Want to learn how to dye wool -- asking for tips!

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DeeAnna

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An outshoot from my soaping is the craft of wet felting. I wanted to learn how to felt on bar soap, so I took a short class and got hooked, and am really enjoying it.

I've even made soap specifically for felting -- castile is the classic choice because it's very soluble in water, fairly easy on the hands, makes lots of gooey slime that is handy as a lubricant to aid when rubbing the wool. The alkalinity of the soap also "opens up" the wool fibers (just like shampoo bars do on human hair) so the process of felting goes easier. I never thought I'd be looking forward to making a castile type soap, so this is a lesson in the old saying, 'never say "never."'

Anyways, back to my question. I want to be able to dye small quantities of wool. In particular I want to be able to make a blend of various colors on the fiber -- not just a single plain color -- so I've been reading up about "ice dyeing" and similar techniques that give variegated results.

What I find tough is choosing colors of dyes. I know it sounds silly, but choosing colors is overwhelming for me with so many shades to pick from. As a beginner, I want to keep it simple, so the easy answer would be to get the primary colors and maybe the secondaries -- six colors in all.

But I really don't want my fiber to be in the bright primary colors which is what I think I might end up with if I buy primary colors. I know they blend, but the techniques I"m looking at are often using the powdered dye more or less directly on the fiber, which doesn't lend itself to blending.

I really like soft muted shades -- copper, chestnut, sage green, soft blue greens, and such. Can anyone give me some words of wisdom about how to choose colors of dyes that might get me closer to my preferences without buying eleventy-hundred of them and spending all kinds of money?

Also, I see Jacquard acid dyes all over for sale. Are they good dyes to use or do you have any suggestions for a brand that you like better?
 

BattleGnome

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I don't dye my own wool but in thread I've seen on ravelry someone inevitably mentions koolaid. I imagine it won't translate well to felted soap but it's an inexpensive something to play with to get a feeling for how the dye process might work for the variegation it sounds like you want.
 

Millie

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The colors you like are all possible with plant dyes. I grew up on an organic farm with sheep and we grew many of the dyes we used. You might even have some like indigo in your soap supplies :) I remember boiling pounds of onion skins for dye - they give colors ranging from gold to copper and sunset orange, even peachy reds.

Edit - I don't think you'll find many that work with that ice dyeing technique - looks cool! I don't mean to push on the plant dyes too much, just had a moment of fond memories.
 
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earlene

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I used koolaid for dying wool roving. It works very well and lasts though continued use. But with greater intensity of color, there does seem to be some color bleeding. And the color choices are pretty limited. I've only dyed roving a few times, and other than koolaid, we used one Wilton icing dye because my SIL learned a certain one was supposed to give a true black, but it didn't.

My SIL & I looked for dye in a couple of wool shops in our travels last year, but they told us they stopped carrying it because there just wasn't enough demand to keep in stock. After perusing the various colored roving available in the shops, I just decided it was just easier to purchase already dyed roving. So I never followed up on an online search.

Locally (well South of here still in my own state) there is an annual fibers festival I was hoping to attend on the off chance I could meet others who dye their own roving. I wasn't able to attend last year, but am hoping I can this year. Maybe you can find something like that near you and meet some people who dye their own fibers. Someone like that might give you an idea of which dye colors would best give you what you are thinking of using for what you want.

Another thought: Maybe to get a better idea of what 'speaks to you' visit a shop with the variegated dyed roving and see what looks like you want and that might help in choosing only a limited palette.
 
