I LOVE comments, so please, if you have an opinion or would like to ask a question, do so. But do check back as I shall answer any questions in the comments of the relevant post - that way, everyone can benefit from everybody's knowledge and advice.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Hair Styling and Hairdressers!

There is no doubt that hair styling is one area that changes so quickly it is almost impossible to keep up with the latest styles and trends without inflicting damage on the hair.  It is altogether too easy to allow your hairdresser to do what she/he wants and end up looking decidedly unattractive, albeit in fashion.  But with a little assertiveness it is also a time when a girl can be as individual as she wants.  It's that word 'assertive'.  How many of us go to the hairdresser with something in mind and come out feeling not at all happy, even more so since we often don't even tell the hairstylist what we really feel.

“Dorrie” is distressed because she is not clever at doing her hair, and asks me to suggest some means of dressing it.  I think she will find the simple method now fashionable will suit her.  Let her twist the back to form a projecting knob, and coil the remainder round this.  A little practice will make it easy to do it well and becomingly.  I don’t advise any attempt at elaboration.  Home Chat, January 1897.

I remember going to the hairdresser in the 1970's to have my hair cut without any distinct idea of how I wanted my hair to look.  I was given a magazine to look through and when I found a hair style that I liked I would point it out to the stylist.  All artifice would be employed so that I left the hairdressers looking as close to the picture in the magazine as possible.  No instruction was given on how to keep the style looking good myself and I would always try to go for as long as possible without washing it… difficult for me when the shampoo usually made me itch within a few short hours of my visit.  In general those days are gone and most hairdressers are much more helpful and more knowledgeable about how to care for your hair.  A visit to the hairdresser should be less about forcing your hair to assume 'the style' and more about discovering what is achievable given your own particular type of hair.

Choosing a hair style is extremely difficult and should not be a spur of the moment decision.  Few of us can take scissors to our hair, hack away and come out with a short, perfectly attractive, albeit tousled look.  Hair cutting and styling is an art and not every qualified hairdresser is an artist.  With this in mind you should begin by looking at the shape of your face.

It can be very difficult to determine for yourself what shape your face is, even asking for help from a friend or doing the old trick of drawing around your reflection with lipstick can produce unhelpful results.  But don’t worry there is a scientific approach. 

Determining the shape of your face 
A.C. – I think you very foolish indeed to worry about such a trifle!  I may tell you, for your comfort, that many people would prefer to have a “round face” to a “very thin and rather long one.”  To try rubbing your face, till you have made the skin tender and irritable and sore is one of the most foolish proceedings I ever heard of.  Suppose you were to make your skin irritable and blotchy, that would not improve your appearance, would it?  The people who make the remark to you that you are “fat” must be exceedingly ill-bred, and I should not mind their opinion at all.  A great many people would much rather have a fat than a thin face, and I daresay as you grow older that you will think nothing more of the matter.  Very probably the world at large would prefer your rounded face to the “long thin one” of your friend!  Think no more about it, but be glad that you have good health, which is one of the greatest possessions, and one of the greatest beauties in the world!  The Young Woman, October 1900

You will need a tape measure, a piece of paper and a pen or pencil.  Measure your face from side to side across the top of your cheekbones and write it down.  Next measure your face from side to side across the widest part of your jawline.  Then measure your forehead at its widest point from side to side and write this down.  Finally measure from the tip of your chin to your hairline right across the middle of your face.  Now look at the results on your paper.

Oval Face - Length equal to one and a half times width.
An oval face has a rounded hairline and is only slightly narrower at the jawline and temple.  It is a very useful shape to have since almost any hair style looks good on this shaped face.  Off the face styles are particularly attractive on an oval shaped face, showing the perfect balance and harmony of proportion that these lucky girls have.  If you wear your hair down onto your face, especially with heavy styles, you will spoil this perfect symmetry.  Wearing the hair too long will lengthen the face and make it appear oblong.

Round Face - Your face is as wide as it is long. This may vary a little but generally the measurement is close.
The widest point of this face is at the cheeks and ears, the hairline and jawline being very round in shape.  Girls with a round face will benefit from slightly longer styles which can elongate the face slightly.  Wearing the parting off centre and adding height at the crown will also suit.  The hair can be swept back off the face or forward onto it.  Layering on the top to give fullness and shaped close to the face beneath will also help make the face appear longer.  Avoid centre partings and hairstyles that mimic the shape of the face.

Oblong - Longer than it is wide.
An oblong or rectangular face tends to have a high forehead and be the same width at the temples as below the cheek bones.  This face shape suits short and medium length hair with wisps and fullness at the temples and cheeks to add width. Fringes can be worn as they will soften the length of the face.  Avoid high hairstyles and very long hairstyles as these will simply make your face look even longer. 

