My husband and I run a small mixed farm on the Mornington Peninsula. You can check us out online at heritagefarm.com.au or in person at our fortnightly tours
Published August 15th 2014
Last weekend I learnt to make soap from Jude Steele of Olieve & Olie. She runs intimate workshops on the Mornington Peninsula, and they are worth every penny. Not only did I leave with 16 bars of my own soap, she also gave me some of both her solid and liquid soap to try out while I'm waiting for my own to cure. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Some of the food baked and provided by the lovely Jude
Jude runs workshops out of the back bungalow of her place on St Andrews Beach. We started out with a cup of tea (coffee was also available), some lunch and a chat. Jude started out asking why we were interested in making soap. We talked about trying to be clean and green in our homes, and also for our bodies. Some of the chemicals in commercial soaps are awful (For more info check out this article). Other soaps don't use unusual chemicals, but they remove all the moisturising properties (glycerin) to sell separately.
Jude explained her soaps use simple ingredients. All soaps require two main components. Fats (or oils) and caustic soda. Jude uses a little bit of coconut oil (for more lather) and high quality Australian olive oil. She uses olive oil from a grove that she and her husband used to manage. We actually did a taste test of different olive oils. Jude highly recommends using high quality ingredients. There's less point in making your own soap if the ingredients you use have been chemically extracted and then shipped internationally. Even extra virgin oils from over seas may have had chemicals used in the process due to different requirements.
We were presented with a pot of materials to use: a saucepan, measuring jugs, stick blender as well as a range of essential oils, clays and exfoliants. Before Jude led us through a recipe that she provided. She also showed us how to alter it in the future if we wanted to change oils or proportions. The main calculation is to determine the amount of caustic soda. This calculation (and subsequent measuring) needs to be done very carefully as too little will mean a greasy soap, and too much a harsh, reddening soap.
This difficulty is why I would highly recommend a workshop at least for your first attempt at soap making. While it was wonderful to have the chemistry and calculations explained simply and in person, you can find that information online if you look hard enough. The problem is that you need a trust worthy source, as a single mistake could mean severe burns. Having someone standing right there to stop you before you make a mistake is really reassuring.
Making soap under supervision the first time made the process fun rather than stressfull.
Jude helped us heat the oils, add the caustic soda and watched to make sure that we reached 'trace' but didn't over-blend the soap. She helped us mold and wrap the soap in insulating foil. It takes about 24 hours to set, so we took it home in the meantime. She explained that cutting it at the 24 hour mark is far easier than afterwards, and that a wooden chopping board and a sharp knife will do the trick. I had no trouble whatsoever, and am looking forward to using my soap in 6 weeks when it is fully hardened. You can use it sooner, but if you wait for a bit, they will stay harder in the shower, and last that bit longer. If you could smell these soaps, you'd see why they're worth waiting for!
My oats, goatsmilk and lemon scented gum on the left, and the poppy seed, green tea and clary sage soap on the right.
Lovely article! So well written, that I immediately want to go and learn soap making skills! Unfortunately the cost is very prohibitive. When you work, you don't have time. And when your between jobs, you can't afford it. Do you know of any classes that are cheaper?