Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Candle making

I originally wanted to make candles in these large, fancy bottles I got at the thrift store for my wedding. I thought, because the wedding was outside, the tall skinny bottles would protect the flames from wind. After some experimentation, I realized that, unless it was a VERY windy day, not enough oxygen would be getting to the flame. Maybe I can use them for something else...
Luckily, I have plenty of glass jars from our salsa addiction. I obtained candle supplies from Texas Candle Co., including: 50lbs Eco Soya wax and the thickest longest wicks. I bought an old Croc Pot from a thrift store to melt the wax, because in my experience, this is the safest and easiest way to melt wax. I used a hot glue gun to tack the wick tabs to the bottom of the jars, and used a junky ladle to our the wax into the jars. Unavoidably, wax dripped onto the outside of the jars, but I like that handmade quality resulting from those little imperfections. The final step was to use a nail clipper to cut the excess wicks!
I have seven made, and I have at least 15 more to go. I might have to break down and buy some glass containers to pour more candles because I think some jars were thrown out after we were short on cabinet space...or else we need to increase our salsa eating!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Paper makins' experiment time

Paper is made from the macerated fibers of plants. So, theoretically, strong paper can be made at home out of strong plants. When I inherited a fallen Agave stalk and leaves, I initially just wanted the leaves for the fibers, but I thought the stalk probably has some hard core fibers in it. I will make the strongest paper EVER. I already had some painting stretchers and sheer polyester fabric I could use for screens, I ordered some Sodium Chloride (also known as lye in my ancient publication, a toxic chemical!), and thought I was set. Maybe I could even make invitation paper for my wedding! Maybe...

So I went about chopping up the smaller stems holding up the flower buds, threw in some bits of leaves, and boiled everything in a potion of Sodium Chloride for at least double the amount of time suggested. The water turned red. Hmm. The outer plant material seemed spongy enough, so I thought my powerful immersion blender would mash everything up in NO time.

I was very very wrong. After adding Yucca leaves and boiling everything a second time, the letting the hot postion sit for many hours, still those stalk were as tough as nails. I ended up spending hours picking out the stem pieces and trying to pull apart leaves further, and then I added a couple of sheets of plain paper to the mix before I was able to make something even resembling a pulp. Most of the fiberous material, even from the leaves, was too tough to make into a fine pulp without spending more hours destroying my blender.

At some point, everything on my body hurt from bending over the bathtub (where I transferred my potion to, much to my fiance's dismay) so I figured I should just dip my screens and see what came up. And just for fun, I threw in some creosote leaves, just to make everything smell nice. That was my final mistake! All sorts of leaves, twigs, and crunch bits got in there!

Without the creosote leaves, and if I had dipped the screens twice, I could have gotten MAYBE six sheets of very fine paper. I am sure this would have been largely due to the two sheets of paper I macerated into the mix. The long Yucca fibers could have laid mostly flat across the surface and made a coarse, but monochrome, strong paper. The creosote leaves turned brown and crispy, and contributed nothing to the mix.

I made a huge mess (still strewn across my guest bathroom floor), only attempted to make two sheets before dumping the mixture thinking nothing was working, and had very little to show for my hours of hard work. But I learned, the hard way, a lot about the nature of these desert plants by spending this up-close and personal time with them.  Although the results were not what I hoped, I still have something to show and information to share. Quite the metaphor, wouldn't you say?

In conclusion, yes, yucca and agave fibers can be used in paper making. I had only done paper making as a child, so this is by no means a guide to making paper, but maybe my process will help someone attempting a similar feat, but with more knowledge:
  • Maybe 10 small yucca leaves or one large Agave leaf...size of leaf in this genera of plants varies greatly. Soaking the leaves for a couple of days before hand is smelly, but will help to soften the unwanted plant material. Cut to 1" pieces using handheld shears.
  • Place in a big pot, cover with water, add 1 tablespoon Sodium Chloride per quart of water and boil for a few minuets. Cover and let it sit for as many hours as you can, although more than 1o might push it.
  • Pour off as much of this solution as possible without losing fibers, then dilute with water before continuing to pour off and rinse. Use gloves to be extra safe! You will not remove all of this solution, but just keep pouring and diluting until you feel safe enough to handle the fibers.
  • Tear up 4 sheets of waste paper and add to the mixture before blending
  • put small amounts into your blender because the leaf fibers will get wrapped around the blades if they are too long or still strongly bound together, which is why, the more cutting up of the leaves, the better
  • Try to get a uniform pulp, although this might seem near impossible. Add this to around 6 to 8 quarts of water into a vat large enough to fit your screens into.
  • Dip the screen once, pick off any large clumps, let it dry a bit (I have a dry climate so I just left it to dry for an hour), then repeat once.
  • My base of fibers was so thin that I thought nothing would happen. I had to let the screens dry overnight before I saw there was a thin paper net holding some of the leaf fibers together. I was able to peel this away from the screen, but had already dumped the vat to prevent my dogs from drinking it!
Finally, the flower buds made nice decoration, although only one bundle appears to be blooming.
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Saturday, June 19, 2010

I am so fortunate to be marrying the man of my dreams and starting the life I have always wanted, with the promise of 'forever.' I always searched for stability and a partner, but I never wanted to settle, and therefore, thought I would always be alone. I also never thought I would be planning a wedding for myself (a real wedding!).

As happy as I am to be finally building a life, I am not taking it for granted. It has been very hard work, and I have had to question who I am and become stronger than I have ever been at the risk of being totally crushed. But the funny thing was, even when I wasn't sure where things were going, he still made me feel like I needed to be a better person and I knew I would always be happier just knowing he exists.

So now I am planning our wedding. Another reason I am fortunate, depending on your perspective, is that I quit my job about four months ago to apprentice at a cowboy boot company, which I only do about two days a week. The rest of my time I have to manage on my own, which seems like a blessing at first, but for an obsessive person like myself, this is sometimes very challenging.

After we became engaged, I have dedicated the remainder of my time to trying to make our wedding as personal, waste-free, small business-supporting, local, and elegant as I can. In the process, I am learning many things which I want to share because others might have similar aspirations, or just like to experiment and play around with materials. Something I am learning is that sometimes you have to make a huge mess and screw things up before you make something even slightly resembling what you were expecting. But by sharing information, the process can be a little more productive. Enjoy!