Happy autumn Monday. Here on the Atlantic Coast, we are fully entrenched in Autumn and with Hallowe’en just ahead, most of our makers are looking ahead at the busy holiday season. Today’s maker, Nova MacIsaac of Black Rafter Soapworks is no exception. With Christmas scented soaps curing and slowly starting to appear in her etsy shop, Nova is ready for the season ahead.
An artisan soap-maker, Nova is located on beautiful Price Edward Island. Raised in a home where craft was just a typical part of life, she learned from her grandmother who was a knitter, rug-hooker, soapmaker, and a cook and baker. As an adult, Nova has put most of these skills to good use, but soap-making was the one that most intrigued, yet initially eluded her. After some extensive research, the day came for the first attempt. And it failed. Nova refused to give up. The persistance paid off, and today Black Rafter Soap Works exists to bring you beautifully scented, cheerily coloured artisan soaps and body-care products.
Please read on to learn more about Nova and her Island home.
Nova, can you please begin by telling us a little about yourself?
I was born and raised on beautiful P.E.I., the oldest of 4 siblings, and was brought up by my grandmother. I married my sweetheart, had 4 kids, then 4 grandkids. Life is very full indeed!
And since I make soap, remember: I like dirty people!!
You come from a very creative family and you state your grandmother is one of your biggest influences. Do you mind sharing with us some of your favorite memories of her?
My grandmother was a major influence in the family, a real alpha-female. We didn’t have a lot of extras growing up, but she was a wizard at making the most out of nothing. Creamy fudge and delicious sugar cookies at Christmas, fixing up costumes for Hallow’een. Making old fashioned soap outside in the yard, and shooing us away, as it isn’t exactly kid friendly! Teaching us where to dig a fresh water spring so we’d always have good water.
My favorite memory was holding her great-granddaughter, my daughter for the first time.
Pretty much every maker has experienced this same thing at some point. You have mentioned that your first experiment in soap making was a failure. What happened and how did you turn that into a learning experience?
Yes, my first batch of soap was so anticipated, and oh, what a flop! But I’m stubborn and I tried again. And again. And I love it. I learned that patience is indeed a virtue, some processes can’t be rushed!
How has the process of making hand-made soap changed from how you remember your grandmother doing it?
Artisan soap is almost unrecognizable since my grandmother’s time. She made it a couple of times a year, to last us, and she always tried to make it special, but it was what it was. Today, we have unlimited resources to produce pretty, scented, molded soaps that are almost too beautiful to use. We can reach a wide audience to purchase our soaps, unheard of in her time. The internet changed everything.
Who’ve been hard at work on new products. Can you give us a sneak preview of some of the items that we can expect to see in your shop for the winter and holiday season?
Just today, I uploaded my first 4 Christmas soaps to my website, and I will be making and adding Holiday lip balms also, plus perhaps a bath soak product I am working on now. These will be added to my Etsy shop in the next couple days. My chemical free insect repellent has taken off, selling faster than I can make it, obviously not a product one needs in a Canadian winter, but watch out next spring.
PEI has a very active arts and crafts movement. Is there something special about the Island that fosters this?
Nothing new about arts and crafts on P.E.I. That used to be called necessities! Quilts, clothing, mitts & hats, rugs, soap, I do all those things too. I owned a fabric and yarn shop for 15 years, and none of my customers considered themselves artisans or artists, although indeed they were. Art was for hanging on the wall!
We like to think of ourselves as sharing, supportive, helping each other out.