Hibernate starts in a few days. There is still time to register.

I am teaching a soapmaking tutorial in this year's retreat and have prepared a supply list for those of you who are taking the class and want to get a head start on getting your materials.

I was specifically asked for this list by some friends on Instagram and I'm posting it here so I can keep it with my soapmaking pages for future reference.

In the soapmaking tutorial I've prepared for Hibernate I walk you through cold process soapmaking, from gathering the things you need in the kitchen before you start, to cutting and curing the bars at the very end. I teach a bit of troubleshooting, as I had issues arise in my own soapmaking during the video process.

This is a basic tutorial. I teach a straightforward technique, without too many variables to overwhelm you or introduce possibility for error.

My goal for this tutorial is that class participants will feel soapmaking is an accessible craft and that they would be empowered by the instructions and information I’ve provided to be confident enough to try it on their own.

Many people I've met are interested in making soap but they are intimidated by the process, and using lye especially. My main message when it comes to lye is this: use common sense and appropriate safety measures and fear not. Don't be so afraid of lye that you don't try making soap. Unless you are ridiculously clumsy or unable to follow simple safety rules, you can handle this.

Although I kept things simple in this tutorial I do spend some time talking about creating essential oil blends for soap. The natural fragrance of essential oils is one of the deep pleasures for me of soapmaking and I wanted to make sure to share some of that knowledge and experience with you.

Here's what you'll need to make this soap.


  • 4.5 oz lye
  • 12.2 oz distilled water
  • 8 oz coconut oil
  • 8 oz olive oil
  • 8 oz palm oil
  • 3.2 oz sunflower oil
  • 3.2 oz canola oil
  • 1.6 oz castor oil
  • 1.5 oz essential oils

In the tutorial I provide a detailed recipe with metric measurements also.

As I explain in the tutorial I do not use the highest quality essential oils in soapmaking. I don't use the bottles sold at the health food store or through multi-level marketing companies.

I buy all my soapmaking essential oils online, in "bulk" quantities where possible.

This recipe calls for a total of 1.5 oz of essential oils. I used a blend of rosemary, lavender, and peppermint.

You can find those essential oils, the vegetable oils and fats (called carrier oils), and the lye for this recipe at one of these suppliers.

United States:


Supplies & Tools:

  • scale
  • thermometer
  • immersion or stick blender
  • gloves
  • eye protection
  • stainless steel soup pot
  • a couple glass, ceramic, stainless steel or plastic mixing bowls for measuring oils (I use a 2 cup glass measure)
  • small glass jar, plastic or stainless steel container for measuring lye
  • 4 cup/1 quart mason jar - must be heat resistant
  • stainless steel spoon (for measuring lye and scooping the solid fats)
  • wooden spoon for stirring lye mixture*
  • silicon spatula or plastic spatula*
  • wooden spoon or spatula for melting oils
  • newspaper/circular flyer papers/piece of cardboard
  • paper towel
  • rags
  • vinegar
  • small cardboard box for a mold
  • thick plastic bag
  • scissors
  • tape

*These tools should be designated for soapmaking or craft purposes only.

Most of these supplies and tools you will already have around your house.

That's the list. With these supplies on hand you'll have everything you need to make soap.

I am so looking forward to participating in Hibernate again this winter. I need it! And I look forward to connecting with you in that warm and cozy space.

I love to make soap, lotion, lip balm, and candles. I love puttering in my kitchen mixing up herbal remedies and health-supporting herbal tea. I love this part of homemaking. If I didn't write what I do, mostly memoir and introspection, I would write more about these interests and exploits.

This is a tension I feel in my writing, I have a strong desire to share soap recipes, herbal how-to's and similar health and homemaking content but I have a stronger cognitive, emotional, and spiritual need to write through my experiences. And we all know there is only so much time.

But sometimes the right opportunity presents itself to satisfy the desire I have to teach these skills.

This winter I am so pleased to be partnering with Heather Bruggeman to offer a soapmaking tutorial as part of her Hibernate Winter Retreat.

Skip to here to register for Hibernate, or keep reading for why I love this course so much.

Winter is a great time to make soap. There's just something about fall and winter that stirs in people the desire to "make stuff". It's the increasing hours we spend indoors, it's the natural rhythm of preparing for and enduring winter.

For two winters now I have been singing the praises of Hibernate. Hibernate has been a winter game changer for me. Hibernate gave me the permission I needed to do what my body calls me to do in the heart of winter: burrow, rest, care for myself, drink lots of hot beverages, make things.

Hibernate has been more than a course, it's been a gentle "call to action" for me to honor my body's natural rhythms, live seasonally, nurture my creativity and grow my skill in domestic arts.

