Thursday, December 22, 2011

How We Did It

This last month has been a wonderfully exciting, exhausting learning experience. I'm so grateful for my customers' support of my little venture; and my husband's help. I could not have done it without him!

So how do this "details" guy and a "big picture" gal work together to make this etsy shop run? I thought it would be fun to do a little "behind the scenes"!

First of all; I make every item in my shop, from scratch. All the formulas are rattling around in my head and I have certain items (probably 50+) that I keep in stock all the time. Without James' help; I would have ingredients, products and bottles strewn about every which way; I'm not the most organizationally minded person, and when I'm "in the zone" of creating; I simply can't be bothered with trifles like putting items back on the shelf....that's where James comes in. He's a very level headed, precise, methodical person (everything I'm not), and he invested in several industrial shelving units a few months back. He's spent many a weekend organizing my ingredients; packaging, and items. There's a place for everything, and everything is in it's place. He even found tiny bins that perfectly fit each flavor of lip balm; for easy order pulling. I try really hard to maintain the system he has in place; however; after I've been out in the workshop packing orders it has a tendency to look like a tornado hit it....he's very understanding; although he did look at me like I was crazy when I explained that having everything in certain places makes it so I can't think....if you'd ever seen my desk; you'd understand!

Being in a marriage is a lot like working together; so over the course of our 13 year relationship; James and I have settled into our roles and that helps. James is the detail guy; he pays the monthly bills, organizes our house, calms me down when I'm in a tizzy. I'm the "big picture" girl; I make wild plans (like telling James in 1998 that I wanted to have five boys and name them alphabetically); and usually manage to execute them. I'm the dreamer, and the "make it happen" one; and James keeps me from crashing and burning; or cleans up my drama when I do.

So, soapmaking. It's not as exciting as it sounds, really (because it SOUNDS so exciting right?). I make two different kinds of soap; my hot process soap that I mold in my old style molds, is cooked in a crockpot until done; then molded and cooled. It looks like this:

Riveting, right? It cooks for about an hour and a half; stirring, sometimes boiling over, until it tests done; which means that I touch it to my tongue; and if it's not fully saponified; it will "zap" my tongue. NOT fun; fortunately; I'm good at knowing when it's ready now; so I rarely get zapped.

My other kind of soap is a modified hot process; meaning that it's cooked in the molds; in the oven at 170 degrees. I heat up and melt the oils and butters in a pot; add the lye mixture; stick blend until "trace" is achieved; then pour it in the molds and pop it in the oven. A combination of the temperature of the oils when the lye is added (I soap "hot") and the heat of the oven; cause the soap to go through the "gel stage" while in the molds. I let it cook for about an hour; and then allow it to sit, stacked in the oven with the door closed for several more hours. This causes a much shorter cure time than cold process; and again; this is tested with a combination of tongue testing and ph testing. It looks like this:

I use these disposable trays to stack my molds because I can just toss them instead of cleaning them. Consequently, the inside of my oven always smells lovely, like whatever soap I just cooked in there. BUT......I have to always remember to unload the oven before preheating it; I have had melted molds before from a careless preheater! I'm going to get yellow warning tape for my oven; because I've been known to shriek, "DON'T OPEN THE OVEN!".

Someday; I'm going to have a dedicated soap oven, I'm working on a design that is self contained and energy for an engineering degree.....

So that's the basics for "how we do it"; lots of work; cooperation; late night movies, and coffee! Always coffee!

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