We admit it. We’re guilty of staring at beautiful soap pictures posted online by other soapers. We’ve wasted precious time wandering social media and pintrest admiring bright colors, gorgeous decorations, amazing designs and more from soap makers around the globe. We’ve gotten side tracked for a half hour in a conversation about what colors you get from infusing herbs into oils, how to mix them for pretty natural soaps, and longed to be the one with the amazing soaps everyone admires. But one day while working with a tempermental new fragrance, we realized how long it had been since we saw anyone spotlight the failed soaps. We’re going to fix that.
It’s no secret that all soap makers have failed batches. When we test new combinations of essential oils, fragrance or color samples, or an infusion we made of herbs & oils, we sometimes don’t get that wonderful bar of soap we imagined. I was testing a few new scents and colors this summer for a customer request and managed to get pictures of most of the process to share with you. What I didn’t know then was that I was documenting a really cool failure in the making. As you can see, I started with one of our tried and true recipes. All the oils were measured, melted, and combined as needed. Lye solution behaved as normal and everything mixed smoothly. I poured off a bit of straight soap base into the mold for a plain bottom and split the rest of the base into thirds. Everything was normal in my soapy world.
I whisked in a bit of green and blue colorants into two of the soap portions and then finished blending them in with a spatula. The kid in me still loves to swirl the colorant into the white and watch it disappear. These pictures were taken somewhere in the middle of me playing around. I took the uncolored reserved soap base, split it in two, and added the fragrances I was testing. They didn’t play very nicely once they were put into the soap base and I had to quickly get the soap into the mold. (I wasn’t really surprised that they seized up on me as the reviews on the fragrance had warned me.) I then turned back to the colored soap portions and started layering them over the uncolored soap layers in the mold. The plan was to get some sort of lightly swirled layer on the top of a white base with some parts dipping into the white. Unfortunately, I seemed to not have gotten the colored portions thick enough to get what I wanted and they flattened a bit.
Layered soap, side view of uncut log
Top view of swirled and layered log of soap
bottom of blue swirled log 2
Unmolding the next day was an interesting reveal. As you can see, the very bottom had a really neat unintentional swirl pattern in it. The seized scented portion was clean looking and a creamy color. The swirled area had green, light blue, and a touch of the darker blue scattered. The scent was non-existant in one log while the other was not pleasant and the entire batch had slight weeping in the bars. Visually, I had a soap that reminded me of a beach and was an unexpected happy sight. There was just no saving those scents at all and the weeping wasn’t helping. So I made my notes on the recipe log and set it aside to see if we could recover them. They eventually found their way to being rebatched. These pics below are from when I chopped them up and was putting the chunks into the crock. On a good side, I have great notes on working with those new colors and can get a beachy looking soap made. This wasn’t too bad of a failure.
There are many methods for making soap and we have played with almost all of them at this point in our soap life. If you’ve ever considered making soap or listened to a soaper geek out, you’ve probably heard of at least one or two ways we cook. Hot process, cold process, melt and pour, castile, room temp, pioneer, polished or natural, vegan, cruelty free, silk infused, organic, traditional, the list of possibilities goes on and on. Some people will only play with cold processed soaps, others preferring to avoid lye use melt and pour bases, and there are those who literally swoon over the rustic look of hot process soaps. (Yes, we’ve really seen that happen in the booth.) We here have our personal preferences too but have always made it a rule that we will do whatever we can to make someone’s soapy idea come to life. One of the benefits of this rule is that we get to experiment on a regular basis and embrace the variety of results we get. This time we’re looking at hot process soaps and occasionally unpredictable visual effects.
Hot process soaps are on our “instant gratification” list of soap making. (Hot process simply means heat is applied to the soap base after the lye has been incorporated. It is also used in rebatching soaps.) It can be made and completely cleaned up after in one day, results are useable as soon as they’re cool enough to touch, and it doesn’t seem to burn off essential oils as much in our experience. As a bonus, you get great unique looks with hot process soaps. This picture is from a log we finished last week in a tall mold. The rough, rustic look to the exterior is very common to a hot process log but it’s the interior that made Dorothy smile.
The swirls and loops that you see in this picture were not entirely created by our hands. We took a completed but off-sized log of our St Arnold soap, chopped it up, added a bit more of a new base, and cooked it up together. The St. Arnold recipe we use can behave a bit unpredictably at times when we cook it this way so we never seem to get any two batches that look exactly the same when we cut them open. It will pour almost like a thick cold process batter or it may seize up and have to be forced into the mold. Cooking time variances of about ten minutes will give us some fun effects too. It can something as simple as the change of humidity in the soap room on the day we made it that will make a change in the appearance. Sometimes, like the picture below, we even manage to get some wide variety of swirling width within the same batch of soap or individual bar. It’s unpredictable but can be very pretty in the end.
The glassy smooth exterior of this batch reminds us of obsidian in some of the Hawaiian pictures. The interior colors will darken a bit more before these guys will be ready to go home with anyone but it should still keep the similar look of varying browns. The guys in the soap room say it reminds them of a stone or petrified wood. What do you think of the pattern? We’ll keep debating it here until they go into the booth in October. You’ll be able to find them for sale on the website with the other beer soaps.
Every once in a while, we get a chance to talk about why and how we support local businesses. Mostly, it’s to folks from out of town or those interested in having us switch to their company. I would like the chance to spend a moment explaining our reasons in a bit more detail about what it is we do locally because I can’t always while we’re out at an event! There’s a couple of reasons that are most important to us and I really wanted to spotlight them as part of our blog also.
We buy local ingredients or materials whenever possible because we can usually have the chance to see them first hand before purchasing. I can actually pick them up, view them, or smell them as needed before we commit it to soap. We like having the chance to see the place where it was grown or harvested, forged or crafted as much as possible. You can see if the shops are clean, the owners friendly and honest, other customers are happy, or if it is a place you should avoid working with. It also feels good to see the person you hand your money to, and know that it goes to support their family or further their business. We also like to promote local crafters, businesses, or events we like as often as possible to help spread the word about them. Lastly, there is just something awesome about being able to see something handmade in front of you! Why wouldn’t you support your local community?
We also like to give to charities and non-profits locally as much as possible. We like to donate our time as a family in addition to fundraising for them through our company. We have found that our preference is to go work hands on with the group, such as food drives, sorting items in donation drives, and helping work in an animal shelter, because they have had such a more long lasting impact on our children. However, there are some others we help financially as that is what works best for them. It also feels good to be able to see the results of your hard work make an impact in your community right in front of your own eyes. Our children have very fond memories of some of our local projects and we have made lasting connections with many of the people we’ve met along the way.
I hope that this post answers more questions some of you have had about how our company handles a few of our buying and giving choices. We hope that more people can do the same in their areas and would love hearing about your thoughts. Have a favorite store, events, craftsman, or show we need to know about? You can find us this weekend at Fenske’s Country Store to talk to us directly, email, or comment below or on Facebook. We are officially collecting food items for a HCC Food Pantry and will also gladly take your donations for them this weekend while we’re there. Fenske’s will be open on Saturday from 10-5pm and Sunday from 11-4pm. I am updating our show schedule this weekend and should have more information for those of you who were waiting to have it posted. We should be able to give you an idea of where to find us in person for at least the next three to four months. That may be just a quick Facebook post though as I’ve had a lot less time to blog lately between being a soap-making workaholic and parent, as many people can relate. Also, yes, I’m working on fixing those pictures in the shopping cart again! Have a great holiday season everyone!