Friday, 30 September 2011


Not actually today, I brought them a while ago when the new Spurious Crafts Folksy site went live.

The maker, Peter Jeffs, is my last boss, a bit strange I know, but he left our local council around the same time as I left my Arts Officer job.   He was one of the Directors and one of the 'Good  Guys'.  Interestingly, while Peter was always very supportive of the work I did as a passionate Arts Officer and Play person, I knew he really "got it" (and most don't in my experience), I had no idea he was also a very competent and interesting artist in his own right.  Funny the things you find out outside the workplace.

As most of you know, I am now a full time soap maker and very happy to be so, however, it is still scary as my two-day-a-week job was my bill payer and I am now struggling a bit to find the housekeeping each month.  Hey ho, thats the way it goes and I know things will improve.

Anyway, Peter has been making his quirky ceramic tribal (kind of) masks for a while and decided to put them on a dedicated site, I got the heads up email and went to look right away.  I fell in love!  I think they are lovely.

I love this Shaman, I know I should not say it but he is tiny and sweet, and I am in love!

I'm not totally sure of the backing boards he uses, sometimes I think they are not quite right, the Shaman is great but the next one, which I love, does not work on the board.

I think she (and it is a she) is beautiful, she has a really serene look
Apparently the hair is made from plants from the garden (I thought it was from a broom!).  I think I will take her off the backing board and see what she looks like then.  She is quite a bit larger than the Shaman, but has a lovely texture to her skin.  I am also not sure about the crystal on her forehead, its plastic and not right, also the pearl?  I would love to know what you all think.  Should I remove them or would that be wrong, or somehow in defiance of the artist and his creation?

Basically, I love them, do go and have a look at the Spurious Crafts Folksy site, it is great.  Also Spurious Crafts has a new facebook page so please check it out and 'like' if you do!

I think these pieces of art are very individual, you either like them or they leave you a bit non plussed.  I think they are great and am very happy with my present to myself!

Do let me know what you think, do you like them?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Last Day in Portugal (for a little while)

The last two weeks have been frenetic, frantic, fantastic and fun!! I have learnt how great it is to work with another soap maker and we really have had so many laughs along the way. It has been such hard work designing and making our wonderful new range together, but I do believe we have done it.  Long may it continue.  Our new range Puro has been growing and growing, we now are the proud owners of 3 beautiful, totally natural, exclusive Olive oil soaps, 4 fab new Christmas soaps and 8 really great fun soaps, all made using wonderful natural ingredients from our local region in the mountains of Portugal.  Along with actually making these lovely soaps we have created a new brand, new logo and labels as well as packaging, exhibition information. fabulous new display trugs (hand crafted and painted), website, new facebook page and some of the best marketing photographs I have ever seen. All (well almost all, a lot of thinking and talking has gone on first) in two weeks!!!............................

We think we have created some real stars

And the most wonderful displays

Just wait until you see them all cured and ready
Yes......................  we have had a disaster along the way, please meet MR F'UGLY

But then we have also had some very lovely successes..............  Please meet MISS PRETTY SPARKLE

All in all, the two weeks have been totally brilliant, I hope my Naturally Made Soaps customers have appreciated the skills of my lovely daughter Aimee, who has been doing my packing and posting while I have been away.  I will be back at the NMS helm on Friday with a few new ideas of my own, new Christmas soaps to be launched, October courses and generally lots of great things going on, watch this space - as they say.

Please do also keep watching our new Puro Facebook page as this is where you will see what we are planning and hopefully all come and share a new, exciting soap making venture.  If you are interested in stocking Puro soaps or want to find out more about our wholesale offers please keep following this blog, our new website will be launched soon and details will be shared on this site.

And lastly......  Because I have been working so hard with Shelley, I have not spent much time in the last two weeks at our lovely Quinta.  So this morning I went out and photographed it in the early sun, it is such a wonderful, peaceful place, just a stones throw from the village of Lagares da Beira and Paul and Shelleys place.  I hope you dont mind my final photo of this fantastic soap making journey coming from here.....

