Guest post by Amber Beltran of A Squirrel & A Scholar Soap Co.
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CHIT CHAT & SOAPING “SECRETS”
I wish there was a coffee house (Or tea house, for those who prefer tea over coffee!) that was big enough to hold us all. That way we could get together, sip our warmed beverages of choice and chit chat about our soap making adventures with each other! We’d discuss, and laugh about, our biggest soap making disasters (Since everyone has at least one, and the passage of time usually transforms these experiences from heartbreaking to epically funny!), and share our best soap making tips and secrets! I’d share my own with the excitement of a high school student about to relay a tidbit of juicy gossip, and my introduction would go something like this: “You guys aren’t gonna believe this, but you have to try it... Somehow it totally works!”. Of course, I’d be physically incapable of just coming out with it though, and there’d be a backstory that went along with it before I finally got to the point, but it’d be worth it; at least in my mind! That backstory would go something like this...
When I first began making cold process soap with the intention of selling my soapy concoctions, I was obsessed with additives and alternative liquids, and made soap with literally every kind of tea and additive I could get my hands on; from Yerba Mate (pronounced: “mah-tay”) to the everyday Earl Grey. Name a tea, and there’s a huge possibility I’ve made soap with it (P.S. Chai tea is so stinky in a lye solution!). Naturally, as I made these soaps, I always made a point to set a bar aside for myself for the purpose of testing it on my skin fist, before offering it to others. Now, keep in mind that everything about the actual soap recipe itself was the same from batch to batch. I used the same batch oils at the same percentages each time, and my superfat always remained the same as well. The only difference among these batches was the inclusion of different aromas, additives and/or the type of tea used, in leu of distilled water.
Something curiously odd kept happening though! I’d be lathering up with the different varieties of soaps I made, and all were delightful, but some were especially more delightful than others. I began to notice that even though the recipe itself was the same from bar to bar, some bars of soap lathered up noticeably easier and faster than others, and the lather itself was more copious and abundant. What’s more, these bars of soap seemed to feel quite a bit more conditioning on my skin as well. I didn’t understand it! You’d think with the exact same recipe each soap variety would have the exact same properties; but yet, I couldn’t deny that some were noticeably different from others. It was time to investigate!
The good news was that I was a self-proclaimed “note-taking nerd” (And still am!), so I kept notes on each and every batch of soap I made. I made a list of those soap varieties which had noticeably different properties and began poring over my notes in an effort to find a common denominator between them. What I discovered fascinated me! Each variety of soap which somehow lathered easier, more abundantly, and felt more conditioning on my skin did, in fact, have one thing in common! Despite the recipe being identical from one batch to the other (With the exception of each variety being made with a different type of tea and/or additive), one common ingredient found in the different tea varieties was present within all the batches which somehow performed better. That ingredient was ginger!
My scientific brain, and my need to know why, had me scouring the internet, looking for some solid proof and an explanation as to how and why ginger imparted these properties to my soaps. At that point in time, I didn’t find a thing. All I knew was that ginger was the commonality these soap varieties shared with each other, and that these varieties all exhibited the same wonderful properties, which were unlike the properties of other soap varieties which didn’t include ginger. It was time to test my theory! I went to my local market and picked up a tea containing nothing but ginger root (AKA: Rhizome; the root of a flowering plant), as well as a twisted cut of fresh ginger root. It was time for an experiment! I made two different batches of soap. In one batch, I steeped the ginger root tea in heated distilled water, then used the tea as my recipe’s full liquid amount. For the second batch, I peeled, sliced and dried the fresh ginger root, then placed these pieces in heated distilled water, making a strong tea once more.
At the end of cure, my suspicions were confirmed! From what I could tell, both methods worked equally as effective, producing bars of soap which lathered-up big and copiously with surprising ease, and felt wonderfully conditioning on my skin! I felt like I had stumbled upon a soap making goldmine, and began using ginger root tea as my recipe’s liquid in the majority of my soap batches. Soon after, I discovered another soap making additive which was much more popularly known, and produced awesome results in soap as well: Sugar! With the inclusion of both ginger root and sugar in my soap batches, I saw a dramatic increase in my soap’s lathering and conditioning properties, and this combination became my “soap making secret”; something I swore I’d keep to myself, only sharing the results with three of my closest soap making friends.
