Using Infused Oils in Soap

Calendula-Infused Olive OilUsing herb and flower infusions in soap can add a little something extra special to your soap. I love using both chamomile and calendula (marigold) infusions in my soap. Both impart a pretty butter yellow to the finished soap. There is a slight scent in the oils, too, but I find that scent doesn’t usually survive the saponification process, and I have used fragrances and essential oils successfully in soaps with infused oils.

There are a couple of techniques you can use for infusing oils. You can put the flowers or herbs in a jar, pour your oil over them, and let them infuse for several weeks, but I like the slow cooker method, mainly because it’s quicker, and I’m impatient.

I purchased these handy “tea bags” from Bramble Berry (who is not sponsoring me; I just like the product). While you can pour the oils directly over the botanicals, I have found it is pretty messy, and you have to strain the oil later. The tea bags allow the botanicals to infuse the oil without making a mess. I try to use about ½ to 1 ounce of botanicals (which is a lot more than you’d think—they are light). I put the botanicals in the tea bags and seal them closed with an iron. Then I put them in a jar, I pour olive oil over the filled tea bags. I put a few inches of water in my slow cooker, turn it on low, and gently lay my jar in the water. I let the oil infuse in the heat of the slow cooker for about five hours, turning the jar over every once in a while (be careful; it’s very hot). The jars can be hard to open afterward, but I have a nice infused olive oil to use in my soap when I’m done.

Aloe & Calendula Soap

This soap is made with calendula-infused olive oil and decorated with calendula petals.

If you want to try out infused oils in your own soap, check out this recipe for a one-pound batch.

Calendula Soap
Print Recipe
Infuse dried calendula flowers in olive oil for this conditioning soap. This soap is superfatted at 6%.
Servings
1 pound
Cook Time
1 hour
Servings
1 pound
Cook Time
1 hour
Calendula Soap
Print Recipe
Infuse dried calendula flowers in olive oil for this conditioning soap. This soap is superfatted at 6%.
Servings
1 pound
Cook Time
1 hour
Servings
1 pound
Cook Time
1 hour
Ingredients
Servings: pound
Instructions
  1. Put the calendula petals in the tea bags and iron edges to close.
  2. Place the calendula bags into a large jar.
  3. Put the jar on a scale and tare the scale. Add a bit more olive oil than you need. This recipe calls for 170 grams, but some of the oil will be soaked up by the calendula petals and the bags; it will be hard to get every last drop out again.
  4. Screw the lid tightly on the jar and place it in a slow cooker on low. Let the oil infuse from 2-5 hours.
  5. Set the infused oil aside to cool. It will be too hot to soap with right after the infusion.
  6. When your infused oil is cool, prepare your water and lye. Measure out 162 g distilled water and set aside. Measure out 59 g lye in a separate container and set aside. Carefully add the lye to the water and stir until it is dissolved. Set the lye solution aside to cool.
  7. Measure out your hard oils (106 g coconut, 106 g palm, and 22 g shea butter) and melt them down.
  8. Add 170 g infused olive oil and 21 g castor oil to the melted hard oils.
  9. Once your lye water has cooled (I usually combine my oils and lye water at about 100ºF), add the lye water to the oils and blend to a light trace.
  10. Add your fragrance (optional) and either whisk in or stick blend carefully.
  11. You can add calendula petals to your top for extra decoration. Calendula petals keep their color in cold process soap, so you can even add it to the soap itself.
Recipe Notes

Whether or not the soothing qualities of calendula survive the saponification process is up for debate, but the infusion does impart a nice, light color to the soap. Why not try it and see if it works for you?

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Heavenly Honeysuckle

Nothing smells more like summer coming on than the scent of honeysuckle. I lived in Georgia for a long time, and it grows simply everywhere. I did find a patch of it here in Worcester even. I smelled it when I was out walking, and there is no mistaking that scent. In fact, when I participated in the S.O.A.P. Panel, it was the only scent I could identify among the test scents because I know it so well. I purchased the fragrance as soon as Bramble Berry started selling it. My batch of Heavenly Honeysuckle soap sold well last year, and I hope people like it with some changes I made to the colors.

