Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Pencil Line

My pencil-line Eucalyptus Clove soap
If you are a soap connoisseur (and I am assuming that you are), then you may have seen or made a "pencil line" in a bar of soap.

I was new to all of this pencil line stuff until recently. I had seen it done, but had never tried it myself. What is a "pencil line"? See the thin brown line between the two layers of my soap? That's a pencil line. Such lines are made by dusting a layer of mica, cocoa powder, poppy seeds, ground spices, ground coffee, charcoal powder, etc., in between soap pours. When the bars are cut, the line runs through the width of the soap, looking like it was drawn with a pencil.

One of my mom's favorite soaps is scented with a blend of eucalyptus and clove essential oils. When my folks came to visit last month, I gave her the last of my Eucalyptus Clove soap. Knowing how much she likes it, I made some more since I was plumb out. I figured it would also be a good time to try out the pencil line.

Because this was my first time playing with this technique, I kept things simple and did not color my soap or try to do anything too artsy so I could focus just on the pencil line. I thought about using ground cloves for my line, but decided against it, worried that it might be too scratchy or possibly a skin irritant. So I used some Cappuccino mica instead.

I made my batch of soap as usual and brought it to a medium-thick trace. I poured about half of the soap into my mold and then scooped a bit of mica into a tea infuser. (Any small sieve will also work.) To make the pencil line, I gently tapped the side of the infuser while moving it over the soap, creating a thin layer of mica. (Take care not to make too thick of a layer - the soap can separate if too much mica or powder is used. You just want to barely cover the surface of the soap.)

Dusting soap layer with mica (l); soap with a thin layer of mica (r)
After tapping out a layer of mica, the sides of my mold were sullied. I wiped the inside of my liner with a paper towel to clean it up. Otherwise, I would have ended up with splotches of mica all over the outside of my soap when I poured the next layer.

Wiping mold clean
(You probably noticed that I'm not wearing my safety gloves in the photos above. I confess that I did take my gloves off to tap out the mica line and to wipe my mold clean - I needed precision for those parts of the task, and my gloves give me big clumsy oaf hands. After I was done wiping my liner clean, my gloves went right back on.)

By the time I was done fooling around with the mica, the remaining soap in my mixing bowl had set up quite a bit and was thick. The first layer was poured at a fairly heavy trace, so I felt confident it could support the next layer. I poured the second layer over the back of a spoon so that the soap wouldn't break through the first layer, disturbing my mica line.

Pouring the rest of the soap over the back of a spoon
When I was done pouring, I tapped the mold on the countertop a few times to work out any air bubbles, covered the top of the soap with cling wrap to prevent ash, and insulated the mold so the soap could gel.

A few days later, it was time to cut. Here's a tip for cutting soaps with a pencil line - turn the soap onto its side and then cut it. If you cut top-to-bottom, you'll drag your line through the soap. Cutting the soap on its side keeps the line nice and crisp. And also wipe your blade clean after every cut. (This tip also works if you've got something like calendula, oatmeal, seeds, jojoba beads or whatever sprinkled on top of your soap. Ever cut your soap and had the stuff on your decorated tops drag through the soap, making grooves? Try the side-cut to avoid that.)

Cutting proved trickier than I was expecting. My soap mold has handy-dandy cutting notches built into it so I can make standard cuts, but my soap was too tall to fit inside my mold on its side. Lining up my cutter with the grooves from high up was imprecise, and because my cutter has a thick wooden handle, it wouldn't cut all the way through the soap anyway.

So, I took the soap out of the mold so I could line it up with the edge of the mold and the cutting notches. I used my cutter to mark where to cut and then did my best to make a straight slice with a chef's knife. I am the worst at freehand cutting, but I did okay with my notches marked off. The bars aren't as uniform as I would like, but they're not bad.

And how thrilled was I that the soap didn't separate when I cut it? Very, that's how. I worried I was a bit heavy-handed with the mica in parts, but I guess I did all right.

The pencil line technique is definitely something I want to play with again. I want to experiment with bringing the line higher up the soap. And while I like how straight my line turned out, I rather enjoy some of the soaps I've seen with imperfect pencil lines - lines that slope a bit or have a couple of small ridges in them. Perhaps I need to work some texture into the soap layer before dusting the line to achieve that effect.

Do you like pencil lines? Ever made one? What are some of your tips? Do you like perfectly straight lines, or do you like lines with a bit more character?


  1. I love the pencil lines, Jer! For your first batch, it looks like they came out very well. Can't wait to try a bar!

    1. Thanks, Mom! I was very pleased with how my first pencil line soap turned out. I know how much you like Eucalyptus Clove - I'll make sure I save you some bars!

    2. That turned out perfect, the line really dresses up the bar! I haven't tried this yet...thought about it a few times but just haven't done it. Maybe one of these days! :)

    3. Thank you, SDsoaper! I agree, the pencil line does add some pizzazz to the soap. You should give it a try! It's a fun technique.

  2. Great line Jenny! a line transforms a bar, but can be tricky to do. I like that you show the process too and mentioned about cleaning the sides of the mould before you add the next layer, i didn't realise to do that for ages!!)
    Lovely soap xx

    1. Thanks, Polly! I remember seeing somewhere the tip about wiping out the mold after dusting the line and I thought, "Oh, I must remember to do that!" And then I took a photo to remind myself to mention it on the blog. I really like what a pencil line does for a bar of soap, too. It gives the soap a bit of whimsy and character. I'll have to keep experimenting with this technique!

    2. wow that turned out really nicely! The one time I tried it I overdid it with the charcoal and all but 2 bars (out of 4 lbs) seperated! :( Will have to try again!

    3. Thanks for your comment, Jessica! I'm sorry that your batch separated - what a bummer! I was worried about that, too, so I tried to use a light hand. It stayed together when I cut it, and I've been using an end piece as a tester bar - so far so good! You will definitely have to try the pencil line again. It's such a neat technique!

  3. Love pencil lines! When I do them with my HP soaps they look like granite. Great tutorial Jen

    1. Thanks, Donna! I've never made HP soap, but I imagine pencil lines look pretty cool with that method.

  4. That looks beautiful! Does the charcoal bleed much into the rest of the soap over time, like if I kept the bars for several months?


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