Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Olive Oil, Sugar, and Needlework


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Strangely enough, this is not a “my favorite things” post, nor is it a foodie post, nor am I going to show you the big mess I made spilling olive oil all over my needlework. But if I were making a list of favorite things, I’d admit that these three would be on it, in some form or another. And if this were a foodie post, either olive oil or sugar (or both) would probably be in the mix. However, if I had spilled olive oil on my needlework, the title of this post would be unfit to publish! No, no. It’s none of the above…

This is a needlework tip!

I’m suffering from “winter hands” right now. No matter what I put on them – I slather them with lotion several times on a daily basis – I can’t eliminate some of the chapped areas. Part of the chap comes from working with my hands, whether it’s doing dishes, doing other daily chore-ish tasks, writing (with pens), writing on a chalk board (oh, horror! I hate chalk this time of year!), or even developing needlework calluses. But part of it is just simply the time of year. It’s winter. The heat in the house dries things out, and the lack of humidity in the air outside, along with the cold and the wind, doesn’t help!

And so, now and then, I find myself getting lizardy.

And when it comes to working with threads, lizardness isn’t pleasant! I can’t stand the snagging. Cotton is bad enough, but try working with flat silk! Aaaack! The frustration is endless.

And that brings me to this tip – an easy way to smooth up your hands using ingredients you probably have in your cupboard: olive oil and sugar.

Hand Treatment: smooth your skin a bit before embroidery

Pour a tablespoon of olive oil in a dish – a small bowl works best (much better than a little measuring cylinder).

Hand Treatment: smooth your skin a bit before embroidery

Add about a tablespoon of sugar. The mixture doesn’t have to be precise, or anything. You just want to create a wettish pumice, really.

Hand Treatment: smooth your skin a bit before embroidery

It’s amazing how yellow olive oil looks with sugar in it. Mix the oil and sugar together well….

Hand Treatment: smooth your skin a bit before embroidery

… and glop the stuff into your hands. MMMmmmmm. Doesn’t that just look – oh, nasty? This consistency works great for me – most of the mix stays together, but there is enough liquid in it that a little bit oozes its way through the fingers.

Now, scrub your hands. You can do both sides, and while you’re out it, concentrate on the finger tips, giving them extra attention.

Once you’ve worked the mix around on your hands for a while, use soap and warm water to wash your hands thoroughly, then pat them dry on a towel. They’re feel great!

It doesn’t necessarily eliminate every bit of roughness on the hands, but it certainly minimizes the snagging. A daily treatment while the hands are really rough will make a difference, too.

Any tips for hand treatments when dealing with winter skin? Do share!



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(28) Comments

  1. Ooh, I do sugar scrubs all the time. I really like jojoba oil, if you have any on hand (ha, ha) as it does a great job of mimicking skin’s natural… well, grease. I like to add some perfume oil to mine as well, and it makes a great shower scrub too (just be careful as it makes the tub floor slippery).

    As a knitter and hand spinner, I also have to add a pitch for lanolin. You can spin grease wool or just buy some and rub it on, if you don’t spin.

  2. Hi Mary,
    I do the same thing, but don’t bother pre-mixing it. I just put a teaspoon of sugar in one hand and pour the oil over it, then scrub! Nothing to wash except your hands!

  3. I often use the fake mayonnaise called Miracle Whip mixed with coarse kosher salt. That’s what I have at hand. (Note: the salt makes any cuts sting. Use sugar instead.) Just DO NOT let your significant others catch you at the frig, absently-mindedly squirting mayo from the squeeze container onto your palms!

  4. I’ve also been told oil and salt works – maybe use sugar in the winter and salt in the summer? I keep an emery board handy to file down fingertips, too. Thanks for posting this tip, it is a good one, not only for stitchers, but others too (e.g. gardeners).

  5. A friend of mine washes her face with olive oil…just rubs it in, and uses a washcloth with warm water to get if off again. A few splashes of warm water after and that’s it.

    I tried it for a few weeks and it really was marvelous…except I smelled a little like a salad!

  6. I am a school cook so my hand are always in water. Plus we have a hot tub so a soak a day. Plus all the needle work. I use Gold Bond Healing cream it is a bit expensive but my hand are in great shape and it dosen’t leave that greasy feel. My hand were so bad they had cracks, I got the tip from a casher.