I love the way wet soap looks, don’t you?

By the way, I used Nurture’s micas in this soap: Amaranth Pink, Yellow Vibrance, and Pink Vibrance. I am really in love with Nurture’s micas. No one is paying me to say that, either.

I’m not sure what will happen when I cut this one. Last time, I had some titanium dioxide crackle, which sometimes happens with heat like this fragrance generates. It’s a floral, and if you’ve soaped florals before, you may know they can misbehave. Sometimes I think titanium dioxide crackle looks cool. We’ll see what happens when I cut it.

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Recipe and Giveaway: Dead Sea Mud Spa Bar Soap

The very first bar of handmade soap I fell in love with was a Dead Sea mud bar I used to buy at my local farmer’s market in Georgia before I moved. In fact, it was my love for this bar of soap that drove me to try making my own soap because I wanted to continue to use it, but I didn’t want to have to special order it from my new home in Massachusetts. I started studying the craft of soapmaking, and eventually I formulated several different Dead Sea mud soap recipes, but for some reason, I never tried making them.

At first, I studied the ingredient label on my remaining farmer’s market soaps and tried to replicate the recipe, even in my other bars of soap, but as I learned more about oils and butters over time, I developed my own Dead Sea mud spa soap recipe, and I decided the time was finally right to create my own version of this soap.

Dead Sea Mud Spa Bar

Why use Dead Sea mud in soap? Dead Sea mud is rich in minerals and salt that are good for your skin. Many expensive beauty treatments have Dead Sea mud among their ingredients. I purchased my Dead Sea mud from SoapGoods, but you can buy it many places.

I used a 33% water weight as a percentage of oils when I formulated my recipe in SoapCalc. You can use more, but be mindful of the fact that you have Dead Sea mud in your recipe, and make sure you don’t use too much. I used a 6% superfat for the lye.

  • 40% olive oil
  • 25% coconut oil
  • 15% palm oil
  • 7% shea butter
  • 7% castor oil
  • 6% apricot kernel oil

I used a fragrance ratio of 50 grams per kilogram, or 5%. At this point, I should explain that I usually use grams instead of ounces because they are more precise. You can still use the same percentage if you are using ounces.

You can use between 1 and 2 tablespoons of Dead Sea mud per 500 grams of oils. My recipe is 1,100 grams of oils, and I used 3 tablespoons of Dead Sea mud.

You can use whichever fragrance or essential oil you like for this recipe. I used an essential oil blend of lavender and spearmint. I also put a pinch of tussah silk in my lye water (I usually do this with all my water-based soaps, but I find it too hard to dissolve the silk in milk-based soaps). I also topped my soaps with Himalayan pink salt. You could easily omit the salt.

Dead Sea Mud Spa Bar

Unfortunately, I didn’t take photographs of my process. Note: The reason I use percentages in recipes I post on this blog is that your mold may be smaller or larger than mine, and using percentages allows you to use SoapCalc to adjust the recipe for your own mold. I wish more soaping books also used percentages, but I have noticed that many soaping blogs do. If you want to figure out how much oil will fit in your mold, use this formula for a rectangular mold, check out this link for more information on how to do that.

And now seems like a good enough time for a giveaway, so if you’d like to win one of these bars of soap, enter the contest. Please remember that soap takes four weeks to cure, so the soap will not be shipped out until June 5, 2015. Good luck! Open only to residents of the United States (shipping costs are high; sorry!).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Luxury Goat Milk Soap: Recipe and Tutorial

Cee from Oil & Butter is my favorite soap blogger for many reasons. She is generous with her expertise and her ideas. Her soap looks incredible (and her photographs are beautiful). She is knowledgeable and friendly. She shared a recipe and tutorial for a Luxury Soap two years ago, and it looks so gorgeous that I have been dying to try it. In the spirit of Cee’s original post, I share my recipe, advice, and reflections.

