Sunday, August 26, 2012

Meeting a Soapy Friend

Rainbow Sherbet and Raspberry Violet by Glad Heart Soaps

Isn't technology great? Through the magic of The Online, I have met many new soapmaker friends via forums and Facebook. Most of my soapy friends are virtual friends that I may never actually meet face-to face. But it can be a small world out there sometimes, and you may find that your virtual friends are closer than you realize.

And that is how, a couple of days ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Laura from Glad Heart Soaps in person. We first met online at the Teach Soap forum. Then I followed Laura's Facebook Page, and she followed mine. After chatting with each other a bit on our Pages, we became official Facebook friends.

It turns out, Laura and I live about 100 miles away from each other. Recently, she was planning a visit to my neck of the woods and contacted me to arrange a rendezvous. Last Friday, we met up for lunch to talk soap (and other things). We also swapped some soapy gifts. Laura brought me bars of her Rainbow Sherbet and Raspberry Violet soaps, as well as samples of Iced Tea, Peach Smoothie, Mojito, and Raspberry Lemonade. She also gave me samples from several of her other soaps and a gorgeous washcloth that her mother knitted. Her soaps look as beautiful as they smell, and I am sure that they will be a treat to use! I gave Laura a couple of bars of my Wasabi and Carrot, Orange, and Ginger soaps. I wish that I had brought more for her!

Soapy samples: Laura's Raspberry Lemonade, Peach Smoothie, Mojito, and Iced Tea
As you may know, Laura was selected to be a tester for Bramble Berry's S.O.A.P. Panel mystery fragrances. As a panel member, she received ten unidentified fragrance oils from Bramble Berry and was asked to soap with the scents, document her experience, and provide feedback on how the fragrances smell and behave. Laura brought the mystery fragrances to lunch, along with some samples of the soaps she had made so far. I had the opportunity to sniff each fragrance out of the bottle as well as in the soap.

So there we sat in our little booth at a crowded restaurant, sniffing from mysterious-looking amber glass bottles and taking notes. That's not weird at all, right?

It's very interesting to smell fragrances when you don't know what said fragrance is supposed to be. When you get a fragrance oil that is labeled "Brown Sugar & Fig," for example, you sniff it and think, "Ah, of course that's brown sugar and figs." But when you don't know what you're supposed to be smelling, your brain tosses a bunch of strange ideas around, leaving you confused.

Me and Laura
There were many scents that we sorta agreed on, but it seemed like we rarely both interpreted a fragrance in quite the same way. A couple of times we both had very different first impressions of the same scent. For example, there was one scent that Laura described in her notes as being holiday-like with notes of menthol and evergreen. I took a whiff and confidently proclaimed, "Pink bubblegum"! Another one I smelled as a citrusy, orange-tangerine fragrance; Laura thought it was more of a green or Fresh Snow-type scent. We both agreed that one smelled like a pear tart, though. To see more of both my and Laura's first impressions of the S.O.A.P. panel fragrances, head over to Laura's blog and read about our fun afternoon together!

And while you're at it, please check out Laura's Etsy shop, and follow the Glad Heart Soaps blog and Facebook Page!

Thank you again to Laura for a wonderful afternoon and the soapy gifts! I love trying out other people's soaps, and I can't wait to try hers. And I am also anxiously awaiting Bramble Berry's official unveiling of the S.O.A.P. Panel fragrances, especially after having the rare opportunity to sniff them myself!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How to Line a Wooden Soap Mold

Wooden molds are great. They're sturdy, they insulate the soap so it goes through gel phase, and they allow you to make uniform, perfectly shaped bars in volume.

What's not to like?

Lining them, that's what.

See, if you pour soap into a wooden mold without lining it, the soap can leak everywhere. And what doesn't leak out will be stuck like cement in the mold. And the lye will eat away at the wood, destroying the mold. And then you will go insane.

And so, to avoid going insane, it is necessary to line your mold with something. Most soapmakers go with freezer paper.

Freezer paper has a lot going for it: It is also sturdy, it's cheap, and it makes unmolding a breeze. Soap doesn't stick to freezer paper because the paper is coated on one side with plastic. (So make sure the freezer paper is shiny-side-up in your mold.) When it comes time to unmold the soap, just lift or slide it out of the mold, peel the paper away, and start cutting. (If you use a slab mold with dividers, you won't even need to cut the soap!)

What's not to like?

Making the liner, that's what.

The good news is that once you get the hang of making liners, it doesn't take that much extra time. And you can even make a bunch of liners ahead of time, like when you're sitting on the couch watching "Hell's Kitchen."

Here's even better news: It is possible to make a liner with one sheet of freezer paper. And the liner is totally leak-proof.

Sound good?

Here's how I do it. I found this technique in the book Basic Soapmaking: All the Skills and Tools You Need to Get Started by Elizabeth Letcavage and Patsy Buck. As I've mentioned, this is one of my favorite soapmaking books. It is full of color photos guiding the reader step-by-step through the soapmaking process and I highly recommend it, especially for folks who are just starting out with cold process soapmaking.

Basically, you need to find out both the length and the width of the bottom of your mold, and the height of the sides.Then you can measure out a sheet of freezer paper based on those dimensions. After that, you can figure out where you need to make your folds on your liner so that it fits perfectly inside the mold. It's not as difficult as it sounds. Trust me, if I can do it, you can do it, too.

