Saturday, 10 August 2013

Mantra Swirl in a Slab Mold

One of my favourite things about making soap is trying new swirling techniques and designs. I enjoy the creative process and how lovely the finished product can look. An impressive swirl that I have read a lot about recently is the Mantra Swirl, which was part of Amy's recent Soap Challenge Club at Great Cakes Soapworks. I missed this challenge, but the results are so beautiful and inspiring.

Though this swirl is typically done in a log-style mold, I decided to try it in my slab mold to avoid "modifying" the swirl (where a hanger swirl is done first to create definition within the soap). I also thought that it would be quite the challenge because I planned on having 6 different lines of soap in the slab mold.

I scented this soap with cappuccino fragrance oil. It smells quite realistic out of the bottle, capturing the aromas of both roasted coffee and creamy milk. I kept the colour scheme to a simple brown and white, with a line of cappuccino mica dispersed in oil down the centre.

I prepared the oils and lye water the night before to help keep things cool. This gave me a lot of time to work with the soap, which I definitely needed. The cardboard dividers that I used weren't ideal as there was some leakage, but they mostly kept the soap separated.

Overall, I'm happy with the design, though I will do a thinner mica/oil line if attempt this design again. I'm less satisfied with the fragrance, as the sharp coffee scent has pretty much disappeared after 48 hours, leaving an undefined and unremarkable sweet sort of smell. After doing a bit more research on coffee fragrances, I understand that this is fairly normal. What a shame as I love coffee! But I bet that this fragrance would be lovely in a body butter with unrefined cocoa butter. 

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Pumpkin Pie in August

Because soap takes about 4-8 weeks to fully cure, I have to work ahead of the seasons in order to have seasonally-appropriate soaps ready on time. That leads me to my newest soap, Pumpkin Pie, that I've made with my husband in mind. He loves pumpkin pie so much that he requests it every year for his birthday in October instead of cake. So when I decided to start working with fragrance oils, I knew that I would have to try a pumpkin pie fragrance. And though I know that it will be comforting to use this soap in September and October when the days get cooler and rainier, it feels a little odd in the heat of summer to be working with a fragrance that contains top notes of clove, nutmeg, and ginger, middle notes of orange and lemon zest and a rich bottom of vanilla, butter, coumarin, pumpkin, and cinnamon.

Acrylic soap mold with a silicone base liner and dividers; Pumpkin Pie fragrance oil
For this soap, I used my new acrylic slab mold. I was planning on layering a small amount of white soap on top of orange soap with a sprinkling of cinnamon to make it look a bit like pumpkin pie with whipped cream, but my husband suggested going for a more deconstructed look. The design is a simple chopstick swirl of orange, brown and white soap batter. 
Messy lines of soap batter; the result of a simple chopstick swirl; the finished product ready to set
In my soaps, I usually include lots of conditioning oils, tussah silk and some sort of milk. I love the lather and silky feeling that this combination of ingredients produces. This soap contains a high proportion of olive, avocado and sunflower oils, a lesser amount of coconut and palm oils, and unrefined cocoa butter, along with the silk and buttermilk. The orange colour comes from olive oil infused with annatto seeds (and a touch of orange oxide, just in case), and the white and brown from titanium dioxide and cappuccino mica, respectively. 

Oils with a natural orange hue due to annatto seeds
Because I used buttermilk in the soap, I popped the mold into the fridge to set. I find that keeping milk soaps cool and (hopefully) preventing them from gelling creates a nicer looking soap in the end. After 24 hours, the soap was firm, so I put it in a 170F oven for 10 minutes as per the instructions that came with the mold; apparently this procedure helps to release the soap from the mold, and so far it has worked for me. Once cooled, I slid a butter knife under the silicone liner to release the first bar, after which the dividers were easily removed.

Lifting soap out of mold with a butter knife; dividers removed; excess soap trimmings
Because I like the soap to have a really crisp appearance, I trimmed tiny bits of excess soap from the bars, but this isn't strictly necessary. 

Finished soap ready to cure
I really love the resulting design, both back and front. The smell is also fantastic: lots of spices upfront, with a nice base of pumpkin, vanilla and butter that round out the scent and enforce the "pie" aspect of the fragrance. I have enough fragrance left to make another batch, and I likely will before autumn is over. 

Monday, 5 August 2013

New Beginnings

For the past year, I have used a couple of 2 lb wooden log molds that I purchased on Etsy. They have to be lined with parchment paper (which I hate), but are a really good size for small batches and have removable ends and slats for cutting 1 inch bars (which I love). These molds have served me well and have produced bars of which I'm really proud.

Triple Clay Rosemary & Orange Essential Oils
Citrus Essential Oils
Eucalyptus & Mint Essential Oils
However, I had been thinking a lot about upgrading to a new mold (slab mold? silicone liner? acrylic?). I hadn't decided exactly what kind of mold I wanted when I received a gorgeous 15 bar acrylic slab mold with dividers for my birthday from Soap Making Resource. It's relatively easy to use, clean up is a breeze, and no lining! But given that I have come from using log molds, it's a bit of an adjustment to use a slab mold. I really can't do the same swirling techniques anymore as the design shows from above, not from the side. The mold is also a lot larger than I'm used to (it holds up to 5 lbs). So for the next little while, there will be lots of experimentation as I figure out what I can and can't do with this beauty.

Another interesting development has been venturing into the world of fragrance oils. Up until recently, I have always used essential oils for my fragrance needs. There are a few reasons for this. First, I like the therapeutic value that essential oils bring; I find that there's nothing like a bar of real lavender soap in the shower. Second, I've been reluctant to use fragrance oils because I have had medical issues with "artificial" scents. Many perfumes, body sprays and lotions give me epic migraines and I have been hesitant to risk exposing myself to full-strength fragrance oils that might do the same thing or worse. Third, I didn't want my soaps to smell fake.

Despite all of this, I was feeling a little boxed in by my usual selection of essential oils, so I recently made a purchase of four different fragrance oils: mango madness, evergreen, cappuccino and pumpkin pie. And I have to say, I've been pleasantly surprised. They don't smell fake, I have not experienced any migraines so far, and the variety is astounding. I will still use essential oils for various bars (lavender mint is a favourite), but I'm excited to delve further into the fragrance world.

Evergreen and Mango Madness
Stay tuned!