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Soap-Making Retreat in Marble Falls is Good, Clean Fun

Soap-maker Elin Criswell also teaches classes and writes books about the craft. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

MARBLE FALLS — With all the beauty bars and bath soaps you can find on store shelves, why would anyone want to make their own soap?

“It’s a never-ending experience,” said Elin Criswell, a dedicated soap-maker and educator for the past 17 years. “There’s always something new you can experiment with. There’s always another fragrance you can try, or a scent blending.

“You can even come up with your own signature scent,” she added.

Criswell first became interested in soap making in the early 1990s, but as a mother with young kids, her time and attention was focused on her family. Then, around 2000, she was walking through an arts fair in Belton when she came across a soap-maker.

And that’s all it took to get Criswell back in the mix. Since then, she’s published two books on the topic, hosted tons of workshops, and made a boatload of soap. She’s far from done.

But this isn’t really about her. Criswell and other soap-makers (from rank beginners to the very experienced) are gathering Saturday, Jan. 27, at Riverbend Conference Center in Marble Falls for the third annual Lone Star Soap and Toiletries Winter Retreat. The conference is open to anyone interested in the art and science of making soap, even if the nearest you’ve gotten to doing something like that is mashing remnants of two soaps together just to squeeze out one more shower.

“It’s fun, and there’s always something else to try,” Criswell said about the craft.

The conference is 10 a.m.-5 p.m. with a registration fee of $100. Registration runs through Jan. 14. If you’re interested in learning the fundamentals of handcrafted soap, you can sign up for the basic soap-making class from 8-10 a.m. Jan. 27 for an extra $50.

Elin Criswell mixes up a batch of soap. Criswell (thecountrysoaper.com) began making soap in 2000. She and other soap-makers are gathering Jan. 27 in Marble Falls for the Lone Star Soap and Toiletries Winter Retreat. The event is open to everyone from beginner to experienced. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

The Winter Retreat offers several sessions for all levels. Some of the topics include: Infusions and Botanicals in Soap Making; Calculating Saponification Values; Craft Show Escapades; and For the Love of Shampoo Bars.

David Fisher, who has been the person behind The Spruce’s (formerly About.com) Candle and Soap Making Guide, will present a lunch-and-learn on “All You Ever Wanted to Know About Soap Making.”

Lone Star Soap and Toiletries is a Texas-based soap and toiletry maker’s group. Criswell said a great thing about conferences such as the Winter Retreat is that they give people interested in soap making an opportunity to get together, share ideas, network, and just help one another.

“For a beginner, it’s a great chance to just sit down with some more experienced soap-makers,” she said.

But why make soap? You can walk into a store and buy one soap for each day of the year.

Criswell agreed it’s easier to purchase soap, but you might be missing out by not making it. She pointed out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration actually regulates soap. For the word “soap” to be on the packaging, the product must contain lye. If it doesn’t, Criswell said it will usually be called a “beauty bar,” or something like that.

The word “lye” can create a bit of concern, but Criswell said the handmade soap you make or find in artisan shops or markets isn’t the harsh stuff your grandmother used to make. No, today’s handmade soaps are much different, and lye only makes up a small portion of these products.

Criswell said when she switched to using handmade soap, it left her feeling much cleaner. Others reported that they created soaps that were gentler on their skin.

Soap-makers can basically custom-make any style or type of soap for their own family and others.

Plus, it’s possible to make a little extra money by selling soap and related products. Criswell sells hers but keeps the amount within reason so the craft remains fun. She also has authored two books and holds workshops in her rural home.

“I guess the big thing, at least for me, is that it’s just fun,” Criswell said.

If you’re interested in discovering the world of soap making and the fun that goes along with it, check out the Winter Retreat. Go to lonestarsoapandtoiletries.com for more information or to register. The Riverbend Conference Center is located at 708 First St. in Marble Falls.

For more about Criswell’s soaps, visit thecountrysoaper.com.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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There are 1 comments.

Denise Rhodes —
I've been making soap for almost 20 years and had no idea this even was taking place in our area for the last 3 years, until this article was published. I was able to attend at the last minute, one of the classes offered before the conference began. It was a lot of fun getting to know other soap-makers and learning new things. If you are interested, but have never made soap, one of the classes that starts the day off is a beginners soap making class. It's a very friendly group who never seem to tire of welcoming newcomers and sharing their wealth of knowledge on the subject.
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