More Pure Soapmaking

I truly have been enjoying inspiration from Anne-Marie Faiola’s Pure Soapmaking: How to Create Nourishing, Natural Skin Care Soaps, which I reviewed recently on this blog.

I have also enjoyed watching other soapmakers experiment with Anne-Marie’s ideas and recipes from the book. I spent a few minutes today watching soapers try Anne-Marie’s recipe for an Aloe Vera Hanger Swirl soap as shown on pp. 177-181 in the book. I admit to being drawn to that soap as well.

First up, I watched the wonderful Holly of Missouri River Soap try out the recipe with her own tweaks—she uses different oils— and a slightly different technique.

Next, I watched the incomparable Zahida Map of Handmade in Florida give the recipe her own flair.

Both of these women are talented soapmakers whom I admire a great deal. Watching these videos made me anxious to give this soap a go.

Like Holly, I used my own soap recipe. Holly is absolutely right in that as you become a more experienced soapmaker, you come to formulate your own recipe that you like. You know how it will behave under normal conditions, and you know how it will feel to use, what the lather will be like, and what its various properties will be. I experimented quite a lot with a variety of recipes, but I have gradually settled on one recipe that is my mainstay for almost all of my soaps now.

I used the same colors as Anne-Marie in her book: chromium oxide, hydrated chromium green oxide, and titanium dioxide. I didn’t have any aloe vera leaf or gel or any cedarwood essential oil. Anne-Marie (and Holly and Zahida) used the lavender and cedarwood essential oil combination, which I’m sure smells divine. In fact, I’m kind of wondering if it smells like Bramble Berry’s Lavender & Cedar fragrance oil. I bought some Green Irish Tweed fragrance by BeScented from a friend recently, and I had been wanting to try it. This technique of Anne-Marie’s looked like a good opportunity.

Aside from using my own oil recipe, changing up the fragrance, and deleting the aloe vera leaf/gel, I basically followed Anne-Marie’s advice, with the exception of not spooning the soap into the mold. Like Holly, I opted to pour at thinner trace so that I could get more swirls. I used aloe vera liquid at perhaps just a bit more than the amount Anne-Marie did.

Emerald IsleI divided the soap, but not into precise thirds. I have a 3.5-4-pound mold, and I poured about 1.5 cups of soap into two measuring cups for each of the greens and colored the rest of the soap white. I find that I like the way my soaps look better if they have more white rather than equal numbers of each color. The Green Irish Tweed fragrance doesn’t accelerate, and even though it looks a like it’s a bit dark in the bottle, it doesn’t seem to discolor.

I poured a layer of white soap and then swirled in each of the greens, very similar to the way Holly did in her video. I repeated until most of the soap was gone. I kept some to do a swirly top. I used my new hanger swirl tool (man, did that make this easier!) to add the hanger swirl.

Based on suggestions from Twitter and Instagram friends of New England Handmade Artisan Soaps, I’ve decided to call this soap Emerald Isle. Isn’t it beautiful? And it smells absolutely divine. I haven’t ever smelled Green Irish Tweed by Creed, but it reminds me a bit of Irish Spring. I am definitely sending some along to my daughter, who loves fresh unisex scents like this one.

Emerald IsleI’m really happy with how it turned out. I am using a new brand of titanium dioxide, and I noticed some fine dots near the tops of the bars. I’m not sure if it’s something like glycerine rivers. You can probably see the dots in the image above. It’s funny, but I might have been really disappointed about those white dots in the past, but over time I have come to accept that sometimes titanium dioxide does funny things, and you just have to roll with it. I’m not sure why the titanium dioxide would only be temperamental at the top of the soaps because my experience with glycerine rivers is that they are usually threaded throughout the soap and are less prominent, if anything, at the tops. In any case, the greens really popped after gelling.

