Additional Craft Information:
Publisher Ruth Tott has always been a crafty so and so and here she shares a little about how she pleased friends and family last Christmas with a range of home made natural soaps, all made in the comfort of her own kitchen.
DIY Craft Essential #1: Washi tape
DIY Craft Essential #2: Needle nose pliers
Last year I hand crafted all my Christmas presents; jams, chutneys and jellies, soaps, knitted hats, and bath bombs were the order of the day. I had never done anything like it on this scale before, but I loved it, and even gave my little kitchen workshop 'not for profit' business a name – The Crafty Northerner -which went down a storm (like the presents themselves, fortunately) and was a bit of fun too.
A key delight, not least because the smell wafting out of the gift box proved a joy to the recipient, was the soaps. They looked expensive and smelt a treat, but were very simple to make, and once you've got the basics you can go on to create and invent for many forthcoming Christmases.
It is, however, addictive, and you may become something of a soap making junkie. You can find all manner of different fragrances too, which will help to personalise your soaps. I was overjoyed to discover a Turkish Delight flavour last year which proved really popular, and this year I've tracked down a Custard Cream flavour, which I'm going to use to make soaps for my daughter. Although now grown up and having flown the nest she still has a soft spot for these childhood favourite biscuits. SO LET'S GET STARTED
GLYCERINE As a basic starting point you will have to get glycerine. Until recently it was quite a problem, but is now available from chain outlets such as Hobby Craft. There are also numerous places online who can supply it. Nowadays it is often called 'pour and melt', which is essentially what you are doing with it. This is by far the easiest way of making soap, and the end product is chemical free. Glycerine can be bought already grated, but it is so easy to cut or grate it yourself that it's not worth paying the extra, and in a lump it arrives rather like a quarter of a cheese round. You can also opt for transparent or white opaque. I prefer the transparent which, when a colour is added, takes on a jewel like translucent quality.
FRAGRANCES I use a mixture of fragrances and essential oils, and again Hobby Craft sells a good selection – I'm already addicted to their almond milk and their violet, but most online soap outlets also offer a wide range of lovely fragrances.
COLOURS You can buy these in either powder or liquid form. I personally prefer the liquid. Both options are readily available from the previously mentioned suppliers.
OTHER ADDITIONS You can add flower petals or anything else which appeals (unpleasant joke ideas excepted!) to really specialise your soaps, and you will be probably be very tempted by all manner of options on sale. However, let's walk before we run.
A CHOPPING BOARD AND KNIFE I find it best (and in a curious way rather satisfying) to cut the glycerine block up into squares – just as you would for cutting up butter prior to creaming.
A PYREX MEASURING JUG Once cut you will need to put the glycerine in the jug, which sits in a pan of water. The measurements on the jug are not that important, and you could use a bowl, but I find it easier to pour the now liquid glycerine into the moulds using a jug rather than a bowl and ladle. The jug handle, if outside the pan, also remains accessible and relatively cool. But a word of warning – don't just grab the handle, test it first! Whether you use a bowl or a jug, it must be able to withstand boiling water. The text books all say that the bottom of the jug/bowl mustn't touch the bottom of the saucepan, but I've never found this a problem. Do perhaps keep an eye on it, just in case, and if you are a truly nervous soap maker then use a small rack in the base of the pan.
DIY Craft Essential #3: X-acto knife
DIY Craft Essential #4: Spray paint
SAUCEPAN Your pan must be big enough to have the jug/bowl sitting within it, but most people will have a large enough pan in the kitchen. SOAP MOULDS You can buy all kinds of fancy moulds, but you can also use the bottoms of yoghurt pots and any other containers that will make a shape. Do bare in mind that the moulds will have hot substance and may 'melt' so chose your shape carefully. Keep your eyes open as it's fun spotting new and original candidates to house your next soap, as long as they won't melt when hot glyercine is poured into them! If you want to reproduce the loaf like shapes so popular at craft shows, use a silicone baking mould normally used for bread (but I wouldn't use it for bread afterwards).
READY, STEADY, METHOD
1. Cut your glyercine into bits and put it into the jug. As a rule of thumb, 100g of base makes a 100g bar, so no mystery there.
2. Put hot water into the pan and turn the heat on low.
3. Put the jug into the pan (with the handle sitting on the outside of the pan, which stops it burning me when I get it out), and stir gently with a wooden or metal spoon as it melts. Don't stir too vigorously or you will stir in air bubbles which will spoil your final effect. It does take time, so be patient.
4. Once the glycerine has melted you can add your colours and flavours, but the now liquid glycerine forms a skin very quickly, so continue stirring to keep it liquid. Start with your essential oils and fragrances, but do remove the soap base from the heat as oils evaporate quickly if the mixture is too hot. Continue stirring and once you have incorporated the fragrance, add the colours.
5. Continue stirring gently until you are satisfied with the smoothness of the colour, then pour the liquid soap into your chosen mould.
6. Leave to cool completely, then remove from the mould. This is where silicone moulds come into their own as you can effectively 'peel' them off. Turning the mould over and running hot water on it should, however, loosen the soap, so you can remove them without damaging either soap or mould.
7. If you have decided to add flower buds, petals or whatever, leave them to cool a little bit, otherwise the decoration will sink down rather than stay on top. 8 As regards packaging, I left them loosely wrapped in a plastic sandwich bag until just before they were to be given as present, then I wrapped them in tissue paper and labelled them with a gift tag I had designed on the computer. Bear in mind that if you keep the soap in tissue paper for too long the colour will 'weep' out into the paper and it will look unappealing. SOME SOAP 'RECIPES' TO GET YOU STARTED I made two tone soaps using a clear 'base', and a thin coloured 'top'. To achieve this, pour uncoloured glycerine into the mould till it is A full.
Do make sure that if you are using different fragrances for both sections that they will complement each other. Leave this to solidify for a few minutes – 5 minutes should do it. Meanwhile, add a fragrance and then a colour of your choice to the remaining glycerine in the jug. Once mixed in, pour over the top of the 'soap' that is already solidifying in the mould. I particularly liked the mixtures of Turkish Delight and Almond Milk or Violet and Almond Milk, but you can do any combination you like. You could even use your favourite perfume, although I'm not too sure how well it would carry.
I also pour some of the soap in a little jar and keep it in the car as an air freshener.
If you want a single block then any of the following will work: Chop up fresh mint and put it in the soap, together with a few drops of tea tree oil followed by a couple of drops of green colouring, so it becomes a very, very light green. Lavender oil with a few drops of violet or purple colouring. Chop up some fresh ginger and use it with orange oil and an amber colouring for an extra zing in the morning.
Next month I am having a go at candle making, which I've never done before, but the flavours and essences used for soap making are just the same, so c'mon, just how hard can it be to pour wax into a mould? I shall have a go and report my adventure.