How I learned to make handcrafted soap

My visit to the Otion soap bar in Seattle

My visit to Otion: The Soap Bar, Bramble Berry’s store in Bellingham, Washington.

Isn’t the internet awesome? Without the internet my productivity would plummet because I’d have no adorable animals to ooo and ahh over in the middle of a stressful work day. I wouldn’t be able to prove Matt wrong when he misidentifies an actor in a movie (thanks for all your help IMDB). Most importantly, I would have never started Emmet Street Creations or even found the fulfilling craft of artisan soap making.

For me, it all started with an internet search for handmade Christmas gifts. I found an article by Martha Stewart illustrating how to make melt and pour soap and after one weekend, I was hooked.

I spent hours looking at every resource I could find related to soap making. I quickly became overwhelmed by the amount of information available. How could I, a novice soap maker, know who to trust? How could I be sure that the recipe some stranger posts online is actually safe to use? I nearly gave up before I even started.

Then I found her. Anne-Marie Faiola, The Soap Queen.

I stumbled across her blog and I knew I was seeing something different. The blog is full of tutorials for all skill levels, inspiration, troubleshooting guides, business advise and even the random food recipe. (I highly recommend the banana quinoa pancakes.)

Before I ever made my first batch of soap, I did weeks worth of research. I started where every aspiring soap maker should start, with the Basics of Cold Process Soap Making. This four-part video series by Anne-Marie is a quick and concise overview of the soap making process. I watched this series several times and took detailed notes about everything from lye safety to the tools that Anne-Marie used. I read “The Soapmaker’s Companion,” by Susan Miller Cavitch, from cover to cover, twice. I carefully gathered all of my soap making tools and supplies. Once I felt like I understood the process completely, I dove in and made a batch of plain, unscented soap. It came out perfectly thanks to my hours of preparation!

The Soap Queen’s blog is the official blog of Bramble Berry, the soap supply company Anne-Marie created. To be fair, one of the goals of the blog is to sell Bramble Berry products by showcasing all the wonderful things you can make with them. But, it’s more than just a marketing ploy. If your business succeeds and you sell more products, then their business succeeds because you’ll come back for more supplies. It’s in their best interest to fully test their recipes and products to ensure they are giving you only the best information. They even make themselves available to their customers to troubleshoot why something might have gone wrong in a batch of soap.

Thanks to Anne-Marie and the Soap Queen blog, I can now formulate my own recipes, decide on my own color and scent combinations and figure out what I did incorrectly when a batch goes wrong. I can also look at other resources with an objective eye and decide if the information is good or bad.

If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I’d love to learn how to make soap,” then start with Anne-Marie and the Soap Queen blog. You’ll be happy you did!

P.S. The opinions in this post are completely my own. I have not been provided with any products or compensation to write about the awesomeness of Anne-Marie and Bramble Berry. 

I cannot lie…

Bag of ButtsI like little butts. (Soap butts that is.)

Our customers inspired the idea for the Bag of Butts. Folks said they were interested in trying samples of our soaps before they committed to a full-sized bar. Unfortunately, we don’t have molds small enough to make mini bars of soap… but we do have a bunch of end pieces (which we dubbed soap butts) from our regular batches that are not quite large enough to be a full-sized bar. Thus, the Bag of Butts was born!

Like our own heinies, no two pieces are the same size or shape. Your bag of booty will contain 4 to 5 butts of different scents. We will, of course, give you a list of the contents of the bag so you know which of our lovely scents gets the stink off your posterior the best.

Of course, the best way to try out our scents is to come see us in person. Don’t forget we’ll be at The Flea at the Evaporator Works in Hudson this Saturday (6/27) from 9 AM to 5 PM. Come out and give your nose buds a treat! 

Soap making secrets: The versatility of avocados

Soap making secrets: The versatility of avocadosAh, the avocado. That beautiful fruit with the bright green, tasty flesh. You know that avocados are tasty and nutritious. But, did you know that they make a wonderful addition to bath and body products?

Avocado oil, an oil pressed from the avocado fruit, is chock full of Vitamins A, B1, B2, D and E. It contains a high percentage of “unsaponifiable” components. This means that, when used in handmade soap, much of the oil doesn’t react with the lye and remains oil in the final bar of soap. This is great for your skin which easily absorbs the oil.

