Guest post by Amber Beltran of A Squirrel & A Scholar Soap Co.
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WINTER IS COMING!
Here in balmy Florida, there’s three things that happen each year that remind me winter is coming, and unfortunately, none of them involve dragons or Kahl Drogo in a loincloth. Way less exciting, but still very much anticipated, the first sign of the impending winter is the welcomed arrival of colder evenings which require a piece of clothing with sleeves be worn (Oh how I miss long sleeves!). The second is the happy discovery of my coconut oil beginning to solidify once again. It finally starts to resemble the hard oil it really is, which is awesome, considering the fact that it stays in a liquid state for nine months out of the rest of the year! The third event which heralds chillier days to come is more of an internal one... For some reason, my brain makes a seasonal switch, and I start craving cozy, hot tea more than my usual cup o’ joe. The other day, as I found myself thoroughly enjoying a steaming mug of Earl Grey tea, my mind began to wander, and as it did, my thoughts turned to soap making, as they normally do! I began thinking about the soap maker I am now versus the soap maker I once was, and quickly became lost in mental comparisons.
Even if you’re fairly new to soap making, chances are the soap maker you were when you first began your sudsy journey isn’t quite the same as the soap maker you are right now. That’s the beauty of this craft though! The more you grow in your knowledge, skill and unique talent, the more you evolve in your ever-changing soapy adventures; soap making changes and grows with you! When I first began my own soap making saga, I emulated the style of handmade soap I was used to, and made the “function before form” bars I grew up being most familiar with; round, disc-like bars of soap with no added colorants or fragrance oils. Of course, they were just as awesome as any handmade soap is, since handmade anything beats mass-produced, store-bought everything ANY day, but as I grew in knowledge and skill, so too did my soap making “style”.
My first endeavors of “branching out” involved teas! I became obsessed with alternative liquids, with different teas from all over the world being one of my most favorite alternative liquids to make soap with. Name a tea, from the most classic and well-known, to the most obscure and unfamiliar, and odds are I’ve made soap with it! Among many favorite teas to make soap with, Earl Grey has always been at the top of that list, so as I sat there, sipping that warm cup of it, an idea popped into my mind... Why not take an old, familiar ingredient, meld it with the present, and make a wonderful batch of soap? I mean, what better time of year to make a delightfully cozy batch of soap dedicated to a delightfully cozy tea anyway? Suddenly, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and knew just the fragrance oil to do it with! Please join me, if you will, in making a fanciful batch of “Tea with The Earl” handmade soap!
A HEAVENLY AFTERNOON TEA!
Nurture Soap’s “Afternoon Tea” fragrance oil is a tea-lover's dream! I’ve worked with many different tea-inspired fragrances in the past, but without a moment of hesitation, I can sincerely say that “Afternoon Tea” fragrance oil takes the gold medal! This is a positively exceptional fragrance oil which captures the gorgeous nuances and full-bodied aroma of Earl Grey tea with spot-on accuracy! Rich, savory black tea leaves set the aromatic scene, as crisp undertones of bergamot and a subtle splash of lemon support the blend beautifully! Nothing captures the comfy goodness of real Earl Grey Tea (Or goes more perfectly in a batch of soap made with it!) better than Nurture Soap’s “Afternoon Tea” fragrance oil!
To begin this nostalgic and palatable project, we’ll need to get our alternative liquid prepared by making some strongly-steeped Earl Grey tea. To do this, simply add distilled water to a pot or kettle, then bring it to a nice, hot temperature, perfect for steeping tea. This next step is completely optional, but as your distilled water heats up, you can also stir in some sugar if you’d like, to create a beautiful boost of skin-loving lather to your soap. Per each 8oz cup of distilled water added to your pot or tea kettle, incorporate 1/2TBS of optional sugar, and 2 bags of Earl Grey tea. Allow this to steep for about 15 minutes, then remove the tea bags and transfer the tea to the fridge or freezer to chill.