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navigator9

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Oh DeeAnna, I've recently become interested in wet felting too! (This was all before everything went out the window and I became dog obsessed. ) I never even thought about dying, though. I bought some beautiful wool roving from Etsy sellers, and a seller nearby in Massachusetts. Because I was only thinking about small projects, the amount I had to buy wasn't excessive, and so not too expensive. But in looking around the internet, I keep getting distracted by much more involved projects.
I first fell in love with small projects like fingerless gloves.
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/349169777343484329/

Or maybe an eyeglass case.
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/349169777345028332/

But then of course, I saw things like this fabulous jacket.
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/349169777343743246/

This hat!!!
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/349169777343882556/

This scarf.
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/349169777343882556/

And these slippers.
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/349169777343607724/

And of course, there are the felted animals!
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/349169777344284669/

I obviously have shiny object syndrome when it comes to anything crafty. LOL I need to rein in my enthusiasm and get back to some modest projects, but the possibilities seem endless. I'm interested to see what you'll be working on, please be sure to post pics of any of your projects! I only made a small practice felted piece, and I found my handmade soap worked well, as you did. As earlene mentioned, there may be fiber festivals in your area where you could get info on dying, or maybe a yarn shop? I can't wait to see what you make! :)
 

DeeAnna

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I really appreciate the feedback!

Thanks for the tips about Koolaid and plant dyes. I agree that Koolaid is an option, but as you mentioned, Earlene, the colors are limited and may not be as bold as one might want. Also, from what I can tall, the colors may not be as light-fast as I'd like. If I'm going to spend hours making a felted object, I'd like the colors to have reasonable longevity. But I agree with you, BattleGnome, that Koolaid would probably work fine for ice dyeing or similar types of variegated dyeing, especially as a learning tool. I'll look into this more.

The plant-based dyes are interesting, but are a step beyond me at the moment. I also agree they may not be as helpful for the variegated dyeing as you noted, Millie. I read about "eco dyeing" which is using plant materials (flowers, leaves, etc.) directly on a fabric, and that's an interesting idea I might pursue someday.

When I say small amounts, I'm talking about 1-2 pounds or thereabouts. I have bought a few ounces here and there of variegated wool "locks" and such for decoration -- we also have some nice fiber and wool festivals in the Iowa-Wisconsin-Minnesota area. I've really enjoyed shopping at the couple I've attended so far! Unfortunately, it gets pretty expensive to buy enough hand dyed wool make a pair or two of slippers -- the pound or two I'd want is quite a pile of wool fiber! To give you some perspective on costs, I'm buying plain cream-colored domestic wool for $10-$12 per pound. The dyed wool I've seen can easily sell for at least $32 per pound and often more.

Another issue I'm considering is the one of quality control. I bought a small ball of soft pink alpaca fiber recently from a local artisan. The color she used to dye the fiber ran badly when I used it in a felting project -- all the white and pale colored fibers I was using in my project are now a uniform pink. :neutral: Lesson learned -- test for color fastness beforehand, rather than regret afterward. Or learn do dye my own stuff and do it right.

I should have been more clear in my first post -- I still felt soap, but I'm also making other items too. Here are some examples (the kindle pouch is the project with the unintended pink) ....

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DSC_0079 800.jpg
 

makemineirish

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What I find tough is choosing colors of dyes. I know it sounds silly, but choosing colors is overwhelming for me with so many shades to pick from. As a beginner, I want to keep it simple, so the easy answer would be to get the primary colors and maybe the secondaries -- six colors in all.

But I really don't want my fiber to be in the bright primary colors which is what I think I might end up with if I buy primary colors. I know they blend, but the techniques I"m looking at are often using the powdered dye more or less directly on the fiber, which doesn't lend itself to blending.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am a bit of a neophyte to wool dying myself and stumbled onto it for different reasons. I was having difficulty finding self-striping yarns that met my criteria for knitting projects (just an end-run around my rule of only watching television if I am doing something productive).

Don't get me wrong, there are beautiful options out there. Rarely could multiple criteria be met in the same yarn. The color combination that I liked would be in a fingering weight rather than a worsted/aran weight. A yarn in the right weight would have non-natural content. Something soft enough for my grandmother would only be available in Easter egg/ nursery colors. Even if the stars aligned. it would be $50/skein and priced prohibitively for the blanket I intended to make with eleven skeins.