  7. Sorbelene cream or lanolin massaged into the hands at night & covered with cotton gloves. Both are available in the supermarket here in Australia. Hands will be baby soft in the morning.

  8. Well I’ll put in my 2 cents as well, since I’m the esthetician. This is a fantastic tip. I use jojoba oil which you can get for about $4.00 for 8 ozs. Jojoba oil is very close to human sebum (oil) in it’s molecular structure so skin just loves it. Olive oil is next best to Jojoba and Almond oil is third in line. Jojoba has very little smell of its own so if you like to add lavender or other essential oils (about 10 drops in 4 ozs of oil) use Jojoba oil or you’ll just smell your base oil. Sugar or salt work equally well as the ‘scrub’ but salt may sting if you have tiny cuts on your skin. Mix up about 4 ounces and store in an airtight container for a month or more depending on the temperature where you keep it. It will last much longer if stored in the refrigerator. Vegetable oil + Sugar/Salt = nature’s own “skin softener” at a cost of pennies over any store bought brand name product. Excellent scrub for hands, feet, elbows and even the face if used gently. BTW if you have arthritis, try eucalyptus as your essential oil additive, takes the pain right away — but don’t put this one on your face, it will make your eyes sting.

  9. Since I just spent an hour puddling in the garden and five minutes complaining about the state of my fingers this is a very wonderfully timed post – thankyou – I am off to raid the kitchen.

  10. Olive oil?????????????
    Huh, you must read too many classics. I thought only Ancient Greeks bathed with oil!

  11. Perfect timing for this post. My hands are in terrible shape – definitely lizardy. I use Burt’s Bees Hand Salve at night, but it hasn’t been working well enough. My hands have been snagging the yarn when I crochet!

    I’ve never heard of this treatment. Can’t wait to try it – thanks!!

  12. Mary…great post! We all suffer through that dry hand thing in the winter months! After checking out other comments…I have another 2 products to comment about that I use frequently … especially when my hands get to the state of hopeless! One is Bag Balm (it’s a riot to read the label … as it’s primary use is veterany … for cows…but awesome on dry skin. Petroleum/lanoline base with other stuff. The other is J R Watkins Lavender lotion … not handy to indicate ingredients..but awesome for hands, face or anywhere with a fabulous lavender fragrance. Very hydrating … lasts for hours!

  13. Ok, first don’t take me for a saleswoman, I am the farthest from it! But, I was given a gift for Christmas of the Satin Hands set from Mary Kay. Let me tell you, I don’t spend extra money on many things, but when this stuff runs out (or looks close to doing so), I am spending the money. I only use it once a week, as a treatment instead of a daily thing. It works, it works so well, knitting and crocheting with cotton..or doing my needlework…never becomes cumbersome. Plus, the “ritual” as my hubby likes to call it, gives me some much needed down time from the 4 year old. NOBODY bothers momma when she is doing her “hand ritual.”

  14. I use the oil and sugar/salt, I also use it in the shower occassionally. We don’t have sugar so I mostly use salt but it can sting and I think that it is sharper than sugar so a little scratchy.

    During the winter I wear gloves when outside and apply hand cream before my gloves. I do the same with cotton gardening gloves, slap on loads of hand cream then the gloves and rubber gloves, if my hands are going in detergent. When your hands warm up in the gloves the hand cream is really absorbed.

    At the moment I have dry heals, before bed I am applying cracked heal creams and rubbing a bit into my finger tips especially around the cuticles which get a bit rough.

    I know that I am a bit fanatical about my hands but it is worth it when working with flat silks.


  15. A dermatologist friend told me to do this: after washing your hands (or face or whatever): take a little Vaseline, mush it with water in your hands, and wipe it over your wet skin. You are sealing in the water from washing. Pat dry. Do this every time you wash your hands.

    It is wonderful!