If you’d like to give my favorite soap frosting recipe a try (included below) to make this a purely optional “high-top” batch of soap, complete with decorative embeds, you’re more than welcome to! Using any embed mold, or molds, that you prefer, creating adorable embellishments for your soap batches is fun, fast and easy with Nurture Soap’s Low Sweat, Clear Soap Base, and you can do this while your tea is cooling down. If I were to enjoy a cup of hot tea with a dignified Earl, I’d imagine only the finest of china would do. To run with this quaint, yet fancy theme, I used a Life of The Party-brand mold to create little kettle and teacup embeds with Nurture Soap’s extravagant “Ruby Red” mica! To finish up, a regal dry-painting of “Maya Gold” mica accentuated smaller details. Since I absolutely love my black tea served with sweet honey and a freshly-sliced side of lemon, Nurture Soap’s “Yellow Vibrance” mica was just the color to create miniature lemon embeds, made with a mold from Van Yulay.
SOAP WITH A SIDE OF LEMON!
To begin the main batch of “Tea with The Earl” cold process soap, we’ll start by getting the lye solutions made. But wait just a minute here! Why lye solutions, and not just one? Well, just as a delicious cup of Earl Grey tea is never complete without a side of lemon, so too is a batch of soap made with it! For this soapy creation, we’ll incorporate a “side of lemon” into the very batch itself! To do this, I decided that 30% of my total batch oils would be used to create a “wedge” of lemon, complete with dried lemon peel for a bit of gentle scrubby-action; while the remaining 70% would be used to make a colorful and fun design within the soap. The best way that I’ve personally found to do this is to treat each section as if it were its own, smaller batch of soap. We’ll make the lye solutions and prepare the batch oils and additives at the same time, but focusing on one section at a time as we work means never having to rush to get the batch poured. While the first section sets up, we can take our sweet time preparing the next, which makes for easy-going, stress-free soap making!
Pictured here is the lye solution for the first 30% section of the project, which you’ll notice is quite dark. You might be wondering how on earth we’ll be able to compete with such a dark lye solution and still create a colorful batch of soap, but I promise, by the time this batch is cut, it’ll be full of rich, beautiful colors and contrasting cozy ones too!
Speaking of colors, this particular project has a lovely array them, and each one fits perfectly with the Earl Grey-inspired theme of this Earl Grey tea soap! Not only is this project full of warm, rich colors, it’s also fun and easy to make! While there might be a little more dishes to clean afterward, and an extra step to complete (due to splitting the batch into two smaller ones), the actual design of the project itself is very beginner-friendly! While we wait for the Earl Grey tea lye solutions and prepared batch oils to cool down to around 85 degrees Fahrenheit, we’ll use the time to get the mica colors for this crafty creation dispersed in a bit of borrowed batch oils.
For the “side of lemon” portion of this project, “Yellow Vibrance” mica was chosen for the cheerful, golden, buttery-like color it imparts in cold process soap. This creamier shade of wholesome yellow would be perfect for the cozy-vibe I wanted the finished soaps to have. For the remaining 70% of the batch, four stunning color-blends were created to include warm, regal tones; especially since Earl Grey tea is as equally comforting in character as it is refined and bold! For an opulent, merlot-type red with a pop of sultry scarlet, “Ruby Red” mica was blended at equal parts with Nurture Soap’s gorgeously exclusive “My Red Obsession” mica. For a supremely snuggly shade of yellow-gold, 2-parts “Mimosa Yellow” mica, mixed with 1-part “Orange Vibrance” mica would create an eye-catching contrast of color, while equal parts “Ruby Red” mica, blended with “Purple Vibrance” mica would impart a royal shade of plum. For the fourth, statement-making color-blend, equal parts “Purple Vibrance” and “Nocturnal” micas created a passionate and mysterious shade of deeply-pigmented purple. With this eloquent color-scheme complete, we can begin putting this cold process soap recipe together, beginning with the smaller, 30% portion of the batch first!
A VERY YANKEE THING TO DO!
