Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lavender Soap This Time

Four years ago, I made soap.  It was good soap and not as difficult as I thought it would be.  So I accumulated more fat in the freezer and finally, just before back-to-back vacations and in the middle of summer canning, I became obsessed with making soap.  I briefly argued with myself about the timing, but the heart wants what the heart wants.  

Because I had waited four years, I had to study up on soapmaking all over again. The most helpful instructions came from an article by Amber Moss Ek in the Song issue of Taproot.  

The recipe I used came from a library book whose name I have purged from my memory because it recommended adding water to the lye which is dangerously, explosively wrong (I corrected the book in pen in the margin, but still).  Here's a useful mnemonic for this part of soapmaking:  snow falls softly on the pond (slowly add lye to water, never never never the other way around).  

I had to wait a while for the lye solution to cool down, so I snapped some other photos, too.

The big kids were strictly warned away from the soap-making area and the baby was napping.  I myself made sure to wear glasses, gloves, and old clothes.  All went well, especially the part where I explained to the big kids what a chemical burn would do to their skin if they got too close to the lye.

The fat that I had collected was mostly tallow, but also some random globs from other meat.  I found instructions from Esther Shank in Mennonite Country-Style on how to clean fat that has cooking contaminents in it that may prevent the soap from setting properly.  I added the fat to an equivalent amount of water in a large pot and boiled them together for about 10 minutes.  Then I cooled the mixture, refrigerated it, and scooped the cleaned, hardened fat off the top of the "dirty" liquid on the bottom.  It must have worked, because my soap set up beautifully.

I tried using a plastic tub as a soap mold; unfortunately, I broke it in the process of getting the cake of soap out.  I will do more research about soap molds before I make more soap.  

Nineteenth-Century Soap
22 oz. tallow
15 oz. olive oil
14 oz. lard
7 oz. lye
22.5 oz. water
1/4 cup dried lavender flowers

I added the lavendar per Amber Moss Ek's instructions.  I ground up the lavender in my spice grinder, an old coffee grinder set aside for non-coffee jobs. After the soap had thickened ("achieved trace"), I stirred in the powdered lavender.  I had more lavender flowers than I needed, so I made some sachets on the spot.  

And now the soap will cure for 6 weeks in the top shelf of Phoebe's closet.  I'm excited to try it out! 


  1. I still haven't got round to making soap though I've meant to for years. I'd like to make some fairly soon so it's ready for Christmas presents- must move it to the top of my to-do list. I already have the lye and I can get tallow- I do like the idea of 19th century soap.

  2. My grandma, Myra Lehman, made soap in a cardboard box and then peeled it away when set. I enjoy your posts so much.

  3. My grandma, Myra Lehman, made soap in a cardboard box and then peeled it away when set. I enjoy your posts so much.

  4. Judith, thanks! Did your grandma line the box with something? I think I will try freezer paper in a cardboard box next time.

    1. I don't think she did. The cardboard got kind of wet and peeled off easily, but this is a memory from 50 years ago.

  5. I'm so impressed! It's lovely. (And I love the picture of G twirling in the yard.)

  6. Very good. I am quite impressed. I am a soap maker, but only olive-based. I've used freezer paper and saran wrap to line tofu containers and yogurt tubs, etc. for soap molds. That helped lift it out. I should think freezer paper would work well. I also have some silicone cupcake liners which I bought specifically for the purpose of molds, but the bars are too small for my liking, so I am back to the tubs and paper. I was recently inspired by an area soap maker to start adding ground oatmeal to my bars, but haven't needed to replenish the stock yet. Soon though.

    I adore that skirt G has on! Oh, my! The flowy, twirl!

    I smiled broadly at the idea of you correcting a library book. You are right though. That is just bad advice.

  7. BLD, I'm sure you know I have the utmost respect for library books and would never deface them except in emergencies :)

    Also, I didn't realize you were a soapmaker! Thanks for sharing your experience. I want to hear how the ground oatmeal works out, too.

  8. A milk carton works wonderfully as a soap mold. Have fun with your soap making adventures! Love your blog. Sarah G

  9. A friend has used Pringles cans as a mold as it can be peeled off and then sliced into round discs of soap. I took a soap making class and am now the proud owner of a wooden mold. It is very simple and could easily be made at home. You line with plastic wrap before pouring in the soap, then use to pull out after about 24 hours and slice and cure. I do have a question though. Did you use the fats listed in the recipe? Using the fat you cooked out as the tallow portion? Or did you use your fats for the three that are listed? And last, when we made soap we used many different things including the oatmeal, dried sage leaves that were ground, lavender and such. Also used essential oils to scent some of them. I'm a complete beginner, but it is such a rewarding skill to have!

  10. Heather, the fat I collected over several years was mostly tallow, so I used it as the tallow in the recipe. I did use the lard and olive oil as listed.

    Thanks for the details on molds!

  11. As always, I am in awe of your dedication and energy to get done the things many of us only wistfully think about. Your soap looks beautiful. I've read about using small yogurt tubs as molds, but that's all I can add! I think that was from the Down to Earth website here: If you haven't already discovered this site, you might like it. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe I discovered her site through yours ...?

  12. Oh, and I absolutely adore G's frilly sheet-dress! It's beautiful!

  13. I tried my hand this spring at making soap for the first time, using raw milk. I think it turned out "ok", but I didn't add anything to it, so it's rather "blah". My dad made me some wooden molds...I think they were 3.5" x 3.5" x 8". I lined them with parchment paper before pouring in the soap, and then it lifted right out when it was ready. It made it easy for slicing into bars.

  14. I have never dreamed about making soap...until today. ;)

  15. Alica, I didn't add anything to my first batch but I kind of liked it plain. I'm curious to try to a milk soap - do you use the milk instead of water, or more like an additive with the fat?
    Thanks for the info on the soap molds - glad to know I can use parchment as a liner because that's something I do keep on hand.

  16. Soap making is next on my list, but I'll confess to being a tiny bit intimidated by the process. I'm thinking of taking a class the first time, so that I can watch the whole thing and take notes. I'm impressed with your bounty of soap!

    What do you wrap it in or store it in during the years between making a new batch? Paper?

  17. e, I just pile the bars in an basket that sits on a closet shelf. I believe that soap needs time and air to harden - I blogged it h


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