Shopping Locally for Christmas: Plateau, Montréal.

Shopping local can mean two things: shopping from locally owned businesses and shopping for things made locally. Ideally, both. For this season I decided to try to do this for all my Christmas shopping. I live in Montreal in an area called Plateau Mont-Royal and both the city and the borough are known for their artists and artisans, so perhaps this is not such a challenge.

At this point I am about halfway through my Christmas shopping, so this post is as much about the things I have already purchased as about the places I like to frequent regularly, as well as where I intend to purchase some of my Christmas gifts this year. I also wanted to pay tribute and give props to all the entrepreneurs out there: to the artisans and to the local businesses that support them,  many of whom started out and hang on by a thread of crazy passion. Passion for the craft, for innovation, and for the rediscovery of forgotten traditions. And lets not forget the sheer tactile delight of a thing well made. So here’s to all of you, and here are a few of my favourite (handmade) things:

  1. La Bobineuse de LaineA Plateau institution that has existed in various locations and incarnations for over 60 years. This store is a mecca for anyone with the knitting bug as they specialize in yarn – Bobineuse de Laine literally means wool winder. Its current owner has taken the store to a new level of community presence and commitment by broadening the inventory to include things like macramé twine and giant wool roving; opening up the store to local artisans (including yours truly) and their products; offering lots of workshops and participating in fairs and events. They also have an online store. This year I purchased (who’s getting it is a secret…) a skein of naturally hand-dyed yarn by Bleu Poussière. Such a perfect trinity of local-ness, with the wool being a Québec Dorset. Beautiful!Bleu-Poussiere-Taiga-laine-picby-CMars
  2. Les Petits MonstresA children’s clothing store owned and operated by the delightful Galina, who aimed right from the very beginning to fill the store with locally handcrafted products. Here you will find everything from hand-made cloth bibs to toques and baby safe soaps and cosmetics. Les Petits Monstres currently carries five of my baby safe products. This store is soon closing however, so if you want to take advantage of some amazing 50% off deals, hurry! The store closes on December 22, 2017.
  3. La Grande Ourse. This store is owned and operated a gentle grande dame and retired Rudolf Steiner teacher. Although most of their finished products are imported from Europe, they also carry toys and items made locally, as well as materials to make your own Waldorf inspired crafts with. As the owner herself once told me: “there is one thing in this store you can steal: ideas.” If you would like to read about something I have made with their craft supplies click here.
  4. Boulangerie Les Co’Pains d’abord. With three locations in the Plateau, this is the perfect place to get some tasty stocking stuffers, hostess gifts, or even your Christmas bûche (order early!). Anyone who wishes to argue with me, ask me what I mailed across the ocean to my mother last Christmas (answer: their fruitcake). This is also a great place to stop at during your Christmas shopping and take a load off. Recommended favourites: the chocolate truffles, tarte choco-amande framboises (I have one of these EVERY week!), and the hot chocolate, which is particularly good with a croissant or a palmier, each a little masterpiece of crunch, flake and buttery goodness.
  5. La Maison des BièresIf you happen to know a beer enthusiast, or be one yourself, this is the place to go. They not only carry an extensive inventory of locally made beers, but a wide variety of small batch artisan brews to suit every taste. They have a great selection of stouts and dark beers, which are great for making dark rye breads, and other Christmas type breads. Pictured below: Oat Stout soap (made with an oat stout from Québec brewers Microbrasserie du Lièvre), and the prop beer which I will be using to make my next beer soap with: Mille Iles Oat Stout. Both equally delicious by the way. oat-stout-soap-flora-&-pomona (29).JPG
  6. Rose Café MontréalThis is another operation that looks to support local artisans and the local crafting community, by providing a meeting space, a retail section as well as venue for various events and workshops. Some of the products sold here are by artisan-entrepreneurs and some local hobby crafters who sew or crochet at home on their spare time. This year I bought two things from some of these crafty local ladies: a fabric case (perfect for pens, makeup or knitting and crochet needles) and a set of croched necklace and bracelet, appropriately, rose colored! Rose-Cafe-Montreal-crafts-picby-CMars
  7. Craft Markets. Every year there are more and more craft markets. There are the huge classic blockbuster ones like the Salon des Métiers d’art, and the smaller markets of non-profits like On Sème’s November Market, or even fundraising markets like the Rudolf Steiner’s Christmas market. No matter where you go there are a few obvious benefits to shopping at craft markets: you get to meet the artisans themselves, the artisan’s and crafters often bring their best selection and a wider selection and at a better price than what you might find in retail outlets. Here are my market purchases this year:

