Handmade Holidays: Etsy Edition

You want to give beautiful, one-of-a-kind handmade gifts. Of course you do. But maybe you’re insanely busy this season, or just not feeling crafty. Etsy to the rescue! I’ll be posting some more handmade ideas soon, but today I’m introducing you to some of my favorite Etsy shops. It’s an odd little mix, and you won’t find something for everyone here. But you might find something perfect for someone—maybe even yourself.

Eleneetha Aromatics is my preferred purveyor of handmade soap, and possibly my favorite shop on Etsy. I love Anastasia’s scents because they are deep, earthy—sometimes even a little dirty—and thoroughly grownup.  I generally have at least one bar of her Old Whore soap on hand. I like to let it cure on my bedside table before I use it. My bedroom smells like a seraglio—or, I guess, what I imagine a seraglio might smell like. But that’s what Anastasia’s scents are like: They inspire. Just read a few of her product descriptions and you’ll see what I mean.

Moon Stamp at This Is Just to SayHand-carved rubber stamps are my new little obsession. I like making them myself, but I also like to see what other folks are up to. Tyr at This Is Just to Say has a wonderfully eclectic mix of imagery, and the quality of her work is excellent. I’ve purchased the moon set which is—obviously—fantastic. I also bought Huginn and Muninn, which is mounted on a piece of tree branch and really satisfying to use. It is, alas, a little late to be ordering Christmas presents from Sweden, but Tyr also does kickass custom stamps—portraits, pet portraits, Lego guy of your choice—that you can purchase now, give as a gift, and let the recipient send Tyr the details—kind of like a gift certificate. (I checked with Tyr, and this is totally cool with her.)

Mink Handspun at Swoon FibersSwoon Fibers offers the kind of luxury that’s hard to buy for oneself—even for me, and I’m pretty good at buying luxuries for myself—so it’s an ideal place to choose a gift for the yarn-crafter on your list. This is the only place I’ve ever seen mink yarn. I bought a few skeins to make a scarf and it’s delicious. (Like I said, buying luxuries for myself is one of my special talents.) The baby camel is also divine, and the skein of yak-bamboo I have in my stash is one of the softest, springiest yarns I’ve ever handled. And if you’re thinking “Minks! Baby camels! Jessica, how could you?” I can assure you that these supersoft fibers are brushed from living animals—just like collecting angora. UPDATE: Mink and camel yarns are 10% off until December 25!

PufflunaA couple of years ago, I went looking for moonstones, and I found Puffluna. I’ve probably made more purchases from Julie than I have from any other seller on Etsy. I just love her mix of vintage findings and semi-precious stones. Her pieces are charming—even a little whimsical—without being fussy or too-cute. I would link to my favorite necklace currently at Puffluna, but I think I might just buy it for myself...


Bath and Beauty Edition

Food Edition

December 12, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Handmade Holidays: Bath and Beauty Edition

A couple of years ago, Frances and I made scented bath salts to give as Christmas gifts. Frances chose the essential oils and mixed them up with the sea salt. I packaged the finished product in hand-stamped glassine envelopes, and everybody loved them. This year, all the ladies on my gift list will be getting homemade bath and beauty products.

The web is full of recipes—some of them as easy as our bath salts, some of them a little more involved. If you have a natural foods store in your area—or even a well-stocked supermarket—you’ll probably be able to find most of the supplies you need. The rest you can get online (Mountain Rose Herbs is a great source for all kinds of organic ingredients, and Bramble Berry Soap Making Supplies has a great selection, too.) After considering a lot of options, I’ve decided to make six products, many of which call for the same ingredients, which makes shopping for supplies a little easier and a little more economical.

Sugar Scrub

I posted my sugar scrub recipe here not too long ago. I’m thinking of playing with some new fragrances this time—neroli, black pepper, and vetiver, maybe? I’m also omitting the coffee grounds, for two reasons: It seems kind of rude to give someone the gift of a really messy bath tub, and some ladies might not be too excited to get a present that says, “Hey, girl, thought you might like to do something about that cellulite!”

Lip Scrub

Exfoliation gets rid of chapped skin while it stimulates circulation in the lips, and the honey found in this recipe is a wonderful  humectant. I’m thinking of adding a little cinnamon-leaf essential oil for extra plumping.

