Selecting Colorants for Soap: Color Theory

When selecting colors for soapmaking, consideration of color theory as it applies to design might help you achieve the design results you want. Color theory is the notion that certain colors complement one another and make for a more pleasing design. A practical example of complementary colors can be seen in Vincent Van Gogh’s famous painting, The Starry Night. The Starry NightThe cool blues complement the warm yellows of the stars, but the fresh greens also look beautiful with the cool blues. Van Gogh wrote to Anthon van Rappard:

[T]he great question occupied me—colour. I mean the breaking of the colours, red with green, blue with orange, yellow with violet. Always how the complementary colours go together, their influence on each other. Of which nature is as full as of light and shade.

Yet another letter to his brother Theo dated October 20, 1885 shows how deeply Van Gogh was thinking about color. That whole letter is worth reading if you are interested in color theory. We are drawn to color schemes based on how well the colors work with one another. In the color wheel below, warmer colors, like reds, oranges, and yellows, appear on the top, while cool colors like greens, blues, and purples appear on the bottom.

Color Wheel
Color Wheel via Wikipedia

Complementary colors oppose each other on the color wheel. For example, notice that red and green oppose each other on the color wheel. They are often thrown together, particularly as Christmas colors. Blue and orange also oppose one another, as do yellow and purple. Let’s take one of these pairs and look at it in nature:

Viola tricolor pansy via Wikipedia
Viola tricolor pansy via Wikipedia

Nature seems to know well which colors will complement one another. Can’t you picture the yellow, purple, and green, perhaps with some white added in for contrast, in a gorgeous soap? In fact, one thing I often do when designing a soap is turn to nature photographs for inspiration. Another color scheme that often works well is to use analogous colors together. Analogous colors are those colors that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel. For example, red, orange, and yellow are analogous warm colors. Combining these colors together might evoke images such as fire or even summer fruits. However, colors look very different when they are placed next to other neutral colors, such as black or white. What might that fiery combination of red, orange, and yellow look like with a swirl of black woven through it? What about white? Here is a soap in which I tried a combination of the warm colors of red and orange with white.

Cranberry Blood Orange

One soapmaker who really gets this concept is Celine Blacow of I have watched her videos for over a year now, and I have never seen her pick colors that do not go well together. Any soapmaker who is interested in learning to use colors well should definitely check out her work. Celine often uses a bit of white to great effect in her soaps. She said recently, and I confess I can’t recall in which video, that she adds white to set off the colors. Even a little pop of white can make a huge difference in the look of the soap. In his letter to Theo (linked above), Vincent Van Gogh said:

No—black and white, they have their reason and significance, and anyone who suppresses them won’t get it right. The most logical, certainly, is to regard them both as—neutral.

I recently made Mango Papaya Soap, and in selecting the colors, I turned to photographs of mangoes and papayas.

Image credit Fir0002/Flagstaffotos
Ripe papaya via Wikipedia

The colors that jumped out me were the oranges, yellows, and greens of the leaves. While there is no white in the fruits themselves, notice that the backgrounds include white, so I decided that when I colored my soap, I’d use white to make these other colors pop. ColorantsHere is the soap that resulted. Mango Papaya SoapThe colors hearken back to the nature photos of mangoes and papayas. If I make it again, I’ll use less green and more orange, but I’m happy with the results, and the colors work well with the mango papaya fragrance I used. I am not sure this soap would be as nice without the white. Colors used in this soap are titanium dioxide, Bramble Berry’s Fizzy Lemonade and Tangerine Wow pigments, and TKB’s Reformulated Neon Green.

S.O.A.P. Panel Fragrances: Fragrance #5

Fragrance #5Scent #5 was my least favorite of the S.O.A.P. Panel fragrances out of the bottle. My initial impression was that it smelled a bit like neem oil. Later, I thought I detected some grass notes and a sort of earthiness. After I poured the fragrance out and let it “breathe” for a few minutes, the strongest note I could detect was a grass note, followed by a sort of earthy dirt scent.

