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Musings on the Nature of Soap – A Guest Post

Blogtober 2021 – Day 20

When it was suggested to me that I could include guest posts as a ‘Cheating But Not Really’ way to help with this daily posting palaver, I could have jumped for joy. Of course! Great idea! The one flaw in the plan was finding someone to actually write a guest post. Haha!

I need not have worried. Within the hour I had a guest post on the nature of soap! Lovely LOVELY Laura, a customer and friend who’s also a moderator in our FB group, came up with the goods in record time. I absolutely love this piece of writing ,and I’m very happy to be able to share it with you today. Thank you Laura!

Anyway, enough from me. Read, and enjoy.

Soap. What is soap? It’s an everyday necessity, a regular occurrence, our familiar friend. To some a status of the divide between poverty and power, to others a luxury treat, a revelation that is transformative in its magic as it takes you from a hard days work or sleepless night to a new being, fresh and filled with promise.

Yet to most it’s still just a lump of lather that encapsulates cleanliness, soft scented and subtle but mostly thoughtlessly forgettable as bubbles disappear down a gurgling drain along with the unseen nasties of daily life and it deserves far more recognition!

There are so many layers and complexities to soap, endless forms and shapes carved by its creator. A gorgeously hand poured chunk, lovingly cured and embraced with bevelled curves, a bland boring bar complete with the stamp seen a world over, anonymous blocks in hotel bathrooms and the luminescent liquid beside every unknown public sink. You see it, touch it, invite it into crack and crevasse; every stretch mark, hidden scar, palm lines and fingertip whorls unchanging as soap prepares hardened skin for what is to come and gives it a moment of unadorned peace.

Soap can be sensual, caressed onto a partners back at the beck and call of a shared shower, or loving as you rub between your child’s fingers over the sink in rushed seconds before the oven timer signals a family meal. It can be gifted, cherished in neatly cut wrapping and passed along from friend to companion at birthdays, Christmases, special occasions. It can be treasured, adored, used daily or hourly then lost for months down the side of the bathtub and re-found in a fit of joy; bubbles and aroma untouched where other goods would have perished. Soap is reliable, sturdy and honest, shrinking softly over time as you take what you need and it gives unrelenting to you, silently contented to fulfil its only purpose.

Soap makes its mark creeping onto life’s calendar unseen; regularity with a nightly shower or the final chapter on a bathroom break visit. It gives its tender touch to the first bath taken by a wailing red newborn and the final gentle wipe of the mortician. It is universal, everyday mundane and yet more often than not made with love, blood, sweat and tears, an unseen seal of dedication by its maker, yet it is unassuming in it’s simplicity setting, a brown paper parcel box waiting to be torn open and enjoyed.

The shy, unseen side of soap is that it’s essential yet humble, and if you take a single thought from these words just know that your soap is much more a part of existence than you could ever imagine and will continue to be, so give it the admiration and recognition it deserves. Choose well with what you invite into your skin for its scent will become synonymous with your own.

It is beautiful, it is basic and it’s a bargain for £5 bar

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The Purity Range

Blogtober 2021 – Day 15

I LOVE good smells. I’ve always been the one who has to sniff every variety of whatever’s on offer, and of course as a soapmaker, fragrance plays a huge part in my daily life. Not everybody feels the same though, and over the years I was often asked whether I offered a fragrance-free soap. It surprised me, actually, how regularly the subject came up. For a long time the only unscented soap I could offer those customers was Castile. Castile – pure olive oil soap – is a wonderfully gentle and mild bar but it doesn’t have the fluffy, abundant lather of my regular bars. Finally, last year, I decided to create a fragrance-free bar with that same fabulous lather.

That was was when Purity (Purdeb in Welsh) was born. I chose to make it uncoloured as well as fragrance free, and while I love my fragrances and colours, there is definitely something beautiful about a plain white bar in all it’s glory

Purity Handmade Soap

Purity proved to be a popular choice as soon as it was launched. It seemed to make sense to create a new category on the website for all the uncoloured/fragrance free options, and so the Purity range was created. If you’re not a fan of fragrance for whatever reason, you can now find fragrance-free soaps, solid shampoo, solid conditioner and a facial bar all in one place on the website.

