Wednesday, May 29, 2013

My Soap Swap Box Has Arrived!

My Wasabi Swirl soaps, ready for the mail!
You may remember my post a few weeks back about getting ready for the Bramble Berry soap swap. How did the swap work? Participants made twelve bars of soap (using Bramble Berry fragrance or essential oils), sent them in to BB HQ, and then BB sent each participant twelve bars back, each made by a different soapmaker. For my contribution, I chose to use BB's Wasabi fragrance oil, one of my faves.

As anyone who personally knows me can imagine, I obsessed about packing my soap bars so that they would successfully withstand cross-country travel. Let's just say that there was a lot of bubble wrap involved. I was reassured and thrilled when I saw my soap included in this photo collage on the Soap Queen blog - they had made the trip okay! (My soap is the second one down on the far right column. I was honored to have my soap featured alongside so many other gorgeous soaps!)

Last week, I received my swap box filled with goodies from twelve soapmakers! I participated in the cold process category, so I got cold process soaps in return. And now I have a bunch of lovely soap to use! Sure, I've got plenty of my own soap to use, but it is fun to try other people's soaps and a swap is a great opportunity to do so.

Here's my haul:
Clockwise from left: English Rose by Costa Productions, Lavender by Gingerleaf Creative, and Passionfruit Rose by Pure Alchemy Soaps

The beautiful pink gradient layer soap comes from Costa Productions, and is scented with English Rose fragrance oil. I love the gradient layer technique, and the scent is a soft, true rose. This soap has lots of wonderful butters (shea, cocoa, mango), and it also contains coconut milk and buttermilk. Both coconut milk and buttermilk are on my list of ingredients to try, too, and I imagine that they are wonderful together.

Gingerleaf Creative made a gorgeous soap scented with lavender essential oil. Lavender is one of my favorite essential oils - it's so fresh and soothing. Lavender buds adorn the top, and bits of ground lavender are speckled throughout the rest of this pretty purple bar.

Next is a Passionfruit Rose soap by Pure Alchemy Soaps. What a great scent! It has floral and fruity notes, but it also has a touch of earthiness. The pretty burnt orange color of this soap matches the scent beautifully. And there are many luxurious oils and butters in the soap - macadamia nut, avocado, hempseed, and walnut oils; and cocoa, mango, and shea butters.

Left to right: Lemon Verbena /Energy blend by Hilda B., "Heirloom Melon" by Mary S., and Creamsicle (round) by Sarah B.

Summer always makes me think of citrusy scents, and Hilda's soap is just perfect for summer! Her blend of Lemon Verbena and Energy fragrance oils is refreshing and energizing. I smell lots of bright citrus (lemon, lime, grapefruit), with a touch of fruitiness and a splash of champagne. And the little yellow flowers on top of the soap are so pretty!

Summer also means that watermelons are in season! Mary's "Heirloom Melon" is a mix of Watermelon and Pearberry fragrance oils. The scent is a lovely, soft watermelon with hints of pear, apple, peach, and raspberry. And look how pretty the pink and green swirls are!

Know what else summer makes me think of? Ice cream! Remember Creamsicles? Well, Sarah's soap captures the scent of that favorite summertime treat. The Creamsicle fragrance oil smells like sparkling orange blended with warm vanilla. I like the subtle swirls in this round soap.

Clockwise from left: "Whisper" by Amy B., Wake Up Rosemary by Wyldewood Soap Works, and Almond by Lori S.

As I mentioned, I love citrus scents. Amy's "Whisper" soap is scented with Lime fragrance oil, and it is wonderfully sweet and tart. This soap also contains cream, cane sugar, and kaolin clay. Those ingredients sound very luxurious! And the green swirls are so pretty!

Another soap with gorgeous green swirls is Wake Up Rosemary by Wyldewood Soap Works. It appears that perhaps BB no longer carries Wake Up Rosemary, as I can't find it on their website. But I did find a description - the scent is made up of 30% essential oils (peppermint, cornmint, and rosemary) with hints of lavender, eucalyptus, lily of the valley, and musk. And, boy, does it live up to its name - what an eye-opener! This one will be very refreshing in the shower. And it's made with goat's milk, too, which is one of my favorite ingredients. And look how pretty the packaging is!

Lori's soap is scented with Almond fragrance oil. Man, does it smell delicious! It is a strong almond scent with a touch of vanilla sweetness. And I love the rustic look of this bar. Lori wrapped her soap in the handmade crocheted washcloth in the photo above. What a gorgeous way to package a bar of soap while adding a lovely personal touch!

Clockwise from left: Summer Fling by N4you Soaps, Crisp Apple Rose by Abby's Handmade Soap, and "Sweet Tart" by Abundance Soaps

Nyota from N4you Soaps used some sparkly ribbon and a cute little pouch to package her Summer Fling soap. This scent is fruity and floral with a hint of musk. Peaches and raspberries are front-and-center in this fragrance oil, and the pretty peach and purple swirls are perfect for this scent! Yum!

