Hello my fellow, wonderful, soapy associates (technically, would that make you “as-soap-iates"?)! If you’ve ever read any of my previous guest blog posts, you’ve probably found it obvious by now that I’m BIG on inspiration. Inspiration is the core foundation of every batch of soap I make... Without it, I’ve got nothing! For me, soapmaking truly IS art (my “canvas” just so happens to be soap is all!), and for every artist, there must be a muse! I don’t think I’d ever be able to make the same exact batch of soap, over and over and over again; that’s just not me. Eventually, I’d feel stagnant, and my joy in artistry would become a mundane task. I never want to feel that way about soapmaking, so every time I conjure up a new idea for a soapy project, I begin by looking for, my “muse” and source of inspiration (most of the time it finds me though!).
This week, however, was a little rough. Life seemed to be particularly busy and more hectic than usual, and try as I might, I just couldn’t find my inspiration. It got to the point where I was only making things worse by forcing myself to feel inspired, when there was no real emotion behind it. I’ve made batches of soap in these types of moods before, and the outcomes never please me... It was time to sit back, clear my mind and just breathe.
My favorite place in the whole wide world to “breathe” and regroup is my own backyard. My backyard just so happens to be a lake, and this lake is positively teeming with life! Muscovy ducks, mallards, swans, cranes of every different size, shape and color, hawks, owls, and the world’s laziest American Bald Eagle all call my backyard “home”! And yes, he’s an extremely lazy eagle... He sits on the grass by the edge of the lake, waits for a fish, or unsuspecting toad, to come up to him, and then makes his move! No impressive aerial maneuvers for this fella... Nope, he’s a “my food will find me” type of guy! Anyway, where was I? Ah yes... Inspiration!
I went outside and sat down in a patio chair, content to curl up with my phone in the hopes of finding my muse in a Google image search. I don’t know what caught my attention exactly, as I was deeply lost in the land of online picture scrolling at the time, but for some reason, I looked up... And there is was! At that very moment, two turtles had climbed their way out of the lake, and were happily sunning themselves in the grass. A third turtle was just joining them, as a few feet over, a crane had come up from a dive with a wriggling fish in its beak. It suddenly hit me just how lucky I was to be able to see things like this on a daily basis, and indeed, I truly lived in a place that was overflowing with life!
Beyond the turtles, snakes, toads, lizards, iguanas, geckos, alligators, deer, birds, squirrels (that ironically land on your head, but that’s another story for another day!), and all the other myriads of wildlife that share a backyard with me, there’s also a plethora of plant life! Red and pink hibiscus, hot pink crepe myrtle blooms, jasmine, and every color of flower you can think of grow like weeds here! Spanish moss sways downward from the branches of giant southern oak trees, while vines and ivy climb up their trunks. My own neighborhood is a magical land! I got up, grabbed my shoes to go for a short walk, and that’s when my inspiration found me! My neighborhood feels like paradise to me... It’s filled with an abundance of all things living and green, and together (us humans and the wildlife) equally share this bountiful place... Except for when the Sandhill Cranes cross the street and back traffic up for a quarter mile! They know they’re making everyone late for work or appointments, and they don’t care; they’re busy strutting!
As I strolled along on my walk, taking pictures of the beautiful wildlife, flowers, trees and plants that flourish right here, in my own neighborhood, I began to get excited about my next soap project! I decided I wanted to call it “The Land of Milk & Honey”, and put as much skin-loving goodies in it as I possibly could! I wanted my soap to be as bountiful as my own surroundings. Buttermilk, colloidal oatmeal, organic honey, aloe juice, tussah silk, kaolin clay... which of these things should I put in my soap recipe? My inspiration answered, “ALL OF THEM!”.
So, come along with me, on this extravagant journey, to a magical land overflowing with endless bounties! And what I mean by that is: Let’s go to my kitchen and make some awesome soap! In the meantime, here’s some pictures I took during my walk of the flowers in my yard and neighborhood, and some funny characters too! I crossed paths with a Sandhill Crane who had taken a major shining to my neighbor’s car. Sandhill Cranes are massive birds, but not aggressive in nature. They’re actually very curious creatures, but this one in particular looked at me as if I had interrupted something special going on between him and that car! Perhaps by sharing these pictures, you’ll find some a little artistic inspiration as well!