Heart - Narrow at jaw line, wide at cheekbones/and or forehead.
A heart shaped face is wide at the temples and narrows considerably towards the chin.  The lucky girl who has a heart shaped face looks stunning with a bobbed or chin length style.  She can wear her hair longer too but if she goes too short she needs to create fullness at the back to balance the narrowness of her chin.  Avoid short full styles or the slicked back looks.  Too much height on top will make you look top heavy.

Square - your face is about as wide as it is long.
A square face is recognisable by the strong square shape to forehead and chin.  These girls need softness and rounded styles to round out those square edges.  Wispy fringes and fullness on top are most becoming to this shaped face.  Short and medium length haircuts are best.  Long straight styles are to be avoided as they accentuate the angular chin and length of the face. 

Diamond - Widest at cheekbones, narrow forehead and jaw line of approximately equal widths.
 A diamond shaped face is very dramatic indeed and the lucky girl who has this shaped face can pretty much please herself what style or length of hair she chooses.  Beware though of accentuating the narrowness of your chin by styles that are cut too short.  Do not hide this wonderful shape by putting too much hair onto the face. 

Effective Hairdressing – Never pile your hair high on the head unless it be of faulty shape and needing such elaboration.  A girl with a head of beautiful contour should always so dress her hair as to reveal its lovely lines and shape, for nothing sets off a pretty face so well as a suitably dressed head.  Artistic and suitable hair-dressing should be carefully studied by every girl who wishes to make the best of, and improve, her appearance. Home Chat, December 1895.

Choosing a hairstylist
This is not as easy as it sounds.  There are literally thousands of hairstylists to choose from and although most of them are well qualified and will proudly display their diplomas on the wall of the salon this is no guarantee of getting a good haircut. 

A Girl’s experiences with a French Hairdresser

She was returning late one night from a house in Mayfair, when a man rushed from behind her and seized her black bag.  He made off with it, and I think the disappointment must have been keen when he found only some hair-brushes and a wig which required re-curling.  The Young Woman November 1900.

Ask your friends to tell you who cuts their hair, ask strangers, especially if you see someone with a fabulous hairstyle, they will be flattered that you noticed.  Once you think you have found your hairstylist book a consultation, not an appointment.  A consultation is usually free, during this visit you can discuss your hairstyle options with the stylist and talk about any concerns you have. 

A Lady Artist in Hair

A young girl in New York created quite a sensation some time ago by the artistic manner in which she dressed her mistress’s tresses.  She is now earning a considerable sum by attendance on ladies, her sole duty being the arrangement of locks and the artistic building of fashionable coiffures.  She has a happy knack of blending the hair to suit the style of face and the curves of neck and head, the coiffure being treated differently with each change of dress.  Home Chat, 1895.

It is important that you feel comfortable with the stylist and that you feel that he or she understands what you want, but also look for a stylist who is confident enough to tell you when you are being unreasonable.  Remember very few women can have EVERY style.  Look at the stylists own hair… is it well cared for?  Is it over coloured, dry and lifeless?   Take a look at the salon itself.  Is it clean and neat and tidy?  Are the magazines out of date?  Are the hairstylists stuck in a rut or are they keeping up to date with all the modern cutting edge techniques?  If they are young have they enough experience to temper their enthusiasm? 

If like me you have allergies or prefer to use totally natural products you can discuss this with the stylist and if necessary look at the ingredients list on the products that they normally use.  If you really want you can bring your own shampoo, don’t feel that you have to use the ‘salon special.’  It is the hair dressers cutting and styling skill that you really need… anyone can buy shampoo and conditioners. 

Getting to know your stylist is important, making the stylist understand your needs and being sure that your stylist is happy to work with them is very important.  Yes I know hair grows again but its not pleasant or easy to complain about a hairstyle that has gone wrong.  But you must give your hairstylist feedback, both good and bad.  If you like it, then say so and say why you like it, it will help the stylist get to know you and what you want for future visits.  If you don’t like it then you need to try and be specific about why you don’t like it.  Try not to be too critical, the stylist is only human and if you are not able to explain what you want, or she is not able to understand what you want then you are unlikely to have a happy outcome.

Do not be unreasonable and expect your stylist to be able to reproduce the same hair style every time you go.  She/he may not remember exactly what was done on a previous visit and your hair changes regularly depending upon many things, not least of which is your health, your natural bodily cycle, hormone fluctuations and the weather!  If you really love the hairstyle get your photograph taken immediately showing all sides and take it back with you the next time you go. 

No one likes to complain, but you will soon run out of hairdressing salons to choose from if you simply leave without saying anything and try a new one the following month.  If necessary you could rehearse what you might say if it looks like it is going awry.  Think of suitable phrases that might be useful.  Such as 'I usually put it like this' or ' I want it long enough to go behind my ears'  or 'I prefer to have it a little softer looking, less formal, but we can work on that the next time I come'.  Start out as you mean to go along with your hair stylist, you are in charge, you tell him/her what you want and take the relationship on from there.   A little time and effort invested in building a good relationship with your stylist will repay you a thousand fold. 

