Artisan Giving

Most of us are gearing up for the holiday season.  We’ve planned our production schedules and are working to get our holiday products ready for the throngs of buyers who demand our wares (in our dreams, anyway).   With all of our planning, sourcing supplies and making product, we might be forgetting something.  Of course, it may already be part of your plans. What is it?  It’s giving.  Giving back can be an enriching experience and something we should all be considering.

 

The idea of giving or giving back is more prevalent during the holiday season than at any other time for most of us, so it’s a timely subject of discussion, even though it isn’t limited to that small space of time between Thanksgiving and December 26th (for our Boxing Day observers).

 

Do you give regularly during the holiday season or at some other time?  Do you give of yourself?  Perhaps you make one big annual donation or several smaller donations throughout the year.  Maybe you teach your craft to others or volunteer in some other capacity.

 

I know that we small business owners are terribly busy and often running on a shoestring budget, so that giving is sometimes the last thing we worry about.  Other times, we are stopped because we don’t know the best way to give, desiring that our gifts be used to their best possible use.  I know I’ve struggled with both.  I donated to a national organization that collects soap and sends it to third world nations, but then I learned that it costs more to collect, prepare, and ship the soap than it would cost to pay someone in the country to make it.  I have not substantiated this, but it made sense.  I decided then, to make my donations more local because it would be the most efficient use of my product.

 

I’ve read about a few other soapmakers traveling to countries to teach women to make soap and sincerely applaud them for their efforts to bring our craft to people who need it.  Some reach out to people in their own communities, as well.  Others donate money to the favorite charities.

 

What about you?  Do you agree or disagree with sending donations to national organizations?  How do you make a difference in your community or your world with your craft, whether it be soap, bath and body products or candles?  We’d love to know what you do.

 

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne

Handcrafted Soap: All Shapes and Sizes

Although we most commonly picture bar soap as a rectangle, we know that isn’t always true.  Besides being comfortable to grip, rectangular bars are common because they are also easy to make.  Fill the loaf mold and slice the soaps when they’re ready.  Stand them on their sides to cure and everybody’s happy.  Right?  Of course not; because despite the practicality of the rectangular bar, soapmakers aren’t limited to that and so they can and often do, make other shapes.  And even the rectangular bars vary in their dimensions, with soapers making a wide variety of heights, widths and depth of soap.

Consider round bars.  they are often used for shaving soaps since they can be dropped into a coffee mug.  A small minority of  soapers prefer the round bars or just make them for certain soaps just for something different.

Oval bars are well-liked because they too, fit in the hand well, but are less common because finding or fashioning a mold is a challenge.  Also, soapers are limited in the creative designs afforded them with loaf or slab molds.

We occasionally see square bars and it’s a bit surprising that we don’t see them more often often, since a mold for square soap would be as easy to make as one for rectangles.  This is true with either a loaf or a slab mold, which makes me wonder why this is the case.  Perhaps the soap is more awkward to use or it’s difficult to make the correct weight bar without making it too thick.

Finally, we have the soaps that are made in decorative molds.  Some soapers have difficulty getting their hard traced soap into such a mold without air pockets.  Others have  a hard time getting the soap out.  When it works, however, it yields beautiful, decorative soaps that friends and customers love.

With such a plethora of choices, it’s no wonder that soapmakers differ in their preferences.

What is your preference, and why?

 

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne

Saponifier

A Mold Obesssion

Some might consider soapmakers a weird bunch, especially when it comes to molds.  

 

Every container they come across is eyed as a potential mold. Nothing goes into the trash or recycling bin without consideration as to its suitability for soap. Indeed, every trip to the grocery store reveals potential.  Even goods for sale in home improvement stores and hardware stores are  fair game for holding soap. (“Hmm. . . I wonder if that mudding trough would be good for soap?”)  One might say we have a mold obsession.

 

I was especially guilty of this odd behavior when I was making melt and pour soap.  Every bit of packaging that came into my house, and sometimes even what I scrounged elsewhere, was a treasured mold–soda bottles (the bottoms look like flowers), cupcake packages with those lovely scalloped edges, and juice cans.  You name it, I used it.  Indeed, I tested the limits of packaging, being taught as as only experience can that rigid molds won’t release the soap and some plastic just won’t withstand the heat of hot melt and pour.

