Appalachia Folklore

Lye Soap, and Feelings

Dorie woman of the mountains

“When the moon was right—in the dark of the moon—Ma made lye soap. All year, hickory ashes had been put into the ash hopper, which was kept in the barn. When water was poured into the ashes, it seeped through and was caught in a crock at the bottom of the hopper. The water picked up chemicals as it went through the ashes, making lye (leaching is the proper word for the process). In the big, black wash pot, lard and lye were cooked until soap was like jelly. It was a soft soap, not in bars like today. Everything we had smelled like lye soap. We bathed in it and washed everything with it. The true mark of cleanliness was a slight lye odor that clung to us.

Ma was always busy, but she’d talk to us as she worked. She talked about her and Pa’s ancestors and their superstitions. Next to the Hungarian Gypsies, the Scots-Irish believe in signs, spells, and spirits more than any other race of people. Scottish folk were said to have “second sight” and could predict and see the future. Pa had the ability to predict when someone was coming for a visit. Several times, we had seen him take the team and wagon and go to the train station to pick up relatives from North Carolina who hadn’t bothered to let us know they were coming. Pa “had a feeling” when they were coming and he never missed.

One night, he sat straight up in bed and said, “Owen Maples is in trouble over on the mountain.” Pa put on his heavy clothing and went out in the snowy, dark night, relying on a lantern and his “feeling” for direction. He found Mr. Maples hurt and his lantern broken. He would have frozen to death before morning if Pa hadn’t found him. We never questioned Pa’s ability to “feel” things. He never talked about it himself, he just went on and did what he needed to do.”

—Florence Cope Bush – “Dorie Woman of The Mountains”

Today’s Thankful November giveaway is a used copy of “Dorie Woman of The Mountains.” To be entered in the giveaway leave a comment on this post. *Giveaway ends December 6, 2020.

The winner of the ring made by Ed Ammons is Donna W who said: “In 1966 when I first met my husband, he wore a ring he’d made from a quarter. Somewhere along the way, it was lost. I’d love to have a ring made from a half-dollar to give him for Christmas.”

Donna send me your mailing address at [email protected] and I’ll get the ring to you!


Subscribe for FREE and get a daily dose of Appalachia in your inbox

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Donna W
    December 5, 2020 at 5:37 am

    You made my day! I now have the best Christmas gift for my husband ever! I’ll replace the ring that became missing in action in the 70’s!

  • Reply
    December 4, 2020 at 1:26 pm

    My Greatgrandfather Vaught was German imigrant and my Grandmother made lye soap. She also believed in the signs and superstitions. Many of them predicting death or illness.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2020 at 10:46 pm

    I have vague memories of my grandmother making lye soap in the wash kettle behind the woodshed. I don’t think my parents ever made it unless Mom helped her.

    • Reply
      Leonard Barnett
      December 6, 2020 at 11:24 pm

      My Mother and her mother made lye soap and I remember her slicing it up with an Ole Hickory Butcher Knife like it was fudge,she cleaned everything with it including us 8 kid’s.What I would give to go back to them day’s.

  • Reply
    Donna W
    December 3, 2020 at 5:59 pm

    After my maternal grandma died, my mom seemed to want to do a lot of things she learned from her mother. She started planting big gardens again, and canning and making lye soap. She only made it one time, as I remember, but I do recall the smell.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2020 at 5:33 pm

    We never made lye soap. The women I take care of talked about making soap when she was young. She’s 89 now. I love listening to her stories about when she was a child growing up. She said making the soap was an all day job. It was hard work.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    December 3, 2020 at 3:12 pm

    I’ve never tried to make soap, I think it’s a skill that is accomplished. Chatter makes wonderful soap, I just love it and always look forward to a gift of her homemade soap for Christmas.

  • Reply
    Sue simmons Ritchie
    December 3, 2020 at 3:10 pm

    I can remember my parents making lye soap when I was a child, we bathed with it , washed our hair with it and many more thin like Dories Pa I have had so many dreams come true ,twice something I did in my dreams saved my sons life. After my husband died he came back in a dream to warn me of a car accident , three weeks later I was in an accident and totaled my car and broke my collar bone. hate having these dreams! They are not very often now. THANK GOD !!

    • Reply
      Colleen Holmes
      December 3, 2020 at 9:33 pm

      I used to make soap. It’s quite a chore. Except we used pig lard or beef tallow. Made fat candles too.

  • Reply
    Yvette H Ridenour
    December 3, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    I grew up hearing stories of my Granny’s childhood and adulthood (she was born in 1911 and died in 2007) and how her grandmother and mother, and later she, too, made lye soap. Our background is British, too. I have had so many experiences of “sensing” something before it happened–it would take hours for me to recount them all. It’s something I began experiencing as a young adult, mostly through dreams, but sometimes just a feeling about something that later proved to be true. On the night Granny died, I was sitting with her and my husband was supposed to come to relieve me. I called him and told him that I thought I would stay–I had a strong feeling that she would die that night, and she did. I am so glad I was there when she breathed her last–she was the person in all the world who had the most impact on who I am and what I believe. I had a dream in 2010 of seeing her in heaven, and I know someday it will be fulfilled.

