In the first of our Meet the Maker blogs we shine our spotlight on Katie Beswick of Little Bird Soaps, based locally in Stratford-upon-Avon. Katie has been making our artisan soaps for the Shakespeare Shop for many years, using all natural ingredients, including herbs harvested from the Shakespeare gardens. We asked her about the process and what inspires her.
You've been making soaps for the Trust for 10 years. How has your practice developed over this time?
Katie: I’ve been making soaps for about 13 years, but, yes, I guess making soaps for the Shakespeare Shop has been about 10 years. Wow!
Katie: As a herbalist it's really rigorous training, so I’m qualified to treat people with herbs. We use different parts of the plant: the roots, or the leaf, or the stem, or the flower, depending on what's indicated, and we buy in and make our own herbal preparations.
What do you do with the herbs that you harvest from the Shakespeare Gardens?
Katie: Different things. To incorporate them in the soap I am certified to use certain herbs, which are the ones that I use. I make them into teas, so I’ll use the teas as the water part in the soaps. I sometimes distill them in my Alembic still, a copper still that you make hydrosols and essential oils out of, especially things like rosemary and lavender, the stronger smelling herbs with the more volatile oils. I’ll use hydrosols and I’ll add that for energetic benefits into the soap. I love making herbal oils, especially in summer around this time of year. A herb is infused into a sunflower oil - or almond, or sometimes I use olive - and the flower is extracted into the oil. I use those for skin balms and I use them in some of the soaps too. Wherever I can, I try to incorporate as much of the plant as possible.
How do you start the process of creating a bar of soap?
Katie: 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 Shop.
How has working with Shakespeare inspired or influenced you?
Katie: It has massively influenced me. It gave me the confidence to grow my business from the beginning because I know that I have a product that sells well. I get emails from people all over the world thanks to the Shakespeare Shop, telling me how much they've enjoyed the soaps, and how they are looking forward to buying more. That’s always encouraging and nice.
It’s helped and inspired me, even when I’m going for walks. I think of the Shakespeare quote: ‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, / Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,’ from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I think ‘Is this where Shakespeare was talking about?’ I love the way he references plants so much and it was key medicine in those days.
I love the fact I can just whip down the road and drop off the soap and I can see it in the shop when I come past. I feel really blessed, happy and grateful for the support the Shakespeare Shop has given me. Also, I work with Louisa Hare for the packaging and I really love Louisa’s work, so to have worked on this together is really great. I think she’s a really skilled artist.
Which of the bars that you make for us is your favourite?
Katie: It depends on the time of the year. Now I’m loving lavender, as the lavender has gone crazy in my garden and I can’t walk past it without rubbing it, or wanting to lie in it! I love the lavender soap as it has oat oil in it, which is one of the first theme oils that I ever found that was produced in the UK, and it’s such a beautiful gentle oil - and it's got the colloidal oat in it from the same company. So, yes, the Lavender is my favourite at the moment and it's a soothing soap, especially with the summer heat.
I imagine that would be good to help people sleep at the moment?
Katie: I do know people that have their soap next to their bed and sniff it to help them sleep. It’s really sweet. I also know a few people who buy this soap to give to their parents in care homes, just as a nice thing to have next to them, just the smell.
We are passionate at the Shakespeare Shop 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 Shakespeare's Birthplace. We currently sell six different bars of Katie’s soaps, all of which are hugely popular with our customers.