Community in a lather

Before the week ends I must tell you about my day last Monday.  A few new connections with the Permaculture community and the promise of great things to come as I ran my first demonstration on soap making.

After our presentation at the last Permaculture meeting I was approached by a few people who wanted to know, amongst other things, if I would teach them how to make soap. Sure thing. So we quickly organised a day and ran a small private session in my home on Monday.

gifted lavender soap and knitted cotton washer

A few days beforehand I got thinking about the best way to deliver the demonstration and decided that I would start at the end, as you do.  So on Friday I prepared a batch of soap that would be ready when the group arrived.

In true Permaculture style my visitors arrived with arms loaded: two bags of limes (next post), half a dozen lemons, a bottle of cumquat liquour, cumquat marmalade, a bag of empty bottles for preserving, a bag of chokos, a new recipe for cleaning, and gluten free biscuits and grapes for morning tea! How generous of them and exciting for me at the prospect of some new projects.

We got started by unravelling the mould, revealing blocks of soap that they would eventually make themselves.

Each of them then had a turn at cutting a piece of soap from the block so they could feel the firm buttery texture as the knife sliced through it and while this was going on we discussed different ideas for moulds.  I love the idea of reusing things so at the moment I’m into 1 litre milk cartons and find them fairly easy to peel away in layers from the solid block. If you want neat blocks of soap, you’ll need to support the milk carton as the sides tend to bulge out with the weight when full. I’ve also used plastic cream bottles and cardboard cylinders for round shapes, cheap takeaway and other plastic containers work for square cut blocks and adjustable handmade wooden moulds work well too but all of these will need to be lined with grease proof paper or cling wrap if you use it.

You can buy silicon and plastic moulds in a range of mind boggling shapes and designs with mind boggling prices to match. The bottom line is you don’t need anything flash as the soap is beautiful no matter what shape it is and everyone seems to love the organic shapes anyway.

We went through the basic occupational health and safety check list including gloves, well ventilated room, no kids, no dogs/cats/birds on shoulders/chooks/goats/lizards or any other pet or trip hazard in the vicinity, plenty of time, goggles and/or mask (if you want) and always (ALWAYS!) put the caustic soda into the water, not the water into the caustic soda as this will create a violent reaction and you’ll have a major disaster to deal with.

Equipment was discussed at length with the emphasis on sourcing as much  second hand gear as possible – reuse, reduce, recycle. My group of seasoned Permies were only too familiar with this underlying principle and are already doing their bit to reduce consumerism and waste wherever they can.  I’ve built up my kit by adding pieces as I find them some of which I already owned, some I’ve found in the roadside junk collections and others I’ve purchased for a few dollars at St Vinnies. The basic kit would be set aside just for soap making and include a stainless pot, a container for the lye, a wooden spoon, whisk, wand or hand mixer, cooking thermometer, oils, caustic soda and a rack for drying.

After much discussion, we eventually got to the pointy end of the demonstration, the timing was spot-on, the trace formed perfectly on the surface and we ended up with a beautiful batch of lemon myrtle soap.

I’m not going into the ins and outs of soap making here because there are plenty of blogs around demonstrating soap making and the Greening of Gavin has a nicely paced tutorial you can watch. Using someone else’s a tried and tested recipe is the best place to start your soap making adventures and then learn to add special oils like avocado or hemp oil and scenting with essential oils. I also like to add home-dried herbs, flowers or petals or bran or oatmeal either as an exfoliant in the mix or sprinkled on the top.

Some of my favourite combinations include orange, camomile and paprika; lime and lime peel; lavender and lavender; lemongrass and calendula; rosemary and Australian green clay; orange and oatmeal and the list goes on and on. In my opinion lots of recipes seem to call for way too much essential oil and I never put more than a teaspoon (but often less) of the good stuff in a 1.5 kg batch otherwise I would find it simply too overbearing and totally unnecessary.

After the mixture was safely in it’s mould, we headed down to the garden for a quick tour. I got the feeling they were quite impressed by what we’ve achieved on our challenging site. Perhaps next year we’ll be able to share our achievements with a few more people when we open our house on National Permaculture Day.

Stay tuned for my next post….what does one do with 2 BAGS OF LIMES?

2 responses to “Community in a lather

  1. Someday I will work myself up to soap making. It does look so nice and you can make it the way you like it. For now, I just buy it from someone else who makes it locally with her own goat’s milk and lavendar.

    • As you enjoy making things yourself you will love making soap too. Be warned…it’s addictive. Great that you can support a local earth friendly soap supplier in the meantime.

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