A small gesture of kindness more than 20 years ago led to a lifelong vocation for a Blount County woman.
Three bars of homemade soap launched Colette Souder’s journey into the soap making business, and she continues to expand her product line.
Souder, co-owner of Rainwater Farm with her husband, Steve, will participate in the Last Friday Art Walk on May 27 as the featured artist at The Village Tinker.
A houseguest gave her the homemade soap when she left after a stay with the Souders. Souder admitted that, at first, she thought it was “weird stuff.”
Using the soap was all it took to get her hooked. She and her husband each used one bar and then fought over the remaining one. Souder began studying the art of soap making, and continued her studies for a year before trying her hand at it.
Souder now produces 29 kinds of bar soap, three types of liquid soap and three kinds of lip balm as well as healing salves, laundry soap and other items. Her products can be purchased at The Village Tinker, where she will talk to art walkers about the soap making process and the benefits of her soaps, and at Mast General in downtown Knoxville.
Most commercial lotions are only 20 percent moisturizer and 80 percent water and need a preservative because of the water, Souder said. Her lotion bar, or body balm, is 100 percent moisturizer without preservatives, she said. The healing salves, which help ease the pain of burns, cuts, bee stings and other skin issues, is her most popular product.
Bar soaps are made from fat and liquid, and Souder uses three fats: coconut oil, olive oil and tallow along with essential herbal oils. Oatmeal Lavender was the first soap she made, but she now makes a wide variety of bars with names such as Summer Mint, Orange Ginger, Lemon-Grass Cyprus, Wisteria Lilac, Cinnamon Spice and Eucalyptus Mint.
Souder melts enough fat to make 450 bars at one time but adds different ingredients to make four different types. The soap maker said preparing to make the soap actually takes more time then the process itself.
For those who don’t like to use bug repellants on their skin, Souder offers products that deter bugs without using chemicals.
In a blog post from last summer, Souder said, “Citronella, Pennyroyal, Eucalyptus and Lemongrass essential herbal oils are all distasteful to bugs, but are safe for use by humans. We’ve combined these four oils and have put them in both our Camper Soap and the Bug Off spray.”
Joanna Tinker, who manages Tinker Village, said people like Souder’s products because they are all natural, of high quality and made locally. The soaps are long lasting and have a fresh feel to them, she added.
“We carry (Rainwater Farm products), and we can’t keep it,” she said. “It’s a great product. Everybody who tries it comes back for more. Everything she does is very, very high quality.”
Her products don’t contain additives such as parabens, petroleum or sodium lauryl sulfate and are environmentally friendly. The laundry detergent is biodegradable and doesn’t contain petroleum products, which can clog septic systems, Souder said. Commercial soap powders just hide smells on clothing with heavy perfumes, don’t wash away the dirt and make clothing stiff because of the petroleum. After using her laundry soap a couple of times, clothes will become soft again, she added.
Rainwater Farm, located in the northeast section of Blount County, became a family business with her six children and husband helping throughout the years. Souder said the business allowed her to stay home and home school her children through the eighth grade and still make some money.
As part of their home school education, her children were taught how to package and sell the products. Now only two of her children still live at home while the others are attending college and pursuing their own interests.
Although Souder doesn’t have a store, customers do drop by her house to purchase products, which can also be ordered from the website or bought from local vendors. Souder goes to craft fairs and offers soap making lessons.
Making homemade soap isn’t just a business for Souder; it has become a way of life. She said she always carries it with her to use in public restrooms and while traveling so she doesn’t have to use commercial soap.
The Last Friday Art Walk also showcases the work of area multi-media artists, potters and photographers in downtown Maryville at several of businesses. Other participants for May’s Art Walk to date include artists C. Kip Tweedie and Norman Gipson, who both work with wood, at Fine Arts Blount; Miranda Ott, a recent graduate of Maryville College who creates ceramic vases and trays, at Clear’s Silat & Street Kung Fu; artist Jonathan Howe at Boyd Thomas Clothing; and William Blount High School students of Melanie Pritchard and Doris Poppelreiter, who will display paintings, drawings, sculpture and digital media at the Palace Theater.
The Palace Theater will also be showing the movie “White Heat” starring James Cagney at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $6 at the door.
Next Friday’s Blount Today will have a full line-up of Art Walk participants. For more information, visit the Art Walk’s Facebook page listed as Maryville Last Friday ArtWalk. To find out more about Rainwater Farm, visit the business’ website at www.rainwaterfarm.com.