Today we’re going to do something completely new... We’re going to make this soap a high-top batch! Okay, Okay, I’m being sarcastic (you know I’m a sucker for soap frosting!), but in all seriousness, please know that if you’d like to try this recipe at home, and you’d prefer not to make it a high-top batch, that’s absolutely NO PROBLEM! No matter which direction your own unique soapmaking style takes you, you are still going to end up with an awesome batch of soap... because YOU made it! So, high-top, low-top, or anything in between, feel free to change things up to whatever suits your soapy preferences! For me, and this particular project, I envisioned a big, fluffy white top, complete with shiny, golden embellishments, but if that’s not what you’re envisioning, that’s A-Okay! Embrace what makes you feel inspired, and then run wild with it!
To get started, the very first thing I did wasn’t make my melt & pour embeds, as I usually do, it was getting the buttermilk ready. When I incorporate buttermilk into my soap recipes, I actually use buttermilk powder, which needs to be reconstituted. Fresh buttermilk works just as well, but to reconstitute buttermilk from powder, I add 1TBS of buttermilk powder per every ½ cup (4 fl.oz.) of distilled water. I blend this with my mini mixer really well, until it’s nice and smooth, then place it in the freezer to get it icy-cold and slushy (you’ll want to do this with fresh buttermilk too). The reason for this is because buttermilk contains natural sugars, and lye loves scorching sugar. This makes for a lye solution that gets ridiculously hot and smells positively awful!
To help reduce just how hot and stinky your lye solution becomes when incorporating buttermilk as an alternative liquid, it’s always best to work with the milk when it’s slushy or frozen. Buttermilk in particular takes on an ammonia-type smell when lye is added, but this odor will be greatly reduced if you begin by using frozen or slushy buttermilk to dissolve your lye into. Also, you may want to prepare an ice bath for your lye solution too, to help cool things down faster. That lye solution is going to get HOT, and you may even catch a hint of that ammonia-type odor, but I promise, the odor won’t transfer to, or affect, the scent of your cured soap at all.
Once my buttermilk was sitting pretty in the freezer, it was time to get started on my decorative embeds, which would adorn the top of my soap frosting. Using Nurture Soaps Low Sweat Clear Soap Base, I made lovely heart embeds, using the breathtaking “Gold Enigma” mica (a white-based mica that shimmers with flecks of gorgeous gold!), adorable beehives in the always stunning “Maya Gold” mica, and cheerful bees in the incredible “Mimosa Yellow” mica! Seriously though, I am IN LOVE with “Mimosa Yellow” mica! If micas were people, “Mimosa Yellow” mica’s middle name would be “Marigold”! Is it yellow? Is it gold? Yes, and yes! It’s BOTH, and it’s amazing!
My buttermilk had chilled to a perfectly ice-cold, slushy state, so it was time to get my lye solutions made (one for my main batch, one for my soap frosting), and get going with this milk and honey-inspired batch of soap! When it comes to using milk as an alternative liquid in your cold process soap recipes, you can choose to substitute your total liquid for the milk, or part of it; it’s completely personal preference. For this batch, I wanted to use both buttermilk and aloe juice in place of distilled water for my lye solution. Doing some quick math, I calculated my recipe’s total liquid weight to consist of 25% ice-cold, slushy buttermilk, and 75% chilled aloe juice.
To add to the spirit of abundance and prosperity that this batch would represent, I also added a pinch of cruelty-free, humanely-harvested tussah silk. For a batch of this size, using Nurture Soap’s 2.5lb Basic Soap Mold, literally a pinch of tussah silk, about the size of your thumbnail, is all you need. To help the silk dissolve faster, I like to pull the fibers apart as much as possible, dropping them into my liquid to get them fully saturated. From there, I add the lye and keep stirring until all the silk fibers have completely dissolved. Adding tussah silk to your cold process recipes will impart a lovely “silky” and conditioning lather to your soaps. If you’d like a vegan alternative, hydrolyzed oat protein is a great option! Coconut milk is a fantastic vegan alternative for the buttermilk in this recipe, and for the honey, you can add agave syrup instead.
