Guest post by Amber Beltran of A Squirrel & A Scholar Soap Co.
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CHOICES, CHOICES, CHOICES!
Without having a “Bubba Gump moment” and naming off each and every design technique available to soap makers, I’ll just say that when it comes to taking your handmade soaps to amazing levels of artistry, the possibilities are virtually endless! Not only are there a plethora of designs to choose from, but most techniques have multiple variations too. Take layers for example; even within such a seemingly straight-forward design, you’ve got straight layers, tilted/slanted layers, uneven layers, interrupted layers, layers with mica lines, etc., etc. (And don’t even get me started on in-the-pot swirling!). With so many options and variations to choose from, how does one decide? Sometimes, the answer to that very question can be downright difficult to come by!
Imagine yourself in this situation: You’re preparing to make a batch of soap, and you’ve chosen the fragrance oil you want to include in it. Now, this fragrance oil isn’t just any fragrance oil, it just so happens to be your personal slice of aromatic heaven! No matter how many times you’ve smelled it, it always makes you feel happy, and each time you work with it, it whisks you away on an aromatic journey. Somehow, it seems to take you back to a treasured memory, or an unforgettable moment in time. Maybe it’s simply a mood or feeling you get, or the mental image of a blissful, imaginary place. Whatever it is, there’s just something about this fragrance oil that makes you never grow tired of it. What’s more, this beloved fragrance oil of yours behaves like a champ in cold process soap! It doesn’t cause much, if any, mischief in your recipes, and doesn’t discolor your skin-safe colorants either. It performs beautifully in application, and remains wonderfully fragrant in your cured soaps for the long haul. Naturally, a fragrance oil with so many accolades deserves to be made into an extra special batch of soap!
That’s exactly how I feel about the fragrance oil we’ll be using in this soapy project! As soon as my hand wrapped around the bottle, my mind began reeling with ideas of what to do with it. Granted, I’ve made multiple batches of soap with this sensational fragrance oil before, but this time, I wanted to do something extra special with it! I sat down, mulled over the many design options running through my head, then turned my thoughts to how this fragrance oil makes me feel. It wasn’t until I did that when suddenly, the inspiration came rushing in! The fragrance oil we’ll be incorporating into this project is Nurture Soap’s phenomenal “Sambucus” fragrance oil; which I would say is in my “top 10 list” of most-favorite fragrance oils ever, except that when I actually sat down to choose my most favorite Nurture Soap fragrance oils, I was physically incapable of limiting myself to only 10- true story! Let me tell you why I love this fragrance oil so much, and how it inspired the soap project we’ll be making for this week’s project...
Carrying aromatic notes of elderberry, huckleberry, apricot, peach nectar, violet and sandalwood, “Sambucus” fragrance oil is far from the typical fruity/floral fragrance you may expect! In fact, when I smell it, both out of the bottle and in application, I personally don’t detect much dominating fruit notes, rather, a gorgeous floral aroma that is botanically fresh, delicately green, and delightfully clean in character! It’s completely unique from anything I’ve smelled before, and when I close my eyes and think of the places it takes me to within my mind’s eye, I’m reminded of the graceful femininity of the Geisha. I’m not sure why or how, but when I smell “Sambucus” fragrance oil, it takes me back to being an entranced spectator, filled with adoration and awe as three beautiful Geisha tell a captivating story through song and dance. Their movements glide and flow as fluidly as water, like the soft current of a river; and even though I can’t understand the lyrics of the song being sung, its heart-filling emotion is easily understood, and even more so felt. I need no interpreter to explain it to me, I can feel it clearly.
The feeling behind this cherished memory comes to the forefront of my mind each time I smell “Sambucus” fragrance oil, and it’s precisely why I wanted to make a batch of soap dedicated to it, as well as to the striking beauty and eloquence of the Geisha! Focusing on the mental picture I’d stored within the library of my mind, and recalling the colors I could clearly see within that memory, I thought about what kind of soap design would best represent the way this moment made me feel. Ultimately, I decided that no single design or technique truly covered the full experience for me, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t incorporate multiple design techniques within the very same batch!
I’d be delighted if you’d join me in the making of “Geisha Handmade Soap”! For this sudsy project, we’ll be using the exquisite “Sambucus” fragrance oil, some truly stunning mica colors, and creating two different designs (Below a soap-frosted piped top!) to pay tribute to an unforgettable memory! Feel free to recreate this soap design in your own soap making adventures, or simply use it as inspirational fuel to customize a beautiful work of soapy art any which way you’d like!
