Weekend Math

Did you know that soap making is chemistry? And did you further know that chemistry requires math? Yes, folks. I have to do math on weekends. I have a full time job so soap making usually only takes place on weekends, and let me tell you; it requires a lot of math!

Take this weekend, for example. I really wanted to make more soap than I usually do because of upcoming holiday shows and festivals. So I made 15 pounds. And I wanted to make 10 pounds of one soap and 5 pounds of another. And there are 3 different molds. 

In order to figure out the total weight of the ingredients needed, I had to measure the inside height, depth and width of each mold and blah blah blah times 40%.

But that’s not all. Each of these soaps is made up of seven different oils and butters. So I needed to add those together (God bless soap calculators!!!!!) in the right proportions in order to be sure to have the right amount. AND then I needed to determine how much lye water to add to the concoction in order to make my best soap. 

Have I said God bless soap calculators?

Once I determined the correct amounts of each element, I had to measure it. With a very precise scale. Tip a little too much of any oil into the mixture with other oils and your recipe will not necessarily turn out the way you envisioned. I say this with the voice of experience.

Now comes the fun part! You know how when you measure something and you’re so sure you’ve got it right but you continue to second guess yourself? No? Well, I do. So the entire time I was stirring and pouring my first 10 pound batch I was having “should I” “could I” kinds of thoughts, along with “did I” and “what if I didn’t” kinds of thoughts. I do a lot of mental hand-wringing when it comes to things like this. If I bought a car…no buyers remorse. A house…again, nothing. But making a 10 pound batch of soap? All. The. Time.

That was yesterday. Today, I cut my 10 pounds and weighed each bar as I cut. Yes, I’m required to put the total weight on soap that I sell, so I weigh each as it’s cut and weigh it again after about 4 weeks and then at about 6 weeks to be sure that the moisture has all evaporated and the bar is hard and won’t lose more weight.

But I digress. Today I cut my 10 pounds and it’s gorgeous. No color. No fragrance. Smells a little like shea butter, and if I’m honest, I don’t really like that smell much, but it makes an absolutely fabulous bar of soap. 

I’ll wait a day or two and then bevel the edges. I love to have beveled edges on soap because if I don’t, I don’t really like the feel of the brand new soap on my skin because the edges are too hard and it kind of hurts. I love a little softer feel so I have to imagine that others do as well. 

Six weeks from now, this will be a beautiful hard soap that others will love because it’ll look nice, feel great on their skin and do a great job getting them clean. But for now, I’ll just bask in the success of another Saturday well spent.

Despite the math.

Pandemic Isolation Experimenting

Being isolated and working from home during covid got old after awhile. My husband and I “discovered” hiking last August. There was a state park here in Georgia that I had always wanted to go to. For years, my mom had had a lake house about 2 hours from home and we passed the sign for Watkins Mill Bridge State Park every time we went to the lake house.
I mean, with that many names, that park had to be really special, right?

It was a beautiful park, although much smaller than we had anticipated, and it was also very, very hot on the day we were there. But we had a nice time and decided that walking through state parks was a good way to pass time during a pandemic. Plus, we’d get some exercise.

Thus began our journey to visit state parks – where we could safely navigate the outdoors without running into too many people. That first weekend was the catalyst. What if, we asked ourselves, we could get some exercise, get out of the house and spend time in nature? Why had we never thought of this before? On those Saturday afternoons when we watched reruns of old TV shows like Wild, Wild West and Bonanza? What were we thinking?

Of course we now have a favorite. Don Carter State Park in Gainesville, GA is an absolutely beautiful park with 14 miles of trails, including equestrian trails. They have tent sites as well as RV sites, and cottages. I think we’ve gone there most weekends this past year, at least…when we haven’t spent a weekend in an AirBnB visiting other Georgia state parks. I think I’ve taken a photo of the same trail on our favorite hike every time we’ve gone to this park, capturing the different seasons. Not the best photography, but I like it. I think I’ll have to put together a little slideshow to commemorate a year’s worth of the trail view. For myself. My photography will never win any awards.