I adore the delicate swirls in Abby's soap! And the scent is fantastic, like a breeze across an apple orchard. Abby used Crisp Apple Rose fragrance oil, and it is a perfect blend of Granny Smith apples and rose blossoms. Abby's soap contains silk, which is an ingredient that I love but have yet to use in my own soaps. I have experienced silk in bars made by others, though, and it is a wonderful addition!

The final soap is a shampoo and body bar from  Abundance Soaps. It is called "Sweet Tart" and is scented with tea tree, patchouli, and pink grapefruit essential oils. I have not tried to make my own shampoo bars, but I am curious about them. This soap contains Rhassoul clay, which is supposed to absorb oils and impurities from skin and hair. Both my skin and hair are oily, so this should be a wonderful ingredient for me! The bar is a beautiful natural creamy color with brown swirls on top. The label is cute, too!

And those are the soaps I got in the swap! Each bar is beautiful and made with love. I am looking forward to trying them all out. A big thank you goes out to everyone who participated, and a big thank you goes out to our friends at Bramble Berry for hosting the swap!

(Psst ... if you are looking for a swap to participate in, Bramble Berry is sponsoring another one this summer. Soaps are due for this swap in August. Check out the details here if you are interested!)

Did any of you join this past swap? What was your haul like? Anyone planning to participate in the next swap?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Castile Soap Revisited

Almost a year and a half ago, I made my first batch of Castile soap. Traditionally, Castile is made with only one oil - olive. Just olive oil, lye, and water. This simple recipe creates a creamy, luxurious bar of soap.

Castile soap benefits from a long cure. Typical soaps are ready to go after about 4-6 weeks, although I think they get better, too, with age. As you can see from this post about my Castile's progress over weeks and months, I wasn't quite sure what to think of it at first. The soap had to sit for quite a while before I started liking it. I wasn't particularly impressed at weeks 6 and 12 - the lather was minimal and slimy. I started to notice a change in the lather around week 18, though. By then, the lather seemed less slippery and a bit more bubbly. After six months, it was even better. And now that the batch is over a year old, it is fantastic. Castile may never have big, fluffy bubbles, but the lather does become creamy and dense over time. (I like to use a  mesh shower poof to help kick up a nice lather.)

Swirling mica/oil drizzled on top.
Because Castile requires a very long cure time and I have only a few bars left from the last batch, I figured that I better make more now so it can sit for a while.

I made this batch with a classic olive oil, lye, distilled water, and essential oils of lavender and peppermint. (I have a difficult time leaving things unscented.) And because the soap recipe is so simple, I decided to jazz things up by attempting a technique that I have been wanting to try for a while now - mica oil swirled tops. To make mica oil swirls, mica is mixed with a small amount of oil, drizzled over the soap, and then swirled. The oil saponifies along with the rest of the soap, leaving the shimmery mica swirls behind.

 Here is a video I made of the process:

I had some challenges with this batch. As you can see in the video, the soap turned out really soft. Even after sitting for a week, it was like prying room-temperature butter away from the mold. I tore the side of one bar trying to slide the side away, and bits of the soap stuck to the bottom. When I made my first batch of Castile, I used a log mold. The soap was soft when I went to cut it, but I don't remember it being as soft as this new batch was.

Could be a couple of things. First, I probably need to do a much steeper water discount with Castile batches. I usually use full water in my regular recipes, with the water being 38% of the oil weight (which gives me a lye concentration of about 27%). For the Castile, I bumped the water down to 33% of the water weight - which, honestly, isn't much - and I think I need to bump it down even more. My first batch did okay at these ratios, although it was a bit soft initially. I don't know why this batch seemed so much more softer. Maybe it didn't gel in the slab mold? I'm not sure that my first batch of Castile gelled, though. I didn't see either batch gel. (I usually peek after insulating and often catch my soap gelling. It's so cool-looking!) Methinks the water is the problem, though. I've been doing some reading and it seems that a lye concentration that's closer to 40%-50% would be better. Regardless, it should still cure into nice, hard bars, especially since I'm going to let it sit for 6-12 months!

I also wonder if the additional oil for my mica swirls had anything to do with it. Probably not, since I used so little oil to mix the micas. I doubt it was enough to dramatically alter the soap.

Overall, I am happy with how this batch turned out, although I wish that my swirls were prettier. I still need some practice with that. But I do like how the oil/mica mixture worked out, leaving the shimmery mica behind on top. It's such a fun and easy way to dress up bars! The mica swirls can give lots of fun color to a bar, or give some personality to a batch that discolors dark brown due to the fragrance oil.

I'm glad that I have another batch of Castile waiting for me! It will still take some time to get through my last batch. And I've got other soaps besides the Castile to use, too! It's always so fun to go into my soap room and pick out a new bar!