DIY Projects

For self-sufficiency, homesteading, prepping, or just plain saving money

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Whether you are geared towards prepping, self-sufficiency, homesteading, or simply saving money, learning to make the most of what you have (learning to "make do") is a necessity. I have long admired those with the creativity and sharpness of mind to create solutions to a problem using only what they have on hand. This ability is both a gift and a skill. For those who do not possess this talent, we rely heavily on inspiration from what we read, hear, and see.  This page is for those of you who, like me, benefit from the inspiration of others. Read on for some simple do-it-yourself ideas that will easily fit into your lifestyle.

DIY Taco Seasoning

Store-bought taco seasoning can contain a number of unwanted fillers - from wheat, to corn, to soy. Make a more flavorful, healthier, and cost-friendly version at home. Keep reading for the recipe...

This recipe is prepper friendly as it uses spices most people have in their cabinet or in their food storage. It makes enough to season several pounds of meat. We usually double the recipe and keep it in a mason jar in the spice cupboard so it is ready to go whenever we make tacos.

Taco Seasoning Mix

4 T chili powder

3 T garlic granules

3 T paprika

3 T cumin

2 T dried minced onion

1 T salt

1 1/2 t. oregano

1 1/2 t. to 3 t.  cayenne (adjust according to taste)

1 T dried crushed red pepper

Mix together well. Store in an airtight container. This makes about 1 cup of seasoning mix. Use 2 - 3 T per pound of ground meat.

Homemade Butter the Easy Way

Years ago we experimented with homemade butter by using a borrowed butter churn and by shaking cream in a jar. We recently tried making butter again and I was so pleased with the results! Read below for the easy method we followed!

My first attempts at homemade butter did not turn out well. I did not research how to make butter so the first time I made it I did not add salt or rinse the butter. The taste was way too strong for me. 

Last fall we had extra cream from the farm fresh milk we buy from our friends and I thought it was worth trying again. Since we do not have a butter churn, I went with a suggestion I found on Instagram and used our mixer.

Below are the directions for making butter this way.

Step 1

Add one quart of heavy cream and 3/4 teaspoon of salt to the mixing bowl. Turn on the mixer at low speed, then turn up to high. Cover the mixer and bowl with a towel (to prevent splashing). The cream will stiffen into whipped cream. Keep the mixer going until the fat solids separate into chunks of butter. Keep mixing until the solids begin to stick together and form a ball.

Step 2

Gather the butter solids into a ball and pour the buttermilk (the liquid) into a jar. Reserve the buttermilk to use in other recipes (buttermilk cinnamon rolls are fabulous!). Be sure to store it in the refrigerator to keep it fresh.

Step 3

Prepare a bowl with ice water and submerge the butter ball in it. Mix well with your hands or with a wooden spoon by pressing it against the side of the bowl. Once the water becomes cloudy, drain off the water. Repeat this process with clean water until the water you have massaged the butter in stays clear.

Step 4

Shape the butter, pat it dry, cover, and place in the refrigerator. We formed our butter into a round to fit a small glass bowl.

We kept our butter in the refrigerator to increase the storage time and keep the flavor mellow. 

Comments: 

Herbal Healing Salve

Our family uses this salve for many things - from hydrating dry skin in the winter to healing rashes, scrapes, and burns.   See the recipe below.

Herbal Healing Salve

Ingredients

*Scroll down to the DIY Infused Oils article on this page for instructions on how to make infused oils.*

Containers

Directions

Notes on Ingredients

Coconut oil is moisturizing for the skin and has antibacterial properties.

Olive oil has long been used to moisturize skin and to heal wounds. It is rich in vitamins and has both antioxidant and antibacterial properties.

Lavender has antiseptic, antiviral, antimicrobial, and antifungal properties. It is also an analgesic. 

Rosemary is antiseptic, antifungal, andtibacterial, and anti-inflammatory.

Peppermint is antiseptic, antibacterial, antiviral, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory. (See cautionary notes below.)

Vitamin E is a natural preservative and is also anti-inflammatory.

