Guest post by Amber Beltran of A Squirrel & A Scholar Soap Co.
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GONE, AND ACCIDENTALLY FORGOTTEN
Have you ever had that lingering feeling that you’ve forgotten something? Maybe you left the house in such a hurry, you can’t quite recall turning the oven off; or perhaps it suddenly occurs to you that amidst the chaos of getting to the airport in time, you accidentally left your son, Kevin, at home (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that one!). Whether it’s simply an uneasy feeling, or in Mrs. McCallister’s case, one that develops into a complete state of panic, that nagging feeling never really goes away; it just keeps growing and growing until that little whisper in the back of your mind becomes a yell, running through all the hypothetical “what if’s” and worst-case scenarios that could happen. Although not quite as unsettling as an electrical fire, or leaving a child “Home Alone” (I’m on a roll here!), this week’s soap making project just so happens to have stemmed from one of those forgetful situations.
It all started with Nurture Soap's cozy-clean, drop-dead-sexy “Cavalier” fragrance oil. I had made two batches of soap with it, which were quite popular with anyone who happened to smell a bar. Men, in particular, really gravitated to this head-turning, aromatic blend of rich spices, crisp bergamot, clean orange zest and sensual cedarwood; and women were drawn to this handsome scent because they wanted their men to smell like it. The soaps were selling fast, but as the number of available bars became fewer and fewer, I kept getting this unshakable feeling that I was forgetting something. It wasn’t until I had already sold the very last bar that it finally occurred to me what that was; or rather, I was reminded.
Weeks prior to the soaps being fully cured and ready to go to new homes, one of my husband’s co-workers, a soldier in the Army, had expressed interest in buying a bar. He had asked if I would set one aside for him, and I had cheerfully told him I would. However, by the time the soaps reached full cure, I had inadvertently forgotten all about his request. It wasn’t until he reached out to me again, long after the bars had been sold, that I realized just exactly why I kept getting that insistent feeling that I had forgotten something. I felt so bad! It’s not like me to forget about things like that, but this time, I had completely spaced it somehow.
I knew immediately that I had to make this right by making another batch of soap STAT! This couldn’t be just any batch of soap though, it needed to mean something, and it needed to mean something specific to this person. Whether he had wanted one bar or one hundred, it didn’t matter. I had messed up and needed to make good on my promise. And so, I decided a batch of “Cavalier in Camo” handmade soap was in order! As with any soapy project, I’d be honored if you’d join me while I make my amends, and in doing so, make a military-grade batch of soap, scented in the oh-so handsome aroma of Nurture Soap’s “Cavalier” fragrance oil, and concealed in camouflage colors!
YOU KNOW THE DRILL, SARGEANT!
The recipe for this sudsy creation is simple and straightforward, and makes for a wonderfully long-lasting, rock-hard bar of soap with tons of big, copious lather! With its 60% hard oils/fats to 40% soft oils/fats ratio, as well as its generous amount of castor oil and moderate liquid discount, it’s a recipe that tends to move a bit on the faster side. For the specific design we’ll be creating though, that’s actually to our advantage. Since real camouflage patterns typically have larger, more separated areas of color throughout (Like the OCP, or “Operational Camouflage Pattern”, we’ll be representing in this project.), a faster-moving recipe, with its thicker consistency, will ensure our colors don’t get mottled.
The recipe consists of an easy-to-follow 30% olive, coconut and RSPO palm oils (With the palm oil being easily substituted for lard or tallow, if you’d prefer.), and 10% castor oil. We’ll superfat the recipe at the standard 5% and implement a 33% lye concentration, which is a ratio of two-parts water to 1-part lye. To begin, we’ll start by making the lye solution so that it’s given time to cool down while we work on getting the remainder of the recipe prepared. I prefer my lye solutions to cool down to anywhere between room temperature and 85 degrees Fahrenheit, so beginning soapy projects by making the lye solution first allows it time to do just that.
After carefully incorporating and dissolving lye into distilled water to make a lye solution, but before weighing out and combining the batch oils, I like to continue by getting any additives I want to include in the recipe weighed out and/or incorporated, where applicable. Getting the additives prepared and ready to be included into the recipe usually only takes a couple minutes to do, so getting those taken care of next allows me to keep my workspace “clutter-free” and organized, since I can put those ingredients away after I’ve finished measuring or weighing out what I need.