That was before I came to the deep realization that there is no such thing as “competition” among my soap making peers, and keeping “secrets” all to myself not only benefitted no one, but was just downright silly! I mean, with how vast the soap making community is, it’s highly unlikely my deep, dark, protected “secret” was actually a secret at all, and had it not been for other soap makers generously sharing what they knew with me, I wouldn’t be the soap maker I am today. It seemed a bit hypocritical of me to graciously accept tips and tricks from my fellow soap making companions and not pay that immense kindness forward. Also, I’m a firm believer that no two crafters are exactly the same! I know it sounds cliché and a bit “cringy” too (As my son would say!), but we really are soap making snowflakes! Give two different crafters the exact same recipe from start to finish, and I guarantee the result will be two very unique batches of soap! Why is this? Well, it all goes back to the very thing I’ve been preaching all along... Soap making isn’t just a craft or hobby, it’s also an art, and no two artists are exactly the same!
It’s a beautiful thing, and in the spirit of unique artistry, I happily share with you my two most favorite, once secretive, soap making additives! Of course, I had to choose an extra special project we could incorporate these ingredients into, so I’d be honored if you’d join me in making a batch of “Unruly Patchouli” handmade soap! What’s that you say? You don’t care for patchouli? No worries, I thought of that ahead of time! Once you smell the fragrance oil we’ll be using in this week’s soapy project, if you didn’t care for patchouli previously, I really think this will change your mind! If you already adore patchouli, in all its magnificent versatility, you’ll fall head-over-heels for this fragrance oil, if you haven’t already!
GOING BACK TO YOUR (GINGER) ROOTS!
This recipe has a little bit of pre-preparation, but the good news is that you can prepare a lot of it in advance so that it’s ready and waiting for you for future soap batches too! The very first step is to make a strong-brewed, sweet ginger tea in distilled water. You can use fresh ginger root if you’d like, or cut a few corners, like I do, and just use pre-bagged ginger tea. I really like the brand of tea pictured above since its only ingredient is organic ginger rhizome, but any tea where ginger root is one of the first/main ingredients will work great too! You’ll also want to have some sugar on-hand, and if it’s important to you that your soap recipes be vegan-friendly, you’ll want to use raw cane sugar. White sugar is made white due to the inclusion of bone char, and as the name implies, bone char is derived from animal bones. If you prefer to keep soap recipes vegan, you’ll want to stick with raw cane sugar instead.
To a large pot on your stovetop, add your distilled water. Be mindful to count how many 8oz cups of water you’ve added to your pot. For every 8oz cup of distilled water, we’ll incorporate ½ tablespoon of sugar and two tea bags. For example, in the picture below, I’ve added five 8oz cups of distilled water to my pot. To this, I’ve added 2 ½ tablespoons of sugar and 10 bags of tea. As your distilled water warms, add the sugar first so that it begins to dissolve. Once the water is hot, you can add the ginger tea. Be sure to remove any paper tabs attached to the tea bag’s string first, so that you don’t end up with bits of paper floating around in your tea. Remove the pot from the heat source and allow the tea to steep for at least 10 minutes.
Once your sweetened ginger tea has steeped for 10 minutes or more, you can remove the tea bags, squeezing the excess liquid from each bag as you do so. It’s not uncommon for a bag or two to bust open during this step, but that’s no problem, since the next step is to strain the tea as you transfer it to a container. The gallon container the water came in is a great place to store your finished tea! Once strained, the very last step is to chill the tea, since you’ll want it nice and cold for making your lye solution. Your tea isn’t harmful for drinking, of course, but you’ll want to label it accordingly so that it doesn’t get consumed! In my case, it’s extremely apparent my sense of humor hasn’t evolved much past middle school, but at least my middle schooler son appreciates it! Luckily, my kiddos are at that age where they know better than to touch any unidentified liquid, so I can get away with playing little jokes on them!
TRULY UNRULY COLORS!
You know me and my obsession with soap frosting, so of course I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to make this batch of “Unruly Patchouli” soap with a fluffy piped-top! However, this is always, always, always optional, so if you’re not familiar with making soap frosting (The recipe is provided below if you’d like to give it a try though!), or just prefer not to, you can skip this next step entirely if you wish... You’re still going to end up with an awesome batch of handmade soap no matter what! If you would like to include a piped-top with this project, embeds are the next order of business; but even then, embeds are completely optional, and entirely at your discretion! This is the part where I should probably make the “big reveal” too, and share which fragrance oil we’ll be using!
