One Year Update

Now that it’s been nearly a year since I decided to “scale back,” it seemed like a good time to check in with any remaining readers to let you know that I’m very happy with my decision to suspend selling my soaps. As much as I enjoy making soap, I didn’t enjoy catering to the market or the demands of wholesale. In fact, selling my soaps wholesale is what soured me on the business end of making soap.

I am not ruling out reopening my Etsy store at some point, but for right now, expect that this blog will be updated purely as a hobbyist’s enterprise, and as such, updates may be somewhat infrequent. If you want to make sure you don’t miss one, you can subscribe to the site (see the sidebar on the right).

I’ve also changed the look around here, and I hope you like it. Thanks for continuing to follow me on my journey as a soapmaker.

Scaling Back

I started making handmade soap about four years ago because I fell in love with the handmade soap I used to buy at the farmer’s market in my old home in Georgia. I don’t know if I thought handmade soap didn’t exist in Massachusetts or what, but I decided I wanted to learn how to make it myself because I was moving and wouldn’t be able to buy it from the farmer’s market anymore. I did a lot of research before I moved, but I didn’t make my first batch until after I moved to Massachusetts. It didn’t take long before it was one of my favorite things to do. I loved to experiment. I loved to create. I loved the end product. My skin is in excellent shape, and I attribute it entirely to the fact that I am exclusively using the soap and lotion I make myself. In fact, if I travel and forget to pack my own soap or perhaps think it’s a hassle and wind up using the hotel soap, my skin hates it.

I haven’t made a lot of soap this summer. My son actually asked me about it about a month ago. I have no intentions of stopping entirely, but it is true I’m scaling back. I am finding I want to make time to do other things, too. Spend time with my husband and children. Read. Travel. Write. I firmly believe, and have said often when people ask me how I do so much, that we make time to do the things that are important to us.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t find the business end of making soap a bit frustrating. I haven’t been successful at markets, and that has been disheartening. I can’t get into our local farmer’s market. I find keeping up with more than a few wholesale accounts exhausting, so I have elected not to pick up any more wholesale accounts. When I lost a wholesale account earlier this year for reasons that were not explained (and I didn’t pursue), I was secretly relieved because I could spend more time making the soap I want to make. That is what I love about making soap in the first place. Making what I want. But what I want to make is not always what people want to buy, and that has been a frustrating thing to experience. I want to show off a new technique or try a new recipe. But people want to buy their favorites.

If making soap was just a business to me, my path forward would be clear. I should make what sells and not worry about what I want, or perhaps indulge in making what I want for special occasions, such as gifts. But it’s not just a business to me, and frankly, it’s never been a very successful business. And I don’t really need the income. I have a full time job.

So, I am going to be scaling back. I actually already have, though I didn’t know it. I thought about it a lot over the summer, and what I will do is make soap when the mood strikes, and I will sell it in my Etsy store when I have enough, but I’m not going to be keeping the  the store stocked, and what you will see there will be soaps I wanted to make. I am hoping people will understand that part of the reason I’m doing this is so I don’t actually feel the need to stop making soap because I don’t enjoy it anymore. I want to get back some of the passion I felt for making soap when it was a hobby, so I am returning it to more of a hobby. I have seen some good friends bow out entirely—either they have stopped making soap or they haven’t blogged about it a long time or both. I don’t want that to happen to me. I do consider making soap an art as well as a craft, and I want to make the kind of art that inspires me and makes me want to keep making art.

Big Sale!

During the month of September, spring and summer soaps will be on clearance so we can make room for fall and winter soaps, including our Christmas favorites. It is the perfect way to capture that last little bit of summer as the leaves are turning.

But that’s not all! You can use the coupon code HAPPYBIRTHDAY all during the month of September to save 10% on your purchases, even on clearance items!

The first nine orders received starting on September 1 will receive a free bar of Maine Blueberry soap (approximately 3.5 ounces and a $4.00 value). Remaining orders will receive one free soap ball while supplies last.

Big News for New England Handmade Artisan Soaps

I have some exciting news, and I just didn’t want to wait until September to share it. Starting Monday, August 25, New England Handmade Artisan Soaps will be opening its own independent online store right here on this website! In fact, you may even see the store button on the menu bar above, but at the moment, there are no items for sale.

What will change?

Aside from having a new outlet for purchasing New England Handmade Artisan Soaps, nothing will change. The Etsy store will remain open, and if purchasing via Etsy is preferable for you, you will still be able to purchase soaps via Etsy. You will no longer be able to access the Etsy store using the link above in the menu bar, but the link in the sidebar to right will remain active. Prices will be the same on both sites, but my personal store will make it easier for me to run sales and promotions, so you might want to check into it. You will also still be able to use either credit/debit cards or PayPal in the new store, just as on Etsy, but of course, Etsy gift cards will not work in the new store. Coupon codes shared in the regular monthly newsletter will also work in both stores.