Salt Polish

Like sugar, salt is a great exfoliant, and sea salts are full of minerals. I’ll probably opt for Dead Sea salt, because it mixes well with other ingredients. I’m going with avocado oil—rich in fatty acids and a whole lot of vitamins—and I’m leaving out the coloring. I’m thinking a bright, citrus oil will be nice as fragrance.  (Recipe here.)

Body Butter

This body butter looks great, and I’m excited to try it out myself. Jojoba oil is a fantastic moisturizer, because it’s chemically quite close to the moisture produced by the sebaceous glands. I’m thinking I’ll make a custom scent for each recipient. 

Lip Balm

There are a ton of lip balm recipes online, and a number of shops sell kits. I chose a recipe that uses many of the same ingredients in the body butter. I’m making cardamom lip balm for the grownups (including myself). I’m not adding coloring, but Bramble Berry has some pretty interesting options, including mica if you want a little sparkle. I’m pretty sure Frances will approve of this chocolate lip balm for the kids (NB: I really don’t recommend using “an old candle” for lip balm. Food-grade beeswax isn’t hard to find.)

Bath Teas

This is a great way to get beneficial herbs into the tub without making a huge mess. Heat-sealable tea bags are available from several sources online. I’m planning to use calendula and chamomile petals for their anti-inflammatory properties, and Dead Sea salt.

Packaging and presentation can be as fancy as you want. Mountain Rose Herbs sells some nice tins and glass jars, and you can reuse jars destined for the recycling bin as long as they’ve been carefully cleaned and sterilized. You might also think about using a food-storage container, so that the recipient can repurpose the container when the beauty product is gone. Mountain Rose Herbs and Bramble Berry both sell tubes and pots for lip balm, and, as much as I hate disposable, plastic pipettes make lip balm production a lot easier, and they also prevent a great deal of wasted beeswax and cocoa butter. I’m probably just going to hand-letter paper tags for most of these items, but I plan to get waterproof printer paper to make my own lip balm labels.


Etsy Edition

Food Edition

November 22, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

DIY Beauty: Sugar Scrub

Long, long ago—when there was still such a thing as a giant Marshall Field’s in the heart of Chicago—a gal at the Laura Mercier counter convinced me that chemical exfoliation was meaningless without physical exfoliation. I have come to believe that she was right, and that is why I love sugar scrubs so much.

Why sugar? Rich in naturally-occurring glycolic acid and granular in shape, sugar functions as both a chemical and physical exfoliant. At the same time, sugar is a humectant: It moisturizes as it sloughs off dead skin.  

Fresh Brown Sugar Body Polish was the first commercial iteration of the sugar scrub, and it remains the most luxurious. Like every Fresh product I’ve ever used, it feels and smells delightful, and the results are terrific. I also really like Bliss Blood Orange + Black Pepper Sugar Scrub, and I recently discovered Biggs & Featherbelle Sweet Coffee Scrub.In fact, it was while I was considering the ingredients list of this scrub that I thought, “I could totally make this myself.”

So I did, and you can, too.

Here’s what you need:

Turbinado or demerara sugar. This is actually American and British for the same type of sugar.

Carrier oil. Vitamin E oil is great for cleansing and moisturizing the skin. Sweet almond oil is also nice; it’s antioxidant rich,  it has anti-inflammatory properties, and the scent is subtle and pleasant. I used both, but you have a lot of choices. This is a pretty comprehensive annotated list, and there’s a wealth of information online, so finding carrier oils to suit your specific skincare needs should be easy.

You can stop with just these ingredients—all of which are easy to find at a big supermarket or health food store—and make yourself an awesome scrub simply by mixing oil into the sugar until it’s about the consistency of a nice, fruity jam. You can also customize your scrub with essential oils or other scents, but make sure that any scent you choose is safe for cosmetic use.

I like adding coffee grounds to my scrub. Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor—even when applied topically—and this can reduce the appearance of cellulite. The effect is temporary—there’s no cure for cellulite—and I can’t honestly say that I’ve noticed a difference, but, then again, I haven’t exactly been doing a close before-and-after comparison of my thighs each time I scrub. But the coffee gives my scrub an invigorating aroma, and the grounds also work as a physical exfoliant. I use the grounds leftover after making a pot of coffee.