As I did with fragrances 1-4, I used a recipe of 45% olive, 25% coconut, 25% palm, and 5% castor oils. The oils were about 90 degrees and the lye mixture was about 100 degrees when I combined them. I used full water in the lye mixture. I used the full bottle of fragrance, which was 26 grams.

I blended to a very light trace.

Soap before FragranceThen I added the fragrance oil. There were no issues with acceleration, discoloration, or ricing. Indeed, I can’t tell the difference between the soap before and after the fragrance and had to double-check the time on the picture to be sure.

Soap after FragranceI expected this fragrance to misbehave, but it soaped beautifully. I poured it into the mold and put it away to gel. It actually took quite a long time to gel, so this fragrance should give anyone time to play.

Soap in MoldI unmolded it the next day (a little hastily, hence some bent corners that needed a quick bit of reshaping). As you can see, still no discoloration.

Unmolded and cut soapThere is a little bit of soda ash on the top, as I neglected to spray the tops with alcohol. The scent is still quite strong, but the earthy dirt notes have retreated a bit. It really smells exactly like grass after saponification, and it’s scent remains very true—no morphing at all. It would go well with a nice grass green color. It might be fun as a novelty soap, perhaps for a golfer, but I am just not loving it. I’m giving it a thumbs up for its behavior in the soap, but a big thumbs down on the scent. I think, however, that some folks who really love the scent of fresh cut grass would enjoy it.

S.O.A.P. Panel Fragrances: Fragrance #4

My initial impression of fragrance #4 was that it smelled sort of masculine. My nose must have been off! It smells fruity and a bit floral to me now. I am detecting an apple note to it. It’s a bit sour, but it smells really good.

Fragrance in bottleThe fragrance is slightly yellow right out of the bottle. I used the entire contents, which was 25 g, in my one-pound recipe. As I did with the previous test fragrances, I used a recipe of 45% olive oil, 25% coconut oil, 25% sustainable palm oil, and 5% castor oil. I also used full water. As before, I soaped at about 100 degrees.

I let this soap trace a little further before I added the fragrance, mainly because I was trying to take pictures and not having an easy time of it, for some reason. Here is the soap before the fragrance was added.

Soap before fragranceI stirred and then stick blended the fragrance in. It did not appear to accelerate because of the fragrance. I think I may have blended a bit much. Keep in mind that I also have a recipe high in olive. It’s possible butters combined with this fragrance might cause acceleration. No issues with ricing or discoloration, either, though the batter did initially turn a little bit yellow.

Soap after fragranceHowever, by the time I poured it into the mold, it was a creamier color again.

Soap in moldI did a little swirl on the top since it was at a thick enough trace, but it isn’t terribly noticeable.

It came out of my mold easily the next day, and it does not appear to have any discoloration.

Cut soapIt’s quite pretty! It smells delicious. I think saponification actually brought out some of the fragrance’s floral notes. I like this fragrance. So far, it appears to be strong in the soap. I will keep an eye on how well the fragrance sticks after a cure, as I plan to do with all the fragrances. Two thumbs up on this one, though!

S.O.A.P. Panel Fragrances: Fragrance #3

Woo! The snow dance worked. Despite a really cold and somewhat snowy winter, we haven’t managed to have snow days. It keeps snowing on the weekend around here! Anyway, we have one today, so I indulged in a little soap experimentation last night. I tried out the third S.O.A.P. Panel fragrance.

Fragrance #3You might recall that fragrance #3 is a bit floral. In the bottle, it smells like jasmine or honeysuckle to me. It’s quite strong, but I like the scent quite a lot. It’s a very pretty, feminine floral, and it is perfect for spring.

As I did with fragrances #1 and #2, I used a recipe of 45% olive oil, 25% coconut oil, 25% sustainable palm oil, and 5% castor oil. I used the full amount of fragrance I had—24 grams. My recipe calls for a 6% fragrance usage rate, which would be 25-26 grams, so I used just the tiniest bit less than my recipe calls for. I also used full water.

Soap BatterAs before, I mixed my lye and oils at about 100 degrees to a light trace. Then I added the fragrance. The soap immediately turned a yellowish shade.

Soap with Fragrance AddedAs is typical with florals, this fragrance accelerated a bit. It was completely workable, even with some additional stick blending. However, by the time I poured it into the mold, it was thick enough to swirl the tops.

Soap #3This batch is considerably thicker with about the same amount of “fussing” as the other two, so yes, this fragrance accelerates a bit. Provided a soapmaker soaps cool and stirs, rather than stick blends, it should still allow for swirls and other designs. Some recipes with butters contribute to a thicker trace as well, so it might be a good idea to use more soft oils with this fragrance.

I noticed when I checked on it after 30 minutes to spray some isopropyl alcohol on it that it was already set up firmly. In fact, when I accidentally tugged the side of the mold, it came away from the soap easily. Usually, after only 30 minutes, the soap is not quite that hard. I went to sleep and didn’t check on it after about an hour, but it appears to have gelled just fine, and it doesn’t appear to have become too hot (no glycerine rivers).

Cut SoapI unmolded and cut it the next day (maybe about 14 hours after I made it). The soap is discolored a bit—sort of a yellowish shade. It’s completely workable, however, and I think it would do well with colorants. After saponification, the honeysuckle note comes through quite strongly, so my best guess is that this is a honeysuckle fragrance. Honeysuckle is my favorite smell in the world, so I would know it anywhere. It’s quite strong. It came through gelling quite well. I will check on it over the course of its cure to see how it holds up. Depending on how it performs over time, it might even be possible to use less of the fragrance with good results. Florals tend to give me a bit of a headache if they’re too strong, and right after cutting this one, I felt a bit of a headache wave, but it will most likely mellow a bit as it cures. Strong fragrances can sometimes be overwhelming when the soap is first cut, but as the water evaporates, they mellow out nicely.

Fragrance #3 would work well with white, butter yellow, and gold (if you’re looking to match the honeysuckle colors), but even colors like pastel shades of pink, blue, purple, and green would go well with the scent.

I really like this one. For a floral, it is well-behaved. It doesn’t discolor very much. It’s nice and strong and holds up well in cold process. Two thumbs up, Bramble Berry! I loved this one.

S.O.A.P. Panel Fragrances: Fragrance #2

I absolutely love this fragrance. It smells really juicy. It could be apple, but it smells more like pear to me, though there is a refreshing bite to it as well. It could be a Granny Smith Apple scent. It smells awesome! I am a big fan of fruity scents in general, and this particular scent might be my favorite of the eight.

Out of the bottle, it’s a clear, light color. Though this bottle had 29 grams, and my recipe calls for 25-26 grams of fragrance, I went ahead and used it all rather than leave three grams, mainly because I’m not sure what to do with just three grams of fragrance.

Fragrance #2As I did with the first fragrance, I used a recipe with 45% olive oil, 25% coconut oil, 25% sustainable palm oil, and 5% castor oil. I used full water (38%) and a lye discount of 6%. I combined the lye mixture and oils at approximately 100 degrees. I blended the oils and lye to a very light trace. I used no additives or colorants.

Blended SoapThen I added the fragrance. I forgot to take a picture of the soap batter in the bowl after I combined the fragrance, but there was absolutely no change in color. The fragrance did not accelerate. If anything, it seemed to reverse trace a little bit. I wound up blending the soap a little bit more to thicken it before pouring it in the mold, and the fragrance didn’t misbehave at all. It was very easy to work with.

I poured the soap into the mold. As you can see, the soap batter is the same natural shade it would have been without any fragrance.

Soap in Mold

I gelled the soap and unmolded it. As you can see, there is absolutely no discoloration.

Cut SoapIn fact, I realized that it discolored even less than scent #1. I didn’t think #1 discolored, but after seeing it next to #2, you can tell it does discolor the tiniest bit.

Scent #1 and Scent #2Fragrance #1 is on the right, and #2 is on the left. Fragrance #2 remains a beautiful creamy beige—very nearly white.

After gelling the soap, I noticed that the fragrance is not quite as strong as I’d like, and I will be interested to see how it does after a cure. I think one way to get around the problem of a light scent is not to gel the soap and to use more fragrance. However, for the purposes of testing, I think it’s important to see how the fragrance holds up to gelling. I do wish the scent were stronger after gelling it, but it is by no means completely dissipated.

