Behind the scenes with Bellingham's Soap Queen
In a warehouse on Humboldt Street — amid the buzz of conversation, footsteps going up and down stairs, and a gong going off at one point — the Soap Queen looks into the cameras and shows people how to make a Spinning Taiwan Swirl bar.
The soap has bright spirals of blue, green and orange that the audience watching live on Periscope can see. The soapmaking segment also will be edited and shown as a short on Soap Queen TV on YouTube.
“Isn’t that pretty? Just gorgeous,” said the Soap Queen, also known in these parts as Anne-Marie Faiola, in between checking in with her assistant, cameraman, and producer.
Faiola, who made her first soap more than 20 years ago when she was 16, has refined her craft over the decades, sharing her skills in how-to sessions via YouTube, blogs, classes, social media and books, including her new “Pure Soapmaking: How to Create Nourishing Natural Skin Care Soaps.” (The book is available at Village Books, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)
It features recipes for 32 soaps that are so pretty to look at and have such yummy-sounding names — Banana Cream Pie Layered Bars, Pale Ale With Cocoa Powder, Buttermilk Honeycombs — that a part of you will wish you could eat them.
Faiola, who also is an avid hiker, talked to The Bellingham Herald recently about her newest book and other things that make for happy soaping.
Why did you write “Pure Soapmaking”?
A: After writing my first book, “Soap Crafting,” I was super excited (and inspired) to do another book but, obviously, couldn’t copy the first book. So, keeping in mind that people are getting much more mindful about their ingredients and ingredient sourcing, I decided to write an entire book that focused on using pure and natural ingredients in soap.
More and more people are starting to pay attention to where their ingredients come from and how they are affecting our natural environment. So, all of the colors are herbal or earth-based colorants and all of the soaps are scented with natural essential oils, and over 50 percent of the recipes are palm-oil free.
Why does excluding palm oil matter?
A: Palm-free is important to some soapmakers because orangutan habitat is sometimes clear-cut for palm oil plantations. Bramble Berry only carries RSPO-certified palm oil but some soapers wish to get rid of it in their soap altogether. This book highlights a variety of techniques and recipes for doing so. (RSPO stands for Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.)
If my readers can become inspired by any of the projects in the book, then I’ll be thrilled.
Do you have a favorite soap in the new book?
A: I love the way the Aloe Vera Hanger Swirl soap came out. The colors are amazing and the soap contains actual aloe vera plant.
What were the first bars of soap that you made?
A: My first bars were melt-and-pour soaps (utilizing a pre-made base). They were simple loaf soaps. I quickly moved on to cold-process soap — you mix the lye and water and oil together — and my first six batches failed.
There was just one book to learn from and it mostly used tallow and Crisco as the main soap ingredients. No one had figured out how to modernize soapmaking for the new generation of crafters coming up in the ranks. I rendered my own tallow and tried to make my own soap. Boy, have I learned a lot since then.
What do you hope readers take away from your new book?
A: I hope that my readers get the opportunity to expand their techniques, learn a new hobby or even start their own business. I am constantly inspired by the amazing talent, dedication and passion of the soapmaking community. If my readers can become inspired by any of the projects in the book, then I’ll be thrilled.
What’s the best thing about making your own soap?
A: I love making my own soap because I can be so creative with new recipes, colors and fragrances. Making soap, like most crafting projects, is just fun. Also, I am never ever without gifts.
What’s the hardest part of making your own soap?
A: Being patient. After waiting for everything to be at the right temperature, waiting to unmold and cut your bars, and waiting for those bars to cure and harden, you’ve done about six weeks of waiting for your soap to be ready to use or give away.
If I can make just one recipe from your new book, which one should it be?
A: That depends on who you are and how much soaping experience you have.
If you are new to soapmaking, I would recommend trying the 100% Castile-Brine Stamped Cube bars of soap. This recipe contains only one type of oil and no infusions, so it is perfect for someone’s first soapmaking adventure.
If you have a fair amount of soapmaking experience, then I would suggest trying either the Dark Ale Loofah Bars or the Indigo-Annatto Negative-Space Funnel Pour. Both recipes are really fun but do include some more difficult steps.
How did you get the Soap Queen name?
A: When I attended the Entrepreneurial Masters program at MIT (formerly called the Birthing of Giants program), my teacher Verne Harnish said, “Own your niche. It doesn’t matter what it is — you could be the King of the Dry Cleaning Business on the Corner of Smith and Holly — just own your space.”
So, I took a deep breath and started calling myself the Soap Queen. Obtaining the URL was the next hurdle and I am very thankful that the owner of the URL saw my vision and sold me the domain name for an affordable price. I’ve lost contact with her but if you’re out there, Candace, write me. I owe you a huge box of handmade soap.
About that gong that went off during your video shoot ...
A: It’s a shipping gong. One gong equals 100 orders. If you hear it go off five times, that means that 500 orders have been shipped. It’s a way we can all tell how the team is doing shipping out orders.