Friday, July 29, 2005

Handmade Soap

Life's on hold while I make soap!

Soapmaking by the cold process method involves patience. After the liquid soap is poured into the molds, it is insulated and left to harden for 24 hours. Then the soap is unmolded and air-hardened for one or two days before being cut into bars. After another few days the bars are trimmed. Then the bars "cure" for at least a month, to allow time for the excess water to evaporate.

Handmade soaps are perishable goods; they don't last forever. Soapmaking is a delicate balance of trying to meet demand with the freshest product possible. Make too little and customers have to wait. Make too much and you'll end up throwing it away.

I hate throwing soap away.

I also hate not having a particular soap in stock when someone wants it.

With my current equipment, I can make almost 400 bars of soap a day. But I prefer using only my newer molds (and saving my back), so normally I make about half that.

Our next craft show is Yellow Daisy, in September at Stone Mountain, Georgia. It's the best traditional craft show in the country. About 250,000 people will pass through the festival over the course of four days.


Unknown said...

Lovely! I can almost smell the soap :-)

KatKit13 said...

I bet the house smells awesome.

I miss going to Stone Mountain - I used to live 'next-door' so to speak. Sounds like a terrific show. Good luck on your sales.

Anonymous said...

My gf loves hand/homemade soap, but she doesn't have the patience (nor the room, I think) to make it herself. I hope you come up to Maryland someday--I know she checks out your blog and she'd love to buy some.

I, myself, adore your photography.


Karen Schmautz said...

Beautiful soap...such lovely colors. I also like your soap wraps...did you draw those yourself?

Anonymous said...

WOW...they look luscious enough to eat! what beautiful work you do.

Crowe said...

I've been to Stone Mountain, wheeeeh! All the way to the top on an unfeasably hot summer's day. Maybe in September 2006 I'll visit again and look out for the soap stall.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rurality, smells good all the way here in NYC! Is the last photo of your wrapping paper? Or of a soap that wasn't in stock? I plead soap naivite- and envy.

Anonymous said...

Those are individual rows of soap aren't they? Aha!

Rurality said...

Thanks y'all.

Eva, I wish they'd hurry up with that smell-o-vision... there was a company doing research but I haven't heard much out of it lately.

Katkit13, well it used to, but now it's the workshop that smells good. :)

Thanks Victor, I don't know if we'll make it to MD or not... I had a hard time convincing hubby to go as far as Georgia!

Hick, no, sadly I'm not that talented as an artist. I did the cut & paste myself though. :) Most of the soaps have that woman on them, but the manly soaps get the ship, and some of the kids' soaps get the kid. Plus there is another pic of a couple that some of the "scentual" soaps have.

Thanks YSW... kids are always trying to take a bite! (Never more than one though.)

Sara, yeah! It's usually hot in Sept too but last year wasn't bad. The show is always the weekend after Labor Day (which is always the first Monday in Sept).

Noivory, yep that's the soap still in the mold. From top to bottom, it's peach, gardenia, jasmine, and rose. For some reason, the peach looks a lot darker in the picture than in real life. The molds in the picture are the width of one bar, but very long.

swamp4me said...

Your soaps rock -- currently I have three bars in use and plan on buying some peppermint soon!

Rurality said...

Thanks Swampy! Peppermint is always the most popular at any show we do.

R.Powers said...

Rurality, those are beautiful. How do you cut the individual bars? I am picturing a heated blade or wire...something that wouldn't crumble the edges.
When is the Stone Mountain event?

I wish Mom had owned peach flavored soap when I was a kid...would have made those occasional punishments more palatable.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely cascade of colors! You've photographed parts of the process beautifully.

Charles said...

yeah. I'm feeling repetitive, cause I've taken a stab at this before, but your blog is more tarnsporting than most. It's like a lush southern novel, or somehthing, minus the conflict, which is the really nice part. "In the heart of the heart of the country" to qoute Reynolds Price.

Suzanne said...

It all looks wonderful. Nothing like a beautiful handmade bar of soap. I go for less noticeable fragrance...or herbal scents.

Charles I had to think awhile about what tarnsporting was....until I realized it was a simple typo. And you are right, this is like a southern novel. Believe me, there's conflict to be sure, she's just not letting us in on it!!! Regards, Suzanne

SantaBarbarian said...

Went to the Los Angeles Gift Show the other week, and there wasn't too much soap this year.

What trade shows do you attend?

Rurality said...

