If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Give up!  No, not really.  Well, maybe sometimes.  But not on this.

You see, I’ve been participating in Amy Warden’s soap challenges (she’s the soapmaker at Great Cakes Soapworks).  A few months ago, she challenged us with several new techniques.  They were so popular she’s launched a new series of challenges, this time with a significant prize for the winner of each challenge.  But that’s another story.

Anyway, one of the earlier challenges was to create a soap using the Leopard Spot technique.  If it was done correctly, the cut bars would reveal colorful spots with smaller spots of a contrasting color at their centers.  You know, like the spots on a leopard’s fur (naturally).  And some truly amazing soaps were submitted for the challenge.  Alas, mine was not one of them.  In fact, it was such an epic fail I didn’t even submit it!

My idea was to create a soap inspired by poppy flowers:  a beautiful red-orange “spot” with a black center.  I planned that soap so carefully, even experimenting with combinations of micas and oxides to get a nice red-orange.  The bottom third of the soap was to be green (the “field”), with a soft brown mica line separating it from the pale yellow soap above (the “sunshine”).  The poppies were to be scattered throughout the yellow portion.  And the top of the soap would be sprinkled with — what else? — poppy seeds.  But something went terribly wrong in spite of my careful planning.  I think I resized the recipe for a different mold than the one I actually used, because the soap was only half as tall as it should have been.  And the poppies, instead of being spots, were long thin lines.   So I reworked my recipe on my Soapmaker 3 software, printed it out, and back to the workshop I went.

Only something went wrong.  Again.  Did I print out a copy of the first recipe by mistake?  Did I resize it for the wrong mold again?  Am I crazy?  Because the second batch turned out exactly the same:  half as tall as it should be.  And even though I had increased the amount of red-orange batter for the poppies, I still ended up with thin lines.  Damn!  So I fumed about it for a week or more, and had more or less decided to give up gracefully.

But here’s the thing:  I hate to admit defeat.  There’s a stubborn streak in me, inherited from my Dad’s side of the family, no doubt.  So about a month later, I reworked my recipe (including a change from starlight green mica to golden green), printed it, and then double-checked it for accuracy (duh).  And this time – success!  It’s the correct size, and there are actually some reddish spots with black centers.  There are still some thin lines, too – but hey – there are spots!  And the green is much prettier.

So without further ado, I give you Bad Poppies and Good Poppies!

FieldComps - Etsy

And here’s a better look at Good Poppies, which has now been renamed Field of Dreams.   It’s still far from perfect, but it’s such a huge improvement that I can’t help but be happy.  The criss-cross pattern on top makes me smile, too.  And it will be available in my Etsy shop at the end of July.

Field1 - Etsy

Have any of you ever tried three (or more) times to get a batch of soap right?  I’d love to hear your stories!  After all, misery loves company, right?


Soap Challenge 2013 – Tiger Stripe

First and foremost, let me offer some big time apologies to you for being MIA during the last 3 months!  Long story short:  darling hubby and I became involved in the home renovation project from hell.  What began as a manageable project rapidly turned into a whole-house upheaval.  How do things get out of hand so quickly?

Anyway, after several months of not making soap, I was determined to participate in this year’s soap challenge sponsored by Amy Warden at Great Cakes Soapworks.  There will be four weekly challenges, and the first is the Tiger Stripe technique, which I had not done before.

The idea is to pour 2 or more high-contrast soap colors down the middle of your mold, one atop the other until the mold is full.   It’s important to emulsify the soap batter, rather than bring it to trace, because you need the extra time to work with the colors.  For the same reason, I also recommend using full water for your recipe instead of taking a water discount.

So what kind of stripes would inspire me?  First I looked at animals, but found mostly black and white, brown and tan, or brown and gold.  Then I looked at fish, and some of the angelfish interested me.  Finally, I looked at flowers, and voila!  There was my muse, right on Flickr.  A gloriously exotic striped Morning Glory of vibrant purple and white interspersed with a few deep pink stripes.

Striped morning glory (Batatilla rayada)

Striped morning glory (Batatilla rayada)

Wet soap!

Wet soap!