Notes on Herbal Options  for Oil Infusions

Plantain is usually applied topically in a poultice,  but we have made an oil infusion before to use in this recipe. Plantain is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and analgesic.

Comfrey accelerates healing of skin and wounds.

Calendula accelerates healing. It is antimicrobial and antibacterial. 

Rose helps heal wounds. It is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral.

Chamomile is soothing, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging.

CAUTION: Be sure to avoid including any oils or herbs to which you are allergic. Children can be sensitive to peppermint, so I generally leave the peppermint essential oil out if I plan to gift a jar to someone with children.

Repurposing Candle Wax - Making New Candles

Do you have pieces of leftover candles? You can stretch your candle budget by melting down your old wax to make new candles.

Keeping your wax remnants to reuse after a candle burns down is one way to save money and stretch your supplies, especially if you like to burn candles. Here is an easy method for turning those remnants into new candles.

Supplies List


Fill the larger pot part way with water and begin to heat it on medium heat. Add wax chunks to the melting pot and immerse the melting pot in the water. The water level on the outside of the melting  pot should come roughly to the same level as the wax on the inside of the pot. Allow the wax to melt.


In the meantime, prepare your clean jars for the wax. Add the number of wicks you want to use to each container. You can add a drop of melted wax to the bottom and press the wick into it to hold it if you like. I found this wasn't necessary for my purposes, but it is helpful if you want your wicks to stick precisely where you put them. Alternatively, you can purchase candle wick stickers to be sure they stay put. Place a pencil across the top of the container and either tie the wick around it to keep it from moving when you pour the wax or tape the top to the pencil if the wick is too short to tie. 


Once the wax is melted, carefully pour it into your containers to avoid moving the wick from its position. If you have a thermometer, you can wait until the wax reaches around 135 degrees to pour. Otherwise, wait until it  is slightly opaque. This should help keep a well from forming in your candle (see my notes below). You can also preheat your glass containers for better side adhesion. I did not find this step necessary as the sides did not pull away from the outside, but given the nature of wax, I can see where it could be helpful.


Set the candles in an area where they will not be disturbed and allow them to gradually cool to room temperature. If a small dip forms in the center, you can melt the top gently with a hairdryer to even it out.


A few things I learned:

1) Wax will shrink and create a well in the middle of the candle (and can also pull away from the sides).

I did not use a thermometer when I poured these, nor did I wait very long for the wax to cool. This caused a well to form in a couple of the containers. After doing some investigation, I learned that being a bit more patient and pouring wax at a cooler temperature should help alleviate the problem. The temperature at which it should be poured depends on the type of wax, but 135 - 140 degrees should be a good generic rule to use.

2) If you have a candle that doesn't burn well, don't bother trying to repurpose the wax into another candle. Keep it for another project like firestarters.

We had a pine scented three wick candle that did not burn well. The wicks burned down, but very little of the wax melted. I thought it would be a good idea to make sure all the wax got used up, so I saved the leftover to use for more candles. I added this wax to the last batch I melted. The candles from this batch are not burning as well as the others. In fact, they are doing the same thing the original pine candle did. It was not worth it to reuse this particular wax to make candles.

Pouring a new candle from leftover wax

Making rose infused oil

DIY Infused Oils

Knowing how to make your own infused oils is helpful for both culinary use and natural body care.  I use infused oils as the base for the healing salve I keep on hand.  I also use them as a base oil to mix with essential oils for massaging onto a scar, wound, or rash. I plan to experiment with using infused oils in homemade soap making when we begin making our own soap.

We use infused oils for cooking as well. Basil infused olive oil is one of my favorites to use in homemade vinaigrette salad dressing or to toss with pasta for a side dish.  Infused oils are also good in marinades and sauces, as dipping oils, or in baking breads.

Below you can find the methods I use to make infused oils:

Choose your herbs: You can use fresh or dried herbs.  Fresh herbs give great flavor, but many will need to be acidified to ensure safety. Click here for an article describing how to safely use fresh herbs for infused oils.  You can use a single herb, or a blend of herbs for a more robust flavor. If picking herbs from the garden or foraging for plants, you can clean them and dry them yourself before infusing into the oil.