Thanks for reading, back tomorrow when I’ll be halfway through Blogtober! Hooray 😀

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The Cut of Serenity

Blogtober 2021 – Day 7

A quick and easy post today in the shape of the cut of Serenity made on Monday – 120 bars cut on my ancient single string soap cutter! It’s quite a so process and I’m getting very close to ordering a fancy-pants multi-string cutter – yey! (Maybe it’ll be here before the end of the month so I’ve got another easy blog post 😉 )

So anyway here they are, some quick snaps of Serenity taken today, literally seconds after they were cut from the loaf:

I love how there’s never, ever, two identical bars. These particular ones have now been put down for their 6 week nap, but there’s plenty available on the website – get yours here.

Thanks for reading, almost a quarter of the way there now! Back tomorrow with Day 8

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A Return to Posting?

How long has it been since I last published a blog post? It was before last Christmas certainly, and I don’t think I’d been particularly prolific for a while before that either. SO much has happened since then, as we all know. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way most of us live our lives, and has affected us all to a lesser or greater extent (high five to all the parents out there who’ve been homeschooling!). My soapmaking has remained constant however. Increased, if anything. My customer base has changed of course – wholesale orders dried up completely as soon as the lockdown was announced, and all craft fairs and markets were cancelled. This website however has been my saving grace. It was still under construction last time I posted here but we managed to get it launched last February and thank goodness we did – that’s where more or less all my sales have come from over the last 4-5 months. If this is your first time visiting do have a look around before you go and let me know what you think!

With the new website came this new blog. All the old posts have been transferred over to here, and fingers crossed all the subscribers have too, but nothing’s certain so I’ll press publish with bated breath and see what happens.

The best thing to happen (soap wise!) since I was last here is the change of packaging. I’ve been wanting to upgrade my packaging for a long time but couldn’t settle on what it was I wanted to do. When I started making soap for a local company and saw that they were selling it in beautifully simple paper wrappers, I realised that I could do something similar. I approached a local printers and they designed and printed my current packaging. It’s a fantastic solution and as an added bonus, it’s fully bilingual, which I’ve wanted for a while.

Watermelon Handmade Soap
Watermelon Handmade Soap

Another big change since I was last here is the design of the fragrance oil bars. They used to be all done using the drop swirl technique which, while pretty and distinctive, wasn’t something I could keep scaling up as I made more and more bars. I routinely make 6kg batches now, poured into four loaf moulds, and the drop swirl design is just too time consuming to do effectively. I now make all my fragrance oil bars using the ‘In the Pot’ technique.

Bewitched

There have been two limited edition releases since I was last here – the Spring Specials and the Summer Specials (no surprises there :-D) –

Spring Specials Montage
Clockwise from top left – Lemon / Pepper, Maple & Cedar / Pear & Freesia / Fresh Linen
Left to right – Jasmine / Black Tie / Cucumber / Very Cherry / Pina Colada

I’ve just finished making the tester bars for the Autumn Specials:

And started gathering together options for Christmas. Well, it is July after all 😉

So there we go – a whistlestop tour of the last 9 months or so. My goal is to get back to weekly posting if possible – maybe something along the lines of the weekly updates that I was doing last year, but it may take me a while to get back into the habit, so bear with me.

Please join me on social media for way more regular soapy updates – just seach for The Soap Mine on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter. We also have an active (and very friendly) facebook community here https://www.facebook.com/groups/841016452928421 where you’ll find competitions, giveaways, sneaky peeks and the occasional bit of sillyness 😉

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The Christmas Specials 2019

The theme for this year is ‘Let it Snow’, for what are, I hope, obvious reasons. There are five different fragrances to enjoy:

Sugar Plum

Fruity and warm, this fragrance combines berries, orange and cherries with a hint of vanilla and sugar:

Sugar Plum Handmade Soap
Sugar Plum

Candy Cane

Back for a third year, this fragrance has proved so popular in the past that I couldn’t NOT bring it back.  It’s a delicious blend of buttery peppermint and sugary vanilla – do not eat!! 😀

Candy Cane Handmade Soap
Candy Cane

Snow Queen

I’ve never made a blue Christmas soap before and with a color like this I couldn’t resist a Frozen reference.  The fragrance is a complex blend combining herbal and fruity top notes, middle notes of jasmine, cinnamon and clove and base notes of amber and patchouli. It’s a really difficult scent to describe but it’s heady and exotic and perfect if you’re looking for something a little less traditional.

Snow Queen Handmade Soap
Snow Queen

Warm Gingerbread

Back for its second year, this fragrance is absolutely gorgeous and proved hugely popular last year. Ginger and cinnamon, vanilla and freshly baked cake give a warm, comforting scent perfect for winter days.

Warm Gingerbread Handmade Soap
Warm Gingerbread

Spiced Orange

A strong, rich and spicy orange and cinnamon blend, heartwarming and cosy.

