What I’ve been up to …

First soap of the year

So, for the first time I’ve actually made a soap because I needed it.  For the past year or so I have replaced my morning rinse-off cleanser with my own Lavender Facial Soap.  Now I’m not saying it’s any better than my expensive French skin care, but it certainly isn’t any worse.  It does just as good a job at cleansing, in fact I find it more effective at removing my mascara (oops!  I may just have let slip that I sometimes sleep in my makeup … time for a New Year Resolution me thinks).  My skin doesn’t feel any tighter or drier using soap instead of cleanser.  And, it’s a lot cheaper.  So I’m a definite convert to good old soap and water.

However, I was down to my last bar so it was time to make some more.  My original recipe was 90% olive oil and 10% rosehip oil with, as always, Tussah silk and goats’ milk powder plus some pink clay and a little bit of lavender essential oil.  For this batch I decided to make the Oatmeal Soap for Babies from Soap Queen, Anne-Marie Faiola’s fantastic new book Pure Soapmaking. This had more olive oil than my original recipe (92%) but also 5% shea butter and 3% castor oil, as well as bentonite clay and colloidal oatmeal.  I’ve made soap with oatmeal before and it is so soothing, and I had hoped that including castor oil would help to boost the lather a little.  Of course, I had to add some milk and silk and this time I also added 28g (1 oz) of honey.  After all, what’s not to like about milk, honey and oats.  I also hoped that the addition of a little natural sugar might boost the lather as well.

I made the soap in my trusty cylinder mould (aka Pringles tube) lined with a silicon 20170121_134003mat for a little interest since it was colour free.  It was also fragrance free and I have to say it still smells rather nice.  However, today I tried actually using a bar and I’m not blown away by the lather.  In fact there is none.  It creates something more like a lotion, and a slightly slimy one at that.   It’s certainly feels gentle on the skin, and rinses away cleanly, so I’ll be happy enough to use it.  However, I might reformulate and return to my original formula, but infuse the olive oil and add a little oatmeal as per Anne-Marie’s recipe.  Not sure about the honey – could that have caused the tackiness in the lather?  If you’re a more experienced soapmaker I’d welcome your thoughts.

Happy soaping in 2017!!

Farewell 2016

Well that’s 2016 nearly over.  It’s been a difficult year for our family on a personal level, (sadly too many bereavements) but creating soap has provided small distractions along the way.

The monthly soap challenges have been a particularly fun distraction.   There have been highs and lows.  My personal high point was creating my Enchanted Garden soap for the piped soap challenge, and winning the sponsor’s prize for my efforts.  The low(er) points have been the various soaps I made but which failed to turn out quite the way I had hoped.  My wood grain soap accelerated badly and was shoved rather than poured into the mould.  Funnily enough, two people (completed unrelated) told me it looked just like slate.  Maybe stone effect soap could be a future challenge?  With my luck I’ll end up creating soap that looks like wood 🙂

My recent attempt at tiger stripes was similarly unsuccessful, although it did turn out a pretty shade once all the colours were tipped out of the squeeze bottles and mixed together.

Never mind, I’ve had lots of fun trying out the various techniques and being inspired by the beautiful entries others submitted.   I have also ended up with lots of nicely fragrant and skin loving (if not so attractive) bars of soap.  To clear way for next year’s challenges, I recently gave most of it away at my school and at a recent Rotary Club evening.  People were generally surprised and intrigued that you could make soap at home, and loved the fact that it was completely natural and made with mainly organic ingredients.  I don’t sell my soap, but as many people wanted to give me some money for it, we set up a donations box.  It was nice to feel that, a) people liked what I had made, and b) that it could help others.

I hope that however you are spending Christmas and New Year that you have a wonderful time.  And here’s to a 2017 free of accelerating fragrances, morphing colours and soda ash!

Wood Grain Challange

Attempt One

So, the October soap challenge is to create a wood grain effect. For my first attempt I took my inspiration from weathered wood and drift wood.  Partly because I have a fragrance called Driftwood which I have yet to try in anything, and because I love the washed out grey tones.

I decided to try the spin swirl technique, and to capture the colours I used various concentrations of black iron oxide with a smidgen (technical term 😉 ) of violet ultramarine.

I went with a simply recipe of organic oils – 30% coconut oil; 30% palm oil; 30% olive oil; 8% castor oil; with 2% of slightly more exotic tamanu oil.   I originally got the tamanu oil to use in whipped body butter, but it has a very pronounced smell (quite earthy, musky and almost curry like) and dark colour.  Don’t mind the colour so much but the smell doesn’t do it for me.  So thought, waste not want not … let’s chuck it in the soap!

Fragrance wise, I used a fragrance oil from Sensory Perfection called Driftwood which they describe as “A light exotic driftwood fragrance with hints of sea salt, clean air and sunshine”.   I would also say it has a touch of eucalyptus.

