Thistle & Barley - What’s in the name?

Hey, y’all! I’m Jennifer Cardona, and I make soap! I began my soap-making journey in the summer and fall of 2020 during the height of the “thing that shall not be named.” But let’s take a step back for a moment…

I had been a stay-at-home mom for many years, and by 2019, our kids were grown and almost finished with college. My husband and I were about to be empty nesters, and I was struggling with not knowing what I wanted to do for myself. Previously, I had worked as an office manager, accumulating what I believed to be a marketable resume with college degrees, certifications, and employable skills. Then, the company I worked for was sold, and I lost my job. So, I started searching for new work and was interviewed and turned down 22 times before I realized that it was a sign. Maybe I wasn’t meant to work for someone else.

Then, the whole world went into lockdown, and I began watching tons of YouTube videos and discovered soap-making. I had always wanted to work with my hands, and from a young age, I dreamed of working in some kind of “lab.” Soap-making piqued my curiosity, but it also seemed daunting. I was overwhelmed with information and somewhat fearful of handling lye. Many people warned about its dangers and the need for safety goggles and gloves, which gave me doubts about whether I really wanted to start working with caustic materials.

So, I did what I believe many new soap makers do when they want to start but aren’t ready for cold process soap: I began making melt and pour soap. These are soap bases that are already saponified, so you don’t have to handle lye. You simply melt the soap base, add your colors, additives, and fragrance, and pour it into molds. It seemed like a great way to start without committing to something I wasn’t completely comfortable with. I ordered various melt and pour bases, colorants, fragrances, soaping ingredients, and tools, watched more videos, read soap-making books and articles, and cleared a space in my semi-finished basement to serve as my “soap lab.”

I spent weeks experimenting with colors, fragrances, and techniques. Initially, I had beginner’s luck, and my confidence grew. I started giving my soap to friends and family for testing, and I received a lot of positive feedback. It was fun, and there were endless possibilities with melt and pour. However, I still had that urge to take the risk and try cold process soap.

So, I ordered oils, butters, lye, gathered the necessary equipment and protective gear, and in November 2020, I ordered my first beginner cold process soap kit from Bramble Berry. I couldn’t wait to get that kit. While waiting, I continued watching videos and reading articles about cold process soap making. I was excited and ready, and when that box arrived, I jumped right in, following the directions and safety precautions implicitly. My first loaf of soap turned out perfectly.

Now, my big challenge, which I haven’t mentioned until now, is my lack of patience. Impatience wasn’t much of an issue when working with melt and pour soap because it’s ready once it cools. Cold process soap is an entirely different bug, requiring at least 24 hours of saponification, heating up, and cooling down before unmolding and curing for up to 6 weeks. I spent many hours watching and waiting, sometimes not so patiently, for my different soap loaves to be ready for unmolding. This impatience sometimes resulted in ugly corners because I tried to unmold the soaps too soon, causing them to stick to the inside corners and bottom of the silicone mold. Over time, I learned to leave it alone until it’s ready.

In the months that followed, I experimented with various ingredients and techniques. I made some beautiful soaps but also made many mistakes and failures. However, I continued to learn and truly fell in love with the process. I began paying closer attention to the quality and quantities of different oils and butters I was using. That’s when I discovered Soap Calc, an excellent online recipe calculator for cold process soap that helps you understand how different ingredients affect your soap’s properties. It, along with the cold process soap making community, has been a great help.

As I continued to make cold process soap, I learned so much through trial and error, sometimes experiencing tears of frustration, but always with the determination to keep moving forward. I made soap, gave it away, used it myself, and collected feedback from friends and family. With some coaxing , encouragement, and help from my husband, I decided it was time to start a website to sell my creations. I was finally doing something I loved, and if I could make some money from it, why not try?

But before I could set up a website, I needed a name. I considered various options but eventually settled on “Thistle & Barley.” Here’s why: “Cardona,” my husband’s last name, originates from Cardona, Spain, and it means “THISTLE.” Milk Thistle is known for its antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties, all beneficial for the skin. “Barton,” my maiden name, comes from England/Scotland/Wales and means “BARLEY FARM.” Barley contains vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatory properties. After learning about the skin-loving properties of these ingredients, it was clear that the name had to be Thistle & Barley in honor of our families.

Today and in the future, I will continue to learn and refine my recipes.  I am now so grateful for those 22  rejections because they were really blessings in disguise. Now, I’m doing what I love and I hope you all will enjoy my creations as much as I enjoy making them.

Feel free to check out my website at your leisure. I offer a Signature Thistle & Barley Soap that contains both Thistle powder and Barley Powder. It’s unscented, slightly exfoliating, and perfect for gardeners. It’s available in the shop now.


Leave a comment