Hobbies: Helen Buchanan - Soap and Jewelry Making

Helen is one of those people whose craft room looks a lot like it’s actually a craft store as she makes a hobby out of having a multitude of hobbies.

Drawing and painting, small (tiny) clay sculpture, baking, knitting, and crocheting are just a few of the things that she keeps herself busy with and she always has a project in her hands. Two of her favorite hobbies are soap making and wire wrapping jewelry.

The wirework jewelry making came as a logical extension of knitting and crocheting, as her favorite methods are wire wrapping and Viking knit (also called Trichinopoly weave), which are very much like hand knitting with wire instead of needles/hooks and yarn. Both methods of wirework involve some of the oldest techniques for making handmade jewelry with evidence of wire wrapping dating back to approximately 2000 BC. Trichinopoly weave was actually used not only to create jewelry but also to adorn clothing and vessels. Very few tools are needed saving one’s own fingers and the wire itself, but pliers definitely help! Helen’s favorite things to make with these methods are key chains and bracelets; the examples you see here include precious gemstones and Swarovski crystals, which Helen likes to incorporate into her work because hey, who doesn’t like a little bit of bling?

Helen began soap making after stumbling across the hobby on YouTube one night, intrigued by the combination of science and artistry. No one actually knows when soap was first discovered but the first evidence of soap making in history dates back to 2800 BC in ancient Babylon. Soap can be made buying kits from any craft store, but Helen does it the (almost) old-fashioned way, using lye and different fats which, when mixed, go through a chemical reaction called saponification, after which a curing time of a month is required before use. The quantities of each ingredient need to be calculated and measured precisely, with the amount of lye changing based on the different properties of each fat. Helen prefers to use various types of oils such as olive, sweet almond, evening primrose, avocado, castor, etc. but many soap makers prefer to use animal fats instead. Different fats are used to increase or decrease certain attributes like the hardness of a bar, how big or small bubbles are, how silky the soap feels, etc. and additives such as oatmeal, honey, aloe, coffee, beer and goats milk can provide other skin benefits as well. Natural colourants like micas, molds and piping bags can be used to shape and modify the look of the soap and many handmade soaps tend to look like food; an example can be seen here of some of Helen’s soap cupcakes. With the addition of essential oils and fragrances and recipes built for shaving, shampooing, face and body care, there are so many options when it comes to soap making that she hasn’t yet made the exact same soap twice.

As both of these hobbies exhibit, even though Helen loves to surround herself with the newest tech and gadgets, she also strives to carry on traditions and crafts which have existed for thousands of years, paying homage to history’s homemade craftsmen and women and keeping a little bit of their knowledge alive. There’s definitely something satisfying in going through the same motions and using the same methods as countless people have throughout history, ending up with a tangible, usable, hopefully beautiful work of handmade art that is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago.