Category Archives: I make soap

Renegade Craft Fair

These days, I work on making, labeling, packing, and shipping soap for a few hours before I go to work and then another few hours when I get home. We had a super strong launch, including adding several wholesale accounts months ahead of schedule, and are looking forward to a really busy holiday season.

The Renegade Craft Fair is a big part of that. Schoon Soap will be in booth 149A and we’d love to see you there! We’ll be launching out some limited-edition holiday varieties (anything that sells out may not be available again until next winter): Gingerbread, Fir Tree, and Frankincense & Myrrh, plus a charcoal Krampus soap for the naughtier names on your list.


Secrets revealed!

So, I’m starting a soap company.

It’s been strange to have had such a big project in the works for months without even hinting about it here, but it’s been a lot of fun too. Schoon Soap–‘schoon’ means clean in Dutch–is luxury soap made in small batches without palm oil (because orangutans), synthetic fragrances, or animal products of any kind. Since it takes about a month from when soap is made to when it can be used, the R&D and testing phases were pretty extended. I spent several months developing a base formula that produced soap that would be hard and long-lasting–it’s the palm oil and animal fats that contribute those qualities to commercial and many handmade soaps and since I wasn’t using those, finding other ways to achieve those qualities took some doing–but also rich and moisturizing. The final recipe uses coconut, olive, sunflower, avocado, and castor oils, as well as shea butter, to achieve that balance.

Then I spent another few months developing the fragrance line. There are three varieties that have no added fragrance whatsoever: a completely Pure/Unscented one; one with homemade Almond Milk and Oatmeal; and the only variety that uses a different base: Olive Oil & Cocoa Butter. The other varieties include Grapefruit & Bergamot, Lavender Lemon, Lavender Eucalyptus, Bay Rum & Vetiver, and Lemongrass Basil, in addition to more complicated fragrances that I named after counties in New York State: Ulster (geranium, ylang ylang, West Indian sandalwood, black pepper), Tioga (cedarwood, fir needle, juniper, petitgrain, black pepper), Rensselaer (howood, which is a more sustainable and less expensive alternative to rosewood, cardamom and nutmeg), and Herkimer (clove, cinnamon, rosemary, eucalyptus, and litsea).

The superfantastic logo and packaging and eventual website are the work of Anna Dorfman, who you may know from her (also superfantastic) design blog, Door Sixteen. The labels are purposefully a bit obscured here, but I’ll do full and detailed reveals once we’re live. 🙂
20140818-083902.jpgMy goal for the launch date is 9/15, so I’ll be in heavy production mode until then. There’s still a lot left to do–finalizing product descriptions and other text for the site, getting tax IDs and the other staying-one-step-ahead-of-the-law details worked out, sorting out shipping details. Rob will be handing shipping and customer service since he’s good at that sort of thing and I’m not available during the day. We’re starting out small and will be selling strictly through Etsy at the beginning, but I have a lot of ideas for things I’d like to do and ways I’d like the company to grow and I’m really looking forward to getting this show on the road.

Sunday productive Sunday

P1090128Now that the weather is warming up, my craft focus has started to shift back to spinning and sewing. I’ve been carding the Gotland fleece I got at Rhinebeck last year with some hand-dyed mohair top I’ve had since before I moved to New York, so 1999? 2000? I know I bought it on eBay from a seller whose name I can’t remember who sold different base fibers dyed in the same range of colorways and that this one was called Vienna Woods. I bought the plain wool and the mohair, spun them separately, plied them together, and knit an oversized seamless raglan cardigan out of the yarn. I’m not sure what happened to the sweater. Maybe I gave it to my mom at some point?

Anyway. I had close to a pound of the mohair left over and it’s been sitting in my stash, moving with me [counts] either seven or eight times, depending on where I was living upstate when I bought it, and I’m delighted that I’m finally doing something with it. My original plan was to ply this blended single with a plain Gotland single for yarn for a big, wild, wooly pullover. I may still do that, but I think I’ll have enough of the blend to ply on itself and still have sufficient yardage for a big, wild, wooly pullover.

