31 January 2009

This Laundry Soap Rocks!

It's one thing to create a great product. And it's another to know it works most of the time. Part of my "let's get something accomplished today" schtick was laundry. It wasn't even altruistic laundry; it was selfish laundry. Simply put, I was out of black socks and my favorite dark blue jeans were dirty.

The other night, one of our cats had gotten spooked by a loud noise and, being the very vocal calico that she is, spent the next few hours making us aware of her displeasure. (Yes, I'm going somewhere with this.) Hubby was quite impressed that she was able to hiss and eat at the same time. Finally I went outside and found some freeze-dried catnip in the pot on the porch. Ahhhhh... Stoned cats don't growl, hiss or scream, so quiet returned. Well, when one cat's in a crabby mood, the other picks up on it, so the other cat was also letting us know how upset she was that her sister was in a, well, catty mood. Unfortunately, that cat prefers expressing her displeasure by peeing on clothes, namely mine. The victims this time were a dress and my red satin, fleece-lined VS bathrobe.

Now my point... The red robe went in with the darks, and instead of using the All liquid that hubby had bought while we were waiting for soap to dry out, I dumped all the rest of the first batch of homemade laundry soap into the machine (barely eking out the 2 tablespoons needed). He says the true test of how good the stuff is is how well it gets his nastiest work uniforms clean (so far so good). I put it up against cat pee, and when I moved the laundry from the washing machine to the dryer, there wasn't the least little hint of cat pee. It really, really worked!

Finally my shreds from the soap I'd made for laundry last week had dried out enough that I could grind them to powder. That soap will get a body clean, but it has no skin-conditioning properties at all. Anyway, I did my 2 parts soap to 1 part washing soda to 1 part Borax, and it's great. I had wanted to add a bit of essential oil, but all the ones I'd want to use I can't right now, so I just left it unscented. The mixture (using just 3 bars of soap) made 4 cups of laundry soap - very natural, very environmentally friendly laundry soap. The beautiful part is, I've still got 5 bars of that soap leftover, along with some excess powdered soap from today's batch. Each full load only uses 2 tablespoons of the mixture, so figure 2 tablespoons per ounce, and 4 cups is equal to approximately 32 ounces, so for maybe $2.00 or so, I've got soap to do 32 loads of laundry upstairs right now, ready to go. I'm so excited, because this is a little way I get to use my talent and savvy to save my family some beaucoups bucks over the course of a year, and do my part to help preserve our natural resources.

25 January 2009

Product Updates

In an effort to keep my stock rotating and fresh, and as I look at what I have currently and look back on last year's selling trends, I've decided as we go into 2009 to phase out my handcrafted Goat's Milk Soaps and two styles of my handcrafted glycerin soaps: Just Plain Soap and Two-Toned Swirled soaps. I still plan to stock many of these fragrances, but I prefer to make my soaps from scratch now. Doing this ensures a high-quality, at least 96% natural product; and it enables me to make larger batches at a time in approximately the same amount of time. This will ultimately drive down costs over time, which is always a good thing, as I hate raising my prices when the cost of soap base goes up.

I will continue to carry most of my existing "fancy" glycerin soaps - cats, flip flops, the funky sliced soaps and so forth. Those are delightfully creative endeavors for me, so I won't give them up. I've added a purely charming soap to my website, Be Joyful! Be Joyful! is a fun smiley face glycerin soap bearing the utterly uniquely feminine scent of the same name. Be Joyful! was the first Sara's Soaps 'n Such exclusive fragrance creation, and now, 7 years later, it continues to appeal to customers. You can just see yourself smiling back at it, can't you? You can't help it; it's that cheery. I gave a bar of this to a friend of mine one day last year, and she told me it still sits in the soap dish by her sink so it can give her a lift first thing in the morning. C'mon! Give it a try! Let it lift your spirits, too.

22 January 2009

Oh, How Terribly Embarrassing!

Being in the habit of checking my Google Analytics page on a daily basis, I'd noticed that, three days in a row, I'd had no hits to my website. This was rather disturbing, as I generally get some hits to it on a daily basis. Remembering that I'd been in this predictament before, I pulled up my site, only to discover - *gasp* - that it'd crashed! Actually, the whole site hadn't crashed; just one little sidebar that caused the entire site not to come up.