Recently, I also tried Anne-Marie’s recipe for Oatmeal Soap for Babies on pp. 78-81. I used her exact recipe, though sized for six bars in my round silicone mold. I also opted to swirl with purple Brazilian clay, so I didn’t add bentonite clay to the whole batch—just the uncolored half. I added lavender essential oil to the soap. Aside from these adjustments, my soap was made with the same recipe as Anne-Marie’s.

I should mention that I don’t really make a clay slurry, either with oils or water, when I use clays in my soap. I just add the clay right to my oils before I add the lye water. I have never had any issues with clay when I have added it in this way, but I have had issues when I have added clay as a slurry. Go figure.

Babies could likely still use this soap, even with the lavender essential oil added, but I plan to suggest it for people with sensitive skin who want to use a gentle, natural soap.

Lavender ChamomileYou can see the specks of oatmeal in the soap. The purple Brazilian clay really is a muted lavender shade that is perfect for this soap. I found this cute video of Katie from Royalty Soaps making this soap exactly as described in the book:

I have to recommend Anne-Marie’s book again. I think beginners will find a great deal of information in it, and so will advanced soapers.

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Inspiration Soap Challenge

When I saw Kenna’s Facebook post about her Inspiration Soap Challenge, I pounced quickly, knowing her 15 challenge kits would be snapped up by eager soapmakers. I was lucky enough to be in the first 15 claimants, and I received my kit and challenge in the mail.

Challenge KitHere is what I received:

One ounce each of three fragrances—Save on Scents’ Apricot Honey, Candle Science’s Coconut, and Candle Science’s Black Currant Tea. All three of them smell great.

FragrancesAdditives: kiwi seeds from Lotioncrafter, bentonite clay from Monterey Bay Spice, calendula petals from Monterey Bay Spice, Blaze Orange Day-Glo color from Majestic Mountain Sage, Corona Magenta Day-Glo color from Majestic Mountain Sage, 24-Karat Gold mica from Rustic Escentuals, Caribbean Kiss mica from Rustic Escentuals, and Clementine Pop mica from Rustic Escentuals.

AdditivesMy mission? To craft a soap inspired by Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” using at least four of these ingredients.

Here is Kenna’s note:

LetterThinking of this song, the three Rustic Escentuals micas, the Apricot Honey fragrance, and the calendula petals immediately jumped out at me. The song reminds me of summertime, and those colors and fragrance screamed summer. I decided not to wait and set to work immediately.

I used my one-pound shea butter recipe, which has 40% olive oil, 25% coconut oil, 25% sustainable palm oil, 5% shea butter, and 5% castor oil. I also added cream, kaolin clay, and tussah silk.

Soap BatterI decided I would leave part of the batter uncolored. I would pour the uncolored batter into the mold first. I would use the three mica colors and do an ITP swirl, then pour those into the uncolored batter to do a Holly swirl. It didn’t quite work according to plan.

Part of working with an unknown fragrance is the surprise it might offer—will it discolor? Will it accelerate trace? I had no way of knowing, really, as the reviews on the site didn’t say. I plunged ahead. I suspected it would accelerate mostly because of the fruity (almost floral) nature of the scent, which I LOVE, by the way. I don’t smell the honey as much as the sweet apricot fragrance.

It did accelerate a bit, as it turns out. I was still able to swirl my soap, but I had to move quickly. Everything was going smoothly as I poured the uncolored batter into the mold.

Uncolored BatterI had already prepared my three micas and decided to pour the soap directly into these cups.

Prepared MicasAren’t they beautiful?

The soap was thickening up by the time I was done mixing the colors.

ITP swirlSo, my ITP swirl was not as fluid as I envisioned it. I knew it wouldn’t drop swirl easily into the uncolored batter, either. What to do?

I poured it from high so that it would penetrate, then I spoon-swirled it.

Soap in MoldAnd the pièce de résistance? The calendula petals.

Calendula Petals on TopI put the soap to bed to gel. I checked on it a few times, and I can tell you that it moved fast and became quite hot pretty quickly. It was over 140°F one time when I checked it, and keep in mind this was probably within the first hour after I made it. Just a warning about that fragrance! I hoped that the fragrance would stick OK, but the flashpoint is 200°F, so I crossed my fingers.