When I look back to that list I wrote of things I love about homemaking; making soap... candles, herbal remedies and tea mixes, the influence of Heather's courses is clear. It was three years ago, inspired by Hibernate content, that I started making my own herbal tea mixes. A skill I have since studied more, so that now, I confidently prepare specific blends for our family's winter health needs, using the right herbs for specific symptoms and support. (I'm excited to see that this year Rachel Wolf is offering herbal Winter Wellness recipes as part of Hibernate.)

My favorite candles, the ones I made a few weeks ago and have been burning daily, I learned that recipe from Heather. The herbal chai I've adapted to my own, that too started with a recipe from Hibernate. Throughout my home there are touches everywhere of Hibernate offerings: things I've made (felted bowls), art I've pursued (Hibernate introduced me to meditative drawing, which was the springboard into my own Zentangle practice), and ideas I've learned (my vision board).

Heather teaches hands-on, inspirational and practical, content-rich courses. So much content that you will need to pick and choose which lessons and projects, offered as stand-alone ebooks, one for each day of the course, you will embark on. There will be more in the course than you'll have time to do in the course period. But you'll have all the material, in those tidy little e-books and video teaching, everything you need to pick up a project or idea during the long weeks of winter. Of note, this year's Hibernate Online Retreat is all new content.

Where I live winter is long. And if we look at that positively, winter gives us lots of time to learn a new skill or incorporate a new homemaking habit or idea into our life.

I want to just say something here about having the heart of homemaker.

I am a homemaker. This is the work I love to do. I was raised by a homemaker and grew up surrounded by a community of women, my aunties, who were homemakers. Almost all these role models, my mother included, worked outside the home also, part-time or full-time, depending on the stage of family life, but these women made homes first and foremost. This is my heritage but it is also my heart.

I love nothing more than putzing around my house, tidying spaces, devising better systems of organizing. I love making beautiful and useful things for our home. Not a ton of things, we don't have the space and I lean to warm minimalism, as a style, if there is such a thing.

I don't love, nor do I put my hands to, all the tasks associated with traditional homemaking. I don't really like cooking. I'm not a baker. I don't quilt. I don't spend a lot of time or energy on decorating. I don't host the large gatherings I grew up watching my mother execute with aplomb. (My mother is amazing in her gifts of large gathering hospitality, she's my hero.)

I have grown into my own expression of homemaking, my own standards of homemaking. And what I consistently find is that Heather's courses meet me where I'm at, as they would meet the seamstress, the knitter, the cook, the baker, the candlestick maker.

But lest I give you the wrong impression, Hibernate is not just about homemaking, it's also about our emotional and physical well-being this time of year. It's about attending to yourself during the season of winter. Listening for the lessons of winter, enjoying what this season alone can offer us. It's not a "do more" message. Craft, quilt, knit, sew, cook, bake, host,... a frenzy of activity for the winter. Like Heather says, "Starting where you are, and working with what you have, you will pick and choose the projects, prompts, recipes and inspiration that speak to you."

Hibernate is about nurturing a certain kind of environment, in our hearts and our homes, as an expression of love for our families and ourselves. It's a retreat to help us create a physical space where our winter needs for rest, reflection, and creativity can be met.

When Heather asked if I'd like to contribute a soapmaking tutorial for this year's Hibernate retreat, I gave a hearty yes, delighted that I could contribute to such a great course.

I am so excited to share this tutorial with you. You may remember from a previous post that I had been working on a soapmaking course, but set it aside because I don't have the time in this life season to produce a complete course, as envisioned. But I so want to share some of that material with you, and Hibernate is the perfect place for doing that.

In addition to learning how to make soap, you will get all the other good stuff Heather teaches. Lucky you!

I have poured my heart, head, and hands into this soapmaking tutorial. I have created an easy, yet luscious, beginners recipe for you. I have tested this recipe repeatedly to minimize your risk. I have broken it all down, step-by-step, with photos, video, and written instructions so that you can make a lovely batch of soap with confidence and ease.

I want you to enjoy the beauty of homemade soap this winter. To learn a skill, a very old domestic art, that will bring enjoyment to your winter days and help nourish your dry skin.

Join me at Hibernate.

You can find the full description of Hibernate 2017 here.

I have a little request, if you decide to join the class, could you please use this link to make your purchase? It's a Thank You page that says Hibernate 2017 Renee Tougas under Item. Heather and I are trying an affiliate arrangement* for this class and this link tracks those purchases for us. (Thanks, I really appreciate it.)

Heather prices her courses to make them as accessible as possible. As someone who has taken a few online courses, from various sources, I can tell you the value you receive from Heather's courses is well beyond the price you pay. I go back and reference material from her courses all the time.

In addition to this great value Heather offers a two-for-one special for the first few days of registration. She knows that you will want to share this material with a friend and she offers you a way to do this. That two-for-one deal ends 12/19.