Monday, 11 July 2011

Antiseptic Thyme

The thyme on the allotment was fabulous this year so just as it was about to come into bloom I picked a large handful and soaked it in sunflower oil.  I covered the bowl with clingfilm and left it for several weeks...

In fact I left it until my other half got quite shirty about it hanging around the kitchen - he assumed it was for something to eat... mmm... not sure what recipe that would be. But he's well used to me dreaming up not only lotions and potions but interesting food recipes too!

Finally I sorted myself out and found the time to do something with it.  I decided on a first aid balm because thyme is a wonderful antiseptic (and because I had no balm left in the cupboard).  In fact I have a recipe for curing duck breasts in salt and thyme which clearly states that you cannot leave the thyme out because of it's antibacterial properties. 

I strained the oil - for every 50ml you need 4gm of beeswax.  Look how green the sunflower oil has gone, it smelled interesting too... very much as you would expect an antiseptic lotion to smell.

I then melted the beeswax until just a small lump remained unmelted and I took it off the heat and swirled it around until totally liquid.  This beeswax was sent to me by a lady in Ireland who had won an award for the purity of her bees wax.  It's very pale in colour and has the most delicate honey-like smell.  You could use a more yellow bees wax if you want, the result will be the same, but of course the colour might be different.  Then I added the strained oil and mixed it well. 

Nothing else was required.  No essential oils, nothing.  Though you could add eo's if you want, I simply felt it was unnecessary.

I stirred it as it was cooling, speeding up the process by resting the pan in a large bowl of cold water.  It was soon like a gloopy soup.


I then scraped it into a jar and gave it a good tap on the work surface to ensure no air pockets were trapped in the mixture. 

I left it without the lid on until quite cold - you can get condensation inside the jar if you seal it up while still warm.  Then I popped on the lid and put it in the first aid cupboard, where it didn't stay very long, a walk through the weeds at the allotment produced a nasty bite on my foot - not sure which/what insect did that but the thyme ointment took the itch away instantly and ensured that it wouldn't get infected.  It's very satisfying using your own antiseptic balm.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Is Being Beautiful Really Important?

In some parts of the world today, physical ugliness has almost totally disappeared.  

 In some affluent Western societies a child could grow up never having seen anyone with any kind of extraordinary feature such as a large nose or even sticky out ears.  Fairly low-level disfigurements such as facial warts or acne scarring are also now on the decrease.  Unless you live in an underdeveloped country you could go your whole life without ever seeing serious ugliness in the flesh.  This must be, on the whole, to the good.  But does it condition us into only seeing the superficial?  I worry that if society as a whole elevates youth and beauty to the highest height we are in danger of becoming ageist and shallow. Or perhaps I should say MORE ageist and shallow since this trend is already well under way.

One would think that today, when a girl can earn her own living and need never resort to the patronage of of a husband to support her, her appearance would be less of a concern.  As we know, this is not the case.  Beyond having healthy skin and hair women still want to look as attractive as possible.  Only nowadays we declare that we are doing it for ourselves (because we are worth it!)  

 I am old enough, and confident enough to recognise that my main reason for trying to improve my appearance is for the sake of others and how they may regard me.  If I were the last person left on earth I would not care about how I looked.  My looks are important to me, but I have established where I draw the line.  For example I will splash out occasionally on a very expensive item of clothing which I believe flatters my shape but I will not go as far as liposuction or breast enhancement, even though both procedures would probably flatter my shape more than a well cut dress.  These are personal decisions and if you have never thought about just how important your looks are to you and where you draw your own line, then it is time that you did.

A woman I once knew was so concerned about her looks that she would not answer the door unless she had her make up on, in fact she did not even like her husband to see her without her makeup.  At night she removed her makeup and then retired to bed in the dark and rising before her husband awoke in the morning she would appear at the breakfast table looking as she always did – beautiful.  She will be much older now and although we have lost touch, I daresay her routine is very much the same - but perhaps takes a little longer to accomplish, lol! 

If you are truly indifferent to the way you look then spending time in front of the mirror or visiting the beauty parlour may be considered a total waste of time.  If your appearance is very important to you, but you don’t have the time or money to devote to your looks, you may feel very frustrated and unhappy.  Beauty (being defined as each one of us looking our very very best) can be achieved on fairly small sums of money, but ALWAYS needs a certain amount of time. Your first step is to determine your priorities, how important your looks are to you and how far you are prepared to go to maintain them.

We each have natural features that we consider to be nice, and equally, features that we dislike.  Look at yourself in the mirror and decide which are yours.  Write them down in two lists.  This is mine from a little while ago to give you an idea of what I mean:

Features I like: Nice Big Green Eyes with long lashes.  Good cheekbones.  Full lips. Very long hair. No split ends.
Features I don’t like: Grey streaked hair. Wild fuzzy hair.  Small forehead. Acne scarred skin.  Large pores.

I know that someone who has written on her list that she doesn’t like her tiny eyes with short stubby lashes will envy me my nice big green eyes with long lashes.  Likewise if she has rich auburn hair that gently curls on her list I will be turning green.  Whatever features you have put on your list you can be sure someone is envious of you.  This is putting your appearance into perspective.   

Be honest with the list, don’t worry you can rip it up when you are finished, you don’t have to keep it or show it to anyone, although it can be interesting to look back at it from time to time (this list is already out of date for me and writing this is a reminder that I should do it again).  

The list will give you an insight into what features you want people to notice and which you would prefer that they didn’t.  It will also give you a starting point for improving those features that you really dislike.  For example, I listed my grey streaked hair as the first of my features that I dislike.  I really dislike the grey colour so I decided to do something about it.  I accepted the fact that I did not wish to use commercial dyes because my hair is too fragile to cope with the damage that they cause, so I began to investigate natural plant dyes.  Using the plant dyes takes several hours but it was important to me and so I made the time to do it.  I also made extra time both morning and night to apply conditioning oils to my hair – this has helped with calming down the fuzziness.  Of course it is not perfect and it needs daily attention but it is natural, long (a feature that is important to me) and if I have a special event to attend it will take styling with heat and using gels etc… without falling out and without too much damage or breakage – provided I don’t do it too often! 

I decided that I couldn’t do much about my small forehead – although changing hairstyle can do wonders for changing the appearance of your face – it turned out that I wasn’t so concerned about it as I was the greyness of my hair or the condition of my skin, so I concentrated next on my large pores.  A daily wash with Rhassoul mud has done wonders for improving the texture and tone of my skin along with a weekly hydrating mask for my dry cheeks and neck.  If I do nothing else in the way of a beauty regime than concentrating on these two areas, my hair and my open pores, has gone a long way to correcting the features that upset me most about my appearance. 

Next you need to promote your good features.  If, like me, you like the shape and contour of your eyes then you want people to notice them.  If you need to wear glasses you would be best to choose a nice open style that lets everyone see your eyes more clearly, or go for contact lenses if you can wear them.  I have recently started to use a little oil on the area around my eyes because I am getting older and I don’t want to compromise what I consider my best feature, but I don’t want to get rid of the little lines that I see forming, I actually like them, they give my eyes expression and character that I think suits me.  

I remember an occasion when my husband and I were going to a very fancy ball.  I had asked a hairdresser to come to the house to do my hair in a very elaborate style.  The hairdresser took ages and ages to get my hair right and although I had showered and put on my underwear I still had to do my makeup and put on my dress.  With the taxi driver threatening to leave because he had another booking the hairdresser pinned the last curl in place and I dashed upstairs to put on my make up and my dress.  I realised that I wouldn’t have time to do my usual fancy occasion makeup and decided to simply do my eyes.  It took me barely two minutes to apply eye shadow, eyeliner and mascara.  I finished with a quick sweep of blusher on my cheekbones and then stepped into my dress and shoes.  I put my lipstick and lip brush into my purse ready to apply in the car.  

 I had a brilliant time at the ball and later when I saw the photographs I was very pleased that my makeup looked every bit as good as on the occasions that I had taken half an hour over it.  No one would have guessed that I had done it all in record breaking time and I realised that by concentrating on just one or two areas (my hair and my eyes) I had not only saved myself time, I had also drawn everyone’s attention away from my flaws and the areas that I hadn’t had time to fix.

Most of us will already have a skin care and makeup routine that covers normal work days, house days and special events.  By doing your list of features you like and dislike you may find that you have been focussing on the right places all along or you could discover that in fact you don’t need to spend so much time on certain things as on others.  

In the normal course of events very few of us have time for pampering every day, but once a week becomes more of a possibility with at least once a month being the minimum that you can get away with – dependent upon your own individual circumstances, age, condition etc. 

On a daily basis many little beauty jobs can be done while doing other things… a routine manicure, pedicure or face mask while watching tv in the evening for example.  Keeping your beauty products all together in a box or basket that can be brought easily into the sitting room means that you can accomplish all sorts of things while engaging in conversation, listening to music or watching the television.  However, if you live with someone who harbours illusions about you then you may wish to keep these jobs for the bathroom or for when your partner is out. 

…She admitted that there might be some excuse for young girls to curl and frizzle their hair, for they naturally wished to make themselves attractive in the eyes of men – “which was all girls seemed to care about nowadays” – but after marriage no woman should think of using curlers.  Girls, she stated, might seclude themselves from sight till the process of crimping and curling was accomplished, but she could not help feeling deep compassion for the man who was obliged to see his wife in all the hideousness of hard-bunched hair.  Home Notes, Sept 7, 1895.

Monday, 23 May 2011


Apologies for the long delay in getting the promised 'foot care' post online.  Needless to say, with two allotments and the garden to boot, time is very limited at this time of year.... and if you could see the state of my feet you would wonder why I bother to post this at all!  So, it is a timely reminder to myself as well... that you really should take more care of your feet.