Two thumbs way up! I love, love, love this scent. I want to find out what it is and buy it immediately. If you like fruity, juicy type scents, you will want to add this to your spring and summer line for sure. It’s an excellent summery scent, and I can see it working well with shades of green, white, yellow. My mouth is honestly watering just sniffing it. Bramble Berry, you MUST sell this one!

UPDATE: Several hours after I posted this review of the fragrance, I am struggling to detect any scent in the bars at all. I think perhaps this fragrance, while it smells wonderful, just doesn’t hold up well in cold process. It might be wonderful for hot process or lotions. It makes me sad because I absolutely loved it.

S.O.A.P. Panel Fragrances: Fragrance #1

Fragrance Oil #1Initially, I thought I detected fruit in this fragrance, and then I smelled a sort of piney, fir-type scent with hints of floral. I wonder if this is a juniper berry scent. I tried smelling some gin to see if I detected juniper in the fragrance, but I’m just not sure. I have smelled a juniper scent used in a well-known bath and body store, and I thought it stank horribly, but this is very pleasant. So, I’m just not sure what it is.

As you can see, it is a dark yellow out of the bottle. I had planned to use the fragrance at 6%, which would have been 25-26 grams in my recipe, but there was only 22 grams in the bottle, so the usage rate is slightly less than I planned, but not by a lot. It is still probably on the stronger end of the typical usage rate.

The recipe I used is 45% olive oil, 25% coconut oil, 25% sustainable palm oil, and 5% castor oil. I used full water (38%) and a lye discount of 6%. I combined the lye mixture and oils at approximately 100 degrees. I blended the oils and lye to a light trace. I used no additives or colorants.

Base Oils and LyeWhen I added the fragrance oil, it turned a buttery yellow, but initial discoloration was quite minimal, despite the dark orange tone of the fragrance. Here is a picture of the soap with the fragrance blended in.

Soap with FragranceThere was no acceleration or ricing at all. The fragrance behaved very well, even with additional mixing with the stick blender.

Soap in MoldI poured the soap at a light trace. I let it set up overnight, and then I unmolded it. I have never used this mold before, so one lesson I learned is that it’s not quite ready to unmold the next day! The corners of my soap were a little torn. I don’t think the fragrance had anything to do with it. I think it’s the nature of the mold not to allow much air in, so the soap was still somewhat soft, even after gelling.

Soap I cut the soap. As you can see, there is absolutely no discoloration. The soap is the same neutral color as when I don’t use a fragrance at all. I was sure, when I saw how dark the fragrance oil was, that it would discolor yellow. I will monitor how it changes over the course of the next week, but at least initially, this fragrance oil performs beautifully. It is very easy to work with and soaps well.

After saponification, the piney scent has retreated a little, and the fruity floral has come to the fore a bit more. There is a definite woody scent to it—almost a sort of fir needle scent. I have to admit I didn’t think I liked those kinds of scents, but I really like this scent. I think the fruity floral blends well, and it doesn’t wind up smelling like a Christmas tree. That said, I think it might make a nice holiday scent for soapers to add to their line. I envision that it would go well with a blue and green palette of colors, too. I don’t see it as a unisex scent. The floral makes it a feminine scent that women who typically like more unisex or masculine scents would probably like.

Two thumbs way up! This fragrance is great. I would definitely buy it.

S.O.A.P. Panel Fragrances: Initial Impressions

S.O.A.P. Panel Test FragrancesI received my S.O.A.P. Panel test fragrances from Bramble Berry on Thursday. Fragrances often smell different out of the bottle than they do once they’ve gone through saponification, but here are my initial impressions of the eight fragrances:

  1. Piney type scent. Very pleasant. A bit floral. I like the way this one smells.
  2. A sort of apple or pear scent. A little bit of a sour bite. I detect more pear, but there is a definite bite to it. Smells good.
  3. Floral, very feminine. Clean. A honeysuckle-type note. Maybe jasmine. Smells very nice.
  4. Sort of masculine. A water/fruit note. Smells clean. Smells good.
  5. A sort of neem oil note to it. A grass note. Earthy. I don’t like this one out of the bottle.
  6. Fruity and floral. Summery. Citrus note. I like this one.
  7. Pretty, feminine, floral. Very springy. Smells good.
  8. Masculine. Smells sort of like a sexy man. A fruit note.