As I carefully stirred the lye into my aloe/buttermilk/tussah silk liquid alternative, I was very happy to find that working with the buttermilk while in a slushy state really paid off! I definitely don’t make it a habit of giving my lye solutions a big whiff, and I always work in a well-ventilated area, but I didn’t detect any ammonia-type odor either, and the lye solution itself got up to 187°F at its hottest... YIKES! Can you imagine how much hotter that would’ve become had my buttermilk not been ice-cold? As expected, the lye-scorched natural sugars in the milk turned my lye solution a rather pretty shade of golden-yellow (don’t worry though, this won’t cause your finished soaps to be yellow or orange in color), and as I carefully placed it in an ice bath to cool, I got started on getting my batch oils and skin-loving additives weighed and measured out.
Because this batch was all about creamy milk, golden, sweet honey, and nature’s bounties, naturally, I had to get some actual honey in on the action, as well as some colloidal oatmeal, and sodium lactate too! Honey is a natural humectant, and its natural sugars are a real lather booster! I like to add honey to my cold process recipes at 1tsp per pound of oils (PPO). However, I know other soap makers who enjoy adding honey at up to 1TBS/PPO in their recipes, so exactly how much you’d like to incorporate is entirely up to you! For this recipe, I used my standard rate of 1tsp/PPO
Colloidal oatmeal is wonderfully beneficial and soothing to the skin. It also makes for a delightful natural exfoliant that’s gentle and mild, as it isn’t the least bit harsh or irritating. I like to add colloidal oatmeal to my soap recipes at 1TBS/PPO, but again, you may choose to add less or more as desired. Don’t have any colloidal oatmeal on-hand? Don’t sweat it... It’s easy to make too! Colloidal Oatmeal is just oats that have been ground into a very fine powder. When I make my colloidal oatmeal, I purchase whole, plain oats (not the instant kind!), then use a small, hand-held coffee grinder to finely grind it myself- easy peasy!
Sodium lactate is a salt solution derived from the fermentation of natural sugars found in beets and/or corn. It’s a natural humectant, which also aids in unmolding, as it helps to decrease the amount of time one’s soap batches need to remain in the mold. It’s great for the impatient soap maker (such as myself!), and personally, I like to use it at 3% of my recipe’s total oil weight. While many additives are incorporated directly to soap at emulsion or light trace, sodium lactate is best incorporated by stirring it into your cooled lye solution (no hotter than 120°F), prior to adding your lye solution to your melted batch oils.
Once I had all my wonderful additives measured out and set aside, it was time for one last skin-loving treat: white kaolin clay! Not only is kaolin clay a natural scent fixative, helping your fragrances be more long-lasting and potent in your finished soaps, it’s also a very gentle and mild clay too, and is generally well received by all skin types. It’s great for sensitive skin types, and contains wonderful humectant properties as well! For this project, I added the kaolin clay directly to the fragrance oil at 1TBS/PPO, then used my mini mixer to blend it in, creating a kaolin clay “slurry”.
Speaking of which! We haven’t talked about the fragrance oil yet!! There is no other universe where a fragrance is more fitting for this specific project than Nurture Soap’s “Cream & Honey” fragrance oil! This scent is delicious, and exactly as its name implies, it smells like not-too-sweet vanilla-cream with a delicious drizzle of golden honey! Some might want to throw darts at me for saying this, but I actually think this fragrance is more “milk and honey” than actual “Oatmeal, Milk & Honey” fragrance oil is (Please don’t hate me!). The best thing about this fragrance: In a test batch I made previously, both women and men equally drooled over it! So, of course I couldn’t make a “Land of Milk & Honey” soap without using this fantastic fragrance!
“Cream & Honey” fragrance oil does discolor a little in cold process soap, becoming a golden-tan type shade (perfect for this theme!), so I decided to beat the discoloration to the punch and color my batch of soap using warmer colors. The majority of this batch would be a rich, dreamy, golden-brown, with the help of Nurture Soap’s classically gorgeous “Mocha Brown” mica, and have accents of magnificent “Maya Gold” and “Mimosa Yellow” micas. For a lovely contrast, I chose an accent of “Winter White” mica, which I would leave unscented, to avoid any discoloration to that part of the soap design. The actual design itself would be a beautifully fluid drop-swirl (if the soap gods allowed it!).
Both my lye solution and batch oils had reached room temperature, so it was time to get to soapmaking! Stirring my sodium lactate into my cooled lye solution, then carefully adding my lye solution to my batch oils, I grabbed my stick blender and blended just until my soap batter reached emulsion. From there, I added the colloidal oatmeal, sprinkling it in little-by-little and stirring as I went along, so as to avoid any large clumps (my stick blender would take care of any smaller clumps later).