Because we often neglect them, and because they take a lot of hard wear and tear, it is true to say that many of us have particularly ugly feet.  You can be honest with yourself, look at your naked feet and decide, are they pretty or not?  If you decide the latter then it is very important to follow a foot care routine for at least 3 months in order to bring your feet up to the healthiest condition possible.  Even if you decided that your feet are pretty, in order to keep them that way a foot care routine is important.

  1. Wash your feet carefully when in the shower or bath (daily foot washing is important, twice daily if you suffer from athletes foot or any other foot maladies.  At least once a week soak the feet in a warm bath and use a pumice stone to remove dry dead skin on your heels.  Do not scrub overly at hard skin, it has taken a long time to build up and will not disappear after only one or two soakings, this will take time to remedy.  There are no shortcuts, you are in this for the long haul!  You can buy some pretty powerful creams to remove this dry skin however they also take diligence in application on a daily basis and if you stop using them the dry skin returns fairly quickly - one winter will show your feet to be the same as before, so it is wise to get into a footcare habit and simply stick to it.

  2. Occasionally you may prefer to use a sugar scrub on your feet.  This will moisturise and help remove loose flaky skin cells.  Once a month it is a good idea to use a foot mask.  This is exactly the same as using a face mask only you will choose ingredients for very dry skin.  Pop the feet in a plastic bag and put them up for 20 minutes while you watch tv or catch up on some light reading.

  3. Rinse off the foot mask with warm water and dry the feet very carefully.  Pay particular attention to the area between the toes.
  4. Now moisturise the feet with a rich cream or oil.  Or ask a partner or friend to do it for you, a foot massage can be very relaxing.  Raw Shea Butter is excellent for this purpose and if used at bedtime will work its magic during the night while you sleep.  It isn’t necessary however to buy a special cream or lotion for the feet, any vegetable oil such as olive, sunflower or rapeseed will work almost as well – you may need a couple of applications before bed to achieve the same results.  A pair of light cotton socks can be worn to bed to save the sheets getting oily!

Sugar Scrub for Feet

A quantity of dark brown sugar (about a handfull will do)
Vegetable oil to moisten (just enough to make the sugar like wettish sand)
4 or 5 drops of peppermint essential oil (or find a different blend to your liking - look up the essential oil links on this site for some suggestions)

Mix these ingredients together and leave covered in a bowl for a few hours to allow the essential oils to infuse properly.  Then massage the mixture onto wet feet paying particular attention to your heels and any areas of dry skin.  Take your time to do this (it is better to be sat on the edge of the bath with your feet in the bath or in the shower).  Finally, rinse your feet with warm water and pat them dry.  Follow with a good moisturiser or a moisturising foot mask.

Foot Mask Recipe 

20g Clay (Argiletz, Dead Sea Mud or Rhassoul)
1 tablespoon Jojoba Oil
Enough warm water to mix to a paste
A few drops of essential oil of your choice
To Vary
1 egg yolk and a tablespoon of honey
A handful of organic oats

Mix the oil into the clay and then add enough water to make a paste.  Add any extra ingredients if desired and mix well.  Apply to damp previously soaked feet, pay particular attention to areas of dry skin.  Leave for 20 minutes and then rinse.

Toe Nails
If you have ugly feet you may prefer to keep your nails as natural as possible so as not to draw too much attention to them.  Careful choice of summer shoes or style of sandals can go a long way to disguising unattractive feet.  Take the opportunity to try on lots of different styles, even ones that you normally wouldn’t want to wear.  Always look in a mirror rather than straight down at your feet to ascertain the full affect.

If your toenails are especially thick you may wish to soak the feet BEFORE cutting and filing them, however if it is easier, you may cut and trim the nails first and soak the feet afterwards.  The choice is yours.  To avoid problems with in-growing nails always cut straight across the nail.  The length of nail you leave is again your choice but for comfort when wearing shoes and socks the nail shouldn’t extend beyond the end of the toes.  File any rough edges left by the scissors or clippers.

Rub a little nail oil (recipe below) onto the surface of your nail and allow it to soak in for a few minutes.  Gently push the cuticle down to expose as much nail as is comfortable.  The surface of the nails can be polished in exactly the same way as the nails on the hand.  Buff them up vigorously for a few minutes and try on your sandals and look in the mirror.  If you decide that you would prefer a higher shine on your toes then you could apply some nail lacquer.  Clear nail varnish is pretty without drawing too much attention to the feet.  Or a French manicure, where the ends of the nails are coated with a white varnish, can give a ‘natural’ look. 

Nail Repair Oil

50% Jojoba oil
50% Avocado oil
 A few drops of Essential oils of Carrot seed and Lavender 

Combine the oils together in a bottle and apply frequently to strengthen and condition the nails.  Carrot seed essential oil is expensive but it is possible to get an olive or sunflower oil that has been macerated with carrot, this could be used instead.   
If you do apply a coloured varnish remember to remove it after two days and allow your toenails to breathe for at least a day before re-applying.  This is very important, nails that have been painted for too long a time are inclined to turn yellow.