As it turned out, the fragrance made it through saponification just fine. After I cut it, I could smell the honey notes much more than I could out-of-the-bottle. It really smells delicious. I’m telling you, you couldn’t worry when you smelled it—it would make you happy! I just hope it’s going to remain strong through the cure.

Don't Worry, Be Happy SoapHere is a close-up of one of the bars so you can really see how the colors came out. The Caribbean Kiss mica is a perfect Caribbean water shade, and the Clementine Pop mica really matches the apricot notes in the fragrance, while the 24-Karat Gold mica ties in the element of honey in the scent. As it turns out, the swirl looks great—perhaps better than it would have looked if I had just done a drop swirl with the swirled colors.

Close UPAs you can see, the natural soap did not discolor either, so while this fragrance accelerates, it does not discolor, which means it is great for whatever colors and design you want to try (given you can work with the acceleration).

I’m really pleased with how the micas turned out as well. I didn’t know if the 24-Karat Gold mica would look like much in CP soap, but it honestly pops pretty nicely—you can see the sparkles throughout. It’s hard to tell from the pictures, but the sparkles really do catch your eye if you can see the soap in person.

A couple of interesting notes about this challenge:

  1. It was fun trying to use the kit to make something based on the challenge idea, and I found the idea came to me immediately. Kudos to Kenna for the great idea.
  2. I really fell in love with the Clementine Pop mica, and I’m going to have to order some more of that. I liked the other two a lot as well. I do not have as much experience with micas, and so I feel shy ordering them (for some reason) because I’m not sure what I’m going to get. I was so happy when I checked Rustic Escentuals’ site and found they were all CP stable.
  3. I really liked all three fragrances. Coconut does scream summer, but even without checking, I figured it would discolor more than the Apricot Honey, so I went with my gut on that one.
  4. Almost all the materials I received were new to me. I have used calendula petals and bentonite clay in soap before, but I had not used anything else. I had never even purchased from any of the companies except Rustic Escentuals and Majestic Mountain Sage. It was fun to learn about some potential vendors and try their products before I buy them.
  5. After watching the music video for “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” again, I discovered the colors I used (or at least similar ones) appeared in the video! I see them mostly in the background. Isn’t that wild? I wonder if my subconscious somehow dredged that up (as many times as I saw that video in the 1980s!), but… nah.

This soap will be ready to use on August 2, 2014. I decided to give one bar away. Here’s the catch: no fair entering the contest from multiple Twitter or Facebook accounts. You can certainly enter more than once using one of each kind of social media account, but if you try to game the system, I will disqualify all your entries. I was disappointed to learn someone tried to do that with my last giveaway. I want someone who really wants this soap to win it, not someone who just enters freebie contests, so please—your social media accounts should contain tweets besides giveaway announcements. Aside from those caveats, go for it!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Making Melt and Pour Base

Update, July 3, 2014: We have had a few hot and humid days lately, and I can confirm this soap sweats. A lot. However, you might try Cee’s suggestion of reducing the glycerin to see if it results in less sweat. If MP sweat is not a concern, read on…

Ever since I read about the process of making melt and pour base on Cee’s blog, I have wanted to try it, but I knew I really needed to set aside the time because it was likely to be quite a process. I was right. If you try this, make sure you try it on a weekend or day off, when you can devote the time you will need. Mine definitely didn’t turn out like Cee’s, but it was still quite usable and worked very well when I melted it down to make MP soap.

The first thing I did was put my palm oil, coconut oil, castor oil, and stearic acid into the crock pot.Oils in the Crock PotI let the oils melt.

Melted OilsI like how you can see my ceiling fan in the oils. Ha!

I added the lye water and stirred a bit. Here the soap is at a thick trace.

Thick TraceI let it cook for a bit. Here it is at “mashed potatoes” stage.

