Now is the time to get several pairs of sturdy shoes and boots for all family members, socks, underwear, and sturdy pants (heavy, work-quality.)
LYE: Make Your Own Lye
To make your own lye you need:
A hopper, instructions to follow.
Long wooden plank, as long as the hopper
A large bucket or pan to catch the Lye-water
Burn hardwood ashes in our stove or firebox and save them in a dry place. When you have collected a few ashes, place them in the hopper. Apple wood is great, so is oak and walnut. Other woods work O.K., too. Allow rain to fall into the ashes or pour in rainwater you have collected into the ashes. The water will seep through the ashes, picking up naturally occurring lye as it runs through. The water will run out the bottom of the hopper and into the bucket.
Keep adding ashes and keep pouring the bucket of water BACK THROUGH the ashes every day til you have a lye-water that is strong enough that you can place a raw egg in the water and the egg will float about half way up in the liquid. The egg doesn't have to float on the top of the water, just half way up in the water.
Lye water made this way WILL burn your skin! I have had some that did not, but most always it will burn, so be careful.
I'll bet you could find good instructions on how to make a hopper on the Internet, but if you can't get on the Internet, get the Foxfire books, one of them has instructions for a pretty good hopper. My favorite type of hopper is made of thin wood like plywood. You make a "V" shape with two pieces of the plywood. Doesn't matter how big or small you make it, it's up to you. Then you cover the ends with wood, nailing it tightly. Now what you have is a triangle shaped box, without a top.
Where the two pieces of plywood come together at the tip of the "triangle", you should have a very, very tiny space, where the wood didn't fit together exactly. You want this space, it's where the lye water leaks out.
***You may also want to make a cover for your hopper, If you get too much water going in, your lye water will be weak.***
Prop up the long plank of wood underneath the hopper at an angle so that the water will leak out of the hopper and onto the plank. The water will run down the plank and you catch it in a pan at the end of the plank. The water will run down the plank better if you are able to cut a few grooves into the plank, length-wise.
That's it. This is a very old, 18th century, design for a hopper. As I said, you may be able to find a newer one that you like better, but this one has never failed me and I like it better than any of the newer ones I have tried. I like it--- it's so easy to set up, and easy to find the components for it, yet it works like a dream.
Now using your lye water is another matter altogether.....You have to use the cooked method of soapmaking when you use homemade lye. You measure out your lye water and the other ingredients, and cook the mixture til it is at the correct consistency. Again, the Foxfire book does a pretty good job of explaining this. There is a web page on the net that I saw once, from Africa, that tells how to do this too.
Remember to take into consideration that the water in your lye-water must be counted as your water in your recipe.
SOAP: No Fail Shortening Soap Recipe
No Fail (and no weigh) Soap Recipe
2 cans (3 lb) veggie shortening 1 can (12 0z) lye 2 cups water
Mix lye and water in enamel pan, OUTSIDE, set aside to cool. Melt shortening, set aside to cool. When both are hot to the touch (on the outside of the pan) pour lye into shortening. Stir until consistency of mashed potatoes. Pour into prepared mold and let set 24 hours, covered. Uncover, poke it and see if it's firm. If it is, turn it out on newspapers and cut it into bars. Put them someplace safe and let cure for 2-3 weeks, minimum. If its not firm, cover and let sit for another 24 hours, then turn out and cut.
Use butter tubs or glass cakes pans as molds.
There is a man in Scottsville KY who makes a machine which resembles the James, but it's sturdier and less expensive. This is according to a farm wife I know who has kept her big family of men and boys in clean work clothes for years with it.
BTW, I've talked to a friend who has boiled her clothes and she says it gets them really white. We live in red dirt territory and nothing is the same after one wearing around here. She says her kitchen towels are white again. The addition of some dishwasher detergent helps. Just be sure your fabric will withstand the boiling as some modern fabrics might not.