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Beautiful Earth: Making Cold Process Clay Soap

February 02, 2020 12 min read

MY ODD (BUT AWESOME!) CHILDHOOD!

As I was narrating this introduction in my head, I realized I was about to get really personal here! That’s okay though... We’re soap makers, which in a way, makes us one, big, happy family! Let’s see... How do I begin? Well, for starters, I am, as some would say, “a hippy at heart”.  I love this amazing planet of ours, and I’ve never felt more in the company of “my own kind” than when I’m alone, in nature. I love the sounds of it, the smells of it, the wondrous sights of it, the feel of its cool breezes brushing past me, the sensation of raindrops on my skin, or the way the sun feels when it warms my face. In fact, at this very moment, I’m sitting outside with my laptop, fully appreciating the beautiful serenade of the birds!

This love of nature, and our earth, was instilled in me as a child. My family was in no way the “typical” kind, but then again, is anybody’s really? My mother was a devout Latter Day Saint (as I believe they prefer to be called now, in place of the more familiar, “Mormon”), and my father was a practicing Buddhist. When I tell people this, they usually look at me with confusion on their faces and ask if that “messed me up” in any way. I just laugh and say, “No, quite the opposite, really!”. You see, my mother’s beliefs were heavily focused on preparedness. Latter Day Saints are some of the most prepared individuals I’ve ever met, and because of this, I had the amazing opportunity to grow up having many skills instilled in me! Instead of buying clothes, my mother sewed them herself. Instead of buying our fruits and vegetables, my mother tended fruit trees and grew a garden. Instead of purchasing canned goods, as a family, we’d collectively make jams and jellies with the fruits that grew nearby (we harvested prickly pears from the prickly pear cactus each year!), and took what remained of the garden’s harvest and canned it ourselves. Heck, we even knew how to churn our own butter!

My mother was the practical side of nature, instilling in me a love for all the amazing bounties it provided, and teaching me how to utilize them. My father, on the other hand, was the spiritual side of nature. Instilling in me a reverence and awareness of it through quiet observation. It’s going to sound cliché, but he was the one who taught me my “oneness” with it all. As a child, be awoken by the sound of my father chanting in prayer and meditation with the rising of the sun was just another beautiful morning in our house! Did this confuse me in any way while growing up? Absolutely not! I actually feel like I got the best of both worlds! As an adult, I don’t walk the straight lines my parents did, rather, I swerve in between them, being a practical and resourceful woman who also carries a deep love and respect for the immense beauties and wonders of nature! So, what does all this have to do with soapmaking you ask? Well, I’m so glad you did, because it has everything to do with this specific soap project!

When I first began my soapmaking journey, natural colorants were all I used. It’s absolutely amazing to me to see the ranges and hues of color nature can impart to one’s soaps! Naturally, I eventually developed quite the obsession with mica colorants as well, but there will always be a part of me that adores the colors of the earth too! For this project, I decided to go back to my “soapy roots” and get my hands on Nurture Soap’s gorgeous Brazilian Clay Set. The soap maker I was back then though, isn’t the soap maker I am today (I’ve grown and evolved!), so I also decided a touch of the old, along with a touch of the new, would be perfect for the design I had in mind! Come along with me, and let’s make some stunning, earth-colored clay soap together!

NATURE SMELLS AMAZING!

My scent preferences (emphasis on the plural!) are extremely broad! There actually aren’t very many “scent categories” that I actively dislike at all! Off the top of my head, I’m not the biggest fan of tropical-type aromas, but even then, I’ve found a few I’ve liked! For the most part though, pretty much anything and everything gets a big thumbs-up from me (yes, even patchouli!). If I'm being completely honest though, the scents which “speak to me” the most are those which are earthy, herbal, green and/or woodsy in character. That’s precisely why I decided, without a shred of hesitation, that Nurture Soap’s “New Beginnings” fragrance oil would make for the perfect aroma to accentuate this earthy project! Although, I MUST say that Nurture’s “Cottongrass” fragrance oil would also be an outstanding choice for a soapy theme, such as this! Holy moly, that fragrance hits me right in the “feels”!

“New Beginnings” fragrance oil though, WOW did that take me to my happy place from the very first sniff! Exactly as described in its product description is what this fragrance smells like! Fresh, delicate green notes are uplifted by delightful hints of citrus undertones... Not the type of citrus that’s boisterously energetic though; more like a whisper of soothing citrus that gives you a mad case of “Mona Lisa smile”! Green vetiver greets you at the heart of this aroma, with a warm subtlety of centering woodsy accords completing this lovely aromatic affair- like a tender embrace from Mother Nature herself! It truly IS spring’s essence, captured in a bottle, and is the type of scent even those who normally shy away from earthy or woodsy aromas would enjoy, as it’s not TOO MUCH of anything! Rather, it all comes together to make one beautiful, outdoorsy menagerie of scent both women and men would equally love!

