Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sachet On Over Here

There is really nothing more old-fashioned that a sachet -- most people identify it as the little bag of scented herbs or potpourri that Mom or Grandma kept tucked in the linen closet or lingerie drawer. In fact smelling of "lavender sachet" used to be a popular synonym for elderly.

Sachets are very old; in fact they're ancient. The Egyptians used sachets of wheat and barley to determine the gender of an unborn child (the grain sachet was soaked in the Mama-to-be's urine and left to germinate. Whichever grain sprouted first indicated what Mama was having: barley meant a boy, and wheat a girl.) While the Black Death raged across Europe people would carry sachets of lavender and other dried flowers and herbs to ward off infection -- the infamous "pocket full of posies" from the Ring Around the Rosie nursery rhyme (I'm sure they also helped them cope with the smell of all the dead bodies.) For the same reason during polio epidemics American women would hang sachets of camphor around their children's necks. Sleeping with a large sachet of dried hops, called a dream pillow, was a popular treatment for insomnia. In Africa the sachet is known as the gris-gris bag, a protective talisman filled with charms as well as herbs.

The sachet is no stranger in the kitchen, either. Cooks have always used sachets of herbs tied up in little cheesecloth bundles to infuse their soups and dishes with flavor; anyone who has made classic French onion soup or beef consommé has probably made their own bouquet garni. One possible explanation for the invention of the modern tea bag is thanks to an American importer, who packaged loose tea to send to his customers in small silk bags to cut costs (tins being more expensive). A friend of mine who specializes in making tisanes (herb mixtures brewed like tea for medicinal purposes) stores her concoctions in little organza bags.

When I make sachets, which I do every spring, I follow a custom dating back to medieval days, when bathing and laundry weren't too popular. Sprinkling herbs on clothing was a way to deodorize them, but the oils in the herbs sometimes stained the clothes, so women began placing them in little cloth bags (this was also economical because it allowed to reuse the same herbs many times.) Bags of herbs and/or cedar shavings were the first moth repellents, too. Unlike our medieval ancestors I do bathe and wash my clothes regularly, but I still like to tuck sachets in little spaces like drawers and closets to as a natural way to keep lingerie and stored clothing and linens from smelling musty. I also make up sachets of herbs that I keep in storage bins, the cubbies in my desk and in sneakers, boots and winter coat pockets.

I like sewing decorative sachets because I like to embellish things and give them a vintage look. Here are some of the ones I made last year:







Anyone can make sachets, and the fastest and easiest are the no-sew type. The simplest way is with purchased potpourri; place a small amount in a purchased muslin or organza draw-string bag (click here to see some examples.) You can also make up sachets from circles of tulle or organza by placing a small amoutn of potpourri in the center, gathering up the sides and tying them off with a pretty ribbon, like so:



If you use tulle for your sachet you should double-layer it as the netting might otherwise shed some potpourri pieces. To get an attractive top to the sachet cut your tulle or organize in a circle before you fill it up and tie it off. The pretty ribbon flowers on my examples here are actually fabric corsage pins I found in the bargain bins at Jo-Ann for a dollar; you could also use old brooches or clip-on earrings in the same fashion.

For larger sachets you can lay flat you can make a pillow sachet out of two old handkerchiefs and some thin ribbon. I wheedled two out of my mom that had frayed hems and a couple holes in them, and sewed them together around the edges with the ribbon using a tapestry needle:



If you try this use big stitches so that the ribbon shows, and remember to stop a few inches before you finish stitching for enough space to open the sachet and add the potpourri:





For demonstration purposes in this post I've used some potpourri I bought at Wal-Mart, but I'm picky about scents so I generally use herbs and spices: French lavender for my clothing and quilts, patchouli or rosebuds for linens and paper goods, citrus and clove or sage for stored Christmas ornaments, winter clothing or the kitchen spaces, etc. While I purchase a lot of single-scent herbs I also make my own custom mixtures, too. Here's my recipe for a kitchen sachet blend (all of these ingredients are dried, btw):



2 tablespoons chamomile
1/2 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
2 star anise
1 teaspoon whole cloves
2 tablespoons orange peel
1 tablespoon rosemary
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
2 or 3 spearmint leaves

Because this recipe uses dried herbs and spices you need to mash them up or grind them to release the essential oils and get the scents to blend well. You can do so with a food chopper or processor but I like to run them through a nut mill. You can also adjust the amounts to suit your nose, just be cautious with the star anise, sage, cloves and the spearmint leaves as even a small amount of these give off a powerful or pungent scent that can overwhelm the others.

