Hinckley resident offers full line of soap products

By Chris Studor

            When you can use a heavenly scented bar of hand crafted soap made from botanicals why choose a typical commercial soap bar for your next relaxing soak in the tub? Hinckley resident Andréa Bartel has been cooking up a wide menu of skin softening, rich lathering, natural soap bars from her home kitchen named Hickory Hills Studio.

            Bartel began making soap ten years ago while still continuing with her career in photography, having graduated with a degree in commercial photography from Kent State University.  Bartel said “I guess I’ve always envisioned myself as that pioneer woman type – curious about how things are made and ready try things out for myself.”

            When she and her husband, and two children moved to Hinckley about ten years ago, her country-style home was built with a second kitchen in the basement. Through studying books and watching U-tube videos, she gradually learned the craft and acquired the materials to make soaps with the main tool being a simple crock pot.

            She explained that there is a hot process and cold process used to make soaps and although she does both she leans toward the hot process “which produces a chunkier natural look which any scent can be added as well as color. The hot process allows the soap maker to make finer designs but takes much longer to “cure” and prepare for sale,” she said.

            “The first step begins with mixing your butters and oils, such as Shea butter or coconut oil or combination of the two,” explained Bartel. “The butter soaps make a harder soap where oils are softer and it’s important to get the ratio correctly and butter and oil can be combined. Each oil or butter has its own properties. For instance, coconut oil is a great cleanser and salt bars make you skin very soft and drain out impurities.” The butters or oil must be mixed with lye (sodium hydroxide) to create a chemical reaction between butter and oil termed saponification.”

            Bartel demonstrated the steps of saponification wearing a pair of safety glasses when mixing in the lye which gives off heat. The butters and oils and lye mixture are cooked in the crock pot for about 20 to 30 minutes and then left to cool down with the mixture first taking on a pudding like consistency then mashed potato like consistency with different scents added.

Her home garden supplies an array of scents and additives such as lavender, mint, comfrey, rose, basil, chamomile, rosemary, calendula and sassafras. Other ingredients include sea salts, herbs, flowers and whole grains all of which contribute to a “good lathering soap.” A pH test is also conducted.

            “The cooled mixture is then poured into molds and put in the freezer for about 4-5 hours to get colder,” said Bartel. ‘The bars then sit a week or two to let excess moisture to escape because if the bars were used directly out of the freezer the higher moisture content would wear the soap bar down very quickly. The hot process takes a bit longer but allows for more intricate color designs but also takes 4-6 weeks to cure. The salt bars, for instance, require the hot process, are poured into individual molds versus a loaf that is sliced into bars, and it must sit for at least a week.”

            Many of her soap products are sold at local craft fairs including the fall Hinckley Holiday Market where shoppers might have confused her beautifully colored and shaped soaps with a nearby table of sweet pastries. Her products are also sold at such places as MOD in Hudson, Moonstruck Vintage in Little Italy and Half Moon Yoga in Medina. You will also see Bartel with her line of soaps in the vendor area at Hinckley Buzzard Day this March.

            “My biggest time of the year is the holidays and I am extremely busy from October through December producing up to 1,000 bars of soap.” said Bartel. “I really enjoy it when customers tell me how soft the soap makes their skin feel and how they love the scents.”

            Bartel is a woman who lets no dust settle under her feet. She also works for Image Building Marketing which produces community magazines. For years she and her partner ran their own photography studio in Strongsville and she continues to do photography as an independent photographer. Even with these diverse interests, her “pioneering” interests continue to grow as she mentions her next venture is to learn how to make hard cheeses. Oh, by the way, she also raises chickens.

            “I love to learn new things and think I will always be looking to try something new,” said Bartel. ∞

Andrea Bartel shows off her soap mixture, which is ready
for the freezer. Photo by C. Studor.