 

Of course, it’s important to remember certain principles before trying out unconventional molds.  When making melt and pour, remember that what goes into the mold must come out, so you need a plan for getting the hardened soap out or you’ll find yourself digging.  Additionally, the mold needs to stand up to the heat of melted soap.  With cold or hot process soap, it’s vital to remember that caustic soap will react to many metals, especially aluminum, so you need to be certain what kind of metal your mold is made of if you’re considering metal.  As with melt and pour, a plastic mold must be able to take the heat, especially if you put your soap in the oven to speed cure.

 

What unusual molds do you use or have you used?  I think we all have tales to tell about the strange or unique items we’ve used.  I’ve confessed mine, so now it’s your turn.

 

Incidentally, Pringle’s Chip cans and PVC pipe have become standard molds and don’t count!

 

Until next time, may your days be filled with bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne

Summer Musings

In my neck of the woods, summer weather is all but upon us.  No promises, but it’s possible we’ll have no more frosts until October.  The kids are getting antsy in anticipation of being out of school.  Neighbors start talking about their summer vacation plans. We roll out our favorite summer scents.

 

If you sell or make for yourself special scented items to celebrate summer, what are they?  Some like the fruits of summer–berries of many kinds, melons, tropical mangoes, papayas and pineapples.  Others like summer flowers such as roses, lilies, iris and sunflowers.  Still others think of grass, herbs and other “green” scents.  If that’s not enough, think of the rain and ocean types of fragrances that remind us of a soft summer rain or that camping trip we took  oceanside.  Oh, and don’t forgot other fanciful food scents such as toasted marshmallows, cotton candy and ice cream.

 

Makes me wonder how many people have bitten into a soap or candle, hoping it was something more tasty!

 

If not special summer scents, then perhaps you offer products for summer use, such as after-sun lotion or an extra light moisturizer.

 

Candlemakers, do you find that as temperatures soar, sales drop?  If so, do you notice that offering special summer scents or products appeals to your customers’ summer frame of mind so that you can keep those sales up?

 

I confess that for myself, lighting a candle seems less inviting on a hot, humid evening than it did on a cold one in January.  Still, for an outdoor evening soiree, I could be convinced to burn a tabletop full of them.

 

No matter how you look at it, the dog days of summer will soon be calling.  Will you be ready?

 

Until next time, may you be happily entrenched in bubbles and wax.

 

Beth Byrne

 

 

You Are the Soap Master!

I’ve been checking out hundreds of photos of soap recently and I’ve been so impressed with the artistry that has been displayed by my fellow soapmakers.

 

I thought back to the days when I first began reading about making soap.  Not only were pictures harder to come by, but soapmakers just were not doing as much with their soaps.  Yes, they were adding color, spices, herbs, and scent, but not the lovely designs I’m seeing now.

 

Also, the first design, it seems to me, was the swirl and we saw lots of one color swirls out there.  Shortly thereafter, we began seeing multi-color swirls.  It didn’t take long for even more ideas for beautiful designs to be employed.  We began seeing soaps that looked like desserts, layers, brand new types of swirls, and so on.  I like to think that the Saponifier, among other sources, assisted soapmakers in inspiring one another to kick things up a notch.  What I see now is nothing less than astounding!

 

And yet, a handcrafted bar of soap is beauty in its own right, whether it’s a plain castile bar or a more primitive looking bar.

 

I know that some soapmakers feel frustrated at not accomplishing a design that is as beautiful or as artistic as that of another soapmaker’s.  That feeling is unnecessary, however, because creating a good quality bar of soap is the goal.  Further work to make it even more visually appealing is simply icing on the cake.

 

That is not to say we shouldn’t be challenged to try new techniques or to create our own, only that we shouldn’t lose sight of what is truly important, a good soap.  If you’ve gotten to that point, you are already a master.

 

Therefore, now that you are a master, forge your own path.  Do you find swirling hard to do well?  Try something else!  Let your imagination wander and free yourself to experiment.  You might come up with the next new trend!  And even if you don’t, know that the fact that you make great soap is enough.

 

Until next time, keep yourselves in bubbles and wax!

 

Beth Byrne

 

 

How do You Prefer Your Education?

