Amy Lowell’s Lilac Soap

Amy Lowell
Amy Lowell via The Poetry Foundation

Amy Lowell is a Massachusetts poet. She loved the return of lilacs to New England in the spring and wrote a beautiful poem about it. I love lilacs, too. My grandmother had a lilac bush in her back yard. They were beautiful and smelled heavenly.

I tried yet another experiment this weekend: lilac soap. Who better to name a New England lilac soap after than Amy Lowell? I had intended to try swirling two colors for the first time, but things didn’t quite work out as I had planned.


  • 8 oz. olive oil
  • 8 oz. coconut oil
  • 12 oz. palm oil
  • 12 oz. coconut oil
  • 13.2 oz. distilled water
  • 5.472 oz. lye
  • 4 T lilac fragrance oil
  • 2 T alkanet powder

Right about Tuesday of this week, I measured out two tablespoons of alkanet powder and 4 oz. of olive oil into a plastic container, stirred well, and put a lid on the container. I put the alkanet and olive oil infusion in a dark cabinet. I took it out today to use with my lilac swirl soap, intending to make two small batches of soap in different colors. I mixed the oils for each of the colors at the same time, measuring out half of the required amount. I put the infused olive oil in my colored bowl so I could remember which batch was supposed to be colored. In case you were wondering, yes, the alkanet infusion stained the plastic, but it didn’t bother me much because I wasn’t trying to prevent staining. If you use colorants and don’t want to stain your plastic, just use a glass jar for infusing instead.

Alkanet InfusionIt was a little scary to clean up afterward. Perhaps it might be best after all just to use something you can dispose of, like a pickle jar.

I had problems with my lye being too hot again, and this time, I was just using distilled water. The common denominator seems to be the lye, which is a new brand. I think I just won’t buy it again once I’ve used it up. It’s too much of a hassle to put my lye in an ice bath every single time I want to make soap. I would expect it when I’m making milk-based soaps, but not water. The lye I bought from Bramble Berry the first time I made soap costs about the same amount, even factoring in shipping, so I will just be ordering it from them.

I mixed the batch without the alkanet first so that I wouldn’t mix colorant from the hand blender into the light mix. I poured 2 T of lilac fragrance oil into each small batch of soap. The trace was too thick when I tried to pour the soap. The lilac fragrance oil accelerated the trace. At any rate, it was all I could do to spoon out globs of the soap into my mold before it hardened too much to use. I had no idea what I was going to get when I cut it open, but I think that’s true whether you spoon it out or swirl it, especially the first time. I just smashed it into mold as quickly as I could and hoped when I cut it the next day all would be well.

Well, I can say this: it could have been worse. I at least have usable soap, even though it isn’t very pretty.

Lilac SoapWhere to begin? Well, the light color is really not very pretty at all, and I suspect that its yellowish tinge comes from the shea butter I used. It actually looks prettier in these photos than it does in person. Trust me. It’s kind of a gross yellow.

Given that the color isn’t very pretty, I wish I had just colored the whole batch purple. Live and learn. As a result of trying to do too much (swirl, in this case), I wound up having the soap seize up on me, and I desperately shoved the soap into the mold, but pockets formed where there was no soap, and it was really ugly when I cut the bars.

Lilac Soap
Look at that nasty air pocket!

I suppose everyone has a batch of soap seize up on them at least once, but at least now I know that working with the lilac fragrance oil is going to be tricky, and I will need to bring my temperatures down a little to slow down the time it takes to trace and add the fragrance at a lighter trace. I also learned that swirling is really hard with floral fragrance like lilac, so I may just need to make the soap one solid purple color instead.

Lilac Soap

I also had some problems with soda ash, which is probably because it seized up, and I wasn’t able to put it to bed as soon as I should have. I had to cut the bars down quite a bit to make them somewhat presentable, as most of them had air pockets on the sides where the soap globs didn’t mash together well.

The soap smells heavenly, just like my grandmother’s lilacs, and I tried lathering up with some of the cuttings as a test. The lather is smooth and creamy. The soap has cosmetic issues to be sure, but it is something that could be used, even if I don’t think I could give it away or sell it (unless I discounted it like those outlet stores do with clothes that have something wrong with them).

I’m sorry, Amy! Next time your soap will be worthy of your name!

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Amy Lowell’s Lilac 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.

Chai Tea Soap

As you might remember, I had planned to make chai tea soap last weekend, but my chai tea fragrance oil hadn’t arrived yet. I think I received it on Tuesday of this week. Anyway, I don’t fault Bramble Berry for taking their time and shipping fragrance oils ground. It’s much safer when shipping flammable oils. I’d hate for a fire to start. But I was kind of bummed out that I couldn’t make my chai tea soap. Next time, I will order earlier.

