What’s with all the numbers?

I’ll be honest about this: I got into soapmaking for myself initially, to have options that didn’t cause an allergic reaction.  Selling my soap was almost an accident.  I was having so much fun experimenting with new recipes, new components, and new materials, that the bars were piling up faster than I would ever be able to use them.  I began by giving them away to all my friends, in what they all now refer to as “the year of soap at every birthday and holiday” (they say that, of course, and then all of them ask what I’m working on currently and when they might be able to try a sample… 😉 )

And even though I’ve started up the Etsy site, most of my selling happens in person, where I can talk about the process and the values I rely on to guide how I source my materials and plan what to try next.  I love being able to meet people at a fair or a farmer’s market to share what I’ve learned and answer the questions that people have.

You might be surprised at the question I get most often!  (Hint: it’s up there at the top of the post!)

It comes in many forms and varieties, and it isn’t always the first question people ask, but invariably I get it from all manner of folks: customers, market organizers, other vendors, even the guy who came in to service the water heater.

“So, what’s with the numbers on the labels?”

The three basic lines: 1630, 1842 and 1872

The three basic lines: 1630, 1842 and 1872

I’m so glad you asked!

When I first started out testing my own soap recipes, I had to come up with an easy way to differentiate them based on their contents.  I knew from experience that some oils were not an option for me because of allergies, but there were others I definitely wanted to try, and I needed an easy way to track all the mixtures, a way that included a convenient shorthand to refer to them, making it easier to write on a post-it note or in a spreadsheet.  Perhaps because of my love for local history, the idea of using dates just seemed natural to me, so I assigned the dates based on how simple or advanced the recipe was.

Over time, I tested each batch and weeded a fair few out: either because they caused a reaction or because the final result didn’t live up to my hopes and expectations.  Eventually I was left with a few key variations.

1630

My favorite of the 1630 line!

My favorite of the 1630 line!

This is the simplest soap I make.  In its basic form, as my “Simply Clean” soap, it has only three ingredients: pure olive oil, and the distilled water and lye needed for the chemical reaction to produce soap.  If you have allergies, or are concerned about a gentle soap to use on sensitive skin (like that of babies or those with chemical sensitivity), you can’t get more basic than this.  With the benefit of modern chemistry, we are able to make precise calculations and exactly control the proportions of these ingredients, but in essence this is no different from the soap that humans have been making for millennia (we have evidence of this from centuries before human civilizations had developed writing, thanks to residues left inside clay pots and jars!).

Of course, once I had a basic Simply Clean recipe that I was happy with, I immediately used it as a springboard for all kinds of other experiments, but that’s a story for another day…

And why the date 1630?  Well, again, I love history and the history of Somerville in particular, which was settled in …you guessed it… 1630 as a part of Charlestown!

Next up: the nineteenth century!

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Playing catch-up!

I do appreciate bulk orders, and the opportunity to spread the word about the benefits of pure olive oil castile soap, but it is a LOT of work to prepare!

A few weeks back, I had a bulk order for my Cider Spice soaps, and so we’ve had lots of those bars on the drying racks, filling the house with the delightful scent of cinnamon and nutmeg!  In addition, I put up a new batch of the Pumpkin Spice, and so It really smells like the best part of autumn around here right now!

Today I’ll be adding a batch of Fresh Mint (with peppermint essential oil!) and a batch of French Fields (with lavender essential oil) which are just coming off their cure time and should be in the shop by the end of the week.

This weekend included some travel time as well, and now I have soap socks in both the natural, undyed cotton and the blend of soft browns that I’m calling ‘s’mores’.  Watch for those, and a couple of other bath accessories that I’ve been working on to hit the shop later in the week.

Of course, the faint chill in the air (it’s still pretty warm in these parts) has me thinking of a specialty soap for the winter.  Spearmint, to evoke candy canes?  Perhaps a balsam or pine?  The mind boggles…

Happy Sudsday!

Yesterday’s Riverfest was a fantastic event, with lots of great people, food, and fun.  The weather could not have been better (though the dust got into Every. Single. Thing.)!