I grabbed a reference book I have by Gail Callahan (Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece) to see what insight she provided on color selection. On pg 66, she presents a color grid (rather than the traditional wheel). I find this visual to be a bit more user-friendly. The layout results in monochromes occupying a single row, analogous forming a block and complementary shades residing six spaces above and below.

You might have checked out color palette generators when the forum utilized one for the November(?) challenge. My irritation with those is that I don't always appreciate the palette generated as a whole off of the color I selected. The grid arrangement makes it easier for me to see all the shades in a group to ensure that I like the overall effect and not simply a component of it.

On the next page, Callahan provides recipes to mix and dilute primary color combinations in set ratios to create your own personalized color wheel. It sound like a bit of a PITA, but it appeals to my OCD nature to have a visual indicator of exactly which shades produce which color when mixed appropriately. In theory, the same ratios could be used with dry powders to ensure consistent results with how you intend to use them.

Beyond that, you've got color theory guidelines regarding saturation, value, domination, temperature, etc. that you are probably already familiar with and don't need me to belabor the point or make my response eight paragraphs longer. If you need to tone down a color that appears too bright, adding a small amount of its complement will do so. If there is an overall disparity between your intended shades and the outcome, try tweaking the pH of your water.

I really like soft muted shades -- copper, chestnut, sage green, soft blue greens, and such. Can anyone give me some words of wisdom about how to choose colors of dyes that might get me closer to my preferences without buying eleventy-hundred of them and spending all kinds of money?
The overall guideline that I follow is to mix it up: Aim for color contrast (warm/cool and dark/light) and vary the values. The colors that you referenced in your post bring to mind the variegated patina of copper. Perhaps you could google images until you stumbled onto one to use as a template. (I liked this one: https://www.custommade.com/copper-patina-wall-art-various/by/ckv/). It might make it easier determine a mix of hues, values, and proportion that appeals to your aesthetic.

I order my dye and yarn from Dharma Trading Company. They have a decent selection. However, what I really appreciate is the customer service. It is not unusual for me to call and say something like, "I want an aubergine that has chocolate undertones rather than black" or "Does this "ecru" dye appear closer to the light sand of evaporated can sugar or have a gray undertone that swings it into taupe territory". They will check their samples and let me know. I understand that perceptions are subjective, but monitor depictions of colors are more untrustworthy. If I have a clear objective, I can usually ask specific enough questions like, "Of the five browns available in three different brands, which is the least gold...or best exemplifies dark chocolate...or best contrasts with the turquoise I already decided on?".

(FYI- I do this same annoying BS to soap vendors regarding FO's when they fail to adequately describe them. My pet peeve is emotional marketing: "evocative of standing in an old barn" without clear fragrance notes - cedar, hay, smoke, sweat, dust, creosote, manure...What does it SMELL like?)

Also, I see Jacquard acid dyes all over for sale. Are they good dyes to use or do you have any suggestions for a brand that you like better?
I typically use Jacquard or Dharma. My selection usually ignores price disparity in favor of what brand has the particular shade that I want for my purposes. As previously stated, I am new to this and do not yet have the confidence or color arsenal to have spent a lot of time custom blending my shades. I also have not tried a wide variety of brands to really pro/con it for you.
 

makemineirish

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I meant to mention...you could also try using watercolors to help visualize a color combination. I know I have seen some soaper that does so, but think this tool is far more useful for dyeing. With soap, you often have designs with clear demarcation between colors. In multi-color dyeing, the colors overlap, blend, and bleed. It is often important that the colors you pick not only look good together, but combine to create an appealing hue. Watercolors might allow you some insight into the overlapping shades.