From On Sème Marché du Novembre:

IMG_20171121_075939_991

Close up of Ceramic Bowl by Élise Rubin:Elise-Rubin-ceramic-bowl-picbyCMars

From Rudolf Steiner’s Christmas market.

  • All natural artisan soap by Blue Moose Soap. I might as well admit, that this is a gift to myself.
  • Stuffed animal in the shape of a Dalahäst for my toddler, by the mother and daughter team Almonte-Bravo.
  • Knitted sheep’s wool toque for children. This hat is seriously soft, wellmade and even has a liner along the brim (I will try and find the maker of this hat and will edit it in).

Rudolf-Steiner-xmas-market-haul-CMars

How about you? Do you have a favourite craft market, artisan or store that offers artisan wares? Let me know in the comments below. Thank you so much for stopping by and remember, handmade is best made 😉

Advertisements

Natural Green Soap Colorants: part 2

Last year I tested six natural green colorants in cold process soap – you can read about it here – and no sooner had I completed the experiment than I thought of all the other natural green colorants I could have tested. I decided almost immediately to make a second experiment… and it only took me another year to do it 😉 but here it is! In this experiment I will test six more natural green colorants or additives in cold process soap: liquid chlorophyll, comfrey leaf powder, cold pressed hemp seed oil, neem leaf powder, nettle leaf powder, and sea weed extract/powder.

Parameters

After my first experiment, I realized that there were variables that left some questions unanswered. So I did three things differently this time:

  1. A control: I left some of the batter uncolored. In the first experiment the green clay was so pale it was difficult to see any color effect at all. Since I knew my soap recipe yielded a white soap, I could confirm that the clay did effect the color of my soap, if only slightly. But I couldn’t prove or show you this because I didn’t leave any of the batch uncolored. This time the control will make the effects of the colorants obvious.
  2. Gelling: this can have a big effect on your soap colorants and this was something I was left wondering about last time. So this time I decided to split each colorant into two separate molds, oven process one of them and leave the other one out, uncovered, at room temperature.
  3. Weight and equalizing each batch: Last time I measured my dissolving oil out by volume, and this time I did it by weight. Since I was also using hemp seed as an actual colorant, I needed to even that out to make sure that each test got the same amount of extra oil. I decided to add 5 grams of extra oil to each test, including the chlorophyll which is a water based liquid, essentially mixing the oil and the liquid chlorophyll.

The Additives

After my last experiment I received several suggestions for other green colorants to try: alfalfa, avocado, cucumber juice, chlorophyll, and other powdered botanicals. While I was game to try anything, I left some out because either I couldn’t find them, or because it would have been too difficult to test in such a small quantity, and to compare to the other additives. I really wanted to try avocado purée but there was no way I could have done it on such a small scale and account for the added volume and unknown amount of water.