I handed the last one to my husband Steve and said, “Smell it. I think it smells like a sexy man.”

Steve replied, “Why yes, it does smell like me.”


I will be testing each fragrance in a one-pound batch with full water and will take notes on how the fragrance behaves, particularly regarding acceleration, ricing, and discoloration. I will be using a recipe of 45% olive oil, 25% coconut oil, 25% palm oil, and 5% castor oil. I will use the fragrance at the rate of 6%, which I find is usually enough to have a nice, strong scent with a fragrance that sticks well. I will gel the soaps so I can determine whether gelling impacts the fragrances’ sticking power. Lastly, I will keep notes on how well the fragrance sticks after some time has passed.

I’m very excited to try the fragrances out!

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.

Happy New Year from New England Handmade Artisan Soaps!

I’m so excited! I made a shirt and apron at Zazzle with my logo. I will have to make a new soaping video when they arrive so I can show them off!

ApronI hope everyone is enjoying the the turning of a new year. I wanted to share a peek at some of the new soaps that will be appearing in the Etsy store this month.

First, I am in love with this Blackberry Sage.

Blackberry SageI made the blackberries with a chocolate mold I bought from eBay. I used melt-and-pour base to and combined black oxide, merlot mica, and antique blue mica until I had a perfect blackberry shade. I marked spaces on the mold where my cutter would fall so I could place the blackberries evenly.

Blackberry SageI used the same blackberry shade along with a little bit of titanium dioxide and chrome green oxide and a delicious Blackberry Sage fragrance. I love this one! I hope my customers will love it, too.

Soapmakers need to think at least two months ahead, so I have already made my Valentine’s Day soaps. The first soap I made was Roses and Chocolate.

Roses and ChocolateThe inspiration for Roses and Chocolate comes from the two popular Valentine’s Day gifts. I’m telling you, the combination of fragrances is absolutely amazing. The roses part is made with French pink clay and natural soap with no colorant and scented with a very pretty Baby Rose fragrance. I dusted a gold mica line and then added the chocolate layer, colored with cappuccino mica and scented with a Dark Rich Chocolate fragrance. The tops have a gold mica swirl. I am really pleased with how they turned out.

The next Valentine’s soap I made is called Be Mine. I made a batch of this soap for family last year, but this year, I changed a few things.

Be MineFirst, I made the embed out of melt-and-pour soap using a heart-shaped tube mold. I am telling you, I had the hardest time getting that embed out of the mold! I used merlot mica and titanium dioxide to color the soap and scented it with a fragrance that is similar to Victoria’s Secret’s Bombshell. I swirled the top and dusted it with glitter.

Finally, the last Valentine’s soap I made is Chocolate Covered Strawberries.

Chocolate Covered StrawberriesChocolate Covered Strawberries smells just like its name! I did a Celine swirl with these soaps. The fragrance has a high vanillin content, so I knew it would discolor. I didn’t add fragrance to the red and white soap. The brown is a gorgeous chocolate color, which matches the soap name well. I swirled the tops and dusted it with glitter, just as I did with Be Mine.

One of the goals I have to 2014 is to try to learn to make my own melt-and-pour soap. Melt-and-pour is so handy for embeds, but I really like more control over all the ingredients that go into my soap, and making my own melt-and-pour would allow me to have complete control. Since Dylan has also shown some interest in making melt-and-pour soaps, it will be fun for him to use bases I have made myself.

Happy New Year everyone!

Christmas Soaps

Last Christmas was my first experience selling handcrafted items. I learned that quite a few people really do go out of their way to support artisans. There is something special about receiving something handmade as a gift.

This year, I attempted to prepare for the season a little better. I learned some lessons. First, all of my holiday-themed soaps sold out. The two quickest sellers were Cranberry Blood Orange and Candy Cane.