Mashed Potatoes StageA little while longer, and it was starting to gel.

Beginning to GelI stirred it well and cooked it to the applesauce stage. Once it started to get fluffy, I tested it for zap.

Applesauce StageAfter there was no zap, I poured in the glycerin and stirred.
Glycerin AddedThen I let it cook and melt. Finally, this was about as clear as my batch ever got. Cee’s was very clear. Not sure if I did something wrong.

Almost ClearEach time I would go stir, I saw a skin of hard soap on the top. I never could seem to get it to completely melt into a clear liquid. I am wondering if the temp was too low. Perhaps next time, I should try turning the crock pot up on high and see if that helps.
Soap SkinFinally, I stuck it in the microwave and poured it into the mold, hoping for the best.

Microwaved SoapBut it got these sort of scummy looking bubbles on the top. And I could still see some unmelted chunks of soap. Oh well, I poured it into the mold and let it set up.

I unmolded just a few hours later. It was already perfectly hard and came out of the mold quite easily.

Bottom of MP Soap BaseThe bottom was translucent (but not transparent). It looks a lot like a more opaque version of a regular MP soap base to me.

Top of MP BaseThe top had this sort of scummy white layer. I don’t know if it would hurt to use it, but I cut a slice and trimmed that top part off. Then I made these cute little heart-shaped soaps using some rose pearl mica, Pink Sugar fragrance, and Vanilla Stabilizer.

MP HeartsSo, I can report that the no-alcohol technique seems to work just fine!

Cee cautions on her blog that this recipe has a lot of glycerin, and it might sweat if used as embeds, but you can decrease the glycerin and perhaps get good results.

Here is a video I made of the process.

Thanks Cee (and Zacil) who shared this technique on Cee’s wonderful blog.

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Woah, There: When Good Fragrances Misbehave

Most soapmakers experience accelerated trace at some point. Trace, of course, is the term for oils and lye that have been emulsified to the point that when a dribble of soap is dropped on top of the rest of the soap batter, the dribble stays on the surface of the batter for a short period of time and leaves a “trace” on the surface. Trace can accelerate for a variety of reasons.

In his book Scientific Soapmaking, chemistry professor Kevin Dunn says that trace can be accelerated based on three elements:

  1. water content
  2. temperature
  3. the presence of catalysts (e.g., ingredients in some fragrances)

If you want to slow down or accelerate trace, the easiest thing to do is control the water content or temperature. For example, if you know the recipe you are using is slow to trace and you want it to move more quickly, you can discount the water and mix the oils and lye at a higher temperature. This is a handy tip for making Castile soap, as olive oil is notoriously slow to trace when it makes up 100% of the oil content. Instead of using full water (38%), you can discount to, say, 33%, and you can mix the oil and lye at 110°.

It’s always a good practice not to discount water or mix at a higher temperature when you are working with a fragrance you haven’t used before, precisely because sometimes fragrances contain ingredients, such as clove oil, that will accelerate trace. If you have already discounted water and mixed at a high temperature, you could wind up with a seize, sometimes known as “soap on a stick.” It takes an experienced soapmaker to save soap that has seized, and sometimes, even experienced soapmakers aren’t able to salvage it.

I recently experienced some major acceleration using a new fragrance called Pumpkin Cheesecake.

Just about as soon as I added the fragrance to my soap, it started to thicken up, and it was just about all I could do to get it into the mold and attempt a swirl before it completely hardened.

I knew the soap would likely discolor because it was such a dark, reddish color. As you can see in the video, I separated the soap into three parts, two of which I colored. I was still able to get a nice swirl with a spoon, but I was really afraid the soap would be ruined because it looked like it was starting to rice in the mold, and if I had tried to stick blend it at that point, the soap would have been utterly ruined.

