Thursday, July 3, 2014

Sizzling Citrus

Trying to sell a bunch of these little lovlies at the farmer's market. It's scented with orange, grapefruit, and patchouli. I used carrot puree in my base and shored it up with chamomile and calendula infused oils to help summer skin recover from fun in the sun.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hanger Swirl Challenge: Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Soap

Oh boy, oh boy, oh I love this technique. I was so happy to hear Amy was going with this super simple technique, because once you get the right recipe down, it creates an infinite number of variations to keep the stick blender purring happily. I'd say probably 80% of my soaps use this technique in some capacity. Traditionally, it's done with a clothes hanger bent to conform with your mold, then stuff wrapped around the middle to make it a little thicker. I tried duct tape wrapped around 30 times, but near poked my eye out and felt the resulting swirl a little anemic, not to mention the unpleasantness of cleaning raw soap off the tool later. There had to be a better way. I knew there were swirling tools especially made to fit certain molds, but I wanted something cheap and flexible to use with different sized molds. I love reading soap maker's blogs and one day stumbled across a soap maker talking about how she swirls soaps. She uses a Gear Tie. It marketed more to dudes in the employment of organizing tools and rigging up stuff. You bend this baby any way you want and it's easy to clean! Unlike a thin coat wire, or even one pathetically wrapped with duct tape, this is just the right thickness to move thin to moderately traced soap. I bought mine on clearance at Target for around $3.00 and remains in active duty.

Another thing that's really important with the hanger swirl, is that your soap batter be Momma Bear just right. If the soap is too thick, the gear won't drag the soap in that fluid manner that gives your swirls life and motion. Too thin, and the colors meld and don't drag the soap. After tweaking recipes forever I came upon a good recipe that's approximately 43% saturated Oils to 57 % unsaturated. Include a little sunflower into your recipe and it works great! I incorporate my lye at 32%, which is just a slight discount, but enough to harden up my soap faster than otherwise. I change up the oils occasionally, but stick to this ratio. I'm really horrible about putting colors together, so I turn to Design Seeds a lot, or look to clothing, curtains, fabric...anything for ideas! My family just bought a hammock and the colors are fabulous..very summer-like and semi-patriotic without being exactly red, white and blue. When my husband and son were putting the hammock together, my son, goofing around, wrapped the hammock around him and said, "Look...I'm Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat!"
I headed to my soaping lab (my dining room table) to see if I could duplicate these colors into a Dream Soap!

To scent my soap, I went with my Love, Peace, and Happiness essential oil blend of sandalwood FO, patchouli, lavender, and a wee bit of orange. This is the most popular scent blend  I sell. Seems like young, old, male and female love it! Even self proclaimed patchouli haters like it once they smell it, and it sells year round. It's truly love, peace, and happiness consolidated down into a soapy little bundle of wonder.

The cool thing about the hangar swirl is you can swirl in any direction you like, up and down, side to side, or a combination, and as many times as you like. Since my hammock was my inspiration, I didn't want to do an aggressive swirl, but rather a simple rolling-type wave. I layered my colors near the center of the soap in a base of matte yellow, Dandelion-type style, against a flexible divider, then made a few brief passes with my hanger. That's it! So simple. I was very pleased that the actual soap matched the vision in my head. This hardly ever happens and makes me giggle like 5 year old as I cut my soap. Again, I have to thank Amy for putting on the challenges. I consider it my professional development, even if I never win, and going through the resulting soap, soap maker entertainment of the highest order!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Great Cakes Soap Works Challenge-Glycerin Mica Swirls

