O mickle is the powerful grace that lies In plants, herbs, stones, and their true qualities.— Romeo and Juliet
It was a beautiful August afternoon. I was standing by the entrance to Shakespeare’s New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon. It didn’t take long for me to spot the person I was meant to be meeting. Katie Beswick makes the beautiful soaps that are on sale in our gift shops. She designs and cures the soaps herself. I was curious to understand how you become a soap maker and how do you start the process of creating a bar of soap?
'I make small batches and I do not cut them all into exact bars, I like their character and I don’t want to waste our precious resources. I cure them so they are just right. All this energy goes into the soaps and imparts a sense of place, resonance and care. Then when they are ready I stamp them with the WS seal and wrap them in the beautifully designed natural papers and I drive five minutes up the road to deliver them to the Shakespeare Gift Shop’.
Katie came prepared with hat, basket and scissors and greeted me with a warm, enthusiastic smile. Katie uses cuttings from our Shakespeare gardens as the basis for her soaps. I could tell she knew exactly what she was looking for, ‘’I want to create soap close to nature; I want to feel something of the plant in my ablutions’. She took me straight to the knot garden, she explained that each of our gardens brings out different feelings and emotions. New Place for her gives off a ‘wispy, dainty and romantic scent’. She started showing me examples around the garden, taking small cuttings of rosemary, thyme, clary sage, camomile, lemon balm and goldenrod. She pointed out all the different smells, telling me to rub my fingers on the cuttings to smell the beautiful scents. I realised how I often forget to concentrate on smell. My main hobby is photography and I am always on the lookout for what is visually interesting to photograph. I might say, ‘doesn’t this garden look beautiful and colourful’. Katie was teaching me to see the garden in a way I had never appreciated before.
Talking to Katie, I realised there is a great deal of skill required to understand smell, to learn which scents work well together. Smell is not something you focus on at school, so where did her passion for soap and scents begin? ‘I have always loved smells, thanks to my lovely Dad, he always smelt amazing as he traveled all over the world bringing back exotic incense to entice my senses. I started making soap when my partner brought me the most perfect little bar of organic soap after a trip to America. I remember its gentle scent and it had the most amazing texture, I loved it’. So is that what inspired you? ‘I think I chose soap and it chose me, I didn’t do any course but I read a lot. Then when I was ready and I knew my soaps were good I got my formulations certified and started Little Bird Soaps’.
She explained how she ‘takes time with the herbal infusions I create, following the cycle of the moon and seasons. 'I make small batches and I do not cut them all into exact bars, I like their character and I don’t want to waste our precious resources. I cure them so they are just right. All this energy goes into the soaps and imparts a sense of place, resonance and care. Then when they are ready I stamp them with the WS seal and wrap them in the beautifully designed natural papers and I drive five minutes up the road to deliver them to the Shakespeare Gift Shop’.
We are passionate in the retail team about sourcing high quality local products and Katie’s soaps couldn’t be better or more local. They are inspired by and sourced from our own Gardens and made minutes away from the Birthplace. We currently sell six bars of Katie’s soaps, all of which have been hugely popular with our visitors. More must be on the way? ‘The next bar will be fresh and herby, a head clearer, a revitalising and invigorating smell. I am drawn by beautiful rosemary, thyme and the pungent clary sage’.
Before I knew it Katie’s basket was full, she had everything she needed to begin her next batch and we said our goodbyes.
Katie’s soaps are available to buy in store and online at shop.shakespeare.org.uk.
Her new soap inspired by the knot garden at Shakespeare’s New Place will be available in Spring 2018
Meet the maker
To celebrate Museum Shop Sunday on 26 November, Katie will be in the gift shop at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, demonstrating her skills and sharing her passion for soap making between 11:30am – 1pm and 2pm – 3:30pm.