(music by Lineland)
Gwen Neucall of BeyondThePicketFence is not just a soaper, she’s her own scientist and R&D lab. One might go as far as to call her a bathmatician. Well, I would anyway, after visiting Middletown, New York, where Gwen lives with her husband and two dogs and whips up soap from scratch in her home studio.
Gwen was gracious enough (and fast enough) to walk me through her entire process of making her signature Working Woman soap start to finish. Prior to this I knew very little about soap, but I left feeling like an expert. For those unfamiliar to the drill, soapmaking is a very involved and complex process — one where ingredients that are mixed together have to be carefully timed, as well as carefully planned in order to mix properly with one another. I had no idea the level of danger involved in making something that seems so soothing to skin, but there are times in a soap’s early life when the soaper has to wear gloves in order to touch it. It takes a lot of research to dial in a great soap, and soap makers must really do their research as to what ingredients will mix well together and not fail. This results in not only a lot of reading, but also a great deal of hands-on trial and error.
For Gwen, it all started in 1996, when her mom — desperate to figure out what to do with a large sum of essential oils about to go bad — decided to try her hand at soap making. Gwen walked in on her with buckets of soap, and that was the birth of a mother-daughter business that her mother eventually left to Gwen to run on her own. But I won’t steal her thunder, you can read more about that story in Gwen’s Profile.