I had my favorite kind of day yesterday, the kind where I spend my time moving from project to project, making demonstrable progress on a number of things. I made a batch of spicy peanut sauce to have with noodles and vegetables for dinner and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for a work party today. I worked on my cashmere/merino cabled cardigan (the back, two fronts, and one sleeve down; the last sleeve, assembly, collar, and ribbing left to go), the scrap chevron afghan I’m crocheting, and the handspun log cabin blanket I’m knitting. I made a batch of soap (scented with orange, clove, and cinnamon) and cut out fabric for a Scout tee. I got caught up on The Americans (I really like the show, but have kind of forgotten what Larrick’s damage is in the first place, so I’m not as fully invested in what’s going on as I could be), watched an episode of the original Swedish The Bridge, and listened to a fair chunk of The Alienist audiobook. Looking at my calendar for the next couple of months, I’m not sure when I’m going to have another full day just for puttering, so I’m glad I put that one to good use.

Five for Friday

20140502-081301.jpg1. My experiment with infusing oil as a way to scent soap didn’t work out especially well. There’s a pretty mild spice scent in this batch, but not enough to justify the time and effort. So that’s good to know! I also added some finely ground coffee to this batch. Again, it doesn’t seem to have been enough to provide much in the way of scent, but it might be nice as a mild exfoliant. I’ll see once it’s cured completely and I can use it.

2. The Kentucky Derby is this weekend! My mother-in-law is having a big party with a blind draw (so we don’t have to choose a winner or top three or anything at all, if I’m understanding it correctly), but if I DID have to pick, I would have to go with Vicar’s in Trouble since I only bet on horses with amusing names. He’s seeded first though, which makes it less fun though. Underdogs forever!

3. One of the librarians who writes about music for me (for me! not for the venerable publication I work for! for meeeee!) has a Kickstarter tied to his 365 Days of New Music project. He’s already met his goal, but I bet he’ll do more fun stuff with more money. Plus, every supporter gets a postcard with puppy stickers on it!

4. I had a lovely dinner with an old friend at Edi & the Wolf last night. I didn’t take any pictures, but the space is beautiful–the sort of warm industrial setting I like–and the food was delicious (I had spaetzle with wild mushrooms, she had wiener schnitzel, we split a side of black kale with sausage and chickpeas). I was a little early and she was running late, so I had half an hour or so to hang out at their gorgeous copper bar with a beer and a book. It was thoroughly delightful.

5. The book I’m reading is a dishy, relatively erudite nonfiction account of the fashion landscape of the early ’90s, focusing on Alexander McQueen, Kate Moss, and Marc Jacobs. It’s not out until September, but it’s worth putting on your fall to-read list if the topic appeals at all.

Five for Friday

fuzz1. My wedding was featured on Rock and Roll Bride earlier this week!

2. I’m still really digging making soap. I upgraded my equipment a bit this week and bought a no-line acrylic slab mold that comes with dividers to make evenly sized bars. Lining the mold has always been just about my least favorite part of the whole process, at least partly because I’m so bad at it, so I’m really happy to have a way around that. I made a batch of bay laurel and vetiver–scented soap last night that’ll be ready to unmold when I get home tonight. I’m pretty excited about this one, I can tell you. My apartment smelled AMAZING while I was working on it. I just want to make soap all the time; my bullet journal is rapidly filling up with ideas for scent combinations and different proportions of oils to use and things to mix in.

3. A few days ago, I got a galley of Kim Werker’s new book, Make It Mighty Ugly, and I’m pretty excited to spend some time with it this weekend.

4. I was down with a nasty, brutish cold for most of this week—I took two days off in a row because I was feeling so lousy, which I can’t remember doing maybe ever before in my working life. The only good thing to come of it is that I’ve remembered how much I love a good bowl of orzo in broth when I’m feeling poorly.

5. I just started watching True Detective. Now I get why the entire internet was obsessed with it a month or so ago. That is what you might call some compelling shit.

Spice-infused oil for soapmaking

This is an experiment in whether the scent from infused oil can survive saponification. I haven’t been able to find any information on the subject other than a general ‘of course you can infuse your oils’ and forum posts from people who’ve tried it but can’t detect a scent in the finished product. Almost all of those examples were people who were infusing dried herbs, however, not spices. Cardamom essential oil, in particular, is prohibitively expensive and it would be terrific to find a way to get that scent using bulk spices.

P1090111This is 12 oz. of olive oil with two cinnamon sticks, one crushed nutmeg, five pieces of star anise, two tablespoons each of allspice berries, cardamom pods, and coriander seeds, and one tablespoon of peppercorns, the latter four toasted and blitzed roughly in a spice grinder. I’ll let the mixture steep for two weeks in a sunny window, then use it in a batch of soap. Four weeks after that, I’ll be able to report back on whether the finished product is scented or not. Soapmaking is an interesting practice, timewise. Putting a batch together provides almost immediate gratification, but the curing process is so long that it’s only because of my detailed notes that I even remember what I did with any of the batches by the time they’re ready to use.