Luxury SoapIngredients

Lye Solution

  • 291 g goat milk
  • 85 g coconut milk
  • 155 g lye

Oils

  • 56 g mango butter
  • 57 g shea butter
  • 225 g coconut oil
  • 200 g palm oil
  • 430 g olive oil
  • 57 g avocado oil
  • 57 g sweet almond oil
  • 56 g castor oil

Additives

  • 1.5 t honey mixed with 1.5 t distilled water
  • 68 g fragrance (I chose Brown Sugar and Fig from Nature’s Garden)
  • 2 t Diamond Dust Mica dispersed in the sweet almond oil
  • 1 T sodium lactate

Equipment

First, a quick note about grams as opposed to ounces. I use grams to measure the weight of my soap ingredients because grams are more precise than ounces, even if you are measuring tenths of an ounce. I always recommend that soapmakers use grams, and whenever I use a recipe someone else has posted, I convert it to grams using SoapCalc.

This recipe was adapted from Cee’s own Luxury Soap recipe. I removed the jojoba oil mainly because it’s terrifically expensive. I don’t have much of it right now, and I prefer to use it for leave-on products like lotions, like other soapmakers. It’s perfectly fine in soap, however, and I didn’t remove it because I thought it shouldn’t be used. Using it would certainly have added a bit of decadence to an already almost sinful soap, but I think the recipe is plenty luxurious without it, too. I didn’t have chamomile extract, so I didn’t use that either. Aside from removing the jojoba and chamomile extract, I tweaked the numbers of the other oils and swapped almond milk for coconut milk. Otherwise, the recipes are quite similar.

I began by preparing the oils. First, I measured out the butters.

Mango ButterMango butter is truly wonderful. It is similar to shea butter in some respects in that it has a significant amount of unsaponifiables, meaning that more of the conditioning and moisturizing qualities of the butter make it through the saponification process. It also contributes to a creamy lather.

Shea Butter I added the shea butter to the mango butter. I use shea butter and/or cocoa butter in almost all of my soaps because I love what it does for skin. It does speed up trace, so be careful.

Coconut OilIn with the coconut oil. It’s so hot here today that it’s completely melted already. Actually the mango butter was kind of soft as well. It’s usually a little harder (and almost brittle) than it was today. Coconut oil is great for bubbles—it contributes to fluffy lather and cleansing as well as bar hardness. I use coconut oil in almost all of my soaps.

Palm OilThe last hard oil is palm oil, which I use because it contributes to bar hardness, stable lather, and conditioning. I use it in a lot of my soaps.

What I like to do is put all my hard oils in the soap bowl together, then melt them in the microwave. It saves time as opposed to melting each separately and adding them together. I warmed these oils for about one minute (try 30-second bursts). At that point, the shea was almost melted, so I stirred it until it was completely melted.

Olive OilA quick word about olive oil: you can use any grade of olive oil in soap, but I always use pure golden olive oil. I don’t think it’s necessary to use extra virgin olive oil in soapmaking. In fact, it’s not different enough from pure golden olive oil to warrant its own category in SoapCalc, though olive oil pomace is. I personally don’t use pomace because pure golden olive oil is available at my local discount membership warehouse for a really good price (and no shipping). I use olive oil in every single soap I make. It’s highly conditioning and contributes to stable lather and bar hardness. I believe it to be the single best soaping oil there is.

Soft Oils

I prepared the soft oils—olive oil, avocado oil, and castor oil—measuring them out one at a time, and then adding them all to the melted hard oils and butters.

Avocado oil contains vitamins A, D, and E, and contributes to the bar’s conditioning properties.

Castor oil is the best source of ricinoleic acid and make the lather much fluffier and more stable. I use castor oil in most of my soaps. Castor oil is also a natural humectant, which means it draws moisture to the skin. I usually only use 5%, except in shampoo bars.

Mica Added

I added my Diamond Dust Mica to the sweet almond oil, mixed it with a small hand mixer, and then added the sweet almond oil to the rest of the oils. Sweet almond oil is another of my favorite oils. It contributes to a stable lather and conditioning bar. It works well as a carrier oil for colorants, too. It’s also great in lotions.