Culinary  herb suggestions - basil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, chive, cinnamon, clove

Body Care herb suggestions - rose, plantain, comfrey, chamomile, chickweed

Choose your oil: You can use many different types of oil.  Olive oil is a great option since it is safe for culinary use and for skin care. For skin care, I like to make a blend that includes coconut oil, which is nourishing for your skin. Remember that your skin will absorb what you put onto it, whether it is toxins or beneficial plant extracts, so be sure to avoid  highly processed oils and stick with more the more natural, non-gmo oils.

Sterilize your jars: Anytime you make something that you will be ingesting or putting on your skin,  be sure to use sterilized equipment in order to prevent botulism or other contamination. Use a glass jar to store your oil.  You do not want plastic to leech into a product you will be putting on or in your body. Once you have chosen the jar you will be using,  you can sterilize the jar by submerging it in boiling water for a minimum of 10 minutes.  You will need to be sure it is completely dry and has no water remaining on it before adding your oil.

Choose your ratio: How much oil and herb you use depends on your preference.  Some people use a one part herb to 10 parts oil.  I personally prefer to use something along the lines of a one part herb to four or five parts oil ratio for a stronger oil. 

Choose your warming method:

Method 1 - Warm oil pour over

Place herbs in your sterilized jar. Heat oil in a pan to just warm and pour over the herbs in the jar.  Screw on a clean, sterile lid and leave for  one to ten days before straining the oil. The longer you leave it sit, the stronger the flavor of the oil. Be careful not to get the oil too hot or it will burn the herbs in the jar, leaving an unpleasant taste to the oil. 

Method 2 - Warm water bath

Place herbs in your sterilized jar. Pour oil over the herbs and cover the jar with a clean, sterile lid.  Sit the jar in a pot of warm water (or a crockpot filled with warm water) and let warm for two to four hours.  You do not need the water to simmer, just to get warm enough to distribute the heat to the oil and allow the plant extracts to release into the oil. Be careful not to get water into the jar with the oil. Let sit for one to ten days for a stronger flavor.

Method 3 - Sun warmed oil

Fill jar with herbs.  Pour oil over the herbs and cover the jar tightly with a lid.  Place in a sunny location for ten days.  

Strain your oil and pour into a jar: Once you have allowed the oil to infuse, strain out the plant material using cheesecloth and pour the oil into sterilized containers. Close with a clean, sterile lid.

Oils are best stored in the refrigerator or in the freezer, especially if they are made from fresh herbs. Oils made from fresh herbs should last in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks.  Oils made from dried material and kept in a cool, dark place should last 2 to 3 months.

Click on the link above for an easy, low-tox, DIY laundry soap recipe!

Upcycled Jean Quilts

I have been saving old jeans for a long time with the idea that I would eventually make a quilt or some other project out of the usable pieces. My sister-in-law even gave us some of their cast-offs to use.  It was a number of years before I actually sat down to make a quilt, but when the quilts the boys used for years began to wear thin, I decided it was time to finally put the jeans to use. Read on for more...

After going through various ideas for patterns and test sewing a few pieces, I decided that it would be best to make a quilt out of the largest pieces possible while maintaining some kind of visually appealing pattern.  My reasons were as follows:

Since most of the jeans were worn out at the knees, I eventually settled on using one of my rectangular quilting rulers for sizing the main pieces.  It fit well between the worn-out knee and the end of the leg lengthwise and just between the seams on either side for men's, women's and the larger youth sizes. This saved time on cutting the pieces.  I only needed to place the ruler and cut around it with a rotary cutter.  I then sketched out a simple pattern of rectangles and squares (for the ends) and calculated how many pieces I would need for a twin size quilt. For the first quilt, I had two different colors of fabric for the backing (I used what I had, which at the time was a couple of sheets) and three colors of jeans (blue, black, and cream), so I sketched a color pattern for both sides. For the second quilt, I used the same pattern, but since I only had blue and black jeans, I replaced the cream rectangles with black (see pictures below).  I only had one fabric for the back of the quilt, so I didn't need to worry about sewing the backing on in any particular order.