I made my chai tea soap on Friday instead, then cut it using my brand new crinkle cutter on Saturday.

Chai Tea SoapIngredients:

  • 8 oz. olive oil
  • 8 oz. coconut oil
  • 12 oz. palm oil
  • 12 oz. shea butter
  • 5.472 oz. lye
  • 13.2 oz. chai tea
  • 4 T chai tea fragrance oil
  • tea leaves from 3 chai tea bags

On Thursday night, I made the chai tea in a plastic container using distilled water, boiled, and 3 chai tea bags. I steeped the tea on the counter until it cooled to room temperature, then I put it in the refrigerator. I’m really glad I did that, as you will see in a moment.

After I got home from work Friday, I got out all my supplies and mixed my lye into the chai tea. The temperature shot way up, and it stalled right around 140°. I finally decided to put it in an ice water bath. I have never seen any warnings about tea. Everyone says using milk is tricky, and you should start with frozen milk and add the lye slowly. I didn’t realize the tea would do that. It could be some of the flavorings in chai tea in particular have that effect. There was a vanilla flavor and of course the spices added to the chai tea I used (Twinings French Vanilla Chai, if you are curious).

I was working with a new brand of lye, and it is shaped in little pastilles, which are a little neater in one respect—there is no fine dust left in the container when I add it to the liquid. However, they wanted to roll everywhere, so I would recommend using a bigger container than you even think you will need for lye that comes in little pastille shapes just so that you can collect all of it rather that watch it winging across the kitchen table like I did.

Once I managed to cool off the lye, I noticed my oils were a little too warm. It’s always something, isn’t it? I let them cool off for a minute, then I just added the lye. The soap reached trace fairly quickly. At a light trace, I added the fragrance. I didn’t notice any sort of acceleration or reaction, and the fragrance oil mixed very well with the soap. I cut open the tea bags I had used to make the chai tea and put the tea leaves into the soap at a heavier trace. I stirred them in, then poured the soap in my mold.

Chai Tea SoapThe crinkle cutter was great to work with. It made a cute design with no extra effort on my part, and it helped me cut my soap into more uniformly sized bars. The slots on my cutter mold are wider than my straight cutter, so sometimes my soap is slightly different sizes. The crinkle cutter just fits in the slots, which makes the soap easier to cut to the same size. It’s a good, quality cutter, and I can recommend it to anyone making soap.

The soap came out a pretty caramel color, and the flecks of tea leaves provide a nice decoration. My husband really liked the fragrance. I can’t say it smells precisely like chai tea to me (I drink chai all the time, and this fragrance is missing a sort of spicy smell), but it does smell good, and the vanilla tones of the chai scent came through. The fragrance may change as the soap cures, too, so that is something I need to keep in mind.

Chai Tea Soap CuringI put the soap on my curing rack after removing the first batch I ever made, which has now cured for four weeks and can be used. I think this batch of soap is probably the most uniformly pretty batch. I would feel comfortable selling every single bar from this batch, whereas several bars from my honey cinnamon oatmeal batch are funny looking because they were stuck in the mold, and some of my first batch of lemongrass sage have spots not colored by the essential oil. I think I have to lay credit at the feet of the crinkle cutter. I will probably be using that cutter a lot.

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Chai Tea 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.

The Great Chocolate Milk Soap Experiment

The chai tea fragrance oil I ordered to make my chai tea soap this weekend didn’t arrive in time.


But when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, right? I could still make soap with things I had on hand or that I could easily pick up at the grocery store. I can’t find a place around here that sells essential oils or fragrance oils, so it had to be something that would be OK without added scent.

I decided that this weekend could be the weekend I experiment with using milk in soap, and I created a chocolate milk soap recipe I really wanted to try.

Chocolate Milk SoapWorking with both milk and chocolate can be more difficult, however, so I had to change some things about my process.


  • 13.2 oz. olive oil
  • 12 oz. coconut oil
  • 6.8 oz. palm oil
  • 4 oz. shea butter
  • 0.625 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
  • 13.2 oz. whole milk
  • 5.637 oz. lye

First, I measured out the whole milk, put it in a freezer bag, and froze it. This is a suggestion for working with milk (although she mentions it with goat milk) from Heidi Corley Barto’s in The Natural Soap Chef. When you use liquids other than water, it’s a good idea to follow suggestions of more experienced soapers like Heidi, and she’s not the only person I’ve seen mention working with frozen milk. The milk should be at least a frozen slush when you use it. Make an ice bath in your sink, and put the slushy milk into the ice bath. Then carefully, slowly add the lye, stirring as you go. Add a bit, stir a bit. Go very slowly. If the temperature of the lye mixture starts to climb above 140°, add more ice to the ice bath.