I blended the oils so that the Diamond Dust Mica would disperse. Look at that pearly sheen!

Diamond Dust Mica

I believe this mica is probably similar to Bramble Berry’s Super Pearly White Mica. That lovely, pearl sheen will not completely make it through the soapmaking process, but if you use it in melt-and-pour soap, you should see a nice shimmer in your soap. I do still notice a little bit of shimmer in cold process soap as well, and it definitely adds something that just plain titanium dioxide lacks.

Goat Milk and Coconut Milk

After my oils were prepared, I prepared my milks and lye. Why didn’t I do that before preparing the oils? Well, if I were using water, I would have prepared the lye mixture first because it needs time to cool. However, if I am starting with frozen milk, there is no reason to start with the lye mixture because it doesn’t need to cool. In fact, I find that I can control my milk and lye much better if I prepare it after the oils. I have found that if you prepare the milk and lye before the oils, the fats in the goat milk begin to saponify, and while that’s not necessarily problematic for any reason, I just find I like it better if the milk is still liquid. I used a 6% lye discount in this soap, but you could alter it to your preferred superfat if you like. I find 6% to be my personal sweet spot.

Lye MixtureWorking with milk requires a bit more effort than working with water. I use a stainless steel pot because if I need to quickly cool it down the mixture, stainless steel is a better conductor (hot or cold) than plastic or glass. I also add the lye to the milk just a little at a time and stir until the lye is dissolved. Then I add more. It can take a little while. Once all the lye was added, and I was relatively sure the all of it had dissolved in the milk, I added the sodium lactate to the lye mixture and stirred well to dissolve it.

Lye MixtureI checked the temperature of the lye mixture, and it was about 82°F. Pretty good. I don’t like it to rise above 90°F. If it starts to become too warm, I put the pan in a cool water bath to bring the temperature down.

Another benefit of preparing the oils first and then the lye mixture is that the oils have a little bit more time to cool down as well. I didn’t take their temperature, but my guess is that they were 90-95°F by the time the lye was ready. They would likely have been about 100°F when I began preparing the lye mixture.

Once the lye mixture was ready, I added it to the oils and stirred a little bit. Anne-Marie Faiola of Bramble Berry likes to pour the lye mixture down the barrel of her stick blender to reduce splashing and bubbles. I did that this time, too.

Stick Blending SoapI stick blended until a very light trace, then I added the honey. Honey will accelerate trace, so make sure you add it at a light trace, or you may find you have gone too far with the stick blending. When I use honey in soap, I mix it with an equal amount of distilled water. In this case, I used 1.5 t of honey, so I mixed it with 1.5 t of water. Then I microwave the honey for a very short time—only 5-10 seconds. I stir until it dissolves in the water. I find that I have fewer issues with scorching, overheating, and caverns in soap if I dissolve the honey. I have also learned not to use more honey than I need. I wouldn’t go higher than a tablespoon in a batch of this size, and given I used a log mold instead of a slab mold, even that much might have caused temperature issues. Honey is a natural humectant and contributes to the lather in soap.

I added my fragrance, which was Nature’s Garden’s Brown Sugar and Fig. I wanted a scent that evoked the creaminess of the soap. I chose this fragrance also because I knew that it had a very small amount of vanillin in it, and reviews said that it didn’t discolor. I love the fragrance description:

This magical, complex fragrance oil by Nature’s Garden is composed of top notes of fresh figs, peaches, and passion fruit; followed by middle notes of coconut milk, vanilla orchid, jasmine, muguet, and freesia; well-balanced with base notes of vanilla beans, caramel, maple sugar, fig leaves, and musk.

To be honest, I don’t smell any fruit notes, with the possible exception of the fig. I mostly smell vanilla, sugar, and musk. It smells great, and I think it’s perfect in this soap. I had no issues with acceleration or ricing. I’ll have to wait and see as the soap cures to determine whether the claims that it doesn’t discolor are true.

