Sunday, August 7, 2011

Why are you coming up with your own recipes your first time out?

I'm regularly asked by my wonderful readers to help with modifications to recipes. I'm always happy to help, but I have to ask the question - why are newbies coming up with recipes from scratch? I get that you want to make something really wonderful and customized and all about you, but I really suggest finding a recipe you like and trying it exactly so you can learn what you want to make in the future.

If I use someone else's recipe or pattern for food, sewing, bath and body and so on, I make it exactly the way I'm told the first time out. I keep my notes and ensure that I have done everything the way the creator intended. This way, I know what I like, what I don't like, what I could modify, and what is essential for the project.

A cautionary tale: I really wanted to make this Amy Butler messenger bag, but I didn't have the canvas required to line the bag and I really didn't feel like going out shopping that day, which would waste valuable sewing time, so I made it without. I like the bag, but it wouldn't work as a book bag for university or a computer carrying bag, so it's a purse now. Don't get me wrong - I love the bag, but it's not as useful as it would have been had it been stiffened!

As an aside, I love Amy Butler's designs but I find the pattern instructions so overwritten! 

As a fairly newbie sewer, I can't be expected to know everything I need to know the first time I decide to sew something, so I need to follow the instructions on the pattern and ask experienced sewers for help. What does nap mean (other than the best part of the day?), bias, or stretch mean? What needles should I use for stretch fabric (and should I be using stretch fabric at all as a newbie)? What kind of thread is best for cotton fabrics? And so on.

Now think about making your own bath and body products. How can you know the feel and how you feel about hazelnut oil, emulsifying wax, cyclomethicone, or oat protein if you haven't used them before? You might love lavender essential oil when you huff it from the container, but do you want it on your skin all day long? How can you know what greasy means in a homemade product if you haven't made a single lotion? (Click here for some thoughts on skin feel between homemade and commercial products.)

This is where finding a starter recipe works well. Find a basic recipe, make it, and assess it. Then play with it. This works for hair care products as well. Find a basic recipe - for instance, for a conditioner, my basic recipe is 7% BTMS-50 or BTMS-25, 0.5% to 1.5% preservative of choice, and water - and try it. See how your hair likes it. If you feel you need more oils, then add some oils. If you feel you need less conditioning or a thinner product, remove some of the BTMS. And so on.

You can't learn if you don't try. Let's say you make a lotion you don't like - what's the worst thing that happened? Yes, you used some supplies, but you've learned about heating and holding, emulsification, what ingredients you like and don't like, and why you won't be making that product again! That's a lot to learn in an hour or so!

I'm all about making products that are wonderful and just for me, but we need to take baby steps to become proper homecrafters. This isn't a hobby you're going to learn in one class - you need to be open to learning with every batch - and this isn't a hobby you'll ever feel you've mastered. And that's what makes it so fun!

If you want to learn to make your own lotions, may I suggest starting here with the first of the learning to formulate posts and work your way forward? But after you've already tried making a lotion or two! 


EsseBee said...

Hear hear! I definitely need to follow instructions for a few batches of whatever I'm doing - skin care, food, soap. After that, whoo hoo, it's all go (and lots of "Oh dear, I shouldn't have done that"). But that's how you learn. It's worth taking the time to follow the experts for a while, then go out on your own.

Ellbie said...

Being a chemist; it is not a recipe, it's an SOP until I know what I am doing!

Will said...

LOL at the thought of a lost hour. I'm hopeless and like to make stuff the way I cook -- it just usually turns out better with cooking. It's taken me from Fall to Summer to come up with a lotion I like for my hands. Some of the best advice possible to someone starting out, keep it stupid simple. My favorite formula now is pretty minimal and it's pretty awesome, too.

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