Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Supporting Actors of the Soap

For the last few months, it's been all about the soap--one, two, and three batches a week to build up my inventory for the fall show.  I'm too paranoid, and love to make soap too much, to do large batches at once for fear of ruining the whole kit and kaboodle. But I think I'm done. If I run out, I run out. Now, I need to concentrate on the supporting actors of my line...the bath and body non-soap stuff.

I thought of selling sea salts fairy dusted with botanical bits, but couldn't decide on packaging. Then there was the whole, how-to-contain-the bits thing to decide on. I made myself up a batch adorned with chamomile, dried baby rose buds, lavender and calendula from my garden, poured them in the tub and crawled in with bits floating all about, sticking to the side of the tub, and sticking to me. Frankly, while lovely and fragrant, I felt like I was steeping in swamp tea. Definitely, need to contain the bits. In the bottle, they have huge curb appeal, which unfortunately, didn't translate to My tub experience. Now, I don't think like the majority of people. My daughter was perfectly happy with bits floating about. I abhorred the mess and thought of my husband a couple months later, plunging out drain clogged red tresses enmucked with (hopefully fragrant) bits. I'd have to include a mesh tea bag or something in addition to a lovely bottle.

I ditched the idea of selling dead sea salts at the show and continued on with my salt experiments. OMG--I really love Dead Sea Salts. They are truly amazing. My favorite application, however, is not as a bath salt, but a salt scrub. I found a basic recipe using dead sea salt, avocado oil, vegetable glycerin and a few drops of essential oil. It did fabulous things to my face, although many don't recommend it for facial use, just body use, but my face loved it. I scrubbed it in every so gently and left it there 5 minutes to work its magic. Yes, it stings a bit on acne eruptions, but remember--there is no pleasure without a bit of pain. When I go swimming in the ocean the pimples will sting, but since Dead Sea salt is seven times more salty, you get an extra ding for your sting. It's also loaded with a litany of minerals, including. magnesium, which I read a few precautions regarding use if you have high blood pressure. Not sure about this. In a former life, I was an RN, so I'm going to look into this and see if that's true and to what degree is it true or not. Anyone out there know? I know the skin is much more permeable organ than originally thought to be which makes transdermal delivery of medications possible and  handcrafted soap make so much more sense and a worthy affordable investment at $4-6 a bar.

I followed my salt scrub with my usual Rhassoul Mask and couldn't believe the results...the texture of my skin seemed smoother and more radiant. And--it dried up those pesky middle-aged eruptions in no time--just like a few days on the beach. I definitely think this can be a part of my line, once I straighten out the blood pressure thing, and it needs no botanical bit adornment. Fine Dead Sea Salt looks like snow cone ice glistening in the sun! There are extra oily recipe versions, but I'm partial to the less oily versions...mostly to save my tub and rubber duckie post bath de-slickings.

So what the heck am I going to sell in the body and bath category other than soap? Lotion bars, for sure. They're so easy to make and people love them. I decided on a shallow tins, because otherwise, lotion bars, if left out on a dish or desk tend to become hair ball dust bunny catchers. My house is the perfect house for testing the hair ball capacity of lotion bars. I have a TON of hair. My super soaper assistant./daughter said she was sitting in class, bored, and started pulling multiple red hairs off her shirt (those would be mine). Yep, need tins. I prefer using shea butter or mango butter for better glide in our climate. I'll scent with fragrance oils because I've found I can't get a good scent with essentials except for lemongrass.

I'm also going to make whipped shea butter because its easy and amazing. I've made it with completely raw, unrefined shea mixed with calendula infused olive oil and lavender and carrot seed oil. The essentials are not enough to mask that uniquely odd shea-y smell. It's not a bad smell, but not real pleasant either. I think a little moisturizing capacity will be lost by using deodorized shea, but appeal greater. I'm going to use calendula-infused olive oil and scent with Bourbon Vanilla FO from WSP.  It would have been a joy mixing up my butter using my awesome Kitchen Aide mixer I got for my second wedding to my first husband, but alas, he broke it while employed to make my birthday cake 2 years ago. I can't find a small appliance repair place for anything. Fortunately, shea mixes up quite nicely in about 7 minutes with a sturdy wrist and handheld electric blender. It's so nice and concentrated, a little going a very long way! This stuff can smooth the scales off a reptile.