I should think other good fragrance choices might be Nature’s Garden’s Baby Bee Buttermilk or Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey or Bramble Berry’s Wildflower Honey (which will discolor, but to a nice honey shade).

TraceI blended to a pretty thick trace, then poured the soap into my 10-inch silicone loaf mold, which was the perfect size for this recipe. Bramble Berry recommends using sodium lactate to make it easier to remove soap from this mold, and in any case, sodium lactate adds a nice silky feel to soap.

Soap In the MoldLike Cee, I spooned soap on the top after doing a little bit of sculpting, but I didn’t think my tops were as pretty as hers, so I experimented a bit with a skewer to create a slightly different design.

Swirled Soap TopsI spritzed it with 91% isopropyl alcohol, which might not have been strictly necessary since I didn’t choose to gel the soap, but it can’t hurt anyway. Isopropyl alcohol can help prevent soda ash on the tops of soap, but it’s not 100% effective.

A quick word about gelling milk soaps. You will hear some soapmakers insist that you can’t or shouldn’t gel milk soaps. I don’t see any problem with it. I gel most of my milk soaps. Even the ones with honey in them, too. I have only had a problem with overheating once, and it was because I used way too much honey. My advice is to do what you want. I chose not to gel this one because I didn’t want it to darken as much as I knew it would if I gelled it. You might not need to insulate, or perhaps just to insulate lightly, but your milk soaps will gel just fine if you are mindful of the other additives you use and keep an eye on the temperature.

Cut Luxury SoapThe cut soaps smell wonderful. I am going to let them have a nice long cure and give them to family and friends for Christmas.

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2014 S.O.A.P. Panel and New Soaps

I’m really excited to have been chosen for the 2014 S.O.A.P. Panel by Bramble Berry. In order to qualify for selection, entrants needed to choose their favorite Bramble Berry product and discuss it in social media—Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, or a blog. I actually use all four media with New England Handmade Artisan Soaps, so the first decision I had to make was which social media outlet to use. I selected Pinterest mainly because I think it’s more open than Facebook (users do not need to “follow” you to come across your pins), and it seems to be used by more soapers than Twitter. I find fewer soapers use blogs than the other three types of social media, too. I am a dedicated blogging fan, and I do see a lot of value in blogging, but I felt perhaps Pinterest had the widest possible audience, so I selected Pinterest to share my favorite product.

I admit it was really hard to pick a product. There are so many that I love. However, what it came down to is one product that I use the most often and that I rely on Bramble Berry for: sustainable palm oil. I have blogged about sustainable palm oil before. There is some controversy surrounding the use of palm oil because of rainforest deforestation for palm plantations and concerns about the loss of habitat for orangutans. However, many palm farmers rely on the crop to eke out a living, and eschewing the use of palm oil entirely doesn’t help those farmers, either. The stance of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is to promote the production and use of sustainable palm oil through sustainable farming practices.

If you start looking at labels, you’ll notice palm oil is in so many things you eat. I think it is pretty nearly impossible to determine whether or not all these products you consume are made with sustainable palm oil, but when you are purchasing palm oil for yourself in bulk, it’s fairly easy to do. When I made the decision not to use animal fats in my soapmaking, I was encouraged to learn that palm oil is a plant-based oil that is similar to tallow and brings some of the good features of tallow—a nice, hard bar of soap, rich and creamy lather—to vegetable oil-based bars. Unfortunately, once I decided to use palm oil, I discovered that most of the oil suppliers I use do not certify that their palm oil is sustainable. That doesn’t mean it isn’t, but to my way of thinking, if you know your palm oil is sustainable, you will mention it. Bramble Berry is one of the few suppliers I could find that certified that their palm oil is sustainable, and it’s available at a good price. That is why I selected their sustainable palm oil as a favorite product. I use it in most of my soaps.

