Interview with Lisa Chouinard from Feto Soap

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lisa chouinardI’m excited to be joined today by soap artisan Lisa Chouinard who hand makes small batches of soap from her shop, Feto Soap, in Austin, Texas. We made soap last month for Mother’s Day, so when I recently learned about Feto Soap at the Maker Faire, I thought it would be fun to glean some tips from a soap master on making soap with kids!

 

::Three TinkerLab followers will have the chance to win Feto Soap gift certificates at the end of this interview.::

feto soap offerings

Can you tell us about your background and what led you to start Feto Soap?

I started making soap in the summer of 2003 as a hobby while I was working at a tech support job and was posting pictures and instructions of my projects to online craft forums. Many of the people weren’t interested in making their own soap, but they liked my soap and asked if they could buy what I was making. A few months later I started Feto Soap. In the beginning my goal was to make enough money to keep in supplies (so I could keep making new things). I met and exceeded that goal a few years ago and am in the process of making new goals, defining myself and my company.

Can you talk about your experimentation process and how you come up with your recipes?

In the beginning I would just make soap with whatever I had on hand (I bought many different materials to work with) to see what I could come up with. When I started out what I envisioned didn’t always translate to what I was making. Here’s an example: I was trying to make a soap light purple to match the fragrance called “relaxing” and it came out blue-veined instead when I added heat and clay to it. It came out beautifully even though it was not what I had planned. I had a naming contest for the soap and the winner received the bar they named. (Avocado Clay Spa) Now most of my ideas come out closer or exactly how I visualize them, but only because I’ve done a TON of experimentation at this point.

oakmoss sandalwood handmade soap

Have there been any experiment disasters?

Yes. The first few times I attempted to made soap from scratch I was impatient and inexperienced, so I didn’t get my temperatures right, resulting big caustic mess! (and no soap) Thankfully I didn’t let that stop me and I tried again and again until I got it right. Here’s a picture of soap I mistakenly added honey too while it was cooking (resulting in “burned” soap).

honey hot process

Where do you get your inspiration?

Some of my inspirations are food and candy. I saw lemon bars in the case at the local cafe, and the gears in my head started whirring… I have a square mold, lemon fragrance & powdered sugar… I can make Lemon Bar Soap! Another time this happened chocolate mints arrived at the end of a meal. I went home and made Chocolate Mint Soap with peppermint essential oil and added cocoa powder to my chocolate soap.

You run soap-making workshops that attract a lot of kids and families. What do people seem to enjoy about soapmaking?

People like making things. Melt and pour soapmaking is an easy and accessible medium. There’s no one who can’t do it, and it’s quick! You don’t have to have a practiced skill (like to be able to draw) and you can create a little piece of usable art in under an hour!

What tips do you have for those of us interested in setting up our own soap-making experiments at home or school?

You don’t have to spend a lot of money on molds for soap. My first loaf mold was plastic packaging that was either going to be thrown away or recycled. When you repurpose something that wasn’t a soap mold and turn it into a soap mold, it’s called a “found mold” You can use yogurt and other plastic food containers, jello molds, candy molds – they just need to be plastic, silicone and flexible. (not metal) You can also use milk cartons. You might have to cut them away to get the soap out. After you figure out what can be a soap mold, EVERYTHING starts looking like a potential soap mold.

honey bear soap

Will you share some of your soapmaking tips?

  • Not sure how much soap will fit into your mold? Fill it up with water and pour into a graduated measuring cup.
  • Want to get rid those pesky bubbles that came up after you poured your soap into the mold? Fill a small spray bottle up full of rubbing alcohol. Immediately after pouring the soap into the mold, spray the top once or twice to break the surface tension of the bubbles.

More tips and resources here: http://fetosoap.com/blog/soapmaking-tips/

Making soap at #makerfaire!

How was your creativity encouraged in childhood?

I was always surrounded by books and musical instruments, so my creativity was encouraged by reading and playing music. I day dreamt a lot and I think that was influenced by all the books I had access to read.

What are you stumbling on that feels important or exciting?

Soapmaking suppliers are beginning to acknowledge the need and desire for more natural products and making something called natural fragrance oils. Before, if you wanted to scent a product with something like Dreamsicle, your only choice was a fragrance oil, which was usually synthetic and not natural. I’m glad natural choices are available and am working on replacing my fragrance oils with natural alternatives when they are available.

Anything else you would like to add?