Why the new store?

Well, a couple of reasons. First of all, I have control over more aspects of operating an online store at my own site than I do on Etsy. For instance, Etsy has always made calculating precise shipping difficult because the only method for setting up shipping is per item. USPS works more conveniently when calculated by weight. In my own online store, your shipping price will be based on weight and will automatically configure orders of certain sizes to fit USPS Priority Mail shipping containers. There will be no need to set up custom orders to achieve exact shipping quotes.

Also, it is my hope that customers will find what they are looking for more easily through my online store. Etsy does have a large number of gifted artisans, many of whom are soapmakers, and it is easy to be lost in the shuffle. The chances of someone searching online for a certain kind of soap and finding my Etsy store are slim, but a personal storefront will make it easier for customers using search engines to find what they are looking for at New England Handmade Artisan Soaps. It was also my hope to attract attention to my blog, which many customers on Etsy may not even be aware exists.

Finally, an independent storefront will make it easier for me to set up preorders for soaps that are not yet ready so that you can reserve soaps in advance and not miss out on your favorites. I can also set up backorders for soaps that are out of stock. If these features interest you, please feel free to let me know you’d like to see them implemented in the store.

What else is new?

You may have noticed things look a little different on the blog masthead, the Facebook page, the Etsy store, or even Twitter and the blog. As the new online store opens, I thought the time was right to make a few cosmetic changes. The next time you order soap, you might notice small differences in the packaging. However, you’ll be getting the same great soap.

If you have any questions about the new store, feel free to ask. I’m looking forward to sharing this new venture with all of you!

Christmas Soaps

Last Christmas was my first experience selling handcrafted items. I learned that quite a few people really do go out of their way to support artisans. There is something special about receiving something handmade as a gift.

This year, I attempted to prepare for the season a little better. I learned some lessons. First, all of my holiday-themed soaps sold out. The two quickest sellers were Cranberry Blood Orange and Candy Cane.

Cranberry Blood Orange
Cranberry Blood Orange
Candy Cane
Candy Cane

I made a note to make more batches of each next year. One thing people who don’t make soap have a hard time understanding is that cold process soap must cure for at least four weeks, which means soapmakers need to figure out what is likely to sell at least a month in advance of the major selling period. For Christmas, that means soapmakers really need to have soaps ready by mid-November in order to capitalize on early shoppers. My biggest sales day was Small Business Saturday, which happened right after Thanksgiving and Black Friday, but I continued to sell right up until a few days ago.

The big question is, how many batches of each would sell? It’s hard to determine what will sell in early to mid-October when the soaps must be made. It’s a risk to make too much because there is a chance I might have leftover Christmas products. However, if I make too little, I might miss out on sales opportunities. It’s a tough call.

Some other lessons I learned are that I move more soaps more quickly offline through purchases made by family, friends, and craft fairs. I haven’t been able to do many craft fairs yet, but I am definitely interested in participating in more. I would be remiss if I did not mention I’ll be selling my soap at the Alchemy Fair in Holyoke, MA, on April 26 and 27, 2014. I’m very much looking forward to that fair.

Speaking of craft fairs, another thing I learned from selling at craft fairs this season is that my Lavender Dream and Lemongrass Sage soaps sell much more quickly offline when people have a chance to smell them.

Lavender Dream
Lavender Dream

Lavender Dream is a newer soap. I used to combine the lavender essential oil with a spearmint fragrance, but I found the spearmint didn’t come through with the lavender (it was fine on its own, but the lavender overpowered it). I renamed it, and folks who love lavender adored it. I also toned down one of the purple shades a bit.

Lemongrass Sage is one of my oldest recipes and has been a favorite among family and friends.

Lemongrass Sage
Lemongrass Sage

It smells very bright and clean, and for a citrus scent, lemongrass really sticks well. I’m not sure why these soaps do not sell as well on Etsy as they do in person. I have some theories, but as the first thing most people do when they’re buying soap at a craft fair is sniff it, I think the scent has a great deal to do with it. On Etsy, buyers might rely more on the look of the soap, though I’m not certain that’s the case.

Another soap that sold really well at craft fairs was White Tea & Ginger.

White Tea & Ginger
White Tea & Ginger

It has a very nice spicy scent. One of my friends thinks that perhaps the plainer look of the soap might be a reason it does not sell as well on Etsy as it does in person. I like the look of it and don’t really want to change it, but it may be that I will make it only in advance of craft fairs rather than keep it on Etsy.