Quinta do Cobral - our lovely home
Dont worry, there will be lots more from both England and Portugal, keep watching this blog for the latest news.  Please do leave a comment, it would mean so much to Shelley and I to hear what you think of our new soaps and ideas.....  thanks in advance

Monday, 19 September 2011

Last post from Portugal for a while! - sorry Im late - My Week!

What a week, both Shelley and I are knackered, walking and thinking, inventing, making, designing, inspiring all soap, soap, soap in our sleep!!   its crazy, the two of us working together has been a revelation - its fab, we just cant stop bouncing ideas and thought off each other!  We gave ourselves a day off on Sunday and spent it thinking about soap!

We have made such lovely things since our disaster (see previous post and F'ugly) -4 huge Christmas batches and 8 new fun soaps as well as our market leader and best Olive oil soap ever - Puro.

Our new, beautiful Christmas soap with berries,  nuts and figs

White Chocolate and Strawberry Gateaux
So, part of this trip was to discover new sources for our soap making, we want to create soaps that are made using the most local ingredients possible and one of our essential ingredients is fresh goats milk, it makes the best ever soap - see previous blog about why I use fantastic fresh goats milk

Shelley had found some great local contacts but it seems, they could not supply us on a regular basis, then the barman  and general village oracle Artur told Shelley about another goat farm not too far from our village, gave us directions and we went.  Found a really lovely Portuguese goat farm, all goats, they looked lovely, really well looked after with free access to a nice pasture, day and night (very rare) and very pretty.

Really nice night time forage and protection

the very cool and matsterfull Billy

Soo lovely
We found the farm, turned up amid lovely little kittens, dogs not chained up but lovely and friendly, cant tell you how unusual this is in Portugal, We were met by a nice lady who took us to the house, where the previously ordered 10 litres of lovely creamy milk were waiting for us in the fridge.  It was such a fab visit, Shelley and I were so pleased to be buying from such a wonderful place where they really loved and looked after their goats, it was so obvious.

Everyday goats bells for when they forage far from home

Such a fantastic selection, the really big goats bells right down to the little babies

The really special ceremonial bells used during village parades - these are huge!
The milk was fantastic, really clean and fresh and so very creamy, lets hope Puro can maintain this supply.

We have also been working on our new display, driven a little by Naturally Made Soaps we decided to go for fabulous, handmade wooden trug style display boxes, coloured in a fantastic aray of tints that would show off our soaps to their best, as well as a smaller, more subtle set to display our exclusive Puro soaps.

Bare naked pile of our fab Puro trugs

Beginnings of colour, just wait until you see them all done!

Painting hard, - Mrs Barnes
Me busy making soap

Oh, woops, just forgot to show you my office window, please dont feel too sorry for us both!

Our new range PURO is not yet available, we have been working on our exhibition display only, however, if you are interested, and they are fabulous, keep watching our new facebook site, we are soon to launch our website too, you will not be disappointed. We will soon be launching our wholesale prices.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Portugal, soap and lots more!

Hi, I did promise I would blog about the soap we are making, rather than other things.  Well, we had a bit of a disaster - so I was reluctant, but then got to thinking, well hell, these are the things that help soap makers gain experience and ideas as well as growing in confidence about their ability to control what is a very difficult science!!.....................................

Now, those of you who make soap will know exactly what I am talking about, those who dont, just enjoy!  As you know, from the last post, we picked up our olive oil (150L) from our local co-operative, we took his old oil, suitable for soap making, not the years best virgin (which is not that great for soap making, its lovely to use in the kitchen but tends to be very green in colour, and really is not worth spending the additional £'s on)

So, we used our first recipe and decided to make our first joint bar of Puro soap, a really lovely castile recipe that uses lots of lovely essential oils, no fragrance oils, Coconut oil as well as cocoa butter, castor oil and beeswax.  Well it should have been a doddle, apart from the fact that Shelley and I really had not made soap on this scale together before, not a problem, we are both pretty experienced, then, as I use Brambleberrys iphone soap calc. (which is only in oz) and Shell uses the proper and more modern grams and kilos - Nightmare!!
Just trying to sync the recipes/lye/liquid amounts/fragrances was a mind bender.  We did it though and mixed up our first batch, added the essential oils and mixed.........................  THEN PANIC, it started to move so fast, we had to rush to mix, no chance of using the blender, pushing it into the mold and trying to whip up the tops into something that looked vaguely nice.  It got so hot, the centre of the soap seemed to turn black, but as it started to cool, it looked a bit better.