Special note to my Canadian friends and readers: the exchange on the dollar is a killer for making purchases in US dollars. If you want to take this course but the exchange rate is too steep for you (I hear you!) take advantage of the two-for-one friend deal. Don't know anyone to split the cost with? Find a friend here on my blog.

Leave a comment that you want to split the cost with someone. I'd love to play matchmaker. Heather does the same thing on her blog. Comments are open for people to find friends to split the two-for-one cost. I am using comment moderation right now to control some spam problems but I will check diligently and approve comments as quickly as possible to expedite the process. Also email me renee at tougas dot net if I forget.

Right now, I am not offering this soapmaking tutorial as a stand alone product. For now, it is nested within Hibernate.

Hibernate Registation is open today and will remain open for approximately one month, till the course starts in mid-January. But for the next seven days only you can purchase two-for-one registration. Pay the cost of one registration and you get access for two people. What a great holiday gift for a friend, sister, daughter, or mother.

If you want to learn how to make soap, if you want to participate in a beautiful winter retreat, if you're looking for ways to honor your body's seasonal rhythm, if you want to be part of a community of likeminded women (level of involvement is entirely up to you) who desire to create a health, relationship and soul-supporting home environment this winter, I do hope you'll join us for Hibernate.

* See this page for an explanation of affiliate arrangements.

My most popular posts on the blog are my soap and body care how-to's, especially this time of year. This is somewhat ironic seeing as I don't write about those topics a whole lot anymore. Today is an exception.

Last year I was trying to figure out what direction I wanted to go with entrepreneurial stuff - do I make and sell soap, write e-books, sell ads? - you know, how do I make some money from the work I love to do.

Honestly, I'm still trying to figure this out but as my coaching and teaching have taken off, the picture is slightly less fuzzy. I'm passionate about teaching and encouraging - those two things are part of my personal mission. I don't want to make and sell goods. I want to write, teach, coach and connect with people. And have fun while doing it.

While I was thinking about my different options, and before I had the wee bit of clarity I have now, I had a good idea - I should make a soap and body care teaching tutorial, complete with videos and recipes anyone can make (eg. recipes that don't require a scale and easy access ingredients). Good idea, yes? I love to teach, I enjoy making our own soap and lotion, and there's a market for this kind of information.

I started working on this project last winter. I made my outline, the recipes I would include in the course. I started to test recipes, write and do video. And then I hit a snag.

I like low-stress experimenting with recipes - looking at what's in my stocked soap cupboard, punching some numbers into the lye calculator and winging a new recipe. I don't like testing a recipe with a product in mind - a product that will sell. This stresses me out.

And then I ruined the lotion. A huge big batch of lotion.

You see, I wanted to come up with a lotion recipe that didn't have borax or GSE (you'll see why shortly). While I was at it, I wanted to design a recipe that didn't require a scale. I set out to totally re-work my tried and true recipe to come up with a kick-butt, completely chem-free recipe that used volume, not weight measurements.

These two issues kept coming up in the comments on my most popular posts - eliminating borax and GSE and, what if I don't have a scale?

I published my first homemade lotion post nearly five years ago. Since that time I have received more comments and e-mails about using borax and GSE in body care products than any other single topic, except of course homeschooling related stuff. I thought this was a sign - design a new lotion recipe. One that people everywhere (hey, I have big dreams) could make and feel good using.

Why do I use borax and GSE in my lotion?

Borax is an emulsifier. My lotion recipes mix water and oil and we all know how well those two mix together. By some magic (called chemistry) borax makes those two mix together.

Grapefruit Seed Extract is reportedly an antifungal and antibacterial agent. In previous lotion posts I called it a preservative for which I was emphatically corrected. The way I see it, by preventing the growth of microorganisms in your lotion (they can grow in the water), you are preserving the product and extending shelf life. I hate technical quibbles which is why I avoid them as much as possible. But the fact remains I add GSE to lotion to preserve it and prevent mold growth, etc.

So, what's the deal with borax and GSE?

Well, that depends what you read and who you talk to. But here's the lowdown from my limited research.


I present you the following:

It ain't particularly pretty. And I put this in my lotion?

But wait a minute, before we all get panicky let's stop to consider the amount of borax that is needed to be a skin irritant or respiratory risk. These reports don't say. Are minute amounts irritating? I don't know the answer to that. I'm not a chemist or environmental scientist.

What I find really interesting about all this, is that many people, myself included, make their own "green" cleaning products using borax. Are we all being green-washed?

If you enjoy in-depth discussions about these things and would like to read another (though less accessible in terms of ingredients) lotion recipe check out this Learning recipe. And then scroll through the comments for the borax discussion.

GSE - Grapefruit Seed Extract

I direct you to Dr. Andrew Weil's take on GSE. I don't take GSE internally but there is evidence that might not be the best practice. However, drops in a lotion don't seem all that harmful, from my very unscientific assessment.