One soap sold very slowly, and I was disappointed because I knew it was a lovely soap.

Anise & Peppermint
Anise & Peppermint

If you are not familiar with anise essential oil, it smells like licorice. I realize licorice is a candy people either love or hate, but even though I’m not a fan of the taste, I love the smell. Of course, I associate it with my grandmother, who loves licorice candy (she received a bar of this soap for Christmas). I thought the black and white was striking and pretty, but I have learned that buyers do not necessarily associate black with soap, or at least the sellers I have encountered do not. My soaps with a large amount of black colorant do not seem to do as well as others. I am not sure why because I think it’s striking and different. I really think this soap turned out well, and I loved it, but it sold very slowly for Christmas.

I also made a soap I called Winter Wonderland.

Winter Wonderland
Winter Wonderland

I used the scent in this soap in a previous soap, and I couldn’t sell it! I have to believe it sold well in this soap for two reasons: 1) the look of this soap was more appealing than the look of the other soap in which I used the same fragrance, and 2) it was the holidays, so soap naturally sold more quickly. I love the scent. It’s a gorgeous watery/ozone type scent that is perfect to evoke snow. I think if people could have smelled my other soap, it would have sold better. Smell seems to make such a huge difference.

One lesson I am going to take away is to pull back on what I sell on Etsy. I am charged fees for each listing, and while it’s not a huge amount, it’s too much to post soaps that just don’t sell. I will be more judicious about new offerings in the future. It is my hope that I can start doing more craft fairs or farmer’s markets as I would hate to cut back on making soap. I love it, and I’m addicted now!

I wish everyone happy holidays. I hope you find a little bar of handmade goodness in your stocking!

Mrs. Darcy

I created the next soap in my Jane Austen series, Mrs. Darcy. It is gorgeous!

Mrs. DarcyThe recipe is similar to Sweet Jane:

  • 30% olive oil
  • 25% coconut oil
  • 25% palm oil
  • 10% sweet almond oil
  • 5% cocoa butter
  • 5% castor oil

I used Nature’s Garden’s Plumeria fragrance and colored it with titanium dioxide and ultramarine violet. I used a goat milk base and added silk to the milk and lye mixture.

I had an unfortunate mishap while making the soap. My hard oils were melting in the microwave and tipped over, spilling all over the place. I mopped up the best I could, then started over with the hard oils again. By that time, the goat milk, while still under 70°, was beginning to saponify. It never turned any darker than a cream color (thank goodness), but it was thick. I mixed it with the oils anyway and discovered that some of my silk did not dissolve. Perhaps it doesn’t when you use milk? Not sure.

Mrs. DarcyThen the soap started to thicken up, and I wanted to do a hanger swirl. As you can see, it turned out just fine, but I was sweating!

Next time, I plan to do something a little different with the hanger swirl. This is pretty, but I was looking for a more striking effect.

So what did I do wrong, folks?

  1. I tried a new fragrance.
  2. I used new colorants.
  3. I tried a new technique.

You should probably not try to take on all of that newness in one batch. I have learned!

One thing I’m learning, too, is that less is often more. An in-the-pot swirl is easier than this hanger swirl, but the effect is much more striking. Next time, I will try Celine Blacow’s trick of taping two wooden skewers to the bottom of the hanger for a more striking hanger swirl.

I sculpted the tops a little more than usual, and they look pretty.

Mrs. DarcyI used an in-the-pot swirl for my next Jane Austen soap, called “Marianne’s Passion.” I had meant to make it a Lydia Bennet soap, but the more I worked with it, the more it whispered “Marianne” to me. It’s perfect for Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility. I’ll post pictures after I’ve cut it. It’s gorgeous!

I originally intended to limit my Jane Austen series to Pride and Prejudice in honor of its 200th anniversary this month, but the more I think about it, the more I want to expand the series to all of Jane Austen’s oeuvre. You knew I was a huge Jane Austen fan, right?

I would be remiss If I didn’t mention there are three new soaps in the Etsy store: Lilac Goat Milk, Sea Salt and Lotus Blossom Salt bars, and Grubby Girl (with shredded loofah!).

Fall Soaps on Etsy

I love to support my fellow handmade soapers. Check out some of the wonderful fall soaps I found.

'Fall Soaps' by danahuff

It's October! The leaves are changing, the air is crisper, and that means fall-inspired soaps are starting to show up in Etsy stores.

