Soap Challenge Club – Mantra Swirl

Well here we are, on the second challenge hosted by Amy Warden at Great Cakes Soapworks.  This one is called the mantra swirl, and it became famous after Nicole Benitez entered her version of it and won the January 2009 Best Swirl contest sponsored by Saponfier Magazine.

Since then, inspired soapmakers have created variations of this technique.  I’ve been admiring the mantra swirl for several years, so this was a perfect opportunity to try my hand at it.  Plus there’s a $100 gift certificate for the winner of the challenge, courtesy of
Majestic Mountain Sage!

My first batch came out just fine, except for some stearic spots (the little white Mantra WM“bumps” you see scattered throughout). Just a cosmetic issue, but I didn’t think black and white had enough pizzazz to compete, although there’s a certain beauty in simplicity.  And the wispy swirls, which were created with a skewer, should have shown up more.  So making this soap was good practice for what I finally decided to create for the challenge.  By the way, this is Onyx & Alabaster, and it will be available in my Etsy shop at the end of July.

So I started by making a couple of small soaps in pastel colors, with the intent of shredding them and incorporating them in the mantra soap.  Since I had to make two small soaps, it was only a tiny bit of extra work to make twelve – two soaps each of six different colors!  I liked these so much, I made another set of twelve in darker hues. These always come in handy for shredding or cutting into embeds.      

                              Pastel Squares June 2013   Saturated Squares 1 June 2013 WM

I chose one of the vibrant pink soaps on the left and one of the lime green soaps on the right, then used a fine grater to shred them up.  One of these days I’m going to invest in a salad shooter!

Mantra Swirl Challenge Shreds WM

With this part completed, it was time to begin.  First, my silicone mold from Essential Depot (which I won at the recent HSCG conference) needed to be set up.  My very handy husband had made a nice wood holder for the mold so the sides wouldn’t bow when filled with soap batter.

My recipe was a slow mover with one-third olive oil and no water discount because I needed time to work with the swirl without it setting up, and also because the shreds needed to be easily incorporated into the batter without producing air pockets.  

The soft oils were measured out first so a teaspoonful could be added to some violet mica that had just arrived in the day’s mail. Then the hard oils were melted, cooled and added to the soft oils already in the pot.  One of my favorite essential oil blends was added to the pot as well: lavandin (a lavender hybrid) and tea tree, with sweet notes of pink grapefruit, a hint of tart lemongrass, and a bit of light patchouli to anchor the top notes.

Oils WM

Time to add the lye!  A small amount of titanium dioxide had been dissolved in the lye solution to help ensure a creamy-colored soap base.  Once the lye solution was in, the batter was stick blended just to emulsion, then divided into three parts.  The smallest portion went into the cup with the violet mica mixture, a large portion went into a cup with the lime green shreds, and the hot pink shreds were added to the portion remaining in the pot.Batter with Shreds WM

Now for the tricky part:  the violet batter had to be poured into the narrow space between two acrylic dividers (also created by handy hubby), without any slipping underneath into the adjoining section.  This turned out not to be too difficult – holding down the dividers with one hand while pouring slowly with the other, and only about an inch deep.  Then the same process was repeated with the pink shreds batter and then the green shreds batter.  This sort of equalized the pressure on the dividers, making it much easier to pour the rest of the soap.Dividers WM

Then the dividers were removed…Poured WM

and it’s time to do the mantra swirl!Swirled WM

This time I decided to use the handle of a wooden spoon and really get in there with the swirling.  It got in there, alright – these swirls are too thick!  (Do you see the purple flamingos?)  

A couple of days later it was ready to unmold and cut.  To create the original mantra swirl, it can’t be sliced like most soaps.  Instead, it has to be cut horizontally in 1-inch thick strips using a log splitter, then turned on end and sliced into individual bars.  This is the same technique used to cut the peacock swirl soap in the last challenge.  If you missed that post, instructions and photos are available here.

And here’s the cut of Rainbow Sherbet!  Rainbow Sherbet WM

All in all, I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out.  It would have been better with darker green shreds so they’d show up better, and a chopstick would have created a much nicer swirl.  But this is a fun technique, and it’s fun working with shreds, and I’m lovin’ the violet mica (of course, I’m a mica junkie so there’s not many I don’t like).  And it smells delish!  It’s on the curing rack now, and will be available in my Etsy shop in mid-August.

Special thanks to Blossom & Twig fans Katie S. and Laura P. for the color suggestions and for inspiring the name.

What do you think?  Thumbs up or thumbs down?


Soap Challenge Club – Peacock Swirl


The recent soap challenges hosted by Amy Warden of Great Cakes Soapworks were such a success that she created a monthly Soap Challenge Club.  In order to participate, soapmakers must become members of the club and pay a nominal fee to enter each challenge.  And the reward?  Well, besides the chance to hone your soapmaking skills and learn new techniques, there’s a prize.  Not just any old prize, though; this month it’s an 18-bar slab mold with silicone liner generously provided by Bramble Berry® Soap Making Supplies!  (Someone’s going to be very happy).

This month’s challenge is the peacock swirl.  I’ve tried this technique only once before, and it didn’t turn out particularly well because the soap batter was too thick to create the fluid lines needed to create the complex design.  So I chose a slow-moving recipe to give myself plenty of time to work, and I designed a midnight black soap with vibrant electric blue and purples, deep rose and pastel pinks, and white swirls.