:bunny:
 

navigator9

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I should have been more clear in my first post -- I still felt soap, but I'm also making other items too. Here are some examples (the kindle pouch is the project with the unintended pink) ....
OMG...DeeAnna!!! When you said you had taken a short class, I was thinking that you were just beginning to explore felting, but wow, you're much more advanced than your post led me to believe. Those projects are amazing. The slippers!!! I have a pair of wool clogs that are so warm in winter, so I've been eyeing felted slippers, knowing how toasty they must be. Yours are gorgeous, you must really be enjoying them. And that hat! I love the little "tentacles" on top. :) Please continue to post pics of your projects as you make them. I love them all, and look forward to the inspiration. :clap: Good luck with your pursuit of dying your own wool. I can't wait to see what that will be like.
 

DeeAnna

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Nav -- The slippers are my fourth try. Attempts 1-3 were bombs pretty much as far as appearance or fit. But I absolutely ~live~ in the turquoise pair. Warm, breathable, light, flexible, and super comfy. Kind of like being barefoot except not.

Hubby agrees -- the slippers I made for him are on his feet first thing after he comes home. Even though his pair are one of my "bombs" (at least in my opinion), he really likes 'em despite what I think. Gotta love a guy like that. We're going on 22 years together, and I still think he's a keeper. Well .... usually. ;)

MakeMineIrish -- THANK YOU for the detailed info and suggestions. I have heard good things about Dharma Trading in the past, so your recommendation is reassuring that they're good folks to do business with. I'm going to order Callahan's book and a selection of the Dharma acid dyes.

Your suggestion to use an image as the basis for making choices has broken my mental log jam -- this is making the process much more pleasant and do-able than staring at a page full of color chips and feeling paralyzed by all the options. I'm not OCD as far as I'm aware, but I do get frazzled when I'm faced with too many choices and no reasonable method for picking and choosing.

I think the picture you shared is perfect inspiration for my initial purchase, by the way. I am using that and a favorite scarf in similar colors as my muses.
 

navigator9

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Nav -- The slippers are my fourth try. Attempts 1-3 were bombs pretty much as far as appearance or fit. But I absolutely ~live~ in the turquoise pair. Warm, breathable, light, flexible, and super comfy. Kind of like being barefoot except not.

Hubby agrees -- the slippers I made for him are on his feet first thing after he comes home. Even though his pair are one of my "bombs" (at least in my opinion), he really likes 'em despite what I think. Gotta love a guy like that. We're going on 22 years together, and I still think he's a keeper. Well .... usually. ;)

MakeMineIrish -- THANK YOU for the detailed info and suggestions. I have heard good things about Dharma Trading in the past, so your recommendation is reassuring that they're good folks to do business with. I'm going to order Callahan's book and a selection of the Dharma acid dyes.

Your suggestion to use an image as the basis for making choices has broken my mental log jam -- this is making the process much more pleasant and do-able than staring at a page full of color chips and feeling paralyzed by all the options. I'm not OCD as far as I'm aware, but I do get frazzled when I'm faced with too many choices and no reasonable method for picking and choosing.

I think the picture you shared is perfect inspiration for my initial purchase, by the way. I am using that and a favorite scarf in similar colors as my muses.
Well, if 1-3 were bombs, it was worth it, because those slippers are gorgeous! And if you live in a cold climate and have cold feet, there really isn't anything like wool to keep your feet warm. And I'm sure your hubby is happy as long as his feet are warm.To him, I'm sure they're a thing of beauty.


I haven't really bought enough wool yet to have to worry about cost, but I did see something interesting on a YouTube video. A woman was making slippers, and she used colored wool as the first couple of layers, then wool core batting inside, and then colored wool again to hide the batting in a "sandwich" of colored wool on the outside, since you need a really thick layer of wool for slippers. Here's what I'm talking about, in case you haven't run across this yet. https://www.needlefeltingsupplies.com/Core-Wool-Batting-12-lb-Batt_p_104.html It would save on not having to use the more expensive colored wool on the inside layers that don't show.

Oh, I forgot to mention earlier that the photo of your purple hat against the greenish yellow leaves is stunning!

