Perhaps the modern version of potpourri in a wicker basket is homemade scented soap. I visited a local resident who makes natural soap in her house and the aroma that hit me when she opened the door was simply divine.
Rachel Wilhelm sells her Wessex Soap at Bellies and Babies consignment boutique in Del Ray. I’ve bought them to give as hostess and birthday gifts. I’ve also become used to having two bars of natural soap in my bathroom at all times. The essential oils waft through the house, especially after someone showers.
Making high quality soap is by necessity a DIY venture. It has to be done in small batches, making approximately 18 bars. When I visited Rachel, she showed me the process of making a batch of unscented soap for friends whose children are sensitive to scents and for clients who suffer from eczema. In fact, she first started making her own soap to treat her son’s eczema.
Ten years ago when she lived in Idaho, Rachel and a friend had soap-making gear and then happened upon the oils at a yard sale. Rachel researched soap-making processes at the library and learned that the hot process would be the most efficient method. That’s how she’s been making soap in her kitchen “lab” in Virginia ever since. Today, Rachel makes soap for her homeschooling community, as well as for her friend Dawn Luepke to sell at Bellies and Babies.
Rachel has learned from trial and error, some library research and from customer feedback which oils make the best bars of soap and in what combinations. She prefers a mixture of avocado, palm, coconut, canola, olive and shea.
What are the qualifications for rating a bar of soap? Rachel says she strives to make a bar that is both hard and highly conditioning, or emolliant. The soap makes your skin retain its natural oils and the bar lasts a long time.
In a typical month, Rachel makes about four batches, but the holiday season is her busiest, not surprisingly. One of her best sellers over the holidays is scented with frankincense and myrrh, which smells, in fact, just like holiday potpourri.
Rachel’s packaging is handmade too, with simple netting, a ribbon, or brown paper sealed with wax, handwritten descriptions and a typed list of ingredients. I went home from my studio tour with Rachel carrying brown and beige bars of peppermint caffeine, autumn and fernwood, their bright woodsy smell lingering in my purse long after I set them in the linen closet. Future gifts or part of my own collection, we shall see.
See additional photos and learn more about the soap-making process on DIY Del Ray.