Friday, January 28, 2011

Why do I make soap?

Well, there are the obvious reasons, of course. It's fun! Taking a combination of oils and mixing them with an eat-away-your-skin product called lye and some liquid and watching it turn into beautiful soap is an almost magical process. And, I no longer have to buy mass-produced bars of detergent that dry my skin. And then there's the creative aspect. There are thousands of scents and color combinations, not to mention techniques like swirls, layers, embeds, and all the other ways to make the next Soap Masterpiece.
All these are reasons I make soap. But I've come to realize that it is just one example of a larger reason, the drive to "create" things myself. I've always had a curiosity to know how things were originally made and like trying to make them myself. Technology aside, most of the things we use every day haven't always come from a factory. Furniture, clothing, games--these all were once made by hand from start to finish. Take food, for example, like root beer, sausage, gumdrops, tortillas, and marshmallows--they're not considered standard homemade fare. However, none of these are the brain child of a big manufacturer, but once some enterprising company began to mass-produce them, over time, most people forgot they used to make them at home and following generations never learned how.

I just finished reading a book by Mark Frauenfelder called Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World. It chronicles his experiments as he tried living a slower, more DIY (do it yourself) lifestyle than to which he was accustomed and understanding the DIY mentality. I think the following excerpt summarizes his observations of DIYers well:

"They've learned to stop depending so much on faceless corporations to provide them with what they need (and desire) and to begin doing some of the things humans have been doing for themselves since the dawn of time. They're willing to take back some of the control we've handed to institutions. They believe that the sense of control and accomplishment you get from doing something yourself, using your own hands and mind, can't be achieved any other way."

I think that is a good observation of people who like to try all kinds of traditional "crafts." We can conveniently (and cheaply) buy soap from a store, just like we can buy waffles, a coffee table, or a new tote bag, but sometimes, there isn't a lot of satisfaction in it.

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