There was also a Steampunk Gallery with lots of great stuff, and it got me thinking about a steampunk bathtime theme.

Of course, the first thing you need is a bathtub!  What’s that?  You don’t have a bathtub? Well, then this Mosely Folding Bath Tub would be just the thing for you!

Why, that's a lovely wardrobe cabinet you have there.  Wait, what...

Why, that’s a lovely wardrobe cabinet you have there. Wait, what…

Sweet mystery of life!  Can I have one of these to set up in the backyard?!

Sweet mystery of life! Can I have one of these to set up in the backyard?!

Yes.  It’s a Murphy tub!

Okay, so fill that puppy with hot water and sink in up to your chin!  Turn the lights down low (gaslight offers such a lovely glow!) and have a good soak!

Of course, you’ll need someone to bring you cool drinks.

EXFOLIATE!  EXFOLIATE!

EXFOLIATE! EXFOLIATE!

Nope, definitely not!

R2, I need you to keep that water at a constant temperature, and keep the bath suds coming!

R2, I need you to keep that water at a constant temperature, and keep the bath suds coming!  Oh, and don’t forget my mojito…

That’s the ticket!  May you spend your day relaxed and comfortable, with your fingers all wrinked from a nice, long, hot soak!

Great late breaking news!

Somerville Soap Works will be at the Assembly Row Riverfest this Saturday with 13mL designs!

Tomorrow’s weather looks to be perfect for a day out celebrating local art, design and the opening of the brand new Baxter Park.  There will be an outdoor marketplace, food trucks, live music, a Steampunk Exhibition and fireworks at 8pm!

The event opens at 11am and closes after the fireworks.  It promises to be a fantastic day and I hope to see you there!

Crowdsourcing Call to Action!!

I went to stock up on more of that wonderful organic cotton that I made my first soap socks from and I discovered this.

Of course, I had to have it!

Of course, I had to have it!

Same US grown cotton, but this one comes in a blend of the raw cream color, and a chocolate brown, as well as a mid tone that seems almost the color of caramel or toffee.  It’s really gorgeous, and I can’t wait to see how it looks made up as soap socks!

And, actually, I don't have to wait.  The verdict? Pretty awesome.

And, actually, I don’t have to wait. The verdict? Pretty awesome.

Which brings me to the point of my call for help.  This lovely yarn has the distinctly non-melodious name of “brown melange” and that just won’t do.  I’m thinking of calling it “s’mores” because the mix of chocolate brown, cookie/toffee taupe, and marshmallow white makes me think of those ooey, gooey delicious treats!

What do you think, folks?  Got any suggestions for me?

Sock it to me!

What’s better than a luxurious bar of handmade soap?  A luxurious bar of handmade soap in a nubbly organic cotton sock that makes it easy to hang on to a slippery bar in the shower and provides soft exfoliation!

Like this!

Like this!

I’ve been experimenting with little sachets sized for my soap bars that would take even the mildest, softest soap and give it an added texture for superior scrubability!

"Scrubability"?  What, you're just making up words now?

“Scrubability”!?!  What, you’re just making up words now?

I’ve made my prototypes out of a raw organic cotton to avoid fabric allergies and because cotton is one of the few fibers with the magical property of getting stronger when it is wet while still remaining soft and pliable.  Add a bar of soap and the cotton will allow the silky lather through while adding just a little bit of roughness for getting skin clean and smooth.

See those little purl stitch bumps?  THAT'S scrubability.

See those little purl stitch bumps? THAT’S scrubability.

Once the soap inside is used up, you can just pop the sock in the washer and get it ready for the next full size bar, or you can keep it hanging around to drop in all the slivers and ends of soap bars that are too small to be easily held in the hand, bits that would otherwise clog the bottom of the soap dish and get thrown away next cleaning day.

There you go: an ideal blend of luxury and thrift!

Now that I have my prototype figured out, I’m going into production.  These should be in the shop by the end of the week!