Thursday, January 25, 2007

Review: Soap Maker's Companion

Sometimes I like to make things because it's cheaper than buying them, and sometimes I like to make things because I can make them better than I can buy. But mainly I like to make things because I just like knowing how. I get a huge kick out of thinking "I can do that" for as wide a range of things as possible. I think that's the reason I love to make soap.

One of my favourite soapmaking books is The Soap Maker's Companion by Susan Miller Cavitch. It has detailed enough instructions to be excellent as a beginners' book, but also plenty of information that would be of interest to a more experienced soapmaker. It wasn't my first soap making book, but I learned a lot from it that isn't explained anywhere else.

The batch sizes are on the large side, which some beginners might find offputting but in fact large batches are a lot more likely work well than small batches. This is because slight inaccuracies in weighing are more significant in small batches, and they also lose heat quicker than large batches which can lead to problems.

There are no photographs, but I love the quirky line drawings and woodcut-style illustrations. In fact "quirky" is a good word to describe this book, along with "earthy" - two of my favourite adjectives. The recipe names will give you a flavour of what I mean; "Build Me a Buttercup", "Down the Garden Path", "Blowin' in the Wind Laundry Soap". The recipes I have tried have all turned out very well, and there are plenty of tempting recipes I want to try in future. I have several soap-making books but this is definitely my favourite, and I'd recommend it to complete beginners and old hands alike.

7 comments:

Stonehead said...

"But mainly I like to make things because I just like knowing how."

I already suspected that and it's one of the attractions of your blog - it's always great to come across a fellow spirit.

For my current project (well, one among many to be truthful), I'm making bows and arrows for my boys.

And not just a piece of cane with a string tied to both ends.

No, I've taken two ash staves, shaved and scraped them with traditional hand tools, and turned them into fairly accurate small longbows. In the interests of safety I've weakened the design somewhat so the cross-section is not correct, but they'll still shoot an arrow about 30 to 40 feet.

The strings are triple plaited linen rubbed with beeswax, the bow staves are rubbed with linseed oil and shellac, and the arrows will be fletched with flight feathers from our cockerels and silk thread.

I ran out of time to make deer horn nocks, but these will be added in due course.

And why do I do it? Not just because it's fun and interesting, but because like you with soap, it's great to make them simply to learn how to.

Have fun.

Melanie Rimmer said...

Thanks Stonehead. that sounds like a great project - will you be posting pictures of the results on your blog?

Like you, I've been enjoying Ray Mears' new series, Wild Food. I've watched a lot of his shows and I remember when he taught some Maoris (I think) a fire-making technique their people had lost. I'm often struck by the knowledge and skills that we have lost in just a generation or two. I wish my granddad was alive to give me tips on gardening, and I wish I could quiz my grandma about her baking secrets. It's unsatisfactory to learn this kind of thing from books and diagrams. And I am sure a lot of what they (and most of their contemporaries) knew was never written down anywhere and is now lost forever.

To me, that's as poignant and final a loss as when a species goes extinct. When the last person dies who knew how to e.g. make water lily seeds into edible food, then that knowledge is lost forever. Especially mundane things - the most efficient way to split logs with an axe, how to use a traditional besom effectively

TheBuddingVeggieGrower said...

Great recommendation, Thanks! I have been using locally sourced products that are SLS free, however now that the current bottle is running out, I am planning to try my hand at a batch of soap making myself. I also love the fact that I can grow my own herbs, flowers etc that can be used in homemade soaps. Wonderful!

Rob Burns said...

Wow. Kindred spirits all.

And a spur for me to return to a project I have allowed to linger a little too long - a hand woven Jacob sheep wool rug.

Thanks a lot for the nudge.
Rob

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