I apologize to anyone thinking I sound like a commercial right about now. I just think sustainable palm oil is important, and I am really happy that Bramble Berry sells it. I am a happy customer, and I am excited to try their new mystery fragrances as part of the S.O.A.P. Panel. As a side note, I recently had an issue with a Bramble Berry order shipping quite late. They aren’t sure what happened, but they made it right with a very generous coupon for future orders. I really can’t complain about Bramble Berry, and I recommend them to everyone who asks about suppliers.

Switching gears, I made a couple of new soaps that I’m happy with and excited about. The first is an Aloe & Calendula soap scented with orange blossoms and yuzu.

Aloe & CalendulaI infused the olive oil I used in this soap with calendula petals and also used calendula petals in the soap and decorated the top as well. I think the reason the soap turned out this light, butter yellow is that the calendula infusion imparted some color to the soap. Of course, it could have been the fragrances I used, but neither one is supposed to discolor. In order to find out, I’d have to try them without a calendula-infused oil. At any rate, I’m happy with the color because it matches the scent and look of the soap. Aside from olive oil, I also used coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, sunflower oil, castor oil, kaolin clay, and tussah silk. I mixed the lye with aloe vera juice. These turned out so nice, and they smell so good!

I’m learning sometimes simple is best. Some of my favorite soaps are not incredibly complicated to make, but they are wonderful soaps. That certainly isn’t to say I don’t like soaps with more intricate and difficult designs. I have reached a stage at which there needs to be a payoff. If the design is more difficult and complicated than the trouble making it is worth, then I don’t bother. I actually feel that way about the peacock swirl, for instance. Pretty (more so when the soap is still wet, however), but not worth it for me.

Yesterday I made a soap I’ve been thinking about for some time, and at the last minute, I had to change my plans, too. This soap is a Tres Leches Soap.

Tres Leches SoapI intended to make it with goat milk, coconut milk, and cream, but once I got started, I realized I had no coconut milk. I was absolutely certain I had coconut milk! I improvised instead and used goat milk yogurt after dithering about buttermilk for a few minutes. I am not sure goat milk and goat milk yogurt are different enough to be considered two different milks, but I’m going for it. In the future, I if I make it again, I’ll definitely try coconut milk. This soap is based on tres leches cake, which is a sponge cake made with evaporated milk, condensed milk, and cream.

Aside from goat milk, goat milk yogurt, and cream, this soap also has a generous amount of olive oil, coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, cocoa butter, castor oil, and kaolin clay. I scented it with a Vanilla Lace fragrance that works perfectly with the soap’s look and concept. It really smells great! The fragrance riced on me. I’m not sure if I can blame the fragrance for acceleration, however, as the recipe does have a large amount of  cocoa butter. The bars are so smooth and hard already! I don’t think I could have waited longer to cut them, or they might have been too hard for my cutter.

It is interesting to me that the soap wound up with a sort of speckled appearance. I didn’t add any oatmeal or anything else that is known to produce that look. I can’t say whether it was the milks or the fragrance. I’ve never used goat milk and cream together before. I also haven’t used that fragrance, and I typically don’t use quite as much cocoa butter as I did in this recipe. Too many variables to determine why it turned out that way, but I absolutely love it. It has a wholesome, rustic appearance. I love happy accidents. I also love the glycerine rivers. With all the milks in this soap, it got fairly hot during gel phase, and I thought I would probably have some glycerine rivers, as I also used titanium dioxide to lighten the soap up a bit. They wound up being perfect design outlines. It actually looks quite a bit like tres leches cake.

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Soap Challenge Club: Holly Swirl

Lavender Romance Soap with a Holly swirl. Ingredients: water, olive oil, coconut oil, sustainable palm oil, sodium hydroxide, avocado oil, fragrance, shea butter, cocoa butter, castor oil, kaolin clay, colorant, activated charcoal, yogurt, buttermilk, goat milk, silk.