Spiced Orange Handmade Soap
Orange Handmade

All available from week commencing 11th November. Pre-orders being taken now, £4.50 each.

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The Week in Soap: 27th October, ’19

Today’s weekly catch up is going to be an experiment in speedy posting, I’m officially on holiday, but won’t have anything soapy to share next Sunday and I didn’t want to miss two weeks. Every week seems to get busier and busier, but I think this week that had more to do with being off this coming week and wanting to get all orders out and loose ends tied before I go away.

The main thing I wanted to show you before I go away is…. Drumroll please…. the Christmas bars!  The theme is ‘Let it Snow’, and there are five in the range:

Ice Queen

Spiced Orange

Sugar Plum

Gingerbread

Candy Cane

What do you think?

This week I delivered my first batch of 840 bars to Babipur, a local online company who offer ethical shopping for kids (and the grown ups in their lives).  I have many more bars for them ready to be wrapped, yet more curing and more still to be made, so they’re keeping me extremely busy but I’m SO grateful and happy to be working with them to spread the love of handmade soap 😉

I was lucky enough to secure two new stockists this week.  Firstly The Eating Gorilla is the areas newest vegan eatery which has had seriously great reviews in the few short months since it opened. The owner Diane was already a customer of mine and she was keen to share her love of my vegan friendly products with her customers

The Eating Gorilla

The second, Celyn’s is an independent shop which stocks a fabulous range of locally produced goods for the home and garden. It’s located in Llanbedr, on the west coast of Wales, just south of Harlech:

Celyn’s Llanbedr

In addition to all the deliveries I had to get out this week I also had my regular monthly craft fair in Porthmadog on Saturday:

Craft Show Display

and spent most of Friday night wrapping and labelling stock for that (oh, and a special order for 40 (FORTY :-0) gift sets that were being picked up on Saturday evening – I was wrapping THEM in my sleep Friday night lol, but sadly I forgot to take a quick pic of them before I handed them over).

Finally, because we’re away next week over Halloween, my kids decided to carve their pumpkins early, and I did a bit of seed roasting for the first time.  Oh my word how have I never done this before? Home roasted Salted, Spiced and Honey  pumpkin seeds are DELICIOUS!  And the children agree, so that’s a win 😉

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Tomorrow we head off on holiday for five days – taking the children to do the whole sightseeing shebang in London.  There’ll be no soapy stuff going on, but hopefully lots of exploring, fun and… walking. Unfortunately I managed to twist BOTH my ankles this week – my right one last Sunday while out with the pup, and then on Wednesday my left one went and I took a dramatic tumble. Ouch 🙁  They’re improving and I’m hoping that all of the walking to come this week won’t make them worse.

Thanks for reading – I’ll be back in a fortnight if not before!

Vicki

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The Week in Soap: 20th October, ’19

I can’t be the only one who’s incredulous that there’s only a week and a half left of October? They say time flies when you’re having fun so I guess I must be having a whale of a time 😉

I didn’t manage to get a weekly update out last week, I posted the info about the solid conditioner bars (here) and that, it would appear, brought me to the limit of my available blogging time. However, you really didn’t miss much. I made soap. I wrapped soap. I labelled soap. I dispatched soap to retail and wholesale customers. I read about soap and talked about soap soap – in person and online.  Oh, I took the dog for a few walks as well.

Seriously though, I am living and breathing soap at the moment (with the odd foray into solid conditioner bars). I’m running out of space in my rented office space (a 20 second commute over the road above the village Tourist Info Shop – I should share some pics sometime), and I definitely need a larger making area at home.  It feels like I should be expanding my space, but there isn’t really anywhere local I could move into, and the children are still too small for me to travel too far afield.  We’ve talked about the possibility of building a workshop in the garden, which would solve the studio space issue, but I’d still be struggling for curing / wrapping / packing space. It’s one of those things that’s on the back burner, but always there, niggling at me to find a solution, so I’m trying not to fret about it too much during the run up to Christmas, and will give it some more thought in January / February (supposedly my ‘quiet’ time, but it didn’t quite work out that way this year so we’ll see).

I’ve had a big run on guest bars this last couple of weeks. The guest houses and holiday lets around here continue to be occupied throughout autumn and are always full over Christmas and New Year, so I think everyone’s getting their orders in now to be sure they don’t run out over the festive period.  I have 250 of these mini bars to cut and bevel over the next two or three days. Thankfully customers are becoming increasingly eco-conscious and don’t always want them fully wrapped – the ‘naked’ option is becoming more popular, and I always provide a full ingredients list and other mandatory info for the customer to pass on to their guests.