Once my colloidal oatmeal was incorporated, I continued by adding the honey; stirring it into my soap batter well by hand. Again, those natural sugars and their encounter with sugar-loving lye came into play, and I watched my soap batter slowly turn a lovely, but temporary, shade of orange.
My wonderful additives and alternative liquids were now incorporated into the soap batter, so it was time to stick blend everything to a light trace, then split the batter off into four portions. Once divided, I added my beautiful mica colors to each one, then gave my kaolin clay/fragrance oil blend one last hit with my mini-mixer before incorporating that into each portion of soap too (minus the portion colored with “Winter White” mica). The colors looked luxuriously warm and inviting, and the fragrance oil in application smelled mouthwateringly divine!
I began my pour and couldn’t possibly dream of a better behaving fragrance oil! Incorporating sugars into one’s recipes creates heat, and like a chain reaction, heat can oftentimes cause things to move a bit faster. That wasn’t the case here at all though! No amount of anything was going to make this fragrance oil misbehave, and it was a perfect pour from beginning to end! I finished my pour listening to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the radio, and subsequently getting lost in “swirl land” with a bamboo skewer because of that! This is what happens to the top of soap when “Bohemian Rhapsody” comes on right as you finish a flawless pour and pick up a bamboo skewer!
Like an antsy child, impatiently waiting for a road trip to be over, I busily continued on with the next step of my envisioned soap design... I knew I still had more to come, as I had plans for this batch! First was to get the top piped. Using the same recipe as my main batch, I whipped up some soap frosting, colored it in more “Winter White” mica, and left it unscented, so as to avoid any discoloration. It truly didn’t matter that I left the soap frosting unscented, as I could clearly smell the delectable goodness of “Cream & Honey” fragrance oil wafting up to greet my olfactory senses from the main batch itself! Using an ATECO #886 open-star piping tip, I piped the top of my soap loaf, then added a jaw-dropping sprinkling of “Gold Dust” Enviroglitter. This batch of soap was definitely starting to feel like a magical land of milk and honey to me!
The next step was to get my “bee-u-tiful", honeybee-inspired embeds placed on top, and once finished with that, well... That’s usually the end of it. Not this time though! I still had something more in mind for this soapy creation; something that would really capture its theme of creamy, wholesome buttermilk and sticky-sweet honey!
Without a doubt, this batch needed more honey! I’d added honey to the recipe itself, but a drizzling of golden, amber-colored honey was precisely what this soapy creation needed on top too! Unfortunately, you can’t drizzle real honey on top of soap, but you can make melt & pour “honey” and drizzle that on top! Using my bottle of real honey for inspiration, I grabbed my jars of “Maya Gold” and “Fire Cider” micas, and blending at equal parts in a little bit of Low Sweat Clear Soap Base, I created a shade of “honey” I felt proud of!
With a pipette, I went to town (or maybe to the land of milk and honey itself!) drizzling my melt & pour “honey” down and around my decorative embeds, and on top of the soap frosting itself. It looked awesome, and at that point, I could officially say I was done for the day! Since this batch had plenty natural sugars, which would cause my batch to get nice and toasty-warm during saponification anyway, I decided just a cardboard box, for some light insulation, would do. I lightly covered the soap and wished it bon voyage for the night.
The next day arrived and it was time to unmold and cut my batch of soap! I know, I know... This is usually the part in my oftentimes long-winded blog posts where I share a picture of the cut, then leave all my wonderful fellow crafters with a few parting words. But that’s not this blog post! Nope... For this particular project, I had one more thing in mind! Afterall, this is a soap dedicated to bounty and abundance... If I didn’t go “over the top” with it, I wouldn’t be doing it justice! I grabbed some more Low Sweat Clear Soap Base and made 16 little melt & pour honeybees with a little more “Mimosa Yellow” mica. These little fellas would be attached to the face of the bars themselves!
I’m always on the hunt for the most failproof way of affixing melt & pour soap to the face of cold process soap, so for this part of the project, I grabbed a tiny cup of distilled water (about 2TBS worth) and stirred two small pumps of liquid hand soap into it to create a watery “glue” of sorts. Using a soap trimming tool, I evenly scraped the backside of each melt & pour embed, just enough to expose its “tacky” layer underneath, then coated the backside of the embeds with my water/soap mixture, using a soft-bristle paintbrush. To the area where I’d be placing the embed to my cold process soap bar, I also applied a small dab of soapy, distilled water.