Lavender Romance Soap

This month’s challenge in the Soap Challenge Club hosted by Amy Warden of Great Cakes Soapworks was to create a soap with a Holly swirl. The Holly swirl is named for its inventor, Holly Bailey, of Missouri River Soap Company. She makes excellent soap and generously shares her techniques on her YouTube channel. You can read her blog here or follow her on Facebook here. The technique is a swirl within a swirl—an in-the-pot swirl of two or more colors coupled with a drop swirl with an additional color. Here is the video Holly made when she tried the swirl for the first time:

Holly mentions in the video that vertical soaps really make this design shine, and it’s true, but I don’t have an appropriate mold for vertical soaps, so I improvised with my standard mold.

Lavender Romance Soap

I used a fragrance that discolors, but I didn’t want it to wreak havoc on my swirls, so I only added it to the black part, colored with activated charcoal. The activated charcoal was a little gray when I first cut the soap, but as the fragrance has darkened, so has the black in my soap. I think it has a sexy look that goes together well with its sexy scent, which is a blend of rustic amber with bold Parisian lavender and a mysterious black myrrh, sweet vanilla tonka bean, and a splash of Egyptian musk rounded out with raw clary sage. I received it as a free sample from Bramble Berry in one of my earliest orders with the company, and I immediately used it to make solid perfume. It smells gorgeous! It’s quite possibly one of my personal favorite fragrances, and I just can’t wait to try this soap!

Lavender Romance Soap

I used ultramarine violet oxide and titanium dioxide to color the swirls, and they turned out well. The fragrance has not migrated very much to the swirled parts of the soap, so they have remained vibrant. The slight discoloration that did occur in some places only adds to the sexy, smoky appeal of the soap (in my opinion, at least).

As you can see, the tops have a mica swirl done with purple and white micas. I did not gel this soap because I didn’t want to risk glycerin rivers in the titanium dioxide. Also, when I work with a new fragrance, I find that not gelling is sometimes smarter because the soap is less likely to do crazy things in the mold.

This soap also taught me to love using activated charcoal in my soap. It is so much fun to see how it looks in the soap batter and the finished soap. It can go gray if you do not use enough, so you need to experiment to determine how much you might need to use.

The Holly swirl technique is fun, and I would definitely recommend trying it, even if you are relatively new to swirling. It was not as complicated as the mantra swirl or the peacock swirl, and I liked the results a lot better, too.

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Palm Oil in New England Handmade Artisan Soaps

KianiI have spent quite a lot of time thinking about my soap recipes, formulating what I hope will be a good bar of soap with a smooth feel and great lather, but will also leave your skin feeling soft and clean without being tight and dry.

In addition to considering the qualities of the fully cured bar, I also think about which oils will be good to work with in soaping. Which ones will speed up trace or slow it down? Which ones will produce a lighter bar?

I made a decision very early on that I would not use animal fats in my soap making. Tallow and lard make nice, hard bars of soap, and you will find tallow in just about every kind of commercial soap you can buy because it is cheap and makes a great bar of soap. I just didn’t want to use it. I am not vegan or even vegetarian. I use other animal products such as milk, honey, and silk in my soap.

Because I don’t use animal fats, I rely quite a bit on palm oil to add the same kinds of qualities, such as hardness and a stable and creamy lather. Palm oil is controversial because of the practices of some palm oil farmers, who cut down rainforests indiscriminately, threatening the habitat of the orangutan. However, it is possible to use sustainable palm oil. If a seller does not indicate that the palm oil I am purchasing is from a sustainable source, then I do not buy palm oil from that seller.

For a while, I did buy palm oil that I did not know to be sustainable, but I felt wrong about it. I don’t feel wrong about buying sustainable palm oil. Some soap makers will say there is not really such a thing and are moving toward palm-free recipes, which is fine. I think purchasing sustainable palm oil is a good faith, moderate position to take. Think about it like this: What will the palm oil farmers do if the demand for their crop suddenly disappears? I am supporting those palm oil farmers who practice sensible and sustainable farming when I buy sustainable palm oil.

I do have some palm-free recipes, and they are quite nice, too. Dr. Bronner’s website actually has an interesting article about its use of palm oil in bar soaps. Anne-Marie Faiola (the Soap Queen) also has a post about palm oil at Bramble Berry. If you are a soap maker and are looking to purchase sustainable palm oil, Bramble Berry is one of two sources of which I’m aware, the other being Soaper’s Choice.

