Archive for the ‘Soap Making’ Category

soap 3

I think I featured this one awhile back, on this blog.  But anyway, here goes.

My “soap opera” began in 1976, when like so many of that era I was crazy to do every earth mother craft possible.  A group of us women met at a Milwaukee church kitchen.  We brought bacon drippings and roast beef fat trimmings, kettles and cooking spoons, and cardboard boxes for a day of “fun”.  Although I can’t recall having rendered the meat drippings at home, I must have done that—or perhaps I did not render them at all (rendering meaning to simmer with water, cool, and skim off the clean fat for use while discarding the sludge).  Anyway, at the church kitchen we heated our fats and cooled down the mixture.

Someone had brought that old product, RED DEVIL LYE.  We sprinkled this into cold water, and after a bit of cooling time the lye water got stirred into our grotesque mixture of fat.  We stirred and stirred.  I can’t remember that anything significant happened to the stirrings, except for perhaps a slight thickening.  Finally, we poured our stirrings into cardboard boxes lined with something—shelf wrap, waxed paper, whatever—and home we went.

The day was in late February.  As I left the church, Canada Geese were winging northward bringing with them the euphoria that early spring signs always bring.  The Geese were the best part of the day.  By the day I got my box home, loose lye had sloshed and sprayed all over the box.  As I lifted the box out of the (would you believe?) station wagon (where are those beautiful vehicles?  I miss them!), I got nasty little stings from the lye.  At home the mess went to our basement, and finally in the garbage.  It was awful!  In retrospect, I wonder how many of those women ever tried again.  For me, such a colossal failure is like the proverbial red flag to the bull.  I had to succeed at soapmaking, and I persisted until finally things began to work.

Old bacon drippings and fat from roast beef, pork, venison, etc. were the only available base oils on the frontier, but I soon learned that beautiful fats are necessary for beautiful soap.  Most butchers will part with fat cuttings from raw meat.  For years I purchased the tallow from a local butcher (good quality bird suet is the best) and rendered it myself.  Lard is good, also, but beef tallow makes a harder, longer lasting soap.  One fat which will not work at all is poultry fat.  Never, no never use that!  For those who object to using animal fats, pure vegetable oil soaps are beautiful as well—olive oil soap being the best!

Now I order rendered tallow from an online source, along with vegetable oils which make up the soap’s base:  olive oil (the Lamborghini of vegetable oils), palm oil, coconut oil, apricot kernel oil, etc.  All of my other supplies* (except for the utensils) are delivered to my door as well:  sodium hydroxide (generally called “lye”), fragrance oils (or essential oils if you prefer), decorative molds, and colorants.

I will not post instructions for soapmaking, as it is a touchy chemical process.  Friends come on occasion, to observe and take notes—as that is the very best way to learn.  There are plenty of books and online sources for soapmaking as well, and some of these are fine.  But there are also some downright screwy books out there.  Buyer beware!  Learning from another person is the best method.  Nearly every local farmer’s market will feature a vendor of homemade soap—and that’s a great place to make inquiries and possibly find a teacher.  Meanwhile, the entire procedure is so exciting that, as with paints and yarn, it is downright overwhelming

Immediately after making the soap, it must sit covered in a warm spot for twenty-four hours.  For years I poured the mixture into lined wooden boxes, and covered the boxes with wool blankets.  This was fussy and space-consuming in the kitchen!  Now I simply cover the molds with plastic wrap and stack them between heavy cardboard dividers in my oven.  (An insulated, draft free box!)  I put a bit of masking tape on the oven door and dial—just to make sure someone doesn’t preheat the oven and pop in a pizza!  🙂

The soap MUST CURE uncovered, on a platter in your home for two or three weeks.  Then it will be totally, perfectly SAFE AND FOOL PROOF TO USE.  It is safe and luxurious to use on your face, or on a baby’s butt:  perhaps the safest possible cleanser—far better than anything on the shelves at the drugstore or supermarket.

Commercial soaps (with rare exception) are made with some petroleum oil.  That’s detergent.  Cosmetic sales people are absolutely correct to discourage people from using most commercial soaps, as these are rarely good.  But cured homemade soap cannot harm the face or body.  What’s more, the homemade soap will do the face and body worlds of good.  Whereas the skin softening ingredient known as glycerin is removed from most commercial soaps and sold for pharmaceuticals or ingredients in explosives, homemade soap retains its glycerin—a natural byproduct of saponification (soapmaking).