Here are a few details on each of the additives I ended up choosing. Natural-green-colorants-test-F-and-P (7)Top to bottom, from left to right:

  1. Chlorophyll, liquid. Trophic Chlorophyll (Super Concentrate) extracted from Mulberry leaves in a distilled water base. I used a quarter of a tea spoon and it wasn’t enough to even register as a gram on my scale, which is why I didn’t bother adding the same amount of water to the other colorants. 
  2. Comfrey leaf powder. Hand harvested, dried and powdered a month prior to the experiment.
  3. Hemp seed oil: Manitoba Harvest brand, cold pressed organic. The hemp oil was the palest of the colorants, and I was glad to have the control to show that while it is pale, hemp oil can color your soap.
  4. Neem powder. Purchased at a health food/ethnic grocery store. Used typically in hair care. Dull greyish green color, but the fine powder is always nice if you want a less speckled look.
  5. Nettle leaf powder. Hand harvested, dried and powdered a month prior to the experiment. I choose nettle because it contains a lot of chlorophyll.
  6. Sea weed extract. Cosmetic extract made for skin and hair care applications that I purchased at a soap supply store. I guess it is basically powdered seaweed.

I started by weighing out the additives at a gram each. I came to this weight by starting at the most common ratio for any colorant, 1tsp / LB of soap, which is about 0.7 grams of botanicals, and then rounding up to 1 gram, my scale’s smallest unit. I added 5 grams of extra virgin olive oil to each colorant, except the hemp oil. I used the hemp oil as a colorant, adding it in at 6 grams, to replace the olive oil and 1 gram of powdered additive.

The Soap

For the soap recipe, I used the same bastille recipe I had used the first time around, but increased the batch size to account for the control and the oven processed control. The recipe is a basic bastille soap with olive oil, coconut oil and castor oil. Lye concentration at 38%. Superfat at 4%, and with the added 5 grams of oil in each colorant this gets bumped up to a 7% superfat.

I mixed the soap to emulsion them poured out a predetermined amount for each color  and mixed in the green colorants and oil. Then I poured half of the colored batter into a 6 cavity muffin mold – destined for the 170 F oven – and the other half into a crimped cupcake mold destined to sit uncovered in a cool room. The smooth soaps were left in the warmed oven for 4 hours, to try and force gel (although, to be honest, not sure they did gel) and the crimped cupcake soaps were left uncovered on a tray in a cool room. I unmolded two days later, and here are the results!

Results

This time I made more of an effort to take good pictures of the soaps at different times in the cure. Et voilà!

Freshly unmolded:

Natural-green-soap-colorants-day2-Flora&Pomona

Not bad at the unmold! My biggest surprise was the lack of difference between the oven batch and the room temp batch. The only one that is obviously different is the hemp seed oil, and it seems the cooler the soap, the more obvious the color. I guess it makes sense since it is cold pressed oil, perhaps heating destroys something in it.

Ok now, at two weeks, here also with the control peeking in on the right.

2 week cure:

natural-green-soap-colorants-2wk-cure-Flora&Pomona

I find that at the two week mark you can really see that the oven processed soaps are yellowing and browning faster. Kind of like leaves in the autumn.

6 week cure:

natural-green-soap-colorants-6wk-Flora&Pomona

Not bad at full cure. Some blotches (soap from other tests) have appeared on the soaps, and that means I should wipe my spatulas better 😉

Normally, this is where most colorant tests end – at the 6 week cure. At this point most soaps are not only fully saponified but fully cured. If the color stays until the six week mark this is considered a good colorant, and in fact, this is where I was going to publish my results. But as life should have it, that didn’t happen and another 12 weeks passed before I sat down to write this. And I’m glad it happened that way, because here is a pic of the soaps 5 months into the cure…

20 week cure:

natural-green-soap-colorants-20wk-Flora&Pomona

Thoughts on the Results:

My feeling is that natural greens are particularly difficult because as we know, leaves brown easily. They get brown and yellow at the onset of cold weather, when they are picked, when they are cooked or otherwise broken down. And this explains also why the oven processed soaps yellowed faster. From the beginning and throughout the process chlorohyll was the most impressive colorant. It packs a real punch with the clear bright ocean green, but as you can see, it ages the least well. The chlorophyll is extracted so it’s not bound by leafy cell walls, which explains both why it is greener at first and then fades quicker. I also noted that the chlorophyll resembled the spirulina and chlorella I used in my first experiment, and that’s because sea weeds contain high amounts of chlorophyll.