So I decided to use a little titanium dioxide for the white, and micas from the Conservatorie  for the purple (cosmo martini) and deep pink (equal parts ruby rose and cosmo martini).  And I created a citrus fruity-floral spring scent using an essential oil blend of 5-fold lemon, may chang, pink grapefruit, ylang ylang, copaiba balsam and patchouli — along with just a titch of peppermint for a little extra pizzazz!

Overall, I’m pleased with my Morning Glory soap.  The technique worked well, and I’ll use it again.  And it smells yumm-o!  My only complaint is that I insulated the soap, which I don’t normally do, and got some crackling from the titanium dioxide getting just a little too hot.  It doesn’t affect the soap at all — it’s just a cosmetic issue — but I was hoping for perfection.  Ah well, maybe next time!

Fourteen of these lovelies will be ready and in my Etsy store by May 1st.  Snag yours now by pre-ordering! 


Let the Blogging Begin!

Hello!  My name is Shari Lewis (yes, just like the delightful puppeteer who enchanted so many of us with her sidekick, Lamb Chop), and I love making soap…planning new batches of soap…admiring soap created by other talented soapmakers…well, you get the idea!  Right now there are about a dozen different bars of soapy deliciousness in my shower and besides, can you ever really have too much soap?  

An Addictive Hobby

My soapmaking obsession began one morning around the turn of the millennium. I simply woke up one day and wanted to make soap! I don’t know why, exactly. No one in my circle of friends or family made soap, and most of them seemed to think my desire to do so was sort of funny, or weird or a passing fancy. Who knows?  Perhaps, in some long-distant and forgotten past life, shrouded in the mists of time, I was the village soapmaker.

A decidedly unflattering photo taken about 13 years ago, when I was learning how to make soap. My batch had seized so I was consulting Robert McDaniel's book "Essentially Soap."

A decidedly unflattering photo taken about 13 years ago, when I was learning how to make soap. My batch had seized so I was consulting Robert McDaniel’s book “Essentially Soap.” Check out all the safety gear!

Nah, probably not. Most likely the desire to create soap (and later on, bath and body products) stemmed from my love of the creative process, and cooking and chemistry. There always was a little “mad scientist” in me.

When I first began, my soaps weren’t very pretty.  Oh, they worked well – they cleansed, softened and moisturized my skin – but they were very plain.  And homely soap was okay with me for years, although I tweaked my formula occasionally to make the soap even better.  Along the way, my library of soapmaking books grew, and I read them cover to cover, and honed my craft.  And I completed a certification program approved by the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy which helped me learn how to create wonderfully fragrant and safe essential oil blends for my soap and other products.

Plain Ol’ Soap to Soap Art

A few years ago, the artistry of soap captured my attention, and I subscribed to soapmaking blogs and forums, and looked at photos of beautifully crafted soap, and dreamed of creating my own soap art.  And now it’s not just a dream.  In March 2012, Blossom & Twig Artisan Soaps & Aromatics launched an Etsy shop, and my days are spent creating beautiful soap that gently pampers your skin.  Soap that uses natural, organic, Fair Trade, or sustainably harvested ingredients.  Soap that’s packaged with eco-friendly materials (because the Earth is our home and it’s important)!  Soap that contains no synthetic ingredients or petrochemicals or phthalates that might harm you or our environment.   You won’t believe the difference between my handcrafted soap and the commercial “soap” you’ve used for years!

Life Never Stands Still…

…and neither do I!  I’m a proud member of the Indie Beauty Network and the Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild, as well as a Guild-certified soapmaker.  Beginning in January 2013 I’ll be teaching soapmaking classes as a certified soapmaker teacher.  There’s an advanced soapmaker certification beckoning to me, too!  And I’m learning about photography and lighting and Photoshop…and the learning never stops!  And that’s a very good thing.

If you have any questions, email me at shari [at] blossomandtwig dot com.

Thanks for visiting!

Browse the goodies in my Etsy shop.  Like me on Facebook to stay up-to-date on new products, sales, discounts, and giveaways!   Check out my Pinterest boards.
And I’m on Twitter, too.  Let’s stay connected!