I first had the idea of making soap and body products on a trip to Yallingup, in the south west corner of Australia. I was visiting with my friend and her brother, exploring the forests, beaches and wineries that the area is known for.
On the last day, we decided to get coffee from a tiny general store to fuel up before heading home. When I stepped through the front door, a little nook near the coffee machine caught my eye. There was a wooden shelf made from weathered drift wood. On this shelf, amongst other concoctions was a little jar of sunscreen. The jar was beautifully decorated with a wood panel and curly font. Etched into the wooden panel was a stylish surfer girl. I flipped the jar over, curious to know what was in this pot of magic. The ingredients read like a shopping list for the most delicious gourmet chocolate; actually, it’s quite possible that if one was stuck on a desert island with only this trusty sunscreen, it could be eaten! My friend tapped me on the shoulder and asked what I was looking at. I showed her the jar and she ooh-ed and ahh-ed over it like I had. I said to her, half serious, “We should try and make some ourselves one day.” Her eyes lit up, “Yes!” What followed was a frenzy of ideas for lotions, body butters, masks, yoga mat cleansers, perfume, deodorant, candles and… soap! We picked a weekend to go nuts – to make anything we could dream up, placed our ingredient order and researched recipes. On the day, we took over the kitchen and lay all of our ingredients out on the bench in front of us, deciding what to try first. We started with the easy stuff – lotions – so that we could grasp the basics of body-product making. To our surprise, the lotions worked out like a dream – they actually looked like real body lotion!
Now came the tricky stuff – the soap. We’d read that there are so many factors that come into play when making soap, and that masks and protective gloves were required, and frankly this scared us. So we cautiously followed the recipe and began combining the ingredients. As we mixed the batter with the handheld blender, something amazing happened – it began to thicken! We looked at each other and laughed in disbelief. It was working! We were making soap! We poured the delicious smelling batter into moulds – take away containers, wrapped them up like babies and began the excruciating task of waiting for them to cure.
The candles, body butter, deodorant and our other concoctions were ready for use that day, but the soap needed 4-6 weeks to cure properly for a good solid, long-lasting bar. When the wait was over and we were ready to unmould and cut the soap. The knife sliced through the soapy block and we stood in the kitchen staring at the freshly cut bars – we had made soap! We had mixed together a bunch of ingredients and created something completely new! It wasn’t fancy but we know exactly what was in it, it was all natural and smelt and felt amazing.
There is something special about soap making. Making the other stuff – the lotions, body butters and candles, is enjoyable but there’s a certain magic in soap making. A real alchemy. Altering the state of matter to create something beautiful and functional. A perfect balance of art and chemistry. What can be created is as limitless as the imagination.
Ive made many batches of soap since then, but there was something special about that first batch. Maybe because I made it with my best friend or that it was dreamt up during our time in the south west, but it has become an obsession; a sweet smelling, colourful, sudsy obsession.