November 22, 2009

soap making

I took a soap making class a couple of weeks ago. We made mint soap and lavender soap out of coconut oil, vegetable shortening, walnut oil, lye, distilled water, essential oils and natural dyes. The process was simpler than I imagined. Carefully mix the lye with distilled water, let it react somewhere that you won't be breathing (like outside), and let it cool to a specified temperature. Meanwhile, warm up the fats to a specified temperature. Mix the lye water with the warmed fats. Stir until you can drip the mixture along the surface and see a mark or trace. This visual cue is called "tracing." Add the essential oils and natural dye. Pour everything into your modded out milk carton molds. Wait 2 weeks or so to take the soap out of the molds. Slice and dice. Wait an additional 2 week for the soap to harden and neutralize in terms pH. Then use, gift or sell your glorious soap!

Modern day soap making is pretty precise and scientific with lye and refined fats. The precision allows people like myself to jump into the craft relatively easily. Just follow the recipe! Back in the day, however, people would mix whatever fats they had on hand with wood ash water. With far less precision, I imagine that people spent a lifetime developing the finesse to craft quality soap. I might try the wood ash method someday just to try it...

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