I can’t wait for the next Maker Faire to make soap with you all! I have applied to World Maker Faire and will announce it on my blog as soon as I know! http://fetosoap.com/blog

Thank you Lisa! It was fun talking with you today.

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Giveaway!!

Lisa is giving away $6 gift certificates (enough to buy a soap-making kit or bar of hand made soap) to three lucky readers. To enter, leave a comment by Wednesday, June 29 at 8 pm PST. Winners will be notified by email or Facebook.

Extra Entries:

  • Like TinkerLab on Facebook and leave a comment on the TinkerLab Facebook wall.
  • Share this giveaway in your Facebook status and leave the link to your profile.
  • Blog about this post with a direct link pointing to this giveaway. Leave me a link so I can check it out!

String Cup Telephone

string cup telephone

I met up with the Los Angeles-based Trash for Teaching at the Maker Faire last weekend. Trash for Teaching is an organization that collects factory overruns and byproducts and redistributes them to teachers, schools, and museums for open-ended art making and tinkering. This is great for teachers with small materials budgets, inspiring for children to think creatively about how to repurpose materials, and wonderful for the environment. If you’re a Bay Area teacher, we’re lucky to have the incredible RAFT (Resource Area for Teaching) right here in San Jose.

I was given a few bags of materials to play with, and N and I enjoyed looking through the rolls, styrofoam, colorful papers, foil, cups, and sticks for inspiration.

Wouldn’t you agree that this is right up my alley?

Each bag was thematic, and one of the themes included materials that could be turned into string cup telephones. Do you remember tin can telephones? This is a a funny take on that idea.

Since Trash for Teaching is all about upcycling cast-off materials into something new, the big question today is “what was the original purpose of the cups you see in the picture below?” Bonus points and a big virtual trophy to you if you have the correct answer! (Keep in mind that these materials came straight from the factory floor and were never used otherwise!).

Make a string cup telephone set. It’s ridiculously simple, and worked great.

  1. Drill small holes in the bottom of each cup.
  2. Find a piece of string about three feet long.
  3. Thread the ends of the string through each of the cups. Tie off with big knots.
  4. Ring, Ring! Find a partner, pull the string taught, and you’re reading for some telephone play.

How would the telephone work if the string were 8 feet long?

20 feet long?

Does the sound change with different kinds of string or cups?

Maker Faire + DIY Design

led magnet throwies

We went to the Maker Faire this weekend, a DIY design/technology/creativity festival that attracts everyone from crafty sewing upcyclers to techie hackers to wide-eyed families looking for a creative outing. It was such an inspiring event, full of tons of TinkerLab-style making, that I thought I’d dedicate the week to Maker Faire talent. I gathered tons of good projects for you, and I hope you’ll enjoy the eye-candy that I have in store for you!

Shortly after walking through the main gate, we were greeted by a giant generator-powered electric giraffe. Its maker, Lindz, scaled a small kit robot up to this grand scale that reaches 17′ when its neck extends…and it was a show-stopper for sure. If you’ve ever been to Burning Man, you may recognize her, and you can read more about her here.

Here’s a peek into what makes her work. I have no clue, but I did loved seeing all of the colorful wires and appreciate the hours of welding involved in making this animal go.

Right around the corner from the electric giraffe was a pop-up tinkering studio that was designed to show how simple and inexpensive it can be to set up your own tinkering space. I love how they set up all their pliers on a folded piece of cardboard.

Inside this studio was a 5-minute LED Throwie project sponsored by Make Magazine. This would be a really fun project for kids older than five, but my 3-year old got into the spirit of it…especially the throwing part! LED Throwies were invented by the Graffiti Research Lab as an inexpensive and non-destructive way to add color to any ferromagnetic surface (street signs, for example).

The materials are simple and can be found at Radio Shack or similar stores.

You’ll need

  • a 10 mm diffused LED
  • a rare earth magnet
  • a lithium battery
  • tape (masking or packing will work)

LED lights have a long and a short side. Attach the long side to the (+) positive side of the battery. Squeeze hard to make sure the light works. If it’s a go, take a 7″ long piece of tape and tape the LED around the battery one time. Then continue wrapping the tape around the magnet until you run out of tape. Here’s a really clear tutorial,with costs (about $1 per Throwie), from Instructables.

Your throwie is now ready to be tossed at something magnetic, maybe your fridge? The Throwie should last about two weeks. And when the battery expires, don’t forget to dispose of it properly.

What else could you do with LED lights or throwies?