Snodgrass follows soapmaking dream
By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor
Patti Snodgrass’ soapmaking dream began when she was just eight years old. Her family lived next door to their landlady, whose mother had been a nurse during World War I.
“I remember going into their basement where [the mother] made her own laundry soap,” Snodgrass recalled. “She explained how she made the soap, aged it and ground it up. Ever since that little time spent, I told my dad I would make my own soap, and I never let go of that dream.”
Ten years ago, with her four children grown and out of the house, Snodgrass was looking for something to fill that void. She tried sewing, crocheting, knitting, quilting and gardening, but nothing was fulfilling enough. So, she decided it was finally time to follow that soapmaking dream.
However, making soap takes more than just a recipe—it takes knowledge of chemistry and a lot of research.
“You have to love chemistry, and I do,” Snodgrass said. “In the early ‘90s, I pursued a nursing and natural sciences degree and stumbled across chemistry. That helped a lot and I never stopped researching, so I took what I learned and kept going with my goal.”
Snodgrass said chemistry is so important because soapmakers have to know about and understand the properties and formulas they work with, how to infuse dried herbs into oils, as well as what proportion of oils and other ingredients to use in the soap and how those components will react with one another.
“You can’t just jump into it. You can’t just ask for someone to give you a formula without that research and background,” Snodgrass said. “You really have to know what you’re doing and what it pertains. If it’s just interesting, and not your passion, you’re not going to like it.”
As a retired truck driver, Snodgrass would do a lot of research when she was on the road. She gleaned information from a variety of resources, including medical journals, where she could look at experiments others had done.
“Those are scientific things that others probably wouldn’t find interesting,” she said, “but I love to study and experiment. I’m just a lab rat. It keeps me up at night.”
Snodgrass admitted she was intimidated at first because of the lye involved in soapmaking. However, the first batch worked out so well that Snodgrass said she wished she would have started sooner.
Snodgrass initially used her knowledge and passion to help her family members with some of their skin issues—dry skin, oily skin, psoriasis, eczema. The problem was, she couldn’t quit making soap, so her husband said she should consider selling it.
Last year, Snodgrass set up a website for her business, Cabin Fever Soaps and Essentials, so that people could order her products online. About a year ago, she and her husband also moved from Missouri to McGregor. One of their sons had moved to the area and the couple would visit him while they were on the road truck driving. They would go sightseeing and fell in love with the area, pegging it as a good spot to retire.
“I just didn’t think it would be this soon,” Snodgrass said. “But I’ll never regret it. I love the people and the area. Starting a business and bringing it here was the smartest thing I could have done.”
Snodgrass also sells her soap at area craft shows and farmers markets. She sells a variety of natural and milk soaps that come in scents and colors of all kinds. Some of her newest creations even sparkle and are fashioned to look like cupcakes or cookies that could be found in any bakery.
No matter what, Snodgrass said her soaps, which contain glycerine, will prevent your skin from drying out, as the oils in the soap sink into the skin and keep the natural oils there to moisturize the skin. Snodgrass said commercial soaps are largely just detergents.
“They go through the process and mill and take out the glycerine and good properties,” she said. “Detergent is added to foam and make bubbles. It binds and cleans well, but it binds to the natural oils in skin and washes them off, so, after a period of time, the skin dries out and starts cracking.”
Soon, Snodgrass will take another baby step forward with her business. A business called Crafters Corner, which was formed by Mark and Andrea Oppermann, will soon open in downtown Prairie du Chien and feature products from area crafters, including Snodgrass’ Cabin Fever Soaps and Essentials. Snodgrass said she would also like to start selling her products wholesale to small inns or bed and breakfast establishments.
Snodgrass has also gotten into blogging and hopes her knowledge and interaction with other soapmakers will help educate and encourage others.
“My family gets tired of hearing about my addiction, so I get online,” she said. “I’m just a little soap nut, I guess.”