Lots of soul searching, what had we done wrong? the oil did smell a bit weird but could that be the problem? the beeswax was very, very local and a bit smelly to start with, Shelley did a great job filtering it and it looked fine, if a bit dark, could that be the problem? Could we have got the recipe totally wrong, bearing in mind we were both used to using different units of measurement?  Well, that night, heads were whizzing with ideas and a very broken night of sleep was had by both.  Next day did look better, at least worth cutting.

Next day - we jointly decided it could have only been the beeswax or olive oil after sychronising our recipes once again.  the soap looked a lot better, its seemed to have evened out in colour, if a bit darker than normal.  So this time, we mixed 3 of the different olive oils we got, they were different colours and some smelt a bit like engine oil! to see if that helped, we also decided to do without the beeswax completely, deciding that was the problem.....................ARGHHHHHHH YOU DONT EVEN WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED!  it was about 10 times worse that the last batch.  We managed to get it in the mold just, then it got soooo hot, almost went totally dark brown, like jelly, started oooozing horrid little oily patches, generally the most F'ugly soap ever on this planet, and the worst that either of us had ever done before!!!! Take a look and see what it was like the day after..........

Greasy, slimy little F'ugly
Ready for disposal, asap.  Now I really dont want you to think we have not had a lot of laughs too, it has been brilliant, I am sooooooo loving making soap, planning, thinking, chatting, designing, weighing, buying and generally doing all soap stuff with someone else, and I would not want to do it with anyone else, Shelley is brill, a really experienced maker who brings whole new dimension to my soap making.  She is much better at accuracy and recording that I am, and I need that, so we are good together, its so good to make soap with someone who loves music, having a laugh, chatting, and, best of all, the odd beer/wine o'clock at the end of a busy, hot working day!

Making trugs yesterday was a perfect example, we both just got on a roll, it was so hot, we were using power tools, sanders and making lots of dust and mess, then this happened.............

Shell just started laughing, and we both fell about when I realised what she had done - spot the deliberate mistake, based on the one in the front?!!!

Well, today was brilliant, we made a perfect batch of Puro, after using better, normal olive oil (meaning it was definitely the old stuff from the press that was giving us the trouble - yet to decide what to do about this), two further batches of fun soap and our first Christmas soap, all perfect.  It has given us the kick we needed, we are good at making soap, we can do it and its still great fun.  See what you think?

Perfect trugs waiting for their handles
Just one last thing, after I got back yesterday and the horrors of the F'ugly - soon to be destroyed soap, I got a bottle of cold beer from the fridge and sat on our rock watching the mountains and the sun going down/moon coming up, noticed our cactus was flowering, thought about sky colours and new soap inspiration, everything gets better so fast!!!  That is the joy and beauty of Portugal........ 

The beautiful new moon coming up over the Serras

Soap layer inspiration?
Sorry, a very long blog, I hope I have kept you interested until the end?  Life here is good, its hot, beautiful, natural and very, very hard work but worth every minute.  Thanks for reading, do leave a comment if you feel like it?

Sunday, 11 September 2011

My Week!!

 Why pine nuts cost so much and other things...............................

And what a week it has been, firstly jetting off from Bristol Airport in the pouring rain and landing in Lisbon 2 hours later 28 degrees and full sun!  Travel is so strange, I can never get over the changes, every thing happens so fast there is no time to adjust at all.
So all our soap making ingredients have arrived at Shelleys house and we are all go for making lots of soap.  Firstly, we decided to have a go at making the trugs that we will paint up and use for our display during the exhibition in November and our first proper selling fair at the Meruge Medieval Pork Festival!  I tell you, it is all kicking off. So for those of you who don't know, I have teamed up with my very best mate in Portugal Shelley Barnes, and we are launching a brand new company 'Puro' which is designed for the Portuguese market using local ingredients (and I mean local).  First pick up your olive oil, from our local co-operative press in Lagares da Beirra where we both live.

Beer and Power tools, should not really go together, but it was the end of the day!!
So we made two sample trugs, one for the hotels, a bit smaller, and one for our stalls, now we know what we are doing!!  we will make them in no time at all.