From there, I placed each bee embed onto my bars of soap (which were lying flat), laid a soft paper towel over the embed, then used the palm of my hand to apply firm and steady pressure for about 15 to 20 seconds. Once the embeds were in place, I cleaned their edges up with a cotton swab. For me, I’ve found it’s best to attach freshly made melt and pour embeds to the face of just-cut cold process soap, as it’s the excess liquid in both that eventually evaporates and forms a bond between the two different types of soap. It’s also important not to touch, or fiddle with, the attached embeds for at least 24 hours, as they need time to dry and become firmly attached to the face of the cold process soap bar.
In no time, my “Land of Milk & Honey” soaps were finally complete (well, except for that four to six week curing period now!), and I have to say, I was very pleased with the results! The design and colors remind me of rich, golden, sticky-sweet honey, drizzling and dripping down the surface of my soaps, and the scent of “Cream & Honey” fragrance oil turned out being spot-on perfect for the cozy-delicious theme of the project!
Well, my incredible soapy friends, metaphorically speaking, I know I’ve talked your ears off many times before about inspiration, but only because it’s so important! There’s a quote I’ve always loved by W. Clement Stone where he said, “Definitiveness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement.”. It’s a short quote, but one that’s always held deep value for me. I’ve noticed that when I have a clear vision in my mind’s eye of exactly what I want to achieve, things always seem to have a way of falling into place much more effortlessly. When I go into a project (any project, not just soapmaking) with a muddled mind and unclear intentions, my end results are always more difficult to come by, and leave me feeling dissatisfied.
Internally, when it came to finding my inspiration for this project, I kept asking myself, “Am I there yet? Am I there yet now? Is this the inspiration I’ve been looking for?”. The fact I had to question it confirmed to me I hadn’t found it. Yet, through all my forced efforts to do so, all it took to be truly inspired was to look up! It was right in front of me the whole time; in my own backyard! And with that, my fellow amazing soap artists, I’ll simply conclude by saying: If you ever feel stuck and frustrated with finding your own source of inspiration, take a moment to quietly sit, clear your mind and regroup. Then take another moment to look up! You never know when your inspiration will find you, because it was right there the whole time, just waiting to be noticed! Happy soapmaking my fabulously crafty comrades!
MAKE THIS RECIPE:
Lye @ 5% Superfat
Liquid @ 33.33% Lye Concentration (2:1/Liquid: Lye)
*75% of Total Liquid is Aloe Juice (Chilled)
*25% of Total Liquid is Buttermilk (Frozen or Slushy. *For a Vegan Alternative, Use Coconut Milk)
40% Olive Oil
30% Coconut Oil
10% Castor Oil
10% Cocoa Butter
10% Shea Butter
Tussah Silk – A Pinch, Added to Aloe Juice/Buttermilk Liquid Blend (*For a Vegan Alternative, Use Hydrolyzed Oat Protein)
Colloidal Oatmeal – 1TBS/PPO, Added at Emulsion
Honey – 1tsp/PPO, Added at Emulsion (*For a Vegan Alternative, Use Agave Syrup)
Kaolin Clay – 1TBS/PPO, Added Directly to Fragrance Oil
Sodium Lactate @ 3% Usage Rate
Nurture Soap’s “Cream & Honey” Fragrance Oil @ 6% Usage Rate
Micas @ 1tsp/PPO: “Maya Gold”, “Mimosa Yellow”, “Mocha Brown” & “Winter White”
OPTIONAL SOAP FROSTING RECIPE:
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
Mica @ 1tsp/PPO: “Winter White”
OPTIONAL EMBELLISHMENTS & SUPPLIES:
2.5LB Basic Soap Mold
Low Sweat Soap Base (Clear)
Large and Small Bee Embeds in “Mimosa Yellow” Mica
Heart Embeds in “Gold Enigma Mica”
Beehive Embeds in “Maya Gold Mica”
Glitter Spray Pump
“Gold Dust” Enviroglitter
Equal Parts: “Maya Gold” and “Fire Cider” Micas, Blended, for “Honey” Drizzle
ATECO #886 Open-Star Piping Tip