DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR?
We’ve all done it at one point or another... You’re perusing through fragrance oils on your favorite soapmaking supplier’s website when you come across an oil that sounds positively fabulous! The fragrance oil’s beautiful stock photo is what initially lures you in, but as you begin to read its aromatic notes, you become increasingly intrigued. By the time you get to its base notes, you’re sold; this fragrance oil sounds precisely like your “cup of tea”. You scroll down, reading performance notes and/or reviews from fellow crafters, when suddenly, there it is: ACCELERATES IN COLD PROCESS SOAP. You’re hit with a double whammy of disappointment when you discover it discolors too. “What a shame.”, you think, as you hit the back button and scroll on by.
BUT WAIT A MINUTE! I know we all love those perfect-preforming fragrance oils (Guilty as charged, right here!); the ones that remain on their best behavior in cold process soap, and make for wonderful soapmaking experiences. Those experiences where not even a hint of ricing or acceleration occur, and the absence of discoloration makes for beautiful batches of soap. We’re able to color, swirl and design-away to our soapy heart’s content! That was me, all the way! There was time in my soapmaking journey that I wouldn’t even consider purchasing a fragrance oil if it didn’t meet the following criteria: NO ricing, NO acceleration and NO discoloration.
While I’ll never be a fan of ricing, as fellow soap makers, I know we all look for, and appreciate, those perfect-performing fragrances most of all. But what if I told you that by avoiding fragrances which accelerate (either mildly or heavily) and/or discolor in cold process soap, you just might be missing out? That was a realization I came to learn myself... By branching out and challenging myself to new soapmaking designs and techniques, I began to realize that when I dismissed a fragrance oil for what I viewed as “flaws”, I was really missing out on some truly fantastic aromas, and some equally fantastic soapmaking opportunities! What’s more, I realized that oftentimes these “flaws” weren’t flaws at all; they could actually be advantages!
I recently purchased a fragrance oil that had me doing summersaults (figuratively speaking, of course! Sadly, my days of doing summersaults without throwing something out of whack are over!), it smells so dang good! While it might not be the most “perfect” of performers in the broad sense of the term, it’s positively perfect for this project! There are many soap designs in which mild to moderate acceleration is actually a plus, and this specific project will have you looking at fragrances which accelerate from a whole new angle (Pun intended!). For this week’s soapy shenanigans, we’ll be making “Gilded Agave” cold process soap, and I guarantee, once you get this particular fragrance oil in a batch of soap, you’ll be hooked! Another guarantee: Once you try this fun and awesome-looking design in your own soapy creations at home, the next time you come across a fragrance oil which accelerates in cold process soap, you’ll be thinking, “YES! Just what I need!”.
A TILTED PERSPECTIVE!
The word “gilded” is an adjective describing a thin coating or covering of gold or gold paint, and agave is a plant (Tequila is made from a species of agave... Don’t ask how I know that!), native to hot, arid climates, as well as tropical regions in South America. It’s a species of succulent, known for its big, fleshy leaves, which are rich in skin-nourishing sap. This particular soapy project was named “Gilded Agave” for the stunning “Maya Gold” mica we’ll be using to create beautiful, eye-catching mica lines (or “veins”) within the soap, as well as the main star of the show: Nurture Soap’s “Blue Agave” fragrance oil!
Holy wow! Right out of the bottle, this fragrance oil was love at first sniff! With notes of citrus, lime oil, grapefruit, cardamom and red berry, preceding an exquisite heart of blue agave flower, sea salt, orchid, geranium and white lily; eloquently resting upon an alluring base of cocoa, vetiver, cinnamon and musk, this fragrance is scent-sational! Somehow, this aroma manages to smell pristinely fresh and clean, yet seductively warm and embracing too! Dewy-soft floral accords entwine so effortlessly with notes of creamy cocoa and spicy-sweet cardamom, it’s an aroma both men and women would equally love (I know this because my husband loves it too!). In Carrie Thornsbury’s cold process performance notes, this fragrance oil did accelerate mildly, and discolored to light brown, but for this project, that’s no problem! In fact, it’s perfect!