Years ago, and LONG before ever moving to Florida, I was a bright-eyed, 20-something, working as a barista in a café in White Plains, New York. One of my co-workers was a woman named Karen, who was in her mid-forties, but you’d never know it by looking at her. She had the most flawlessly dewy, youthful-looking skin that could make any 20-year-old jealous (Which it did, and I always meant to ask her what her skincare regimen was!), and a fun, spunky personality that usually had men half her age hitting on her! Her response to these frequent flirtations was always the same, as she’d politely decline a phone number written down on a piece of napkin with, “I’m truly flattered, but my son is nearly your age!”. Who could blame them though? Not only was she tall, gorgeous and sassy, but she had a beautiful, easy-on-the-ears English accent to boot!
Karen and I became good friends right off the bat, but I’ll never forget what she said to me the first time she watched me, in feigned horror, add cream to a cup of English Breakfast tea! I had always added cream and sugar to my tea and never gave a second thought to it, but on this particular occasion, Karen just stood there with this pretend look of shock on her face, as she clutched her chest in an overexaggerated gasp and exclaimed, “What have you done with your tea? You’ve ruined it!”. In between amused laughter, she then went on to explain that where she was from, adding cream to tea just wasn’t done, and that it was a very “Yankee thing to do” (Guilty as charged, I guess!). From that day on, she endearingly referred to me as “The Yankee”, but in this particular soap making situation, I think Karen would be proud!
As you carefully add your cooled Earl Grey tea lye solution to your cooled batch oils (Beginning with the smaller, 30% portion of the batch first.), you’ll most likely notice something that may have you wondering how we’ll ever be able to add all those lovely mica colorants to the soap batter and not have them turn out completely muted or brown. Indeed, you’ll quickly discover that this particular alternative liquid is going to make for one heck of a dark batch of soap! Even more concerning is that this is the portion of the project we’ll be adding dried lemon peel to, and incorporating “Yellow Vibrance” mica, in order to create a soft shade of buttery yellow. With such a dark base to start with though, how will we be able to take our soap batter from this to yellow?
My amazing fellow soap artists, have no fear- Titanium Dioxide is here! By incorporating Nurture Soap’s Titanium Dioxide into the soap batter, we’ll be able to drastically reduce how dark it is, since the addition of it will lighten up that soap batter to a more “color-friendly” level. Hmmm... It’s kind of like adding a bit of cream to your tea! For this particular project, that means pre-dispersing 1/2tsp per pound of oils of Titanium Dioxide into a small amount of distilled water, then using a stick blender to fully incorporate both the Titanium Dioxide and dried lemon peel directly into the soap batter until a light trace is reached. When it comes to adding natural exfoliants to one’s soap batches, I’ve always found less to be more, so we’ll incorporate the lovely lemon peel at 1/2tsp to 1tsp per pound of oils, depending on your preferred level of “scrubbiness”.
Once we’ve fully incorporated the Titanium Dioxide and dried lemon peel into the soap batter, we can then add both the beautiful “Afternoon Tea” fragrance oil (30% of the total amount to be added to the recipe.), and “Yellow Vibrance” mica too. “Afternoon Tea” fragrance oil behaves like a soap maker’s dream in cold process soap (And its scent retention is outstanding!), but when it comes to our chosen colorant, both yellow and orange micas can have a tendency to lighten a bit in cold process soap, especially if the batch gets hot during saponification. Don’t be averse to increasing the usage rate of these colors a smidgen if you prefer a more vibrant outcome in your soap. Micas are generally added to soap at a rate of 1tsp per pound of oils, but you can always increase the usage rates of your orange, coral and/or yellow micas to 1.5 to 2tsp per pound of oils if you’d like! For the soft, creamy look I was going for with this specific project, I didn’t mind a bit if that pretty yellow decided to mellow in the finished soaps, so I just stuck with my usual 1tsp per pound of oils usage rate for this one, but as you can see from the picture below, with the help of Titanium Dioxide, my soap batter had no problems transforming into an undoubtedly fabulous shade of yellow!
LEMONY WEDGES AND EDGES!