2-Swirl ToolSince I only wanted to create a small batch – in case of an epic fail – I created a small slab mold from a cut-down cardboard box, and lined it with butcher paper.  The “comb” you see is also homemade, and it’s used to create the first part of the design.

3-ColorantsThen I gathered my materials.  Bamboo charcoal, four micas, and oil-soluble titanium dioxide (a whitener) were mixed with just a bit of the liquid oils from my recipe.  My essential oil blend of sweet peppermint and sharp tea tree stood ready to add a surprisingly pleasant wake-up zing.  My oils were weighed out and ready for the lye solution.

As always, safety first – gloves and safety goggles are a must when working with lye. Ready to begin!


The essential oils were added to the oils and stirred a bit, the lye was slowly added, then stick blended (see the color change)?  I didn’t want the soap too thick, so I only blended until the batter was emulsified.

 9-Lye In10-Stickblending11-Emulsified

Some of the batter was poured into each of the pre-mixed colorants, and the bamboo charcoal was added to the batter remaining in my bowl.  This was my base color, so into the mold it went.

12-Bottom Layer

Now for the fun part!  I gave the colors a quick stir with my mini-frother (love that thing!) and decided at the last minute to pour them into squeeze bottles.  Then alternate stripes of color were added to the width of the mold until all the colors were used up.  

6-Mixed Colors13-Adding Lines of Color115-Adding Lines of Color3

Remember the “comb”?  Dragging it top to bottom through the stripes created a swirl of its own, called a non-pareil swirl.16-NonPareil

It would be pretty if left like this, but the challenge was the peacock swirl, so on to the next step.  For some reason, it helped to think of drawing balloons as I used my chopstick to create a wavy pattern on top of the non-pareil swirl.  Finished!18-Peacock

After setting up for a day, it was time to unmold and cut into bars.  Soaps made in slab molds require a different method of cutting, so out came my adjustable log-splitter.  The first cut split the slab lengthwise into smaller slabs, the log-splitter was adjusted for the next cut, and the smaller slabs were sliced widthwise to create the finished bars.


26-Vertical Cut127-Vertical Cut229-Now the Horizontal Cuts

I decided to name this soap “Aurora.”  My intent was create a soap reminiscent of the Northern Lights (or Southern Lights for our down-under friends).  In that regard, I failed because my colors weren’t vibrant enough. The aroma hits the mark, though, because it’s zingy and refreshing.  And, truth be known, I like the design on the side of the soap better than the peacock swirl.  Next time I use this technique, I might just cut it differently to accentuate that part!31-Would Make An Interesting Technique for a Loaf!

Aurora is on the curing rack and will be listed in my Etsy shop around the middle of July.

Thanks for following me, and please stick around for the next challenge. 🙂

Soap Challenge 2013 – Mica Swirl

The third project for the soap challenge is creating a soap topped with (hopefully) a lovely mica swirl.  I’ve messed around with mica swirls before and they turned out okay, but knowing the correct proportions of mica and oil sure makes a difference in the end result.  Gotta say these swirls please me a lot!

Shimmery gold mica swirl in the mold.

Shimmery gold mica swirl in the mold.

So here’s the scoop:

  • make your soap and pour it into the mold
  • measure 1 tablespoon of oil (I used olive oil) into a small container
  • add 1/2 teaspoon of shimmery mica to the oil and mix well (shimmery, sparkly micas work best)
  • drizzle the mixture over the top of the soap (you can pour long thin lines or a random pattern)
  • use a skewer or chopstick to create swirls throughout the mica; you may also use a spoon to add texture

The hardest part of this technique is resisting the urge to overwork the swirls!  Make a few swirls and stop to evaluate how it looks.  Needs more?  Add another swirl or two and evaluate again.  If you make too many swirls, they’ll all run together and give your beautiful soap top a muddy look.

A close-up of one of the prettier swirls.  See all the "mini patterns" each swirl creates?

A close-up of one of the prettier swirls. See all the “mini patterns” each swirl creates?

As the soap saponifies, it absorbs the excess oil, leaving behind the gorgeous sparkling mica pattern you created.

So are you wondering what’s below that swirly mica top?  Well, this is Morning Star, named after the planet Venus, which in turn was named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty.  Said to be born from sea foam, Venus’ sacred colors include pink, red, violet, gold, silver, aqua, light green, and light blue.  Pearls, also born of the sea, are among her favorite gems, and she is very fond indeed of mint plants. So I designed Morning Star with sea colors and pink, of course, for love.  A smattering of sugar pearls accent the golden mica swirl, and it’s scented with a lovely blend of spearmint and peppermint, rounded out with a soft whiff of lavandin.

Here’s the reveal.  I love how all the colors, even the white, seem to flow and swirl like waves washing up gently on the shore.  My photo doesn’t do justice to the sparkle of the mica swirl, though (still learning how to photograph soap in natural light)!

Morning Star (Venus)

Morning Star is on the curing rack now and will be ready by mid-May in my Etsy shop.

I enjoyed this challenge, but unfortunately I missed the deadline for posting it with the other entries (my bad).  But you can still check out all the other lovely mica swirls over at Great Cakes Soapworks.  

The next challenge is Leopard Spots.  Fun!