  • Reply
    Kay Paul
    December 3, 2020 at 11:14 am

    I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time because Tipper keeps tempting us with snippets taken from it. My ancestors on my paternal grandmother’s side were Scots-Irish and my grandmother was quite superstitious….but she wouldn’t admit to it! I’d love to win the book!

  • Reply
    Georgia Styer
    December 3, 2020 at 11:10 am

    Thank you for this post. Although I was never privy to using lye soap, I know my mother and daddy experienced the same way of living. What I most enjoyed about this post was the Scot-Irish reference about who could foresee (feel) bad things. I am of Scot-Irish blood, many of whom settled in North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia, South Carolina, and eventually Georgia and Alabama. I began having dreams of foreboding in November, 1963. I was a Senior in high school and told my daddy about my dream that President Kennedy was killed. That day in my English class, the loudspeaker cracked and reported what had happened in Dallas, TX. My dreams about people dying became more intense after that. In 1973 I woke up at 1:30 a.m. crying and very afraid over a dream where I was dying and there was no one to help me; I was crying and calling out. My husband awoke and comforted me, but the dream stayed with me all day. There would be a brief feeling that would come over me many times that day that I couldn’t explain. We received a phone call that afternoon from my husband’s mother in another state, stating that his sister almost died while “recovering from an intestinal surgery she had the day prior.” My sister-in-law had been at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and at 1:30 a.m. she experienced horrible pain. It took a while for the nurses to attend to her. She thought she was dying and would have, because her husband could not be reached in time to sign appropriate papers. She had to scribble her signature on the form herself. Emergency surgery had to be performed, as a stitch has come loose and peritonitis had set in. Weeks later, I spoke with her and she described everything I experienced in my dream. One of my dreams even saved my own life, but it is too long to explain. My dreams were incredibly detailed; I say “were” because it has been several years since I experienced one. I’m thankful for that because I became afraid to go to sleep at night.

  • Reply
    Kenneth Ryan
    December 3, 2020 at 11:03 am

    I am Scotch-Irish and have always heard of these powers and superstitions. I would love to have a copy of Dorie Woman of the Mountains.

  • Reply
    Marylou Sweat
    December 3, 2020 at 10:55 am

    This sounds like a great read. I, too am of Scots/Irish decent and if I don’t win it I will buy it….

  • Reply
    December 3, 2020 at 9:36 am

    Every time you include parts of Dorie’s book, I tell myself that I’ve got to read it. Maybe this is my chance?

  • Reply
    Kay Martinez
    December 3, 2020 at 9:29 am

    I so love all your posts, but this one, oh this one is wonderful. I come from a long line of Scots-Irish folk and the women on my late mother’s side of the family always had a “knowing” or second sight as it was referred to. A great-granny read cards for businessmen in her community when they were about to make big decisions to give them insight. Dreams also were spoken of and listened to as sometimes the “dead walk in dreams.” They might be just a gift of a visit or to bring information or advice. I would love to win a copy of “Dorie Woman of the Mountains.”

  • Reply
    December 3, 2020 at 9:25 am

    I loved the lye soap I bought from your girls when they had their etsy shop. When they closed their shop, I tried to make my own for the first time in my life. It turned out ok and smelled great with added patchouli oil but was not as pretty as the bars the girls made. Mom made lye soap just like Dorie’s Ma did. I remember her shaving a bar in the wringer washing machine full of white clothing.
    Both my parents are from Scots-Irish ancestors and superstition was definitely an inherited trait on both sides.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2020 at 9:23 am

    I’d love to read more about Dorie!

  • Reply
    Karen Ward
    December 3, 2020 at 9:16 am

    My grandmother made me soap in her big black pot outside. She used a can of red devil lye. She stored it in the can house after it was made. She used it to wash clothes in. My great grandmother had “feelings”. In our family others of us have”grandma feelings” from time to time. When my daddy was ill, in praying for him, I suddenly “knew” when he was would die. I didn’t speak of it, but was correct.

  • Reply
    Margie Goldstein
    December 3, 2020 at 8:05 am

    I really enjoyed today’s excerpt! Clean IS my fantasy and my life! I think we all have psych gifts which get turned off with “ tv programming, etc.” The senses are basically deadened to create a zombie mentality you see today all around us. Most young people and many my age and older are absolutely clueless as to why they are here nor would they dare stick their neck out to help aid another human being. God, I wish I’d have been born 200 years ago. Look around you- everybody looks sick and pale and IS sick from our food, water or anything where a dollar can be stolen or taken from the sheeple.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2020 at 7:52 am

    I have never saw anyone make lye soap. I would think my grandparents may have made it, but not in my life. They were both born in 1888. I think we need to listen to those feelings we get from time to time. I hope it is not wrong to say this, but I wonder if these dreams or feelings we have such as the ones in the above story are not similar to the visions religious people in the Bible would have. I am not talking about the wild crazy dreams we have. I dreamed several times about something happening that concerned my grandson and something along the lines of my dream did happen.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    December 3, 2020 at 7:49 am

    Congratulations Donna. Ed’s ring couldn’t go to a more fitting place.