Having fish eat the dead skin from your feet seems to be all the rage at the moment.  It is expensive and I think it must be effective or it wouldn't be so popular, however, I have no direct experience of it so I cannot say for sure - I would be interested in hearing from anyone who has had a go of this novel approach to footcare.  I suspect that afterwards you would still have to continue with a routine in order to keep your feet clear of dead skin so you are still back to square one really.

A Railway Incident
(Home Notes February 1895)

She sat beside me in the train,
Her eyes were shut, her face was fair,
Her lips were red as cherries ripe,
Of soft brown colour was her hair.

Her face a look of sadness wore,
I spied a tear upon her cheek.
Alas! I, too, was sad at heart,
And so resolved to speak.

“Fair maid”, I said, “I, like to thee,
Am suffering from an aching heart,
My sympathy I’d gladly give,
Then pray thy secret woes impart”.

“I thank you kindly, sir,” she said,
“I am enduring pain, tis true,
But tis no trouble with my heart,
It’s only that my boots are new!”

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

More Bicarbonate of Soda

Now that the better weather is beginning and we are considering sandals (well I am) it may almost be too late to start worrying about the look of your feet and toes (if you do want to begin a foot care regime check back regularly because my next post is about footcare).  But if you suffer from Athletes foot then using bicarb as a powder on your feet and between your toes after your shower (dry carefully first of course - even to the point of using a hair dryer on your toes for a few minutes) can be helpful.  As with all natural solutions it can take several weeks of daily application of bicarb to clear up a bad bout of athletes foot.  You should continue the treatment (daily) for several weeks after the affliction appears to have gone, this will help prevent re-infection.  After this a once a week treatment may be sufficient.

Sunburn - to relieve the pain of sun or wind burn.  dissolve 100g of bicarbonate of soda in a tepid bath and soak for about fifteen minutes.  Pat the skin dry and apply an after sun cream.

Bath Bombs - These are very popular nowadays and so easy to make at home - well I say easy, but I have often had problems with getting them to set but if they do crumble it's just as nice to put them in a bag and bash them with a rolling pin into dust - fizzy dust sprinkled onto the bath works just the same as the bath bomb.

Ingredients: 4oz bicarbonate of soda, 2oz citric acid, 1 tsp sunflower oil, approximately 10 drops essential oil. (some other recipes call for dried flowers or lavender buds etc... I hate bits floating in my bath so I leave these out).  A mould - plastic cups or silicone cup cake moulds will work.  I do not like to colour my bath bombs, preferring them natural, but any cosmetic grade colourant will work (most suppliers will advise you on which are the best - but remember when it comes to colour, less is more).  You could even give a little vegetable colourant a try just be aware that it could make your mixture a little wet (in this case work fast and use less vegetable oil).

Method:  Mix the bicarb and citric acid together well.  Add the vegetable oil and the essential oil and mix with your hands until really well incorporated.  The mixture should start to clump together when you squeeze or press it with your hands.  It should still be very crumbly and only sticking together when you squish it very hard.  Begin to pack it into your mould.  You need to really pack it tightly - squishing and squashing. Once you think you have it dense enough leave it somewhere very dry for an hour or two and then carefully remove it from the mould (a bit of gentle tapping should do it) then leave it for 24 hours in a nice dry airy place.  Your bath bomb is now ready to use or to wrap up as a gift.  If youa re giving it as a gift do remember to list the ingredients so that the recipient knows what you have put in it.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Bicarbonate of Soda

As I am sure most of you will know, Bicarb is a wonderful thing!  You can use it for all sorts of stuff.  When it comes to cleaning it is an excellent eco friendly product that will shift grease and grime like nobodies business.  Well this sounds great I hear you murmur.  However, what no one tells you is that you need one extra ingredient for bicarb to actually make a good job of it.  That extra ingredient is Elbow Grease.

Sadly there is no way round it, this wonderful ecologically sound method of cleaning your bathroom or kitchen only works if you are prepared to put a great deal of effort into it.  We are not so used to having to actually scrub our floors clean these days.  So many of the products available are simply wipe on and then off again.  Can you imagine how harsh they have to be to work so effectively.

You can leave a paste of bicarb and water smeared onto stubborn dirt or grease and then come back to it after a little while.  This can cut down the scrubbing a bit.  But when opting for any of these old fashioned (albeit eco friendly) cleaning tips be prepared to turn the clock back a hundred years or so and get your sleeves rolled up and your hair tied back. 

And to finish this post... some other things you can do with bicarb that don't require scrubbing. 

Chlorine damage to your hair? : Mix a solution of half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to a pint of warm water and rinse your hair with it, catch the rinse in a bowl or jug and pass it through your hair several times.  This removes any smell of chlorine and can help to redress some of the damage done - but if you insist on swimming on a daily basis then you really need to wear a waterproof hat.  Bicarb can only do so much.

