Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Mr. in the Workroom

It's not often that I have company when I make soap.  In fact, it's pretty rare.  But since my shelves were nearly sold bare at Christmas time, it's taken some work to get my inventory back up to full capacity.  On a recent Thursday night my husband suggested that I prep oils and molds and we would make some soap together the following evening.

So Friday night, I had a hot date with my guy and soap.  (Not too shabby!)  We make a good team!  He was a great help, stirring lye solutions, measuring fragrances, and even choosing color schemes. 

We made six batches, which included a few test batches.


Here is one of the test batches that he poured by himself--his first attempt.  I think it's gorgeous!  He has a lot of natural talent, don't you think?

He's a keeper!  (And so were the soaps.)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Loofah Soap with John McGivern in Monroe, WI

If you don't live in the midwestern United States, you may have not heard of the show Around the Corner with John McGivern...yet.  But it's hugely popular in Wisconsin and the surrounding states and the interest is growing!  I can't say enough to praise the whole crew and thank them for all the work they put into the program.

Last April I was contacted and asked to be on an upcoming episode that took place in the town in which I live, Monroe.  I agreed (gulp) and the filming took place in June and some more in September.  The show finally aired last night, even though I got to see it a few days earlier.  So here it is....



And there you have it.  Maybe you should vacation in Monroe this year?  You'll certainly be well fed, well entertained, and of course, if you swing by for some soap, very clean. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Simpler Life

It's 2015 already!  And halfway through January, to boot!

For me, 2014 was a blur of action--farmer's markets twice a week, an abundant garden, a few big home projects, summer work as a school aide, lots and lots of soap and even a couple of vacations wedged in among everything. It was a good year, but....not the sort that creates a sane family life.

Late last summer, my husband and I discussed pulling back on some of our commitments and purposefully not signing onto everything that looks like fun.  (A significant weakness of mine.)  So, I finished my stint as manager of the Monroe's farmer's market in November and didn't fill up every weekend leading up to Christmas with craft shows.



Life is much better!  Right now I'm enjoying the slower pace that comes during the winter months.  But my primary focus this January is streamlining 10th Ave. operations--making bigger batches of soap and learning to be more efficient with my time in the workroom to make everything run smoother.

When I'm not in my soap room, I've been catching up on many things that I neglected in 2014. making my family pretty happy.  For instance, here are the results of a recent afternoon:


All this to say that I'll still be around this coming summer, of course, but I may miss a market here and there for family "emergencies" that involve kayaks, tents, and bicycles or maybe just nothing.  (And if I'm not at the market and your soapy needs reach critical levels, check the tab at the top of this page titled "Buy soap locally.")

Hope to see you at the Winter Market on the Square on Saturday, January 17th from 9-2 at the Masonic Temple building on the north side of Monroe's square!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Minding my Beeswax

I bought some beeswax....awhile ago.  As in a year ago.  A friend of mine in the honey business was learning how to take care of the beeswax and had lots of extra.  Local beeswax?  At a good price with no shipping charges?  I was in.  As it turned out, she had done for the first step in cleaning it, but to get the best quality, cleanest beeswax, it needed a second step.  I finally got around to doing it this fall, as I'd run out of my previous stash and all the cleaner pieces I had.


Yellow jackets that died a waxy death.
Cleaning beeswax isn't hard, but it does take a lot of waiting.  The first step for me was cutting it into smaller chunks to melt it down.

Wrenching off pieces of beeswax with a butcher knife is a workout like no other.
 


My "double boiler"--a #10 can in an old saucepan
Melting the beeswax down took awhile in my makeshift double boiler.  When melted, the pure beeswax stays on the top while the junk and bugs sink to the bottom.  I could then pour out the wax into silicone mold shapes and it wasn't long before I could pop them out.
 
For clean-up, I found a heat gun to be the handiest thing ever.  It was easier to wipe up melted beeswax than scrape it off the counter, floor, and stovetop.  I also used it to melt bits of beeswax off the blade and handle of my butcher knife, one of the few pieces of equipment that I've re-used.  On the plus side, I think the handle is permanently waterproofed!
 
 
Now I have a couple of bags of beautiful, dark golden beeswax in smaller, more manageable chunks.  (The honey scent is incredible, by the way.)  So what do I use beeswax for?  Several products--lotion sticks, lip balms, and sugar scrubs.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cheese Days...and Cheese Soap

Every two years in late September my town of Monroe, WI, celebrates Cheese Days.  Regular life comes to a halt as all attention is focused on the festival, celebrating the heritage of the area with all things Swiss-- polka, alphorns, beer, and copious quantities of cheese.  And it is a Big Deal; the population grows from 10,000 to over 200,000. Happily, most of the action occurs within walking distance of my house. (Ha!  As if there would be any place to park a car anyway!)