Because of the exquisite aromatic adventure of spring, sprung to life (otherwise known as “New Beginnings” fragrance oil!), and the rich, bountiful colors of the earth (I’m talking about YOU, Brazilian Clay Set!), I wanted to incorporate some of my usual decorative embeds in this soapy design too, just not in my usual way! Instead of melt & pour embeds, this project needed to feature even MORE goodies from Mother Nature! Purchased locally, from a small (but mighty!) business, I found precisely what this project needed for that extra “pop” of botanical embellishment! A dainty yellow accent of dried chamomile flowers (which reminds me so much of Nurture’s “Mimosa Yellow” mica!), paired with whole, dried rosehip and juniper berries, would be just what this project needed to celebrate the beauties of nature!

GOING ON A VA-CLAY-TION!

I happily went about the task of getting my lye solution made, and my batch oils weighed out, melted and combined. Normally, for a batch of this size, using Nurture Soap’s 2.5lb Basic Soap Mold, I plan my recipe to consist of 32oz of batch oils. For this specific project though, I had a little sumthin’ extra planned, where I wanted to pipe an accent of green vines and leaves on top of my loaf. I didn’t need very much extra soap batter at all to do this though, so instead of making a separate batch just for soap frosting, I decided I’d just increase my usual batch size a little, and then reserve some of that extra soap batter to use for this purpose. Instead of my normal 32oz batch size, I increased it to consist of 36oz of batch oils, with the intention of pouring off and reserving a touch over 4 ounces of soap batter to make a bit of soap frosting with. the additional liquid needed to make a 36oz batch of soap would result in a little more than 4oz of extra soap batter, but I decided it would be better to have a little leftover soap frosting as opposed to not enough. Besides, any leftover soap frosting can always be piped into a cavity mold to make wonderful guest or travel-size soaps!

While I waited for my lye solution and batch oils to cool down to around room temperature, I got started on dispersing the lovely Brazilian Clay Set in a bit of carrier oil. Nurture Soap’s Brazilian Clay Set has really got you covered, especially if you’ve always been interested in making clay soaps, or just want to experiment with clays as natural colorants in your recipes! Included in the set is Red Brazilian Clay, Pink Brazilian Clay, Black Brazilian Clay, Gold Brazilian Clay and Purple Brazilian Clay, so there’s many to choose from! In this sudsy creation, I decided to use ALL of them, as well as some White Kaolin Clay to add a natural white shade to the design as well (which would be a pretty drop swirl!). The clays aren’t quite as vibrant in their dry state, but I tell ya... The moment you disperse them in a bit of carrier oil, their natural tones will burst with earthy vibrancy! A great usage rate for clays in one’s soapy projects is one to two teaspoons per pound of oils, and in this particular batch, I used two teaspoons of each clay per pound of oils.

A HEAVENLY (AND EARTHY) POUR!

It was time to make soap, and I was so excited to see those beautiful clays in action! Blending my soap batter to emulsion, I stopped there to pour off a small portion of the batter that I would reserve and come back to later, to make my soap frosting with. To be honest, I eyeballed this to be a touch over 4oz, but I really should have weighed it (sorry about that!)! That way I could’ve told you exactly how much to pour off and reserve if you wanted to try this recipe at home, but I ended up having the perfect amount for my main batch (like, an eerily spot-on amount!), and as anticipated, had more than enough soap frosting to make my leafy design with too!

As I set my reserved soap batter aside, I continued on by blending my soap batter a little bit more... Just until I reached a light trace. Clays can sometimes cause one’s recipe to move a tad faster, so blending to a light trace was the perfect stopping point to get my soap batter divided, and those beautiful clays incorporated into each of my six portions. As I stirred the clays into their respective portions of soap, I became enamored by how richly pigmented and unique each one was, and as I subsequently incorporated “New Beginnings” fragrance oil as well, I was officially in my own version of heaven!

As if I wasn’t already having a personal moment of Zen with this blissfully bubbly creation, the actual process of pouring the batch itself was an absolute dream! “New Beginnings” fragrance oil doesn’t just smell fantastic, it behaves that way in cold process too! My earthy-clay colors mingled and swirled in mesmerizing waves of various shades within my loaf mold (perfectly fluid swirls!), and the fragrance oil didn’t even show the slightest glimpse of acceleration! It was a perfect pour, from start to finish, and when I was all done pouring, I grabbed my trusty bamboo skewer and made a pretty design on top!

GETTING THE MOST OUT OF THOSE AMAZING COLORS!

Once my batch was poured, it was time to go back to that small portion of soap batter I had set aside and make a bit of soap frosting! By this time, it had already set up to a great point where I could get it separated, colored, and blended up the rest of the way to the perfect piping consistency! Dividing it equally, I used the aptly named “New Leaf” mica to color one portion, and the nature-inspired “Celadon Green” mica to color the other. I poured one green down the left side of my piping bag, and the other down the right, so that both greens would eventually meet and mingle in the middle when I piped the soap frosting from the bag.