I cannot wait to do the next soap challenge. I'm totally up for it. I really appreciated all the nice and constructive comments about my multi-gradient soap. I really learned a lot. Such a fun and worthwhile thing to do for newbies and soap making experts alike!


Thursday, September 19, 2013

Haunted Batches

I'm trying to finish up the soaping for the upcoming fall show on October 19th so it still has enough time to cure. Here's some of the latest: 

Cursed Halloween Soap
I've been fortunate that, up until recently, I've never had major issues with my soap batches...sure the normal stuff...too thick...too thin...general "doesn't match the vision in my head" kind of thing, then bang...two batches in a row, messed up. I think it's because I'm stressed. I have so much to do to get ready for my first craft show, but I work full-time and have all the normal household and run around teenagers kind of stuff to do too. Maybe it's because I tried to make my Halloween soap on Friday the 13th? Anyway, I had canola on my recipe twice and since I have a good system for adding in all my oils; I start with them on my left and as I measure out into my bowl, I put them on my right. Usually, I start with the oil at the top and go down, but sometimes, when I'm feeling lazy, I'll skip the pain ingredients like cocoa butter (hate cutting that stuff) and come back to them later. So, my system didn't allow me to put in canola twice which meant my recipe was 15% short oils. I can't believe I didn't notice it! 

Halloween Soap
I was so excited...I planned a modified dream catcher into spider web design pouring alternating circles of white, black, and orange into four quadrants of my square mold. I used a new FO from WSP, Crackling Fireside, which smells like a smokey bonfire. The oil turned my white soap kind of yellowish, then my daughter noticed something else, "This looks funny Mom, what's wrong with it?" Soap disaster denial kicked in and I said, "Nothing's wrong with it. Don't be such a naysayer. It'll be fine!" Eye roll from daughter. It looked a little, how can I describe it... like curdled buttermilk on top.

I put it in the oven for CPOP and went back to my recipe..there it was...two canola lines on my recipe and I added it once. Lye heavy! So, now what do I do? Pitch it? Rebatch, but add the missing 15%?

I quickly whipped up the redemptive  batch the next night and all was well. I'm not real wild about the FO, but now that  soap has had time to dry out a bit, it's looking pretty good. The final scent is very unlike out of the bottle, but subtle and perfect for this design. 

Rose & French Clay Soap with Worm Hole

This little flub was not near the magnitude as the Halloween Soap, but bad enough to make me not want to sell it. Just the day before, I received my new beveler/planer tool form Soap Making Resources. I love it! It turned some ugly ducky soapies into real swans! Yeah it shaves off a little soap, but makes it salable where otherwise, it would relegated to the cabinet of misfit soaps for my husband and son to use. This little gadget makes some beautiful soap curls so why not incorporate into my next batch, a milk-in-oil method goat soap designed with three layers chock full of clay...bottom rose clay, middle fuller's clay, top French green clay. I'll stick a few soap curls in the middle, oh clever me! This recipe was on the thick side since I loaded it with a high percentage of shea and cocoa butter. I nestled perfect curls into the middle, lighter layer and topped it off with my pudding thick French green layer. 

My husband is frequently recruited to hold my log cutter box. The first slice was beautiful!!! The second slice...what, the heck was that? A giant air pocket? Mike said, "What's with the worm hole?" Upon closer inspection, yes, there was the little perfect frond of a soap curl all curled up trapping air.
Yikes..and I was sure to include a curl in every slice. This is nice soap and my only goat one I did for the show, but seriously who is going to buy soap with a worm hole?

Black Raspberry Vanilla with Glycerin Embeds 

Nothing wrong with this batch, thank goodness, other than being a very strong FO scented soap. I used WAY under the standard FO amount and still it gives me a headache. I'm an essential oil girl, what can I say. My daughter really loves the soap and the scent and I know this one
is really popular for both soapers and customers. It soaped super easy.

