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Archive for the ‘toiletries’ Category

>As it involves liquids, the application of heat and extensive use of the kitchen, I thought I’d add this post:

Last month I achieved something I’ve been wanted to accomplish for years – I made soap the traditional way from scratch. And it was as satisfying and fun as I hoped it would be.

To start off, I bought the equipment and materials, got out a couple of cold-process soapmaking books from the library, even looked it up on the Internet and watched some videos.

And came to the inescapable conclusion that this was definitely something I wanted a real, live human to teach me.

Fortunately (again, via the wonder that is the Internets), I found a company in London that would do just that – Makesoap Biz, run by Melissa Coss, who is the author of a couple of excellent soapmaking books.

So off I trotted to a community hall in east London for a day’s workshop. There were 18 attendees, 3 tables set up as workstations, and 4 fully-trained tutors. In fact, most of the tutors had earlier in the year offered their time and expertise to NGO programme Soap Making Nigeria, and gone to Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and over the course of a week taught nearly 2,000 people in soap-making training, so they could then return to their rural communities and set up micro enterprises.

The tutors were all very clear, informative and friendly, and encouraged our questions (so I didn’t feel like an idiot for asking some of them!). We started off in the morning with a talk on soap, its history, chemistry and particulars of the process. Then we moved to the practical.

Each table was to tackle a different soap – goatsmilk and lavender were the most popular, but I was intrigued by the idea of fresh cucumber soap which, along with other fresh vegetation such as strawberries, is very good for the complexion (unless of course you are allergic to strawberries!). We were guided through the process by our tutor, with ourselves doing the weighing, mixing and very essential paperwork. At the end we had a lovely creamy looking soap with pale green flecks, which we doled out into cupcake papers and set to one side. Sadly, our tutor told us the only type of vegetation that retains its colour in soap and doesn’t go a yellowy-brown is calendula [marigold], which is yellow anyway! As you can faintly see from the blurry cucumber soap below, this is very true.

Lunch was a lovely vegetarian spread and then it was back into the fray. The afternoon’s practical revolved around colour and scent, and each table got the chance to choose different essential oils, additives and colourants. All the ingredients for the course – including the aforementioned – were natural materials, which I was very pleased about.

My group chose cedarwood and orange as our essential oils, and red-brown (which turned to the dark pink below), lavender (I was a bit huh? about that one) and green (which as we put rather a lot in, turned to a solid ‘only kids would like this’ bluish green) minerals for colouring. We didn’t add anything other than to the top of the soap as decoration. The finished soaps were again poured into cupcake papers (normally these wouldn’t be used and soap moulds were discussed, but for the workshop we needed lots of samples) and put to the side to set. After a final summary talk, we were each given a selection of the soaps, to go with the course notes and DVD.

The sampler of soaps made on the day. L to R: Cedarwood scented (dark pink), Goatsmilk with oats – I think (on top), Fresh Cucumber complexion soap (back), Lavender double layer soap (top right), Cedarwood scented (bottom front)

Now came the hard part – the wait! Rather like alcohol, soap has to mature first before it can be used. The lye in it must completely saponify or you will burn yourself with the unchanged chemicals (eek). It takes about 4 weeks to do so, and should be left in a temperate, airy location to properly dry. Then, after a month you can wash yourself with your own creation. Lovely! Or should that be latherly? (heh)

I love what the lavender group did with their soap – pretty, isn’t it? I was watching whilst the tutor showed them how, so might give it a whirl some time. I must admit I rather foolishly stuck the soap in a closed plastic container for a week, which meant the condensation made the vegetation on top (dried flowers and slices of orange rind) rot. I had to cut the tops off, as you can see. Though truthfully, I’m not a fan of large hunks of dead vegetation on top of my wash bar.

I’m quite tempted by the other courses Makesoap Biz runs – how to make liquid soap (I use a lot of this in the bathroom), creams, balms & lotions making (always useful), and how to create natural perfumes (I’m violently allergic to the alcohol in most commercial perfumes, so this looks especially enticing). They also run a course on starting your own soap business for the budding entrepeneur, as well as providing various EU legislation-compliant assessment services. And if you really want to get away from it all and do something creative as well, they hold three day soap making courses in France at Melinda’s restored farmhouse in the Dordogne.

To anyone that’s interested, I definitely recommend the workshops. Thanks to my day’s tutoring I feel confident I can safely produce my own soap, to my own design of materials and scents, in my own kitchen. This is pretty exciting to me! And I plan to create a batch or two next weekend. Guess what you all are getting for Christmas?

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