All of these ingredients are stable, so you can make up a good-sized batch and store it in a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Using the scrub on dry skin before a shower is a deeper exfoliation, since there’s no water to dissolve the sugar. Using it at the end of the shower will leave some oil on your skin for enhanced moisturizing. Either way, your skin will look and feel great. (Don’t neglect your hands—I find that a good sugar scrub is the next best thing to a paraffin dip.) I was inspired by Biggs & Featherbelle to add vetiver to my scrub (which seems like it shouldn’t smell right with coffee, but it does), and I enjoy using my homemade scrub as much as the more expensive—or much, much more expensive—products mentioned above.

NB: Using sugar scrub is messy. Using sugar scrub with coffee grounds is really messy. You will have to spend a little time cleaning out your tub, but I promise that it will be worth it.

September 14, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)


Wallis Simpson

Wallis Simpson was a frequent subject of Cecil Beaton’s photographs during the 1930s. Shortly before Simpson’s marriage to the Duke of Windsor in May 1937, Beaton was asked to take some official photographs of the bride-to-be at the Château de Candé, where she was staying as a guest of Charles Bedeaux. Since many of the past photographs of Simpson were unflattering, Beaton suggested more romantic-looking pictures, including an image of her standing in the château’s garden wearing a Schiaparelli dress printed with a large lobster. The infamous lobster dress was a design collaboration with Salvador Dalí that grew out of the lobsters that started appearing in the artist’s work in 1934, including New York Dream-Man Finds Lobster in Place of Phone, which appeared in the magazine American Weekly in 1935, and the mixed-media Lobster Telephone created in 1936. Dalí placed the lobster amid parsley sprigs on the front of the skirt (and apparently was disappointed when Schiaparelli would not allow him to spread real mayonnaise on the finished gown), and master silk designer Sache translated the sketch to the fabric. Beaton took almost a hundred photographs during the session with Simpson, and Vogue devoted an eight-page spread to the results. For Dalí both the telephone and the lobster had sexual connotations. His placement of the lobster thus charged the design with erotic tension, effectively defeating the public-relations purpose of Beaton's photographs.

I was reminded of this anecdote—recounted by Dilys E. Blum in Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli—when I was painting my nails with butter LONDON’s new polish named after the infamous Mrs. Simpson. Wallis is a glimmering gold-green. It’s hardly a radical choice today, but it’s a distinctly off shade, and I can easily imagine it being worn by that scandalous divorcée who was so fashion-forward that she had no idea just how fashion-forward she was.  

August 25, 2011 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Beauty Review: Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Pur in 1 Le Rouge

Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Pur in 1 Le Rouge In the photo, her grandmother was wearing a New Look dress and laughing. As far as she could remember, she had never seen her grandmother wearing anything other than polyester slacks and permanent-press shirts. It was hard to imagine her in Dior—and it was definitely Dior. She must have gotten it during the brief period she worked at the department store downtown, right before she got married and had her first baby.

The photo was black-and-white, of course, but she could tell that her grandmother was wearing red lipstick. The dress was long gone, and she knew that she, herself, would never own anything like it. She thought that she might be able to capture a little of her grandmother’s glamour with the right lipstick, but the right lipstick was devilishly hard to find. Every shade she tried was too pink, too orange, too brown, too… something.

Then she found Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Pur in 1 Le Rouge. This was it. This was the perfect red. She put it on, looked at herself in the mirror, and—for just a second—she saw her grandmother smiling back at her.

December 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Beauty Review: Deborah Lippmann Nail Color in Boom Boom Pow

Deborah Lippmann Nail Color in Boom Boom Pow
She had been trying, her entire adult life, to cultivate a taste for classic beauty. She had learned to appreciate craftsmanship, the almost imperceptible details that make an object—a vase, a dress, a handbag—exquisite. She had tried to develop an aesthetic that matched her advanced degrees, not the circumstances of her birth. But still... Still her eye was drawn by anything that sparkled or flashed, and that bottle of swirling gold was more than she could resist. She bought it, of course. It was more subtle than she expected. There were great bits of glitter like doubloons, yes, but they were adrift in a sea of delicate shimmer. She waved her hand in the air, and thought of Danaë, ravaged by a shower of gold.