Another bonus of using natural herbs and spices for your sachets is the green factor. Commercial potpourri is often scented with artificial/chemical fragrances that are skin irritants, so they shouldn't be used anywhere they'd come in contact with clothing, towels, shoes etc. I prefer to use all-natural blends so that when my sachets lose their scent (as eventually they all do) I empty them outside in the garden to return them to the soil. Once year some of the lavender even took root and started to grow.

12 comments:

  1. I love the scent of tangerine and blood orange. How do I dry the peel and do I grind it when it's dry?

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    1. You'll want to peel the ring of any type of citrus and then cut into thin pieces, and either sun-dry them (place on a paper towel in a sunny/dry spot for a few days) or oven-dry them (on a foil-covered baking sheet at 150F for a couple of hours.) They will shrink and darken a little. Once the peel is dry then put through the grinder, handmill or processor.

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  2. Scent sachets invoke such pleasant memories for me. My Grandmother's clothes always smelled of lavender and every time I smell it I think of her. My mum loved to have "smellies" in her knicker drawer and so do I. I've never thought of making my own but will definitely have a go now. I gave up on the sewing machine I tried to fix as I'd solve one problem only to find another one, so I decided to bite the bullet and purchase a new one. Its due to be delivered tomorrow so I'm going to have some fun trying it out. I think a sandlewood sachet for my knicker drawer should be top of the list. I just hope they turn out somewhere near as nice as yours. Oh and I've got some scented coat hangers that could do with refreshing.

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    1. Sandalwood is a lovely scent; one of my all-time favorites. I hope the new sewing machine proves to be fun. :)

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  3. Your creativity is amazing and beautiful. These wonderful sachets are just what I was dreaming of and looking for when I was recovering from breast cancer. I was hoping someone would have the imagination to make one or buy one for me since this inspires me to stay well. The photos are gorgeous and your abilities to be admired.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Traveler. Sachets are regarded as old-fashioned (I think the modern "air fresheners" didn't help) but I think they're wonderful for inspiring a positive mood. Probably why I make them every year; they help me shake off the last of the blues from winter.

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  4. I love sachets. I've used them for years. Either making my own or we have a few herbalists near me open all summer who make wonderful scents as well. I've also discovered though the joys of scented paper drawer liners. They don't stain your clothing, last as long as a 'made' sachet and pretty up the bottom of an otherwise dreary drawer bottom.

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    1. I can't find scented lining paper anywhere, Theo, where do you buy yours?

      I wish I could find an herbalist here, but the best I can do is to visit the lovely new age shop where they stock my favorite herbs. Almost as good. :)

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    2. Crabtree and Evelyn has a lovely lavender scent that I really like. If you have one of their stores near you, you can test the lotion scents and you'll know that way which you'd like. I love their Rosewater too. I use that in lotion, perfume, hand therapy and liners as well. And they sell online as well. They're not cheap, but the scents last forever.

      http://goo.gl/myNgh

      Believe it or not, there are dozens of them on Amazon though if you don't have anything near you. I don't buy a lot from them anymore, but sometimes, they really are convenient.

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    3. I will search and see if I can find one within driving distance -- thanks for letting me know. :)

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  5. Can you use bought organza bags in cooking? I am wanting to put seeds in a bag to enhance pectin while cooking fruit for jam.

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    1. Traditionally organza was made from silk, but modern versions are often made of synthetic fibers. Also even real silk organza may contain chemical sizing that many manufacturers use in the process of making the cloth, so I don't recommend using any type of organza bags in cooking. You can usually find a cheesecloth or other cotton immersion bags in specialty food stores (these are typically used for making bouquet garni) and that type would be safe for your purpose.

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