Tuesday, 24 August 2010

History of Soap making

An occasional history of soap making...
'as old as olives'
Christian and I were talking about the olive tree the other night. This was possibly because we were eating olives, with a glass of wine, while Christian was cooking a goat stew.
There's more about goats later, but to get back to the olive tree - it gives us shade; the leaves are said to be medicinal; we can eat the fruit and also press it into my favourite oil for culinary use and natural skincare (including our soap). It is no accident that olive oil is the largest ingredient by weight in our Colne Bar.
As well as all this, the tree gives you a nicely grained hardwood that can be used to make beautiful bowls and furniture.
The olive tree is thought to originate from Syria, which is still a significant producer of olive oil. From Syria, the olive spread fast to Mediterranean countries, most notably Ancient Greece, where the tree was considered holy and you could be punished for cutting one down.
Maybe the olives are a small diversion however, (patience grasshopper) as the first recorded recipes for soap contained different oils. The earliest record of the production of soap-like material dates back to around 2800 BC in Ancient Babylon. This was a formula for soap consisting of water, alkali and cassia oil, written on a Babylonian clay tablet around 2200 BC. However, I quite liked the recipe (550 BC) for soap containing ashes, cypress oil and sesame seed oil, "for washing the stones for the servant girls". It must have made the lives of those hardworking young women a lot easier.
The ashes provided the alkali necessary to saponify the oils to make soap. Wood-ash was, and still is the alkali most readily available for the production of handmade soap – hand made of necessity, by homesteaders in the wild west and elsewhere, and still today, in countries with lower levels of material well-being. Tallow or other animal fats were used by homesteaders, however in places where vegetable oils can be economically extracted, these might be used too. I've recently read about some new soap-recycling schemes aimed at the less economically developed parts of the world. This is one of them: http://www.cleantheworld.org/– but perhaps there are other interventions that could be effective in helping control disease and wouldn't involve energy expended in mechanically re-processing and transporting used bits of soap thousands of miles. Making soap by hand involves very little energy and is something people have done for millennia. I note however that there are significant tax benefits for the US hotels participating in this scheme.
So, oil and alkali and the beginnings of soap in Ancient Babylon.
There is a soap museum in Sidon, in Lebanon- part of the Ancient Babylonion empire. http://www.itnsource.com/shotlist/RTV/2010/03/15/RTV649210/?v=1&a=0
Searching around all the sources on this, I found the 'old as olives' quote, which I like very much. Here it is in full:
'Soap industry on the Lebanese coast is as old as olives. The age of olives extending in the area from Palestine towards the Lebanese coast goes back to thousands of years BC'
I'd guess that the soap in the Lebanese museum could still produce a lather, but might have lost a lot of its water content over all those years. I've always wanted to go to Lebanon...
Aah the goats, oops nearly forgot about them. A clue- goatsmilk lovely stuff. As good in soap as olive oil. (not to be confused with Olive Oyl)
Photo of Sidon Soap Musem: - copyright of the photo pertains as follows:

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Product page updated

After cutting the latest batch of Grubby Gardener this morning, I have managed to get our products page updated with the Summer Soap photographs. These soaps were launched at the Rowhedge Regatta last Saturday.

Some people who saw us at the Regatta have stopped me in the street and asked for a product list so I made an A4 flyer, and have now completed an on-line version with photographs of each soap.

Friday, 9 July 2010

A Real success at Rowhedge Regatta

3rd July arrived and everything was packed and ready for the stall. Fabian had lent us a beautiful yellow trestle table and late the previous night, Clare had located the only spare gazebo in the village still intact after the windy Saturday of the Strawberry Fair. So on the morning of the Regatta all we had to do was take it all across to the quay, set it up and sell soap... And so we did!

