My oldest daughter has been thinking artisan ever since buying handmade coconut-milk soap at a farmers’ market. “Every time I use it,” she says, “I think, I could do this.”
7301 Mount Vernon Street, Lemon Grove
Besides soapmaking tools and ingredients, Soapmaking Studio in Lemon Grove (619-668-1435) “offers a variety of classes, from absolutely basic introductions for someone who has never made soap all the way up to advanced,” said operations manager Victoria. “Soapmaking 101 is a four-and-a-half hour class in soapmaking for beginners. The main goal of the class is to have the students understand the chemical process of saponification, so that they can create their own soap recipes. The basic ingredients are lye, oil, scents, and coloring agents. Because the lye is a caustic chemical, the class starts with a lecture on safety: you have to wear gloves and safety glasses when handling lye, and we also teach how to clean up spills. For oil, the classes use a mix of palm oil, coconut oil, and olive oil. We also use a lemon scent and a yellow color.”
The students use a cold-process technique, in which the soap is not cooked but is poured into a mold and allowed to cure and harden. (But the instructor does briefly describe the melt-and-pour method of soapmaking.) “While it’s curing, the lye in the soap is dissolving and turning the oils you have added into soap.” It’s basic chemistry: you mix a base — lye — with an acid — oil or fat — and end up with something neutral. “The soap students make cures in 48 hours — if you use it before it’s fully cured, you could burn your skin. So, the soap they take home is soap made by a previous class. And there are other curing methods that can take from two to six weeks.
“From there, you move on to creating your own soap recipes,” concluded Victoria. “You learn about other ingredients — why some are better than others — and you learn how to calculate ideal quantities of lye.” Cost is $79 for the class and $19 for materials. “You also get to take home your class workbook, which has recipes and a lye calculator.” The studio also offers an online course ($98), which includes interactive audio and a video feed of the live class. “The instructor wears a headset, so you can ask questions as it goes along.”
Other classes include Intermediate Hot Process Soapmaking ($39 class, $9 materials). “With hot-process, the soap does not need to cure. You can use it right away. We cook the soap in crockpots. Another popular class is Soap Business 320 [$40 class, $7 materials], which teaches you how to set up a soap business: how to get a business license, FDA certification, and proper labeling.” (Call or check website for class schedule.) And if you want to work at home, there’s a basic soapmaking tool kit ($70) that includes a silicone mold, a steel soapcutter, and a wooden soap extractor to help get the soap out of the mold.
2497 San Diego Avenue, Old Town
Rane at Ye Olde Soap Shoppe in Old Town (619-543-1300) told me the store did not offer classes, “but we do sell an herbal soapmaking kit [$69.95],” along with a wide variety of supplies. “It has a DVD that shows how to make soap, as well as written instructions, and comes with premeasured oil and lye. There’s also a bag of herbs and a one-ounce bottle of essential oil; you can choose from tangerine, orange, or lavendin, which is made from the woody part of the lavender plant. The box does double duty as a soap mold: you pour the soap into the mold, let it sit overnight under a blanket, and cut the soap in the morning.” The shop’s site also boasts an active discussion board for those seeking advice.
12460 Keys Creek Road, Valley Center
Out in Valley Center, I found a class at Keys Creek Lavender Farm (760-742-3844). The $40 hands-on class runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on June 13 and is taught by Sarah Jones. It offers to help you “learn to make soap for your skin type; cut, dry, and make herbal oils for self-use; and learn unique techniques as you observe the soapmaking process. All products and supplies will be available for purchase. Bring a dish to share. Advance reservations required.”