I've always been interested in the history of soapmaking. In my research several years ago, I came across the web page Colonial Soap Making. Its History and Techniques that answered those questions for me.
Today we have the luxury of purchasing ingredients to make soap with consistent results. With the click of a mouse we can order everything we need to make a batch of soap. Suppliers are plentiful and growing by the number every day. I can't help but wonder how different today's handcrafted soap making trend would be if we had to make our own lye and render the fats used in our soap making process.