I was very excited that we were going to be doing glycerin mica swirls for this month's challenge. I did this technique once before on a pumpkin soap and while it was really cool and elegant, I don't think a pumpkin soap was the right vehicle to carry off the glam imparted by this technique.
I wanted to do a soap that was dark, exotic and sexy, so I decided on a sandalwood patchouli soap. Is there anything sexier than patchouli and sandalwood? I'm a sucker for real patchouli so I used the real deal along with a FO sandalwood. I was having a hard time coming up with a color scheme, so I turned to design seeds for inspiration and came across this swatch called "creature tones" Now, this was a sexy color scheme. Reminds me of my brief stint as a divorcee dating younger men and wouldn't it go great with sandalwood patchouli? I don't think non-soap makers realize the dozens of little decisions that occur even before the first oil is pulled off the shelf.
 Now, what to do with these colors? I decided on a modified dandelion technique using wide bands of my colors separated by the neutral base and then swirled lightly with a hangar. I used a recipe that included sunflower that would give me plenty of time to play. For the purple, I was excited to try out a new order of Purple Brazilian clay. The black was made with activated charcoal and the burgundy, a mix of merlot sparkle mica and red oxide. For the top swirls, I went with white sparkle mica mixed with oil and 24K gold mica with glycerin. I thought they'd make a nice contrast with base colors.

Day After
Thinking back to the time I used glycerin on my pumpkin soap, I was astounded at the cavern carving capacity of the glycerin...carved a little Grand Canyon river system on my soap top! For my challenge soap, I didn't want the river system, so I planned to go much lighter this time. Here's how it looks right after I swirled. The white mica shows as the white swirled through the black. The gold mica glycerin pools up as little beads. The next morning it looked like this: 

One of the profound joys of being a soap maker is waking up the next morning and unmolding soap. I get a little flutter of excitement just like I'm eight years old again waking up Christmas morning. Will these "creature" colors really work? Did my swirl work? Ahh...the sound of my soap cutter gliding through 11 perfect bars of sandalwood patchouli! I was very happy with the results...ended up more tiger-striped than I thought, but it certainly works with my cougar, sultan sexy theme and that's what I'll call it...Sultan's Sandalwood & Patchouli. Thanks Amy for putting on these challenges. It's soap maker paradise going through everyone's posts about their soaps. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spring & Summer Soaps

It's sad how little I've posted and there's absolutely no reason since I went part-time at my day job, but I've been making and selling soap like a maniac. It never ends, does it, all the different things to be tried with soap? I thought I'd share a few soaps I've made over the last week. Today I did a men's soap using indigo powder. I really felt like my colors have been anemic lately, so I took care to use a lot and ended with black which works, I guess, since the fragrance oil I used was one of WSP's top-rated man smells, Black Tie Fragrance. I was going informal blue jeans and ended up with formal black tie, but hey...great thing about soap...sometimes all you have to do is change the name. Next time, I'll remember to go lighter on the indigo.

The soap on the top left is actually a Christmas soap I've toned down for May. I've been doing home parties and my next hostess, Sue, requested this soap as her complimentary loaf. It's done in a square mold, alternating four bulls-eyes of pink rose clay, darker rose clay, and white kaolin clay. I run a chop stick though the circles drawing abstract poinsettia leaves with mica-in-oil swirled in for glam. She loves it for the scent, which I realized was an unusual blend I concocted last fall with lavendin, blood orange, clove and marjoram. The marjoram is a bit pricey, but it adds so much to the blend and Sue is worth every penny...she's one of my best and most vocal customers. One of the reasons she sings the praises of homemade soap, in addition to the usual, is that she feels it creates less, or virtually no soap scum, and matter of fact, I've noticed the same thing in my shower. Hmm...never really read much about that particular effect, but if Sue says it's true, it must be! Her home is immaculately kept, while mine...not so much these days!

The soap on the top right is my classic lemongrass lavender I made as a birthday present for Sue's husband. Per request, this batch, while not visible in the picture, includes the little lavender buds on top, grown organically last year in my little herb patch. He insists on them...he said the soap just isn't the same without them. I tried to make the last batch more contemporary sans the buds, but there was push back.  I sprinkled them on gingerly this year, with a tear in my eye, since my lavender plants didn't survive the heinous polar vortex that cloaked the whole northeast. I've had those bushes for more than a decade! Waa! But....I will plant again!