I liked to see which soaps interested different people, (and why) and the most popular - on that hot and sticky day - was the refreshing and cleansing tea-tree oil soap we call Grubby Gardener. It also has sweet orange and cedar wood essential oils, as well as rose madder root, which colours it a deep red/maroon. Perhaps it was because I told everyone that the first thing I do when I get home on a hot day is use it to wash my feet. (well, not until we've made some more, I won't be, as we nearly ran out of it on Saturday- only a few bars left until the next batch is ready)

Christian's Volcanic Lava Swirl came a close second- sweet orange oil again, but this time mixed with geranium oil- a lovely combination. Lots of things noted from people's comments and suggestions for the next range- clove, cinnamon and orange for winter will be a definite, I think.

Lavender was popular and we also gave out samples of Dave's Soap (with nothing in it) to several people who need to use very pure soap on their skin.

We offered hand washing opportunities on a small table in the gazebo- a chance to wash off the ice-cream and candy floss and try different types of soap. There were several children with extremely clean hands that afternoon, having made extensive use of this facility. Friends' children were however very useful for running errands - Charlie kindly ran home to re-fill our water container and Tilly left us a cuddly lamb, for company.

The gazebo provided a shelter for some of the visiting grandmas, too. Our stall was right on the front of the quay, offering unrivalled views of the duck race, blindfold canoeing and visiting barges and smacks. The ladies we accumulated over the course of the afternoon therefore had a shady place to sit, in our very comfy fold-up chairs and they didn't miss a thing (we might do them a nice cup of tea next time). Maz's mum, down from the North, for her very first Regatta: 'Well, I liked your stall, but I've really enjoyed just sitting here these last couple of hours' she said, as she made her way off to check if she'd won the lucky programme draw.

Look out for some of Christian's photos of Regatta day and the River Colne, coming soon...

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

10 simple ways to use less oil | Greenpeace International

Saw this on Facebook this evening:

10 simple ways to use less oil | Greenpeace International

The simple ways to use less oil in relation to products are:
  • Prefer products packaged without plastic.
  • Buy beauty products (shampoo, soap, make-up) based on natural ingredients, not oil.
  • Prefer locally produced products (less transport involved).
These all apply to our soap- and, in addition, handmade cold process soap uses very little energy in the making- our natural vegetable oils are melted and heated for just a short while, to get them to the correct temperature before we add the lye-water and that's it. Everything else is done by hand. So a lot greener than mass-produced cleansing products. And no parabens or SLS.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Sunshine stencil

The long, light days are so good. The sudden, rapid growth of plants always surprises me. Yesterday I tied rows of string between two birch branches Christian had found for me to support bean plants. When I looked this evening, two of the plants had already reached the string and were curling up and around and above it. A bit of sun and rain today and away they went.

You can see Saturday's sunshine through our stencil

The rows of soap on the curing racks are moving gradually to the table where we've wrapped and labelled them. Over the weekend, Christian spent some very productive time working on our soap making identity - signs for when we sell direct, as at Rowhedge Regatta, and stencilling on the wooden boxes that we use for storage, transport and display. This involved spray paint as well as sunshine.
(and 50 soaps wrapped before the England game started). So we are pretty much ready for Regatta (including the gazebo)- and and and- Christian has taken with him to London a sample box of our soap.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

The Guild...

We have today had our application for membership of the Guild of Craft Toiletry and Soap Makers accepted.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

It's all happening....

Christian took some amazing photographs of our soap yesterday- and you can see a few at the top of the page. I've just been looking at them all full screen, even though the actual soaps are here on their curing racks and in their stock boxes I am transfixed by their lovely digital images- and I have extra advantage of the scent of the last batch still wafting through the air.

I am very excited indeed that we are getting close to our local launch at the Regatta and are well on the way to sharing all the soaps we've made with a much wider audience. Slightly nerve-wracking sometimes, but we're getting there.

Christian and I were working on the labels and flyers again last night and we are close to completing these...btw, I had better get on with some of that -after another quick slide-show of the lovely photos of course :-)

Sunday, 30 May 2010

What's in my soap ?

