The art of soap making

I’m very thankful that my life is filled with interesting, unique people. This lovely lady is my friend Andrea — and she definitely fits into those categories. She’s an elementary school teacher. She’s on the board of our town’s Slow Food organization. She used to lead overnight backpacking trips through the mountains of Yosemite. And she makes soap — natural, yummy soap — in her home.

Soap is one of those things that has always baffled me. I always thought it would be super complicated … and I think I was right.

On a sunny, but chilly, afternoon, Andrea had me over to show me her craft. Here is a little glimpse into her world, from the first step of snapping on rubber gloves to work with lye to slicing a bundt cake block of soap a day later.

Everything in soap making is very specific. That’s probably the most difficult part. The temperature of the lye and water have to be a specific temperature, and get to that temp by soaking in an ice bath. Each of the elements have to be measured perfectly. Timing is everything.

We started in her work room/back house with the lye. It’s not something you want to use too much in the house. It gets hot, hot, hot.

We move inside for the yummy stuff.In the kitchen, you work with the good stuff: the oils, the wonderful natural scents and you grind oatmeal in a coffee grinder (if you so choose to use oatmeal … on another batch, Andrea make a coffee soap with coffee grounds inside).When it’s all in a large pot with the cooled lye, you mix and mix with a stick mixer until it looks like your grandma’s banana pudding.
Andrea added honey at the very end, but was careful not to mix too much after.Then, you pour into a mold of your choice. Silicone is easiest because, once it hardens, getting the soap out is a challenge. With silicone, you can twist and pull and turn the container inside out. Then, you cover it with cardboard and wrap it like a tight little baby and let it sit for at least a day. You can feel the chemicals warm the towel as they react inside. Eventually, the lye will be worked out, the soap will cool, and you can finally unveil it. I went back to visit Andrea a day or two later, and we worked it out of the mold. A giant bundt cake bar of soap that smelt so yummy.

After you slice it up the way you like, you still have to let it dry for weeks. The longer it sits,  the longer it will last once it starts being used in water.

I can’t wait until it’s ready and I can take home a bar of this yummy honey almond soap. I think it’s one of my favorites.Thank you Andrea for sharing your wonderful craft! One day I will take on the art of soap making, I swear.

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7 Responses to The art of soap making

  1. my god. now I know why I buy it instead of make it. but from now on I won’t grumble over the cost of good, handmade soap!

  2. I can see that you enjoyed making the soap 🙂 I too tried it in school. It was fun. My classmates and I got the feeling of cramming since it was a science project. Haha thanks to you, I remembered my high-school days 🙂

  3. Kate says:

    wonderful photos

  4. cindy deluz says:

    Wow! Love this post! Great photos! Not only is Andrea a cutie, but her soap looks extra awesome too.

  5. katyarich says:

    Hola, your blog is great, beautiful photos, I am a new following looking forward to reading more of your posts…saludos from Spain

  6. Maggie says:

    This is sooooo interesting Lauren and Andrea! I’m glad that I got to see such detailed pictures even though I couldn’t make it to the soap making excursion! I would love to make some soap one of these days, but will probably start with the chapstick first. 🙂

  7. Steph says:

    Go Andrea! Beautiful documentation, Lauren! Andrea is one of my best friends in the world, and not just because I get free delicious soap every Christmas! Thank you for sharing this glimpse into her wonderful story. I look forward to reading more of your true life photo-discoveries; they’re amazing.

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