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Hot Chocolate Soap and Halloween Bunting

Just wanted to give you a quick update. The Hot Chocolate Soap I mentioned in my last post is now available in my shop. It’s a limited edition, seasonal soap, so get it while you can. 🙂

Hot chocolate Soap
Hot Chocolate Soap

Also, if you want this Halloween Sugar Skull Bunting, it will only be available until the end of the weekend. If it doesn’t sell, I’m claiming it for my own décor.

Halloween Sugar Skull Bunting (Banner)
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Pumpkin Pie and Hot Chocolate

I’ve been busy making new soap over the past week! The new additions are a Pumpkin Lavender Soap and a Hot Chocolate Soap.

The Pumpkin Lavender smells like pumpkin pie with just a hint of lavender to mellow it out a bit. Not too much, though. I love pumpkin spice.

It’s already available in the shop, along with a Pumpkin Lavender fragrance roll-on and Pumpkin Lavender soy wax melts.

The Hot Chocolate has a rich, chocolaty scent with just a bit of espresso to cut the sweetness. It’s still curing, so look for it to be listed on Tuesday, September 27, 2022. I may list it this weekend and allow pre-orders. If you want to be notified when it’s available, join the mailing list or contact me at csloan@subearthancottage.com.

Both new soaps are seasonal, small batch limited editions, so get them while you can.

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Quick Drawstring Bag Tutorial or How to Reuse Your SubEarthan Cottage Soap Wrapping

I wrap my soaps in fabric because it looks nice, it allows the soap to breathe (read here for why), and because it feels better than plastic. I often wonder what happens to the wrapping. I’m sure there are some that toss it. I know of one person who collects the fabric for quilts. For those of you who, like me, don’t want to throw away something that could be useful but don’t know what to do with it, I have a tutorial for a drawstring pouch, just for you.

This is done with the wrapping from one of my soaps, but you could make it in any size you like.

Materials
Cloth wrapper from soap (roughly 8×11 inches)
Jute string from soap (about 29 inches)
Thread

Tools
Needle or Sewing machine
Safety pin or Bodkin
Scissors
Iron

First, iron your fabric flat. Then, fold down a long edge about 3/4 of an inch to one inch and press. This is for the casing. It doesn’t have to be super precise.

Sew a straight seam along the bottom of the flap to form the casing. All the sewing can be done by hand or machine. I have no time or patience, so I choose machine. Fold your material in half with right sides together like a book.

The fold is at the bottom of this photo.

Next, starting just below the casing seam, sew down the side and across the bottom. I use anywhere from a 1/4 to 1/2 inch seam allowance for this. Again, it doesn’t have to be precise.

With scissors, clip the bottom corners, being careful not to cut your stitching. You could probably skip this step, but it helps the corners look square and crisp. Turn your bag right side out.

Now it’s time to thread the string. Tie one end of the string to a safety pin, large paper clip, or attach a small bodkin. This makes it easier to work it through the casing. Thread it through the casing, safety pin first.

Once you get the string to the other side, remove your safety pin or other tool and adjust the string so that the ends are even.

Knot the ends together once or twice to keep it from coming out.

Ta-da! It’s done! Perfect for organizing your purse, storing jewelry or other small items, or as a small gift bag.

Or holding your favorite bar of soap.

Tutorials are always a little complicated to write because it’s easy to overlook small steps in things you do frequently. If something is unclear, please ask. 🙂

If you have any other creative uses for a SubEarthan Cottage soap wrapper, I would love to hear it!

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Shop Small Saturday

Thank you from SubEarthan Cottage on Shop Small Saturday and Every Day!

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.

Thank you from SubEarthan Cottage on Shop Small Saturday and Every Day!
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How I Make Soap: An overview of the hot process soapmaking method

tea tree oil soap: no more lye

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.

Melting the Oils
Melting the Oils

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.

Weighing the Lye
Weighing the Lye. Gloves and goggles on.

Lye Safety

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.

Adding the Lye Solution
Adding the Lye Solution

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.

Hard Trace
Hard Trace

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.

Cleanup

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.

Soap Waves
Soap Waves

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.

Glycerin Pool Forming in the Middle
Glycerin Pool Forming in the Middle

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.

Adding the Blended Essential Oils and Carrier Oil
Adding the Blended Essential Oils and Carrier Oil

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.

Soap Log in the Mold
Soap Log in the Mold

The batch I photographed for this post is my Tea Tree Oil Soap. Find it and my other handmade soaps for sale here: https://subearthancottage.com/product-category/soap-bath-beauty.

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Shampoo Bar 101 Revisited

Beer soap shampoo bar

Shampoo bars have become more popular recently. They are convenient for traveling. Unlike liquid shampoo, you don’t have to worry about travel limits and leaking bottles with a shampoo bar. Because they don’t require plastic bottles, shampoo bars are a great option for people trying to reduce waste.

Not all hair types are alike, so it takes some trial and error to find the right one. With the recent interest in shampoo bars, I thought now would be a great time to reshare my Shampoo Bar 101 post.

Beer soap shampoo bar
Shiner Bock Beer Soap: My top choice for washing my hair.


I began using bar soaps as shampoo about four years ago. Whenever I tell people this, they always look at me kind of strange or have tons of questions about how it works, so I thought I’d share it all here. Please keep in mind, this is all based on my personal experience and research.

What type of soap to use?

While there are some bars that are specially formulated to be shampoo bars, I’ve found that just about any good quality natural soap will work. You definitely want to avoid most of the bar soaps you’d find at your supermarket, because they don’t have the same properties as natural soaps and can dry your hair.

Among natural soaps, I’ve found that bars with little or no waxes work the best. My hair tends to be oily, so I also avoid soaps with a high percentage of butters (shea, cocoa, etc.) as they seem to add too much oil to my hair.

Some of the oils that work well in a shampoo bar are coconut, castor, olive, jojoba, and avocado. Most of the bars I’ve used contain at least the first three. I wouldn’t count out a bar that didn’t have them, though, until I’d tried it a few times.

What are the some of the benefits of using a bar soap?

  • Natural bars don’t strip your hair like shampoo.
  • Hair feels thicker
  • Has eliminated my need for a seperate conditioner
  • No more scalp and hairline irritation like I had with many shampoos
  • Convenient for travel-no worries about leaky bottles or (as far as I know) airline carry-on limits
  • Same bar can be used all over-no need for a seperate body wash or soap cluttering your shower

Tips for using a bar soap as shampoo:

  • Expect an adjustment period of 2-4 weeks. Your scalp is used to producing more oil to make up for the natural oils that are stripped by the detergents in shampoos.
  • You may want to use a simple clarifying shampoo or even a baby shampoo prior to the first wash with a bar. I’ve found that this helps speed up the adjustment period by removing buildup from shampoos, conditioners and styling products, giving the bar a clean slate to work with.
  • Periodically doing an apple cider vinegar (or lemon juice) rinse can help improve shine and seems to help if I feel like my hair isn’t rinsing out as well as it should. I use about 1/2 Tablespoon of ACV to about 3 cups of water and pour over my just washed hair, then rinse. I used to do this about every other wash, but now I do it about once every week or two.
  • Many styling products seem to need the detergents in shampoo to be fully removed. I try to avoid products with dimethecone and other -cone ingredients as these seem to be the hardest to wash out with a bar soap. Hairspray doesn’t seem to be a problem. You can also use pure aloe gel as a hair gel that’s also great for your hair.

I’m sure there are many things I’ve left out. Feel free to ask any questions or add to what I have here.

Oh, and before I forget, here are my favorites from my shop to use as a shampoo:

Beer Soap

Tea Tree Oil Soap (especially great if I’m experiencing any dandruff)

Shampoo bar 101