Prepare the chocolate with the oils. It should be melted. You can melt it in the microwave if you’re careful. Check this link for tips on melting chocolate. When the lye/milk has reached 100°, add it to the oil mixture. The rest of the process as the same as making any other cold process soap: use a stick blender to help the soap saponify, and once it reaches trace, pour it into the mold of your choice. My recipe fits a three-pound loaf mold.

I knew working with milk would be different, but as it turned out, the main difference seemed to be the amount of time for each step. I think I put too much ice in the ice water bath, and my lye heated up, but then cooled down to about 80° and stalled there, so I put it in a warm bath. Well, a hot one. And I managed to bring it up to 98°, but it wouldn’t budge any more, so I decided maybe I should add it to the oils. It look longer than usual to reach trace. The soap didn’t feel as warm as it normally does when I picked up the mold to put it in the closet where I keep my soap. It seemed to take longer to reach a gel stage, too. I’m not sure if this is just normal for working with milk, or if it was due to the fact that I had to warm up my lye, or what.

When I poured it into the mold, it did look exactly like chocolate milk. Really thick chocolate milk. Like chocolate pudding, actually. I fretted over it because it was slower going than the other soap I’ve made, but once it started to reach gel stage, I felt better.

But it darkened up quite a bit by the time it had cooled, as I figured it would.

Chocolate Milk Soap in the Mold
Cooled Chocolate Milk soap in the mold

When I cut it into bars, I noticed that there was a sort of dark brown rim around the bar, while the middle was lighter. I think it was due to the fact that the soap isn’t completely hardened yet.

Chocolate Milk SoapA few hours later, the color had darkened to a deeper brown.

DarkerI noticed a couple of air bubbles, too, but you know, it’s chocolate milk, and who doesn’t blow bubbles in their chocolate milk, right?

It has a light scent that reminds me more of chocolate cake than milk, but my husband thought it smelled like chocolate milk. I lathered up and washed my hands with a tiny ball of the soap I had made from some trimmings, and it has a nice creamy lather. I was worried the chocolate would discolor the lather, but it didn’t seem to. I will have to test it again after some time passes just to make sure.


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Chocolate Milk 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.

The Best Soap I’ve Ever Used

Lemongrass Sage Soap The first handmade soap I ever used was purchased from Indigo Bath and Body at the farmers’ market in Georgia, where I used to live. I loved the soap. It smelled wonderful (lavender and spearmint essential oils), and it felt amazing. The best thing I’d ever put on my face. Until this week.

I hate to say it because it sounds a bit boastful, but my lemongrass sage soap is even better for my face than the wonderful handmade soap I have been using whenever I can get my hands on it. I even stocked up prior to my move!

I have combination skin. My skin is oily in the T-zone. I rarely have issues with dry skin, but I do use a moisturizer formulated for oily skin in the morning. I have large pores on my nose and surrounding areas, and I have always been embarrassed about them, particularly when I purchased makeup and the helpful cosmetic counter assistants pointed them out to me (as if I didn’t know about them) and tried to steer me toward products that would hide or minimize them. The last salesgirl who pointed out my large pores tried to sell me some kind of mask that costs way more than anything I have ever put on my face, and is certainly more than I can afford. No way. I have tried Clarins’s Truly Matte Pore Minimizing Serum (which was pretty much the most expensive beauty product I’ve ever used on myself). I have tried Mario Badescu’s Silver Powder. I have even tried baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. These things all worked a little bit, but they never had a long-lasting impact, nor did they seem to make more than a small difference.

I had given up and decided that the best I could hope for was simply to mask my large pores under makeup.

When I made my first batch of lemongrass sage soap, I made too much for my mold and balled up the rest into two large “eggs.” I have been using one of the eggs this week, just since Sunday when I cut my soap into bars.

Incredibly, my pores are smaller. Like, tiny. I can hardly believe it. And it’s definitely the lemongrass sage soap because that’s the only new product I’ve started using—the only variation in my routine. I can’t say that it is necessarily the oils I’m using in the soap—olive, coconut, palm, and shea butter—although these oils make a nice conditioning, cleansing bar. I have wiped a cottonball with astringent over my skin after washing off my makeup with the lemongrass sage soap, and there has only been the barest trace of makeup right around the edges of my face. If I used a washcloth, I’m sure I wouldn’t have even that small amount because I can tell the residual makeup is at my hairline, and it’s just hard to get all of it. I have read, however, that lemongrass is good for oily skin and acne, and I have to wonder if the secret ingredient in my soap isn’t the essential oil I added only for fragrance.