Dull or Dry Skin Exfoliation:  Mix a quarter of a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda with your usual shower gel or body wash.  Make sure it is well dissolved and then apply to the skin in gentle circular motions.  Rinse well in the shower and pat the skin dry.  Follow with a luxurious body butter or lotion.  This should not be done more than once a week and a lot less if you are inclined to very dry skin.

Remember, bicarb is basically a cleaning product so although it is eco friendly, it can be a bit strong when used as part of a beauty regime.  So use sparingly and with caution.  I do have a multitude of recipes in one of my old notebooks - copied from some ancient publication no doubt.  If I can find it, I will give you a few more tips in another post.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Chamfered Edging on Soap

I always keep a stash of soap here....

...under the sink in the kitchen.  I don't make a dedicated kitchen soap, I tend to use it just for hand washing anyway, so the same stuff that ends up in the shower can be found here.

I keep it in a brown paper bag tightly closed to preserve the scent of the soap.  It works very well and these soaps, which have been here for months and months still smell of orange and lavender.

When I ran the soap company I very seldom had complaints about the soap - once when a very ancient old lady whined about the price (she thought £3 a bar was expensive) she compared my soap to Lux and said that it wasn't any different so why was it so expensive. She wasn't convinced by my explanation about the precious oils and the abundance of natural glycerin.  But that's all by the way... the main complaint I frequently had, was from men, and it suprised me.  They did not like the sharp edges on the soap.  Even though I explained that the edges would soon round down with use, they always screwed up their faces and said how awkward it was to use sharp edged soap.

I firmly believe that chamfering the edges of the soap is firstly, a waste of soap and secondly, a waste of your time - but if you want to please the man (men) in your life then perhaps it's worth it.

This is how you do it.  It's best to do this once your soap has fully hardened, so after curing for at least 4 weeks.  Take a vegetable peeler (a speed peeler as Jamie Oliver calls it) and run it along the sharp edge of the soap.

A thin sliver of soap will come off.  Sometimes they come off in great long curls, sometimes they simply shatter into little shards of soap.

You can do all the edges, vertical and horizontal.  Then you take a clean dry cloth ( a T towel is good) and polish up the surface of the soap until it shines.  You don't believe me when I say the soap will shine?  Give it a go and you will see what I mean.

The soap is then ready to be wrapped or displayed for all to see how pretty it is... and how nice to use.  And you can be sure that the man in your life won't have to put up with any sharp edges on his delicate skin!

Oh yes, and because I don't believe in wasting anything... all those little shards and curls of soap that peeled off, don't throw them away.  Put them in an airtight container and the next time you are making soap, when it gets to trace, chuck them in, give it a stir and then pour into the mould.  Sometimes if I had an underweight coloured bar I used to cut it into little cubes and I would add it to a batch of plain soap so that when it turned out it looked like dolly mixtures in the soap.  If you use your imagination you could make some really interesting combinations.  Just scent the main batch as you would normally (don't worry if the shards of soap are from a scented batch or not, they are too small to affect the smell of the final soap) and then chuck in the little offcuts, stir and pour into your mould.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Some Advice from Great Granny!

Here I have a Family Herald Handy Book entitled HInts on The Toilette with advice on the improvement and preservation of the skin, teeth, eyes, hair, hands, and feet.

Well we could all do with a bit of that I'm sure!

The Skin
On considering the quantity of waste matter continually carried to the the surface of the skin, which, if not removed, will inevitably impede its function, we cannot fail to see the necessity for daily and thorough ablution.  The minute dry scales cast off as waste or refuse from the outer skin, instead of falling away, are kept in contact with the surface of the body, and, becoming amalgamated with the secretions of the skin, form a thin unctuous crust, to which soot, dust, and other particles from the atmosphere, and from our dress, adhere, encasing the entire body with impurities.

If this coating be suffered to remain, the result will be injurious in many ways.  First, the perspiratory pores being obstructed, their function must necessarily be performed by some other organ, which in consequence being overworked, will probably become weak and disordered.  Secondly, the skin will be subject to irritation, both mechanically and chemically, occasioning eruptions; while the saline particles detained on its surface, by their affinity for moisture, will keep it damp and cold, and thus tend to engender diseases by the effect of cold on the system.  Thirdly, it is probably that the pellicle of foreign substances on the skin may form a medium for the detention of poisonous gases, or miasmatic and infectious vapours, which, being absorbed into the system, will be productive of injurious consequences.

Well, Ladies.  I don't know the date of this publication as it is not written on it, however I surmise it to be early to mid Victorian - especially with the references to disease being carried on miasmas.  And apart from the obvious fact that it is a good thing to wash or cleanse daily I don't think we can put much credence in the 'science' behind it.  What is fascinating is that we take it for granted that everyone knows they should wash or cleanse every day... this little book takes it for granted that many people do not know that they should wash or cleanse every day. 

The Eye
Although art has discovered several means of giving lustre to the eye, none can rival nature, and the false lustre, though beautiful, is but transient and injurious.  The most common thing used is belladonna, which cannot be too highly decried.  Health alone, with frequent ablution in cold spring water, or rose-water diluted, will give lustre to the eyes, and those using artificial means will pay for it in after years.

It is hard to believe that girls would go to such lengths as putting a poisonous substance into their eyes... or is it?  I feel the same sense of horror when I hear the word Botox.  In some ways the world has not changed at all, actually that is not true, the world has changed a great deal.  People haven't.

And finally... a recipe from the same book that I approve of.

Eau De Cologne, or Cologne Water 
Take rectified spirits of wine, or the best unsweetened French brandy, one pint; oil of neroly, three-quarters of a drachm (45 drops); oil of rosemary, half a drachm; camphor, half a drachm: one ounce each of oil of lemon-peel and orange-peel; half an ounce of pure bergamot.  Keep the ingredients together for a month; it is then fit for use.

Indeed this will make a very nice, refreshing cologne.  Anyone remember 4711?  Well this would work in a similar way.  You put it on your handkerchief and then wipe your brow or your neck with it and it is delicously cooling in hot weather, as well as being freshly scented.  No, you don't smell of the French Brandy, well not if you have made it correctly you don't.

This particular recipe would be very pricey to recreate (I can't but think it would have been pricey during the 1800's too) but somewhere in among all my books and papers I have a recipe for a modern equivalent... I will see if I can find it for next time.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Viva Espagne!

Ok, so this post is about some iffy soap I made with friends in Spain.  Why was the soap iffy I hear you ask?  Well.  The whole idea was to make something cheap (therefore using local produce) and pure if possible.  The purpose of the soap was to be twofold - a cleaning product for the kitchen as well as something that you could wash your hands with.  This is a tall order as the two are usually completely separate items.

The lovely people who asked me to teach them to make soap were so enthusiastic about the whole project that we simply 'had a go' with the best ingredients that we could find in the village shop.  Sometimes you just have to do it and see what you get.

The only caustic soda that we could find was this stuff.....

It said on the packet that it was 90% caustic soda and 10% 'other ingredients'.  It did not specify which or what other ingredients were included.  I speculated that this could have been bleach or something equally horrid that you would not want to put on your skin.  Would it even turn into soap I wondered? 

The olive oil, the cheapest we could find at the village shop, turned out to be a rather good quality olive oil that I just knew would take some stirring to turn into soap.  But what the heck... lets see what happens.

Firstly I have to point out the deliberate mistake here and say BAD GIRL JANE.  BAD BAD GIRL!!!  Can you see?

I am not wearing safety goggles.  This is a huge NO NO NO!  and I debated whether to do this post at all because of it.  I hold my hands up, it was entirely my fault, my suitcase weighed in at 19.6kg when I was only allowed 20kg on the plane and I had turfed out of the case all my soap making equipment in favour of toys and clothes for my grand daughter.  So I turned the soap making experience into a very dangerous one by proceeding without the goggles.

The first problem we encountered was that the caustic soda did not entirely dissolve.  The nameless 10% was left solid at the bottom of the jug.  I carefully poured only the dissolved solution into the oils.  This means that I actually was unsure how much caustic soda I was using - likely alot less than the recipe called for (recipe given at the bottom of the post).  since I was pretty confident that it would be less caustic rather than more I thought it was worth continuing.

As predicted it took a lot of stirring.  Then we left it still liquid and had a cup of tea, checking back every ten minutes or so to give it a quick stir. After doing this a couple of times it finally started to come together, when it was the consistency of a nice creamy custard (looked just like creamy custard too!) we stirred in some out of date essential oils that my daughter had knocking about the house.  They still smelled lovely even though they were quite old - lavender and sweet orange in equal quantities. 

We poured the mixture into an empty cardboard box that we lined with greaseproof paper and then we set off for the village bar.  After a couple of hours and a couple of beers we came home and checked on it.  It was still quite runny but it was very carefully transported to Angela and Michele's house.  It was then that I realised that I had forgotten to take a photograph of the finished product.  D'oh! (must have been the beer!)

According to Angela it set beautifully by the following morning and they cut it and left it to cure.  They are now in the UK for a holiday so perhaps when they get back they can take a photograph of the soap and let me have it so I can update you all.

This type of all-olive oil soap is traditionally called a Castile soap after the Castile region in Spain where it was first made.  The final test of how good this soap is - whether it will be suitable for using on the skin or left under the sink for washing the floor will be down to Angela and Michele.  They understand that we don't really know what was in the caustic soda, or if we managed to screen out the 'bad' bits or not.  At the end of the day, if it is used solely as a kitchen cleaner, it is still going to be the cheapest kitchen cleaner you could ever buy... costing only a couple of euro's to make. 

The recipe we used:
1 litre Olive Oil (cheapest we could get)
275g water (weighed)
127g caustic soda

10ml Essential oil