It's been a little quiet in the soap kitchen over the last few weeks, and it's apparent by some of the empty shelves in the soap shop! After the Christmas rush, I took a couple of weeks to take care of my parents; dad had a partial knee replacement, and mom has Alzheimer's that has progressed further than I could detect through our phone calls over the past year. It was alarming to actually see, but I am really grateful for the conversations and laughs that I was able to have with my mom, and my dad was moving around pretty good with a cane by the time I left.
Most work-related things really ended up on the back burner while I was with my parents, but I did manage to read up on a few soap-related matters. Carrie Seibert, a fellow soapmaker (and along with her husband, Darren), a master shaving soapmaker, just published a book called How to Make Shaving Soap. I have made a few trial batches of shaving soap, but I am excited to take what I am learning from Carrie to refine my efforts. As any man who is serious about traditional shaving will attest, good shaving soap is a far cry from regular hand soap!
A few years ago, I met husband and wife soapmaking duo, Amanda Gail and Benjamin Aaron, before they were married. Separately, both have been involved in the handcrafted soapmaking business for quite some time. Together, they started the Lovin' Soap Project in 2013. In their words, "They travel to developing nations and teach women how to make soap and start businesses. The women that they teach are then able to provide soap to their local communities to tackle hygiene issues and are able to sell their soap in the international market to earn an income." The video below is from their trip to India in 2015.
Making Soap in India Fall 2015 - YouTube
Amanda and Benjamin offer a wealth of information for soapmakers, and I have been reading up on some of their work regarding soap colorants, masterbatching, business matters and more.
All of these resources, along with a few too-many empty soap buckets provide more than enough motivation to get back to work in the soap kitchen! Each year, I have added a few more things to the soap shop. For example, this past year, I added and expanded our soy candles and wax melts, and our bath bomb/fizzie selection. This next year, I plan to add shaving soaps, charcoal soap, room and linen sprays, a small selection of basic essential oils, and perhaps a small selection of natural cleaning products. Most of these items have been requested, and it never fails that what one customer requests, goes really well for others as well. Keep an eye on our Facebook page, and our website for the release of these products throughout the next year.
Regardless of the new products, handcrafted soap will always be the central product at Artisan Soaps. One of my guiding principles has always been to provide sufficient quality, quantity, variety and value to make it worth your while to stop in. That includes offering new soap fragrances, and I want to include all of you a little more in choosing what those new soap fragrances will be. Each month, I will post a poll on Facebook for new soap fragrances. The fragrances receiving the highest voter rating will be the ones that I make and put out on the shelf for the following month. Beyond these, if there is ever something you'd like to see, be sure and let me know!
What perfect weather for June Jaunt---a weekend of festivities all along K-96, from Ellinwood in the center of Kansas, all the way to Tribune, which is just miles from the Colorado border. Here in Great Bend, retail locations have been having fun with Jumbo Monopoly! Customers pick up a Monopoly game board at any of the participating stores, and then visit at least 18 of the stores on the Monopoly Board where they answer a local trivia question and get a stamp for that store's location on their board. It's kind of like McDonald's monopoly, only without all of the food! It's the perfect nudge for people to come to the soap shop, especially if they've been meaning to, but just haven't gotten around to it!
Meanwhile, I've filled four soap bins this week: Castile, Confetti, Lavender and Spearmint. There's something unique about each of these bars.
You may have already heard of "Castile" soap. The name comes from the Castile region in Spain where thousands of rows of olive trees march across the land. Besides cooking, what does one do with all of that olive oil? Why, you make soap! Thus, following the Castilian tradition, a true bar of Castile Soap is made with pure olive oil; there are no other oils mixed in. This makes for a very moisturizing bar of soap, and a lather that is more creamy than bubbly. It's a perfect facial soap bar. Here at Artisan Soaps, the Castile Soap Bar is probably one of the purest in the shop: it doesn't contain any colorants or fragrances. It's just olive oil and filtered water. Click here to order; don't forget that there is free local delivery in the Great Bend area.
Being in the soapmaking business means that there are a lot soap scraps. Whatever doesn't go into the Imperfect Soap Boxes (A 1.5 lb box of imperfect soap that we sell at the shop for $5) can be made into Laundry Detergent or Confetti Soap Bars which, at $3, is just a little bit cheaper than the other bars. It's a perfectly good bar of soap! I've been using it at the kitchen sink for awhile, and I love how my hands smell after using it; just don't ask me what's in it, as it could have a little bit of everything BUT the kitchen sink! Not literally, of course, but you get the idea.
Those of you who are fans of the Lavender Soap Bar may notice that it looks a little bit different. Since the Lavender Soap is made with a relaxing Essential Oil, it's another soap that I want to keep as pure as possible. For this reason, I've chosen to move away from the lavender colorant that I have used to distinguish this soap in the past, and am using lavender buds in the soap instead. It's still a wonderful soap bar, and hopefully, even better than before. It's back on the shelf, and four bars have already flown out the door today. You can order that one here.
Finally, there is the Spearmint Soap Bar. This one is also made with Essential Oil, and it smells almost exactly like a stick of Wrigley's Spearmint Gum! No kidding! It's a delicious and refreshing minty smell.
So that's what's happening in the soap shop THIS week. There are more bars, and candles on the curing shelves, so stay tuned to see what comes out next week!
Those who know me, or who visit the Soap Shop regularly, are probably aware that some of the shelves get a little bare during April when my day job demands extra time and attention for a non-profit fundraiser. Our Catholic Charities Wine Tasting Event usually lands on the last Friday in April, and while the Soap Shop remains open on Saturdays, soap production gets relegated to the back burner for a few weeks. The fundraiser involves a significant amount of work; upon returning to the soap kitchen, my subconscious need for rest and relaxation must have been strong since the first two soaps I made involved lavender . . . that lovely spring-time scent known for its soothing and relaxing qualities!
Honestly, the lavender soap is also one of the most popular soap bars in the shop, and I was completely out . . . not a good thing when the soap needs to cure for 4-6 weeks before it's ready for sale. But the situation provided the perfect opportunity to change things up a little bit, and to add another lovely option for you to try.
The original lavender soap bar that has been so popular is made with essential oil---a plant-based fragrance that is often discussed for its antibacterial, antimicrobial, expectorant, stress-relieving, antiseptic and analgesic properties. In an effort to honor the natural integrity of this lavender soap bar, I've chosen to make it with natural lavender buds rather than the lavender colorant that I have used in the past. The lavender color is now being used in a new soap bar that has a lovely lavender and cedar fragrance; if there was ever a masculine version of lavender, this is it. It's a fresh clean scent, and I think you'll like it.
So there you have it: wash the adults down with lavender soap after a tough day; wash the kids and grandkids down with lavender soap at night for a calm and peaceful bedtime; or get a fresh clean start to your day with the Lavender and Cedar Soap Bar. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
I've been on a soap making frenzy over the past few weeks! There are over a dozen different soaps sitting on the curing shelves and I'm pleased to say that they should start rolling out next weekend. The holidays did a number on my supply, and I've got quite a few empty bins that need to be replenished!
Meanwhile, I've been making a few fun soaps for Valentine's Day, and I'm pleased with the results! If you are looking for something besides chocolate to give to your friends or sweetheart for Valentine's Day, consider giving them the gift of handmade soap!
It's been a busy week in the soap kitchen this past week; so far, there's about 500 bars of soap on the curing racks. Among them are two new bars of soap: the Activated Charcoal Detoxifying Soap Bar (below) and a Mint Grapefruit Soap Bar.
I'll write a little more about the Charcoal Soap Bar when it is ready. Hopefully, in a couple of weeks, the soap shelves will start to look a little fuller!
In addition to making soap, however, I've also spent some time studying. Specifically, this past week I focused on learning more about the various fatty acids that help (or hinder) your soap's performance. Very simply, your soap is made up of a combination of oils on one hand, and a liquid (lye) solution on the other. Soapmakers have hundreds of oils (and butters) at their disposal that they could use to make soap. Each oil or butter is made up of a unique combination of fatty acids that effect how the final soap product will perform.
For example, some fatty acids cause soap to lather while other fatty acids kill the lather. Some fatty acids are very moisturizing while others will dry skin out in short order. Some fatty acids clean, and others do not. Some fatty acids will last a long time, while the short life-span of other fatty acids will cause soap to go rancid very quickly.
Choosing which oils to use in soap making, however, can be like choosing a political candidate: none of them are perfect! The fatty acids that generate lather and clean well are also the ones that will dry out skin. And the fatty acids that provide the best moisturizing qualities are the same ones that will kill the lather, or hardly last a month. The trick for soapmakers is to pull together just the right balance of oils, i.e. fatty acids, to accentuate the positives and minimize the negatives, for the perfect bar of soap.
Over the next few weeks, I'll be putting together a display in the soap shop with some single-oil soap pucks (olive oil, coconut oil, sweet almond oil, castor oil, lard, coffee butter, mango butter, cocoa butter, shea butter, grapeseed oil, peanut oil etc.) for you to see, touch and feel. The real difference will be most apparent when you go to use each of the single-oil soap pucks, but still, I think it will be interesting and fun for you to see. When it is completed, I'll post here, as well.
Finally, this last week, I made a second test batch of aluminum-free and baking-soda-free stick deodorant. Following feedback and experience from the first test batch, I've made some modifications, and we're ready to put this one through its paces. This product is still in its testing phase, but if you are interested in an aluminum-free deodorant option, let me know.
It was good to get back in the soap kitchen this past week! To show for it, I have eight logs of soap sitting on the shelf including Vetyver, Karma (at right), Dragon's Blood, and Sandalwood soap. The Karma soap bar (and lotion) is made with an essential oil blend containing Patchouli Oil, Orange Oil, Lavendin Oil, Pine Oil, Lemongrass Oil, Elemi Oil, and Gardenia Extract. This time, I'm really pleased with how the color of the Karma soap turned out. Since the essential oil blend is a DEEP amber color that plays havoc with any colorant one might want to add, the blue that I added to the last batch became a light lack-luster gray. I wasn't thrilled about it. This time, I added a touch more blue, and color has turned out to be an interesting Karma-like turqoise sea color. I'm not sure the picture does it justice. I am anxious to cut the logs in the next day or so and see what the bars look like!
After these first few logs, however, I came down the with the flu that's going around and the soap kitchen was abruptly shut down for the rest of the week! It just goes to show: just being in a room surrounded by soap doesn't keep the flu at bay; you've got to use the soap! As the sign in our soap shop states: "Wash Your Hands and Say Your Prayers Because Jesus and Germs are Everywhere!"
According to the Centers for Disease Control a good hand washing with soap and water is the best defense against germs. Completely wet your hands with warm water, and then suds-up. Completely cover your hands with lather, and then scrub in between fingers and the backs of your hands. The advice for children and adults alike is to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, or the Alphabet Song twice through---at least 20 seconds---before you rinse off thoroughly and head for the closest towel to dry off completely.
Thankfully, the flu has moved on, and I'm once again in action. Here's to healthy and active days ahead for ALL of us. And if you need some soap to keep those germs at bay, come see me!
Which Soap Fragrance(s) would you like to see next month?
Fruity Fusion (Top notes of sweet, juicy peaches. Ripe apple, pear and pineapple are followed by a heart of coconut, honey orange blossoms and wild berry jam. A base of sweet malt and vanilla round off this delicious scent)
Alien Type (Rich, warm and alluring. Opening notes of Indian jasmine and Italian bergamot. Warm and sensual notes of cedarwood, ylang ylang and patchouli, and finally, golden amber, cashmere accord and vanilla)
Sugared Grape (A sugary, sweet purple grape scent. This fragrance is sure to be a favorite for kids!)
Sultry Black Jasmine (Warm, smokey and alluring. Begins with bergamot and cassis that flows to a heart of rose, neroli and jasmine on a base of ambergris and smoky musk)
Black Opium (Opening notes of rich coffee mingle with sweet vanilla and cream. Mid notes of orange blossom, cedarwood and a hint of patchouli)
Rose Quartz (Bright, fresh take on a traditional rose scent. Top notes of bergamot, orange zest and grapefruit open to a heart of dried rose petals and jasmine. Soft sandalwood and musk round out this crisp rose scent)
Green Salsa (Zesty top notes of bergamot, ginger and sea salt enhance the heart of fresh cut jalape�o pepper. A rich sandalwood accord brings up the base of this invigorating, green scent)
It's been over a year since I met Ervin Huslig at Perkins for lunch one sunny afternoon. He had been sent with a special delivery: a charming wicker basket of neatly folded hand-crocheted wash cloths and puffs that his wife, Mary Ann, had made for me to sell with my soap out at the Farmers Market, and wherever else I decided to set up shop. The basket was clearly filled with the same love and colorfulness as the couple behind it.
I first met Ervin and Mary Ann at St John's Catholic Church in Lawrence---a vibrant community that left a lasting mark on me. When I left Lawrence and moved to Great Bend in 2007, I felt great fondness for anyone from that community who stopped by on their way through. This is how I got to know Ervin and Mary Ann even more. They had just moved to Pratt, KS which was only a short drive from Great Bend. Over the years, we found ourselves together at diocesan functions, dinner theater events, and they even came to the Annual Charity Wine Tasting event that I coordinate for Catholic Social Service. I loved seeing them because of our common Lawrence connection, and I loved getting to know them even better at these different events.
And so, when I started selling soap in 2013, Mary Ann was one of my first and most enthusiastic supporters! She encouraged and gave suggestions, and eventually, she offered to crochet washcloths to go along with my soap. After all, she and Ervin were traveling a lot in their RV, and crocheting was something she loved to do as they drove across the country. She would make and sell the washcloths on consignment, and I would get a portion of the proceeds. I loved the idea!
Sadly, just a few months ago on April 20th, Ervin and MaryAnn were on their way to a quilting show in Kentucky when a tire on their RV blew just outside of St Louis and Ervin lost control of the motorhome. Reports describe a fiery crash with no survivors, and just like that, Ervin and MaryAnn were gone. It was such a sudden and shocking lost.
Today, I think about Mary Ann often as I pass by the shelf where her beautiful colorful washcloths lay. I treasure them, and I am reminded that handmade items, whether they be washcloths or soap, are special life-giving treasures because they contain a magical kernel of human life that no machine-made object can ever match.