Soap Studies

This April I have the pleasure of participating in the West Medford Open Studios weekend. This was my first time, and there are some truly wonderful artists represented. I wanted to be able to showcase some of the technical aspects of my work, and not just present completed products to sell. I also share it as an opportunity to challenge myself to create new products and hopefully learn new approaches to my craft, and of course share them along the way.

I prepared four soaps that could demonstrate the different processes and would hopefully help visitors understand a little more about the work that goes into artisan soaps.

Cold Process - Siren Sound

Siren Sound is a triple layer loaf with top swirl, made with 6 different oils, gold mica, and scented with a fragrance oil.

Cold Process is the traditional soap making approach, where sodium hydroxide (lye) is mixed with water and then blended with fatty oils and allowed to saponify – the chemical name for creating soap. It is great process for customizing with natural ingredients, with specific skincare properties and results in a natural soap but colors and scents can be affected by the lye. It is a mercurial process and you don't always know the outcome until you unmold the soap. It is a process that takes time and planning, as finished soaps require 4-6 weeks to cure before use. You have to also be very careful working with lye in its raw form as it is corrosive and harmful to skin.The right equipment and protective gear is needed, so it is not a process for the casual soaper.

Other examples of cold process soaps are my Carrot and Orange and Rose and Clay soaps. In the Carrot and Orange I substitute some of the water for carrot juice, and in the Rose and Clay I include a clay as a natural additive for color and skincare properties.

Milk Soap - Floral Goat

This soap was created using the cold process method as noted above but with the added complexity of using milk as the liquid base. Using milk in a soap requires additional time and preparation. Milk contains lactic acid, which is amazing for the completion, but the sugars in milk can overheat when mixed with lye resulting in a burnt soap. To counter this, the milk can be frozen first and it then melts when added to the lye but the reactionary heat is controlled by the melting.

For this process, not only was I working with milk for the first time, I also attempted the "dancing funnel" technique, but don't think it was entirely successful as this soap blend thickened very quickly.

Hot Rebatch - Lemon Poppy Seed

Lemon Poppy Seed Exfoliating Soap

Sometimes in cold process soap making, there are tiny scraps of soap leftover from beveling soaps or end pieces too small to sell. The good news is that these can be turned into new soap - yay recycling! For this batch of grated plain shea butter soap, I re-melted it in a slow cooker (hence the hot in the title), and added more oil, scents, and additives to create a new soap. This process is quick and results in a bar of soap that can be used instantly but it is not always the smoothest looking soap, so I think it is perfect for an exfoliating soap.

Melt and Pour - Sweet Cream Swirl

One final soap making process, and perhaps the easiest to use, is a ready made melt and pour soap base. These bases have already been cured and in some cases a stabilizer has been added. They are perfect for molded soaps (such as my Soapsicles), or for using bright micas and scents, that might otherwise get burned off in the cold process. They are good for the beginners, and I use them in my soap making classes as there is no dangerous lye to handle. This Sweet Cream Swirl also shows off using a three channel mold and a hanging tool created swirl.

I hope you enjoyed this mini soap tutorial, see you next month for Mother's Day!

Now Go Visit My - Soap Collection

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