As is the case with 99.99% of my soap batches, I wanted to add a big, fluffy soap-frosted top to this project as well, so first up was to get some decorative embeds made! The mold I used to make adorable melt & pour succulents for this project is actually quite accessible. It’s a Wilton silicone mold I found at my local Walmart for five bucks (No joke!). I know it’s also sold at an online soapmaking wholesaler for a “yikes”-worthy $14, plus shipping/handling fee, so save yourself some green and head on down to your local Walmart; it’s very possible you’ll find it there! To match the “vibe” and aromatic beauty of “Blue Agave” fragrance oil, Nurture Soap’s sensationally gorgeous “High Society” and “Siren’s Song” micas were used to color smaller melt & pour succulent embeds; and to embrace the gilded theme of the project, larger succulent embeds were made with Nurture Soap’s Low Sweat, Clear Soap Base, and colored in “Maya Gold” mica. This combination of colors paired beautifully, and made for such pretty decorative accents!
The plan for this batch of soap was to make sharply crisp, tilted layers to represent the sharp, pointy leaves of the agave plant, with four layers in total (So easy, and so much fun!). Golden mica lines, using “Maya Gold” mica, between each layer would create a fierce visual separation between each one, as well as highlight the project’s gilded theme. To do this, I’d need to spilt my total soap batch into fourths, which was the very next step!
THREE’S A CROWD, BUT FOUR’S A PARTY!
Since this cold process soap project features four different layers that you’ll want to pour at very fluid consistencies (to get the most even layers possible in your design), you’ll want to treat each layer as if it were its own separate batch of soap. The most accurate way to do this is to take the total oil weight of your batch, divide it by four, then plug its quotient into a lye calculator to determine exactly how much batch oils, lye and liquid you’ll need to make four smaller batches of soap. For example: If your soap batch consists of 32oz of batch oils, you’ll want to prepare four 8oz batches of soap, to equal 32oz total.
Since everything will be done in fourths, you’ll want to divide your additives into fourths as well. I like to use sodium lactate at 3% in my cold process soap recipes, as well as mix a bit of kaolin clay directly into my fragrance oil, prior to incorporating it into my soap batter (about 1.5tsps of clay per pound of oils). Pictured here are my four lye solutions, as well as my total weight of sodium lactate and fragrance oil (kaolin clay added), divided into four equal portions. I often enjoy using aloe juice, in place of distilled water, in my cold process soap recipes too, and with the addition of “Blue Agave” fragrance oil, using aloe juice for this specific soapy project just seemed all the more fitting!
As I waited for my four divided batch oils and lye solutions to cool down to around room temperature, I got busy getting my mica colorants dispersed in a bit of olive oil. Left uncolored, “Blue Agave” fragrance oil is shown to discolor to a light brown, but I felt it wasn’t too dark of a discoloration to where some super-pigmented shades of deep, rich, beautiful mica colors couldn’t cover it up; especially if I increased my usage rate just a bit, from 1tsp of mica per pound of oils to a slightly generous 1.5tsps instead. For an array of beautiful green, teal and blue tones, “High Society”, “Siren’s Song”, “Midnight Blue” and “Blue Vibrance” micas were chosen for this batch, and together, they looked fabulous!
Jumping ahead of myself a little bit here, I actually made this batch of soap just a hair under two weeks ago from the date of this writing, for the sole purpose of photographing it after it had been given a little time to cure. I wanted to show my fellow crafters just how much, if any, vanilla/vanillin discoloration might possibly affect the mica colors in the finished soaps. So far, the results have been awesome! I’ve noticed “High Society” mica has darkened just a tad, but certainly not enough to call it a considerable difference, and the other colors have remained unaffected. As you’ll see in the picture of the cut, each color still looks beautiful and bold in application, so “Blue Agave” fragrance oil won’t stop you from achieving wonderfully colorful results in your soaps! I’d recommend using bolder, darker mica colors with this fragrance oil, increasing your usage rate a little, and/or leaving lighter accent colors unscented, but you won’t be limited in creating vibrant batches of colorful soap with this fragrance oil! SWEET!
