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  • Writer's pictureArwen Falvey

How It All Began...

The story of how I became a soap maker.

Adventures in Soap!

It was the summer of 1997 and I was a single mother at the age of a scant nineteen years. The father had disappeared from our lives and I came to be living with my parents, who were supportive but quietly despaired that I had made a grave mistake with my life. To add insult to injury I also began to spiral into a postpartum depression and found it very difficult to function from day to day. My parents, loving and concerned, urged me to do something. Anything really. Anything that would get me on my feet again, even if it was just a hobby.

I faffed about for a while, not finding anything that really took my fancy, until I stumbled upon a book about soap making on the back page of some random catalogue my mother was about to dispose of. As I read the description I felt a weak flicker inside myself. I thought to myself, "How odd and wonderful!". Before long the book was in my hands and, between feedings and diapers and colicky nights of frustration, I spent my time studying every page.

Things were very different in those days (wow, I feel old having just typed that). There was little to no online soap making presence, I knew nothing about SAP values, stick blenders, or soaping temperatures, and it was more than a little difficult to acquire relatively simple ingredients such as coconut oil. Nonetheless I managed to gather together the supplies and implements needed to make a batch of soap.

It was an unqualified disaster.

The book had put the fear of death into me regarding using EXACT temperatures, stirring fast enough, pouring fast enough, and potentially blinding or burning myself with lye. I spent hours juggling temperatures trying to get the lye and oils within a degree of each other, stirred like a mad thing for hours, poured the batch too early, and used too little essential oil. Not to mention spilling a bunch of raw soap and making the kitchen into a categorical disaster. By the time I had cleaned it all up I was exhausted and sank into a defeated pile at the kitchen table. My father, encouraging as always, said "Don't give up."

There was that flicker again. That tiny, anemic fire in me that had started me on this path to begin with. I felt my soul set and an intense stubbornness grew inside me. I looked at my Dad and said,

"Oh no. I WILL do this."

I studied everything I could find about soap. I learned the mythology of the Romans at Sappo hill. I taught myself the chemistry. I experimented with fragrance and additives and molds and colours. I learned how to use milk and beer and mead in my soaps. I learned to swirl and layer and embed. I became discriminating about my ingredients and I focused in on my particular inspirations. I tried and tried and tried, learning from the failures and growing from the successes and always moving forward.

I've been making soap for over twenty years now and that tiny fire in me now burns brightly as though it were my pilot light. I am still ecstatic and surprised every time I make a batch. There is always something new to learn and something new to do.

My soap is a labour of love two decades in the making, and I think it shows.

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