A DIVIDED DESIGN
If you’d like to include the soap frosting portion of this project (See my recently simplified, most favorite soap frosting recipe below!), or would simply like to embellish your soap batch with some decorative embeds (With or without the optional soap frosting.), the first order of business will be to get embeds made using Nurture Soap’s Low Sweat Clear Soap Base. I wanted to capture the precise colors I could clearly see within my memory of this one, special moment, and to do that, I’d need to start with a special color-blend. A very specific shade of red stood out in my mind, equally as striking as it was vibrant and bold! Although just an accent color, it stood out to me as being the one which grabbed my attention most; a deep, coral-like shade with more red tones than orange, but definitely fitting within the coral color-range.
To create such a statement-making, eye-catching shade, I turned to Nurture Soap’s exclusive Epic Color Collection! By mixing 2-parts “Material Girl” mica/pigment with 1-part “Eye of The Tiger” mica/pigment, I was able to recreate that exact color! Using Life of The Party brand molds, I made pretty melt & pour flower embeds with this color-blend, then made more of these same flowers in “Proud Peacock” mica too. In the center of the coral-red flowers, I dry-painted a bit of “Atomic Orange” mica on top, and in the center of the teal-blue flowers, I did the same with a touch of “Lollipop” mica. Leaf embeds in both “Proud Peacock” and “High Society” micas helped bring into reality the beautiful tones and shades within my recollection, and created a familiarly captivating “explosion” of colors!
The next step was to prepare for the designs of the soap batch itself. With a bit of careful planning, I ended up deciding that I wanted 40% of my total batch of soap to feature a hanger-swirl design. 20% of my total batch would be a straight layer, going through the middle of the soap like an obi or silken sash. The remaining 40% of my total batch would be another straight layer, which would create a “canvas”, of sorts, for fan-shaped melt & pour embeds I’d make later to embellish the front of each soap bar with. Dividing up one’s total soap batch in this way is simple and easy! As an example, let’s say your total batch of soap consists of 32 ounces of batch oils. 20% of 32 is 6.4, and 40% of 32 is 12.8. This means that you’ll want to make one “mini-batch” of soap consisting of 6.4 ounces of batch oils, and two additional “mini-batches” of soap consisting of 12.8 ounces of batch oils to equal the total amount of 32 ounces (6.4oz + 12.8oz + 12.8oz = 32oz).
When it comes to splitting up your total soap batch into portions, I’ve personally found it easier to just treat each one as if it were its own separate batch of soap. By dividing up the full batch in this way, and making a separate lye solution for each smaller “batch” of soap, I’m able to work at my own relaxed pace. There’s no need to hurry or rush along, and it eliminates the worry of subsequent sections thickening up too quickly while waiting for the section you’ve just poured to set up. For this specific project, that meant making four lye solutions, and four corresponding batches of base oils; three for my main batch of soap (divided at 40%, 20%, 40%, as described above), and one for my soap frosting.
It’s also important to note that you’ll want to split “Sambucus” fragrance oil into pre-weighed portions as well, so that you can add the fragrance oil to each portion of soap batter as you get to it, as well as do so using the proper amount for that portion. Dividing up the fragrance oil is just as simple as dividing up the batch oils. Let’s go back to our example-batch from above. Say you’d like to incorporate your fragrance oil at 1 ounce per pound of oils (or “PPO”) within your 32oz batch of soap (just a hair over a 6% usage rate). 32 ounces is the same as 2 pounds, which would equate to 2 ounces of fragrance oil needed in total. Again, we’ll split this amount by 40%, 20% and 40%. 40% of 2 is 0.8, and 20% of 2 is 0.4. This means you’ll want to split your fragrance oil into one portion weighing 0.4oz, and two additional portions weighing 0.8oz each. (0.4oz + 0.8oz + 0.8oz = 2oz).
While waiting for my lye solutions and batch oils to cool down to around 85-90 degrees Fahrenheit, I continued getting the soapy party underway by dispersing my chosen mica colorants in a bit of “borrowed” batch oils. For the first 40% portion (which would be the hanger-swirl design), I chose the same stunning coral-red blend of 2-parts “Material Girl” mica/pigment to 1-part “Eye of The Tiger” mica/pigment, as well as one of my all-time-favorite micas, “High Society”! These amazing colors would be swirled with the always classic “Winter White” mica. For the 20% straight-layer portion, “Proud Peacock” mica would make this part of the project stand out beautifully, and for the remaining 40% portion, more “Winter White” mica would create a pristine backdrop for my final embellishments!
TIME TO BUILD-A-BATCH!
