Monthly Archives: October 2010

So Ends Soap-Week

Almond Oatcake Bars

It looks like it should be eaten, doesn’t it?  It smells like it should be eaten too.  This Almond Oatcake soap is my absolute favorite scent ever.  I had a bar of soap given to me about 20 years ago that smelled like this and I never forgot it.  After years of searching and experimenting, I finally have what I remember.  Sweet and warm, enriched with Colloidal Oatmeal for dry, itchy skin and Shea Butter for its skin-loving properties, this bar is a must-have for our dry winter months.

I simply couldn’t develop a soap line without Lavender in it.  Lavender is like the Goddess of soap scents.  While we may tinker around experimenting with other fragrances, Lavender is always there.  Reliable and constant, the earthiness of Lavender can calm and soothe away the stress of my most crazy day.  I’ve added Sweet Orange for a bright counter-note to the Lavender’s depth and love how this scent can lift my mood and make me feel like it’s a brand-new day.

Lavender Sunrise Bars

So ends Soap Week here at Just Make a Mess.  My house could not smell more heavenly and my hands are as soft as they can get after playing with all of those emollient-rich oils all week.  Other things are calling me, other messes are waiting to be made.  What shall it be next?  Earrings….Bath Bombs….Tub Truffles…..that unfinished painting in my studio?   Decisions decisions…….

Dare to be Decadent

We ended up having to go out of town today, which meant that I didn’t get the last batches of soap I made cut or photographed.  Soap Week here at Just Make a Mess has been a total blast, even though it ground my jewelery-building to a halt.  Had to be done though.  Soap HAS to cure.

Curing soap does a couple of things.  It ensures that all of the lye in the soap has been completely saponified; that is, rendered harmless and non-caustic by converting fat to soap.  Properly cured soap is much milder than fresh soap, as well.  No one wants sandpaper-skin.  Lastly, curing allows some of the water used in the soapmaking process to evaporate, making the bar harder and longer-lasting.

Once it’s ready for sale, though, it’s going to need a name.  And packaging.  Branding is integral in marketing and I wanted something unique that really represented how flat-out DECADENT these products are.  If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll already know I’m on a Swirly kick these days.  Swirls make me happy.  They’re pretty and whimsical but also, for me, they represent “Flow”.  Flow as in a melody line.  As in life.  As in art.  As in the creative process in general.  Getting things to flow is really what most of us strive for.  We’re looking to eliminate bumps, have things roll smoothly along, and sometimes to make things just a little prettier.

© Jan Mac 2010

I’m also into symmetry.  Black Swan Bodyworks is symmetrical.  BSB.  Swans are elegant and posh.  Black swans are unique;  unique makes me happy too.  If we were all the same life would be so incredibly boring.  This swan’s swirly and it flows.  It’s black and white; basic and sophisticated.  It’s all good.

Now…..Truth or Dare?  When it comes to your bath-time, do you reeeeally want to smell like an Irish countryside or a deodorant?  Do you reeeally want to grab just whatever’s handy, whatever your children or dear hubby have left behind, soaking in a puddle of water until it’s all gooey and pulls off the soapdish like hot mozzarella cheese?  Or do you want something chock-full of yumminess?  Something that makes you slightly delirious because you’re inhaling the scent so deeply?  Something just for YOU.  Something so Decadently Good you stash it away so the kiddies don’t *gasp!* use it to wash the dog?!?  Now tell the truth…..I Dare Ya.

Starry Starry Night

A starry night is going to smell different to everyone.  Now I know some of you, those of you who are all about details, are sitting there saying “A starry night, per se, doesn’t have a smell”.  Relax.  Open up.  Let a little romance into your life.

To some, the phrase Starry Night will make them think of walking along a deserted beach, their hand enfolded in the warm grip of a loved one.  To others, it will smell of burning leaves, autumn air, and moist compost.  Yet others will feel fresh snow going chunk-whump-chuck-wup beneath booted feet as a snowflake settles on their tongue.

For me, Starry Night means all of those things.  But underneath any of those first impressions, the feeling swirling beneath those seasonal top-notes is evoked by THIS scent.   It’s crispity, it’s crunchity, silky and smooth all at once.  It’s fresh yet warm, subtle yet present.

I know.  It looks like a cake.  More specifically, it looks like my Mom’s Lemon Loaf Cake with Cream Cheese Icing.  Do not eat this…it will traumatize you to the point where you’ll be too frightened to try Lemon Loaf Cake ever again.  And that would be a wholesale tragedy.

It also looks pretty basic.  No sprinkly bits.  No colour.  Nothing outrageous at all.  But trust me.  There is nothing, and I do mean nothing, basic about this bar.

This bar is enriched with both Shea Butter and Meadowfoam Oil.  Shea, or Karite Butter is a nut-butter that absorbs quickly into the skin without feeling greasy.  It’s positively the most luxurious butter I’ve ever found.  My skin loves this stuff.  Remember I talked about superfatting soap?  Shea butter is unique in that it’s a fat that simply cannot be completely converted into soap by the saponification (soaping) process, leaving it present to do good things for your skin.  Meadowfoam oil is an extremely stable oil that has skin-soothing and softening properties that does more for making me feel moisturized fresh out of the shower than any other oil.