Then coming home last night, after seeing Shells lovely pine cones with pine nuts falling freely from the trees, I decided to make my own pesto for supper!!  Armed with my trusty rucksack I went up the drive to our one really big pine tree, which happens to be a pine nut bearing one and found lots of ripe cones.

our big pine nut tree
So then you have to get the nuts out of the pine cones, not an easy job, you get covered in pine sap and the cones are really tough.  After this, the nuts are covered in a really strange black dust, a bit like soot, so I decided to rinse them off before trying to crack the shells.

Shells, garlic, cones and bioligical (organic) olive oil from our local press

washed pine nuts ready for cracking to get the kernals out
Very hard work, see the empty shells V the tiny amount of kernals
But I got enough for my pasta sauce last night and it was very good indeed, fresh pine nuts taste different, more sweet and oily, really lovely, I have never tried this before but definitely will again.

Then today, what a day, I was invited to our wonderful neighbors and very best Portuguese friends, Grandaugters Baptisma - Very, very important and quite a celebration.  lots and lots of family and friends, it started at 9am with food at their house, dressing the little girl Eva Margerida in her outfit and generally drinking (I stuck to coke - lots were already on the red and white wine!), we then all paraded up to the church for the ceremony.  it took ages but was really lovely.

she really is a little sweetie
More to follow.  I finally got home after an amazing lunch, at 5.30pm after eating so much I think I could burst.  I got right into the shower, then decided to start on this blog.  I have run out of energy now, I will post more later in the week. I hope you are all having a good time, keep reading and following my Portuguese soap making adventures.  More actual soap stuff this week.

Dont forget to leave a comment.......................

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Im off to sunny Portugal!!

Well I hope it is sunny after the rubbish August we have had here.  Im off to spend two weeks with my mate and fellow soap maker Shelley Barnes  I can't wait.  We have such a new and exciting project on the boil at the moment, we are designing and making a new range of soaps together especially for the Portuguese market which will include lots of lovely local ingredients such as beeswax (see Shelley s latest blog post by clicking on the link above), Olive oil etc.  We are also making a lot of our fun soaps and an exciting new range of Christmas soaps for the markets over there as well as our first exhibition coming up in November.  So as you can imagine, designing new logos, new labels, new packaging, new soaps, etc. etc. we have been megga busy and for the next two weeks we will be madly making soap as well as trying to source local goats milk, more ingredients and sipping the odd glass of wine too!

I'm going to be there for 2 weeks but don't worry if you want to make an order, my lovely daughter Aimee is at the helm and will be packing, labeling and posting to keep up.  A little reminder for everyone - the Summer Sale is now over, thanks to all of you who took advantage of the massive 50% discount I now have room on my curing shelves for lots of lovely new goodies coming up very soon. I have been making some lovely new wild berry cupcakes and I have some great new ideas for a fig and caramel sugar soap as well as a secret soap for Christmas!

Xmas Berry Cupcake - I wish you could smell this!

GREAT NEWS!! I have managed to negotiate a really good rate for my new course venue, even better than I previously thought.  I am passing this on to all course participants (those who have already paid will receive a £20 discount in the post) - Course cost now only £75 for a whole day of tuition, equipment, 1k soap, refreshments, lunch, hand outs and recipes!!  Go to to book by filling in my new online form.

I just wanted to tell you about the booking form, it was so easy to create using Google Docs, I have never used this facility before and I don't know why really, its great.  It produces really good forms as well as the back up and monitoring forms needed to check orders/bookings etc.  If you have never had a go I recommend it.  It took me a little while to get my head around it, but once sorted it really is an easy way to make your online documents look very professional.

One last thing......  While I am away I would really like to gather some thought from you all to help me get some new soaps sorted when I return.  What do you think about Naturally Made Soaps producing an all new "All-in-one Shampoo and Body bar"?
Have you ever used one before?
If so, did you like it?
Did it work?

I have created a readers poll on this blog, if you have time I would really appreciate your input, I shall collate all the answers when I get back and let you know the results.  You could always leave a comment below as well.  I will still be accessing my blog, facebook page, emails and website every day so don't worry, I shall be keeping up with you all!!