One of the best crafty projects I ever made was for year-before-last-christmas-gifts and that has turned into a full-time staple in my home. And that was the making of home-made soap. To be clear: there is one thing I do not do from scratch--that is, make the actual soap (its a complicated process involving calculating how much lye to add to your fat to make it soap--I am crazy but not THAT crazy...) Mine is strictly the-melt-and-pour-kind of technique starting with a solid soap base (I like olive oil) and adding essential oils for fragrance (am so crazy for lavender) and natural additives (I like French powered clay) The basic recipe for all the soap that I make is a Martha Stewart recipe for an interpretation of Savon de Marseille. This effort for home-made soap has been made in the same spirit as not wanting any extra added yuckiness in my family's clean regime--so I don't add artificial food coloring/dyes or artificial perfumes. Just nice and simple; pure and clean. It could not be easier and when we get low, I just whip up another batch..here's how:
I buy all my soap making supplies from The Sage; they are based in Utah and so nice on the phone. I get a 5 lb. tub of Olive Oil Soap base and that lasts for a while. I also go back and forth between the green clay and the pink clay. I have been obsessed with Lavender for as long as I can remember..But now, I'm up for trying new scent combos: basil & orange; ylang ylang; peppermint & spearmint combined, vanilla & tangerine, rosemary & sage...time to branch out.
This is so easy. Think of the soap base as big hunk of chocolate that you need to melt down to make dark chocolate/sea salt/carmel bark...(ok, well, maybe not quite exactly but same in theory). Cut a hunk of soap into smaller pieces and put in a metal bowl over a stock pot filled with 3-5 inches of water simmering away in it. Double-boiler action. I usually keep flame at medium-high. Or you could put in a microwave...I don't have one so I am not sure for how long...I guess just check it often.
While that is melting down, get your molds ready. There are a ton of molds out there to choose from. Cute & fun to down right cheesy--not a whole lot of them worth buying in my humble opinion. I kind of like just a simple block bar of soap. Nothing fancy. And these containers (along with 1/2 & 1/2 containers and heavy whipping cream containers--love the square shape!) make the best and cheapest molds in my opinion. Just cut one like this in half--widthwise...or maybe even a little bit lower than the half way point.
As the soap melts, add the clay. Once soap is fully melted, whisk until soap and clay are fully incorporated. This may take a while--the clay does not instantly dissolve. Just keep the heat on medium high and keep stirring occasionally. (But don't ever let boil.) Once you feel like its as good as its going to get--in terms of the clay disolving, turn off flame and add essential oil.
This is my general rule of thumb: 1 teaspoon clay per pound of soap & 1/2 teaspoon of essential oil per pound of soap. Use your nose and add more if you want it stronger; you probably will but better to start off with less and add a little bit as you go to avoid over doing it (which is what I usually do)...
Add liquid soap to molds. If you want to use the mold again, you can use a spray oil and coat lightly the inside of the mold. OR you can tear the mold away once soap is hardened--and not bother with the oil.
Let soap hardened till cool and solidified. About 2 hours. Remove from mold (by coaxing out of oiled mold or tearing mold off) and slice into 1 1/2- 2 inch thick bars. Martha's recipe does a final rinse in warm salt water and while I like the idea of this, I can't really tell what/if any difference it makes..but check out her recipe if interested in this step.
NOTE: I added about a TABLESPOON per pound of the pink clay with this batch because I wanted to try it a little darker. Martha's recipe calls for one teaspoon per pound...this yeilds a softer, more coral in tone color--which is very nice but not truly pink. The green is lovely too...kind of a dusty olive. I really like it.
And that's it! You should try it...its not hard and its really not all that time-consuming--you might just get hooked, like me...and what a lovely gift this would make: a bar of home-made soap be paired with a little crocheted/knitted wash cloth?? Cute! That project is coming up--stay tuned!