It seems kind of silly to spend so much time extolling the virtues of something I made myself, but I have honestly tried everything there is, and I had just given up. For this reason, if no other, I’m so glad I learned how to make soap.

You will be able to buy my lemongrass sage soap from my Etsy store before the year is out.

Lemongrass Sage Soap

This weekend I made a lemongrass sage soap using my own recipe.

Lemongrass Sage Soap
Still in the mold.


  • 18 oz. olive oil
  • 14 oz. coconut oil
  • 8 oz. palm oil
  • 5 oz. shea butter
  • 2 oz. castor oil
  • 15.7 oz. distilled water
  • 7 oz. lye
  • 2 oz. lemongrass essential oil (add at trace)
  • 3 T sage (add at trace).

I tried a trick I read about in Heidi Corley Barto’s The Natural Soap Chef and infused some of the olive oil with sage prior to using it. I’m not sure I’m going to do that again because I had a lot of trouble straining it. I know part of the problem was that I was just impatient, but unless it imparts some quality I don’t know about to do it like that, it was a little more trouble than it was worth for me. I did mix the sage into a paste with the olive oil. I’m not sure if you have to do that, or what happens if you don’t. I suppose you could experiment and just mix it into the soap dry to see what happens.

I had a pretty heavy trace when I added the lemongrass oil, and it really made the soap thicken up. I would recommend adding it at a lighter trace. The soap was a little difficult to pour into my mold, and you might have better luck if you add the lemongrass oil earlier than I did. I added in sage at the same time.

When I poured the soap into the mold, I decided at the last minute to try adding some decorative peaks and swirls, as I have seen other soapers do. My daughter Maggie said the resulting soap looked “deformed.” That really made me laugh.

My husband has been saying the soap smells good enough to eat, and here he was laughing about the warnings in soap books about not eating the soap.

Lemongrass Sage Soap
Finished lemongrass sage soap.

I think I could have stirred the lemongrass oil in a little better. There were some lighter colored areas in the soap, and they were not lye pockets or air bubbles. They are not watery, either, so I don’t think it’s an issue with separation. They are the same color the soap would be if the lemongrass oil hadn’t added a yellowish tint. I think I just didn’t mix the lemongrass and sage completely. Given that I did have some trouble at that stage, I think I understand how it happened and how to prevent it in my next batch. Also, I discovered that lemongrass oil doesn’t like to mix well with soap, so it seems likely that I just didn’t stir it enough. It was getting so thick so fast after I added the essential oil, however, that I was afraid to wait too long to pour it into the mold. Next time, I will add the oil at a lighter trace. Or I might even try a fragrance oil instead of an essential oil. The fun is in experimenting and seeing what happens! However, I should mention that lemongrass oil is supposed to be good for acne and oily skin, so that’s one reason to go for the essential oil over the fragrance oil.

Stack of Lemongrass Sage

The soap still came out pretty enough that several of my Facebook friends who saw the picture of it that I posted requested some. Also, I have decided I like making soap enough to open an Etsy store, especially because 1) I should recoup some of the money I’m putting into it, and 2) if I make soap every weekend, I’m going to have too much, even if I give it away. But given that I have only been soaping three weeks, it will likely be months before I have enough stock to sell.

I ordered a crinkle cutter from Bramble Berry for my next batch of soap. I’m so looking forward to making the Chai Tea Soap in Heidi Corley Barto’s book. The recipe is not mine to share, but I will photograph the results.

I used my husband’s old shoe rack and created a soap curing rack in one of our closets.

Soap Drying Rack

It’s out of the draft and light (when the door is shut, and I’m not checking on my soap). I had the idea after seeing this amazing soap curing cabinet that another soaper’s husband made for her.

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Lemongrass Sage 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.

Honey Cinnamon Oatmeal Soap

This was my first personal recipe, and the soap turned out great!


  • 19 oz. olive oil
  • 14 oz. coconut oil
  • 6 oz. palm oil
  • 5 oz. shea butter
  • 2 oz. grapeseed oil
  • 2 oz. castor oil
  • 1.35 oz. sweet orange essential oil
  • 0.7 oz. cinnamon bark essential oil
  • 3 T finely ground oats
  • 1 T honey
  • 16 oz. distilled water
  • 7.2 oz. lye

First, I lay bubble wrap in the bottom of my mold so the soap would have a honeycomb appearance on the bottom. I wish I had lined the mold with parchment paper, too. Despite the fact that my mold’s manufacturer said lining was unnecessary, it was terrible trying to remove the soap from the mold. I had to pop it in the freezer for an hour, and even after that, I had to wedge it out with a knife, which kind of made my soap less pretty. Lesson learned. Always line!

I didn’t want to fiddle with the essential oils and oats when my soap was tracing, so I went ahead and measured them first, then combined them into one container and set them aside. I ground my oats with a coffee grinder, put them in another container, and set them aside. Then I went ahead an measured out the tablespoon of honey and set it aside, too.

I poured 16 oz. water into a container, set it aside, and carefully measured 7.2 oz. of lye into a new container. Then I slowly added the lye to the water, stirring all the while. I kept stirring until the liquid was clear. Then I stuck my thermometer into the lye so I could watch the temperature.

I know there are different schools of thought on warming oils. It was hot here in Massachusetts yesterday, so my coconut oil was already melted, but if it hadn’t been, I’d have melted it in the microwave. I did melt the shea butter in the microwave. Sue me. Despite the fact that I did not take care to make sure the oils were the same temperature as the lye, the soap turned out well.

I measured out my oils into different containers, then combined them into one big plastic bowl and kept stirring. A note for beginners like me: use a scale to measure everything. Don’t try to use a measuring cup and do it by volume. You could be a little off that way. I was a little worried that my shea butter was starting to solidify again while I waited for the lye to reach 100°F. I could see little tiny solid pieces, miniscule really, but I prayed and kept stirring. For all I know, that’s not a bad thing. I’m a newbie.

Once the lye reached 100°F, I carefully added it to the oil mixture and stirred for a few moments. Then I used my stick blender to speed up the process. At a light trace, I added the honey. I guess I should have diluted the honey. My finished soap had some brown spots.

Dark Spots
You can see the dark spots in the corner and sides.

According to one online troubleshooter (dead link removed—sorry!), this can also happen when your soap goes through a very hot gel phase. Like mine did.

Gel Phase
Ay chi wawa! That was hot!

I had read that honey does funny things. Perhaps I didn’t need to cover the soap with a towel. However, I did read that the dark spots might go away once the soap is cured, and also that the soap is still fine to use. Whew! I think they sort of give it character.

At trace, I added the essential oils and ground oats and stirred thoroughly to mix everything in well. I covered the top with bubble wrap for the honeycomb effect, then put my soap to bed.

I actually made a mistake in my recipe. I added 20 oz. of olive oil instead of 19. I’m not sure what it did to my batch, aside from make more soap. I’ll have to wait and see if there were any unintended effects, but the soap looks just fine.

Finished uncut soap
Pretty! But stuck in the mold!


I have a mold that comes with a cutter, so once I finally wrestled my soap out of the mold, I sliced it into bars. They’re kind of quirky and not all the same size.

Bar of soap
This one looks nice.


But like I said, I learned my lesson about the lining, which should prevent some of the odd looking bars next next time.

Finished bars
Let’s cure this soap!


You’re probably wondering about that huge bar of soap on the far right. Right? It may be the result of adding the extra ounce of olive oil, or it could be that I’m a newbie and can’t figure out how much oil will make the exact right amount to fit my mold, but I had that much soap left over after my mold was full, so I poured into a plastic container, and put bubble wrap on it, too.

Funny leftover bar
Funny leftover bar of soap.


And it came out pretty well.

Finished funny bar
Finished leftover bar in the mold.


It was a little easier to get out of the mold, but it still gave up a little fight. I used a peeler to make it look a little nicer around the edges.

Funny soap edged

That is one huge bar of soap.

Still the honeycomb effect turned out well.


Overall, I’m very pleased with how the finished soap looks, despite the brown spots. I was working with honey, which can be kind of cranky, and I was using a recipe of my own, so who knew what would happen? It smells absolutely divine, by the way. The combination of the honey and essential oils is amazing.

By the way, this soap had an INS value of 155, which is close to Dr. Bob’s ideal of 160. So that’s good? I guess. Also, the calculator I used to create the recipe predicts the recipe will produce soap with a medium hard bar, very good cleansing, great conditioning, good foam, and average stable lather. I wasn’t sure whether to worry about lather stability over much or not.

Washing up my supplies told me that the soap lathers up really well and feels good on my hands. I can’t wait to use it.

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Honey Cinnamon Oatmeal 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.