I took the soap’s temperature before I put it away, and it was already 104° on the bottom of the mold. Even if I had wanted to, there would probably have been nothing I could have done to prevent the soap from gelling. If I had tried to decrease the temperature by putting it in the freezer, it would have at least partially gelled. I am not a fan of partially gelled soap.

I decided the best thing to do was just to let it gel and monitor the temperature closely. If the soap looked like it was heating up too much in the mold, I planned to let it sit in a cool spot, perhaps even turn a fan on it. The temperature stayed within a “safe” range under 140°, so I did not worry too much about it getting hot.

I expected I might have some glycerine rivers in the soap, and I did, but not as bad as you might think, given the way this soap moved. Glycerine rivers can result when soap gets too hot. Essentially, they look like clear veins in soap, and they can give a sort of “crackle” effect to a finished bar. I think they actually can look pretty cool sometimes. But I don’t always want them!

If I use the fragrance again—and despite how it behaved, I might because it smells absolutely delicious—I would not stick blend after adding it to the soap. I would just stir it well. I would also lower the temperature at which I planned to mix the soap to 90° rather than about 100°, which was about the temperature I used. I already used full water, but I think that lowering the temperature and stirring rather than stick blending will make this fragrance more workable.

If you have a fragrance that sets up your soap really quickly, here a few tips to try so that you can save your soap:

  • Examine your recipe. Some oils, such as palm oil and cocoa butter, can accelerate trace. If you are working with a cranky fragrance, try increasing the amount of olive oil and/or eliminating oils that accelerate trace. Always run changes through a lye calculator so you don’t wind up with lye-heavy soap.
  • Lower the temperature at which you mix your soap.
  • Use full water (if you discounted; if you did not, adding more water might cause other problems).
  • Add the fragrance before you add the lye. You can more carefully monitor for signs of acceleration.
  • Don’t stick blend your fragrance in. Just stir it well. Stick blending will cause trace to accelerate more quickly.
  • Bang your mold on the counter. Soap that is accelerating often leaves air pockets.
  • Let it gel. It is already getting hot, and by trying to prevent gel, you will likely cause more problems.
  • Monitor the temperature as it gels. I checked my soap every so often with my infrared thermometer.

I find that gelling the soap will fix a lot of the problems you see with accelerated trace. Just let the soap do its thing. If it doesn’t work, chalk it up to a learning experience.

There are some actual benefits to accelerated trace. The soap is ready to cut faster than soap that took longer to trace. If you want to sculpt the tops, a fragrance that accelerates trace will give you a great opportunity to create peaky tops.

Some types of fragrances that tend to accelerate trace include floral fragrances (I use a lilac one that moves terribly fast) and spicy ones (which often contain clove oil or cinnamon). Sometimes sugars can accelerate trace, too. For instance, using honey or beer in soap can cause it to move more quickly.

The soap actually turned out really well considering the problems I had. You can see I had a little minor “glycerine river” issue, but in this case, I kind of liked the look. Lucky me that i liked it because if I didn’t, oh well! I suspect the bottom part to which I added the fragrance may darken more. So what caused this fragrance to misbehave so badly? It’s hard to say, as companies do not need to publish fragrance oil ingredients, which are considered trade secrets, and this particular fragrance had no reviews.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

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Soap Challenge 2013: Week Two—Elemental Swirl

The challenge for week two of Great Cakes Soapworks‘ 2013 Soap Challenge was to create a soap with an elemental swirl. I had never done this type of swirl before, and I think the general idea is to create a soap with contrasting elements, such as reds, oranges, and yellows to represent fire, and blues and greens to represent water. I didn’t exactly follow the “rules” because I had an idea for a soap I’ve been thinking about for some time, but for which I didn’t have a design idea: Hobbit’s Garden. I had already picked out scents of apples, oak, and English ivy, as well as a rainy/earthy scent, so I decided I would divide my scents as I was not doing as many colors as some of the other challenge participants.