It is far easier to show how to make a liner than it is to tell, so I made a video of the process. And you will finally get to hear me speak, if you've been waiting for that sort of thing. I normally don't talk in my videos because video editing is easier if I don't have to worry about maintaining a narrative. I can just chop up the video and add captions. Also, I don't really like the sound of my voice. Plus, I tend to babble like a psycho. Anyway, here's the video:

Here's a tip: Once you make a liner that fits, save it as a template. That way, when it comes time to make another liner, all you have to do is tear off a piece of freezer paper, lay it on top of your template, and trace the lines without having to figure everything out again. Big time saver.

Of course, there are ways around the freezer paper liner. I have heard of soapmakers making their own silicone liners for their molds so that they never have to make a liner again, but I am just not that handy. And I suppose you can buy silicone liners for specific molds or have one custom-made.

And if you don't want to mess around with liners at all, you can try an acrylic mold. I have an acrylic slab mold from Soap Making Resource that I love. And you don't have to line it, for reals. (Soap Making Resource also has acrylic log molds.)

Silicone molds are also great for soapmaking and they don't need liners either.

What do you all use? Have you made a silicone liner, or had one made for you? Or do you just use freezer paper? Do you line your mold with something else? Or have you made the switch to acrylic or silicone molds?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tomato Leaf Soap

As I've mentioned before, I have too many fragrance and essential oils. But I keep buying more. You know how it is - you need some lye and maybe some soapmaking oils and you think, "Well, since I'm putting in an order, I may as well get some more of Fragrance X and ooh, look, I've been wanting to try Fragrance Y, and one of my buddies said that Fragrance Z was uhmazing ..."

And the next thing you know, you have half a dozen fragrance oils in your shopping cart, and that's if you're displaying any kind of restraint.

And that is how I came to acquire some of Bramble Berry's Tomato Leaf fragrance oil a couple of months ago. (Along with a few other fragrance oils, too, of course.) I had heard so many great things about it, and with spring nearly gone and summer approaching, I was in the mood to try something garden-y. And I figured I had better get around to soaping with it soon before autumn and Christmas make me forget all about Tomato Leaf until next year.

Mind you, I am not a gardener, but the idea of having a garden appeals to me very much. I might consider having a garden if I didn't have an enormous talent for immediately killing any and all forms of plant life. I am truly impressive when it comes to swiftly murdering plants. Gifted, really. I'm not bragging. I always feel terrible whenever a plant expires under my "care," and it always does, even when I try really hard to keep it alive. I even somehow managed to dispatch not one but two cactus plants to their untimely deaths.

Really. I don't know how either.

With that kind of track record, I don't think I can be trusted with even a window box herb garden. The poor thing would be doomed.

Also, I would have to get over my inability to tolerate heat in order to be a gardener. I hate being hot. And I would also need a yard for a proper garden, and I don't like yard work.

A garden actually sounds like a terrible idea for someone like me. I think I'll stick to soap.

Burgundy and green oxides, mixed with a bit of glycerin
When I first sniffed the Tomato Leaf fragrance oil, I was transported back to my grandmother's little tomato and green bean garden that ran alongside her house. The fragrance oil smelled just like I remember the tops of the tomatoes smelling right after we snapped them from the vine. Very green and herbaceous. I immediately thought that I wanted to do a red and green layered soap with a gold mica line running between the two layers.

For the red portion of my soap, I opted for Bramble Berry's burgundy oxide, and their green chrome oxide for the green. I also used their Gold Sparkle mica for the mica line.

I added my fragrance oil to the cooled base oils before adding the lye solution and then split the batch after reaching trace. I poured off one-third of the batter into another bowl, leaving two-thirds behind in my original bowl. Then I added the burgundy oxide to the two-thirds portion, and the green to the bowl with one-third of the soap. The goal was to make the soap look sorta like a tomato - well, a rectangular tomato, I guess - with most of it being red with a bit of green on top to represent the leaves. I figured the mica line would add some interest and contrast.

To build the layers, I poured the burgundy soap at a medium-thick trace, dusted the red layer with the gold mica (using a tea strainer), and then poured the green soap at thick trace over the back of a spoon to cover the mica line. (Tip: Wipe your mold clean after pouring the first layer of soap, and wipe it clean again after dusting the mica line so you don't have any errant soap or mica all over the sides of your bars.)

Here's a video I made of the process. I also share a little trick for cutting the soap so that the mica line doesn't drag down through the bars - cut the soap on its side! (This trick also works great if you have herbs, oats, seeds, or any other sort of additives on the tops of your bars):

Overall, I am very pleased with how this soap turned out. I was trying to get some texture on top of the red layer so that my mica line would be a bit uneven. I like how the line is a little crooked, but I think I could have gotten a more interesting line if my soap had been brought to a thicker trace. I like the texture that my mini whisk gave the top of the green layer - it looks almost like the veins that run through leaves!

In the finished bars, the Tomato Leaf fragrance is a soft, delicate leafy scent with a touch of sweetness. It would be lovely in a gardener's cornmeal scrub soap, too. Or maybe a soap made with tomato juice or puree.

What are some of your favorite spring and summer soap scents?