Saturday, August 2, 2014

Advice for Beginner Soapmakers


Hi everyone, I hope you all are having a great summer! I have been very busy, but feel bad for neglecting my soapmaking and blog :( Now, I am feeling the pressure to start building my inventory back up with fall approaching and the Christmas holiday season not too far behind it. This summer heat seems to suck up all of my energy, but I must buckle down and get back to work!

I love getting emails from readers, and I always appreciate it when people take the time to email me and share their successes after trying a recipe or technique I have shared on my blog. It motivates me to continue to share my soapmaking journey with you. So, thank you for your support and encouragement!

I received a question from Stella, and thought it was a good one to share for anyone who is wanting to learn how to make cold process soap. I think her experience mirrors a lot of our own experiences, and I thought I would share her question and my answer as a post, in hopes that it might help others too:

Hi Cee, I happened upon your site through soap making wanderings and I am so glad I did. I have only just begun my soap making journey and I'm so excited. I've been soaking up help and information, do's and don'ts from all over the internet. I'm only doing melt and pour soap at the moment as I want to be able to sell my soaps at markets and fairs around South Australia, as a hobby at this stage. I know that if I go with CP I have to register with NICNAS if I intend to sell, so I'm leaving that avenue for a bit. 

Do you have any advice for a beginner soap maker? many thanks Stella 
  

Hi Stella, thanks so much for stopping by and welcome to the wonderful world of soapmaking! I too started my soapmaking journey by making melt and pour soaps, and I still love to make them as well as cold and hot process soaps. I’m glad to see you have done so much research already before jumping in, that is definitely a great start. I could fill up a whole page with advice for beginner soapmakers, but I will try to narrow it down to a few digestible points for you!

1. Always run any recipes you want to try through a lye calculator; even the recipes you find from reliable sources can have calculation errors in them. Also, as I am sure you have learned by now, there is also some misinformation on the internet about how to safely make cold process soap, and I hope you have been able to spot and differentiate between the good information and the misinformation. Find reliable sources and stick with them! 

2. Document everything. Take notes of every single batch you make. This blog was my way of documenting the soaps that I have made, but you should also keep a notebook with lots of notes and observances of each batch that you make, including writing down the recipe each time and how the ingredients behaved (did the fragrance accelerate your soap or affect the color? did your soap gel? how was the feel and lather? did the fragrance last after curing? etc). You will not be sorry that you took the time to make these notes; being able to look back and reference any soap batch you made will be invaluable, and will ultimately save you time and money (and frustration!) in the future.

3. Always, always test your recipes and ingredients. There is nothing worse than working really hard on a beautifully colored and decorated soap, only to find out that the vivid colors will bleed onto a washcloth, or that your fragrance will fade or change the color of your soap by the time curing is complete. Some surprises don’t show up for several weeks to months, so it is always best to give your recipes lots of trial and testing time. For instance, I made this Christmas soap and the red color ran; not enough to stain a washcloth, but it was good to be able to test this and warn people before I gave it away:  http://oilandbutter.blogspot.ca/2012/10/snowman-soap.html

4. Recipes with milks and/or natural sugars (like honey) will heat up, so make sure you make an allowance for this when planning your batch (whether to gel or prevent gel, for example). Here is an example of a batch that heated up, and I ended up with a partial gel and some flaking: http://oilandbutter.blogspot.ca/2014/06/so-my-story-begins-with-this-promising.html

5. Most ‘failed’ soap batches can be saved, either by chopping it up and adding it to another batch or by rebatching it (unless it is lye-heavy, then those ones would have to be tossed). Here is an example of a batch I had to repurpose here: http://oilandbutter.blogspot.ca/2013/12/rebatching.html

6. Fancy recipes with lots of ingredients aren’t always better, sometimes you just can’t beat a basic 3-oil or 4-oil recipe.

7. Patience is key. I can’t emphasize this enough…mostly because I am still trying to learn this…lol.

8. Join forums, ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid to experiment and step outside the box. Just because something doesn’t work for one person, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. For example, our skin shouldn’t be able to tolerate a 100% coconut oil soap (normally it would be far too cleansing/drying), but I learned that you can make a great 100% coconut oil soap here:  http://oilandbutter.blogspot.ca/2013/06/pina-colada-twist.html

9. Introduce yourself to other soapers and join swaps. This is a great way to try out other soaps and compare qualities to see what you like in a handmade soap and how you can improve your recipe. The other soapmakers I have connected with have been incredibly supportive, and we still email each other when we have questions or need advice, I always know I can count on them!   

10. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and don't feel like a failure because your batch failed or didn’t turn out the way you had expected. I have learned more from my unsuccessful batches than I have from my successful ones. And remember to have fun….sometimes jumping into selling can turn soapmaking into more of a production line and stifle creativity; be careful to make sure you strike a healthy balance between the business and creative aspects. Take your time and enjoy the hobby stage, you will not regret the time you took to carefully experiment to make sure you have recipes and techniques that you and your (eventual) customers love!

I hope this information has been helpful, and when you are ready to jump in and get started, I have put together a thorough basic cold process tutorial with step-by-step instructions on the How Do I Make Soap blog, which you can find here: http://www.howdoimakesoap.com/2014/06/04/make-cold-process-soap/

I would love it if some of my fellow soapmakers would chime in with their best advice for anyone starting out...things you wish you would have known before you made your first batch of soap. Looking forward to hearing your advice, and wishing you all the best with your soapmaking Stella! :)

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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Butterflies and Cherry Sundae Soap

Things have been hectic here the past couple of weeks! Our oldest son graduated this year, so it was a busy time. Things have settled back down a bit for now...

My daughter asked if we could go to a local butterfly garden this weekend, so we spent a day there. I used the occasion to practice using my macro lens and the butterflies made beautiful models! I hope you will indulge me as I share a few pictures :)

This butterfly noticed my daughter's outstretched hand, and flew right over and landed next to her hand. Then, it opened its wings to touch my daughter's fingertips. I think it was trying to show us how well it matched my daughter's nail polish! It stayed in this position for the longest time.


Then, I looked down on my jacket and spotted this little fella, who had decided to hitch a ride. He stayed on and toured the whole exhibit with me:


 Meanwhile, this pretty one landed on my niece's hair. Wouldn't you love to have this as a hair accessory?


They also had beautiful flowers, and I was especially taken with these ones...does anyone know what they are called? I forgot to look at the name.


The butterflies liked the plants and flowers too:






And we saw this little guy, who was desperately trying to escape his enclosure:
 

It was so hard to resist his pleading for help!


And now for the soap! This is one of the very few fragrances that I have used that has ever reversed trace. Have you ever had that happen? It was thickening up so fast before I added the fragrance, so I was trying to quickly move to do my in-the-pot swirl. It wasn't until after that I realized how thin the soap was; luckily, even though the soap was very thin when I did the ITP swirl, it held some definition:  


My planned soap was actually slightly different than this - I had to adapt to using the thinner soap, but I think it turned out better than I had planned. This is an important lesson that soaping has taught me, you have to be flexible and adapt...embrace the detours in your planned visions!  


 

And, I bought these gorgeous meringue cookies today....great inspiration for some soap or bath treats, don't you think?!


Hope you all have a fantastic week!
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Sunday, June 8, 2014

Avoiding Ash

After all this time making soap, I still cannot figure out any consistency to when or why soda ash shows up on the tops of my soaps. I find that spritzing with rubbing alcohol works great, but only if I persistently spritz it as it is setting up for the first few hours, and then I also have to spritz it every day for the first few days to keep it from forming. It's a bit of a pain to babysit it, but it's the only thing that I have found that keeps the ash away the majority of the time.

I find that my gelled soaps usually don't get ash, but I usually try to avoid gelling, so that doesn't help.

Sometimes, it forms even before I've had a chance to spritz the top. And sometimes, due to the embeds I put on top, I can't spritz the tops because the rubbing alcohol would ruin the top or the embed. Nothing more frustrating than having an intricately detailed top covered up by white ash!

I know a lot of people find success by covering their soaps immediately after pouring with plastic wrap, but when you are doing intricate tops such as this one below, it is hard to cover it up with plastic wrap without marking up the top:


I was trying to think of how I could avoid ash with my bumblebee soap, and then I remembered that I had seen a video from Kia of Petals Bath Boutique a while ago, and she showed how she was able to avoid ash by using a combination of plastic wrap and rubbing alcohol. Just as she did in the video, I waited just until the tops were not sticky anymore, and then I spritzed the top with rubbing alcohol and covered it with plastic wrap (so that the plastic wrap was actually touching the entire surface of the top). I was so happy to find that there was no sign of ash at all on the tops this time! Kia very kindly gave me permission to share her video here with you. Thank you Kia!



Do you have any other tricks you use to avoid ash, or do you find that using certain ingredients seem to trigger or help deter ash?

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Oatmilk Honey Soap + Honey Bubble Cakes

So, my story begins with this promising looking soap:


Because it contained both oatmilk and honey, I placed the mold in the fridge while I was preparing the soap, and immediately put the soap mold back into the fridge after pouring the soap. It looked nice and creamy with no signs of gelling, and I was really looking forward to unmolding it the following day. Here it is unmolded:


Looking good so far, right? Here’s a side shot:


 Uh oh….I can see the telltale signs of a partial gel on the sides :(

I cut into it, hoping by some miracle that the partial gel wouldn’t be noticeable, but no such luck. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement:


The partial gel actually wasn't that bad, I could have lived with it, but the bottoms were crumbling off as I cut the slices, and the inside of the soap was flaky and crumbly.  