Lavender Guest Bars

Ooh, and I’ve added a new fragrance to the FO range… During the summer I released four limited edition bars, one of which was Watermelon, which proved to be extraordinarily popular. And justifiably so – it smells utterly delicious.  When I dropped Tutti Frutti from the core range I had room for a new regular fragrance and adding Watermelon was a no-brainer.  Here’s the very first batch of 60 in the mould:

Watermelon in the Mould

I said in my last weekly update that I would share a bit more about the Christmas range soon but I’ve STILL not managed to take any photos. I hereby undertake, no, I PROMISE, that I shall reveal the Christmas range in my next update post. *Adds another thing to this week’s to-do list*

I’m still working on my HUGE order that I alluded to back on the 22nd September.  The first batch are now all fully cured and are bevelled and ready for wrapping. There are almost 800 bars just in this first delivery to get labelled up with a cigar band wrap, and I’m so grateful that my lovely friend has been willing to come round and help me in return for a cuppa and a chat.  Now these are new to me, but I love the way they look, and I’m edging more and more towards doing my own this way. They’re eco-friendly, look great, and are quick to wrap once you get into the swing of them.  However my customer is an online only company, so these bars won’t be sitting on a shop shelf for any length of time, whereas mine would be, so I’m not sure whether it would work for my wholesale customers? I think I’m going to give it a go though. Here’s a sneak peek of some we’ve wrapped already:

Custom Order Packaging

And finally, here are some pics of cut soap and soap in the mould from the last couple of weeks…

Triple Coffee Scrub

Luscious Lavender in the Mould

Thursday Night’s mega-making session

Serenity Essential Oil Bars

Thanks for reading, back soon!

Vicki

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The Week in Soap: 6th October ’19

Monday and Tuesday of last week were the big soaping days – this was the result of Monday’s session:

180 Soap & Shampoo Bars

On Tuesday I was mostly speed (read: ‘panic’) making Christmas soaps.  I made a  load weeks ago, thinking I was really on the ball, but I wasn’t happy with them.  AT ALL  🙁

I prevariacated for a while, conscious that time was getting on and that I needed to make a quick decision, and finally this last week I redesigned and made bars that I’m happy with – phew! They’ll be released a little later than I’d hoped, but still in plenty of time for the holiday period.  I don’t have any pictures yet, but I’ll share the fragrances next week, and perhaps a photo or two the following week – maybe 😉  In the meatime, here’s a sneaky peek that doesn’t give too much away 😀

Festive Collection Sneaky Peek

A brand new stockist came on board last week, Snowdonia Nurseries in Glan Conwy. They’ve taken a lovely range of soaps for their gift shop, and shared these photos with me over the weekend:

Snowdonia Nurseries Display

Snowdonia Nurseries Display

Snowdonia Nurseries Display

Snowdonia Nurseries Display

The next bit of excitement last week was the fact that my Cosmetic Product Safety Report finally came through from my solid conditioner bars.  It’s illegal to sell any body care / cosmetic product in the UK (well, the EU actually) without one of these reports, which proves that your recipe has been checked by a qualified chemist and is safe to use. So although I’ve had them ready for a while, I’ve not been able to sell them until that report came through.  These are some of the ones I made during the formulating / testing process:

Solid Conditioner Bars

They’ll be available in three varieties initially, to match the shampoo bars – Bergamot & Lime, Lemongrass & Spearmint and Unscented – but more varieties will be coming soon.  Now I just need to get making!  A few people have asked for more information about the ingredients etc so I’ll be writing a dedicated post about the conditioner bars later on this week.

Lastly, I’m giving away a free mini Peppermint Scrub bar with all orders over £10 this week (while stocks last).  These are what’s left over when I make the full size peppermint bars – I use the usual amount of soap mix but because there’s so much extra stuff in there (ground apricot stone and oats) there’s far too  much to fit my regular moulds and I have plenty left over to make these little ones – a little treat for my valued customers 🙂

Mini Peppermint Scrubs

Thanks for reading, back soon!

Vicki

 

 

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The Week in Soap: 23rd Sept ’19

I’m clearly  not back into the habit of regular posting.  It’s 10pm on Monday and I just realised that I haven’t written last week’s roundup post (I would normally do it on Sunday evening if not before).  So this will be a short one, forgive me!

I didn’t get half as much soap made this week as last because, as much as I’d like to make soap every day, there is a lot of other stuff that needs to be done when running a  business, however small, and it was a lot of that that got done this week ;-D

Monday I spent wrapping, labelling and dispatching retail orders from the weekend, cutting and wrapping guest soaps and putting together wholesale orders.

