Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Buying Handmade Soap On Etsy

I know a lot of crafters do what I did for many years. In my twenties and early thirties I found myself infinitely fascinated by dozens of crafting media. I find I am the kind of person who can pick up new crafting methods fairly quickly. Knowing this, I would get excited, inspired, obsessive and collect all the materials and how-to books to learn a new craft. The craft might or might not take, however.

Polymer Clay has stayed with me for twenty years! Felting is a relatively new passion (a few years now) but it seems to have staying power, I'm doing it every day without any end in sight for my enjoyment of it.

At various other points I thought I would love to quilt, make lampwork beads, learn ceramics, do metalwork and enameling, make soap and candles from scratch, etc. I was just going through some old books stored at my parents' house and they tell the tale of what didn't stick. In some cases I did do some part of the craft for a little while. For instance, I did make little patchwork backpacks using vintage fabrics in the early nineties. I did make my own patterns for quilts but never actually made the quilts. I bought all the candle making molds, wicks and wax I would need, plus an old aluminum double boiler, but the candles never got made.

I made some lampwork beads on the back porch of my aunt's house in Indiana (I love being related to cool artists!) and was thoroughly fascinated and blown away by the amazingness of it, but that was also the point at which I realized that fire and pressurized tanks of flammable gas scare the crap out of me!

I found in my pile of books (soon to be donated to the Friends of Western Avenue Studios Booksale April 4th, 12-5) three pertaining to soap making. I remember I had gotten as far as finding out I would need beef tallow from the butcher, caustic lye, careful measurements and eye protection and that was the end of that adventure. (I know you can also make soap with vegetable oils and not animal fats, which most Etsy soapers do and that those oils are expensive!!)

I did subsequently get the supplies to make my own melt and pour soaps and that was perfect for me as a hobbyist. With melt and pour, you buy a pre-made glycerin soap base that can be cut into chunks which you then melt in the microwave, add scent, color and maybe ground almonds or the like and pour it into molds and let it set up. Instant soap! The soaps are only as good as the bases you buy, the colorants and oils you add etc. I went for nicer bases but they still weren't anything I would ever have considered selling. They are good handsoaps and I made some cute guest soaps as stocking stuffers.

The point is, at some point you figure out what you are going to do as an artist and what you are going to leave to others for whom it is a true passion. As I catch up on 40, it becomes clearer and clearer what I will not be devoting learning time to and one of those skills is cold or hot process soap making.

Luckily, it turns out that Etsy is loaded with tons of amazing soapers! I can see that most soapers are NOT hobbyists. It takes skill, patience, immense amounts of knowledge and a certain understanding of chemistry. If you read the Etsy forums when soapers start talking, you can see that they are all extremely professional and dedicated to quality and education. It's very exciting for someone like me to witness! These soapers know their stuff and they want you to know it too, because what's sold out there as commercial soap apparently includes all kinds of nasty ingredients that dry out your skin while the carefully crafted soaps made by dedicated artisans contain super high quality ingredients that are safe and skin loving!

So my new hobby is soap buying on Etsy :) We use these soaps in the shower every day. I have tried three sellers so far and have been extremely pleased with all of them. I started back in the fall so the scents I bought were more suited to cozy winter days. As spring approaches I am looking through gorgeous listings seeking a perfect new fresh scent.

What do I look for in a handmade soap? Actually, I am chemically sensitive. But my sensitivity is very selective. Some scents are no problem for me and some give me an instant headache and bright red cheeks. Essential oils are oils from natural sources like plants. Fragrance oils are synthetic. I can tolerate some of both somehow, which you wouldn't think, but not all scents. I seem to be OK with food smells like almond, cinnamon, chocolate, pumpkin and coffee. I can also tolerate some flower smells. This can make it tricky to select soaps online, but I figure if I accidentally choose something I can't use it makes a gorgeous gift!

So first I look for scent. Actually, that's a lie, first I look for gorgeous product photos. What difference do photos make? None to the quality of the soap of course, but I want an experience when I shop for soaps online. I expect to pay between $4.50 and $8.00 a bar for handmade soaps and as such, I want my shopping experience to be spa-like. I want to enter a virtual shop and be calmed or energized or dazzled by gorgeous, lush product shots. I want the soap shop to sell me the whole experience! Plus it gives me more confidence in their professionalism if the shop is super sharp looking.

After that I need scent descriptions, I want to know what actually goes into the scent and then tell me what does that smell like? Get all poetic on my ass if need be :) Tell me what kind of person enjoys this scent.

Also, I like a price break on shipping. I will usually buy at least three soaps from a seller, two for me and something manly for the husband.

The first shop I bought from was BLSoaps. She offered a coffee scented soap called Kahlua Cream Shea Butter Soap that caught my eye, I added Wisdom facial soap and then Overdrive for the husband. The Kahlua Cream soap smelled delicious! Like bathing with a dessert, it had caramel overtones. It was smooth and creamy feeling too with great lather. The Wisdom soap has a great scent I can't quite describe, herbal and warm without smelling like medicine. I'm still using it exclusively to wash my face. The husband went through the Overdrive quickly, he uses soap much quicker than I do. He liked it a lot and I LOVED the smell, very manly but not overpowering. I would buy all three again.

Photos courtesy of BLSoaps

The second Etsy seller was BathArtisanSoaps. Still on a search for the perfect coffee scented soap made without coffee grounds (surprisingly hard to find!!) I bought Bean Juice and for the man, Blue Rush Spa Salt Bar. Bean Juice was a handsome, generous chunk of smooth soap, cured nice and hard, it lasted a long time. It had a great coffee dessert smell, very satisfying. The Blue Rush was a salt bar which creates a smooth, creamy lather, the salt is not exfoliating, it's not meant to be. The scent was sophisticated and masculine, I loved the way it smelled and so did Dell. The seller was very gracious and had great communication skills. Would buy both of those again!