Avocado butter is also a popular ingredient in handmade soap and has many of the same properties as the oil. My favorite way to use avocado butter, however, is as the main ingredient of body butter. When whipped with oils like meadowfoam or jojoba, it makes a thick, creamy, luxurious body butter that combats the driest of skin. I’ve been experimenting with body butters for a few months and working on perfecting my recipes. If you visit me at any of the maker fairs I attend this summer, you’ll be able to try them for yourself!

Some soap makers are brave enough to use fresh avocados in their soap, like this recipe from Modern Soapmaking for Luxury Argan & Creamy Avocado soap. Using fresh avocados is on my list of things to try!

Looking to benefit from this “super food” in your bath? Check out Beachin, Rose for Katy or Eucalyptus Lavender & Mint soaps, sold in the Emmet Street Creations Etsy store.

Soap making secrets: The challenges and benefits of working with olive oil

Soap making secrets: The challenges and benefits of olive oil80% olive oil soap

If Castile soap were a high school student, it would be voted “Most Likely to Test a Soap Maker’s Patience.” Castile soap, named for the Castile region in Spain where it originated, was originally defined as soap made with 100% olive oil. Today, you’ll find Castile soap made with other oils, like coconut and palm. As a soap maker, I can understand why this shift took place.

Soap made with olive oil as 100% of the oil in a recipe can be a challenge to work with. After adding lye water to the oils, it can take a very long time for the oil and lye to react and start to turn into soap. This means a soap maker has to spend more time mixing the batter to ensure the full chemical reaction, known as saponification, takes place.

Because olive oil is a liquid oil, there is a lot of moisture that needs to evaporate from the bar. After pouring the soap into the mold, it can take several days before it hardens enough to be removed and it can take up to a year of curing for a bar to reach its full potential. The normal four to six week cure time recommended for most handmade soaps doesn’t work for 100% olive oil soap. A short cure time results in a softer bar of soap that doesn’t lather very well and isn’t as gentle on the skin as it could be.

So, why do I use olive oil in almost all of my recipes? Olive oil is highly moisturizing and it makes skin feel great. Additionally, like rice bran oil, its slow reaction time makes it an excellent oil to use when I want to achieve beautiful swirls and designs in my soap.

I don’t have the patience to wait a year for my soap to cure so I do some things to help it along. I add coconut oil, which helps boost the lather, and palm oil, which helps the bar to harden faster. I’ve experimented with using olive oil at up to 80% of the total oils in a recipe and love the results. The lather is thick and creamy instead of bubbly and my skin feels soft and lovely after using it.

If you are interested in giving olive oil soap a try, you’re in luck!  The Emmet Street Creations Etsy store has one pound bags of unscented 80% olive oil soap on sale for $10. The lack of fragrance makes this soap an awesome choice if you normally have sensitive skin. The low price makes it easy to stock up and save!

Do you have a question about the soap making process? Ask it in the comments or on our Facebook page and I’ll do my best to answer it in a future post. 

Introducing our first palm-free soap!

A lot of folks are concerned with the use of palm oil for cosmetic (and industrial) purposes and the impact of overproduction to environmental sustainability.

Even though Emmet Street Creations only uses palm oil from Bramble Berry Soap Making Supplies (a company committed to only buying its palm oil from suppliers who are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), Christine’s recent trip to Costa Rica, during which she saw miles of palm plantations that strip some beautiful areas of the country of biodiversity, inspired her to further her efforts toward creating palm-free handmade soap that met her high standards for quality.

It’s been a challenge for Christine, but today I’m happy to announce she is ready to introduce the first palm-free handmade soap to the Emmet Street Creations lineup: Mango Papaya soap!

Mango Papaya soapThis soap is not yet available in the Emmet Street Creations Etsy store. It will premier at The Mom and Pop Shoppe in Akron on 4/25! So if you want to be the first kid on the block to have this tropical-scented soap, come out and see us. Our booth will be set up at Musica from 10 AM to 5 PM.

Now that Christine has experienced success, you’ll likely see more palm-free soap offerings in the Emmet Street Creations store in the future. But be assured, when palm oil is part of the recipe, we’re committed to only using products by sources committed to sustainable production methods.

(If you want to read more about the use of palm oil in soap making, check out this excellent post on Bramble Berry’s blog.)