Because we’ve divided our total batch oils, lye solution and fragrance oil into easy-to-manage portions, or “mini-batches”, pouring this design is a piece of cake, and you’ll be able to do so at your own comfortable and leisure pace! Beginning with what would be the hanger-swirl portion (40% of the total batch), I brought the soap batter to a nice, workable, light trace, then divided the portion into three smaller ones, making sure I gave myself a little more soap batter for the portion I’d color with “Winter White” mica. Once the mica colors and “Sambucus” fragrance oil had been fully incorporated into each divided portion of soap batter, it was time to begin pouring the first design!
“Sambucus” fragrance oil behaves so ridiculously well in cold process soap, you can really take your time pouring the hanger-swirl portion of this project! I’ve always been a firm believer that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to pour a hanger-swirl design, but for this specific project, I began by pouring each color down opposite sides of the mold in a tiger-swirl design. Using the soap batter colored with “Winter White” mica, I alternated pouring colors within these two, divided tiger-swirls, and also kept them separated as I went along by pouring more “Winter White”-colored soap batter down the center of the mold too.
Next up: The hanger-swirl itself! I began by skimming my hanger tool just across the surface of the soap batter until I got to the very center of the mold. From there, I brought the tool down in three descending, clockwise loops until I could feel the hanger tool touch the bottom of the mold. To finish up, I simply dragged the tool across the bottom of the mold until I reached the side nearest me, then lifted it straight up and out. With the first 40% of the main batch completed, I couldn’t resist making some pretty swirls on top with a bamboo skewer, purely for the sheer enjoyment of it!
The next step of the project was to make a straight layer using 20% of the total batch. This would create the look of a colorful band going through the center of the soap! The best part about splitting up the entire soap batch into smaller soap batches is that while I was preparing the next portion to be poured, the previous one was allowed time to set up and be ready for it! Because I wanted this second portion to be as smooth and straight as possible, I kept the soap batter very fluid, only blending to emulsion before incorporating “Proud Peacock” mica and more “Sambucus” fragrance oil. By this time, the first hanger-swirl portion of soap had set up to a point where it wasn’t going to be disturbed by having a layer of soap gently poured over top of it, so I was able to get the second portion of the project quickly and easily poured! As this lovely teal-blue layer began to set up as well, I used that time to get the final 40% portion prepared.
The last and final portion of the main soap batch would also be a straight layer, and for this, I chose “Winter White” mica to create a striking contrast of color from the previous layer poured. Again, I brought my soap batter to just past emulsion, incorporated the pre-dispersed mica and pre-weighed fragrance oil into it, then gently poured it into the mold, over the previous layer. It looked so smooth and creamy, and the whole design itself came together so peacefully and effortlessly, thanks to the exceptional behavior of “Sambucus” fragrance oil and the divided “mini soap batches”, which allowed me all the time in the world to work at a carefree pace!
Of course, a batch of soap dedicated to the beauty, brilliance and grace of the Geisha just wouldn’t be complete without some additional adornments, so to finish up this project, I had it in my heart of hearts that I wanted to create a big, shimmery, piped-top with soap frosting. Soap frosting is always an optional embellishment though, so please feel free to decorate your own batch of “Geisha Handmade Soap” any which way you’d prefer! The artistry and idea behind this soap project is wonderfully adaptable and completely interpretive! It’s not at all dependent on doing things a specific way, or precisely “by-the-book" in order to achieve an extraordinary work of soapy art; your unique mind and talent are all that’s required!
As I continued according to my own plan, I added a teaspoonful of “High Society” mica to my soap frosting batch oils and was immediately reminded (Again!) of why I love this mica so, so much! I couldn’t resist snapping a quick photo of “High Society” mica slowly dispersing itself into the batch oils, and in the same process, creating its own form of art in motion! Is it green, or teal? Emerald or gold? The answer: Yes, to all! It’s one of the most multifaceted and versatile micas I’ve come across, and an absolute staple in my collection!
When I finished piping the top of the soap batch with an ATECO #172 piping tip and soap frosting colored in the always glorious “High Society” mica, I carefully placed each decorative melt & pour embed on top, then gave the whole thing a super-sparkly dusting of “Gold Dust” Enviroglitter! For what I was hoping to achieve, it was looking perfect and smelling incredible! With that, it was time to put the batch to bed for the night, beneath a towel-covered cardboard box for insulation.
INSEPARABLE BONDS & ARTISTIC TRANSLATION!
