Friday, January 24, 2014

The Natural Soap Book by Susan Miller Cavitch

The latest book I've been reading and toting around in my little project is The Natural Soap Book by Susan Miller Cavitch, written in 1995.


While not nearly so old a book as Soap, it's still older, well, now that I give it some thought, I was already a high school graduate when it was published, so in the overall scheme of things, it's darn near hot off the presses.  (Have you noticed all the plaid and neon the cool kids are wearing these days?  It's just like when I was in high school.  See, nothing's changed!)

Anyway, it remains a mostly relevant, thorough lesson in soapmaking, and not just for the beginner.  It includes short overviews of successful soap businesses, how they started, and what makes their businesses unique.  I appreciated the view of soapmaking before the influx of easily obtainable saponification-hardy fragrances and colorants, as well as supplies.  While examining the appendix, I only recognized a couple of the companies listed, none of them being the common "big name" companies soapmakers rely on nowadays. Cavitch covers soapmaking's very basics, soap recipes, troubleshooting, some chemistry of soap (that I confess to zooming by but will read thoroughly later), and natural colorants/additives.  The Natural Soap Book is probably the best resource for its time that I've come across.

To be bluntly honest, I wasn't impressed with this book after my first read, largely based on one reason.  The subheading of the book is Making Herbal and Vegetable-Based Soaps, but Cavitch frequently loses her focus to bring up animal fats, usually tallow, and criticize the use.  She cites skin issues that tallow "is thought" to cause, partly due to its high saturation.  (Ahem.  Tallow is 52% saturated, compared to 92% for coconut oil.)  I got a little weary of the frequent spiel.  Admittedly, I have definite views on animal fats (here is my somewhat windy explanation) and they clash with the author's philosophy.  But in the end, I took a deep breath and cut her a generous amount of slack, since the book is almost 20 years old and she (and we) now knows that palm oil isn't the panacea to the animal rights and sustainability issues she thought it to be.


I was most intrigued by the essential oil chapter and decided to try out some of the essential oil blend "recipes." I've always found fragrance blending intimidating.  I typically do safe, obvious blendings, like litsea and rosemary, or orange and clove, so it was fun to try some different combinations, and in my case, using both fragrance and essential oils.

Some of my favorites were Checkerberry (cassia and lavender), Summer Earth (lavender, patchouli, and vanilla), and Bar Beatriz (lavender, lemon, and rosemary).  But the far and away hit for me was Summer Spice--rose, clove, and peppermint--a super fresh carnation-like floral.  I had to try it out in a batch of soap.


Poor unfortunate you, dear reader, not being able to smell it.  The rose fragrance has faded just slightly, but it's still absolutely lovely.

By all means, check out or buy a copy of this book.  You'll get some useful information!

12 comments:

  1. Summer spice looks great. I wish I could smell it! The scent combinations you listed all sound wonderful! I might try out some of them in the future. :-)

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    1. It DOES smell great. The book listed 30 or so different blends; I only tried a few but I liked them all.

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  2. Wow, it's a beautiful soap, Amy! And yes, poor me, I can't even imagine how fabulous it smells. I just can't help saying that I admire your patience in reading those old books, I think I would give up after first non-contemporary line.

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    1. Thanks, Diva! You're funny!--I've enjoyed reading the old books a lot; there is some information I've had to overlook, but overall, they've given me many ideas. (Don't get me wrong, there are some books that I've returned to the library right away. I couldn't find ANYTHING that inspired me....my, oh my...)

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  3. Wow, that's a gorgeous soap, Amy! I have that book and I enjoyed the essential oils section, too.

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    1. Thanks, Jenny. I'm kind of in love with it, myself.... :)

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  4. Great review Amy, thanks! Rose, clove, and peppermint sound absolutely divine together, and that soap is stunning. I have heard of this book but haven't been able to have the opportunity to read it. I just received Scientific Soapmaking and am looking forward to delving into it, although a little intimidated! :)

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    1. Thanks, Cee Gee! I'm interested in Scientific Soapmaking, but with all that knowledge....I don't know....I think it might take all the fun and suspense out of soaping for me....hee hee....

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  5. Interesting review Amy! This was one of the first soapmaking books I read (I've lost count of how many I have now lol) and at the time I found it really useful, and have used some of the essential oil blends. I do agree with you on her rather old-fashioned views though - personally I love soap made with lard (though I don't make it so much any more - sadly it's not popular with the customers...)

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    1. Hi SoapMine! I remember reading soap books like they were novels; a 20 year old perspective is so interesting!

      I dearly love lard but I recently realized that I've gotten away from it for some unknown reason. I must change that! I'm very thankful for non-fussy customers! :)

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  6. Beautiful colours and the EO blend sounds lovely! That book was one of the first soapmaking books that I read, and although I now have loads of others I still refer to it occasionally (often for the great EO 'recipes')

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    1. Sadly, I returned my copy to the interlibrary loan system before copying down a few of my favorites. Ugh! I must track it down again!

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