I'm going to do one more batch and then I'm putting away the soap box to concentrate on making my bath and body stuff, labeling, table display, and all that stuff. This batch is going to be perfect and I'm going to love everything about it!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Multi-colored Gradient Challenge

I think we should call this the multiplied times three multi-colored gradient challenge. I must have been goofing off in kindergarten we went over color basics, because my first attempt was a bit flawed. My super-soaper assistant/daughter/color theorist abandoned me when I was set to do the challenge.
I was ready, but she was more ready for a Friday night hanging out with her friends at the football game, so I went full-steam ahead into the challenge.
The first two colors I chose were next to one another on the color wheel, purple and blue, and the third, an orange-ish hue was half way on the other side, so not sure what was going through my head.

I overcompensated on the need for a slow tracing soap and used a recipe that I could play with for a day, so even non-choppy layers went out the window. I used a fabulous fragrance oil by Wholesale Supplies Plus, Beneath the Stars. Upon the slicing reveal the next morning, my daughter shook her head and said, "You just couldn't wait for me, could you?" You see...she spent her whole middle school years attending a visual arts school. She knew I'd be multiply challenged by this. I said, "Well, I can't use it for the challenge, but it's still pretty. What should I call it? My husband said, "Well, how about 'Color-blind?'" Smarty pants.

Round II

Livy was available to help and I chose three colors next to each other on the color wheel. That's a start!  I used a different recipe and set up for action. My colors were green, yellow, orange. Look...there's the color wheel for frequent consultation. I wanted to use a lighter green, but she thought the jolly green giant green, aka, matte forest green would be good to start with. For the yellow, all I had was Brazilian yellow clay from Brambleberry. The orange was the yellow clay mixed with a tad of Americana Matte Red oxide. The blending seemed to be going great, the layers nice and smooth and the measuring to the last drop precise. Here's a picture of the first few green layers. My, we are very messy soapers.  We followed the instructions exactly! I didn't even have left-over soap, or layers that were soap short.

Any ideas on what happened? My green stayed jolly green giant green through 4 layers! It looks like a solid block of un-blended green pasture. The remaining layers look nice...nice gradation from yellow to orange. I used Brambleberry's Energy Fragrance. I'm calling it Heartland Sunrise because it reminds me of vistas off I-77 during summer drives through Ohio heartland to visit the Florida kin.

This challenge was great for me. I can't wait to see everyone's posts. I kind of feel like I did when I entered my first big race with a bunch of fast runners. I knew I'd be trailing at the end, like a lost golden retriever, running with a pack of sleek foxes, but hey.....just happy to be running. What a learning experience! Here's my soap:

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Food-Smell Inspired Soaps and Soap Obsessions

My daughter really loves spearmint soap, so we decided to do a small batch heavily influenced by the family favorite dessert--mint chocolate chip ice cream. I think food scented soaps are the most frustrating of all because they make me want to lick my stick blender or take a chunk out one while washing up in the shower. My husband thinks it might be a good aide for those trying to lose weight, but  I disagree...a soap that smells like mint-chocolate chip icecream makes me want to eat the real deal. I'm not super crazy about food-smelling soaps, but I was excited about this batch. I've started incorporating a few more fragrance oils into my soaps and this would be a good one to start. Spearmint essential oil would be the perfect mint, but real chocolate or cocoa in soap would be too subtle. I opted for Brambleberry's Hot Cocoa FO mixed into a chocolate brown swirl layered between two expertly colored layers of spearminty green. I used the spoon swirl technique, also referred to as the Celine Swirl, to swirl the three layers together.

  Upon cutting it this morning, I was ecstatic with the results. My only reservation, a slight fear that brown cocoa scented will darken the surrounding green--or will it stay put in the brown? My daughter nailed that mint ice cream color on the head by blending matte forest green, aqua blue and touch of spirulina.

I touched on few obsessions/bad habits, but how about soap making? When do I cross the line into obsession? I have a tendency toward obsessions..there was the gardening obsession, the dried flower and wreath making obsession, the running obsession, and now the soap obsession.  I started off making soap for the extended family as gifts and what-not, then to friends, then to co-workers...well,  now I was spending so much, I had to start charging, which people were perfectly happy to do. Since there are so many soaps colors, scents, and techniques, I must try them all.  I figured I better start an Etsy shop (not doing very well) and sign up for a few craft shows. I've spent a ton on materials...molds, liners, fragrances, equipment, etc. with up to now, very little return. I hope to sell well at the craft shows I've chosen.  If my soap sells well, I can make more soap. If it doesn't, I'm stuck with a ton of soap and wouldn't feel justified in making more. When trying to figure out when my hobby, passion, or past-time is turning obsession-ish, I ask myself the following:

1)Is it affecting work/life balance?
Well, a little husband's been complaining a little, but likewise, I complain about the three times a week band practices and two times a weekend gigs. I justify that I make soap to have something to do when I'm a band widow. As far a work balance...I definitely would like to work less and make soap more, but my day job pays substantially better and I like that to!