The fragrance oil for this week’s project is none other than Nurture Soap’s phenomenally outstanding “Anarchy” fragrance oil; otherwise known as my personal version of patchouli paradise! This scent simply has to be every patchouli-hater's exception, and every patchouli-lover's dream; it is so ridiculously good! A duplication fragrance of the utterly iconic “Lord of Misrule” scent, made popular worldwide by Lush, “Anarchy” fragrance oil is positively sensational! Perfectly sweetened and gorgeously rich in cozy character, “Anarchy” is an absolutely addictive aroma with opulent auras of smooth patchouli, warmed by perfectly-placed notes of cracked black pepper, and delectably defined by an exquisite base of subtly sweet, creamy vanilla! I’ve yet to meet a person who didn’t like (or completely love!) this scent!
To play off our royal theme of misruling lords, anarchists and unruly patchouli, I chose to compliment this project with crown, cameo and shield embeds. All embeds were made with Nurture Soap’s Low Sweat, Clear Soap Base in Life of The Party brand molds, inexpensively purchased online from a bakery supplies store called Sweet Treat Supply. For the little shield embeds, I chose the dark, smoldering shade of Nurture Soap’s “Black Pearl” mica, and for the crown embeds, a deeper shade of yellow, similar to the way Nurture Soap’s “Mimosa Yellow” mica looks in cold process soap, seemed ideal! In cold process application, the magnificent “Mimosa Yellow” mica takes on a lovely marigold-type color, while in melt & pour soap base, it’s a stunning shade of yellow-gold. To add a little more yellow than gold to these specific embeds, I mixed a color-blend I aptly call “Marigold Yellow”. This is one of those blends where I mostly “eyeball” it until I get it exactly where I want it, so Nurture Soap’s .15cc Mini Scoops are especially helpful for doing just that! To achieve this shade, I combined 8 Mini Scoops of “Yellow Vibrance” mica with 1 generous Mini Scoop of “Orange Vibrance” and “Copper Penny” micas each.
For the cameo embeds, I envisioned a deep, passionate shade of plum-purple. Creating another color-blend, I was able to get this shade just right by mixing 2 parts “Purple Vibrance” mica with 1-part “Ruby Red” mica. These two exquisite micas came together beautifully to create a color-blend I decided to call “Plum Potion”!
With our embeds complete, it’s time to move on to the main batch of our soapy project! When I smell Nurture Soap’s “Anarchy” fragrance oil, I’m immediately reminded of Halloween, and I’m certain it’s because that’s about when the original “Lord of Misrule” scent is debuted in stores. This creepy-cozy association always gets me happily envisioning Halloween, chilly autumn weather and spooky skylines whenever I smell it! Halloween just so happens to be my all-time favorite holiday, so it’s a feeling I absolutely relish, and love conveying in soap batches! Spooky, autumnal colors, here I come!
The design of the project itself features five gorgeous colors in total, and together, they remind me of a crisp, eerie, autumn sunset! “Anarchy” fragrance oil behaves so exceptionally well in cold process soap, working with five colors is a breeze, and mild discoloration is easily masked by these super-pigmented shades. It’s especially helpful that “Anarchy” fragrance oil goes against its namesake and remains so well-behaved because the success of the pour-technique we’ll be doing for this project depends on the soap batter remaining very fluid, from start to finish. Let’s get going on our sudsy adventure by creating these sensational colors!
Of course, no spine-chilling design is complete without Nurture Soap’s black-as-a-moonless-night “Nocturnal” mica, and our four remaining colors are fabulous blends I’m sure you’re going to love! Our first color-blend is a shade I featured in last week’s blog, and is a super-dark, almost-black shade of purple I named “Aubergine” (Which means “eggplant”). “Aubergine” mica-blend can be created by mixing “Fantasia”, “Purple Vibrance” and “Black Pearl” micas at equal parts.
Our next color-blend is the same stunning plum color that we used for the cameo embeds, “Plum Potion”. We’ll create more of it for the main batch by, once again, mixing 2 parts “Purple Vibrance” mica with 1-part “Ruby Red” mica. Color-blend #3 is a color I call “Sunbaked Sedona”, since its earthy-reddish hue reminds me of the captivating red rocks of Sedona Arizona! You can make this color by blending 3 parts “Fire Cider” mica with 2 parts “Red Vibrance” mica and 1-part “Copper Penny” mica. Our fourth color-blend, and fifth color of the project, is a blend I’ve named “Indian Summer”. Its eye-catching amber-yellow color reminds me of hillsides in Connecticut on a sun-warmed autumn day, when everything appears to have been set ablaze by the splendor of fall foliage! You can create this inviting shade by mixing 2 parts “Mimosa Yellow” mica with 1-part “Orange Vibrance” mica.
