If you follow me on social media, you know I frequently post inspirational quotes. I decided to start offering mugs printed with select quotes in my shop. Since I am a crafter, I’m starting with quotes focusing on art and creativity. Honestly, selling something that is my design but not my handiwork made me a little nervous, as I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my products. I’m a big coffee and tea drinker, though, and the thought of getting to see a quote that makes me smile in my design every time I reach for my cup inspired me to take the plunge.
My first mug
“Creativity takes courage,” by Henri Matisse seemed like the perfect quote to start the new year. I ordered my mug on Friday, and it arrived on Thursday, so it only took a week total for printing and shipping. My mug arrived securely packaged in a box designed to protect the mug without needing additional packing material. Yay for no plastic or excess packaging!
The mug itself turned out beautifully. My late night craft room with my cell phone photos really don’t do it justice. The colors are true to the original product photos and the designs are crisp. Unlike my photos. They are a little grainy and for some reason the dots in the center of the flower show up brown instead. In person, they are bluish-green. Hopefully the storms hold off long enough for me to break out my camera for daylight photos tomorrow.
Happy New Year! I’ve never been one for making resolutions. For some reason, with resolutions, it seems like anything but perfection is a failure and an excuse to give up. Setting goals, while essentially the same thing, seems to work better. With goals, it’s expected that you’re working toward something. It doesn’t seem so all-or-nothing like with resolutions. With that in mind, I decided to set and share some of my New Year’s goals for SubEarthan Cottage.
Goal 1: Move toward more eco-friendly packaging.
I already wrap my soap in fabric that can be reused or recycled and only print packing slips when requested. Some of my other items, though, like the wax melts are in plastic containers. They are recyclable, but I would like to find ways to minimize the amount of plastic. Even better, I would like to find suitable containers that are easier to recycle or compostable.
I like packaging my bath salts in glass because it is reusable, recyclable and has a nice presentation. At the same time, glass is heavy and fragile, requiring more packaging to ship safely. I may not move away from glass entirely, but I would like to find a lighter, more durable option that is still practical and eco-friendly.
Goal 2: Don’t let perfection stop progress.
This is kind of a subcategory of my first goal. I’ve been hesitant to offer as many new varieties of wax melts and bath salts due to the packaging concerns. I already have the cups and jars I currently use, though, and not using them is wasteful. Better to use what I have and phase them out in favor of better options rather than let them sit unused on a shelf.
Likewise, I plan to introduce reusable wax wraps soon. One of the reasons I haven’t yet is because I currently have a good supply beeswax on hand from another project. Beeswax works well for the wraps, but a plant based wax would be more optimal. In this case, I plan to introduce them first with beeswax to not be wasteful but switch to something like candelilla wax when I run out.
Goal 3: Take and share more project photos.
My shop is just one aspect of SubEarthan Cottage. Sharing ideas, teaching techniques and life skills, and even sharing when things don’t work are all part of SubEarthan Cottage as well. When things get busy, though, I tend to jump into doing without documenting. Photographing as I go will not only help me be able to repeat my successes, it will allow me to share and hopefully inspire others in the new year and beyond.
What goals do you have for the new year? If you would like to keep up with SubEarthan Cottage in the new year, please sign up for my newsletter here.
I generally try to avoid anything that seems gimmicky. The whole Black Friday, Shop Small Saturday, Cyber Monday all seem crafted to make people feel like they must buy all the things NOW. Being a small business owner, though, I wanted to address the “Shop Small” thing.
All those cute memes you see about small business owners doing a happy dance with every purchase, the care that goes into creating and packaging a product just for you, and the direct impact your purchase has on an individual or family? They’re all true, for me at least, and for the other small business owners I know. I celebrate each and every sale. I make sure to package every order with care and a handwritten thank-you. Every sale goes towards helping my family directly.
That’s not to say that big business are bad or don’t help their employees or don’t appreciate our business. Not at all. I’d be lying if I said the big blue Amazon truck never stopped at my house or I never shop at Walmart. They absolutely have their place, too. But, if today or any other day throughout the year you are able to make a purchase from a small business, know that we thank you for your support and are celebrating. Probably with a happy dance, although I refuse to post video evidence.
If you’re not in a position to make a purchase from a small business or what they offer just doesn’t fit your needs, there are other ways to offer support. Sharing their information with others that might like what they have to offer is one way. Letting them know what you like about their products is another.
Spread the Love
If you are a small business owner or know of an awesome one, please leave a comment with the shop’s info so that I and my readers can check them out, whether it’s Shop Small Saturday or some random Tuesday. Artists and authors are welcome, too. I would love to have a list of small business to refer to and to share with my friends and family.
Making soap is like magic. Seriously, think about it: You take stuff that makes things feel greasy, mix it with stuff that would eat your face off and, if you do it just right, the end result is a wonderful bar of non-drying, skin-loving, fluffy-lathering soap.
Soapmaking is fun, but safety is a priority when dealing with sodium hydroxide, aka lye, aka the eat-your-face-off stuff. This is just a brief overview of the soapmaking process I use. Please do not use this as a complete how to guide. If that’s something you’re interested in, please, leave a comment and I will direct you to some more thorough resources on soapmaking.
Melting the Oils
Creating soap takes two basic things: oils or fats and an alkaline solution. In order to combine the oils and alkaline solution, the oils have to all be in liquid form and uniformly mixed. So, step one is measuring and melting the oils. For precision, all measuring is done by weight. Since I use a Crockpot for my hot process soapmaking, I add all my weighed oils to the Crockpot, then melt and mix them in the pot. For soapmaking, I generally use the low setting, but if I need to jump start the melting process I will start it on high then turn it down after a few minutes. This Crockpot is similar to the one I use.