Cranberry Blood Orange
Cranberry Blood Orange
Candy Cane
Candy Cane

I made a note to make more batches of each next year. One thing people who don’t make soap have a hard time understanding is that cold process soap must cure for at least four weeks, which means soapmakers need to figure out what is likely to sell at least a month in advance of the major selling period. For Christmas, that means soapmakers really need to have soaps ready by mid-November in order to capitalize on early shoppers. My biggest sales day was Small Business Saturday, which happened right after Thanksgiving and Black Friday, but I continued to sell right up until a few days ago.

The big question is, how many batches of each would sell? It’s hard to determine what will sell in early to mid-October when the soaps must be made. It’s a risk to make too much because there is a chance I might have leftover Christmas products. However, if I make too little, I might miss out on sales opportunities. It’s a tough call.

Some other lessons I learned are that I move more soaps more quickly offline through purchases made by family, friends, and craft fairs. I haven’t been able to do many craft fairs yet, but I am definitely interested in participating in more. I would be remiss if I did not mention I’ll be selling my soap at the Alchemy Fair in Holyoke, MA, on April 26 and 27, 2014. I’m very much looking forward to that fair.

Speaking of craft fairs, another thing I learned from selling at craft fairs this season is that my Lavender Dream and Lemongrass Sage soaps sell much more quickly offline when people have a chance to smell them.

Lavender Dream
Lavender Dream

Lavender Dream is a newer soap. I used to combine the lavender essential oil with a spearmint fragrance, but I found the spearmint didn’t come through with the lavender (it was fine on its own, but the lavender overpowered it). I renamed it, and folks who love lavender adored it. I also toned down one of the purple shades a bit.

Lemongrass Sage is one of my oldest recipes and has been a favorite among family and friends.

Lemongrass Sage
Lemongrass Sage

It smells very bright and clean, and for a citrus scent, lemongrass really sticks well. I’m not sure why these soaps do not sell as well on Etsy as they do in person. I have some theories, but as the first thing most people do when they’re buying soap at a craft fair is sniff it, I think the scent has a great deal to do with it. On Etsy, buyers might rely more on the look of the soap, though I’m not certain that’s the case.

Another soap that sold really well at craft fairs was White Tea & Ginger.

White Tea & Ginger
White Tea & Ginger

It has a very nice spicy scent. One of my friends thinks that perhaps the plainer look of the soap might be a reason it does not sell as well on Etsy as it does in person. I like the look of it and don’t really want to change it, but it may be that I will make it only in advance of craft fairs rather than keep it on Etsy.

One soap sold very slowly, and I was disappointed because I knew it was a lovely soap.

Anise & Peppermint
Anise & Peppermint

If you are not familiar with anise essential oil, it smells like licorice. I realize licorice is a candy people either love or hate, but even though I’m not a fan of the taste, I love the smell. Of course, I associate it with my grandmother, who loves licorice candy (she received a bar of this soap for Christmas). I thought the black and white was striking and pretty, but I have learned that buyers do not necessarily associate black with soap, or at least the sellers I have encountered do not. My soaps with a large amount of black colorant do not seem to do as well as others. I am not sure why because I think it’s striking and different. I really think this soap turned out well, and I loved it, but it sold very slowly for Christmas.

I also made a soap I called Winter Wonderland.

Winter Wonderland
Winter Wonderland

I used the scent in this soap in a previous soap, and I couldn’t sell it! I have to believe it sold well in this soap for two reasons: 1) the look of this soap was more appealing than the look of the other soap in which I used the same fragrance, and 2) it was the holidays, so soap naturally sold more quickly. I love the scent. It’s a gorgeous watery/ozone type scent that is perfect to evoke snow. I think if people could have smelled my other soap, it would have sold better. Smell seems to make such a huge difference.

One lesson I am going to take away is to pull back on what I sell on Etsy. I am charged fees for each listing, and while it’s not a huge amount, it’s too much to post soaps that just don’t sell. I will be more judicious about new offerings in the future. It is my hope that I can start doing more craft fairs or farmer’s markets as I would hate to cut back on making soap. I love it, and I’m addicted now!

I wish everyone happy holidays. I hope you find a little bar of handmade goodness in your stocking!