On Tuesday I travelled to Pwllheli, about half an hour away, to take stock to a new stockist – Oriel Pwlldefaid.  I’ve been keen to find a stockist in Pwllheli for a while so I’m thrilled that they agreed to stock my soaps.  In the afternoon I made soap – hooray!

Soap in the mould
Triple Coffee Scrub, Serenity & Lavender & Orange Solid Shampoo

Wednesday saw me making more soap again, this time 60 bars of Botanica (Lavender, Lemon & Lime essential oils) and Lavender & Peppermint Shampoo:

Botanica and Lavender & Peppermint Shampoo
Botanica and Lavender & Peppermint Shampoo

See the orange in those bars above? That should be yellow! This soap has always been a white base with drops of purple, yellow and green (lavender, lemon & lime) but I used a different yellow mica this time and POW! Bright orange!!  Luckily it morphed back to yellow by the time I cut it.

Thursday and Friday I spent getting ready for my monthly Craft Fair in Porthmadog on Saturday, none of which I took photos of.  Saturday’s Fair was a strange one – very quiet in the morning but much much busier late morning and into the afternoon and ended up being a great day.

On Sunday I spent a few hours masterbatching enough oils and butters for 24 loaves, and took the dog for a looooong walk in the late afternoon.  (Oh, I’ve just realised that Jac the Border Collie joined our family during my blogging break, so I won’t have introduced him yet – I’ll try to rectify that very soon!)  Anyway here’s just one of the photos from my walk through classic Beddgelert weather – clouds, drizzle and a glorious peek of sunshine highlighting the autumn colours on the mountains.

I took very few ‘cut’ pictures this week (another thing I’ve got out of the habit of since taking a break from the blog) but here is the current batch of Eryri (Snowdonia), more of these are on the ‘to make’ list for this week or next…

Four bars of Eryri handmade soap
Eryri Handmade Soap

That’s it for now. Apologies for the rather rushed and superficial post – maybe I just need to get back into the rhythm? I hope so…

Thanks for reading if you got this far, back next week!

Vicki

 

 

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The Week in Soap: 16th Sept ’19 Ramping up Production

Last week I set myself a challenge to make a minimum of 600 bars of soap in seven days with today (Sunday) being the last day.   As well as trying to restock after a busy summer season and getting ahead for the festive season, I have a new wholesale customer who has placed a very large (for me) order that I’m steadily, but surely, fulfilling (I’ll share more about them once the first shipment has been delivered in a couple of weeks) and all that means I need to increase my rate of production.  This week was a bit of an experiment in masterbatching larger amounts of oils & butters and working out how to work smarter and be more productive. That 600 bars was a fairly arbitrary goal – more than I’d ever made in one week before, but  hopefully doable given my proposed new processes.

In the past, each soaping session has begun with the mixing of the lye solutions – usually enough for 8 loaves in four separate containers, which were put to one side to cool. I’d then weigh out four separate lots of hard oils & butters and melt them while also weighing out four lots of the liquid oils, ending up with four 5kg capacity buckets each containing enough prepared fats for two loaves (30 bars total) of soap.  I would then go ahead and make soap, ending up with two loaves of four different varieties, giving me a total of 120 bars each full soaping session.

This week I decided to get all the oils / butters / lye prepared the night before production, and also to make more, and bigger (four loaf) batches. This gave me far more time the following day to make soap and I was able to get this lovely lot, a total of 632 bars (woop!!) made over three separate days:

Tuesday’s Makes

Thursday’s Makes

Sunday’s Makes

So what about temperatures? I read a lot in online soaping groups that temperatures are important in the soapmaking process, but I haven’t used a thermometer since my very early days of soapy experimentation.  I generally soap cool anyway, so using lye solution that was mixed the day before isn’t an issue, and I found that I needed to sit the buckets of oils & butters in some hot water in the sink for a little while to remove any granularity from the cooled hard oils. I dream of having a large insulated tank with a heating band in the future, but until then, this works really well – hooray!

Next week I aim to make as much, if not more, again. Keep rooting for me 😀

Thanks for reading, back soon!

Vicki

PS Thought I’d share this little vase of nasturtiums, freshly picked from the garden today. I have a mass of them at the bottom of the garden where they’ve self seeded and they just keep on coming, in beautiful autumnal colours. Just lovely!

Vase of Nasturtiums in Autumn Colours
Autumnal Nasturtiums