The soap on the bottom right of the top picture is Love, Peace, & Happiness--60's vogue version. I love the scent blend..patchouli, orange, and lavendin essential oils with a liberal dose of sandalwood FO. I can't get enough of this scent. Since Love, Peace, and Happiness takes many forms, I change up the design every time I make it, but the name, and the scent, remain the same. Here's what it looked like in the two previous batches. The one on the left developed a horrible layer of ash which I steamed off twice, but kept returning. It didn't seem to deter customers though, as it's always a good seller, no matter what form it takes. This one was made with natural clay colorants droplet style with a hangar to lightly swirl. Now, back to Love, Peace, and Happiness--60's vogue you see the little flaw on the bottom of the soap? This happens to me more than I care to admit and it's born of pure unadulterated impatience. It's the equivalent of turning an insufficiently cooled scratch cake upside down to remove it from the pan, and little pieces stick to the pan! I unmolded the soap when it was still too warm. I use a water discount, a higher percentage of hard oil, and sometimes sodium lactate, so I'm used to unmolding on the same day, but I push the envelope sometimes, and get this...flawed bars. With time, I hope to get a better grip on my impatience. Happy Soaping!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Great Cakes Drop Swirl Challenge

The drop swirl technique is probably one of the simplest soap techniques and yet one of the most infuriating for me. I've done several batches and I've only liked one--the first, wouldn't you know it--a beginner's luck undocumented burgundy, red, and white Christmas patchouli soap I made two Christmas's ago. The last bar was spotted last July laying lovely in my sister-in-law's bathroom..still gorgeous and smelling divine.

I like my swirls to be less fluid, more like sensuous curved teardrops than rounded up splashes. The batter has to be just right...not too fluid and not too thick. I have a recipe that is just that, and used it for my drop challenge, and wouldn't you know it, the soap gremlins intervened and made it too thin for my taste. I have no idea why except that I substituted soybean oil for a small 8% portion of rice bran since my rice bran was running low. I live in Northeastern Ohio and like many across the U.S., suffered pummeling snow and mind numbing cold. I was dying to do something in your face spring...a carefully chosen floral without the reputation as a soap seizer.  I chose Wild Honeysuckle from Wholesale Supplies Plus. I'm fortunate to live within driving distance, so I picked up my supplies to test sniff every honeysuckle they carried. I left olfactorarily assaulted with a throbbing headache, since I couldn't resist smelling the rest of the showroom samples, but content, after a few ibuprofen, that I picked the most authentic honeysuckle. To complement the divine smell, I wanted a complementary in-your-face spring color palette. I pondered color swatches from for a few days before I settled  on a palette of white, light pink, hot pink, blue-green, and blue.

As I mix colors, it's always in the back of my head how expensive they are, so I  aim to mix just the right amount for the portion. Well, to heck with that, for the challenge soaps anyway, because I feel I failed to color the white and the light blue enough to give it contrast against the brighter fushia pink and teal blue-green. Since it was thinner than I wanted colors slightly melded.  Like most homemade soap, it turned out very pretty, but alas, not matched to the vision in my head. I'm really looking forward to reading and seeing everyone else's experiences! It's still not spring in Northeastern Ohio, but my soap sure is!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Soap Bone is Connected to the Candle Bone

Neroli & Rose
Really...this whole soaping thing started with candles. I've always loved them, a few years back stumbled serendipitously upon a luxury candle website and uncharacteristically spent $30 something on a sensuously delicious sounding candle by Acquiesse...Pomegranate and Sage. Within 5 minutes of burning that candle I was hooked on the world of scent. Had I never bought that candle, I believe I never would have become a soap maker as this unleashed an unquenchable thirst for complex scents. I believe many soap makers had their start with this gateway drug.