Mint Spruce Soap //  Sage, Gift for Men, Handmade Soap, Mint Soap, Woodland, Vegan Soap, Cold Process Soap, All Natural Soap - sweetpinesoaps
Mint Spruce Soap // Sa...
Star Anise & Clove Soap - OwlandAcorn
Star Anise & Clove Soap
Cinnamon Bark Soap - Organic Soap - Cold Processed Handmade Vegan Soap - Fall Soap - DeShawnMarie
Cinnamon Bark Soap - Or...
Pumpkin Spice Pumpkin Soap- Handmade Organic Soap - All Natural Vegan Orange Pumpkin Soap - Halloween & Fall Soap - HopesSoap
Pumpkin Spice Pumpkin S...
Cinnamon Spice Soap - natural soap made with honey and beeswax - honeyrunfarm
Cinnamon Spice Soap - n...
Pumpkin Handmade Cold Process Soap - Autumn Soap Bar - Halloween - LippincottSoapCo
Pumpkin Handmade Cold P...
Handmade Soap - Pumpkin Face Soap - soapysoaps
Handmade Soap - Pumpkin...
Halloween Soap  - Skull and Crossbone -  All Natural Glycerin - For the Pirates too - SunbasilgardenSoap
Halloween Soap - Skull...
Spiced Pumpkin Soap - lustercanyon
Spiced Pumpkin Soap
Autumn Country Harvest Soap - NakedBearSoapworks
Autumn Country Harvest ...
Autumn Apple Soap with Shea & Mango Butter Handcrafted Vegan Natural Spa Cold Process - soapfix
Autumn Apple Soap with ...
Apple Soap - Frosted Apple Spice - Vegan, Homemade - HomemadeSoapNSuch
Apple Soap - Frosted Ap...
Perfect Pumpkin Soap Slice - LittleGoatSoaps
Perfect Pumpkin Soap Sl...
Spiced Pumpkin Soap Vegan Friendly - CoastMountainSoap
Spiced Pumpkin Soap Veg...
Orange Autumn Soap, All Natural, Hot Process - PeacefieldFarm
Orange Autumn Soap, All...
Chai - organic soap, autumn soap - mirasolfarm
Chai - organic soap, au...

Treasury tool by StylishHome.

Cinnamon Apple Cider Soap

The weekend before last, Steve and I took the kids to Tougas Family Farm to pick apples. I decided to try to use some of the apples in a soap, especially because I had ordered an apple cider fragrance oil from Bramble Berry. I added a tiny bit of cinnamon bark essential oil and cinnamon to the recipe, and the soap came out beautifully.

Here is the soap right after I poured it into the mold and stuck the apple slices in. It soaped up really well.

Cinnamon Apple Cider Soap

I wasn’t sure what color the soap would turn. Fragrance oils, fats, and oils used in soap all contribute different properties to the color, and when you don’t use a colorant, sometimes the results are interesting. They are usually some natural shade from beige to brown, but you don’t often know precisely what you’re going to get.

Here is the soap after 24 hours of saponification.

Cinnamon Apple Cider Soap

I couldn’t believe how close the color was to the true color of applesauce. The soap looks and smells exactly like applesauce to me. It came out wonderful. I was really pleased.

Cinnamon Apple Cider Soap

I decided not to trim the bar at all. I like how it the soap looks just as it was cut.

Cinnamon Apple Cider Soap

I love the one bar with the stem.

Cinnamon Apple Cider Soap

It will cure for four weeks, and then I will sell it in very limited quantities in my Etsy store.

The recipe:

  • 35% olive oil
  • 25% coconut oil
  • 25% palm oil
  • 10% shea butter
  • 5% castor oil

I also added four tablespoons of Bramble Berry’s Apple Cider Fragrance Oil, one teaspoon of cinnamon bark essential oil, and one teaspoon ground cinnamon. I dried Tougas Macintosh apples in the oven.

Please check out the other offerings in the store. I’m adding new soaps all the time!

Creative Commons License

Cinnamon Apple Cider Soap by Dana Huff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at Suds Life: About.

Big News!

I have big news! New England Handmade Artisan Soaps is now open for business on Etsy! The selection is small right now: Chai Tea Soap, Lemongrass Sage Soap, Chocolate Milk Soap, and Amy Lowell’s Lilac Soap. I will be adding new soaps all the time as the soaps I have made finish curing and are ready for use.

This weekend I made some more of the Chai Tea Soap, and I also tried an experiment with a Cinnamon Apple Cider Soap that I plan to enter into the Soap Queen’s Make It Monday: Unique Tops challenge. I won’t say much more about it now because I need to see how it turns out when I cut it tomorrow. It looks great so far, and it smells wonderful. I had a great time making it. I hope it turns out well so I can feature it on this blog soon and share it with others in the Unique Tops challenge.

I also read two more soap books by Anne Watson. I want to review them both there, but they deserve their own post because they were wonderful.

I’m excited about all the soapy goodness!