Please don't eat the soap

Some think woman’s handiwork smells so good it's edible

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It's highly unlikely Viola Crutchley will ever run out of soap. She can make 1,000 bars a day in a variety of scents, all with ingredients that are healthy for the skin. While she sells most of them, Crutchley tries to keep an ample supply for herself and her family.

When she's not at festivals or craft fairs, the proprietor of The Garden Soapery is busy in her 500-square-foot shop in Santee, making not just her natural soaps, but other products as well.

In the two years since she started making soaps, Crutchley's business has expanded, and her products can be found in both of the Carolinas. Often, she's there with them.

Crutchley, a former truck driver, found soap making as a new career after a wreck that left her with permanent damage to her arms and neck. She has help with the heavy lifting from her partner, Art Pierson, a woodworker who makes "soap decks" - slotted wooden soap holders - and other products, as well as some soap.

And it's soap that Crutchley fell in love with.

"I read books for six months before I started making soap," she said. Cocoa butter is one of her favorite ingredients.

"I love cocoa butter," she said. "I start with 55 pounds, and every batch of soap I make has 2 pounds of cocoa butter in it. It's good for all skin types."

She also makes some soaps with coconut oil, olive oil, castor oil, shea butter, coffee butter, palm oil and several other "skin-loving ingredients."

"I use organic, sustainable materials as much as possible," much of it locally sourced, such as the goat's milk from a nearby dairy that's in some products.

It takes Crutchley about 90 minutes to 24 hours to make her soap - as many as 21 "loaves" that yield about 1,000 bars. Then they have to cure before being packaged for sale.

"They're all made by hand," she said. "There's nothing industrial about it."

She adds the fragrances, colors and designs by hand to her dozens of products and notes that every one looks different because of the process.

As for the scents, although Crutchley formulates them herself, and there are dozens, she admits, "I'm not a fragrance person. Art is very involved in what we're doing. He comes up with different ideas for fragrances. It's his fault we have so many scents."

She laughed. "They smell so good, we have to tell people 'please don't eat the soap.'"

The Garden Soapery offers not just soaps, but also lotions, sugar scrubs, bathtub teas, bath salts, even laundry soap and several other products.

"They're all as natural as we can make them," Crutchley said. "I'm working on a shampoo now."

With a growing list of regular customers - one gave up her body wash for Crutchley's soap - she's taking her products to shows regularly and constantly looking for new ones to go to.

She'll have her Garden Soapery display at the Sumter County Fair the last week of September and at the Silver Bells Festival in Sumter in November. Permanent S.C. locations include Poinsett State Park near Wedgefield, Palmetto Peddlers on Hoffmeyer Road in Florence, Five Rivers Market on Chestnut Street in Orangeburg and Antiques Etc. on Cleveland Street in Elloree.

"People are constantly asking me, 'Do you have a store?'" Crutchley said. A new location opened in June at Meeting and Gervais streets in Columbia.

If you can't see Crutchley at a festival or fair or one of her permanent locations, you can see her products, find out more about them and place an order at her website, thegardensoapery.com.