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!!