Since additives are anything “extra” we’d like to add to a recipe, beyond the lye solution and batch oils, the additives we’ll be incorporating in this recipe include white kaolin clay (A gentle, skin-loving humectant that adds a bit of “slip/glide” to soap bars, as well as acts as an effective scent-fixative.), sodium lactate (A salt solution derived from the natural fermentation of sugars in beets and/or corn that acts as both a moisture-locking humectant and unmolding aid.), our mica colorants and fragrance oil (Which are self-explanatory and simply fabulous!).
Sodium lactate is water soluble, so it’s added directly to lye solutions that have cooled down to no hotter than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. I enjoy using sodium lactate at a rate of 3% per pound of batch oils; setting it off to the side after weighing it out, so that it’s ready to be stirred into my cooled lye solution just prior to adding it to my batch oils. As for the kaolin clay, a simple way that I like incorporating it into my recipes is by blending it directly into the fragrance oil with a mini mixer. For me, ½ to 1 generous tablespoon of kaolin clay per pound of batch oils is an excellent amount with which to enjoy its great benefits.
Continuing with the remaining additives, we’ll quickly disperse the mica colorants with a bit of light carrier oil. This can be a small amount of olive oil that we’ve “borrowed” from the total amount to be used in the recipe, or any other light carrier oil you prefer. This can even be a bit of extra, “unaccounted for” oil, which will increase the recipe’s superfat, and as a result, increase its moisturizing properties too! When it comes to camouflage colors, Nurture Soap has some truly spot-on, fabulous micas, perfect for the job! For the camo-colored design of this project, I chose “Mocha Brown” mica, “Cabin Fever” mica, the aptly-named “Camouflage” mica, “The Adamant Olive” mica, and a 50/50 blend of “Magic Mushroom” and “Winter White” micas... Five awesome colors in total!
With all the fantastic additives ready to contribute to one fantastic batch of soap, we can move on to getting the batch oils combined, beginning with weighing out and fully melting the hard oils/fats first. Since “hard oils” are those fats which are generally solid at room temperature, in this recipe, those include the coconut oil and RSPO palm oil (Or lard or tallow, if choosing to substitute the palm oil for one of these instead).
Once the hard oils/fats are fully melted, we can go ahead and weigh out the recipe’s soft oils/fats next. “Soft oils” are those fats which are liquid at room temperature. For this recipe, those include the olive and castor oils. We’ll weigh those out, incorporate them with the melted hard oils, then allow our combined oils to cool down as needed. Because this recipe tends to “move”, or thicken, a little on the faster side, it’s especially helpful to be mindful of your temperatures. Too hot (Above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.), and the recipe may accelerate in trace, or consistency, too fast. Too cool (Below 76 degrees Fahrenheit.), and you’re more likely to experience things like stearic spots and/or “false trace”. False trace happens when the recipe’s hard oils begin to resolidify, making it appear as if the soap batter has reached trace, but in actuality, the fats haven’t fully emulsified with the lye solution yet. A safe temperature range to help avoid these issues is to work with batch oils that have cooled to about 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD; SOAP MAKING’S A BREEZE!
As soon as the lye solution and batch oils have reached their optimal soap making temps, we can carefully stir the sodium lactate into the lye solution, then gently add the lye solution to the batch oils. We definitely want to work while the soap batter is at a thicker trace, but because this recipe is a bit of a mover and shaker all on its own, a great place to stop and put the stick blender down is when the soap batter has reached a light, going on medium, trace.
From here, we can proceed by splitting the soap batter into five equal portions, thoroughly stirring the pre-dispersed mica colors into each one. Although Nurture Soap’s decidedly dapper “Cavalier” fragrance oil behaves beautifully in cold process soap, we’ll wait to incorporate it into each portion of raw soap batter last, just prior to pouring. Giving the fragrance oil one final mix with a mini-mixer, evenly redistribute the kaolin clay throughout, then hand-stir this fragrant affair into each portion of soap well. Time to begin pouring our camo design!
We’ll create big areas of eye-catching, earthy colors throughout the batch by pouring the soap batter in a drop-swirl design. Because we’re pouring the soap batter at a thicker trace, any concern of the colors becoming mottled is no worry at all! As you pour the drop-swirl, you’ll notice that each pass of a new color sits on top of the previous one, rather than becoming swirled into it. This is exactly the type of consistency and pour technique that we want to work with. Beginning with the portion of soap colored in “Camouflage” mica, continue by pouring the portion colored in “The Adamant Olive” mica next. Follow that with the “Mocha Brown”, then “Cabin Fever” portions of soap, finishing up with the soap portion colored with the 50/50 blend of “Magic Mushroom” and “Winter White” micas. Pour the soap batter horizontally, in a snake-like pattern, up and down the length of your mold, starting from any point that you’d like with each subsequent pour. For example, if you started pouring your drop-swirl from the upper-left corner of your mold, feel free to pour the next portion from the upper-right corner, or even straight down the center, if you’d like. The more sporadic the pour, the better! Continue pouring each portion of soap in this same repeating color-pattern until every last drop of soap has been poured into your mold.
