This month we head to the Cotswolds to learn how to make soap with Emma Heathcote-James, founder of The Little Soap Company (listed in our directory here). As well as selling her own range of natural, handmade soaps, Emma enjoys sharing her knowledge of this satisfying craft by offering workshops. Join us as we join her soap-making workshop to create our own natural handmade bars, using natural ingredients and traditional cold pressing
On my arrival at Honeybourne station, Emma arrives beaming and whisks me off to her lovely Cotswold stone cottage just five minutes from the station. I already know and love the soaps she makes and sells with The Little Soap Company.
After a cup of tea and a homemade lavender cupcake in front of the Aga we head off to the workshop behind the cottage to learn how to make soap. This is where Emma explains that making soap is really no different to cooking.
She hands me the how to make soap course pack containing her beginner’s soap making recipe and promises that we’ll have lots of fun…
After a bit of theory Emma wants to get straight in and get our hands dirty. Our first step is to prepare the mould for our soap by lining a plastic container with greaseproof paper so that the soap will come out easily when set.
How to make soap – step by step
step 1: melting the base
Next we measure out the solid oils that form the base of the soap. We used sustainably sourced palm oil, coconut and olive oil. Next, place them in a saucepan on a low heat until they melt. Use a glass thermometer to check for a temperature of around 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
step 2: preparing the lye
Next step is to prepare a mixture called ‘lye’, which we will blend with the oils to create the saponification process. This is what turns the mixture into soap. Slightly scary, as it involves using sodium hydroxide which is very caustic and must be used with care.
After donning protective goggles and gloves, we carefully measure out the sodium hydroxide crystals. We mix them into a pan of cold water until they have completely dissolved. We do this out in the garden to avoid breathing in any fumes. On contact with the water, you need to know that the lye heats up very quickly. 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.
Step 3: achieving ‘trace’
Next we use a handheld blender to stir the mixture at a brisker pace. This is in order to reach the consistency known as ‘trace’. Trace is achieved when the mixture becomes thick like custard. You know you have trace when a lifted spoon 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.
Batch 1: Lavender, grapefruit, calendula and poppy soap
For our first soap batch, we decide to add lavender and grapefruit essential oils for fragrance. We add sunflower oil as a nutrient, some dried calendula petals and a sprinkling of poppy seeds for exfoliation.
Once the natural additives had been gently stirred in, the soap is poured into its greaseproof paper lined mould. The soap must then be covered and insulated with a towel for up to 24 hours. This is so it can continue to saponify. The curing soap will 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.
Having learned how to make our first batch of soap, we head off to the village pub for lunch. Sausages and mash and a glass of red wine definitely helped to get the creative juices flowing. Now that I’ve mastered the basic soap making echnique, Emma lets me loose in the studio to try out some different fragrance and ingredient combinations for myself!
Batch 2: lavender, orange, oats and apricot kernel oil soap
For my first solo batch I decide 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.
Batch 3: pink clay, rose geranium and rose petal soap
Now I am really having fun and there is still time left for one last batch. This time I add a teaspoon of pink clay powder to the mixture to give it some colour. I also add 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!
The soft soaps look so beautiful in their paper-lined moulds waiting to set…
By now it’s almost time to catch my train, and I head back home laden with all that I’d made. The heady fragrance of lavender and rose waft behind me all the way. I’d had the most fun, creative day. And I couldn’t wait to take my soaps out of their moulds the following day. I was itching tocut them into bars of the finished soap.
The next day I am delighted to see that the warm gloopy mixture in a tupperware box, had overnight turned into something resembling a real block of soap. As I took the lid off, a wonderful fragrance fills the room.
Using a kitchen knife, I carefully slice the large blocks into smaller bars. I can’t help marvelling at how something so pretty could be made from a few ingredients and a chemical reaction. Now 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!
Whether you’re a novice or planning a career change, this workshop is a fun, creative and very entertaining day out. Emma is always on hand with useful tips and advice. You’ll leave with a full set of instructions on how to make soap at home. That way you can experiment with different fragrance and ingredient combinations at home.
Friends and family watch out, you may be receiving soaps from me for a very long time to come
Get all the info you need to connect with The Little Soap Company from the listing >>
Emma offers a variety of one-to-one, couple and small group soap making courses from her workshop. She also offers a more in depth course for people who are thinking about setting up their own soap business. You can also buy soaps online.
Feeling inspired? Take a look at the Creative Workshops category in our Directory, where you’ll find a variety of inspiring courses, from art and crafts to fashion and beauty, interiors, cooking and flower & gardening.
If you run a creative course that would interest our readers, please get in touch. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org