It was time to get this sudsy show on the road! My four divided batches of soap were ready to rock, my embeds were made, my lye solutions and batch oils had cooled down to room temperature, my mica colors were dispersed, and my fragrance oil was split into fourths; ready to become a glorious-smelling batch of soap! For this soap design, working in steps is key, but if you’ve never made a tilted layer design in a batch of soap before, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised by how fun and easy it truly is! The first step to creating tilted or slanted layers within a cold process soap batch is to grab a book, or some other object with which you can use to prop up one side of your mold. Exactly how steep you want the angle of your layers is entirely up to you, but for this batch, I used a book that was exactly one inch thick (Dean Koontz to be exact – guilty pleasure!).
Taking your first divided batch of oils, carefully incorporate the lye solution, then stick blend to just past emulsion, or no thicker than a very light trace. You’ll want your soap batter to be nice and fluid when you pour it, so that it’ll create those beautifully even and crisp, sharp layers. The acceleration from the fragrance oil will become your best friend, after the layer is poured. Once you’ve reached emulsion, or very light trace, thoroughly stir the mica in by hand (for this first layer, I used “High Society” mica), then proceed by stirring a quarter portion of the fragrance oil in by hand as well. Once fully incorporated, pour the entire portion of soap batter into your mold, which you’ve propped up at an angle.
“Blue Agave” fragrance oil was AWESOME for this project! Aside from smelling incredible, it remained perfectly fluid the whole time I was stirring it into each divided portion of soap, and stayed perfectly fluid as I poured each layer too! Once each layer was poured, it set up so quickly for me that by the time I was ready to begin my next layer, it had already set up enough for me to proceed! I didn’t have to wait around for each layer to set up, and the whole process went so quickly and smoothly! Once you’ve got that first tilted layer poured, you’ll want to make sure not to move the mold, or prop it up to the other side until that first layer is set and holding its shape. This is a great time to create that mica line!
When making mica lines in your handmade soaps, you’ll want to use a mica with a smaller micron size. The bigger the micron size, the more you risk the layers separating on you (Been there!). “Maya Gold” mica has a micron size of 10-60, which is an excellent micron size for creating lovely lines in your soaps! Another great tip when creating mica lines: Take care to not apply too thickly. You can apply the mica with a fine-mesh tea strainer or mica sprayer, but make sure to keep it evenly dispersed across the top of your soap. Feel free to add a beautiful, even coating of mica to the center-most areas of your soap, but try to refrain from dusting too much mica onto the outer edges. Over-applying to the outside edges of your soap will also increase your chances of the layers separating from each other.
As for one last tip when it comes to creating mica lines (This is my very own personal one, so most certainly optional!), I've personally found that I’ve had zero issues with layers separating if I spray the mica with a generous spritzing of 91% rubbing alcohol after I’ve dusted it atop my soap. Essentially, this causes the layer of soap beneath the mica line to become coated with it, rather than just having dry powder sitting on top of it. Since spraying my mica lines with rubbing alcohol, I haven’t had any incidences of my layers separating, and as an added bonus, it actually makes my mica lines appear bolder, bigger, and brighter within my bars of soap when cut. It also seems to hinder unintentional drag marks when cutting my soaps, and the mica lines themselves don’t transfer to fingers when touched, the way dry mica lines can sometimes do. I’m a huge fan of spraying my mica lines with rubbing alcohol, but this is just my own personal preference and a friendly suggestion. Any which way you choose to create mica lines within your soaps is perfectly A-Okay!
