Unlike soap made from scratch, melt-and-pour soap is quick, easy, fairly safe, and can be made in small batches. The following is a quick tutorial on making melt-and-pour soap.
1. Buy melt and pour soap base. It can be found at Michaels, Joann's, and most other craft stores. I got mine from Brambleberry.com which has great prices for large amounts. I am using an opaque goat's milk soap.
2. Find a heat safe mold. You can buy these at craft stores, but there is no need. I used paper cups left over from a party (this was their 2nd use, and they have at least 1 more use in them if not more).
3. If you would like to add anything to the soap, like herbs, put them in the bottom of your mold. I used dried lavender grossa, a non-flowering version of lavender that grows well in my Florida garden. Other herbs or flower petals also look nice, but some discolor in heat, so you may want to test whatever you use before you make a large batch.
4. Melt your soap base in the microwave (on high checking the soap every 30 seconds) or a double broiler (being careful not to get any water in the soap). Add a few drops of the essential oil of your choice after taking the soap off the heat. I melted about 14 ounces of soap base, and added 8 drops of lavender essential oil for a mild lavender scent.
As soon as your EO is mixed in, pour the soap base into your prepared molds. The herbs will rise and mix on their own, but you can mix it yourself while the soap base is still very hot.
5. When the outside of the mold is cool to the touch you can squeeze the sides gently and pop the soap out. The soaps seen below are about 2 ounces each, and about half the size of the bars of soap you get at the grocery store.
Alternative method: You can also weigh the amount of soap you want in each bar, place that amount in your mold, then microwave the mold to melt the soap.
How much? I already had all of the materials I needed on hand, so I didn't spend anything. However, joann.com has 2 pounds of olive oil soap base for only $9.99. That is enough to make 16 2 ounce bars. If you gave 2 bars per person, that would be only $1.25 per gift. Not too bad!
Note: Melt-and-Pour soap does not have to cure like soap made from scratch, but it will sweat for a few days after it's made (due to it's high glycerin content), especially in high humidity. So, it is a good idea to wait a few days before wrapping it in plain paper - although wax paper does a good job.