Katja’s Christmas with Slovenian Soap Designers

Goat milk, honey, chamomile soap. Photo: Milo za Drago/ Anja Tomazic/ Alja Fir

Last Christmas, Katja Kramberger wanted to break the usual holiday routine. Instead of eating cookies with dad and walking the same path with friends, she wanted to spend her Christmas holiday doing something unique. Katja booked a ‘Vacation With An Artist’ and decided to travel to the studio of Slovenian soap-makers Anja and Alja to learn how to make salt soaps.

This was a first for Katja, and a first for VAWAA.

Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana, has always stolen hearts of the adventurous, who quickly become enchanted with the country’s landscape. Just west of the city center, an abandoned, industrial tobacco factory attracts an increasing number of artists and cultural organisations. In the midst of this new creative energy lies Anja and Alja’s studio, a couple of blocks from Tivoli Park and overlooking Roznik Hill.

Katja was drawn to this vacation since she loves to get her hands dirty. The sort of DIY project where she can be touched by nature and by the lives of others. “I want to work with my hands. I want to touch sand, do yoga on the beach, break stone, cut wood, paint, smell. I love design and I love architecture but I also want to realize it on my own,” says Katja.

Katja harvesting olives

Friends from design school, Anja and Alja’s set out on a soap-making mission with a simple motto: the ingredients must be fresh, they must be natural and unadulterated, and they must feel great on the skin. They use top-of-the-line cold processing methods that regulate skin moisture, and an assortment of ingredients like thyme, chamomile, marigold, lavender, rosemary, coffee, even fragile poppies. It’s a learner’s paradise.

The duo’s speciality, though, is exfoliating salt soaps, for which they use Piran salt: a protected designation of origin salt from Piran in Slovenia. The salt is produced using a 700-year-old traditional technique, and it’s considered to be one of Europe’s very best.  

On the first day, Anja and Alja welcomed Katja to their studio. They had prepared for her arrival and it was a shared experience both of them were looking forward to. Katja spent several hours in their sun-filled studio learning the art of soap making, combining different 100% natural ingredients and oils.

Ingredients for making soap. Photo: Katja Kramberger

Katja reflects, “It was different and thrilling. Firstly, because of the pride I feel over something that I’ve made myself, and secondly, because I know exactly what it is made up of.”

Katja’s favorite part was that it was a personal experience. “I was able to ask them questions right away and know their story. I could also see the whole background of the production and the most important thing: that in order to succeed, you don't always need to have the perfect lab, perfect timing and full equipment, but just tons of passion and patience!”

“It is a great way to meet people that have similar interests and exchange experiences”, says Anja. The trio hit it off so well that Katja ended up staying late in the studio, teaching Anja and Alja how to crochet little pocket bags for the soaps.

Soap and crochet soap bag. Made by Katja Kramberger.

Alas, Christmas ended but the experience had lasting effects for all. Two weeks later, Anja and her boyfriend spent a couple of days taking a studio session with Hanoi-based lacquer artist Le Kim My as they traveled through Vietnam. Katja has decided to advance her crochet skills by spending more time with her grandma.

Recently, we caught up with Katja to hear about her latest endeavours:

Since your adventure with Anja and Alja, what creative things have you been up to?

I have been testing myself in Origami, and recently I’m having lots of fun with calligraphy. I have also restored an old wooden armchair for my new apartment.

Restored arm chair by Katja Kramberger

That’s wonderful! You’re an avid traveller, as well. Could you share with us a recent thing you’ve learnt on your travels?

Sure! My latest travel was more spiritual: I walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain. I happened to learn how to fold my sleeping bag so it would fit in a tiny space on my backpack. I thought that was something most creative!

Walking the Camino de Santiago Photo: Katja Kramberger

And how are your crochet skills now?

When I moved to another apartment, the creativity bag that had all my crochet needle, pens, and other tools disappeared. After the initial shock and dismay of losing it, I transferred my energy into restoring that wooden armchair I mentioned earlier. But, last weekend, I bought a new crochet needle! Since the cold winter days are coming, I will most probably be crocheting again soon.

We’re happy to hear you’re back at it. Lastly, have you done any soap-making recently?

I still have one more soap block from my soap-making sessions with Anja and Alja. So I’m looking forward to test the skills that I gathered from them and make new aromatic variations soon!

Written By: Insia Fatima & Ann Ravinther 

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