Do you like soap? Cupcakes? Texture? And, mind-blowing soaps? Be sure to read through today’s interview with Jennifer of Jennifer’s Handmade Soaps. Jennifer has been soaping for a little over five years and has become an active part of our amazing community on Bramble Berry’s Facebook page. You might recognize her soaps from the Fair Ivy 2013 Contest, the #UniqueTops Challenge and from her Facebook Photo of the Week. I’ve been enamored with Jennifer’s soaps since I first saw them and was pleased when she answered a few questions for Soap Queen readers. Read on for some super soapy inspiration…
Soap Queen: Tell us a little bit about yourself! When you’re not busy keeping your shop stocked with soaps, what are you up to?
It’s kind of been an interesting journey for me. I started out in the field of architecture, got a graduate degree in creative writing and moved into teaching at the college level, and then accidentally fell into soap making. I still teach a couple courses every semester. I love teaching (whether it’s soap or writing – it’s rewarding to help students learn new skills). If there are any hours left over in the week after soaping, teaching, and grading then I can usually be found writing. Pretty much I’m happy when I’m creating—whether it’s soap or stories.
Soap Queen: Do you have a favorite Bramble Berry Product? If so, which one and why?
Okay…I’ve narrowed it down to my four favorites. It was too hard to select just one product! At the top of the list is your Surplus Cherry Almond Fragrance Oil. I’m in love with that fragrance. I usually have multiple bars of soap in my shower at any one time and among those soaps you will always find a Cherry Almond soap. Yeah, I’m slightly obsessed with that fragrance! Tied for second are your 5 lb silicone liners for the 5 lb wooden molds (they have made my life so much easier, not to mention the amount of time I’ve saved with them) and your heat resistant bags (both the small and large ones). And finally, your Avocado Butter.
Soap Queen: Your soaps are so unique and colorful! Where does your inspiration come from?
Desserts, mainly cupcakes, tend to be a huge source of inspiration. I’ll see something and I become bound and determined to replicate it in some way in soap. That’s how my pie soaps came out last summer. I was looking for a peach pie recipe and saw the lattice crust design pictured with the recipe I printed and I forgot all about making a real pie as I was pulling out my sketch book and figuring out how I could make a peach pie soap. The majority of my inspiration comes from other soap makers. Sometimes it’s their color scheme, the design, or some other small part. I have this ever growing folder of “inspirational soaps.” When I get stuck on what to do next, I go through those photos and start sketching out designs until I’ve created something new to try. Color is a big inspiration too. I love bold and bright colors. I have a small all-natural line where I use essential oils and natural colorants, but I’m happiest when I can use bright and fun colors. I love contrasting colors and I especially love using embeds. Embeds can be a bit of a pain. It turns soap into a two day process, so I have to plan well when I’m making soaps with embeds, but it’s always worth it in the end.
Soap Queen: How did you get started soaping?
This question always makes me laugh. I kind of fell into making soap by accident. In 2009 I was working on an article about the history of soap and cleanliness. I was reading about how soap was made in the early 1800’s and I was a little confused. There’s a living museum called Old Sturbridge Village out by me that replicates life in a rural 1830’s town in New England. OSV was offering a modern day soap making class taught by one of their staff, and I figured they’d be able to better explain how soap was made in the 1800’s, so I signed up. I had no intention of going there to learn how to make soap. I just wanted information for my article. I found the process fascinating during the class, but I didn’t really think much more about it after the class was over. Then about six weeks later when I got to finally use the soap I’d made in class I fell in love with it. I started to request books from the library, went out and bought the basic supplies I’d need, and placed my first order with Bramble Berry (not lying here! The teacher had recommended you to us, so when I needed to buy my oils and lye I tried you guys first and was hooked of course). From there it just kind of snowballed.
Soap Queen: Do you have any advice for those just getting into soaping?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I made every mistake I think there is to make along the way as I was learning. I’ve had soap that was lye heavy, had too much water in it, soap that’s seized on me, soap that I never reached a true trace on (that was before I discovered the joys of a stick blender). I got frustrated with the mistakes, but from each one I learned a valuable lesson. And I started with small one pound batches so it wasn’t the end of the world when a soap didn’t work. It’s OK to fail. I haven’t met a soap maker yet who hasn’t had a failed batch or two, and we’ve all learned from them.
I’d also recommend taking a class if you can, especially if you’re a visual person. I think where a class helps is for illustrating things like trace, that are harder to explain in writing. If you can’t take a class, watch videos. There are hundreds of them out there. Soap Queen TV’s Basic Introduction to Cold Process videos are great as well.
Soap Queen: Do you prefer any type of soaping over another?
Cold process! I do a few melt & pour (M&P) soaps (Popsicles, S’mores…) because they are adorable and people love them, but I get impatient and frustrated with making M&P soaps. Whereas I can be in a kitchen all day making cold process (CP) soap and be completely content. Cold process offers a different kind of challenge than M&P soap and I think I love the challenge of cold process soaps. In some way I think you can be more creative with cold process soaps. I also love the fact that I can create my own recipe with cold process.
Soap Queen: We all have funny soaping stories, what’s yours?
I have to say my “soap on a stick” moment was really funny to me (after I’d calmed down and cleaned up that disaster). It was my first time using alcohol in soap. I had read that it accelerates trace, and I thought I was all prepared for it. I added the color and fragrance before the alcohol/lye mixture. I wasn’t going to use my stick blender. Figured I’d have enough time to mix the soap and get it in the mold before it set up. I poured the lye in and got almost two stirs in before the soap had gone completely solid on me. I pulled the spoon out of the pot and the entire soap mix came out with the spoon. I tried to mush it into the mold, but I wish now I’d just left it on the stick to see how it cured. I bet it would have held its shape and I could have cut it up into bars the next day!
Thank you so much for letting me chat with your for a bit, Jennifer! I adore your creative brain and soap creations. If you are looking to learn more about her soaps and what Jennifer does you can check out her blog, shop and Facebook Page