Sigh. Let’s agree to never speak of this again, okay?

I took a deep breath and pried all of those little bumblebees off the top of the soap, determined to remake the soap again the next day. This time, I used my slab/divider mold, so that I could keep an eye on it to make sure it was gelling evenly. Thankfully this time, it cooperated. My soap was super stuck to the mold though, I had to really work to pry it out:



Lately, I've been trying to make coordinating bath products to go with the soaps, and I couldn't decide whether to make bath bomb cupcakes to go with this soap or bubble bars. In the end, I decided to compromise and make Honey Bubble Cakes: 


I think they turned out cute, and I can't wait to test them! I hope you all have a wonderful week ahead, thanks so much for stopping by! 

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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Chanel No 5

It’s fascinating how certain fragrances can trigger memories and emotions. It’s very comforting, and one of the things that I love about making soap is the emotion that you can elicit just from the way a soap looks or smells.

When I was a child, I always loved to see my mom dressed up. She would have on a fancy dress or pant suit, and her makeup would be just perfect, her hair would be curled and coiffed, and when she bent down to kiss me goodbye before she went out for the evening, she would smell like Chanel No. 5.

I haven’t smelled that fragrance for years, but when I came across a dupe for it, I thought it would be fun to make a special soap for my mom. I got ambitious (why do I do that to myself?!) and thought I would also try to make the famous Chanel logo to put on top of her soap!

I began by mixing some clear MP soap with activated charcoal and poured a thin layer of it into a rectangular mold:


Once it was firm, I cut out a circle:


Then, I chose a slightly smaller circle to cut the middle out of the first circle:


I tried just cutting the circle in half to see if I could form the logo, but it was a bit too narrow:


 

So, I cut 2 ‘c’ shapes out this time and cut them a little over the halfway point:


They still looked a bit narrow put together: 


So I gently bent and curled the ‘c’ shape around a little more until it was a more pronounced ‘c’ shape:


I glued the shapes in place with a little melted black soap, then I made some flowers out of the rest of the black soap:




And finished!


I was very happy that my plan worked. I turned my back to wash the dishes and when I checked on the soaps several minutes later, they were well into a partial-gel stage; which isn’t a bad thing…normally I would throw them on the heating pad and let them finish up. However, gelling + MP = certain disaster. It doesn’t take much for a thin layer of glycerin soap to melt on top of a hot CP soap. So, I threw them into the freezer as quickly as I could to try to avoid any melting. The logo did start to melt slightly in the center, so the middle of the logo is not as well defined as I would have liked, but it could have been a lot worse!


Here are the worst of them that started to melt from the heat…still not bad thankfully!


Next time, to avoid them trying to gel, I would try soaping at a lower temperature and I would put them in the freezer as soon as they were poured. I also wouldn’t bring the soap to as thick a trace because as soon as I added the fragrance, the soap started to thicken up very quickly. I think I will also freeze the embed slightly before using them on top of the soap, just in case it heats up again. Always a lesson to learn, and I'm thankful that most of them were spared! 


Do you have a favorite fragrance or scent that brings back happy childhood memories? 

 
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Sunday, May 18, 2014

Catching Up

Whew...it's been a crazy busy few weeks! I'm sorry I haven't posted here in a while, I hope you are all doing well!

I've just been working on restocking some soaps and bath goodies, some you have seen before and some are new.

I hadn't made a hot process soap in a while, so I made a loaf with oatmeal, milk and honey...one of my all-time favorites to make:


And some CP soaps, this one is Lavender:


I was going for more of an apple green here but ended up with a mossy green, which is still nice...this is a warm and spicy masculine soap for men, it contains buttermilk powder and kaolin clay:


For summer, I wanted to make a fruity soap, the yellow layer is fragranced with banana and the pink layer is fragranced with strawberry:

And for a more sophisticated soap, I did a remake of Baby Rose...I think I like this version the best out of all of the previous rose soaps I've made:




And I've been restocking these popular bath treats....Bubble Bath Cupcakes. The bottoms are like a bath bomb, and the tops are more of a bath melt, so while the bottoms fizz and disperse into the water right away, the tops slowly fizz and linger in the bathtub for almost the whole bath. These are a real treat! 


And Bath Cookies, which are more of a bath melt, and again last quite a while in the tub: 


And some new bath cookies made with oatmeal & milk:


That's it for now, I hope you are all having a wonderful weekend and thanks for reading!~ 
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