December 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

I Give Up

I’ve been thinking a lot about Eileen Fisher lately. Not the woman, but her clothes. The ads are so seductive:  Lovely women, not grotesquely young, dressed in steel-grey linen sheaths and mushroom-hued merino cowlnecks, striking relaxed poses against a serenely blank backdrop. The clothes aren’t exactly timeless, but they’re not overtly trendy either. Eileen Fisher ads present a world in which it is possible to be comfortably elegant and unobtrusively fashionable, a world in which body-image issues might be resolved with high-quality fabric and artful draping.

This world is, of course, a fantasy world. While it’s true that Eileen Fisher’s models look more “natural” than most, they don’t look like any of the women I’ve ever seen actually wearing Eileen Fisher. A friend of mine characterizes the Eileen Fisher look, as worn by real women, as “potato sack.” Another friend suggests that Eileen Fisher is “for when you’ve given up.”

And that leads us to the question that I find myself asking, ultimately, as if I gaze long enough at an Eileen Fisher ad: Am I ready to give up? And, if I am, what exactly would I be giving up?

I’m about to turn 40. I am occasionally startled by crows’ feet, and I just discovered that my chin—never strong—is getting a bit wobbly and indistinct. I lost a lot of weight when I breastfed my daughter, thereby ushering in a sort of mid-life hotness heyday, but I have, all of the sudden, recovered all those lost pounds and then some, and they seem to be relocating primarily around my middle. None of my clothes fit right. I am not feeling terribly attractive these days.

One course of action would, of course, be a rigorous fitness and diet regimen. My other choice, as I see it, is tunics and sweatercoats—which is to say, Eileen Fisher.

The latter option has a lot of appeal—and not just because I’m lazy and enjoy refined carbohydrates, although both those things are true. I look at those simple, flowing, body-obscuring clothes and I think, Yes, I am ready to give up.

This does not mean that I am ready to let myself go. What it means, instead, is that I am ready to deal with the body that I have, rather than hate my body because it’s not the one I want.

I know, I know. This is Female Empowerment 101, right? I’m a graduate of a women’s college. I’ve read The Beauty Myth. I’ve seen Killing Us Softly. I’m a not just a feminist, but also a feminist critic—which is to say that I get occasionally paid to write about how our culture makes women crazy. I say all the things I’m supposed to say to my daughter to help her grow up strong and confident and at home in her body. But, still, in my head—and, really, somewhere much deeper and harder to get at—I harbor this idea of myself—my true self—as thin and gorgeous. And tall! That’s how absurd this vision is. Every spring, I believe that this goddess is going to materialize in time for swimsuit season. The fall fashions worn by the ideal me change over time, but there is one constant: The ideal me can wear knits fearlessly, with never a care about bulges.

But here’s the thing: I have never been thin. Not ever. I was a chunky baby and a chubby toddler. I had, in childhood, period bursts of lankiness, when my legs outpaced the rest of me, but I never stretched out to thin. Since junior high, I have vacillated between curvy and Rubenesque. So, what I imagine to be my true self has never been. That’s awful, by which I do not mean that it’s sad that I’ve never achieved the awesome goal that is being a size 0, but, rather, that I have rejected my actual body in favor of an impossible one.

It occurs to me, as I write this, how spiritually impoverished I must be if I equate thinness and a flawless face with my best possible self. There are other fancies that I entertain, unrealities that get in the way of forward momentum and emotional growth, but the idea that I will never achieve my full potential—never be happy, never be satisfied, never be authentically myself—until I am someone I have never been and will never be is the killer.

I may start working out. I may amend my diet. I may or may not start wearing tunics. But, as I approach 40—a dubious milestone, and one that’s not altogether easy to embrace—I find that I am most definitely ready to give up. Ready to give up a bullshit version of myself and be who I am. 

November 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Beauty Review: Keys Soap Solar Rx Therapeutic Sunblock

There’s nothing beautiful about sunburn. And, let’s face it: When Midwestern college sophomores with bad dye jobs, Pink sweatpants, and fake Uggs sport a perfectly even, russet-brown fake-bake in the middle of winter, sun-bronzed flesh has lost its capacity to signify its owner’s membership in the leisure class. A tan no longer says, “I came in second in the club regatta.” Rather, it says, “I have a frequent-visitor punch-card at Tanfastic.”