Here it is, after 11, but I couldn't go to bed without installing the patch to fix it. It's repaired now and all ready for you. I'm sorry for the interruption in your browsing and shopping experience. If you ever notice a glitch on the site, please contact me through Blogger, because I don't always check the condition of my site.

16 January 2009

Woohoo! Back in the kitchen!

My man showed up yesterday. No, not my husband, though I was glad to hear him come through the door. Nope, my other man - the one who drives the big brown truck with the yellow seal on the side bearing the letters "U-P-S." Now you know what I'm talking about, because when that truck shows up, goodies follow.

My goodies were 4 pounds of potash (potassium hydroxide) and phenolphthalein solution. Potash is a caustic that is used to make liquid soap. It forms long crystals, unlike sodium hydroxide which produces shorter ones. Of course, I just couldn't wait. Hey, once my base oils were inventoried and audited, they became fair game! I pulled out my soapmaking book and read the instructions yet again. I consulted with others who've made liquid soap. I created my formula in SoapMaker and stared at it, tweaked it a bit and made sure my finished product would be as lovely as I want it to be. Then I got started.

Making liquid soap is a hot process method, which is good and bad. Good, because once it's done, it's done and can be used almost immediately. Bad, because it takes a looooooong time to make. I spent 45 minutes waiting for my oils to melt in the crockpot (following the directions here, and it saves some dishes). I didn't think it'd EVER come to trace, so that was a bit of a wait (or maybe I was just being impatient, or my arm was getting tired). Now I'm about 2/3 of the way through the 3-hour cooking process. At some point in all this, too, there was an email to my mom, the retired chemist, who couldn't remember exactly what shade of pink phenolphthalein turns on a pH of 10 +/- 0.5. It was a long shot, but I thought I'd try. I'm sure I'll have the answer in a little over an hour.

So, now I'm waiting and am using my 30-minute intervals to get caught up on some stuff. So far I've gotten dishes done and bills paid, plus I encountered this delightfully friendly customer service rep at Stamps.com when I called about my account. I've talked with my hubby and thumbed through the mail. I may even be able to squeeze in time to write a letter to one of our nephews (from the cool aunt who helped teach him how to shoot pool). Not bad for a frigidly cold Friday.

I don't know when the soap will be available for purchase. There's some debate on whether or not it needs a preservative. This fan of things all natural is hoping not, but my gut's telling me it will, just because of the extra water that gets added to the paste. To preserve or not to preserve, that is the question. If only Hamlet had put that blasted skull down and answered a question that'd actually HELP me in this! Not wanting to give up my all-natural product if I can help it, but also wanting to err on the side of caution if it does need a preservative, I'm going to do what any responsible soapmaker would do and have both formulas tested. Then once I get those results, I'll be able to proceed from there.

09 January 2009

Little Thrills

Ya know, as much of a geek as I'll claim to be, my geekiness resides more in the realm of social sciences than in math or computers. So, if I figure out someone's motivation for doing something, then that's cool, but not so thrilling. On the other hand, if I figure out something on my website, then it's a big deal. I had a big deal moment yesterday. All I wanted to do was change one thing, the title of a side box so I can put the HSMG logo in it and have it make sense to that box. For me to make any changes to my website, I usually have three things up and available - my digital copy of the Zen Cart manual (in .pdf format), the ZC forums and the ZC FAQ pages. So, I was clicking back and forth between those three, rewriting codes, saving and then refreshing my webpage, each time holding my breath and hoping that something would come up. If I make a mistake, my site loads as a blank page until I find the mistake.

Deep breath... Hold it... Click the "refresh" icon... Wait for it... Whew! There's my upper bar, the logo, the product pics... It loaded! Yea! Oh, wait. There it is. My newly redone side box sporting the white, green and peach logo of the Guild. Woohoo!!! That was my big accomplishment for yesterday.

Today's not-so-little thrill came when my daughter, who's in kindergarten, brought home her second term report card. Looking at the grades and marks is great enough, but then I saw the teacher's comments, telling her Dad and I that she "continues to excel in all academic areas." Woohoo! We'd been concerned because her primary teacher hasn't been there since before Thanksgiving and she'd lost a lot of her enthusiasm for going to school and doing homework. We're so glad to see she's excelling, despite the interruption in her classroom.

