August 15, 2012GORHAM - Walking into Jill White's home you can really smell it - but that's a good thing.
Jill makes hand-made soaps and a visitor could small the lavender, lilac...and peppermint as soon as we entered the living room, where she had numerous types and sizes displayed.
Making hand-made soap is a hobby turned part-time business for Jill. She is a nurse in the intensive care unit at Androscoggin Valley Hospital, where she works three 12-hour shifts a week, leaving her four days to work on developing her soap business, which she's name Mount Washington Valley Soap.
Jill is from Bowdoin, Maine. She moved to Gorham and bought a house with her fiancé Kevin six years ago. They are getting married in just six weeks.
Jill said she got into soap making about four years ago.
"I liked using hand-made soaps and I wondered how difficult it could be," she said, and set out to find out.
She is basically self-taught. She read a lot about it on line and in books. Her first recipe was one she read about.
"It's not as easy as you might think," she said. "There are a lot of variables."
She discovered the "Soap Queen'" website, a woman in Washington State who offers intensive soap making classes, something Jill would like to take some day, as well as offering ideas and supplies.
Jill buys most of her supplies on line. She said she initially tried to find supplies locally, but wasn't able to.
She tried out a lot of different recipes at first and sold them at the hospital's annual craft fair. Then, and even today, with all the varieties she now has, lavender remains the most popular fragrance.
The second year of the fair she introduced "fresh snow."
"Everybody loved it," she said. She has since renamed that fragrance Mount Washington Soap. "I am interested in making soaps that reflect natural surroundings and this area," she said, the reason she has added fragrances like balsams and blueberry. But she likes to experiment with soaps too, the reason she now offers soaps with fragrances like citrus and peppermint.
Lately she has been working on making more artistic soaps, like the white soap she now offers with a moose in the middle. She let this writer smell two new soaps she is developing. Not yet for sale because of curing time, they are lemon grass sage and coconut vanilla lime. Multi colored, they contain swirls of color or sections of different colors. She said she uses squirt bottles and different molds to obtain this effect. She said it's been a process to get the temperatures and consistency right to get the soap to swirl.
One of the most difficult soaps she's developed is honey soap. She is using honey from her brother's hives. The amount of sugar in the honey affects the temperature. Sugar heats up things fast and hot, she said. Too hot and the soap can be ruined. It has to be watched carefully.
She said she's had requests for a "man's soap" and so she is working on developing a soap she calls, right now, "leather." It is still in the experimental stage, but she said many men like lavender as well, saying it helps keep the bugs away.
Because she has moose shaped soaps, she working on a bear shaped soap that will have a raspberry fragrance. She's also working on a crisp pear fragrance soap. And for Halloween, she's working on a spiced apple/cider scent that will have a spider web on top. For kids, she working on "bath bombs" bubble bath soap that explodes in the water, with scents called bubble gum and monkey farts (banana)
Because she makes what's called cold processed soap, once it is made it must be "cured" for 4-6 weeks, so she has to plan ahead on what she is going to need. Jill said she wants to get to the point where she's introducing scents every couple of weeks.
"That's how you find out if people like the scent," she said.
Right now her soaps are available at the Farmers' Market in Berlin on Thursdays, 3-7 p.m., the Mount Washington Auto Road gift shop, Market Place at 101 in Gorham and at various craft fairs. She also has a website MWVsoap.com.
For now, at least, soap making will remain part-time. She has been a nurse for 14 years and enjoys it.
"I think about it," she admits. "I love to make soap, but you need a market."
For anyone interested in trying a soap, she does make small "guest bars" that allow someone to try different scents for a smaller price than the regular bars.