This quilt pattern was super easy because it did not require batting or joining three layers of materials.  I simply cut enough rectangles and squares for the front and back of the pattern, sewed the jean rectangles to the fabric rectangles in strips, leaving the seam up towards the jean side, and then sewed the strips together.  Once all the strips were sewn together, I sewed around the edge twice to secure the pieces together and to make it sturdy.  Finally, I cut the raised fabric on the seam with a pair of scissors every inch or so (being sure not to cut too close to the sewn seam) and washed the quilt to get the ragged look.  I used a heavy-duty thread to increase the durability and longevity of the quilt.

You could easily make your own pattern, as I did, or find one online.  The site I used for inspiration, which has very clear, step-by-step instructions, can be found here

These quilts are heavy, making them perfect for keeping warm during the cold winter.  They are also very durable, so they work well as picnic quilts or as an emergency quilt to throw in the back of your car.  I anticipate that these will last for a long time.

Prepping for a Wedding

We have had two daughters marry in the past nine months. In addition, we have attended the weddings of several of their friends. While preparing for a wedding does not typically fall into self-sufficiency and preparedness, many of the principles for accomplishing any preparedness task without breaking the bank will apply.  Here are three tips that will help:

1. Plan Carefully

Make lists of tasks to accomplish (such as shopping for the wedding dress, choosing flowers, and decorating the reception venue) and materials you need (such as decorations, food, and drinks for the reception).  Write them down on paper or type a list on your phone, computer, etc. and prioritize them by the date by which they need to be accomplished.  Add the tasks to your calendar to be sure you set aside time to accomplish them and so that you do not forget anything. Be sure to also add a day or two to your calendar to dedicate to gathering materials for the reception, whether this means shopping for food items, gathering decorations from your attic, or picking up items to be borrowed from a friend's house.

Ask for help!  Remember that one person can't do everything, so assign tasks to people you trust and keep a list of who will be doing what.  This will keep people from wasting time by doubling up on the same task and will keep things from being missed.  Keeping a list will be crucial for when you need to call to verify that people who agreed to do a task are still available to help and for when your friends call you to ask what it was they had agreed to do.

2. Repurpose

Use what you have.  If you have decorations from other events or items around the house that can be re-used or modified for the wedding, don't hesitate to do so. One daughter used hardback books from our library shelves and teacups from the cupboard in her wedding decorations.  We also used teapots, teacups, and candlesticks from our homes to decorate for her bridal shower.  Faux flowers she purchased for the wedding were used for both the shower and the wedding reception. Flower garlands we had on hand were included for both wedding receptions.

Borrow what you don't have or use what others are discarding. One daughter borrowed the reception greenery from her boss, who was gracious enough to loan her the greenery from her own wedding that took place a few months prior. Flower girl baskets and card baskets come from the second hand store and a family member who was getting rid of her extras. Ribbon wrapped around the handle and a few flowers glued to the side added elegance and beauty to an otherwise plain basket.

3. Involve Your Community

Let people help.  This can save you time, stress, and money. People who like you are happy to be involved and many will offer to help you with whatever you need without you even asking. Don't be afraid to accept help when it is offered.

Capitalize on people's skills. When people offer to help, let them help where they have the interest and skill.  Each of our daughters had a friend that is a fabulous baker.  Their friends made them a homemade wedding cake as a wedding gift.  Another friend put together the bouquets as a wedding gift (after the bride bought in-season flowers at a local store). Others friends who love baking made cupcakes for the dessert table.  One friend offered to make her delicious pasta salad for the reception dinner.  Each of these wedding gifts saved the couple money and allowed their friends to gift their time and talent in lieu of a gift to be wrapped.

A Parting Thought

Remember to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Family, friends, and community are important. When our daughter's friend married, we made salad and desserts for the reception dinner and passed out the champagne before the toast. Before another friend's wedding, we were honored to be asked to serve the rehearsal dinner. When your family or friends have a big event, offer to give a helping hand.  It may be more appreciated than you will ever know!