Friday, January 8, 2010

Can I Make Soap?

Over the holidays I decided to learn how to make soap. I know you're asking yourself why? Blame it on my current—temporary—unemployed status, the chance of creating my own "Baby Boom" success story (minus the apples, the baby, the house in Vermont, and the female central character), or just spending too much time in the country. Whatever the reason, I was determined to give it a try. Now anyone who knows me, knows that I can come up with a million and one little projects to occupy my weekends at Trout House (very few of them fun or exciting). But there was something about saopmaking—particularly as a winter endeavor—that just felt right. I started to do a little research and called Ann Marie Craig of Century Farmhouse.

I first met Ann Marie (that's her on the right) at the 2006 Country Living Fair in Chicago, where I discovered her beautiful hand made soaps, purchasing several varieties for myself and for gifts. Ann Marie is a self-taught soap maker who has turned a home-born business into a successful enterprise. All of her soaps are made from fine vegetable oils and natural essential oils. She continues to experiment and perfect the art of her craft and often draws on her surroundings for inspiration and ingredients, like using filtered rainwater or snow, sap tapped from local maple trees, and herbs grown organically in her own garden. To stand in front of her booth at a Fair or farmers market is a delight to the senses with beautifully crafted bars in subtle colorations and the fragrant mix of floral scents and spices. One of my personal Century Farmhouse favorites is the Chai Soap.

Ann Marie couldn't have been more encouraging or more helpful. She suggested book titles to read, web sites to check out, resources to shop, and some personal insights into the craft. She also added some words of caution: Soap making is addictive.

The picture below shows the tools of the trade that I had to gather for my first experiment. If you know nothing about soapmaking—like me—a love of chemistry helps, since every ingredient has to be accurately weighed and measured, you need protective eyewear and rubber gloves to make and handle the lye solution, you need to achieve a common temperature for the base oils and dilluted lye solution before mixing, and, when combined, you need to watch the process of saponification (the solution becoming soap) until it reaches "trace." And then . . . and only then . . . can you add the fragrant oils to the blend and get ready to pour the mixture into a mold.

This morning was D-Day. I followed directions to the "T" and after nearly 30 minutes of continual stiring poured the traced mixture (or what I believed to be the traced mixture) into my make-shift shoe box mold, lined with a heavy duty garbage bag. I now have it covered with blankets and towels to keep it warm and within 24 or 48 hours will have my first batch of soap. Or will I? Stay tuned.

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