Sunday, September 17, 2006


Well, I thoroughtly enjoyed myself today giving a soapmaking workshop to a couple of friends. It is always an adventure, making soap from scratch, the old-fashioned way (well, not really old-fashioned, ie we don't stand over a cauldron of wood ash and home-rendered tallow...).

As you can see in the photo above, the recipe we used was based on a recipe from a book by Sandy Maine, and the mold is a tupperware container. Cutting uniform bars is problematic with this type of mold, but being the type available easily to many first-time soapmakers, it's what I chose to use today.

What do I mean by soapmaking being an adventure? It's more of an art than a science. What I mean is that no matter how many times I make soap, or how carefully I try to weigh out the ingredients, the process and results are always slightly different. That is part of the charm for me. It's almost like bread-making, how the weather, or maybe even your own mood, affects the results. Maybe some obsessively anal personality would find it maddening, but to me, that's the real charm of handmade soap. Most of the time, even though the process seems to wobble from crazy-fast trace for one batch to hours of stirring for another batch of the same recipe, you still end up with a pretty decent batch of soap in the end, one that you can be pretty certain of as to exactly what went into it.

For those who know me, it comes as no surprise that I'm very sceptical of the safety of most of the crisply uniform bars of commercially available soaps. They are more accurately called 'cleansing bars', as most of them are not actually "soap" in the oldfashioned sense of the word. Perhaps my luddite leanings make me a little suspicious of detergents, emulsifiers and preservativesthat make these cleansing bars work the same in any kind of water, maintain their hardness and have a shelf-life of ??forever. I know they do not leave my skin feeling the same as my own handmade soaps. I never hesitate to use my own soap even on my face, something I would not do with most commercially available soaps because of the drying effect they have on my skin.

OK, I'll admit it, I have always love mucking around with stuff, making things with my own hands -- especially when it is nice-smelling stuff!

Anyway, luddite or no, there is a wonderful piece of farm-machinery beside the old drive-shed on the property that has absolutely lyrical lines, a repetition of graceful curving tines that I think might be called a harrow. After another pot of tea once our soapmaking was done, my friends and I went for a short walk, and I pointed out this wonderful piece to them. It might more accurately be called a tool or implement, rather than a machine. I think I may have posted a photo of it before, but bless me if I can remember when or where! Ah, Friday, March 24, if you want to see what the h--- I'm talking about. (for non-Canadians, a way to swear without people knowing is to spell it: h, e, double hockey sticks)

I showed my friends the one yummy-tasting wild grape which grows along the drive. One of my friends picked bunches and bunches and took some home with her. I meant to give her lots of the basil to take home too because with frosty weather coming, it will end up on the compost pile because I don't like it dried much and the freezer is full. I have tried preserving it in oil, etc, but lets face it, it is not going to waste on the compost pile. It will turn into beautiful compost that will nourish my gardens, maybe even next fall at this time of year!

It was with great relief that I read the comment in an herb book by Patrick Limathat the surplus is just fine put on the compost -- I still feel a twinge of guilt about "waste". Ah, me. Will I ever be free of the guilt??


Blogger clairesgarden said...

I am impressed! I see you comment on store'soap', I read labels and have often noticed they are 'soap free', what the h--- is the point of them then? luckily there is a local soap company that makes lovely natural oil scented soaps, not cheap but I like to treat myself.

3:06 a.m.  
Blogger Kati said...

It has taken me some time, but I read a lot of labels before I found shampoo and conditioner that don't have scary ingredients in them, like DMD Hydantoin (a preservative, may release formaldehyde and irritate the skin),Cocamide MEA (a thickener and foam booster, can form nitrosamines, cancer causing agents), and parabens(linked to breast cancer). In the past few years, canned beans have suddenly begun sporting EDTA as an ingredient! Many products sold as natural in my local healthfood store stilll contain some or all of the very ingredients I'm so leary of. I don't know if Aubrey Organics are available where you are, but they are worth seeking out. I'm not connected to the company in any way, so this is a recommendation from a grateful customer.

10:38 a.m.  
Blogger Blackswamp_Girl said...

I'm too far away to do a workshop... is there a book for beginners that you'd recommend? Or an easy recipe to experiment with once I read up and am ready to start out?

Also, re: Aubrey Oganics... do you know if they have natural deodorant that works fairly well? Even my "extra long lasting" Tom's of Maine is only bearable in the wintertime--definitely not able to withstand all of the volleyball I play.

4:32 p.m.  
Blogger Kati said...

I have two of Sandy Maine's books, The Soap Book; Simple Herbal Recipes, and Clean Naturally; recipes for body, home and spirit, in which the recipes are similar, easy to make, using a plastic container approx 9x2 1/2 x 13 " as the mold. Another good book is by Susan Miller Cavitch, The Natural Soap Book; making herbal dn vegetable-based soaps but the recipes are much larger. Also check online resources listed on the Path to Freedom site(see sidebar) which are quite helpful.
I get my essential oils from New Directions Aromatics. Kathy Miller's soapmaking pages ( have tons of information, including sources of sodium hydroxide (caustic soda/lye). Hope that helps with the soapmaking. As for deodorants, I'm still looking for one I like. Maybe I need to change my thinking and expectations re my reliance on the antiperspirants. Any suggestions?

5:41 p.m.  
Blogger Blackswamp_Girl said...

Thanks so much for all the info. After I posted my comment I thought, "Man... Kati's going to start to cringe when she sees my name appear in her comments pages if I keep asking all these questions!" :)

I have given up the antiperspirant dream, but I still can't find a good deodorant I like. The Tom's of Maine "longer-lasting" are supposed to be better but I still need something stronger for athletics, or even a good hike. And I really don't like any of their "flavors." (Seriously, apricot? Lemongrass?) I'll keep experimenting and let you know if I hit the jackpot one of these days.

1:13 p.m.  
Blogger Kati said...

I'm glad you are working on this problem too ;) I have read that drinking certain kinds of tea 3 times daily is supposed to help too. Then, before antiperspirants and deodorants, I've also read that women regularly washed their armpits with a little tepid water...I can't easily do that when I'm at my paying job!! With my luck I'd get my clothes wet splashing all that water around...ha ha!

12:30 p.m.  

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