I believe the reason the nettle and comfrey have held up the best is because they were 1) fresher and 2) more intact – ground in a coffee grinder – meaning the chlorophyll is still bound in the cell walls. The more you break botanicals up, the faster the cell walls will break down in a challenging environment: like alkaline soap, a hot stew, an infusion, or a tincture. So, if you can stand the speckled look, grinding your botanicals yourself might be the way to go. Although, these too will end up yellowed and faded too. The reason the neem has stayed the same color is probably because it already did its yellowing on the store shelf. When I bought it it was already yellowish brown. But I bet fresh neem leaves are green too.

As for the hemp oil, I really should have used more of it to know for sure. But I do believe that hemp would be no different than any other leafy botanical. Unless the green color comes from something other than chlorophyll.

Conclusions:

I realized a while ago, that the only botanicals that seem to really hold true and stay fast, are roots or botanical extracts, like indigo. Extracts make sense, because they are no longer tied to/in the cellulose of the plant. But does anyone know why this is for the roots – alkanet root, tumeric root, madder root? I have a feeling it’s because chlorophyll is kind of the problem, because its purpose is to be reactive to sunlight.

I now feel that I don’t need to test any more green colorants. But if you have any other ideas for other natural colorants I could try, let me know! And please share any comments, suggestions or questions you might have on the subject. Let me know if you want close ups of the different soaps, I could add those in after if you want. Thank you so much for stopping by 😀

Flora & Pomona at La Bobineuse!

I am very pleased to announce (belatedly) that as of 2017 the delightful wool store La Bobineuse carries Flora & Pomona’s Lanolin Enriched Wool Wash and Felted Soaps, both pictured here below:

 

La Bobineuse is located in the Plateau neighbourhood in Montreal. This store has been in the area for nearly half a century, a mecca for fiber enthusiasts, knitting addicts and beginners alike. They also offer classes on how to knit and crochet (which I plan to take as soon as possible). I spent lots of time in this cozy store last winter – buying skeins of beautiful turquoise merino, luscious baby alpaca and sheep’s wool (yes, I can’t even knit) – so I’m very happy and proud to see my Wool Wash and felted soaps on their shelves.

La Bobineuse is located at 2196 Avenue du Mont Royal East, Montreal, QC H2H 1K3.

Presenting … Flora & Pomona!

Hello Dear Readers,

Flora and Pomona is the name I have chosen for my soap company! Flora and you may know is the goddess of spring and flowers. Pomona, her less known sister, is the goddess of the orchard, the flowering fruit trees. When I was searching for a new name to best represent my budding business I thought of all the ingredients I use and the direction I want to take. It was clear in my mind that botanicals play an important role in my products, and my increasing interest in herbalism would continue to influence how I create my recipes. The soaps and bath products I make are made with the flowers and fruits of the earth: from sweet almond oil I use in most my soaps, to chamomile infusion in my latest shampoo bar. I have decided to keep the name Marsbalms for this blog, at least, for now, and I will continue to post updates on my latest developments. I will be building a website with a online store, and in the meantime will keep a webpage up with the essential information available. I am participating in this year’s Marché Angus, on October 7 and 14. Hope to see you there!

fpgoddess_botanical2_hires

Once upon a Breast Milk Soap: Great Cakes Soap works October challenge

INTRODUCTION

When I stumbled across Amy Warden’s October challenge “Alternative Liquids” I knew I had to join. I have never soaped a challenge before, in fact, I haven’t been soaping for very long at all. Last year I discovered soapmaking and didn’t stop until I became pregnant and couldn’t deal with much anything with a smell. Flash forward to 2015: I’m a new mother, nursing every 2 hours and I’m sitting on a large bag of frozen breast milk. Wondering what to do with it I remembered a recipe I’d seen in a soaping book last year. Now I can’t remember who the author was, but I remember that she called the soap something like “Mother and Baby.” (I can’t find any mention of this book online anymore – it wasn’t Casey Makela, because she wasn’t allowed to publish her recipe for breast milk soap in her book). The basic gist of it was that nothing is as nourishing and beneficial to your baby as your breast milk, inside and out. I’d recently read about women curing baby acne, cradle cap, eye infections, and various nicks and cuts with breast milk, and I knew from before that milks and milk soaps are very soothing for your skin – so breast milk soap it is! I made one trial batch, having never made a milk soap before, and was very happy with the result. Not only had I found a way to use and preserve my milk, but I had soap for my baby to last her whole childhood – a soap that is as natural and customized to her skin as can be. To date, I have preferred not to use too much soap on my baby because baby skin is so sensitive. This homemade milk soap will be gentle enough even for a little baby.

