We are already well into 2022; I hope everyone has had a great start to the new year.
If you resolved to learn new skills this year, visit Cordell Hull State Park in Byrdstown.
Rangers at this park regularly offer classes on crafts and skills and have even held open hearth cooking demonstrations called Appalachian Test Kitchen.
Last year, I attended two classes at Cordell - soapmaking and basket weaving. Both were outstanding introductions to these hobbies.
When I arrived for the cold process soapmaking class, the rangers had already set out all of the equipment we would need including the oils, lye, bowls, and hot plate.
I was a little nervous about using the lye, white granules that look like bath salts, because I knew how caustic it is. In fact, that is why I wanted to take a class in person instead of trying to learn to make soap from online videos. I was surprised at how hot the water got when we added the lye. Don't worry - we wore protective gear!
We melted the oils using a hot plate, and we then slowly added the lye mixture to the oils. The lye thickened the oils into the consistency of batter.
The rangers had so many different options for us to customize our soap: different scents, powders to color the soap, and mix-ins like dried flowers. I chose to add only rose scent.
We poured the mixture into the soap mold and drew a pattern in the top with a fork. When we left, we got to keep the recipe, the soap mold, and almost two pounds of the soap we made.
After 24 hours, I cut the soap into bars and then let it cure for two weeks.
I have enjoyed using and sharing the soap. Now that I am on my second to last bar maybe it's time for me to join another class!
My second class was learning how to weave a basket tote, and now I know why baskets sold in stores are so expensive - they take a lot of work! I will never look at a basket the same way again; each one is a work of art requiring hours of time and focus to complete.
I had no prior basket weaving experience so it was great that our instructor had already started our baskets for us when we arrived. This basket had a solid wood bottom, and we dove right in weaving the sides where the instructor left off. To make the reeds easier to bend, we sometimes sprayed them with water.
We added black leather straps when we neared the top.
When we finally made it to the top of the basket, we folded over the ends of the reeds and encircled the top with rounded halves of reeds and seagrass and tied this edging down by weaving thin reeds around the top.
Our instructor had plenty of colored reeds for us to decorate our basket however we liked. I was tempted to add some color but decided to go with a classic look and leave it plain.
I enjoyed these classes and have my eye on a couple more coming in the next few weeks. Who knows, I might find my next passion!