Bad batch

My soap experiments have been pretty successful so far, as far as I can tell. I won’t know for sure until everything’s cured and I can actually lather up, but the various concoctions I’ve mixed up so far look and feel the way I’d expect them to–until this one. It was extremely hard, bright white, and almost crumbly, in stark contrast to the soft, easily sliced, ecru-to-greenish beige bars I’ve been making.

It used the same oils I’ve been working with so far (coconut, olive, avocado, sunflower, and castor). I’ve been playing around with the proportions of each, but not to such a degree that I’d expect a radically different result. I suspect that the problem is that the oils were too warm. With soapmaking, you’re separately mixing up lye and oil mixtures that need to be roughly the same temperature when they’re combined. When the dry lye hits the water, it gets super hot (I’ve never measured the temperature right at the moment of combination, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s close to 200F) and then has to cool down to somewhere in the neighborhood of 100-110F. Meanwhile, the oils are at room temperature and have to be brought UP to 100-110 in a double boiler. Generally, it’s a lot faster to heat up the oils than it is to cool down the lye, so you wouldn’t even start that until the lye is almost in your target range, but I’ve figured out that putting the Pyrex measuring cup holding the lye into a sink with a couple inches of ice water in it cools it down extremely efficiently. With the previous batch, this was such an effective move that I really had to scramble to get the oils warm enough before the lye cooled down below where it would be effective. So, yesterday, when I was making this batch, I figured I’d heat the oils first and hold them at the right temperature while I dealt with the lye. It didn’t work — the oils got really hot and then retained the heat really well, even when I stuck the bowl in the refrigerator. And even without using the ice water, the lye cooled down before the oils and I ended up adding 100F lye to 130F oils. It achieved trace in a perfectly normal amount of time and it looked fine, but it wasn’t. Maybe it would have been okay if I hadn’t insulated the mold, but maybe not.

I think it’ll probably still be usable after the curing period; it’ll be interesting to see.

Test soap

20140312-081941.jpgWith work, freelance projects, a houseguest, and the rassin’ frassin’ time change, I haven’t made much of anything in the last week or so, save a really good pizza I forgot to photograph and another test batch of soap. This was my first time using cocoa butter, which I like in theory, but it took ages to melt and much longer to reach trace, so I don’t know that I’ll be going out of my way for it in future batches. Unless this batch turns out to be AMAZING, of course. But I won’t know for sure for another four weeks. It was very soft when I sliced it the next day, but seems to be hardening nicely as it cures.

I’m so glad I’ve been playing around with this again–it’s like being both a mad scientist and a magician. I just ordered a bunch of oils to try out that I haven’t used before and am thinking that I need to find something around here to use as a mold for test batches. This makes four pounds of soap, which is fine, but if I’m trying out a lot of different formulations, I’d rather make smaller amounts first.

Soap making redux

I’ve always maintained that a little bit of jealousy is instructive. Properly managed, those little twinges can provide a direct and easily traveled pathway to the back corners of the mind where interests and desires you didn’t even know you had yet are stirring. So, when I recognized that I was envying my friend Kim Instagramming and writing about learning to make soap, it was a helpful nudge that I wanted to be doing it myself.

I first got into soap making five or six years ago (or maybe longer) and really enjoyed it but then I moved into a tiny apartment with no ventilation in the kitchen and a  cat who didn’t belong to me and I stopped doing it. But now I have space to work near a window. I even had a lot of the supplies socked away in a corner of a difficult-to-reach cabinet, which now that I think about it, I must have moved with me two or possibly even three times. The only thing I didn’t have was a dedicated mold, and I made do with a long, narrow wooden box I found at work. It worked, but was a little too deep and narrow to easily line neatly, so I’ll look for something else before I make the next batch.

And there *will* be a next batch. My mind is already spinning with different oil combinations I want to try out and fragrance possibilities and various ground-up things to mix in (oatmeal! orange peel! coffee grounds! pine needles?). This is a very basic soap made with roughly equal amounts of coconut (for lather) and olive (for softness) oils. Even though I didn’t add any fragrance to it, the bars have a subtle scent that doesn’t smell like coconut or olive (or lye, for that matter), but just like clean.