RESEARCH

Recently breast milk has been in the spotlight as the new old super food. Apparently in China it’s become a hot commodity and body builders buy it online because it contains human growth hormones. But the benefits of breast milk have even been picked up by the mainstream: in Chicago you can get breast milk facials!

So what is it about breast milk that makes people go ga-ga? And why would you use it to make soap? Apparently it has antibacterial and antiseptic properties. It also contains “anti-infectious and anti-inflammatory agents, growth factors, and prebiotics” (source). Although many of the bioactive agents may not survive freezing and heating (not to mention the lye) there are many beneficial fatty acids in human milk that do. Presumably, breast milk soap would have just as many if not more properties than say, goats milk soap, because it isn’t pasteurized and store bought milks still make a pretty nourishing bar of soap. The fats in human milk are composed of “palmitic and oleic acid” (source) as well as up to 20% of lauric and capric acid (source) (you may recognize these from the soapcalc). Lauric acid is often recognized as beneficial in treating acne and inflamed skin and also exists in coconut oil and goats milk (source and source). Caprylic Acid/Capric Triglyceride, again also found in goats milk and coconuts, act in a similar way by being a very gently anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal. But the main cosmetic use of the caprylic and capric triglyceride is as an emollient or moisturizing agent. Finally breast milk, like other milks, contains lactic acid which acts as an exfoliant, gently buffing away dead skin cells: this is why milk products, including breast milk, works so well as a facials leaving your skin feeling fresh and clean.

Milk soaps are some of the most gentle soaps on the market, and are considered perfect for children and people with sensitive skin. The difference between using say goats milk and using breast milk is of course that it is uniquely designed, and exists expressly, for your baby; to match their make-up not only as humans but as individuals. The fact that breast milk changes during the course of your child’s development is amazing in itself, but it also changes during the course of a feed. This may be worth considering when you express your milk for soap, because the “foremilk” tends to be higher in sugars and the “hindmilk” higher in fats. Typically, the higher the fat content of your milk, the silkier and more moisturizing your soap will be. All to say that breast milk is a substance that your baby’s body recognizes and responds well to, or rather, thrives on: it is “uniquely suited to the human infant, both in its nutritional composition and in the non-nutritive bioactive factors that promote survival and healthy development” (source). And I believe that if it’s good enough to eat, it’s good enough to put on your skin 🙂

SUMMARY

Ok, here’s a run down of the properties and benefits of breast milk and using breast milk in soap:

  1. It has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties
  2. Lactic acid polishes off dead skin cells
  3. The fatty acids may help treat acne, and other skin issues
  4. Is it moisturizing
  5. It is gentle (more gentle than if you were to just use water)
  6. It is uniquely suited to your baby, and humans in general
  7. It is safe – you know where it comes from (assuming you are using your own)
  8. It’s ecological: requires no transport, packaging, farming, etc.
  9. Making soap with breast milk is a great way to preserve it for your baby
  10. If you have lots of it, making soap is better than letting it go to waste

On that note, if you do have an oversupply please consider donating to your local milk bank.

Now, enough research – onto the soap!