I'm sure you must have run across some of the amazing Russian felters in your travels online. Do you think it's because it's so cold there, that they have so many talented felters? Anyway, these sites are in Russian, but there's a lot of inspiration here if you want to get lost some time. Enjoy. https://www.livemaster.ru/masterclasses/valyanie/mokroe-valyanie
 

earlene

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My SIL took a class, too before she taught me. She made mittens that are so darn hot, she can't really wear them very often. She lives in California, and unless you go skiing or build a snowman in the Sierras, there's little call for super warm mittens. Thankfully she does visit Colorado regularly to visit her daughter and plans to retire there. So she will have more use for them in the future. :)

DeeAnna, I love your hat! And those slippers look so very comfy.

MakeMineIrish, your post has so much great information. I'm really glad you posted. Now I'm going to have to start looking for that book myself. First I'll try the library in hopes I can preview it before deciding to buy. ETA: I reserved it from my library. I am so glad they borrow from other libraries in the state!
 
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DeeAnna

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If you'll look at my turquoise slippers, you'll see the inside is a cream colored basic wool. I used the less expensive cream wool to stretch my fancy hand-dyed blue wool. I also thought the cream wool would make the inside as soft and comfortable as possible. The downside to this is sometimes the different types of wool do not felt at the same rate. If one layer felts faster (the cream) and the other slower (the turquoise), then the two layers may not felt together. I learned all about that with one of my not-so-good pairs of slippers so was able to avoid it with the turquoise ones.

I really appreciate the Russian and Eastern European felters -- they really know their stuff. I agree with you -- I think the cold climate in Eastern Europe contributes to felting being an important aspect of their history and culture, but they seem to be pretty open to adapting their traditional methods of felting to keep up with the times, up to and including felt as an artform. Felted art can be truly amazing -- it is as sculptural as clay yet is soft, light, warm, and even translucent to light.

In a practical sense, it takes a LOT less work to felt an item vs spinning and weaving the item, so if felting is a reasonable way to make something, it's worth it to do so. Felted items do not usually have the soft flexible hand that woven fabrics do, but you can start with a dirty fleece straight off the sheep and end up with an attractive, useful item within a few hours or days vs. weeks for spinning and weaving.

Oh my gosh, Navigator -- thanks for the link to the wet felting area of Livemaster.ru. Wow! Amazing stuff there. I had heard about it and viewed a few things on that site, but struggled in the past with needing to translate the text from Russian if I wanted more info than just the amazing pictures. Found a great add-on for Firefox today that solves that problem, easy peasy. (Yes, I know Chrome does this, but I'm fond of Firefox.) A click of a button translates any page and it gives you the option to have an entire website automatically translated if you want that. The add-on is called S3.Google.Translate in case anyone else wants to try it.
 

earlene

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My SIL weaves, and has been experimenting with dying some of her yarns. But she said she's not interested in spinning, at least not now. She has a humongous loom in her living room, but then the whole house is humungous. I don't know what they are going to do when they move into their retirement home (much, much smaller house.) She had an opportunity to get some free raw wool from someone in her weaving group a few months back and didn't take it because she didn't want to clean it. I told her next time the offer is made, I'd like to have it. I'd love to try my hand at that at least once.

Yes, I am a FF user, too and love that Translator add-on.
 

makemineirish

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Cripes!!!

I was perfectly happy not felting this morning. I don't really care for felted soaps and had no inclination to "waste" my time on another hobby. Then I read your posts, saw your pictures, and got ideas. The slippers look amazing and sound so comfortable.

No worries; Etsy can usually provide me with some gratification sans work. I stumbled onto the fairy version and thought: "Those would be an amazing gift for my brother-in-law's family." (https://www.etsy.com/listing/487509...-home-slippers-in-pink?ref=shop_home_active_1) Then, the math of a $70 price tag for four people resonated. $280 is a little more than I want to spend for a cute Christmas add-on.