WASH, RINSE, REPEAT!
The first tilted layer of this project went down without a fuss, so it was time to get that second layer poured! As mentioned earlier, working with “Blue Agave” fragrance oil for this project was great! My first layer poured ever so smoothly, then once in the mold, set up fast! By the time I was finished creating my mica line, it was ready for that second layer! For this step, I simply propped my mold up on the opposite side, then repeated what I’d done for the first layer. For this second layer, I again brought my soap batter to just past emulsion, incorporated “Midnight Blue” mica by hand, hand-stirred some more “Blue Agave” fragrance oil in as well, then poured the entire portion into my mold. To follow up, another dusting of “Maya Gold” mica created my second mica line, which I then sprayed with some more 91% rubbing alcohol. There’s something about a deep, royal blue and gold combo that just gets me every time!
For the third layer, again, I grabbed my trusty book, used it to prop my mold up in the opposite direction of the previous layer, then proceeded to get my next “mini soap batch” colored, scented and poured. “Siren’s Song” mica was the color of choice for this next layer, as it’s a breathtaking shade of opulent teal-blue! As richly pigmented as the ocean is deep, this is yet another outstanding mica that looks positively stunning in cold process soap; and equally so with a shimmery-golden mica line dusted on top!
Last, but certainly not least, was the fourth layer! For this last layer, no more mold-propping was required. At this point, my soap was full of colorful angles, and this specific layer would create that last finishing touch; getting my mold filled to the very top and ready for some billowy, white soap frosting! As with any soap project though, adding soap frosting to the top of your soapy creation at home is always optional, and not at all required to create a fantastic batch of soap! The awesomely sharp, clean angles of this soap design, paired with those delicately-golden mica lines, is a work of art, in and of itself!
With my mold lying flat this time, I repeated what I’d done with the previous three layers. I carefully added my lye solution to my last portion of batch oils, blended this to just past emulsion, incorporated one of my all-time favorite blue micas (“Blue Vibrance” mica), then stirred in the last portion of “Blue Agave” fragrance oil. One last time, I poured this layer over the others, then completed this blissfully blue portion of the project with a final dusting of “Maya Gold” mica, and a final spritzing of rubbing alcohol. My main batch was now complete, so it was time to blend up some soap frosting! If you’d prefer to omit the piped-top of this project, a mica drizzle with “Maya Gold” mica, mixed with a bit of light carrier oil would look gorgeous! Using a swirling tool to create blue and gold swirls on top of your soap would look positively enchanted!
SHAMROCKS & SUCCULENTS!
To make the soap frosting for this portion of the project, I used the very same recipe that I used for my main batch of soap, just with a few adjustments. I wanted my piped-top to be a bright, white color, and I already knew “Blue Agave” fragrance oil just wouldn’t work in a batch of soap frosting. I decided that this piped-top would remain unscented, but that hasn’t stopped the bars from being fabulously fragrant! “Blue Agave” fragrance oil smells so delightfully fresh, warm and exotic in application, and to my nose, the soaps have only increased in aromatic potency and dimension with cure!
Using the always-dependable “Winter White” mica, and an ATECO #826 open-star piping tip, I piped the top of my soap loaf, and accented its snowy-white color with a healthy dusting of “Shamrock Gold” Enviroglitter. I know I've gushed about this biodegradable, eco-friendly glitter before, but some things just bear repeating! This gorgeous golden-green glitter rocks my world, and I've yet to use it in a crafty project where I don’t audibly exclaim how pretty it is! I can’t keep my mouth shut with this stuff! With the ethereal aroma of “Blue Agave” fragrance oil and the gilded theme of this batch, “Shamrock Gold” Enviroglitter couldn’t have been any more perfect for adding an extra dash of shimmery whimsy!
