stainless rack I saved from a rice cooker that died). You can also set the measuring cup on a canning jar screw band inside the saucepan to use as a rack. It is a little less stable than the rack, but it works. Use a chopstick or wooden cake tester to stir the mixture now and then as it melts.

While the ingredients are melting, locate your mold and place it on a cookie sheet or freezer paper. It can be a little messy if you spill the hot oil or wax when you are ladling or pouring it into the molds. The mixture won’t melt completely till the oils reach a temp of about 155-160. Beeswax takes the longest, so plan for about 25-30 minutes.

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One the beeswax has melted and the oils appear clear, turn off the burner. Allow to cool to 140 before stirring in essential oil. I added 1 tsp. Of Lavender and 1/2 tsp. of Geranium essential oil to this batch.

If you have a small stainless steel ladle, know that I much prefer using a ladle to trying to pour the oils from the cup. In either case, work quickly as the mixture will start thicken up fast. Once it does, it gets gloppy and won’t pour. One can always melt it again, but I prefer to avoid that hassle.

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Allow the massage melts to set undisturbed for at least two hours to cool and firm up. Silicone molds will release easily. Just turn them upside down and give the mold a slight twist. Other plastics generally release easily. If not, just pop the whole mold tray in the freezer for about 20 minutes and they will just fall out. It won’t hurt them a bit.

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Store the melts at room temperature. They will scratch or fingerprint easily, so I wear nylon gloves to handle them. I store them in a jar in my apothecary cabinet so they are handy.

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Elderberry Syrup (11th hour gift!)

Happy Winter Solstice! The countdown to Christmas, or Yule has begun in earnest.   I like to gift my close neighbors with something I have made during the holidays. Some years I give munchie food gifts such as spiced, glazed nuts or cookies, but as I was pondering what I had on hand I remembered I still had Elderberries in the freezer, bail wire bottles and several Elderberry booklets I had ordered for them last fall. If you have dried Elderberries in your pantry, or branches in your freezer, please read on. There is still time!

Dried Elderberries make a great syrup, and require less equipment. I use dried berries and the following ingredients ratio from Tina at The Essential Herbal when I make dried berry syrup.

Syrup From Dried Elderberries:

1 cup dried Elderberries

3 cups distilled water

1 1/2 cup Honey (approximate) OR twice as much granulated sugar as there is liquid

Place dried berries and water into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Cool, then pour through a fine mesh strainer, pressing firmly with large spoon to extract as much juice as possible. More liquid can be strained from the berry mash by placing it in a clean towel, old t-shirt or cheesecloth and giving it a good squeeze.

If using honey: Return the juice to the saucepan and simmer until liquid is reduced to about 1 1/2 cups. Cool slightly, and stir in honey.

If using granulated sugar:

Measure the remaining liquid, and stir in twice as much sugar as there is liquid. Stir to dissolve the sugar, and boil for 3-5 minutes.

Refrigerate the Elderberry syrup, or, freeze the extracted juice and make the syrup later!

If you love Elderberries like I do, consider ordering A Gathering Of Elders from The Essential Herbal online. It is a wonderful little booklet and my favorite go-to for every imaginable Elderberry recipe and folklore.

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Today we are making Elderberry Syrup from frozen native western Mexicana Blue Elderberries we gathered last fall. Any of the blue or black Elderberries are edible when cooked. (There is an Elder variety with red berries, but they are toxic. Leave them be!)

Our native Elderberries have a thin white coating on them, similar to grape must, which disappears with advanced ripening or water. They are a deep blue-black color under the coating. I make fresh syrup every fall, and inevitably there are a couple bags more than I need, so, I throw them in the freezer, branches and all. My fresh Elderberry syrup recipe also originated from An Elder Gathering.

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The berries are easier to remove from the stems when they are frozen. Some people use forks or cake combs, but I find they literally fall off the stems if I rub them between my thumb and forefinger. Submerge the berries in water, rinse them well, and drain them in a colander before placing them in a deep kettle. Add only about 1 cup of distilled water to the kettle of berries, because they are incredibly juicy and you don’t want to overly dilute their goodness. Bring the berries to a boil, mashing them with a potato masher now and then. Turn the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes.

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You may notice a few tiny leaves or stems, or maybe a green berry or two in the first photo of the kettle. I pick as many as possible out of the kettle, when I see them, and don’t worry about the rest.

After boiling and simmering the kettle, remove the lid and allow the berries to cool to room temp. We use a food mill to separate the juice from the berries. If you don’t own a food mill, whatever you use for making applesauce will work fine. I used one of those old fashioned cone sieves for many years. Use a clean towel or an old t-shirt to squeeze the juice out, or press through a wire mesh strainer with a large spoon.

Next, strain or press the juice from the berries into a container with measuring marks. Add 2 cups of sugar to each cup of juice to the kettle. Stir to start dissolving the sugar, and let the kettle sit for about 10 minutes. You’ll notice that the color of the berries and juice in the kettle has changed to a beautiful purple or Burgundy color.

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Bring the syrup with dissolved sugar to a boil, and boil for 3-5 minutes.

Using a funnel, fill sterilized bail-wire bottles with the syrup to within 1 inch from the top. Close the lids, and allow to cool.

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Refrigerate and enjoy! Evidence suggests Elderberry syrup enhances your immune response to flu viruses and colds. Beyond that, it is great on ice cream and in teas. Even children love it. Stay healthy this winter!