Thank heavens for sunscreen. Given that I slather the stuff on year ’round, I was alarmed to read the Environmental Working Group’s report denouncing most bestselling sunscreens as basically worthless or potentially harmful (you can check out the EWG sunscreen database here). There has been some backlash from the manufacturers of these sunscreens, but I tend to believe a not-for-profit organization committed to using “the power of public information to protect public health and the environment” more than I believe cosmetic industry spokespeople.

Solar RxSo, I recently traded in my Aveeno sunscreen for Keys Soap Solar Rx Therapeutic Sunblock, the top-rated sunscreen analyzed by the EWG. It’s a physical sunscreen, rather than a chemical sunscreen. Its active ingredient does not deteriorate when exposed to sun, and, unlike a shocking number of sunscreens, it blocks not just UVB rays, but also UVA rays. The second ingredient—after zinc oxide—is shea butter, so it’s moisturizing, but it’s not at all greasy. I like the subtle herbal smell, too. And it’s vegan, if you care about that sort of thing.

Ted, Frances, and I have all been using Solar Rx for a couple of weeks now. It seems to be working, in that our skin does not appear to be either tanned or burned, and we’ve been out in the sun a lot. Frances and I both have sensitive skin, but neither one of us has had an adverse reaction to this product. You can read more about Solar RX here, and it’s available through Amazon, too.

August 1, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Barely There Lip Color

Perfect red lipstick will always have a special place in my heart, but I have recently developed a fondness for the nude look. It’s especially nice with dramatic eye makeup, as it keeps the look from being overdone.

When it comes to understated color, Bobbi Brown is your girl. I have her awesome lip gloss in several shades. Brown is a rich, light earthtone. Buff is similar, but with a little bit of rose. Petal is a pretty, pretty pink. All these glosses have a nice sheen, a pleasant feel, and surprising staying-power for a gloss.

If you’re looking for a little bit of sparkle, try Stila’s always-lovely Lip Glaze in Apricot. The color is a very sheer and subtle and laced with superfine silver glitter. The scent is nicely fruity. I enjoyed wearing this gloss in the summer, but it’s versatile enough to have found a place in my cool-weather kit.

Lancôme’s Juicy Tube in Simmer was another summertime purchase that I have yet to put away. It’s a glamorous bronze with a sparkly pink punch. It’s as warm as its name suggests.

For everyday, wintertime wear, I recommend Neutrogena Moisture Shine Tinted Lip Balm in Fresh. It’s a pale beige with a bit of glimmer. It’s also very emollient, so I’m thinking it will provide excellent protection when the cold winds start to blow.

December 1, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

“Cosmetic Chemistry: A Brief Historical Survey”

BLOGGER’S NOTE It’s finals week at CMU, and I am busy studying for exams and working on my James Joyce term paper. While I am thus occupied, I leave you with excerpts from my education. Today’s offering is a passage from my Chem 101 project.

Elizabethan England

Elizabeth REgyptians were not unique in using lead as a cosmetic ingredient. Ancient Greek women used lead-based face paints, and similar products were used to create the lustrous white complexion seen in portraits from 16th-century England. It’s not altogether clear what the chemical compositions of these cosmetics were, but powdered cerussite (lead carbonate, PbCO3) is one suggestion—certainly there was a product called "ceruse" in use at this time—while a cream created when lead is reacted with vinegar (impure dilute acetic acid, C2H4O2) has also been proposed. Many Elizabethan pictures also show hair-loss characteristic of lead poisoning. In fact, court ladies were forced to shave their own foreheads to match the queen’s receding hairline, since the monarch set the fashion. This toxic compound also took a toll on the very face it was meant to beautify: ceruse ate pits into the queen’s complexion, and these blemishes inspired her to slather the mixture on even more thickly—which, of course, only made matters worse. The effects of lead poisoning continued to erode the queen’s beauty to the point that stylish ladies had to blacken their teeth as well as shave their foreheads. Ultimately, Elizabeth banned all mirrors from her palaces.

May 3, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack