Saturday, May 5, 2012

“What is elegance? Soap and water!” ~ Cecil Beaton

Several years ago I took a cold-process soap-making class.  We have used nothing but my handmade soap since.  When I first began making it and acquiring all of the materials and paraphernalia that go along with soap-making, I did consider trying to sell it.  I decided not to though- the timing just wasn't right. However, I have continued to make it for us and for family and friends - I'm never looking for a last minute gift to give because I always have a wonderful array of soap to wrap up.  

Soap-making is something that I never do while sipping a glass of wine.  It involves using lye (unlike melt and pour soap-making) and it's not the kind of thing that you want to do with any kind of distraction around you such as pets or small children.  The process of saponification is actually a chemical process by which soap is formed.  There are all kinds of resources on the web for cold-process soap-making, but I would recommend taking a class if one is available.  This will not only teach you about making the soap, but also about the safety precautions that should be taken.  After that, you really can go off on your own and create your own recipes.  Essentially, if you can bake, you can make soap!

Over the past week, I have been soaping up a storm!  My niece, Mairead, will be getting married late this summer, and I have offered to make soap to have as favors for her reception.  Mairead and Andrew chose the scent "White Tea and Ginger" and this seems fitting since they met each other in China while each was doing a semester abroad.  Andrew spied Mairead on a bus and was taken with her rosy cheeks ~

Making this now for an end of summer wedding may seem a bit early, but I really want to give the soap a chance to cure and dry out completely.  This will allow me to wrap it well ahead of time without worrying about it further drying and shrinking some underneath its wrapping.  Plus - I really am a bit compulsive about some things - and getting something like this done well ahead of time is one of them!  And - my house now smells of lovely "White Tea and Ginger" instead of last week's sauerbraten!

I snapped some photos along the way to give you an idea of what goes into the process:

Top row:  a container of all of the vegetable oils that I have weighed for each batch- this process takes quite a bit of time; into the pot; lye water heating up in a hot water bath (I mixed this up the night before and let it cool down from its incredibly high heat- then warm it up when I am ready to make the soap); rubber gloves and goggles - I have a healthy respect for lye!
Bottom row:  4 pots ready to go; heating up the oils on the stove; pouring in the lye water; begin stirring by hand
Top row: begin to mix it up using an immersion blender (alternating with hand stirring); I have 2 immersion blenders going at once; the mixture reaches "trace" - about the consistency of thick pudding; pouring in scent
Bottom row:  mixing in calendula blossoms - one of the few botanicals that does not turn brown in cold-process soap; pouring into a wooden loaf mold lined with freezer paper; smoothing the top; four completed loaves for one morning's work
Top row: the soap enters what is referred to as the "gel phase"; it heats up tremendously and goes from opaque to a gel form and then cools down to opaque again; finally - 10 unmolded loaves of soap
Bottom row: I slice and trim each bar individually - approximately 17-18 bars per loaf; here they will sit and dry for a few months before I wrap them in preparation for the wedding.
~ A sea of soap, and a labor of love ~


  1. Wow, Tracy - this is cool! What a great idea for the wedding - but what a lot of work! The last sentence says it all: a labor of love!

    1. Thank you! Even after all of these years of making my own soap, I still enjoy using it every single day! I think that anything handmade brings about that kind of satisfaction.

  2. That you truly love the entire process of soap making comes through in every bar. The quote at the top of your post really says it all, and that's how I feel every day using your soap. What a gift, indeed. Great photos of the process! No mice? :)

  3. What a wonderful wedding gift idea. I am sure the guest will love the soap. Clarice

  4. I bet your house smells wonderful! Super wedding favors!