Finish up the top of your soap batch any which way you’d like- the sky’s the limit! I finished up my own batch of camo soap with a “spoon-plop” on top, which looked really cool! But, true to my nature, I never know when to say, “Finished!”, and decided to swirl the top of my soap with a bamboo skewer instead. I wish I had stayed with my original spoon-plopped-top because over-swirling it created a bit of a color mash-up; one that reminded me more of a seven-layer bean dip than a batch of soap! The good news though is that I absolutely love seven-layer bean dip, so although I wish I hadn’t gone as swirl-crazy as I did, I’m not the least bit mad about it!
I had one last, special thing planned for this batch of soap; something decorative, but completely optional. Of course, you’re always welcome to design and decorate your own amazing soap batches any way your heart desires, which most definitely includes finding artistic inspiration here, from within, or elsewhere! As I’ve mentioned many times before (Because it’s so true!), there’s absolutely no right or wrong way to express your talents and artistic inspirations!
I really wanted to include something symbolic in this batch of soap; something that would mean something to a soldier beyond the camouflage, but what I had in mind didn’t seem doable to me at first. That symbolic something was a representation of a Combat Action Badge. I wanted to include a depiction of it on top of the soap in the form of melt & pour embeds, but without an actual embed mold of it, I didn’t think I’d have a way to do it, especially since I’m absolutely awful at shaping things with my hands and working with soap dough! Believe me, I’ve tried, and I just don’t have the soap dough gene! I have so much respect and adoration for the soap dough gods and goddesses of the soap making world!
Now, Combat Action Badges actually feature different insignias depending on the soldier, so not all are identical. The “design” of a Combat Action Badge received will differ based on the soldier’s specific job, but regardless of these variations, the significance behind it remains the same. A Combat Action Badge is given in recognition for having engaged, or having been engaged, in a combat situation. Here’s a picture of what an actual Combat Action Badge looks like...
I sat there, staring at that badge for a good, long while, just thinking of ways I could make a soapy representation of it, and then it came to me! Awhile back a customer had reached out to me and asked if I would make a collection of soaps in a “Game of Thrones” theme. I actually had a mold of a sword I had purchased for that project... Perfect! Now I just needed to figure out how to turn a sword into a knife using Nurture Soap’s Low Sweat, Clear Soap Base and “Maya Gold” mica (“Maya Gold” mica because I thought that would make a lovely color-contrast with the browns and greens within the soap!). Trimming the embed with a knife, then using a toothpick to carve little details into it, I ended up with something that wasn’t perfect, but made from the heart! I made eight embeds in total, and placed them on top of the batch of soap for a symbolic finishing touch! Now all that remained was to get the batch insulated overnight.
REGRETS & HAPPY RESULTS!
“An Essay on Criticism” by Alexander Pope includes a popular saying that reads: “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”. For this soapy project, I had “erred” big-time, and made this batch in the hopes of being forgiven for my regretful “oops”! Unfortunately, the forgetful human I am completely forgot that I had promised to set a bar of soap aside for a kind gentleman, then proceeded to sell every bar I had. While I was so grateful for how exceptionally well those incredible-smelling bars of soaps were received by others, the amount of awful I felt when I realized my oversight had my stomach in knots.
However, I’ve always been one to look on the brighter side of things, so while I really, really hope I’m able to redeem myself with this camouflaged creation, I’m also glad that through my mistake, I was able to include this project in a blog, and share this fun, soapy design with my fellow soap makers! To err is definitely human, but to seek forgiveness though the wonderful world of soap making is a divinely good time! Happy camouflaged crafting my fellow soap artists!
- Sodium Hydroxide @ 5% Superfat
- Distilled Water @ 33% Lye Concentration (2:1/Water: Lye)
- 30% Coconut Oil
- 30% Olive Oil
- 30% RSPO Palm Oil
- 10% Castor Oil
- 6% “Cavalier” Fragrance Oil
- 3% Sodium Lactate
- ½ - 1TBS/PPO White Kaolin Clay
- 1tsp/PPO: “Cabin Fever” Mica, “Camouflage” Mica, “The Adamant Olive” Mica, “Mocha Brown” Mica & “Magic Mushroom” + “Winter White” Micas (50/50 Blend)