I also found myself experimenting with my soap. I participated in some soap challenges with other soap nerds, but really, the reason I started soap making was to make a quality product that I liked, which also looked nice. The ingredients in handmade soap are so much better for your skin than the “soap” you buy in the supermarket or drugstore. So I played around. And had some fun.

This is a soap that I made as part of a soap challenge. It was the October challenge, and I made this soap in honor of my mom, who passed away as a result of breast cancer in 2018. I called it October Love and I was pretty happy with the result. And although I did warn you that my photography won’t win any prizes, I think I’ll have to start including more of it in my blogs because…a picture is worth a thousand words.

My experiments have not all been successes, however. I don’t have very many bars left, but my attempt at an architectural soap failed miserably. It smells really good, and it doesn’t look terrible, but this bar is very difficult to handle in the shower. It’s way too big, and the design didn’t come out as planned, so it’s not so nice to look at either. Also, the layers have had a tendency to fall apart in the shower. I’m very inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, but I’m afraid this one missed the mark in a big way. I use it, but didn’t sell any. Ah well. You can’t win all the time. But I have fun trying.

I’m back, Baby!

It’s been a tough year for a lot of people. My heart goes out to all who’ve lost a loved one or lost a job this past year. I’m fortunate that I was able to keep my day job – the one that pays the bills. Working from home has had its advantages: I got to spend a lot more time with my husband – who was also working from home, I didn’t have commute time, didn’t have to wear makeup and managed to grow out my graying hair with little trouble.

Of course, it also had it downsides. Because my day job became so very busy, I had a lot less time for my soap making. I didn’t blog. I didn’t post to instagram. By the time the weekends rolled around, we needed some activity that was outside the house. So we hiked. A lot. We checked out many state parks and now have a huge favorite about 40 minutes from home which has provided us with many happy, healthy, socially-distanced weekend days. Thank you, Georgia State Parks. We continue to love you every weekend.

I haven’t been completely idle with my soap-making, of course. I’ve been working on expanding my product line with some new offerings. I’ve been testing my new beard oil on my son, Andrew. He says his beard is a lot softer with this recent birthday present! Aftershave and beard soap are still in development but I expect those to hit the new menu soon. I’ve also tried to improve my craft by experimenting (I usually call it “playing”) with technique, color and scent in soap. The thing I love most about making soap is that I can make something really pretty which is also very useful. Those who know me know that I am a fan of consumable products!

Up until recently, all my soaps have been vegan with the exception of the bee pollen soap. I’ve been experimenting lard and goat’s milk during the long layoff. Lard makes a really nice, very hard, very white bar. I typically use color in my soaps so having a white bar isn’t something I really need. I do like the big bubbles that it provides though. Goats milk soap feels really good on the skin, but I’m not a huge fan of the look. I have some of these soaps in my inventory for now but I will likely not continue to make them, keeping my cold process soaps vegan. Lots of people make goats milk soap, so if that’s important to you, I’m sure you’ll find a vendor.

I’m looking forward to getting back into some shows now that things are starting to open up again. I can’t wait to speak with the curious and look forward to providing some education on why handmade soap is better than the commercial “soaps” that you can buy!

Once again, Frank Lloyd Wright as Inspiration

Almost 6 months ago, I wrote that this past summer on my birthday weekend, my husband and I traveled to Milwaukee for the 3 day Irish festival there. We got to see our favorite band, Gaelic Storm, three times! It was a really great weekend filled with fabulous music, a lot of great beer and some awesome trips to botanical gardens, the Milwaukee Art Museum and Taliesin, home of Frank Lloyd Wright. 

I took inspiration from all of these places, but none so much as Taliesin. The place was beautiful, and for the first time I understood FLW’s genius. Unlike more design-oriented people like my daughter Jeanne and my son’s girlfriend Rachel, I am sometimes unable to see beauty in things unless it’s explained to me. 

The buildings, the furniture, lamps, even the curtain on the stage provided me with such great inspiration that I attempted to make soap using them as a guide. This is the curtain on the stage at the theater on the property. 

And this is the soap I made using that curtain for inspiration. Although it didn’t come out the way I wanted it to, I really like the geometric pattern. If I hadn’t tried to do so much, I might have had a better final product.

