Adventures in Soapmaking

Despite being a fan of D.I.Y beauty and skin care, I have never made my own soap.  I have never wanted to make my own soap.  Lye?  No thank you.   To me using soap was like eating a hot dog.  You want to enjoy it without thinking about how it’s made.  However, in the interest of learning as much as I can about all things aromatic, I changed my mind.  I managed to secure a place in the very popular Soapmaking Intensive offered by LaShonda Tyree, (the Handmade Soap Coach) at the New York Open Center.  I arrived to class Sunday morning with my gloves, goggles, and mask, ready to make some soap.

I won’t bore you with too many details but I have a new appreciation for handmade soaps.  Yesterday I removed my soaps from the molds.  I inspected the batch that didn’t quite work, making notes about what to change next time when I realized that making soap isn’t so different from cooking, or any creative endeavor.  It isn’t so different from life in general.   There are recipes.   There are rules and instructions that are important to follow, but your results will depend on how well you know, connect with, and manage your ingredients.

The power of no expectations.

It’s no surprise to me now that our (my table partners) first batch of soap looked the best.  We were following directions, taking care to get the technical steps right.  We worked cautiously without the pressure of being ‘creative’.   We followed the recipe and let the ingredients work out the rest.  Sometimes things turn out better when you don’t try so hard to control the results.  Do your best then walk away.

S*#%  will happen.

High off the success of our first batch of soap, the group is ready for something more complicated.  The next task is making swirl patterns by layering different colors of soap mixture.  We were moving right along, more confident, excited, thinking about the designs we could make.  We added our fragrance oil to the blend and. . .the mixture started to seize.  That’s soaper’s lingo for turning solid.  The mixture got too thick and hard to work.  We hadn’t done anything wrong, it was a chemical reaction to something in the fragrance oil.  We had to make do.  No lovely swirls, no triumph to show off.  A pang of disappointment when I look at the beautiful patterns some of my classmates created.  When the unexpected happens there is nothing to be done but learn what we can, pack up and move forward.

Always follow your instincts.

Last batch of soap to be made in class.  This time the task is to embed something into the  mixture.  I choose to layer oatmeal, rose petals, and calendula on the bottom of my mold.  Clean, minimal, simple.  Adding whole dried flowers to soap isn’t a great idea in general because they get soggy.  Plus they don’t clean the skin, the effect is purely decorative.  I know this because I have bought and used such soaps in the past.  When I look around at everyone else’s work I suddenly feel like mine is too simple.  I need to do more.  Quickly before the mixture gets too thick I throw some rose petals on top of the soap and gently press them into the batter.   Too late.  The blend is too thick for the petals to fully embed.   I have a lovely bar of soap with a mass of soggy rose petals on top.  Why did I do this??  I know better!  I was caught up in the energy of the day and as a beginner wasn’t totally confident in my choices.  Not a big deal but an interesting observation nonetheless.  Trust yourself.  Even when you don’t know what you’re doing, you know what you’re doing.

Overall I met some wonderful people, had a great time, and now have the foundation for a new skill.  Not bad for a day’s work.  What are your favorite creative pursuits and what have they taught you about life?


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