Education.  Do you think of stuffy classrooms where you struggled to stay awake, or was your experience a positive one of engaging discussion and good test results?  Do you prefer a formal or an informal mode of education?  And why am I talking about education at all on the Saponifier blog?

 

If you hadn’t noticed, the new issue is all about education, in particular, educating ourselves about soapmaking, candlemaking, and related topics–herbs, chemistry, art and design, and so on.  If we sell product, we can throw in accounting and marketing.  Fortunately, we can continue educating ourselves, whether we physically go back to school, we learn online, or we learn  informally through books and other research.

 

Tamara Dourney filled us in on some exciting methods of formal education, by way of online learning in her article, Open Source Scientist.  If your opinion of this modern way of being educated is negative, think again.  Many opportunities for study at recognized institutions are available, and they continue to evolve and develop, making it easier for artisans to increase their knowledge of subjects important to their crafts.  Tamara also wrote about various potential career paths that are related to our crafts in,  Career Day:  Five Options for Continuing Education.

 

If you prefer doing your own research on a specific topic, Erica Pence’s, Natural Resources and her second article, Candle Resources, both filled with good books for learning soap and candle making, essential oils, herbs, botanicals and other body care products.  Your knowledge base is sure to greatly increase by studying them.

 

If you find yourself wishing to take a class, be sure to read Marla Bosworth’s, 10 Tips for Selecting the Right Soap and Skincare Classes to Match Your Needs.  Heeding her comments may mean the difference between a wonderful class you’ll think was worth every penny and one that was a waste of time and money.

 

In this issue, you’ll even find an educational herb monograph on the lovely Glacier Lily, more commonly called, Dog-Toothed Violet or Trout Lily in my neck of the woods.  I had no idea of the food and medicinal uses for this early spring treasure!

 

Whether you are a staunch believer in conventional education and desire to pursue a degree or you are looking for something less formal, but no less educational, you’ll find ideas in the above articles.  Tell us how YOU like to learn.

 

Until next time,

Happy bubbles & wax adventures.

Beth Byrne

Soapmakers Love Oils!

We soapmakers love our oils, do we not?

 

 

Many of us like to try a wide variety of oils and become connoisseurs, learning the color, viscosity, and nutrients found in each of them.  Those of us who make other bath and body products, even more so.  We want the best oils for a balanced bar of soap, for the perfect consistency of lotion, for massage, and a host of other products.  They are, indeed, a mainstay of our businesses or hobbies.

 

One of my favorite oils for soap and for other body products is sunflower seed oil.  When we visited my city’s farmers’ market this summer, I gazed lovingly at the bottles of golden liquid sunshine offered there and had an interesting discussion with the vendors about how nice it was for soapmaking, as well as for cooking.

 

Why do I like it so much?  One reason is because it has a nice skin feel, being light and not too greasy.   It contains tocopherols, vitamin B, and trace minerals.  Sunflower oil is a beautiful color and creates an almost-white soap used alone.  The imagery of fields of golden sunflowers lifting their face up to the sun is warm and inviting, and cheerful, at the same time.  What’s not to like?  The fact that it is readily available and cost-effective helps, as well.

 

What about you?  Tell us about one of your favorite oils.

Dealing with the Public: How do You do it?

Dealing with the public, any of us selling soap, body products, or candles do it.

 

We all get comments about our products that are inaccurate or even rude.

 

 “That lye soap will take your hide off!”

 

 “I’m not going to pay for that when I can get the same thing at the store for a dollar.”

 

“That (insert ingredient) is junk/disgusting/unhealthy.”

 

“I can make that for half the price.”

 

Other times, you may be asked, “How do you make that?  Where do you get your supplies?”

 

I can see you shaking your heads now.  You’ve heard it all.

 

On a more positive note, you may be asked, “What makes your product better than what I can buy at the store?

 

Admittedly, it can be a challenge.  Situations arise that we are unprepared for, leaving us groping for replies.  If you’re like me, you don’t always feel that you’ve dealt with their comments or questions well.

 

 

What can we do?  Lashing out at the customer or running into a corner to cry is not a positive response, no matter how tempting.  However, thinking about the questions ahead of time and preparing yourself with answers is key to diffusing  tense situations as is adequately explaining your product so that your customer understands how special your goods are and how fortunate the public is to have access to them.