  16. I’ve only been working with silks for about nine months and just love them.
    I ran into the skin problem and was told to go and get sugar scrubs at the spa OR purchase some and do at home. Well… I’d much rather spend the money on stitchy stuff!
    BUT, I fiddled around and created my own using the olive oil and sugar idea….only I used the turbonated brown sugar…much larger crystals.
    It worked fine, but the large crystals weren’t always comfortable. I had assumed that the table sugar was too fine to use.
    Well, after your tip, I am going to keep on doing it but will switch to the finer sugar 🙂

    Thanks Mary for such a great tip.

    Hugs, Marlon

  17. Mary,
    I use a bee’s wax mixture bar made by Koelzer Bee Farm. It is a bar made of bee’s wax, shea butter, coco butter and coconut oil. I use the oil scrub you use once a week, and the bar every day. It not only moisturizes but it protects my hands from splitting. Since I have found it, I never have issues with snagging threads. I also invested in a paraffin tub. I dip my hands after the scrub and it seems to seal in the moisture. This system works very well for me. The bar works well on feet too but I have a separate bar or that.

  18. I use the fine side of an emery board to smooth rough spots on hands and a light moisturizer during the day. At night I use a heavier handcream…Keri Original is good…plus I use a cuticle oil on my fingers and for any really rough spots I rub in some lip balm…I like Bonne Bell Lipsmackers the best…they really moisturize.

  19. Two words: Bag Balm.

    I learned about this stuff looking for help for an odd skin condition I have….every year during the warm months my right thumb begins a process of peeling and healing. This has gone on for about 10 years–only my right thumb and only during the warm months! Weird, huh? Anyway, I’ve tried Vaseline, lanolin, and other various moisturizers, but nothing really kept it from peeling. Until I discovered Bag Balm, that is–a salve originally designed to soften cow udders! I get mine from Drugstore.com. It doesn’t smell very pleasant but it does the job.

  20. My hands are so dry that the flat silks become charged with static electricity. It is definitely a lot worse in the winter which is when we have our Japanese Embroidery classes! The oil/sugar combo works well but I also use a 10% Urea cream nightly (must be 10% – more is too strong). There are a number of brands available and it works really well almost year round.

  21. this is a good tip for those who crochet. Use Johnson's baby lotion and rub it in. Then rub in some baby powder or regular talcum powder to seal in the lotion and to stop your hands from feeling greasy as you work. Also if your hands crack soak them in vinegar

  22. Hi Mary, yes the recipe works well. In fact I often just use ordinary sunflower oil if it’s getting too close to the end of the month lol. Any vegetable oil will do but I would add: mineral oils (like ordinary baby oil) just sit on the skin & block the pores. It doesn’t get absorbed. In fact if I had a child baby oil would be the last thing I’d use. My 2c.

    Thank you for all your help!

  23. I don’t think it was mentioned yet so I’ll add pure organic virgin coconut oil from the health food store. It’s a great moisturizer for skin. Applied sparingly, it absorbs well and hasn’t caused any breakouts. When my hair is feeling a little dry or frizzy I’ll massage some in before I wash it and it is so much softer once it dries – and coconut oil smells so yummy, too!

  24. I have been using Avon’s Foot Works Intense callus cream for my lizard feet and found it has a lovely side effect —- soft hands! I love this stuff and found nothing works better for dry skin. BTW, I no longer have lizard feet 🙂

    When I need a quick fix for my dry fingers while I’m in the midst of embroidering I use a honey beeswax lotion bar made by Happy Hounds Honey. I picked it up at a local craft fair and it works wonders. I rub it in to my dry skin and then rub off the excess.

    Love reading all the solutions!

  25. These are great tips from everyone. I have used regular cooking oil (canola, corn) for this and am wondering if there is a particular benefit to using olive oil.

  26. I make sugar scrub with coconut oil, sugar and essential oils. Our EGA Board made it up into small mason jars for luncheon favors.

  27. I use salt and coconut oil. It works really well after I have been gardening or carving on wood, bone and ivory. The salt does not seem to dry my skin out. I will try sugar when I make some more of the mixture up and see if there is a difference. I do not wash with soap and water afterwards. The coconut oil works into my skin nicely. I do not stitch immediately afterwards just in case there is leftover coconut oil on my hands. Even though I do not live in a cold area like you do, I live in Florida, it still gets dry here in the winter. The chemo I have to take daily drys my skin worse than then the lack of humidity in the winter months.

    Thanks for another great tip.

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