The following day, my batch of “Geisha Handmade Soap” was ready to be cut, as well as have the very last and final embellishments added to each bar of soap! Whenever I attach melt & pour embeds to the face of cold process soap bars, I always wait until I’ve just recently cut my cold process batch to make them. The reason for this is because freshly-made melt & pour embeds, in my experience, have always adhered and bonded more strongly to freshly-cut cold process soap. Excess or extra liquid within both types of soap is the culprit, but it’s an awesome culprit, causing the bond between the soaps to grow ever stronger as the cold process soap bars cure. When attached correctly and within the right timeframe, the adherence and bond between your cold process bars and the melt & pour soap embellishments will be inseparable by cure’s end!
I got busy creating my last decorative embellishments; little fan embeds, made with Nurture Soap’s Low Sweat Clear Soap base and “Nocturnal” mica. For a shimmery touch of glamorous detail, “Shimmer Gold” mica was dry-painted onto the very edges and base of each miniature fan, which was just enough to make the embeds stand out and catch the eye with intricate aesthetic!
When I look at the results of this soap project, each aspect of it brings back a cherished memory, and holds a degree of artistic significance to me; from its splendid scent and vivid colors, to the design itself! Hopefully those wonderful significances are easy to see from an outside perspective too. For example, when I see the striking colors of this project and smell its sensational aroma, it’s easy for me to recall the feelings I had, but also easy to remember the sights I saw too... The colors of the makeup worn, and the stunningly intricate wardrobe of the Geisha are all represented within this batch of soap. When I look at the flowing design of the hanger-swirl, I can see just how fluidly and gracefully the Geisha told a compelling story through dance all over again. When I look at the band of color going through the center of each bar, I can see the obi (sash) tied around each cascading kimono, and even the sparkling embeds remind me of the kanzashi (barrettes) they wore in their hair.
That’s actually Reason: #181 of why I love soap making so much! It’s totally doable to grab a favorite memory from the catalogs in your mind and either recreate it, or pay tribute to it through the artistry of soap making, and your own unique talent! Of course, not everyone will be able to see it the way you do, but that’s the beauty of art... It’s completely up to interpretation, and might mean something entirely different, yet no less special, to someone else! Just as a dancer, who’s artistic expression is subject to being interpreted differently by those who watch in adoration, so too is your own unique artistry; not just by fellow soap makers, but by everyone who gets to use and enjoy your amazing handmade creations too! Make soap and express yourself, my fellow crafting companions!
Split this up into three smaller soap batches as described above. Two batches consisting of 40% of your total batch oil weight, and one batch consisting of 20% of your total batch oil weight.
- Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) @ 5% Superfat
- Distilled Water @ 33% Lye Concentration (2:1/Water: Lye)
- 30% Refined Olive Oil
- 30% Coconut Oil
- 30% RSPO Palm Oil
- 10% Castor Oil
- 6% to 1oz/PPO “Sambucus” Fragrance Oil
- 3% Sodium Lactate (*Optional. Added to cooled lye solution.)
- ½ - 1TBS/PPO White Kaolin Clay (*Optional. Added directly to fragrance oil.)
- 1tsp/PPO “Material Girl” + “Eye of The Tiger” Mica/Pigment Blend @ 2:1 (*For first 40% portion.)
- 1tsp/PPO “High Society” Mica (*For first 40% portion.)
- 2tsp/PPO “Winter White” Mica (*For first 40% portion.)
- 1tsp/PPO “Proud Peacock” Mica (*For 20% portion.)
- 2tsp/PPO “Winter White” Mica (*For second 40% portion.)
- Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) @ 5% Superfat
- Distilled Water @ 33% Lye Concentration (2:1/Water: Lye)
- 35% Refined Olive Oil
- 30% RSPO Palm Shortening (AKA: “No-Stir Palm”)
- 25% Coconut Oil
- 10% Castor Oil
- 1tsp/PPO “High Society” Mica
- “Gold Dust” Enviroglitter (*Dusted on top.)
ATECO #172 “Drop-Flower” Piping Tip
Low Sweat Clear Soap Base + Life of The Party Brand Molds:
- Flower Embeds in “Material Girl” + “Eye of The Tiger” Mica/Pigment Blend @ 2:1 (*Centers dry- painted with “Atomic Orange” mica.)
- Flower Embeds in “Proud Peacock” Mica (*Centers dry-painted with “Lollipop” mica.)
- Leaf Embeds in “Proud Peacock” Mica
- Leaf Embeds in “High Society” Mica
- Decorative Fan Embeds in “Nocturnal” Mica (*Edges dry-painted with “Shimmer Gold” mica. Embeds attached to front of soap bars as described above.)