To create a “side” or “wedge” of lemon with this first, 30% portion of the recipe, and tea-inspired batch of soap, I used a book to help prop my mold up on one side, then poured the entirety of the soap batter into it. This is where splitting the full batch into two separate, or smaller, batches really comes in handy! Before moving on to the remainder of the batch, we really need this first portion of the project to set up to a point where we can prop the mold up on the opposite side and it won’t lose its shape.
As I waited for the soap batter to set up, I decided to create an impromptu mica line with Nurture Soap’s “Maya Gold” mica (Because I'm much too impatient, and absolutely love “Maya Gold” mica anyway!). When it comes to artistic design and soap making, anything goes, and is always optional or adaptable to your own artistic preferences. If you’d rather omit the mica line, or use a different color, that’s absolutely A-Okay! However, if creating a mica line interests you, yet you haven’t tried this technique before, I think you’ll be happily surprised by how easy, albeit a tad messy, it is! Simply take a fine-mesh tea strainer, or one of Nurture Soap’s handy-dandy Glitter Spray Pumps (The least messy approach!), and dust the mica directly on top of the soap, being careful to use a lighter hand around the outer edges. Applying too much mica (especially around the outside edges) may cause your soap to separate at the mica line when cut, and using a mica with a smaller micron size is always best. A smaller micron size means the mica is a finer consistency, which will help to prevent accidental separation as well.
Once the first section of soap batter has set up to where it’ll hold its shape, we can continue with the remaining 70% of the soap batch by propping the mold up on its opposite side. This is where all those stunning mica-blends we mixed up earlier come into play! We won’t add any lemon peel to this portion of the soap batter, but we will need to add more pre-dispersed Titanium Dioxide to it (1/2tsp per pound of oils) to help tone down the darkness that lye solution imparts. Repeating the same process as the previous, use your stick blender to fully incorporate the Titanium Dioxide into the soap batter, stopping once you’ve reached a light, workable trace.
Proceed by splitting the soap batter up into four equal portions, then add the remaining fragrance oil and mica colorants to each, incorporating these by hand. We want this portion of our soap batter to remain nice and fluid for pouring, as well as the design itself.
With the mold now propped up on the other side, begin by pouring each color down the length of the mold, allowing the soap batter to flow down the side of the mold to break its fall. In this fashion, continue to pour each color, in a repeating color-pattern, down the side of your mold until you can no longer fit any more soap batter into it at its tilted angle.
At this point, remove the object propping your mold up, lay the mold flat, then continue the very same style of pour as when the mold was propped up. Keep pouring in the same repeating color-pattern until you run out of soap batter and/or the mold is filled to the very top. From here, you can call it another great, soapy day by using a bamboo skewer, or other swirling tool of your choice, to create a colorful swirl or zigzag design on top of the soap, then insulate the batch overnight. If you’ve chosen to make this a “high-top” batch of soap, allow the batch to firm up to a point where it’ll support soap frosting on top, then proceed by blending up a batch of fluffy soap frosting!
TOPPING OFF TEA TIME!
For the soap frosting portion of this project, I wanted to use a mica color that would make the fluffy top of this batch look ultimately creamy and delectable! Of course, no other color makes the most gorgeous shade of creamy buttermilk in cold process soap quite like Nurture Soap’s jaw-dropping “Rapunzel” mica! After blending up a batch of fluffy soap frosting, colored in the always stunning “Rapunzel” mica, I used a large, ATECO #869 piping tip to add thick, creamy dollops of soap to the top of the batch. A healthy dusting of Gold Dust Enviroglitter made this project look sublimely fancy, while the “tea time” inspired embeds brought the whole look together with a pop of elegantly classy color!
When it came to insulating this batch, I decided to help promote gel phase, if possible, by placing it on a heating pad set on low heat for about an hour, being cautious not to inadvertently melt the decorative embeds in the process. After that, I simply allowed the batch to remain insulated in this ambient heat overnight. The beauty of Nurture Soap’s “Afternoon Tea” fragrance oil is that it makes your whole work area smell like the finest Earl Grey tea, so naturally, I simply couldn’t resist celebrating the conclusion of another fun soap making adventure with a hot mug of Earl Grey tea; complete with a hearty splash of cream!
