There’s a running joke in our house that almost every time we buy something new – normally some kind of commercial product – we have to hack it around and fix it to make it work right, or send it back because it was misdescribed. When something just works straight out of the box, it seems miraculous. With handmade products, of course, things do just work far more often than things from a “this-will-probably-do-for-most-people” factory. With a small scale maker, there’s the opportunity to communicate, customise and check details, which is just not available with mass-produced goods. (Unfortunately it’s not always possible to get handmade versions of everything… plumbing fittings and gutters are sadly not in proliferation on Etsy.)
Even so, just occasionally I buy a handmade product that doesn’t only do what I expected and hoped for, but surpasses it. And because of this, I naturally want to tell everyone else about it, so that they can receive the benefits of whatever-it-is too, and also so that the person who is making it gets more money for doing so and can thus continue. And while it’s a romantic idea to climb on the roof and yell its praises to the vicinity, I’m not sure the neighbours would really, you know, get it… So, instead, I’m doing a more socially acceptable thing, and adding a new category to this otherwise rather self-centred blog: Other People Make Things.
Traditional Crafts UK – Handmade Soap and Solid Shampoo
I’m not an expert on soap-making, but recently I have become a little more educated in soap-buying. As far as I can gather, there are three main types of solid soap to choose from: commercially-produced regular soap, which has had the glycerine removed to be sold separately and is very drying to the skin; semi-handmade soap made with a ready-made glycerine base (which could be made with natural ingredients, but could also be made with cheap synthetics), which the maker has poured into a mould and added things such as colours, scents and extras such as oatmeal or rose petals; and the Real Thing, which is made from scratch with oils and lye using methods called hot-process or cold-process.
I spent years rejecting soap in favour of shower gel, because I found commercial soap to be too drying, until I found out the differences: soaps are not all equal, and natural handmade soaps made the traditional way are far gentler to use. I can even use them on my face with no problems.
The solid shampoo was a revelation – because it doesn’t contain cheap surfactants which strip the hair of all its oils, as almost all commercial shampoos do, it doesn’t dry it out (something I’ve had a problem with when using commercial shampoos for my entire life) – for the first time, my hair is shiny and sleek (well, ish.. I mean, it’s still my hair, and my hair is rather nonconformist even at best) instead of an uncontrollable collection of frizz. Also, I hardly need to use any of it – I’ve had my shampoo bar for nearly two months now, and it’s only shrunk by about 10%.
There are dozens of different Etsy shops selling soaps made in the traditional cold process method, but after comparing all of those in the UK I decided to go for some soap from Traditional Crafts UK, run by Melanie in Bury. The main reasons I chose these soaps above all the others I could find were:
1. Only the absolute nicest ingredients. No palm oil – the production of this type of oil is particularly damaging to the environment, leading to deforestation and a loss of biodiversity. Most sellers I saw included palm oil in at least some of their soaps, but this shop didn’t have any. Knowing exactly which raw ingredients are in the soap is a definite plus.
2. Sensible shipping prices – it might seem expensive to ship one bar of soap, but it is no more expensive to ship several bars together, and the prices are an accurate reflection of Royal Mail’s actual postage charges. Several sellers were adding more and more shipping costs when more than one bar was bought, which made the whole thing add up to twice as much per bar.
3. Free samples! There were so many different lovely-sounding soaps in the shop that I didn’t know which to pick, but after a couple of quick messages, Melanie sent me some samples to choose from. Choosing soap was still kind of difficult because they were all just as nice as they sounded, but in terms of the two shampoos it was great to be able to choose the right one for my hair type instead of ending up with a whole bar of the one that wasn’t quite so suitable for me.
4. Overall choice of fragrances. I like things that are scented with essential oils (rather than synthetic fragrances), and this shop has loads of choice in that area. There are traditional favourites such as lavender, patchouli or mint, as well as interesting combinations I hadn’t come across, before such as licorice and vetiver.
My soap choices in the end were Purely Patchouli (patchouli is my favourite scent ever) and the lovely green Irish Moss and Spirulina soap. The shampoo that works on my dry hair is the Rosemary and Tea Tree – but there is an alternative for more oily hair, with Citrus and Clary Sage. This smelled amazing but was just a bit too drying for me, but I can imagine it would be fab for someone whose hair is less of a frizz machine.
As well as soap and shampoo, Melanie’s shop also has a variety of other wonderful-sounding scented things such as facial scrubs, body butters, candles and bath melts – and there’s a whole collection of handmade silver jewellery too. You can begin your shopping spree here.