Monday, September 26, 2005


Since the whole depression/anxiety/monkeying with meds thing, I just haven't been up to doing the things I normally love to do. Soapmaking is one of those things. And they are lovely soaps, truly. So mild and kind to your skin, compared to store-bought "detergent bars." Plus the creative process is just so amazing. You start with a bunch of oils like olive, avocado, evening primrose, wheat germ, coconut, sweet almond, etc., and butters (not Land O' Lakes, I mean like shea butter, cocoa butter, mango butter, etc.), some lye crystals, and a liquid. You can use almost any liquid in soapmaking. Water, tea, milk, cream, even beer or wine. If you like, you can add fragrance oils or essential oils, Ground herbs, oat flour, honey, and even colorants if desired. Somehow, by some amazing process, if you do it all just right, stirring and monitoring temperatures, and pouring at *just* the right time, this mixture saponifies, and you have SOAP. Sometimes I like to be creative, like with these bars I made for Valentine's Day. The "base" bar was scented with cherry-almond fragrance oil, and the heart-shaped embeds, which I hand-milled from a plain white batch, and colored, leaving white pieces in the mix, were scented with strawberry fragrance oil. It made a nice soap.

But most of the time, I prefer simple, nice-to-your-skin (or hair--we do shampoo bars for people and pets) goodness. The saponification process has never stopped being magical to me. That just stirring these molecules around so that they will contact and bind with each other to form another substance is awesome. I love the stirring, I love the pouring--here's a batch of a very rich full goat's milk soap that has just been poured into one of my favorite posessions, my Upland soap mold: Isn't it beautiful? Then you cover your soap--unless it contains milk, honey, or oats, or other things that are "heaters", but especially milk of any kind...and the process continues. If you check on it later, you will find what we call the "gel phase", pictured (albeit blurrily) here: Once soap has gelled into all corners of the mold, it's time to unwrap/uncover it and let it cool. Soap does not have to gel to be good soap, and many people who make milk soap don't allow it to gel, so they'll get a lighter, creamier color that way. Many people believe that the gel process gives the soap a smoother texture. Me, I live in Arkansas, so I don't have much choice. My soap gels whether I want it to or not!

My favorite, very favorite part of soapmaking, I think, is the slicing. I have a fabulous custom-made cutter from an Arkansas artisan, and it just slices perfect bars every time. I love getting to see how the texture looks, the color, the feel, and especially if there were swirls, that is exciting to unveil! Here is this same batch I've been showing, after cutting:

It was a very rich formula with lots of shea and cocoa butter and rich oils like avocado (my favorite soaping oil, I think) and jojoba. It was made with goat's milk as the only liquid, and raw organic silk fibers were dissolved into the milk/lye mixture. I called it "Silky Milky", and actually kept most of it for myself, it was that nice!

Hopefully I can get back to it soon, but first I have to clear out the 800-odd bars that are in my tiny house right now. I am thinking of doing a flat-rate "grab-box" sale on my website, with a random (or maybe two or three choices of selections) in each box, for a bargain price on my website, just to move 'em out. (Those of you who are waiting on specific things, like Carrot Facial Bars and Oatmeal Cookie soap--Hi, Mildred!--I think I still have all your requests covered. Just gotta get 'em out.)

If any of you have gotten this far, you are obviously either very bored or a hobby junkie! Bless your hearts.


  1. Nice to see you writing about soap again. I spent yesterday at a fair visiting soap makers and telling a friend about how it's made etc. (Asking vendors if this is cold process soap seems to impress them).

    I should post to our soap list some notes as a shopper about that.

  2. that is magnificent. wow. beautiful. amazing. so lovely and creamy and yummy looking. definitely craftsmanship with a captial K. you are awesome.

    count me in for a box.

  3. I am a hobby junkie, although I no longer have the strength or finances for my favorite hobby, marbelizing paper like what you see in Florence. I learned how to do it years ago and love making it, but just can't anymore. So I'll live vicariously through you and soap making. I do have a question. What IS shay butter? I keep hearing about, but have no clue as to where it comes from. Ditto for Jojoba. I know it's some kind of tropical plant, but what exactly? A flower? A leaf?

    Where did you learn to make soap?

    When my kids were little we used to go to this little cart in San Francisco that sold clear soaps with little plastic toys embedded in them. It was quite the incentive to get them to wash. I thought it was a brilliant idea but I've never seen them anywhere else.

    Really interesting post. More please!

  4. You can make those clear soaps really easily. That's just glycerin soap that you melt and pour into a mold. You'd just stick a toy in it while it's still hot.

    Ilearned from "The Soapmaker's Companion. It's like my soapy bible!

    Shea information is here, from my source: It is just amazing, miraculous stuff. I put it straight on my dry skin, and I like to make a body butter by adding a little avocado oil and whipping it.

    Jojoba is actually a wax, not an oil technically. As for the plant it comes me!

  5. Absolutely incredible process. It's so neat to see such beautiful products come together, right in your home. Thanks for the wonderful illustration.

    I am without a hobby. I used to get into art and do my own framing, used to write, used to have more time for contemplating and executing gardening. Now, I think I'm suffering extreme fatigue or something b/c all the energy I can muster up is for my little N, my DH and work to keep my life busy. It's sad.

    Where is your web site for soaps? I'll do a grab box for sure. Shea butter, jojoba, goats milk, butters and skin softeners...YUM. We need non detergent soaps up here in the frozen tundra, you know. What kind does Bella fancy? What are yours and Alex's favorite ingredients?

    You go wit your bad self!

  6. That is really cool - see I'm learning on these blogs also.

  7. Well, if you need to make quick money, those glycerin soaps with the toys in the sold for $5 a bar and they were snapped up like candy by moms who wanted their kids to use soap. It's really a great idea, especially for the 5-8 year old set, who need a LOT of coaxing to wash, mostly because they're on their own in the shower.

    In the bay area, most of the houses of kids in the age group had at least one bar in their bathrooms! Just an idea. I'm always thinking of ways to make money. Not that I ever DO anything to make money, but I like to dream.

  8. Margalit, I do have some cute little plastic fishies (they look kinda like bettas) that I bought a while back for just that purpose.

    Michelle--Bella and I (the dry-skin twins) prefer the very superfatted formulas with tons of shea and avocado and olive. In the winter, it's nothing but straight pure Castile soap, which is made with ONLY olive oil. It's a pain to make, takes like 3 months to cure, but it is DIVINE to your skin. And I happen to have some right now....:-)

    The lame, never-updated website with the wonky shopping cart is at Promise not to laugh.

  9. I have always wondered the process of soap making. :) It's very interesting. I would love to have a hobby like that but apparently I would not be every good because after reading that, I'm still not sure how the process works.

  10. Well, that was a rather abridged version of the process, leaving lots of stuff out, like mixing the lye with the water, waiting for it to cool, melting the solid oils and letting them cool...getting the temps and the timing just right before combining, stirring, and's really fun, though, and worth checking out!

  11. From the sampling of Isabella soaps I have used, I discovered that every single bar was terrific. I would proclaim one as my favorite, only to have to change my mind when I opened up the next bar.

    I am saving a bar of goats milk/lavender soap. It is heavenly.

    I will to stick to my knitting, sewing, quilting and leave the cooked crafts to you Belinda.

  12. Nice to see another soaper on blogspot....we are a rare breed on here!!

    Great pics and explanations, 800 bars of soap, wow, do you do markets?

    I'm only small time and maybe have 200-300 bars here at the moment. But itching to make more...did a rebatch yesterday...

    I have a handmade soap blog too, please check it out....

  13. Maree, I will check you out for sure!