Amazingly, when the fat and sodium hydroxide mingle, they form a complete new thing—SOAP.  The fat is no longer fat, and the lye is no longer lye.  It’s all about soap.  So when you go to a farmer’s market and see a table of homemade soap, you can buy it and use it with confidence—providing the soap has been allowed to cure for two or three weeks.  If you have any doubts about the aging time, just buy the soap and let it sit for two weeks before using it.  You will never regret that purchase, and chances are you will go back for more!

Often venders will offer a line of soap with no perfume or colorants, for those who are sensitive to those additives.  I actually do make plain soap for one family member who likes “plain” best.  But the amounts of perfume and colorant which I use are so slight, and the quality of these ingredients is so fine, that there simply are no problems with my beautiful soap.  People always come back for more!!!

Margaret L. Been, 2014

*For my online sources, just GOOGLE:  Base oils—Columbus Foods; Fragrance and/or Essential Oils—Lavender Lane, Symphony Scents, Brambleberry; Colorants—Symphony Scents;  Molds—Brambleberry; Sodium Hydroxide—The Chemistry Store.

Some of the suppliers listed above carry most of the necessary ingredients:  base oils, fragrances, color, and molds for those who prefer one-stop shopping.  I’ve just mentioned my favorite sources for each thing.  But the sodium hydroxide must be purchased from a chemistry supplier.  The Chemistry Store requires buyers to fill out and sign a form renewable every year, attesting to your age and waiving the company’s responsibility for your use of the sodium hydroxide—a very dangerous, toxic product.

If RED DEVIL LYE can still be found, DO NOT USE IT.  Reportedly, it now contains other ingredients with the sodium hydroxide—things like bleach.  IT WILL NOT WORK.  And DO NOT EVEN DREAM OF USING DRAINO!   Fine for clogged plumbing, but never for soap!!!

Rubber gloves, a cheap disposable mask, and goggles or glasses should be worn when working with the sodium hydroxide.  I NEVER make soap when children or pets are underfoot.  As aforementioned, my first experience at saponifying involved a group.  Poor planning!  Soapmaking is not a groupie thing.  I will invite ONE person to join me on occasion, a friend or family member who wants to learn the procedure.  Rarely, two people will be included.

Here are some extra tips:  You can custom make soap for different kinds of skin.  Check out the properties of various herbs which may be dried, crushed or powdered, and added to your soap.  I use my homegrown lavender, roses, and mint.  Dried herbs and flowers are available online for a reasonable price, at Frontier Herbs.  Calendula and chamomile flowers are especially wonderful.

Most homemade soap is tremendously moisturizing; for years elderly people have loved my soap for this reason.  Coconut oil is the secret to achieving soap which lathers in cold water, but I use very limited amounts of coconut oil to assure a highly moisturizing soap.  However, for teen- agers with acne and oily skin I ramp up the coconut oil.  Acne and other irritating skin conditions will disappear on a regimen of good homemade soap!

ENJOY!2012 Soap 3


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I love to show off my beautiful homemade complexion soap.  The soap is everywhere, in antique bowls, on platters, and stacked on shelves throughout our home.

Our daughter Laura, daughter-in-law Cheri, and I are producing heart soaps for Cheri and Eric’s daughter Nicole’s August 7th wedding.  The soaps will be wrapped in pretty net bags, and placed at each plate for the reception which is to be held at Whitnall Park Botanical Gardens in Milwaukee.

Homemade!  There is nothing better!  We live in an age of communication via words–and quite frankly sometimes I’ve had words up to my eyeballs!  Literary words, as in classic poetry and novels, YES!  I can’t get enough of those words.  But today’s words–text messaged, emailed, and even blogged like my words–get old fast.  How refreshing to be still and make things with one’s hands.  I believe I could survive without talking (although some might doubt that!) but I know I’d go bonkers if I couldn’t make things with my hands.

At a ladies’ luncheon party this week, we talked about how–when we were brides back in the 1950s–we embroidered our kitchen towels.  These bits of memory make my heart sing. 

Now despite all that is wrong with our culture, the magazine racks tell me something is right!  There’s a plethora of periodicals available on the subjects of knitting, crocheting, scrap-booking, quilting, beading, cooking, gardening, home decorating, etc.  I am not the only one on this planet who derives sustenance and life energy from making things.

The desire to create with our hands is part of our birthright, for we are made in the image of a creative God.  Whereas He created Heaven and earth out of nothing, we make things out of materials already made.  Yet the desire to create is evidence of God’s imprint on our lives.

Pictured below is our grandson Joelly, who cannot “play it straight” for a photo shoot.  (I love his silly faces!)  🙂  Joelly is wearing a scarf and hat ensemble which I made him for Christmas a few years back.

Hands that knit, and weave, and spin, and make soap (and many other venerable home products) are happy hands! 

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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