My soaps often don’t come out the way I envision and you know what? I actually don’t mind. Well, almost never. Most of the time the soap looks awesome anyway and it’s always a surprise when I unmold. So although it didn’t come out like these two drawings as I intended, at least I was happy with it in the end.

Because I wasn’t totally happy with the end result, I decided to give it another try. And because spring was coming, I decided that pastels were the way to go. They weren’t. I also thought that given the architecture of the gorgeous Taliesin property, I would include one of those elements and make it a more architectural soap. I don’t really like the way this turned out either. And because the bar is so big, I’m sure that smaller adult humans will have a tough time gripping the giant bar in the shower. Let’s not call it a failure, but a lesson learned. Here’s a picture, but I don’t have them stocked in the store because, you know, lesson learned. I called this one Not The Wright Soap.

I think I’ve determined that high contrast will look best in this kind of soap and that’s what I’ll go for again next time. However, I’ll be a little gentler with myself this time and not be so ambitious. I believe that I can make an attractive bar in a geometric pattern that represents the Wright Soap. 

In early March, 2020, right before covid19 took over our lives, I had the good fortune to be able to visit Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home in Scottsdale, Arizona. Although I haven’t yet figured out what that soap is going to look like, I’ve already decided on the color palette and the scent. Half the fun of the planning is done. I can still look forward to the fun I’ll have figuring out what pattern to attempt before I get my oils and lye water ready……

Sensible Hand Washing for the Mildly Interested to the Paranoid

People. Wash your hands. Hopefully you already do this, but please wash your hands more often right now. My son Andrew works at Starbucks. They are required to wash their hands regularly as part of their normal shift, but at the moment, they are having to wash their hands at shorter, regular intervals. I think that’s good practice.

Wash your hands with regular soap for 20 seconds at a time. Don’t forget the backs! It’s good practice to work up a lather, rub it into your hands and then rinse off. Take the Whole. 20. Seconds. Soap will adhere to the germs and you’ll wash them away. 

After washing your hands, try to not touch your face or your cell phone for another 20 seconds. Think you can do it? I dare ya. I have become very much aware of how many times I touch my face every day.

You know how your hands get dry if you wash them a lot? Medical professionals have long suffered this from washing them before and after every patient, but you don’t have to. Commercial soaps have detergent in them and this is what leads to that dry, painful feeling. Those of us who have sensitive skin really have a tough time with hand washing and my hands actually hurt when I use a commercial soap. Antibacterial soaps are the worst!

Which leads me to say, please use soap. Please do not use dish detergent or a commercial soap with detergent ingredients. Using soap will help prevent the dryness. How do I know if the soap I’m buying is detergent or not, you ask? Read the label. Please read the label. The whole label. Know what you’re buying and putting on your body! All ingredients should be listed in descending order. Some ingredients you might see among the first few in a real bar of soap are:

Distilled water
Goat’s milk (or coconut milk, or almond milk, ALL the milk)
Olive oil
Saponified olive oil
Saponified (sunflower, coconut, palm, soybean) oil
Cocoa, mango or shea butter

These aren’t the only ingredients you might find, but it’s a good start. You may also see sodium hydroxide on the list, which is lye. If you have concerns about lye, please read my blog post titled If it doesn’t contain lye, it isn’t soap, dated July 4, 2019. If you see the word “saponified” among ingredients, that means the maker has not put sodium hydroxide in the list of ingredients and is demonstrating that the oils used in the bar have undergone the chemical reaction needed to create soap. While sodium hydroxide may be listed as an ingredient in the making of the soap, be assured that the final bar of soap contains no lye. The lye has undergone a chemical process and is no longer present. If the science aspect bothers you to think about it, just pretend it’s magic.

Lots of people wonder about hand sanitizer as a soap substitute. I can’t sell hand sanitizer since it’s considered an over the counter drug by the FDA here in the US, so I won’t talk much about it. I personally have a spray bottle of 70% rubbing alcohol into which I disperse a little tea tree oil. You’re much better off washing your hands than using hand sanitizer anyway, so use it only for emergency purposes. Like after wiping away your tears when you get to the grocery store to find that they’re out of toilet paper.

Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Rinse. Repeat.

If you’d like to watch a helpful and (I think) very funny video about hand washing from Alton Brown, you can find it on YouTube at