When it comes putting everything together to create a sublime batch of handmade soap with a ginger tea and sugar lye solution, there’s a couple things to keep in mind... The first thing is that anything with added sugar has the potential of heating up, since lye loves scorching sugar, and temperatures during saponification can increase as well. To prevent any possible overheating, I always begin making my batches when my lye solution has cooled down to around room temperature. I’ve never had any issues with overheating using room temperature lye solutions (And I almost always insulate these batches since I simply love gelled soaps!), so I highly recommend soaping cool whenever sugar is involved.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the ginger tea/sugar lye solution will slightly darken your batch oils, and may even turn a bit orange-ish when first incorporated, which again, is a sugar thing. If you’ve ever made soap with coconut milk before, then you know just how orange that turns your batch oils! The good news though is that just like coconut milk, this color-change is temporary. It won’t affect your mica colors, and won’t affect your finished batch of soap either... Your batch will turn out as beautiful and vividly colored as you make it!
Don’t be fooled by the design of this soap; it only looks complicated when the bars are cut. In reality, it’s just as easy to make as is it fun! I’m sure there’s an actual name for the design we’ll be doing for this project, but for the life of me, I have no idea what that is! The process is simple though... As mentioned earlier, the success of this design depends on your soap batter remaining nice and fluid, so you really only want to blend your soap batter until just passed emulsion, or a very light trace. Once we’ve reached emulsion, we can stir in the divine fragrance oil, split the batter into five equal portions, then color each portion with our five colors. From here, grab an empty pouring bowl, and going down the side of the bowl (Slightly off to the side of the pour spout; see picture below.), gently pour each portion of soap into the bowl. Start with “Nocturnal” mica, then continue with “Aubergine”, “Plum Potion”, “Sunbaked Sedona” and “Indian Summer”, in that order. For this in-the-pot swirl, we won’t swirl the colors ourselves, we’ll let the actual motion of the pour swirl the colors for us!
Next, we’ll take our mold and prop it up on one side. At the lowest angle of the tilted mold, gently begin pouring the soap batter down the side of the mold. Move down the length of the mold in one sweeping motion, using the side of the mold to break the fall of the soap batter. When you’ve reached the end of the mold, simply continue pouring the batter down that same side; only this time, pour the soap batter in the opposite direction, going back to where you began pouring. Repeat this back-and-forth pouring motion, down the length of the mold, until you can’t possibly fit any more soap batter in the mold while it’s tilted.
Once filled as much as it possibly can be, proceed by laying the mold flat and repeating this back-and-forth motion of pour. Keep pouring on the same side as when the mold was tilted, and in the very same back-and-forth sweeping motion. Keep pouring until all the soap batter has been poured into the mold and the mold is completely full. That’s all there is to it! Alternatively, this same technique looks stunning when the mold is alternately tilted to each side during pour, but even just keeping the mold tilted to the one side, as shown here, produces a gorgeously unique design!
Should you choose to add soap frosting to the top of your batch, the very last step in creating a truly unruly batch of “Unruly Patchouli” soap is to whip up some superbly creamy soap frosting, colored in Nurture Soap’s “Velvet Pearl” mica. I used a Wilton #6B round piping tip to pipe the top of my own batch, but feel free to use any piping tip you prefer best! For the final finishing touches, a light dusting of “Black Onyx” Enviroglitter accentuates and compliments the theme of this soapy design perfectly! Our melt & pour embeds, highlighted with a super-sheer dusting of more “Black Onyx” Enviroglitter, makes this project picture-perfect, while one of Nurture Soap’s handy-dandy Glitter Spray Pumps makes the task easy, fun, way less “messy”, and oh-so pretty! On a personal note, I’m impossibly infatuated with “Black Onyx” Enviroglitter! Sprayed lightly on top of cold process soap, or soap frosting, the result is an alluring, shimmery shade of sparkling charcoal-gray. Heavier application produces a striking silver-black accent, similar in hue to Nurture Soap’s dazzling “Black Pearl” mica! If you’re a lover of Nurture Soap’s stellar environmentally-friendly, biodegradable glitters, “Black Onyx” Enviroglitter is an absolute staple!
NO-SECRETS SOAP MAKING!
