Learn how to make natural handmade soap

This month we headed to the Cotswolds to meet Emma Heathcote-James, founder of The Little Soap Company. As well as selling her handmade soaps, Emma enjoys sharing her knowledge of this satisfying craft by offering workshops on how to make traditional cold-processed soap using a variety of natural ingredients.


On my arrival at Honeybourne station, Emma arrived beaming and whisked me off to her lovely Cotswold stone cottage just five minutes from the station. After a cup of tea and a homemade lavender cupcake in front of the Aga (and lots of love from her friendly black labrador and Doris the kitten) we headed off to the workshop behind the cottage, where Emma explained that making soap is really no different to cooking.


She handed me the course pack containing her beginner’s soapmaking recipe and promised that we’d have lots of fun…

After a bit of theory Emma wanted to get straight in and get our hands dirty… Our first step was to prepare the mould for our soap by lining a plastic container with greaseproof paper so that the soap would come out easily when set.


Next we measured out the solid oils that form the base of the soap (sustainably sourced palm oil, coconut and olive oil) according to Emma’s recipe, and placed them in a saucepan on a low heat until they melted. A glass thermometer was used to check for a temperature of around 110 degrees Fahrenheit.

Soapmaking Course

Next step was to prepare a mixture called ‘lye’, which we would blend with the oils to create the saponification process which turns it into soap. This is the slightly scary bit as it involves using sodium hydroxide which is very caustic and must be used with care.

After donning protective goggles and gloves, we carefully measured out the sodium hydroxide crystals and mixed them into a pan of cold water until they had completely dissolved. We did this out in the garden to avoid breathing in any fumes. On contact with the water, the lye heats up very quickly and the aim is to get it to the same temperature as the melted oils in our other pan. When both the oil and the lye have reached around 110 degrees, the lye is carefully poured into the pan of melted oil, and stirred until the mixture gradually starts to thicken.

Soap Making Course

Next we used a handheld blender to stir the mixture at a brisker pace in order to reach the consistency known as ‘trace’. Trace is achieved when the mixture becomes thick like custard so that when a spoon is lifted it leaves a thin trail on the surface. Once trace has been achieved it’s time for the fun to start – adding fragrance oils and other ingredients such a nutrients, grains, clays or herbs.

For our first soap batch, we decided to add lavender and grapefruit essential oils for fragrance, sunflower oil as a nutrient, some dried calendula petals and a sprinkling of poppy seeds for exfoliation.

Soap Making Course

Once the natural additives had been gently stirred in, the soap was poured into its greaseproof paper lined mould. The soap must then be covered and insulated with a towel for up to 24 hours, whilst it continues to saponify and generate heat during this essential incubation period.

After 18-24 hours the soap can be removed from the mould and cut into bars. Then it needs to be left in a cool dry place to cure for a minimum of 4 weeks. After curing the soap will have hardened considerably and will be ready to use, or to wrap and give as a gift.

Soap Making Course

Having successfully created our first batch of soap, we headed off to the village pub to enjoy a delicious lunch of sausages and mash and a glass of red wine to get the creative juices flowing. Now that I’d mastered the basic technique, Emma would be letting me loose in the studio to try out some different fragrance and ingredient combinations for myself!

For my first solo batch I decided to add apricot kernel oil as the nutrient, a blend of lavender and orange essential oils for fragrance, some oats for texture, and to finish off with a sprinkling of dried lavender on the top.

Soap Making Course

Now I was really having fun and there was still time left for one last batch. This time I added a teaspoon of pink clay powder to the mixture to give it some colour, castor oil as the nutrient, rose geranium essential oil for fragrance, poppy seeds for texture, and a sprinkling of dried rose petals on top for my decadent finale!

Soap Making Course

The soft soaps looked so beautiful in their paper-lined moulds waiting to set…


By now it was almost time to catch my train, and armed with my fragrant creations I bade Emma a fond farewell and headed back home with the heady fragrance of lavender and rose wafting behind me all the way. It had been such a fun and creative day and I couldn’t wait to take my soaps out of their moulds the following day and cut them into bars.

Soap Making Course

The next day I was delighted to see that what had previously been a warm gloopy mixture in a tupperware box, had overnight turned into something resembling a real block of soap, with a wonderful fragrance that filled the room.

Using a kitchen knife, I carefully sliced the large blocks into smaller bars and marvelled at how something so pretty could be made from a few basic ingredients and a chemical reaction. Now that my soaps have been put away to cure for the requisite four weeks, I can’t wait to get them out again and actually start using them!

Soap Making Course

Whether you’re a complete novice or planning a career change, this fascinating workshop is a fun, creative and very entertaining day out. Emma is always on hand with useful tips and advice, and you’ll leave with a full set of instructions on how to make your own soaps at home, so you can experiment with different fragrance and ingredient combinations.

All I can say is friends and family watch out, you may be receiving soaps from me for a very long time to come…



Emma offers a variety of one-to-one, couple and small group soapmaking courses from her workshop in the Cotswolds, depending on the experience and requirements of the student. She also offers a more in depth course for people who are thinking about setting up their own soapmaking business and those wanting to experiment with creams and balms. Find out more about soapmaking workshops and buy handmade soaps online at The Little Soap Company’s website.


Recommended Reading:

Find out more about handmade soap-making techniques with these inspiring books:

Make Your Own Soap: A Step-by-Step Photographic Guide by Joy James

Make Your Own Soap Book

The Handmade Soap Book by Melinda Coss

The Handmade Soap Book

Making Handmade Soap: A Practical Guide by Tatyana Hill

Making Handmade Soap Book


Feeling inspired? Take a look at the Creative Courses category in our Directory, where you’ll find a variety of inspiring on courses, from crafts to fashioninteriorscooking and gardening.

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