 

I welcome shoppers asking what makes my products worth the money I charge because it’s a perfect opportunity to explain the ingredients and the process I use, and also the care I take in creating my goods, often convincing a skeptic that she wants to purchase what I have to offer.

 

The rest is a little more difficult, but if we’re in the trenches with the public, we must learn how to deal with comments and questions with grace and tact, perhaps even a bit of humor.

 

What do you say to rude comments that degrade your product?  I’ll get us started.  To, those who claim “lye soap” is harsh, I counter that it often was true in the past, but today, you’ll find soap to be a very gentle cleaner in comparison.  I then hand them a sample to prove my point.  I haven’t actually found that to sell soap to this group, but if I can get a few people here and there to understand the difference between old-fashioned soap and modern soap, we’ve all gained.

 

Your turn.  Choose any of the above questions and comments and tell us how you reply.  Let’s help each other!

Artist or Artisan, Which are You?

What kind of soapmaker or chandler do you consider yourself?

 

Are you an artist, creating and offering soaps and/or candles that are intricate and beautiful pieces of art that customers are more likely to admire on a shelf than to use?  Or, are you a pragmatic artisan, offering to-be-used, but plainer soaps or votives and tealights?

 

At first, I made melt and pour soap and loved coming up with new ideas for making beautiful soaps.  People purchased them as gifts or to display in their bathrooms, for the most part.  Later, I learned CP soapmaking but still wanted to make artistic soaps.  In talking with a fellow soapmaker, however, she offered her observation that plainer soaps sold better.  The purchaser was more likely to use them and come back for more, not to mention the fact that they took less time to make so there was more profit to be made.  Since I was having trouble mastering the swirl, I quickly decided the plainer but more profitable, artisan route was for me.  I did miss the fancy m&p soaps and decided to make them in a few seasonal soaps if I got around to it, and I’m still working on my swirls and other techniques that challenge my creative side, but that is no longer my focus.  Part of me wants to do more, but the business side tells me to concentrate on my main product.

 

I am not a chandler, but have seen others’ work, and the artistic vs. artisan influence is certainly at work there.  I admire the candles that look like sumptuous desserts, for instance, but are unlikely to be burned, and I also admire a nicely made candle in a tin or a votive that burns well and makes the room smell pleasant.

 

One is not intrinsically superior to the other; it’s more of a preference, a market, and what one finds fulfilling, but just in case it’s not clear, here is how I separate artistic from artisan:

 

Artistic:  not the basic bar or candle; features colors, swirls, shapes, and other visual appeal designed to delight the eyes.

 Artisan:  more of the basic geometric bar or candle.  Although visually appealing, not designed for artistic market.  Designed for everyday use, instead.  Focus is on the performance of the product.

 

Of course, both are artisans.  Neither one is intrinsically superior to the other; it’s a preference, a market, or what one finds personally  fulfilling.

 

So, here’s my question:  what do you do?  Do you strongly prefer artistic soap and/or candle making or are you an artisan?  Perhaps you’ve combined the two?

 

  Until next time, happy suds and wax!

 

Beth Byrne

Silly Season Suggestions

Silly Season is nearly upon us.  You’re either shaking your head up and down in the affirmative, or saying, “Huh?”

 

Let me explain.  Silly Season refers to the flurry of activity involved in selling your products to holiday buyers.  Most of them are shopping for Christmas, but also for Hanukkah or Kwanzaa–did I miss any holidays?

If this applies to you, I am guessing that you’ve already taken stock of what you want to produce and what you’ll need to purchase to produce it.  If you’re really on the ball, you’ve purchased your supplies already and are working hard to shore up your stock to make it through that crazy time between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Ideally, I like to make my  soap in the summer and then everything else–lotions, body butter, etc.,  in October.  I make m&p soap in seasonal molds and scents.

What about you?  Do you plan well ahead or do  you find yourself perennially rushing to keep up?  How do you decide what to make and how much?  Share your secrets with us!  We can learn much from each other.  And if you don’t sell, the same principles probably apply to your hobby and holiday giving, so don’t think you’re off the hook.  Tell us how you plan ahead and prepare for a more controlled holiday season.

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