Soap Challenge Club – Dandelion Zebra Swirl

This months’s challenge, hosted by Amy Warden of Great Cakes Soapworks, is the Dandelion Zebra swirl.  And the prize, generously provided by Bramble Berry® Soap Making Supplies, is a 5-quart glass mixing bowl with lid, plus 4-piece silicone tool set!

The Dandelion Zebra Swirl is a variation of the tiger stripe swirl, which I’ve done before and liked.  Instead of stripes throughout the soap, though, they appear only in one part of the soap.  Since December is fast approaching, creating a holiday-themed soap seemed a natural choice for the challenge.  So I chose to make a two-tone green soap with red and white stripes, and to scent it with pine needle, black spruce, and eucalyptus essential oils, with a titch of floral lavandin.  Smells so fresh and clean, like being in an evergreen forest on a snowy winter’s day!

ChristmasCandyET

Overall, I’m pleased with the soap.  It would have been better if the two shades of green were a little more distinct, but the stripes show up really well.  And there’s a little bit of a red and white swirl on top of the soap, too, just to tie it all together.

As for names, it’s a tossup between Christmas Candy, Santa’s Stockings, or Stocking Stuffer.  Or…??

This challenge was a lot of fun, and this swirl will definitely find its way into future soaps. Thanks, Amy, for hosting the challenge. 🙂

Til next post, stay clean my friends!

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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?

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?