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Soap Challenge 2013: Week One—Tiger Stripe Swirl

I am excited to be participating in Great Cakes Soapworks‘ 2013 Soap Challenge. Each week offers soapers the opportunity to try a different challenge. The challenge for the first week was to create a soap with a tiger stripe swirl. Of the various challenges planned, this particular technique is the only one I’ve tried. I think it is nice to get my feet wet with the familiar.

Spearmint Stripe

I made spearmint-scented soap I am calling Spearmint Stripe. The soap may have been a bit too thin to do a true tiger stripe swirl. Some of the layers broke through a bit, and others seemed a bit wider than I was looking for. However, I am happy with the way it looks, which is exactly like it smells. My inspiration for the colors was the green and white  spearmint candies similar in appearance to peppermints. The colors came out exactly as I wanted, and the soaps smell delicious.

The soap is chock full of goodies for your skin: olive oil, coconut oil, palm oil, sweet almond oil, cocoa butter, and castor oil and a kiss of buttermilk and kaolin clay with a whisper of pure silk.

I just love the way it smells. The spearmint fragrance blends well with other fragrances, but it smells delicious on its own, too. I have noticed, as I said in one of the videos, that this fragrance seems to fade, but it pops back in wet soap, so when you shower with it, you may notice the spearmint scent more than in the dry bar. I am not sure why that is, but as smelling it in the shower is the whole point, I am happy.

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Midsummer Night’s Dream Soap

After I made my Seaside soap, I immediately thought about making a soap mimicking the night sky. I made this soap in the same way as the Seaside soap’s ocean layer.

 

Midsummer Night’s Dream’s title was inspired by William Shakespeare’s play of the same name; it is one of my favorite plays. I love teaching it.

The soap is made with cocoa and shea butters and olive, coconut, sustainable palm, sweet almond, and castor oils and a kiss of kaolin clay and real silk. The fragrance has top notes of mandarin balm, tangelo, and eucalyptus; middle notes of jungle moss, patchouli leaf, and sandal tree; and bottom notes of redwood forest, amber glow, and musk. It should be available April 16.

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Challenge Soap: Avalon

I love challenges, a fact to which my poor neglected book blog can attest. I was thrilled when the Soap Making Forum started monthly challenges. I was eager to participate last month. The theme was Mardi Gras, and I even had an idea, but I didn’t get it off the ground. This month, I was determined. The chosen theme is Mythology, and I mined my favorite myths—the Matter of Britain—for my new soap Avalon. I realize King Arthur is technically more legend than myth, but I wrote what I think was a fairly convincing final exam in Medieval Literature in college about the notion that Arthurian legend was a British attempt at creating a mythology for themselves, especially later as writers like Geoffrey of Monmouth and Sir Thomas Malory wrote down the stories of Arthur.

Avalon

Avalon

Avalon was inspired by the resting place of King Arthur, the Isle of Avalon, or Isle of Apples. Back in the time when King Arthur would possibly have lived, Glastonbury Tor was surrounded by water, becoming a peninsula at low tide, and many believe it is the Isle of Avalon.

The scent I used in this soap evokes apples and roses, and it was described by Shannon of Smellicious Soaps (one of my fellow Soap Making Forum friends) as smelling like “walking through a rose garden while eating a crisp apple.” It truly is divine. The apples evoke the Isle of Apples, Avalon, while I see the roses as symbolic of the Wars of the Roses, during which Sir Thomas Malory wrote perhaps the most famous version of the Arthurian legend, Le Morte D’Arthur. Some scholars believe his treatment of the Matter of Britain was as much a comment on political events during his own times as it was a faithful recounting of the Arthur legend.

The soap is made with cocoa butter and olive, coconut, palm, sweet almond, and castor oils with a kiss of kaolin clay and silk.

 

I hope you like it! It will be available in my Etsy store toward the end of April.

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