The upshot is that I may now need to learn how to make elven/fairy shoes.

:headbanging:
 

DeeAnna

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Oh, Earlene -- if you do end up with some raw fleece, let me know and I'll share how I clean it -- or there are many tutorials on the 'net that are pretty decent. Raw wool is much easier than you'd think to clean, as long as you get a fleece that isn't horribly filled with burrs and other veg materials. If your SIL has carders, then you can card the raw wool into loose fiber that can be turned into roving (fiber in a long skinny sausage shape) or used as-is for spinning or felting.
 

navigator9

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If one layer felts faster (the cream) and the other slower (the turquoise), then the two layers may not felt together. I learned all about that with one of my not-so-good pairs of slippers so was able to avoid it with the turquoise ones.

Oh my gosh, Navigator -- thanks for the link to the wet felting area of Livemaster.ru. Wow! Amazing stuff there. Found a great add-on for Firefox today that solves that problem, easy peasy. (Yes, I know Chrome does this, but I'm fond of Firefox.) A click of a button translates any page and it gives you the option to have an entire website automatically translated if you want that. The add-on is called S3.Google.Translate in case anyone else wants to try it.
Rats! Doesn't it just figure that if you find a way to save some money, it probably won't work. I saw them use the batting when making a cat pod. Is there a way to tell in advance whether the layers will felt at the same rate? How do you ever know?

Happy to pass along the Russian site, and thanks for the Firefox translator info. I prefer Firefox too, and will be checking that out. I hate to always have to switch to Chrome to translate something.

And here are a few more tidbits for you. When I first discovered wet felting I became interested in the origins of the craft and found these fascinating videos on Youtube. How much do I love Youtube? :)

Feltmaking in Mongolia - Can't you just imagine how toasty those yurts must be?
[ame]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ0uojUHYdA[/ame]

Decorative arts and crafts of Kazakhs - Felt Making (this one goes into the ritual and culture surrounding the making of felt by the Kazakhs)
[ame]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdrua8WP0Q4[/ame]

Feltmaking in Iran
[ame]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-WW39owXTE[/ame]

Felted rug in Persia
[ame]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85lEVFwpfw4[/ame]

The Art of Feltmaking
[ame]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chQF4m4xkLE[/ame]
 

DeeAnna

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I've been cruising the Livemaster.ru website and reading some of the tutorials. You know the craze for photographing newborns in all kinds of unusual "nests"? I'm not always sure what I think of that, but this particular wet-felted "nest" is a work of felting art and is absolutely adorable cradling a newborn. I probably could be talked into this one....



Source: https://www.livemaster.ru/topic/206...ta-iz-vojloka-dlya-fotosessii-malysha?msec=14
 

DeeAnna

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"...Is there a way to tell in advance whether the layers will felt at the same rate? How do you ever know?..."

You can do a quick test of each fiber to get a sense of how it felts on its own. If the shrinkage rate is about the same % for about the same time spent felting each sample, then chances are the two will marry together fairly well. If one felts slower than the other, then the beginning phase of rubbing should be focused a little more on the slower felting side and you need to use a lighter, slower touch to encourage that fiber to felt to itself and also to start felting into the faster-felting side.

Here's another lovely piece from Livemaster. This lady has been sharing some of her creatures on a FB wet felting group I belong to. Some of her other creatures are even more detailed and amazing than this little guy.



Source: https://www.livemaster.ru/topic/164...i-cheshuyu-dlya-valyanogo-drakonchika?msec=14
 

Scooter

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I should have been more clear in my first post -- I still felt soap, but I'm also making other items too. Here are some examples (the kindle pouch is the project with the unintended pink) ....
Wow these are really great.

Jeez, though, reading this forum has already gotten me hooked on making no-knead bread (next in line is potica (!) and after that body butter)... I'm afraid if I keep reading this forum I will have too many hobbies.
:)
 
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