Monday, November 3, 2008

What I do when I'm not knitting

In keeping with my goal of not neglecting my blogs anymore, I decided to post a photo of one of my non-knitting passions. I began making handcrafted soap many years ago, and quickly became addicted. I have somewhat sensitive skin, and I really like being able to formulate soaps to my specific needs. Plus, it' s just fun to make! Even when I was working at a soap shop and making over 200 pounds of soap per week, I'd go home and make my own soap just as a stress-buster. For the past several years, I've done a gig demonstrating soap-making at the annual High Point Arts Council Day in the Park. That is always a ton of fun. This year, I had the best of both worlds, as I was able to knit on a pair of socks while waiting for all my soaping ingredients to reach the right temps so I could mix them.

I'm currently making soaps for the holiday season. One of my faithful fans from Charlotte contacted me to order several bars, so now I have an actual legitimate excuse to make soap. Always a good thing. I spent years developing, testing and tweaking my own recipes for soap as well as for scent blends. While I prefer essential oils, my favorite scents tend to be the pricey ones. Such as sandalwood. True sandalwood essential oil goes for hundreds of dollars per pound (oils are sold by ounce retail, by pound or liter wholesale). I've seen it go for well over $1,000/pound. Yeaaaahhhh. Rose essential oil is even higher. Yes, it smells heavenly. On the flip side, there are some essential oils that are pricey yet stink all to be damned. Go figure. Some oils I refused to use simply on the grounds of ethics. Rosewood essential oil, for example, is a fantastic scent, but the demand for it has led to extremely unsavory practices in growth and harvest. So I found an essential oil substitute that smells amazingly like rosewood, and is grown/harvested in such a manner that my conscience will let me use it.

In reviewing my soaping supplies for the latest batches of soaps, I found myself low on palm oil. Palm is used primarily as a hardener, and has properties that give you a hard, long-lasting bar. It's sometimes called "vegetarian tallow," since it serves basically the same function as tallow (beef fat), which is to give a long-lasting bar. It's easier to obtain than beef tallow, and it appeals to the vegetarians who don't want to use animal products. It's been a good while since I ordered palm oil, so I did a little plinking around on the Web. I was horrified to learn that the demand for palm oil is contributing to the devastation of rain forests and - worse - gorilla habitats. To keep up with demand, palm orchards are being planted in areas that have been cleared for this very purpose. I have been a primate fanatic ever since I can remember (my home office is decorated with a combination primate/wild animal and cheesy film posters), and I particularly adore gorillas. I try very hard to live "green," and to avoid products that I know to be damaging to the environment.

So instead of ordering palm oil, I did a bit of research and found another easily-obtained, eco-friendly oil with which to replace it in my standard recipe. Although I do make some lard soaps, I (as welll as my friends and customers) tend to prefer the ones with minimal animal products. I made a test batch of my newly tweaked recipe last night. So far, it looks like the switch from palm oil will be unnoticeable.

Anyway, below are some of my latest efforts:

In the back, left to right, orange/bay (essential oil & fragrance oil), green apple (fragrance oil), lavandin grosso (essential oil - smells like lavender, but doesn't have the sharp, medicinal odor some lavender essential oils do). In the front, my custom cookie spice blend (essential oil & fragrance oil, swirled w/food grade cocoa), and lemongrass/buttermilk (essential oil).

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