Publisher Ruth Tott has always been a crafty so and so and here she shares a little about how she pleased friends and family last Christmas with a range of homemade natural soaps, all made in the comfort of her own kitchen.
Last year I handcrafted all my Christmas presents; jams, chutneys and jellies, soaps, knitted hats, and bath bombs were the order of the day. I had never done anything like it on this scale before, but I loved it, and even gave my little kitchen workshop ‘not for profit’ business a name – The Crafty Northerner -which went down a storm (like the presents themselves, fortunately) and was a bit of fun too.
A key delight, not least because the smell wafting out of the gift box proved a joy to the recipient, was the soaps. They looked expensive and smelt a treat, but were very simple to make, and once you’ve got the basics you can go on to create and invent for many forthcoming Christmases.
It is, however, addictive, and you may become something of a soap-making junkie. You can find all manner of different fragrances too, which will help to personalize your soaps. I was overjoyed to discover a Turkish Delight flavor last year which proved really popular, and this year I’ve tracked down a Custard Cream flavor, which I’m going to use to make soaps for my daughter. Although now grown up and have flown the nest she still has a soft spot for these childhood favorite biscuits.
SO LET’S GET STARTED
As a basic starting point, you will have to get glycerine. Until recently it was quite a problem but is now available from chain outlets such as Hobby Craft. There are also numerous places online that can supply it. Nowadays it is often called ‘pour and melt’, which is essentially what you are doing with it.
This is by far the easiest way of making soap, and the end product is chemical-free. Glycerine can be bought already grated, but it is so easy to cut or grate it yourself that it’s not worth paying the extra, and in a lump, it arrives rather like a quarter of a cheese round. You can also opt for a transparent or white opaque. I prefer the transparent which, when a color is added, takes on a jewel-like translucent quality.
I use a mixture of fragrances and essential oils, and again Hobby Craft sells a good selection – I’m already addicted to their almond milk and their violet, but most online soap outlets also offer a wide range of lovely fragrances.
You can buy these in either powder or liquid form. I personally prefer the liquid. Both options are readily available from the previously mentioned suppliers.
You can add flower petals or anything else which appeals (unpleasant joke ideas excepted!) to really specialize your soaps, and you will be probably be very tempted by all manner of options on sale. However, let’s walk before we run.
A CHOPPING BOARD AND KNIFE
I find it best (and in a curious way rather satisfying) to cut the glycerine block up into squares – just as you would for cutting up butter prior to creaming.
A PYREX MEASURING JUG
Once cut you will need to put the glycerine in the jug, which sits in a pan of water. The measurements on the jug are not that important, and you could use a bowl, but I find it easier to pour the now liquid glycerine into the molds using a jug rather than a bowl and ladle. The jug handle, if outside the pan, also remains accessible and relatively cool. But a word of warning – don’t just grab the handle, test it first! Whether you use a bowl or a jug, it must be able to withstand boiling water. The textbooks all say that the bottom of the jug/bowl mustn’t touch the bottom of the saucepan, but I’ve never found this a problem. Do perhaps keep an eye on it, just in case, and if you are a truly nervous soap maker then use a small rack in the base of the pan.
Your pan must be big enough to have the jug/bowl sitting within it, but most people will have a large enough pan in the kitchen.
You can buy all kinds of fancy molds, but you can also use the bottoms of yogurt pots and any other containers that will make a shape. Do bear in mind that the molds will have hot substance and may ‘melt’ so chose your shape carefully. Keep your eyes open as it’s fun spotting new and original candidates to house your next soap, as long as they won’t melt when hot glycerine is poured into them! If you want to reproduce the loaf like shapes so popular at craft shows, use a silicone baking mold normally used for bread (but I wouldn’t use it for bread afterward).
READY, STEADY, METHOD
1. Cut your glycerine into bits and put it into the jug. As a rule of thumb, 100g of the base makes a 100g bar, so no mystery there.
2. Put hot water into the pan and turn the heat on low.
3. Put the jug into the pan (with the handle sitting on the outside of the pan, which stops it burning me when I get it out), and stir gently With a timber or steel spoon because it melts. Don’t stir too vigorously or you will stir in air bubbles which will spoil your final effect. It does take time, so be patient.