I had to cut back on my candle habit when I started soap making and that wasn't so bad since my soaps satisfied my voracious olfactory appetite. Last fall, my husband and I celebrated our second second anniversary. (Yes, I married the same guy, twice) down at Glen Laurel Inn in Hocking Hills Ohio. We remarried there and vowed to return every year on our anniversary. Now, this is a snazzy place--no kids allowed, private hot tubs (ooh-la-la!) so many other anniversary couples have the same idea. It's so weird seeing the same couples year after year.

 Enter Sue and Donny. My husband and I adore them...we hang out before dinner and catch up the year. I really wanted Sue to try my soap. I gave them both a bar. Like many people, they thought they were stunning, but having never used natural homemade soap, obvious to the joys within. Sue asked me if I made candles. "No, I said, but I certainly love them!" She got this wide-eyed glassy look and went on to explain that she and Donny have a signature scent they light in the cabins, but of course, it's been discontinued. Always up to a good challenge, I said, "What is it? I can try to make one for you?" I hard can candles be? She went back to her cabin and brought me near spent remains of a yellowish candle. "It's Neroli and Rose....I took a big sniff and whoa...was this strong. I've never smelled this particular combination. If you're unaware, Neroli essential oil comes from the squeezings of orange blossoms. It's crazy expensive...requiring 100 pounds of orange blossoms to make one pound of oil--too cost prohibitive for soap or candles...but there are good FO dupes. Neroli is a strange scent to explain. If you're familiar with Petitgrain, it's similar but from the greenish bits and twigs of the same tree. I've used it a few times in soap...most either love it or hate it...a little goes a long way and better when blended.

I've been working on Sue's candle now for over a month. At first I tried soy with the recommended amount of fragrance oil. It turned out lovely, but had to get right on top of the candle to smell it. In candle techie terms, it had a weak hot throw. I tried again, increasing the FO to the maximum allowed. Still weak throw. She wanted it to scent a room. After much research, I realized soy isn't the best wax for heavily scented candles. More research...decided on a soy/paraffin blend called IGI 6006 known to encompass the best of both worlds..paraffin for excellent scent throw and soy for clean burning. But wouldn't you know my wicks were all wrong.....strong smelling candle if you could discern it through the heavy soot. wax means new wick. After 4 attempts, I finally have it right...I'll be sending Sue test candle number 4 today. Sue has also become a dedicated user of my soaps. She's one of my best customers. I have a new respect for candle makers. Just like soap making, its science and art. Thanks to Sue, I'm hooked on candle making and will be adding those to my product line because....the soap bone is connected to the candle bone.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Taiwan Swirl Great Cakes Soap Challenge

Yeah, another challenge! Rather than the Taiwan Swirl, my soaper assistant daughter and I  affectionately refer to this soap as the "kitchen wrecker". It would have been much less messy had we processed this soap using the free-hand method demonstrated by Amy; however, I recently purchased dividers (no more cardboard!) so I had to use them! In the preceding post, I mentioned I had been doing some unsuccessful experimenting with new soap concepts and I happened to be using Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey FO from WSP. I had it in my head to do a unisex brown, black, tan, honey color combination, but after two unsuccessful experiments, I'm now down to just .5 ounce of OMH. I wanted to use it again for my Taiwan Swirl; however, .5 ounce would not adequately scent my 38 ounce oil batch. Hmmm...what do do? I thought of adding cinnamon essential oil or clove for a nice twist, but risk accelerated trace with those two. Instead, I decided on augmenting the OMH with a Vetyver type fragrance from Brambleberry described as having lemon, rosemary top notes, floral, sandalwood, and patchouli middle notes with musk and vetyver base notes. I've used it before in lotion bars and the scent is very complex...difficult to distinguish any one scent and very masculine. I tested the OMH with Vetyver in a plastic bag on Q-tips and was pleasantly surprised. Very nice and definitely unisex.