    I remember lye soap my Grandma made. She didn’t leach out her own lye though, at least not in my time. She bought it I believe in a gray and green (?) paper box. The soap really had a distinctive smell, neither good nor bad, just so-so. As far as I know, she never tried to change the smell. The color was a pale brown.

    My maternal grandmother is said to have had second sight. And my Mom would, on rare ocassion, have prophetic dreams. I have wondered if those are the same as the gift the bible calls the “word of knowledge”. I have experienced that a time or two, a knowing that you know without anything to go on. So glad Dorie’s Pa found Mr. Maples. Reminds me to of what the bible says about, “I sleep but my heart waketh.”

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      December 3, 2020 at 4:11 pm

      I liked the pun! “fitting” Actually I left a little material inside the ring. More can be removed to make it a little larger without losing any of the detail from the coin.

  • Reply
    William Dotson
    December 3, 2020 at 7:24 am

    Thanks for this post, I remember Mom making her lye soap as well.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2020 at 7:22 am

    Can’t say I’ve ever used lye soap, guess Lava is as close as I will get. My wife buys goat soap from some people here that have a “farm store”. Suppose to be better for dry skin and sensitive skin issues such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne. All I can say is it diffently smells unique.
    My mother and grandmother both would dream about people before they died, neither would say much except they were worried about such and such. As I grew older I realized the connection between their comments and the deaths. I always tried to rationalize it by thinking maybe they were more observent to others appearances or comments then the rest of us.

  • Reply
    Susan C.
    December 3, 2020 at 7:20 am

    My grandma made lye growing up but She only made it every couple of years because she only used it for laundry stains. One year, when she was in her golden years she made a very large batch to have enough to give some for others. She always made soap bars instead of liquid. This time she thought she’d be fancy and add a piece of twine in a few of them before they hardened (soap on a rope). so the bars could be hung up. Someone from a very large corporate restaurant chain with an “Old Country Store” caught wind of her creation and contacted her to make a deal to produce them for that store chain. . She passed it up because her “gardening and homemaking would suffer” if she had to produce that many bars of soap on a constant basis. Lol. She would get her “sign” that someone was coming to visit, which was an itchy nose. She would cook a big meal and almost every time relatives or family friends would show up.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    December 3, 2020 at 7:13 am

    Love all of these stories. It seems the folks in our early years had lots to teach us.

  • Reply
    Wanda Robertson
    December 3, 2020 at 7:10 am

    I still make lye soap, but I buy the lye, which makes it a lot easier. I use it to get spots out of clothing. Loved this post and the memories it brought back.

  • Reply
    Wanda Gregory
    December 3, 2020 at 6:56 am

    Your posts are the first things I read of a morning. I love reading articles and books that are about the Applachian. I would love to read ” Dorie Woman of the Mountains” and add it to my collection.
    Reading your articles and watching your YouTube allows me to relive listening to my grandparents talk about their childhood. It was a hard but good life.

  • Reply
    December 3, 2020 at 6:43 am

    One advantage of growing older is you can remember so many great people from the past. I remember some who lived their lives much like Dorie. There were many interesting folks up in the coal camp holler where I lived as a small child. Mrs. Mitchell always wore a bonnet and a long apron. She would build a fire outside and make lye soap. She even had a cow and made butter. I still remember the pretty butter formed with a design. Her yard was always full of tall corn and vegetables . She looked out for all the children, and once had a flattened foot log placed across the creek to keep us from wading the creek. I had already sustained two fairly serious injuries in the creek trying to build a bridge for my friends with a big rusty nail in it. I was even kind enough to let Skippy try it out first to see if he survived. He did, but I had a serious mishap.
    When the rolling store came up the road all of us children and Mrs. Mitchell would gather at the back. The children would try to out holler each other, but the rolling store driver paid no mind. He always listened patiently to the little lady first, and we children learned to wait. That is how you learned back then! I looked up her age recently, and she had been born in 1879. No wonder she knew so much about the old ways. On a trek up that holler recently, I noted her old two story house was one of the very few still standing. The holler is now filled with tiny homes to rent to ATV drivers who converge on the Hatfield and McCoy trails. Kind people are always remembered.

    • Reply
      December 3, 2020 at 7:39 am

      Thank you for passing on her memory! I appreciate how everyone seemed to raise the children even by ignoring them, lol.

      I did save a (trash) can of winter ashes to try my hand at lye, but we moved before I could do anything w/ them. I’m sure the next residents thought we were crazy when they found that.

  • Reply
    J David Chrisman
    December 3, 2020 at 6:13 am

    Thanks for sharing this. I have similar memories from my Pa & Granny and other kinfolks who put great stock in their dreams and foresight.

    • Reply
      Sheryl Psul
      December 3, 2020 at 7:05 am

      My family is Scots/Irish on one side and Scots/English on the other it made for some fascinating family history. I temember most my mother telling me to pay attention when the dead spoke as it was always important.

    Leave a Reply