18 October, 2009

The Down and Dirty Details of Soapmaking

Glycerine soaps, shrink wrapped and labeled.
[Glycerine soap bars, the easiest and fastest kind to make. They're shrink-wrapped so they don't sweat in the humidity]

Let me just say this: one person does not need forty pounds of soap. It's a really good thing that Jenna and I decided to join forces and take this class together, and an even better thing that the instructor agreed to let us split the cost (and the outcome) of one soap "kit." (Kit in this case just means a set amount of oils, fats, lye, and tools.) As it was, we still ended up hauling trays of finished soap back to the Keith House every day, and I feel certain we each ended up with at least 20 lbs of end product.

We cooked three "from scratch" batches of soap, one each on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, plus played with glycerine "melt & pour" style soaps. Jenna and I made lists of ideas, collected herbs--fresh and dried--and essential oils, and spent the week playing with lye, lard, coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil, beef tallow, etc.

Pouring out our lard bars
One of our soap batches: peppermint with coffee grounds for exfoliating
Above: pouring a big batch of homemade soap, still nice and hot from the lye
Middle: Re-milling (heating & softening) a batch of oatmeal Nag Champa soap
Bottom: Chopping up bars of peppermint-scented soap with coffee grounds for exfoliation

I wish you could smell what we made! Especially the lemon calendula batches. They are my absolute favorite. Every time we sliced up a new batch we laid all the pieces out and "chose teams," picking bars one by one until we had divided up the whole batch. We made minty soaps, hippie soaps, scrubbing soaps, moisturizing soaps, plain and unscented soaps, flowery soaps, and a few soaps with toys hidden inside, just for kicks. Here's what our work station looked like on an organized day:

Glycerine is sort of weird. It is basically already soap when you buy it; all you do is chop it up small enough to melt in a glass container in the microwave and then add whatever scents, colors, etc. that you want. We started the class with this soap and went a little crazy making super small batches (like, 3 or 4 bars) of each kind of combo that struck our fancies.
(don't these glycerine chunks look like ice cubes?)

Glycerine soap is safe and easy enough to play with in a classroom or camp, and with all the flu scare stuff going on, I think it'd be great to make soap with a group of kids to help encourage handwashing. Here's a few of my glycerine ideas:
From top: lavender, green tea, peppermint dinosaur, cinnamon loofah

Can you tell which mold I liked best? I made a slew more, as pictured in that very top picture in the bowl at the top of the page.

I liked the real, homemade style soaps better. Although to be honest, the beef tallow threw me off and I was a little grossed out by the smell, but I'm happy to report that as the days goes by and the soap cures (dries out and hardens into it's actualized state) you can hardly smell the tallow and it just smells like soap. We made sure to keep plenty of it unscented for those who prefer a plain, old fashioned bar:
Unscented soap slices cure.
(these have Jenna's homemade paper as wrappers: so pretty!)

Those are curing in my closet. I'm also utilizing the very odd, slanted closets in the hall on the 2nd floor, which I'm pretty sure haven't been used much since 1928, to cure the rest of the batches. That closet smells DAMN GOOD right now.
My share of several batches, curing in the curious closet.
[From left: the peppermint bars with coffee grounds; Nag Champa oatmeal bars; my favorite lemony calendula bars which are practically dessert; a few lavender blueberry bars; lemony jasmine bars, almost as good as the calendula; and a soft pink cupcake batch that I honestly can't remember the scent of at the moment.]

I used a plastic egg container to make the kids back at WMS some peppermint glycerine soaps with real spearmint in them. Each kid in After School gets one little shrink wrapped beauty to take home and (hopefully) use. There they are in their little shiny glory: aren't they edible looking?

This coming week I'm in a Fair Isle Knitting class, and I couldn't be more excited; not only because I get to keep my hands out of sticky soap and leave the goggles and gloves alone, but because I finally get to take a class with Martha Owen, a legend in the fiber arts world. Lots of yarny pictures to come, I'm sure!

At the Student Exhibit, 10/16


Jane Prater said...

I am just loving living vicariously through your experience. Such a truly interesting and joyous life you lead. Yeah, Jessica.

mosprott said...

You'll have fun with Martha.

I'm on Flickr a lot.

Jessica K.. Get yours at bighugelabs.com/flickr