Once I felt my soap frosting had been properly covered in a glistening blanket of “Shamrock Gold” Enviroglitter, I carefully placed my melt & pour succulent embeds on top and called it a day! The actual soapmaking process had gone so smoothly and perfectly from start to finish, I couldn’t have been more pleased! The acceleration of “Blue Agave” fragrance oil wasn’t unmanageable by any means, and was actually so very advantageous in quickly and easily creating this project’s design! It was time to get this batch insulated for the night, then wait and see what results the next morning would bring!
The next morning, cutting my batch of soap made with the divine scent of “Blue Agave” fragrance oil proved to be a moment of sheer bliss and happiness all rolled into one! Admittedly, I’ve been itching to write a proper review for this fragrance oil on Nurture Soap’s website (You know me and reviews!), but I've been impatiently waiting to submit this blog post first! Although I found the acceleration of this fragrance oil to be very manageable, and think it would work great for many other soapmaking designs, it worked exceptionally well for this soapy design too! I was able to get my layers poured with ease; its acceleration facilitated being able to pour each layer at a beautifully fluid trace, but also set up quickly once poured; and I was able to complete this soap batch without breaking my stride! The layers themselves came out crisp and sharp, and those mica lines brought a gorgeous glimmer of gilded gold to the look of the bars! As for the cherry on top, despite “Blue Agave” fragrance oil’s light brown discoloration, the beautiful micas used in this batch have remained vibrant and true! This truly was the most perfect fragrance oil for this project! And to think of how many times I would’ve passed this incredible fragrance oil by, if not for breaking out of my comfort zone!
As crafters and artists of anything really, it can be all too easy to stay within one’s level of comfort. And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, think of a world without Starry Nights; where Pablo Picasso stayed within his realist-style comfort zone; or one where Marvin Gaye was just another football player for the Detroit Lions in 1970 (There’d certainly be less people in the world... “Let’s Get it On” wasn’t recorded until 1973!). When we stay within those artistic lines of convenience, refusing to change lanes for anything remotely different or challenging, sometimes we can get stuck behind that metaphorical semi-truck on the highway, completely missing out on the view ahead. Now, don’t get wrong, I absolutely love working with fragrances that behave like beautiful-smelling angels in cold process soap (And always will!); but in the past, when I was that soap maker who would keep scrolling anytime I saw the words “accelerates” or “discolors” in a review, only going for those fragrances which I felt most comfortable working with; I was inadvertently limiting my own artistic possibilities and opportunities. At the same time, I was also missing out on some truly exceptional fragrance oils! From one soapy artist to another: Don’t fear or avoid the challenges... Embrace them! You just might be surprised when they embrace you back!
RECIPE USED FOR THIS PROJECT (*DON’T FORGET TO DIVIDE INTO FOURTHS!):
- Lye @ 5% Superfat
- Aloe Juice @ 33.33% Lye Concentration (2:1/Liquid: Lye)
- 40% Olive Oil
- 30% Coconut Oil
- 10% Castor Oil
- 10% Cocoa Butter
- 10% Shea Butter
- Blue Agave Fragrance Oil @ 6% Usage Rate
- Sodium Lactate @ 3% Usage Rate
- 1.5tsp/PPO Kaolin Clay (Added Directly to Fragrance Oil)
- Mica Colors @ 1.5tsps/PPO: High Society Mica, Siren’s Song Mica, Midnight Blue Mica, Blue Vibrance Mica
- Maya Gold Mica for Mica Lines
SOAP FROSTING RECIPE USED FOR THIS PROJECT:
- Lye @ 5% Superfat
- Distilled Water @ 33.33% Lye Concentration (2:1/Water: Lye)
- 40% Olive Oil
- 30% Coconut Oil
- 10% Castor Oil
- 10% Cocoa Butter
- 10% Shea Butter
- Winter White Mica @ 2tsps/PPO
- Small Melt & Pour Succulent Embeds in High Society Mica & Siren’s Song Mica
- Medium Melt & Pour Succulent Embeds in Maya Gold Mica
- Shamrock Gold Enviroglitter