To make leaves using a leaf piping tip, simply turn the tip so that it looks like an open bird beak; apply steady pressure when first squeezing the soap frosting out, then gradually reduce pressure as you go, pulling up to make the point of the leaf. I promise It’s really simple and fun, and once you’ve practiced a few times, you’ll be a natural at it! If you hold the leaf piping tip on its side and squeeze (so that it looks like a “V”), you’ll get a line from it, which is exactly how I created the “vine” for this project! Don’t worry if your leaves or vines aren’t perfectly symmetrical... That’s the beauty of nature! Mother Nature doesn’t follow the rules of symmetry when it comes to her magnificent decorating skills!

After finishing up my frosty leaves, I carefully placed each botanical embed on top of my soap loaf, then stood back for a moment to admire my re-creation of nature... I don’t possess the same awe-inspiring artistic abilities that nature itself has (nature “out-arts” us all!), but I did my very best, and was feeling proud! The next step would usually entail insulating the batch with a towel-draped cardboard box overnight, but this wasn’t the usual “high-top” batch I make either! Because this batch didn’t feature any melt & pour embeds, which would certainly melt, THIS was a batch I could CPOP!

“CPOP” stands for “Cold Process, Oven Process”, and is a method used to promote gel phase in one’s soap batches. The added benefit of this, besides producing a batch of soap that feels harder, and oftentimes unmolds sooner, is that colors within one’s soap batches will usually appear brighter and bolder than in un-gelled soaps. Natural clays in particular REALLY benefit from CPOP in that you’ll get the deepest, most pigmented results from them if you promote gel phase. This batch didn’t have to tell me twice... It was going in the oven!

There’s a couple different ways soap makers go about CPOP, and neither way (or method) is wrong. As long as you end up with a batch of gelled soap that you love and are proud of, well then, you did it right, regardless of HOW you did it! One popular method is to heat your oven to 170°F (that’s usually as low as the standard oven will go), place your batch of soap in the oven for one hour, turn the heat off after one hour, then allow the batch to continue to stay warm in the ambient heat of the oven until it cools down naturally. The other popular method (although there are several other methods out there which all work equally well!) is to preheat your oven to 170°F. Once your oven reaches this temperature, turn it off, and then place your batch of soap in the oven, allowing it to heat up and gel in this ambient heat, until it cools down on its own. Because I didn’t want to inadvertently bake the dried botanicals I had decoratively placed on top of my soap, I chose the latter method, but as you can see, it worked great! By the next morning, my soapy leaves looked as bright and fresh as real, newly-sprouted spring leaves!

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD!

To be honest, I almost didn’t want to cut this batch at all (why can’t I just scrub down with a 2.5lb bar of soap?), but I was dying to see what those clays looked like on the inside; to see the magnificent colors nature provides us in application! I wasn’t disappointed in the LEAST, and in fact, I was downright WOWED! These clays came out gorgeous in cold process soap; a real tribute to the colors of the earth itself!

As I think back to my childhood, taking moments of quiet reflection to internally thank my parents for all the quirky, yet wonderful, ways in which they instilled in me a deep love, passion and respect for this earth and the beauties of nature, I’m most grateful for the fact that even though I grew up to be my own, independent individual, I STILL look at the magnificence of nature with those very same eyes, and that very same childlike sense of wonder and awe! It’s one of the many reasons why I thoroughly savored each and every moment of this soapy project too! To be able to have the ability and artistic outlet to share my love for this amazing world of ours with others... Well, it doesn’t get much better than that! And so, my insanely talented, fellow soap makers, as you inspire others with your own incredible artistry and talent, my wish for you is that you always do so, beginning with those things which inspire YOU first... Inspiration is wonderfully contagious after all!


MAKE THIS RECIPE:

*If choosing to make soap frosting for the vine and leaf embellishments, remember to increase the recipe’s total oil weight by 3 or 4 ounces, reserving this to make your soap frosting.

Lye @ 5% Superfat

Distilled Water or Aloe Juice @ 33.33% Lye Concentration (2:1)

35% Olive Oil

30% Coconut Oil

15% Shea Butter

10% Deodorized Cocoa Butter

10% Castor Oil

Sodium Lactate @ 3% Usage Rate

New Beginnings Fragrance Oil @ 6% Usage Rate

Brazilian Clay Set (Red Brazilian Clay, Black Brazilian Clay, Gold Brazilian Clay, Pink Brazilian Clay, Purple Brazilian Clay) @ 2TSP/PPO

White Kaolin Clay @ 2TSP/PPO


OPTIONAL EMBELLISHMENTS:

Reserved Soap Batter for Soap Frosting

Celadon Green Mica @ 1TSP/PPO

New Leaf Mica @ 1TSP/PPO

Leaf Piping Tip

Dried, Organic Chamomile Flowers

Dried, Organic Rosehip Berries

Dried, Organic Juniper Berries