Saturday, November 30, 2013

Candy Cane Impressionist Swirl Soap

I'm a big fan of anything minty. And at Christmastime, mint shows up everywhere. It's fitting for the season - it's tingly and invigorating, but it also warms you on a cold day. Mint is not just for the winter holidays, though. It's a perennial favorite anytime of year. A bar of peppermint soap on a hot summer day is perfectly refreshing. (Crafty one, that mint. Like a Thermos. How does it know when to be cool and when to be warm?)

And if you pair mint with chocolate, it's even better. But then, chocolate always makes things better.

And so every Christmas, I must have not only minty foodstuffs, but also minty soap. And that means candy cane soap.

Christmas + Mint = Candy Canes

Candy canes are The Christmas Candy. When I was a kid, I'd go to the mall to see Santa Claus and tell him what I wanted for Christmas. I wasn't sure that I believed in the whole Santa thing - how's one guy going to deliver all of those presents to all of those kids in one night? - but I figured that it couldn't hurt to hedge my bets. And after I gave Santa my list of demands, he'd give me a candy cane.

Also, when I was little, my grandma would hang candy canes on the Christmas tree and my cousin and I would eat them on Christmas Eve as we not-so-patiently waited until it was time to open presents. The adults would play spades while we consumed an obscene amount of pepperminty sugar and inspected our gifts over and over again. The spades game was over once a team scored 500,000 bazillion points and only then were we allowed to open presents.

I don't visit Santa Claus anymore (I guess he just refers to my Amazon wish list these days), and my cousin and I no longer gorge on candy canes on Christmas Eve. But we still need a candy cane theme for the holidays, and soap is the perfect medium.

For this project, I decided to give the Impressionist Swirl a try. This technique uses squeeze bottles to squirt the soap into the mold in alternating colors, creating a swirl that resembles the short brushstrokes of the Impressionist artists from the 19th century.

Candy Cane Impressionist Swirl Soap
It's important to choose a well-behaved recipe and fragrance oil when using this technique. You want a thin trace, and it is necessary for the soap to remain liquid throughout the process.

For the scent, I chose Nature's Garden's Peppermint fragrance oil, which soaped like a dream. I mixed the FO into my cooled oils and then added the lye solution. Once I reached a light trace, I divided the soap batter into three equal portions and colored one with titanium dioxide, another with Bramble Berry's brick red oxide, and another with BB's green chrome oxide. (I mixed each colorant with a bit of liquid glycerin to work out the clumps and help minimize streaking.)

I transferred the colored soaps into three separate squeeze bottles and then squirted the colors into the mold horizontally in a S-shaped pattern, alternating between the white, green, and red. I repeated that process until the soap was gone. (I turned the mold every so often to keep the sides even, as the Soap Queen tutorial above recommends.) Once the soap was all used up, I used a skewer to swirl just the very top layer.

Here's a video I made of the process:

These soaps turned out really cool! I really enjoyed this technique, and I will have to revisit it in the future. I love how each bar is unique, and how you don't know what you're getting until you cut into the soap loaf.

Are you a big mint fan? Which scents and flavors do you associate with the holidays?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Yuletide Cheer Soap

A few snapshots from our Boise trip

It's that time of year! The holidays are almost here. Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away, and then Christmas will be here before we know it. I've got lots to do between now and then, as I'm sure all of you do, too.

But being busy didn't stop my husband and I from taking a break and visiting one of our favorite cities - Boise, Idaho. My first trip there was in 2008, and we've been back five times since. We love the downtown area, what with its myriad restaurants, pubs, shops, and events. We ate well (maybe a little too well, according to my scale), sampled some delicious Pacific Northwest beers (my favorite this trip was Sockeye's "Sprucin the Trail" ale, brewed with spruce tips), and visited the farmer's market and the Boise co-op. Boise State University also provided us with ample opportunities to get us some culture (goodness knows we need it) - we caught the symphony and an interpretive dance performance by the Idaho Dance Theatre. We dropped by Zoo Boise, where the meerkats in particular were hamming it up for the camera. The Idaho Steelheads were in town, so we caught a hockey game. (The Steelheads have never won when we are present. We are bad luck. But we did get to hang out with their mascot, Blue the bear!) And there was plenty of jogging to be done along the Boise River's Greenbelt. We try to go every autumn, and I am already looking forward to visiting again next year.

Now onto the things about the soap!

Say hello to "Yuletide Cheer," a holiday soap scented with a combo of Bramble Berry's Christmas Tree Cybilla and Elements Bath and Body's Rocky Mountain Christmas fragrance oils. (I had one ounce of the Christmas Tree FO and used another 0.6 oz. of the Rocky Mountain Christmas to make up the difference for two pounds of oils.) I love the droplet (or teardrop) effect, so I decided to make some green and gold swirls, since those colors make me think of Christmas trees. For the green, I used a hydrated chrome green pigment, mixed with some liquid glycerin to avoid clumping. For the gold, I chose gold sparkle mica. And I also added some titanium dioxide to the base to whiten it.

For this project, I wanted the soap at a thin trace so that the green and gold soap would penetrate the white layer and create pretty droplet swirls. It's important to choose a well-behaved recipe and fragrance oil for this technique.

After bringing the soap batter to a thin trace (I added the fragrance to the cooled oils before mixing in the lye solution), I portioned off 8 ounces each into two measuring cups. I colored one 8-ounce portion green and the other gold. Then I added the titanium dioxide to the remaining soap. I poured all of the white soap into the mold, and then poured the green soap from up high so that it would sink into the white layer. Then I did the same with the gold, drizzling it in a random pattern into the mold. A bit of green and gold soap was leftover in the measuring cups after pouring, so I used what was left to drizzle onto the tops. Then I used a spoon to swirl and push the soap on the very top layer around, giving it some interest and texture.

Here is a video I made showing the process and the cutting of this batch:

The droplet swirl is one of my favorite techniques because it creates such a beautiful effect. And no two bars are alike.

The Christmas tree-like scent is also fabulous! I wanted something that smells like balsam or fir or cedarwood or holly berry, or a combination of those fragrances. These two scents are balanced nicely on their own, and work well together, too. Not too pine-y, and definitely reminiscent of the holidays. I've never had a live Christmas tree, but I imagine that it might smell like this.

I've got one more holiday soap up my sleeve and I'll share it next time. (It's pepperminty!)

How are your holiday plans going? Got any fun trips planned over the next couple of months?