The following day, when I unmolded and cut my batch of “Tea with The Earl” handmade soap, I was delighted to discover that with the help of the added sugar in my lye solution, and the additional heat of the heating pad, the batch did in fact go through a lovely gel phase! I absolutely love gelled soaps, but definitely overlooked the fact that yellow and orange micas don’t particularly like to get too hot during saponification (Oops!). So, I may have inadvertently mellowed my yellow a little more than anticipated, but I actually love the look of it more! It’s funny sometimes how those little soap making “oopses” can turn out to be even better than you imagined! Of course, the soaps themselves smell incredible, and I was so pleased with the finished results of this soapy tribute to one of my most favorite teas!
Still anxiously awaiting the arrival of winter, and taking time to nostalgically ponder upon the soap maker I once was versus the soap maker I am today, I’m thrilled I was able to create a soapy project which integrated the past with the present! In being so focused on the crafter I am now, I guess I lost sight of the artistic joys I felt way back when. Naturally, it was a different kind of joy than the joys and personal triumphs I feel now, but it still feels great to revisit them all the same! In many ways, the joys and triumphs I felt as a new soap maker tend to feel somewhat simpler now, but it’s the simple joys in life I actually love and live for most of all!
No matter where you are, or how far you’ve come in your own soap making journey, it’s probably safe to say that the crafter you are right now isn’t exactly the same as the crafter you were when it all began. Perhaps you’ve even advanced so far in your personal journey, the differences are night and day. This is a beautiful thing though! To learn, evolve and grow in your experience, knowledge, talent and skill is something to be extremely proud of- every step of the way! It’s always fun, and even humbling, to look back and reflect on how far you’ve come, and sometimes, it’s an even bigger blast to integrate that into the present! Celebrate the old, celebrate the new, just never forget to celebrate fantastic YOU!
Remember to divide your total batch size into two smaller ones... One consisting of 30% of your total batch oils, and one consisting of 70% of your total batch oils. Divide the fragrance oil and other additives accordingly.
- Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) @ 5% Superfat
- Strongly-Steeped Earl Gray Tea (*Added Sugar Optional) @ 33.33% Lye Concentration or 2:1/Earl Grey Tea: Lye
- 35% Olive Oil
- 30% RSPO Palm Oil
- 25% Coconut Oil
- 5% Castor Oil
- 5% Rice Bran Oil (*Can be Substituted with Sweet Almond Oil, Sunflower Seed Oil, or Avocado Oil)
- 6% “Afternoon Tea” Fragrance Oil
- 3% Sodium Lactate (*Optional)
- 1TBS White Kaolin Clay (*Optional, Added Directly to Fragrance Oil)
- 1/2tsp PPO Titanium Dioxide
- 1/2tsp/PPO Dried Lemon Peel (*Added to 30% Soap Portion Only)
- 1tsp/PPO “Yellow Vibrance” Mica (*For 30% Soap Portion)
- 1tsp/PPO “Ruby Red” Mica + “My Red Obsession” Mica @ 1:1, “Mimosa Yellow” Mica + “Orange Vibrance” Mica @ 2:1, “Ruby Red” Mica + “Purple Vibrance” Mica @ 1:1, “Purple Vibrance” Mica + “Nocturnal” Mica @ 1:1 (*For 70% Soap Portion)
- Sodium Lactate (Lye) @ 5% Superfat
- Distilled Water @ 33.33% Lye Concentration or 2:1/Water: Lye
- 35% Olive Oil
- 30% RSPO Palm Shortening (AKA: “No-Stir Palm”)
- 25% Coconut Oil
- 10% Castor Oil
- 1tsp/PPO “Rapunzel” Mica
- “Gold Dust” Enviroglitter
- Optional MP Embeds in “Yellow Vibrance” Mica
- Optional MP Embeds in “Ruby Red” Mica (*Dry-Painted with “Maya Gold” Mica)
- ATECO #869 Piping Tip