Handmade soap items make easy gifts

Hope to make gifts by hand, but stuck with two left thumbs? Here's an easy craft from Leah Kramer, the founder of Craftster.org and author of The Craftster Guide to Nifty, Thrifty and Kitschy Crafts :

ITEMS NEEDED

- Petroleum jelly

- A large block of transparent or opaque melt-and-pour unscented soap (available at most craft stores)

- Soap molds or chocolate molds (also available at craft stores) in whatever shapes you want

- A microwave, glass measuring cup, disposable chopstick and a knife

- Fragrances, colorings or decorations

1. Coat the molds with a very thin layer of petroleum jelly.

2. Place block of soap on a cutting board and carefully cut into ice-cube size chunks. Place them in measuring cup.

3. Place measuring cup in microwave and heat on high for 30 seconds. This melts the soap into liquid. Stir with chopstick, making sure it's fully melted. If necessary, continue heating for 15-second intervals until fully melted. (Melting time will vary depending on the wattage of your microwave. Consult melting instructions on soap package.)

4. Carefully remove bowl from microwave, and use chopstick to stir in any combination of ingredients, customizing batches of soap for each person on your gift list. Fragrances, colorings and herbs are all possibilities. Once you become more familiar with soap making, try adding exfoliants like ground coffee, oatmeal or ground apricot pits. Just be sure anything you add is safe and/or cosmetic-grade. For example, you can buy "cosmetic grade" or "skin safe" glitter for adding to your soap. But adding traditional craft glitter to soap is not safe. The Web site teachsoap.com offers information on safe possibilities.

5. Stir the melted soap with the chopstick to cool it slightly, until you notice a very thin skin forming on the top. Then pour it into the molds until it reaches the top of the cavity. (Pouring in very hot soap could warp the molds.)

If you're using transparent soap and wish to embed something in it, pour half the melted soap into the mold, then add the item or items -- flowers, tiny plastic toys, etc. Then fill the remaining space in the mold with more melted soap.

6. Allow the soap to harden completely, which takes about one hour at room temperature. Then pop the soap out of the mold.

You can find additional information and ideas at:

www.craftster.org/

http://teachsoap.com/

www.meltandpour.com/

http://forum.soapdelicatessen.com/

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