I was chatting with Anne the other evening, the subject had moved on to me making some point about Dave's Soap. And how, in responding to a customers request we have managed to developed a useful product for others to enjoy as well. She turned round to me and said, "Yeah, you're right, it ain't what's in it that counts, it's what's not in-it, that's more important!" - Never a truer word spoken and this gave me part of the subject matter for this entry. The other half is embedded below.

I returned home this afternoon, to find my screen exactly as I had left it, You Tube flashing red in the top corner.

I must explain, that recently, I have been learning about how to make a liquid soap. and as part of that process, have spent, some, - no, a great deal of - time watching video's on You Tube.

Glancing down the suggestions, I came across "Making of Quality Liquid hand soap".

You may probably have realised by now, I'm a good sucker for a bit of You Tube watching, especially when I have at least 10,000 other things I "should be doing". Also, that Sunday afternoon feeling was creeping up fast, so I clicked on it and sat back.

As it whirled into gear, I glanced to the two attached comments. I imagined a guy in a beach shack somewhere in Calinfornia as he taps away at his iPad, the cool ocean breeze embraces the room and the sharp mid afternoon sun sends it's rays visible through reflections in the dust whipped into life by the wind. Grateful Dead murmurs quietly in the background on the docked player, he writes "to much chemicals man ".

The second, a piece of equally wry wit, "Hmmm, nice lot of ingredients".

Both made me smile, and as I watched I was remined of Anne's phrase,
It aint what's in it,
It's what's not in it,
that counts !
Now one quick point, before I leave you to watch.

We at Colne Soap Makers, do not make soap as shown in the video, we use natural products, and in good measures.

I think this video serves as a good reminder for myself, when I make liquid soap one day, it's going be like Dave's Soap and made with oils and lye, processed and dissolved in spring water.

I'll leave the video to speak for itself.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Rowhedge Regatta Sat 3rd July

We will be having a stall at the Rowhedge Regatta this year. Rowhedge is situated on the River Colne, in Essex.

We are both busy preparing for the event. I have been making new molds so we can bump up production.

Anne has applied for membership to GCSP (more in another blog) and don't forget making the soap! We made the last batch for Regatta last night (Orange and Geranium) which made the house smell pretty juicy.

When you don't think things through, it's too late when 8 lb of soap is reaching trace earlier than expected so a bit of improvisation was needed on the mixing front and a knife came in useful as a substitute for a spatula.

It's too early to pass judgment on this batch, so I am eagerly awaiting the de-mold tomorrow. Argghh, more stress, will I be able to get the soap out of the new mold.

We need to organise another table (the main one actually) a Gazebo since it might rain (not good for us soapers), and some display bowls. We have some things on order and had a semi trial a couple of evenings ago. I need to get everything ready by 12th June, since I will be in London for a few weeks and will not be around to help out.

Anne is part way through our labels and product information, so we can print our own labels with batch data.

I hope people enjoy our soap.

See you there.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

We have a domain and email

Does this mean we have arrived ?

I know that there is not much content at the moment, there's loads of work required for the design and pages to make it interesting, but it's a place holder for the time being.

Main web site for Colne Soap Makers

This blog is reachable at

For general chit - chat and queries please contact us on

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Boxes for display and transport

My soap works today included: collecting wooden boxes for transporting and displaying our soap on the Regatta Stall (Rowhedge 3rd July, on the banks of the Colne); cutting out tiny soap stars and hearts from a little piece of Lavender batch 1001; admiring Batch 1008, made in the biggest wooden mould you could imagine; checking on the soap that is busy curing (and staying longer than I needed to, because it smells lovely)
Not many soap works today though as I was in Norfolk this afternoon. The Magpie on the A140 at Little Stonham has closed. I felt very sad about that as it was a nice place and a landmark because of the wooden bar over the road with magpies on it. There is a similar thing in Hertfordshire somewhere- Hare and Hounds, maybe near Buntingford or Sawbridgeworth, with the pub alongside the road and the bar crossing the road with the hare (or perhaps a fox) being chased across the bar way up in the air above you as you drive beneath. I wonder if that is still there?