This creative outlet was just one example of how to make (and easily incorporate) a sugary tea for your favorite soap recipes, so you might be able to benefit from the wonderful properties ginger root and raw cane sugar bring to handmade soap too! However, these two fantastic ingredients can be used and enjoyed in so many different ways! For example, you could choose to dissolve your sugar and steep your ginger in warmed aloe juice, instead of distilled water, if you wish (One my personal favorite ways to make it!), or even split it with other alternative liquids! You could make a lye solution consisting of half sweetened ginger tea, and half beer, for example! Or how about a lye solution of half sweetened tea and half coconut milk; or even half ginger tea and coffee? The sky is truly the limit! While I know exactly how and why sugar and sugar alcohols help to increase lather and conditioning properties within soap, I still don’t know how or why ginger helps to improve these properties, and yes, that drives me positively batty! The only thing I know for sure is that it does work... Somehow! I’d never share with you, my soapy companions, anything I didn’t fully believe in myself, or anything which I felt wouldn’t help you to achieve excellent results in your own soap batches, so I do hope you give my ginger root tea/sugar lye solution a try!
Going back to that coffee house I wish we could all meet up at... I can just see it now! We’d all be sitting across from each other, sipping on warm beverages; confiding our soap making successes and experiences with one another, as well as sharing some lighthearted laughs over the epic disasters too! If a scenario like this was possible, by the time I got to the part of my story where I admitted my intention to keep “soap making secrets” all to myself, I really hope you’d laugh hysterically! The laughter would come from knowing I’m a complete open-book, and that “soap making secrets” are just plain comical! After all, we’re companions, not competitors! How could we be when each and every batch of soap we make is just as unique as we are? Share your soapy secrets, and I guarantee others will do the same in return! We’ve all had those pivotal, “ah-ha!” moments when we’ve grown tremendously in both knowledge and skill, simply because a fellow crafter wasn’t afraid to share their wisdom and experience with us. Pay honor to that incredible crafter (Or crafters!) by paying the knowledge forward... We all benefit more together!
- *The main recipe featured here is excellent for executing this project’s design, as its slower-moving formulation allows for plenty of time to work at a nice, carefree pace! It’s the perfect recipe for beginner and advanced soap makers alike, and is the very same recipe as Nurture Soap’s Soap Making Oil Blend!
- Lye @ 5% Superfat
- Liquid @ 33% Lye Concentration, or 2:1/Liquid: Lye (*Liquid is ginger tea and raw cane sugar. Please see directions above.)
- 40% Olive Oil
- 25% RSPO Palm Oil
- 25% Coconut Oil
- 5% Castor Oil
- 5% Sweet Almond Oil
- 6% “Anarchy” Fragrance Oil
- 3% Sodium Lactate (*Optional. Added to cooled lye solution.)
- 1/2TBS/PPO White Kaolin Clay (*Optional. Mixed directly into fragrance oil.)
- 1tsp/PPO “Nocturnal” Mica
1tsp/PPO Of the Following Mica-Blends:
- “Aubergine” - Equal Parts “Fantasia”, “Purple Vibrance” & “Black Pearl” Micas
- “Plum Potion” - 2 Parts “Purple Vibrance” Mica, 1-Part “Ruby Red” Mica
- “Sunbaked Sedona” - 3 Parts “Fire Cider” Mica, 2 Parts “Red Vibrance” Mica, 1-Part “Copper Penny” Mica
- “Indian Summer” - 2 Parts “Mimosa Yellow” Mica, 1-Part “Orange Vibrance” Mica
- Lye @ 5% Superfat
- Distilled Water @ 33% Lye Concentration, 2:1/Water: Lye
- 35% Olive Oil
- 28% RSPO Palm Shortening (AKA: No-Stir Palm)
- 27% Coconut Oil
- 10% Castor Oil
- 2tsp/PPO “Velvet Pearl” Mica
- Melt & Pour Shield Embeds in “Black Pearl” Mica
- Melt & Pour Cameo Embeds in “Plum Potion” Mica-Blend (2 Parts “Purple Vibrance” Mica, 1-Part “Ruby Red” Mica)
- Melt & Pour Crown Embeds in “Marigold Yellow” Mica-Blend (8 Parts “Yellow Vibrance” Mica, 1-Part “Orange Vibrance” Mica, 1-Part “Copper Penny” Mica)
- “Black Onyx” Enviroglitter
- Wilton #6B Round Piping Tip
OUTSTANDING NURTURE SOAP PRODUCTS USED TO MAKE THIS SOAP!
*Get all the batch oils used to make the main batch of this soap project, conveniently pre-mixed and ready to rock your soapy world, by purchasing Nurture Soap’s Soap Making Oil Blend!