I was going to use 4 colors left to right, white, brown, black and honey...the honey expertly blended by my daughter. I was happy with the recipe...Mama Bear just right for pouring and swirling. The messy part came when it was time to pull out the dividers, three of them plus the two side pieces. I was tempted to scrape the clinging excess back into the mold but that would mess up the 4 carefully delineated stripes of color. Just like Amy did in her video, we made several passes vertical and horizontal passes in the soap. Here's what it looked like in the mold after a good gel phase:

Being somewhat spatially challenged, it took a bit of pondering how to cut these and still get my standard size soap. To get the full effect of the swirl, you have to slice the soap sideways.
My resulting bars are a bit smaller than my standard, but still very nice. I love the scent! I'm going to call it "Intrigue" since there's absolutely no way to incorporate the diversity of scents in this soap into its name!

 Thanks Amy for putting on these challenges. I learn so much and have a blast checking out the results of so many talented soap makers all around the world.  Happy Soaping!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Soaper New Year Resolutions

Sandalwood Patchouli with French Green Clay
I don't like to make New Year's resolutions on New Year's Day--I make them a few months before the end of the Year because they tend to stick more then.

1). Keep experimenting (within reason)
I love to try new things with my soap, but there's a limit to how many things I should try at once. For example, last week I decided to try 4 new elements in one batch of cold process soap. The first element, room temperature soaping, I had tried before and since it worked fairly well, thought I'd give it a go again. The second and third elements...adding salt and sugar to lye solution was supposed to make the soap batter more flexible and the final soap more hard. The forth element I added was a water discount. The result: a big disaster. My soap was like sun-softened fudge plopping out of my new Essential Depot silicone mold like mud chunks. And since I tried so many new things, wasn't sure what went wrong. After much speculation, I believe it was two things...possibly false trace and plugging the water discount wrong into my Soap Maker software. Moral of story...add one new element at a time.

2). Keep personal finances separate from business finances
I just recently set up a business checking account for my soap
making income and expenses. Prior to this, it was too easy to go on late night Whole Sales Supplies Plus ordering binges funded with my personal funds. Since I did this on a semi-regular basis, I made a ridiculous number of orders, each about $30 each (the minimum order for this company and ended up with a number of products I haven't even used and now risk expiration and depleted personal finances. Now that I have a separate business account, I'm much more mindful about my orders and plan to place only a few large orders
Magic Carpet Ride
for 2014 for things I absolutely need.

3). Keep up with Facebook Page
I'm developing a very nice customer base and find Facebook a fabulous tool for keeping my customers updated on events and new soaps on the curing rack. This would be easy if I was a natural FaceBook type person, but I'm really not, but I definitely see the benefit.

4). Try Home Party Format
I've only done a few shows and they were hit and miss...some I did well and others I didn't because there wasn't much traffic or I was placed in the back with seven other soap makers up front; however, I did a open house at my place and the 10 or 12 people
that attended bought a lot of soap! Something magical happens when you get a group of women together with a little spinach artichoke dip and baskets filled with lovely soap. Gosh, I thought they'd stand around and eat first, but they were all over the soap sniffing and chatting. One thing I noticed from my shows...many people are simply uneducated about the benefits of handmade soap and pass it by thinking it just another pretty face. In a home format I'd have time to actually provide that education.

5). Define my Product Line
I read somewhere that it's best to build deep before you build wide, so I've concentrated on the soap and just a few other bath and body products...whipped shea butter and hard lotion bars. I make loads of other stuff like facial serums, bath salts, scrubs, etc. for my own personal use, but don't want to bring those out yet. For my soap, I need to figure out 5-10 standard scents that I offer year round. I've decided on a lemongrass/lavender, sandalwood patchouli, and oat meal milk and honey because I know they sell well, but I'm still on the fence about others.

I think that's enough for 2014! Happy soaping to you and may you have tons of successful batches, little ash, and much profit!