You’ll be able to bathe under this Starry Starry Night soon.  Who knows?  It might even lead to a little romance.


The absolute yumminess of handmade soap is difficult to convey through words and pictures.  I’m going to give it my best shot though.

The first thing is the way that it feels.  When soap first comes out of the mold, it has a silky, wet-dry, almost-oiliness to it.  It feels slick and semi-solid.  It really is semi-solid in that I cure my soaps 4 to 6 weeks before using them.  The processing method I use ensures that the lye has been converted within 24 hours, but curing them hardens the bars, which makes them last much longer.  There’s nothing more disappointing than buying a fabulous bar of  bathtime indulgence and having it melt away in a week.  That being said, soap dishes that raise the soap rather than letting it sit in water are your friend.  Soap that can dry out between uses lasts much, much longer.

Then there’s how it looks.  Handmade soap lends itself to the creative process.  There are myriad ways to mold and finish your soap.  You can sprinkle bits on it, like I did here.  Those are Calendula petals.  You can stir goodies in, like I did here as well….more Calendula.  Some soaps naturally come out different colours due to their ingredients.  Beeswax or honey, for example, turn batches of bars a lovely golden colour.  Almost anything can be used as a mold, and I’ve seen tons of creatively molded soap.  I have these great loaf molds my sweet hubby made for me.  I prefer them because I have control over the size of the bars.

Finally, there’s how it SMELLS.   Palmarosa, Sweet Fennel, Lavender, Clary Sage, Plumeria…..the possibilities are endless.  Essential oils alone or blended to create original Scent Blends are heady and seem to saturate your very soul with their essence.  Fragrance oils offer blends that can mimic familiar and much-loved favorites.  Either way, natural or synthetic, there’s something downright mystical about letting an aroma carry you away…to another place, another time, or maybe someplace that feels just plain great.

These yummy Calerosa Bars will be available soon.  When they’re ready.  They’ll tell me when it’s time.  It’s a soap-thing.

All in a Lather

What is it about handmade soap?  For me, it’s part of a lifestyle thing that’s been happening in the last few months.  I’m tired of uber-manufactured stuff.  I don’t want to buy art that’s cheap reproductions of masterpieces.  I want art by artists I have actually had  conversations with.  I don’t want to pay almost 5 bucks a loaf for bread that’s full of preservatives and other unnecessary ingredients.  I want the bread that my Mom taught me to make that infuses my house with an aroma that’s nothing short of heavenly.  I don’t want bars of soap that are mostly detergent and are full of chemicals…I want the real deal.  I want soap.

I could, of course, buy it at the market, but where’s the fun in that?  Besides, that just wouldn’t be ME. The mad scientist in me demands that I make it.  It’s a melting thing; I’m obsessed with melting things.  I melt things simply because I CAN.  It started with candles but has ended with me sitting with a torch in my hand melting silver, and gold, and copper, oh my!  Soap is somewhere in the middle of all of that.

One of the steps in soapmaking is melting the solid fats to mix with the lye.  Even as I lop off chunks of coconut oil, palm oil, shea butter or mango butter, they begin to melt on my hands, threatening to shoot off in undesirable directions.  The instinct to wipe my hands on a towel is replaced by the instinct to massage the oils into my skin.  And that’s the whole point to handmade soap…those lovely oils.  Did you know that?

I get a lot of people, including my dad (who first taught me about the process of soapmaking), wondering why on earth I would spend my free time making …wait for it… Lye Soap!!??!!  My dad was always threatening my mom with rendering down the fat from the year’s Moose hunt and making soap with it.  This absolutely scandalized my Mom.  Mom was raised during the depression and remembers “lye soap”.  She hated it.  It says poverty and want and deprivation to her.  She remembers it as being harsh and smelling of rancid fat. After all, they made it out of whatever was no longer good enough to eat.

The reality is that you cannot have soap without lye.  Yup…it’s true.  If you have a bar of soap in your shower, no matter what you paid for it or where you bought it, it was made with lye.  The lye is what interacts in a semi-miraculous chemical reaction with fat and becomes soap.  Homemade soap is also chock-full of glycerin.  You can buy glycerin at the pharmacy and add it to your bath for a moisturizing soak.  It’s ironic that glycerin is what commercially- made soap almost always has had removed.  So they can sell it separately.  So you can add it to your bath for moisturizing.  Am I the only one who doesn’t see the sense in this?

By making my own soap, I control what kinds of fats are used, what fragrances are added, and the quality of all the ingredients.  Soaps made with luscious shea butter, mango butter, avocado oil, jojoba, aloe…..yummmm.  Ylang Ylang and Plumeria essential oils.  *swoon* The list goes on and on.  I also control the ratios of these ingredients and can superfat my soap.  Superfatting at McD’s is bad….superfatting soap is GOOD.  It basically means I can use a little less lye than is required to convert all of the oils to soap, which leaves a percentage of those lovely oils free to moisturize whatever the soap touches. Namely, me.

Good-quality homemade soap is one of life’s little luxuries.  It can fit into almost any budget without great sacrifice elsewhere and the payoff is pure bliss.  A scent-laden, foamy, frothy, slippery bath that can leave you feeling like you deserve….The Empress Divine of All That You Survey.  Or at the very least you’ll be clean and spiffy-smelling.  Which is better than the alternative.