Making this soap was no fairy tale, but it was kind of epic. It went from being Rosebud Baby Soap, to Green Monster Soap, to Lavender Baby. Here is what happened (if you want to just see the video, scroll down):

MAKING THE SOAP

Since this is a milk soap, the first thing to do is freeze the milk so that it doesn’t burn when I add the lye. Also, I make sure to have lots of ice so that I can put the lye mixture in an ice bath. I also hope that if I soap at a low temperature that more of the nutrients will survive. IMG_20151012_180152

Next, I measure out my oils. For this recipe I am doing a Bastille type with added Shea butter and my secret ingredient for the superfat, a rose-hip maceration and rose hip oil. Rose hips are rich in vitamin C (twice as much as oranges) and as a child I had to eat a lot of rose hip soup for this very reason.IMG_20151012_182241

To my oils I added vitamin E, GSE (grapefruit seed extract) and sodium lactate to give my soap some longevity because I want my child to be able to use it throughout her childhood.

When the breast milk and lye were both dissolved I added it to my oils. I believe that both liquids were at about 80F. Right away, before I even started stick blending, I could tell that the mixture was going to trace quickly. There were white strands in the bottom just from stirring and I blended it quickly to emulsion. At that point I added the lavender EO (not very much, because I like it really mild) and then separated my batter into two parts. One I added half of the superfat and the other I divided further into three parts: each with incrementally more rose hip powder dissolved in the rose hip oils. The idea was to get three shades of pink. I gave them a quick whisk with my small whisk and then set them aside to blend the neutral soap to trace and pour it. I didn’t have to blend the soap very much at all to get to trace and it set up very thick while I flitted about. I decided that one of the sections was too pale and added more rose hip powder to it. Then one by one, they all started going green.SAM_5980.AVI_snapshot_00.04_[2015.10.15_21.20.08] At first I thought maybe my whisk was aluminum and that it reacted with the soap, but the one part that hadn’t been touched was also turning green. Now afterwards I realize that rose hip powder must be a kind of ph indicator just like red cabbage. I proceeded as planned and tried to do a Holly swirl with the thick green batter, knowing in my heart that I’d end up with a discolored plop design. SAM_5981.AVI_snapshot_00.22_[2015.10.15_12.21.25]

What I had imagined was a drop design throughout the soap, sort of like a milk drop. But I thought a drop swirl would be too boring, so I aimed to combine an in-the-pot swirl with a drop swirl using only two colours: the natural soap colour which will be an off white, and three shades of pink. I had recently bought some rose hip powder on the advice of a clerk at an herb store and was really excited to try it. Originally, I was going to call this soap “Rosebud Baby” but that went out the window when I saw my soap batter turn green! I was even more surprised the next day when I peeked under the cover to see the soap has completely neutralized and turned a light tan colour!SAM_5984.AVI_snapshot_00.17_[2015.10.15_20.18.34] And of course, when I cut it, it was clear that the soap had set up too quickly to get much of a drop. More like, plop.

When I cut it I discovered that the rose hip batter had maintained some colour – a tan, beigy colour – but clearly defined from the uncoloured soap at least. There were no swirls at all, or even lines (now two days later you can make out a few faint lines). Clearly the amount I put in each section wasn’t enough to differentiate it in its tan state. I’m sure if it had stayed pink it would have been more visible. Also, the soap set up soo quickly that my pour didn’t penetrate the bottom layer – it just pushed it down. Oddly enough, I ended up with a soap looking much like I had first envisioned it: as a bosom leaking milk (I got the inspiration from Nourri Source’s logo, the Quebec nursing organization). The tan coloured “breast” with the milk coloured soap underneath.  SAM_5986.AVI_snapshot_08.57_[2015.10.15_20.33.15]

In the end, I have a perfectly good set of softly scented lavender breast milk soap. No bells and swirls, but it’s filled with motherly love…and tons of skin loving nutrients! A great gift for baby!

SAM_5987.AVI_snapshot_00.07_[2015.10.15_20.09.14]

Lavender Baby, a Breast Milk Soap – 20 hours cure

SAM_5989.AVI_snapshot_00.05_[2015.10.16_12.44.38]

Lavender Baby, a Breast Milk Soap – 40 hours cure

 

VIDEO

PART 1

 

PART 2