Hobbit's GardenAs you can see, the bottom layer has a green, white, and black swirl, and I scented that layer with apples and oak and English ivy. The thin gold mica line in the middle represents the One Ring. My inspiration for the colors is the cover of the first edition of The Hobbit as drawn by J.R.R. Tolkien. The top layer was interesting because I was originally shooting for the bluer cover of The Hobbit.

Hobbit CoverBut the soap knew what it was doing and decided I needed to be a purist and go with darker blue of the original first edition:

Hobbit CoverIn fact, the blue came out exactly the slate blue of the cover above, as you can see.

I am so, so happy with this soap, and I can’t say I would have thought to try to make it like this if I had not been participating in the challenge, so thank you, thank you Amy Warden!

 

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Seaside: A New Artisan Soap

Seaside

Seaside

I had a lot of fun making this new soap.

The fragrance evokes tender beach floras, lightly misted with the refreshing scent of ocean air, ripe succulent summer melon, and the subtle familiar scent of suntan lotion.

The soap is loaded with tropical butters and oils, including mango and cocoa butters and olive, coconut, palm, avocado, and castor oils. There is also a kiss of silk and smooth kaolin clay.

It smells heavenly. I keep picking it up and touching and smelling it. It should be in the Etsy store in the middle of April. Let me know if you want to reserve a bar now, and I will set it aside for you.

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Swirling Success

I’ve been trying for some time to swirl two colors together with no success, but I finally did it!

Coconut Lime VerbenaI created this soap because I didn’t have enough lemongrass essential oil to make a second batch of Lemongrass Sage today. Lemongrass Sage has turned out to be my most popular soap. I sold out of the supply I brought to a recent craft fair at my school, and I have sold several bars of it over this Thanksgiving weekend. I have to admit, it’s a great soap, and I use it myself on my face.

At a loss as to what type of soap to make, I decided to try something new. I had a coconut lime verbena scent I had been meaning to try, and I had some green colorant left over from making the Cucumber Yogurt batch (as it turns out, I needed to use a lot more colorant to make the soap look greenish), so I decided to try swirling again.

Ingredients:

  • 30% olive oil
  • 25% coconut oil
  • 25% palm oil
  • 10% avocado oil
  • 5% cocoa butter
  • 5% castor oil

Coconut Lime VerbenaI started to use yogurt as a base when it occurred to me I should try coconut milk instead because of the coconut lime verbena scent. I knew I wanted the white part of the soap to be as white as possible without using titanium dioxide (I don’t have any). My shea butter is raw, unrefined shea butter, and it has a yellow cast that makes my white soaps a more yellow shade of cream. The cocoa butter I have is white, and I noticed when I used it to make the Vanilla Sugar Cane soap that the soap batter was much whiter than normal, though because of the vanillin in the fragrance I used, the soap later turned a browner color. So, I decided to use cocoa butter in this recipe when I usually use shea. On a whim, I also decided on avocado oil instead of sweet almond or a full 40% olive oil. No particular reason aside from wanting to experiment. Avocado oil is good for people with sensitive skin, and it has vitamins A, D, and E.

I mixed the oils with the coconut milk and lye, added the fragrance, and divided the batch in half. I colored one half. By the time I had the colored portion ready, the white portion had already reached the consistency of very thick pudding, or perhaps mashed potatoes like I make them (whipped potatoes, really). I started to lament a little bit, thinking of my Amy Lowell Lilac Soap, when I remembered a swirling technique I learned on YouTube:

The swirling technique Celine described saved my soap! I think it turned out gorgeous. It smells heavenly. I can’t wait to try it with another kind of soap. One of the interesting things about swirling is that each time the soap is different. Each individual bar is different. You just don’t know what you will get. I’m very pleased with how the soap turned out.

Coconut Lime VerbenaThe soap is beautiful, and I love the coconut lime scent. I’m also proud of the way the soap itself turned out with the coconut milk base. I admit I was excited about the idea when I remembered I had some frozen coconut milk I could use.

Creative Commons License

Coconut Lime Verbena by Dana Huff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at Suds Life: About.

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