CLAREMONT — One thing leads to another at the Claremont Makerspace — that’s the big idea. Although there are dozens of makerspaces in cities and towns in New England, the Claremont one was designed to bring creative people of all different persuasions together to inspire and help each other.
For Christy Stocker that worked out perfectly, when the jeweler turned soapmaker turned her hand to cabinetry.
Stocker has a background in graphic design. Her full-time job is making fine silver jewelry, which she sells through her mountainmetalcraft.com website. Her husband, Eric Stocker, owns The Hatchery restaurant in Ludlow, Vermont.
The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. However, all those meals require a lot of bacon and that bacon generates a lot of bacon grease, so Eric suggested an idea to Christy. How about making soap with it?
“We had a friend who was turning it into biodiesel, but when he stopped doing that we had to do something with it. Eric said, ‘Didn’t Granny Clampitt make soap out of bacon fat?’” said Christy. “At first I was like, ‘Oh no, I’m not,’ but then I started looking into it.”
Thus, bacon soap. Granny’s recipe may be lost to time, but there’s nothing unusual about bacon grease in soap. Animal fat — from roadkill deer to the leftovers of domestic chickens, cattle and pigs — is a common ingredient in far more products than people realize, from toothpaste to soap to rubber to plastic. Ivory soap, of the “99 percent pure” fame, uses sodium tallowate, created from tallow (rendered beef fat).
Christy spent about five months coming up with the right recipes. Soap is made by mixing different oils with lye, cooking it at high temperatures, and then setting it for a few weeks to harden. In the end, she had a six-step cleaning process for the bacon grease, dozens more steps for making soap, and a kitchen and dining room full of soap-making apparatus.
Recently, the Stockers finished converting a room so the soap-making can be moved out of the kitchen.
Vermont Bacon Soap, in spite of the name, doesn’t smell like bacon. “Although, people ask for it,” she said. But she hasn’t yet found a good way to inject that cooking bacon aroma into the soap. “About half the people are excited about it, and about half the people aren’t.”
She makes “fun stuff, like champagne mimosa, peppermint, and ‘dirty piggies’ soaps.”
The Vermont Bacon Soap idea took off, so now she’s looking to expand sales beyond the website. She needed display cases, so she turned to the Claremont Makerspace and learned how to build her own.
“The tools there are so nice to use,” said Christy. “I have a background in graphic design. Most of these machines are computer-programmed anyway. They use Illustrator, so if you know how to do that, it’s easy to use.”
Using the wood shop in the makerspace, she created standing display shelves, such as you would find in a gift store. Like her jewelry work, the shelves are clean and precise, and built of light maple. And like her jewelry, as soon as she showed other people, they began asking her to make one for them.
Barely a month into it, she’s made 22 shelves. “It’s fun and it’s good part-time money,” she said. “I come in a couple days a week and play on the cool machines.”
“I’ve been making stuff my whole life,” said Christy. “When I was little I saw Oscar the Grouch make a mobile out of a coat hanger and stuff he found in the trash can, so I started making mobiles.”
With access to the right tools, who knows what she’ll come up with next.