Instead of heading out of town for the long holiday weekend, the group stood in a classroom at Little Shop of Crafts, learning soapmaking from Marla Bosworth, founder of Back Porch Soap Co.
About two hours into Friday night's three-and-a-half hour session, Bosworth was supervising students as they mixed melted shea butter, lye, and water in a plastic bucket with a hand blender.
Bosworth teaches students how to incorporate organic ingredients, where to source supplies, and emphasizes the use of natural and organic colorants like the parsley shown here
One student sprinkled dry parsley, a natural green colorant, into the mix, which looked like cake batter. After pouring in essential oils may chang, cedarwood and vetiver, a lemony scent filled the air.
"Isn't it fun?" Bosworth said. "When the whole thing happens, it's just magical, isn't it?"
Bosworth was once a market research analyst who dabbled in making her own creams at home for fun. When she was laid off in 1998, she used her severance package to start Back Porch Soap Co.
Now she manufactures her own line of bath and beauty products out of her home studio in Duxbury, Mass. She teaches hands-on classes there — topics include organic body butters and artisanal bath fizzies — and also consults with clients on how to start their own bath and body products business.
Bosworth teaches classes at Little Shop of Crafts on Amsterdam Avenue and West 94th Street about every other month. Later this summer, she's opening a permanent store and classroom inside Little Shop of Crafts.
During Friday's class, Bosworth dispensed plenty of tips. Some were business-oriented, such as where to get insurance if you're going to sell soap out of your home, and how to look up information about the FDA-approved method for labelling soaps.
Other information was more in keeping with the theme of Bosworth's product line, which is entirely vegan and uses all natural ingredients, some of which are organic.
"There's nothing like essential oil to change your mood," Bosworth said as students stirred a combination of rosemary, patchouli and lavender oils that she dubbed her "Good Karma" blend. "If you're a little off and bummed out, smell some rosemary."
Some students at Friday's class were enrolled in an $895 four-day series of classes called Bath & Body University, for people who want to start their own businesses.
Others took the soapmaking class for fun. One students was a retired nurse whose son gave her the class as a present, another was a woman who wanted to learn how to make soap for a husband with sensitive skin.
Gina Francois, a web designer, said she took the class because she wanted to learn how to make soap "the right way."
Francois started making her soap at home after her daughter was born with mild acne and a doctor advised her to seek out cleansers with natural ingredients. She taught herself how to do it mostly by reading information on the Internet, she said.
Francois was enrolled in the four-day Bath & Body University. "I've been here since Wednesday and there are so many things I've found out I was doing wrong," Francois said. "It's been great."
At the end of the night, students left with two plastic tubs filled with still-warm soap batter. It would set overnight, then get sliced into bars, then spend another four weeks "curing."
Bosworth said she got "completely addicted" to soapmaking as soon as she made her first batch.
"I love the fact that you can take all natural ingredients and create your own soaps from scratch and not have to use any chemicals," Bosworth said.
More info on upcoming New York City soap classes.