After my husband told me of his long-ago memories of his mother sitting by his bed and helping him to make carvings out of soap when he was sick as a child, I thought, "What a great activity to do with my grandchildren!" And they wouldn't even have to be sick! So I packed a couple of enormous bath-size cakes of Ivory Soap in my suitcase (wondering what airport security guards would make of them), along with directions I found on the Internet, and soon after my arrival at my granddaughters' home, sat down with two of them to proceed to carve.
It certainly seemed much easier on paper than it did on the actual soap! One of us (not me) had done it before, and managed to produce a beautiful little bunny rabbit, but for the other two of us there was much frustration. Somehow the knife would either not cut out enough to make the desired shape, or would cut too much so that we lost first one rabbit's ear and then the other, and finally gave up, ending with a snowy hill of soap shavings, which my frugal daughter plans to reshape into usable soap. The good news, though, was that nobody drew blood -- as a loving grandmother how would I have explained that?
I felt a little better about the less-than-100%-successful activity when I read a hilarious online article by former elementary school art teacher Linda Godfrey called "Whatever Happened to Soap Carving?" in which she writes of this popular school activity in the 1950s: "How many children sacrificed fingers on the altar of Soap Sculpture will never be known, but it's a safe bet the company making Band-aids raked in as many bucks as the soap manufacturers." And I can attest to her observation that "soap is not really that easy to carve... and most finished 'sculptures' end up about one inch in diameter and resembling a lakebed pebble." Too true! You can read the article for yourself at http://www.cnb-scene.com/psoap.html and consider it a challenge to prove her wrong.