Since it occurs over the weekend, there is, of course, a farmer's market.  It's moved a few blocks from its regular spot on the downtown square, but there is no lack of customers.  After the craziness of getting all the market vendors and their wares squeezed in and set up, I enjoy the excitement of the change of pace, meeting people from all over, and the party atmosphere.

So what makes a party in Wisconsin?  Beer and cheese.  (Well, bratwurst, too, but I have to draw the line somewhere.)  So, I thought I would highlight them--with a soapy twist--in my booth.

My beer soap scents included Oatmeal Stout, Honey Ale, CranApple Cherry, Pumpkin Lager, and Raspberry Cordial--some classic standbys, some new for me, but all of them perfect for the fall.
Why would you drink beer when you can bathe with it?

But I had to try something new in honor of Cheese Days.  Cheese Days=cheese soap?  I looked around for a cheese fragrance for soap with no success, but really....who wants to smell like an aged milk product, anyway?  The sweetgrass scent I used went over well.  In a nod to soapmaking tradition, however, I colored the soap with infused annatto seed, the same colorant used in many yellow cheeses, like cheddar.

Market shoppers were amazed by how realistic it looked and many had to come pick it up and smell it.  I am happy to say that no one tried to nibble it.

Success!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Plain Ol' Brown Soap

Confession: I made my first batch of soap about 14 years ago and in all the years since, I have never once made a batch of vanilla soap.  Sure, I've accidentally bought the occasional fragrance that contained more vanilla than I realized, like my lovely yellow lemon poppyseed soap that magically tuned to bland brown in mere hours.  But I've avoided the straight vanilla fragrance, as much as I like it.

However, I recently bought a bottle of the most amazing vanilla fragrance.  It is incomparable in sugar scrubs and the sort of scent that you almost have to take the teeniest lick, just to convince yourself that it's really not edible. But I figured it was high time for some vanilla soap.

When working with vanilla-based fragrances, I've found that it just doesn't work to fight it.  Titanium dioxide, vanilla stabilizer--the effects only last so long, if at all.  Brown soap is just so....brown. And boring. I wanted to make a vanilla soap that popped. Day one of the batch consisted of unscented white and brown-striped embeds.  Day two--the vanilla scented base.


I sliced the batch literally minutes before leaving for vacation.  (Priorities...) This is how the bars looked right after slicing. I was excited and optimistic.


I couldn't wait to see what they looked like a week later.  I think I nailed the "pop."  And the scent is perfectly vanilla.  Why did I wait so long?!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Endeavor to Persevere!

Thus would my former supervisor cheerily call out to me during our busiest, most frantic season.  Or to put it more simply, "Try to try."  And some days, what more can you do?  I've noticed a definite pattern: the quieter my blog, the busier my "real life." I'm not sure if the answer is better time management or a slower-paced life--either would come in handy.

As it has been April since I last posted, you can be assured that things are been moving at warp speed around here.  But such exciting stuff!  Here are a couple items on the business side of things:

I was contacted by Milwaukee Public Television this spring and asked to recommend an outstanding vendor from the farmer's market I manage for a segment on an upcoming show on my town, Monroe, Wisconsin.  I immediately named a favorite produce vendor but because of scheduling and produce availability conflicts, the next day I found myself and my soap business on the interview roster.  Eeep.

Showing off my little bitty loofah plants
Fast forward two months to earlier this month, when the interview took place.  I had NO idea what to expect, but I had a wonderful time chatting with the host, director, camera and sound staff who were intrigued by my soapmaking and loofah growing adventures.  Of course, I enjoyed the moments when the camera wasn't pointed my way most of all, but still...  All in all, it was a super fun experience.  Now I'd like to find out what I actually said during my blur of an interview, but that won't be for several months yet.

A little side note: Over the weekend, I watched The Princess Diaries--remember that movie with Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway?  Well, the man who hosts the show is the very same John McGivern who appeared as trolley driver in the movie. How my little sis knew and remembered that bit of trivia I'll never know.

Also, I've begun a re-vamp of sorts, testing new fragrances and changing some things up as I streamline my product line.  Really, it's a continuous task but I'm taking a more focused approach as I analyze what my customers buy.  I feel a little heartless cutting some favorites, but that just means more of certain ones for me. :)

Geisha--an oriental, citrusy scent with green notes 
I've also been playing around with the looks of my soaps--here is my first attempt at a method of adding embeds.  I see potential for a lot of variation with this technique, so expect some changes in my online shop throughout the summer. (And if you are close enough to come to see me at the market, please do!)