Making the Lye

Apologies for not posting earlier, we’ve been busy with work and such over the weekend.

Here’s a summary of what we’ve been up to from May 31 – June 3.

Friday 31st (afternoon)

We constructed the Lye Leaching Barrel and started Leaching #1.


Lye barrel setupIMG_0697Drilling drainage holes into the barrel….also a lesson in power tool usage


We plugged the drainage holes with wine corks


First filtering layer, assorted sizes of rocks


Second layer, sticks (or in our case, driftwood)


Third layer, straw (approx. 6 inches)


Then finally the wood ashes


Now we are ready for the water. We used some rainwater that had been collected, and the rest came from the tap. The total volume of our barrel was around 160L.


A shot of all the ingredients together, ready for leaching

Sunday 2nd (evening)

Drained Leaching #1 into Lye Receptacle and measured a sample for testing. This sample unfortunately failed the “Egg/Potato Test”.

Failed the 'potato-egg test' as the egg did not float.

Egg does not float indicates that the lye is not of a high enough pH and needs more time to strengthen.

Added more ashes to Lye-Leaching Barrel.

Having recently acquired ashes from Oak pieces, I added these to try and strengthen the lye water.

Having recently acquired ashes from Oak pieces, I thought the addition of ashes of hardwood would benefit the current softwood-ash lye.

Refilled the barrel with lye water and began Leaching #2.

Observations: The straw floated above the water with the ashes sitting on top of the straw. Because of this, the ashes were therefore not soaking in the water like they should be, so three bricks were placed on top to weigh down the straw. The water was then able to soak the ashes.

Monday 3rd (afternoon)

Drained Leaching #2 into Lye Receptacle, however this again failed the “Egg/Potato Test”. Decided to refill barrel with lye water and try to strengthen with Leaching #3.


Three days later, ready for draining. After 10 minutes or so of immense struggle to release the cork, we finally got the barrel to drain.


Lye water….who wouldn’t want to wash their clothes in that?


Sadly, our lye did not pass the ‘potato-egg’ test, we decided to put it back in the barrel for more soak time in the hopes that it would strengthen further overnight.

Observations: Although not strong enough to pass the “Egg/Potato Test”, we did notice that accidental contact (splashes, moisture on bottom of barrel) irritated our skin and caused some redness. We were right to wear rubber gloves, and safety glasses would be recommended as well – especially for contact lens wearers.

In the mean time, we cut the fabric to size/quantity and stained them (red wine, dirt, grass, cheese). Using the “Washing Bat Method”, we “beat” the fabric pieces in a basin of water.


In the mean time, we decided to try out our new WASHING BAT! Big thanks to Sarah’s dad for helping to construct this.


Stain samples. We stained swatches of linen (top, white) and wool (bottom, beige). From left-right, stains are: grass, wine, parmesan cheese (to mimic the smell of B.O.), and mud.


Practicing with the bat. Our medieval washing trough is a cooler….worked great!


More batting.

After washing, we placed the cleaned pieces on Rosemary/Lavender to dry.


Our drying rack. Resources said to dry in the sun over rosemary branches for a fresh scent.


Wash water. We used a brick in the ‘trough’ to bat the textiles on.


The end product for the day. On the left are some ‘before’ samples, on the right, our finished product layed out to dry.


Major event occurred during the night, will post tomorrow.

– Sarah & Nicole

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One Response to Making the Lye

  1. Erin says:

    Major event? I’m dead curious now!

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