2)Is it draining my bank account?
Definitely no, even though it seems like I have. I'm lucky that financial management has always come easily to me. Actually, that should be on my obsession list too since I went through a financial management dark period when I was separated and divorced for three years. BTW...married the same guy again! I track all my spending and set financial goals. I'm frugal and search for deals. I wanted to start slowly and buy all my start-up supplies on current income and never savings. I bought Soapmaker 3 early to track my inventory and batch costs.

3). Do you think of soap 24/7? Do you dream about screwing up soap?
Well, yeah...

So, am I obsessed? Yeah, probably, but one thing I do know, as I approach 49 years of living with Cindy, is that I eventually find a comfortable balance. I ran for 7 obsessive years, before I said, "Hey, running 50 miles races is kind of crazy!" Now, I'm a recovering maintenance runner logging a sensible 15 miles a week. I still garden, but it's no longer necessary to start 1000 seedlings in my basement. It's a curve, I guess, of which I'm still on the upswing.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Soapy Labor of Love

Contrary to what the Labor Day holiday is supposed to signify, I worked like a soaping dog cooking up three new batches for the fall show. The first batch was a first on a few levels...I caved to my daughter's laments about fragrance oils. I bought a sampler pack from Brambleberry when I first started soaping and really like the vanilla and milk and honey scents. I also bought Anne Marie Faiola's book "Soap Craft ng," which is wonderful, so Livy and I whipped up one of her recipes, Oatmeal Layers, a  homie
sweet-I could- take- a- bite- out -of -you- soap for the fall.

 I've only used fragrance oils once, on my second batch of soap ever, Oatmeal, Milk, and Honey, and I don't recall it doing anything funny. It came out really nice...a nice beige-y tan color. Since then, I've been using essential oils like crazy, but even with skilled blending techniques, you just can't get certain scents that make people go nuts, and I really think people are a touch more motivated more by scent than fancy swirls. I see when customers sniff among a dozen soaps--it's clearly the scent that sways followed by design. As a soap maker, I love design because I know the technical finesse that goes into balancing temperature, oils, scent, and technique--when it goes right, I'm deliriously proud and it's an instant favorite. I followed Anne Marie's recipe to the tee, and so interesting  how those vanilla  fragrance oils discolor over time. In this one, I used a vanilla, milk and honey blend on the bottom, and an almond on top. It's been two days since I made it and already the bottom layer is turning dark. The actual soap featured in the book has a dark brown bottom layer. I didn't have the exact quantity called for, but hoping the final cured soap looks as delicious as Anne Marie's, but probably not, since I forgot the honey-oops. Here it is after day 2

I love this book. I bought the handy spiral-bound version--because the beautiful pictures make it coffee table worthy and I can take notes. I've developed some very nice recipes using Soap Calc, but  agonized that certain thicker recipes were costing me a fortune because I used high percentages of shea butter or cocoa butter to get them that way. After studying her recipes, I've discovered I can make a perfectly glorious thick-high quality batter without the high expense. Awesome book.

My second batch, called Autumn Wreath, is not exactly as envisioned, but pretty darned close. I bought a new liquid pigment, the liquid version of the matte Americana red oxide I'm used to. Well, the liquid stuff, when added to white soap, goes pinky pastel and not the vibrant red you get with the powdered oxide. Lesson learned, but I still think it's beautiful. I used a blend of essential oils: cedar wood, fir needle, rosemary, and clove. Smells like a mid-autumn trail run through the pines. Love it!

My third batch, a modified mantra hanger swirl, is still nestled in it's mold. I uncovered it for a quick minute to get a picture. This one uses three naturally colored clays--Brazilian red, Fuller's clay, and sea clay. I think the hangar part went O.K., but you never know. I'm really drawn to masculine hippy-dippy scents, so this one is lavendin, basil, and patchouli.