Knowing all that, what's a health-conscious person to do?

Like I said, I tried to come up with a borax and GSE free recipe. I failed.

How did my recipe fail?

It separated.

Surprise, surprise. So I had to keep it in the fridge to hold it together (and preserve it which didn't work either). I don't like using lotion from the fridge. You have to scrape it with your nail and then warm it up in your hand and it's just a pain. Not to mention the fridge is not exactly in the bathroom where I wash my face.

It grew mold.

For the first time ever, my lotion went bad. At first I noticed a funky smell. And then I noticed a funny coloration and then mold. Lovely. It didn't happen to all the jars (4 large jars!) at once. Just the ones I had been using. The ones I kept stored in the fridge were good but like I said fridge storage is a pain.

What not to do when testing a new lotion recipe:

  • Make a huge batch. What was I thinking? Making a large batch with an untested recipe? I had a good reason for making a larger batch. In order to "make" the oil and water mix I used a blender, a strategy I've read other places as well as in Rosemary Gladstar's book. My blender doesn't work well with small batches so I doubled (or did I triple the recipe?). There was a method to my madness. I just wish I hadn't made so much. What a waste of good oils.
  • Change too many variables at once. Like switching to volume vs. weight, removing GSE and borax at the same time. Any good scientist knows you don't mess around with a bunch of variables while testing a theory. (Ahem, I may have mentioned already I'm not a scientist).
  • Give extra jars to friends and family. Oh yes, because it was such a large batch I gave extras away! Then when my jars went bad I sent apologetic e-mails, "you know that lotion I gave you for your birthday, make sure you keep it in the fridge and throw it out if it smells funny and by the way, it shouldn't separate like that." Yada, yada. How embarrassing.

Where I stand now on GSE & Borax in lotion

  • They work. I haven't been able to successfully make lotion with other options. I doesn't mean other options don't work, it just means I haven't tried them, or I haven't been successful with the attempts I have made.
  • Making my own, with these ingredients, is still better than almost all store bought options (that are available in my price range). And really I don't want to buy lotion when I can make it so easily.
  • In the quantities I use them, I don't feel they are harmful (I could be totally wrong on this).
  • My life is not chemical-free and stressing over this small point may be stressing just a little bit too much.

Let me explain this last point. Remember when I shared that we don't eat all organic food? In other words we are regularly and knowingly exposing ourselves to harmful chemicals. When you say it this way it's a sobering thing but that's the reality folks. We accept this risk because of our overall health (we're not actively healing a disease) and the cost/benefit analysis.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. We also expose ourselves to car exhaust, driving around as we do on roads. We eat out occasionally and who knows what chemicals are in those food ingredients, etc.

I do not live my life in not a pure, organic bubble. None of us do. Some of us are willing to make compromises in certain areas. Right now, using borax in my lotion (until I find an alternative that works), is one of my compromises.

Have you noticed that a lot of small shop, natural and homemade skin care companies don't sell moisturizing cream? Hard lotion bars yes, but not liquid. I think my experience illustrates why.

In light of all those facts here's the options you might consider if you are hard-core and want a completely chem-free lotion for your skin.

  • Make smaller batches of preservative-free lotion. Real small batches. This means you would be making lotion on a frequent basis. Be willing to experiment and fail. By the way failure is not bad, it's how we learn. But I just don't have the patience for messing around with this right now in my life. I recently got a book you might like. You can truly eat most these recipes, which has to be good for your skin.
  • Experiment with other "preserving" oils and alcohols.
  • Try using baking soda or lecithin instead of borax as an emulsifier. I haven't tried either of these yet.
  • Make hard lotion bars. Google it. There's a ton of recipes out there. I tried this last winter. I'm not particularly fond of them.
  • Don't make lotion at all. Just use coconut oil on your face. Again, no experience with this, so please don't ask me how it works.

Or, if you don't want to be completely chem-free and want to ensure your lotion is bacteria and mold free, use a real preservative like optiphen. I have no experience with this whatsoever. I like to make lotion using what I can find at my grocery store and local health food store. And I'm not selling it, so my standards aren't the same.

And that closes the chapter for me, for now, on lotion making and product testing. I'm done.

I still make our own lotion and soap but because it's not at the edge of my learning curve I don't get the same joy from writing about it, which is why there haven't been many soap related posts this past year on the blog, even though these posts are very popular. (Blogging "wisdom" says you should write about what's popular, right? So much for blogging wisdom.)

I'd much rather help you homeschool. Connect with you. Document our beautiful and adventurous life. Someone else can teach the lotion making.

Care to join the conversation? What kind of lotion do you use? What do you think about the toxicity of borax, do you still use it in your home? Where are you willing to compromise?

Can't comment?

My sincere apologies if you have problems commenting here. Feel free to shoot me an email or engage at Facebook.