Measuring the Lye
While the oils are warming in the Crockpot, I weigh the lye. It is important to be very precise when measuring the lye. Too little and the soap will be too soft. Too much and the soap could burn your skin. This is also why you need to be very careful about the soap recipes you use. If they are not correctly formulated, the end result could be dangerous.
Before I measure the lye, I measure the water or other liquid for the lye solution, also by weight. I do that first to limit the time I have the lye out.
I make sure to measure the lye into glassware and all containers and utensils that come into contact with lye or the lye solution are reserved solely for that purpose. Once the lye is out, I never leave it unattended. Lye crystals resemble table salt, which would be a potentially deadly mix-up. That’s also why my soap production has slowed since Thaddeus was born. Until they are old enough to understand the importance of staying out of the room and can be trusted out of sight but in earshot for the time it takes to get the soap cooking, I only make it when they are either out of the house or asleep with Chris there to tend to them if they wake up during the process.
Mixing the Lye Solution
Once my lye is measured, I add the lye to the water and stir with a wooden spoon until dissolved. Lye fizzes up when mixed, so it is important to have the liquid in a container with plenty of room. The solution with also get really hot and put off fumes, so be prepared. I like to have a window open or fans and the vent a hood running. Some soap makers mix the solution outside, but I like to stay close to my work space to limit the chance of spills.
Blending the Oils and Lye Solution
For cold process soapmaking, it is important to have the oils and lye solution at about the same temperature. With the Crockpot hot process method I use, I find I can mix the lye solution into the warmed, melted oils without having to measure the temperatures first.
When you first add the lye solution to the melted oils, the color will change from clear to opaque. In order to properly combine the lye and oils, I use a handheld stick blender. You can stir by hand, but it is much harder to get everything properly blended and it takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r. I have had a stick blender die in the middle of making a batch of soap and it is a crazy long arm workout. I do not recommend it.
Goal of Blending
The goal for all the hard mixing is called “trace”. Basically, I’m wanting to be able to lift my blender out of the mixture and trace a design on top. With cold process, there are various stages of trace that guide when to add any fragrance, essential oils or other add-ins. Since I use the hot process method, I add almost everything after the cook. Because of that, I can mix my batches to a full, hard trace where my traced design doesn’t melt back into the mix. This limits the possibility of a false trace, or the mix seeming to quickly come to trace when it isn’t thoroughly mixed. When that happens, it might separate or have lye heavy spots.
Once it is at a hard trace, I stop mixing and put the lid on the Crockpot. If the mix seems too hot, for example, I had a false trace that I had to stir through, I will either turn the Crockpot to warm or off for a few minutes. Otherwise, I make sure it is on low and busy myself with cleaning up, lining my soap molds, and preparing essential oils and other additives.
Any lingering lye solution or soap mixture on the blender is still a risk for lye burns, so I’m cautious with the cleanup. For the whole soapmaking process, I keep a good amount of water with vinegar and a bit of dish soap ready in the sink. The vinegar helps neutralize the lye, so anything that comes into contact with lye goes directly into the vinegar solution, and I use a similar vinegar solution to wipe down my soapmaking area, just in case.
Stages of Saponification
During the cooking, the soap mix will change from an opaque, milky color to a shiny, translucent gel like texture. A pool of liquid also forms on top. that pool of liquid is glycerin, a byproduct of the saponification process. This transformation starts at the edges of the pot and happens in a wave moving towards the center. I find it really fun to watch.
Finishing the Batch
When the entire soap mixture is translucent and the consistency of mashed potatoes without lumps, I turn off the heat and stir the soap by hand for just a couple of minutes to let it cool. At this point, if done correctly, the mixture completely transformed to soap. I don’t want it to cool too much, or it would be hard to add the essential oils, but too hot and it will burn off the scent.
I then add any essential oils blended in my chosen carrier oil and any other add-ins I’m using in that batch, stir thoroughly by hand, and plop it into my molds. Since it is thick, I generally have to tap my molds on my counter firmly to eliminate air pockets.
Curing the Final Product
Because the saponification process is completed during the cooking, the soap is totally safe to use as soon as it is cool enough to touch. It needs to cool in the molds for 12-24 hours or so to hold it’s shape, though. Once it is firm enough to cut, I cut and wrap the bars. While not necessary, hot process bars still benefit from curing for at least a week or two to allow excess moisture to evaporate. As I discussed in my Proper Care and Feeding of Your Bar Soap post, the firmer and drier a bar of soap is, the longer it will last. That’s one of the reasons I wrap my soap in cloth rather than plastic. Cloth allows the soap to continue to harden for a longer lasting bar.
Frankincense and myrrh was one of my first customer requests years ago when I began soap making. Over time, there’s been a few variations in the recipe.
For the first time ever, this year’s Frankincense and Myrrh soap is 100% synthetic fragrance free. Instead, I used pure frankincense and myrrh essential oils. Then, I added a touch of orange Valencia essential oil to sweeten it. The end result is a warm, piney scent. It is a bit more subtle than what you get with synthetic fragrance oils, so the scent isn’t overwhelming. Plus, you get the benefits of true essential oils.
I also formulated this batch to lather up like my other shampoo bars. For travelling, shampoo bars are the way to go. With a bar, there’s no worries about leaking in your luggage or TSA liquid restrictions. No plastic bottles also means no BPA concerns and less environmental impact.
Everyone needs soap. Frankincense and Myrrh handmade soap makes a great stocking stuffer or small gift for teachers or coworkers. Right now, use coupon code “ShopSmall18” for 30% off your entire order at the SubEarthan Cottage shop.
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