Thanks Floridacracker, I use wire to cut it. I can't control a knife well enough. Hubby made me a cutter, and I also use a cutter from this company. The Stone Mountain show is Sept 8 - 11. The show is free but there is an $8 fee per car to enter the park.

Thanks Charles. I guess the major conflict these days is the coyotes who won't stop grabbing the chickens!

Zanne that's why I try to make all different types... some folks want super-strong scents and some just want light scents. Some people want all-natural and some want things like Green Pear, which you can't make naturally.

Jill I think it's reached a saturation point - or beyond - and lots of people are getting out of the business. We just do a few retail shows, normally 6 - 7 per year.

Wholesale shows are so pricy to do nowdays... Plus, our best wholesale accounts are small shops where one of the employees uses and likes our soap. They recommend it to their customers and will sell a lot more than a large store that just puts the soap out on a shelf and forgets it.

PJ & Katie said...

Karen, your soaps are the best! We've used them--and only them--for the last five years. And we've turned our friends and families on to them, too.

Thanks to you, we're living in the clean world, to quote the late, great Cleavon Little in Mel Brooks's immortal Blazing Saddles (which we do every chance we get).

Rurality said...

Thanks so much PJ & Katie! (I love that movie too.)

Anonymous said...

I didn't realize that handmade soap has a "use by" date. I tend to stock up on it during the craft fair season and use it throughout the year. Only at work, we hired someone who moonlights as a soapmaker and I've bought rather more than I can use in a year!

My favorite soap is an evergreen scent--juniper or some such, that used to be made by a woman in the hilltowns here in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, she had an accident when making soap last year and their house burned to the ground. They're rebuilding now, but she's not planning on resuming soap-making. My soap-making coworker doesn't make that scent.

Handcrafted soap is definitely a fetish of mine. I love the stuff.

Marie said...

Several years ago I followed my grandmother's recipe to make a batch of lye soap. The rendering of the fat was disgusting. It was a huge amount of work, but the soap actually cured nicely. Later I found recipes for soaps that don't take off your skin and blind ya. However, I'll leave the soap making to you--I am sure that yours is much better than mine, not to mention more pleasant looking and smelling :-)

Rurality said...

C. Corax, try to keep your excess soap in a cool, dry place out of the light and it'll last longer. Handmade soap is usually "superfatted", and has excess oil in the final product. So like any cooking oil, it will go off after a period of time.

Some soaps last longer than others... certain scents seem to hasten the oxidation process and some seem to slow it down.

If kept in the right conditions it can last a year (or sometimes more), but I usually advise people not to buy more than they'll use in 6 months.

I used to make a Juniper scent, but the fragrance manufacturer quit offering it. I tried a few similar scents but they weren't quite the same and never sold as well.

Oh man I hate to think of burning the house to the ground while making soap! I can only imagine that she left her oils to melt on the stove and then forgot them and started an oil fire...? Ouch.

Marie, my grandmother told me that her mother used to make soap, but she never learned how. I guess the gene skipped a few generations!

To make it the old-fashioned way, rendering tallow and using hardwood ashes to make lye, is dirty and time-consuming and smelly and not very exact. That's why Grandma's old lye soap was sometimes very nice, but sometimes would take your skin right off!

Dave said...

I've heard of this thing called soap. Associated with "bathing," I believe?

Actually, I remember my mom made soap once when we were kids, the first time we raised pigs for slaughter. Rendered pig fat and lye from wood ashes. Lemme tell ya, we got CLEAN.

That was basically a beginner's enthusiasm thing; I don't think we did it again. Mom also made head cheese from those pigs - I remember that all too well. Ever since then, one of my few, iron-clad Rules for Right Living has been: never eat the brains. I don't care what the animal is, it just ain't right.

Rhodent said...

Mmmmmm.... rose scented is my favorite! Have you ever done the Christmas Under The Oaks FEstival in NOvember in Clearwater, FL?

Rurality said...

Dave if I'd made soap like that the first time I'd probably not have ever done it again! It can be so hard to get the lye/fats balance right without doing things the modern way.

Agree with you on the not eating brains. :) Or blood either.

Rhodent it's funny about Rose scented soap. I almost stopped making it because I sold so few. Then all of the sudden it took off and now sells great. (Same thing with Musk.) No, I've never done a show in FL. Can't hardly get hubby to travel far. :)

Maktaaq said...

Those are amazingly beautiful!

I'm glad someone asked about how to cut them. On a recent bar of soap that I cut into two, I tried a knife but it didn't work. :)