Photos courtesy of BathArtisanSoaps

The third shop was SouthernVTSoap. I guess I was hungry when I was shopping because I bought Almond Cafe Mocha, Pumpkin Spice, and Chocolate Bliss! All three smell delicious and look gorgeous. I went through the Almond one first, hard not to take a bite out of these soaps, they smell like real food. I'm using the Pumpkin spice one now, I was worried it would smell too strong like a Yankee Candle, but it doesn't, it's subtle and warm, perfect. I'm saving the Chocolate one for next fall I think. I recommend this seller too!

Photos courtesy of southernvtsoap

I have been very happy with all my soap purchases so far. I'm glad these artisans took the time to perfect a craft I am smart enough to know I don't have the passion to master. My only problem now is deciding which soaps to buy next, too many great choices!!


  1. What a lovely descripton of handmade soap, the colors, textures,and scents.

    I enjoyed reading all this, well done.

  2. I agree that there are crafts I have no real inclination to mater! Soaps are one but I rarely buy online as I break out even from the mildest. Most sewing projects are also out of my league so I tend to buy sewn items like totes, bags, custom clothes. And knitting.

    Basically I love being able to track this stuff down in one spot at Etsy.

  3. I am now inspired to buy some soap on Etsy, not something I have ever done before - also inspired to go lurk in the soap makers forum lol!

    Thanks for such an informative posting - really enjoyed reading it!

    p.s. love your blog and have put it on mine for others to find too! x

  4. i know what you mean about multiple crafts... sometimes you just have to cut yourself off and i am lad it seems to usually happen naturally.
    i just made my first etsy soap purchase from DeShawnMarie (shout out to Boston Handmade!) and I CANT WAIT to use them!!!!!

  5. Had to laugh... Well, sigh actually, since I have little areas of abandoned crafts all over the house. I know exactly what you mean. After doing some other things to try to "branch out", I realize now that jewelry is my main thing, with a little mixed media on the side.

  6. Thank you so much for your review of soapmaking and Etsy soapers. Soapmaking is a skilled craft and so few people realize that. Thanks again for being such a fan of handmade soap.

  7. Great post! All the soaps sound delicious. I'll have to check out their sites. :)

  8. BL Soaps twittered about you ;)
    I, too, am an addicted soapmaker, but I first started as an official soap blogger. I was reviewing soaps, and with each bar I became convinced I needed to try it myself. Come visit me at my soapy blog! BL Soaps ROCK!!

  9. Thank you for this ample article about handmade soaps. There is so much to learn from on your blog. I have some awards for you on mine. Have a very nice week!

  10. Had no idea I went through soap fast. I use one up, and the next one awaits, all pretty wrapping and bows. I like variety. I guess I just want to get to the next one as fast as I can. (This only goes for soaps, btw.)

  11. I've been using handmade (from many Etsy sellers) for a year, and I'm hooked. One of my favorite things to do is search for my next bar!
    Great post, Liz!

  12. I love your post. Handmade shampoo is great. It is authentic. No harmful chemical used during preparation!!!

  13. Hi Liz,
    I've just stumbled across your blog and have enjoyed looking at all the things you make. I also make felted bead necklaces and was wondering what kind of response you have had to them. Do people like felt beads? Do you sell many of these necklaces? I know felted beads are a bit unusual and not as common as other beads so I just wonder what others think of them.

    Congratulations on such wonderful products, I absolutely love the felted necklaces and brooches you make.

    Kathy Ann

  14. Hi!

    Found your blog through the Block Party Press blog tonight - this post made me laugh. I did embroidery in college, then a friend taught me to quilt, and I was always trying other crafts at the same time... got in to stamping and embossing while I was quilting, and was VERY in to both of those until my husband died 12 yrs ago. Then (he had quilted, too) got in to scrapbooking and soapmaking with the kit soaps (I work in a lab - was also in to fabric and paper dyeing and marbling, and the science experiment aspect of scent mixing in soap just called to me!). Then I got in to sketching and painting. And more stamping. And altered art and ATCs. And beadwork and jewelrymaking. And now weaving and spool-knitting, which has led to felting, and back in to embroidery... but now I travel for work (er, I may be getting a permanent job, though), so all those other crafts but the yarn/floss related ones are in storage right now!! Too hard to set up and take down every three months.

    I LOVE your necklaces! I need to get some needle-felting stuff and learn how to do that. Right now I'm just weaving and spool-knitting little animals and things from wool and then felting them in the washer. I have a sheet I'm working on in a tumbling block pattern that I'm going to felt and then use for a journal cover (oh, yeah, I forgot bookbinding in the list of things I've half-learned to do). I think the weaving (and associated hobbies, like felting, spool-knitting, and even beading, maybe) is the one that is going to "stick" for me.

    I wish I'd found your blog six months ago!! I was in Methuen for my last work assignment, from September to mid-February. You have links on your blog I'd love to have found while I was there. I did go to Lowell NHP and see the looms while I was up there, though. :-)

    I love shopping for soap on etsy, but so far have only bought it from seller amandalouise (along with a few other things from her). I loved the soap. I love coffee soaps, too, and also lavender, and right now still have a couple of bars from a lavender farm I visited when I was working down by Houston about a year and a half ago, but I will have to look for the coffee soaps you mentioned!


  15. It is a true statement that soapers LOVE talking soap! I surely do. As captain of the RealSoap team on Etsy, I can honestly say I'm rather crazy about it.

    Thanks for spreading the education! The more who know...well the closer that soapers like me come to world dominance! (LOL)....

    CoquetteBath (Etsy)