04 January 2009

Oakmoss Sandalwood Has a New Look - At least for now

Generally when I soap Oakmoss Sandalwood, I use a crock pot hot process method (CPHP), because it takes less time, and time is of the essence with this soap, as well as it sells. However, since we're in the slow time of the year after everyone is still paying off Christmas bills and before the Spring show and market season starts, I have the time to take it a little bit slower, to CP soaps I'd normally HP, to let the soaps linger on the curing rack even longer, becoming harder, denser and longer lasting. I enjoy this time of year just for that reason.

This time when I soaped Oakmoss Sandalwood, I decided, instead of my usual in the pot (ITP) swirl, I'd give another shot at funnel swirling. Funnel swirling is enjoyable with cool, Art Deco-ish results, but it requires the soap behaving from beginning to end. It cannot thicken, accelerate or seize; it must stay at a lighter trace. Obviously, if I know this, then you can infer that I've had soap not behave when I've tried to funnel swirl it before. (One experience in this led to the birth of the "Murdered Mardi Gras Clown" soap, aka "Visions of Sugar Plums.")

I had the joy of slicing the Oakmoss Sandalwood soap this afternoon, and it's the prettiest funnel swirl I've done. I'm not bragging that this is *the* most gorgeous funnel swirl soap out there; I have a soap bud who's made some beautiful funnel swirls. I'm pleased with it. This first picture is a cross-section of the soap, and you can really see the swirls in the block.

This shows the soap sliced into bars. No two soaps look exactly alike, but I somehow got a really good symmetry on this one, so you can definitely tell they're all related. :-)

These little gems will be ready by the end of the month, and the wait will be well worth it. Oakmoss Sandalwood is a sexy, masculine fragrance with an earthy, musky, fresh, green scent. It's become my favorite masculine fragrance, and my five-year-old daughter has pronounced it "Yuuuuuummmmyyyyyy!" You can go ahead and put an order in for yours today with the understanding it's back-ordered until it's cured.

Back in the Kitchen Again

For a soapmaker who'd taken pretty much the entire month of December off from making soap, one of the simple pleasures in life includes getting back into the kitchen, making some more soap, restocking and getting ready for the Spring selling season, which could conceivably start in February, weather permitting. (Sometimes soapmaking is like lawncare, in that the seasons don't always make good sense.)

Right now my goal is to restock those soaps I've sold out of. Generally, to be honest, making not-new stuff really isn't that exciting, but I've had time to play, so that's made it worthwhile. First, I soaped Ooh La La-vender, my goat's milk and lavender soap. I have to be careful with some of my fragrances currently, so hubby's been great about helping me out. One rule I maintain is, everyone who is in any way involved with making soap must wear the appropriate safety gear, including gloves and safety goggles. Peter, however, thinks my safety goggles look dorky, so I let him improvise.
Wouldn't ya know it, lavender is one of those scents I have to be wary of, so he was helping me with Ooh La La-vender on this particular day. I made up the base soap and set up the color (ultramarine violet), then he came in, added the scent, mixed the color into part of the soap and poured it into the mould. This was his first time attempting a swirl of any kind, and I could only instruct from afar, so he was almost on his own. Friday night we sliced the loaf, and we were both thrilled at how beautifully our joint endeavor turned out.

Aren't these awesome??? This is the third batch of this soap I've done, and the first time, my soap, the non-purple part, was orangish-brown from the goat's milk having burned a little in the saponification process. The second batch was a bit better; the non-purple part was light tan. This, though... When I saw how creamy the goat's milk part was, I was awed! I'm really excited to be offering these to you, and they'll be ready for purchase at the end of January after they've finished curing. Of course, they smell FaNtAsTiC! There's a lavender-scented aura around my curing rack that captures our noses every time we walk past it.

01 January 2009

All New Goodies

It's a new year, just ripe for new products! Happy New Year, folks! Here are a couple of the new treats I have ready for you.

First, there's Ocean, a bright, crisp unisex soap that's just as nourishing for your skin as it is stimulating for your senses. This soap features a white, blue and green funnel swirl and no two are exactly alike.

Then there's this gem of the desert - Desert Sands, a warm, earthy, exotic, sensual blend of essential and fragrance oils, exclusive to Sara's Soaps 'n Such. Top notes of vanilla and sandalwood give way to bottom notes of patchouli and ylang ylang - very much a delicious, masculine scent. Now for the soap itself... A luxurious blend of nourishing, moisturizing oils that will be a treat for even winter-dry skin.

Check them out today! You won't be sorry!