As I was unsure of how the fragrance oil would behave, I added it to my oils before the lye, and hand stirred initially.  All seemed well so went in with my blender.  At light trace I poured into my squeeze bottles but by this time things were accelerating fast.  It was way too thick to flow in circles but I persevered.  I also didn’t create sufficient variations 20161006_172445between my shades of grey.  To try and get some really dark accents, I decided to dribble in a little black iron oxide in oil.  Not very pretty really but we’ll see what it looks like tomorrow out of the mould.

PS  To add insult to injury, I think I got a tiny bit of batter on my arm when I was clearing up!

So excited!!

Fantastic news!  I’ve just found out that my ‘Garden of Enchantment’ soap has won the Sponsor’s Choice prize in this month’s Soap Challenge Club.  I’m absoluted thrilled!

My soap was selected by Erica Pence of Bath Alchemy Lab who sponsored the newbie category.  She very kindly said of my soap, “It is with great difficulty that I am choosing Garden of Enchantment for the Sponsor’s Choice. While I struggled to choose, I decided on this soap because it featured a variety of flowers and leaves using different tips. I am aware of the challenges that one faces to juggle colors, tips, and time limits of soapmaking and felt that this soap displayed excellent skill.”  I’m not surprised Erica found it a difficult choice, as there were some amazing entries; I think us newbies gave the experienced soapers a run for their money!

For my prize I have received a $25 voucher to spend at Bath Alchemy Lab.  I already have my eye on their Scenting in Soapmaking E-book.  I have recently enrolled on an online course for creating fragrances for use in cosmetic products (more about this later) and this should tie in nicely.

Next month the challenge is wood grain soap.  Can’t wait!

Pamper Party

My nieces, Catherine and Gillian, loved my Wild Fig and Seville Orange luxury whipped body butter, and were keen to learn how to make it. So a couple of weeks ago, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I pitched up at Catherine’s gorgeous Glasgow flat laden with bags full of butters, oils and fragrances.

Joining in were their flatmates and friends and the girls had soon christened it a ‘pamper’ party.  So, of course, prosecco and nibbles were never far away!

The girls wanted to make my luxury body butter, with a blend of four butters and fifteen skin loving oils (it really is rather decadent!).  But, because there is a bit of delay in the process of making whipped body butter, we also made lip balms and scented candles.   Catherine’s flat was soon smelling amazing.

They are such lovely girls and I had a great time being creative with them.  Everyone left with some beautiful products to pamper themselves with, and lots of enthusiasm to make more.  I believe Gill, who is getting married next year, is now planning to make candles for her wedding favours.  I’m sure her guests will love them!

Piped Soap Challenge 2


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So excited!!  Here it is my finished entry for the September Soap Challenge … Garden of Enchantment.   Though I say so myself, it turned out better than expected and I’m actually quite chuffed with this one.

My inspiration came from bridal boquets.  I love the soft, vintage pink of the roses, and the creamy white tinged with green.  My colours are perhaps not quite as subtle, but I think I’ve captured the sense of a full bouquet of roses.

I used a very simple soap formula (equal quantities of castor oil, olive oil, palm oil, and coconut oil superfatted at 5%) and didn’t use any fragrance in my batter for piping.  But I did want the base soap to have a soft, feminine, floral scent.  Because I wasn’t going for fancy swirls in the base, I figured I could get away with something that might have slight acceleration.  So I headed over to Gracefruit (as they always give details as to how their fragrances behave in CP) and ordered myself some Enchantment allergen free fragrance oil (now you know how I came up with the name 😉 ).  They describe it as: “a crisp, sweet and delicately fruity floral with light citrus top notes of lemon and orange, leading on to a heart of peony, freesia, Casablancan lily, jasmin, rose, orris, frangipani and violet leaves. All resting on a sumptuous base of musk, woods, cassis, orchid and plum”.  How luscious does that sound!  It certainly lived up to its description.

I wondered long and hard about what shape to make the base soap.  I kept visualising a soap loaf, but then worried that when cut you would lose a lot of the impact of the floral top.  Then I thought about going for a round soap cake.  It could certainly look very pretty,  (I think I was heavily influenced by all the fantastic cakes I watched being iced on You Tube 😉 ) but I find wedge shaped soap really awkward to use.  So I decided to go with my slab mould as it would give me a larger top area on each bar to show off the flowers.

As I was going to enter into the competition and wanted it to have as great a visual impact as possible, I decided to decorate the entire slab and cut later, rather than using the dividers to make individual bars. Before placing the flowers I scored the top of the slab to indicate where it would be cut, and tried to place the flowers so that once cut each bar would have a pretty, feature flower.  Each bar should stand alone as a pretty design, but now that it’s made I don’t think I can bring myself to cut it!

It is decorated with a mix of pre-made flowers (see my previous post) and some iced directly onto the base.piping-soap-2

Yes, I know I should be wearing gloves, but they were such a pfaff when trying to do delicate work that I decided to risk it.   I kept a vinegar soaked cloth to hand and wiped my hands with it if I got any little bits of raw soap on my fingers.  Pleased to say my skin is still intact.

All the piped elements, apart from the leaves, were piped with two colours in the one piping bag.  The pinks were just too close in tone to do anything but give 2016-09-16-16-23-56a bit of variation between blooms.  The cream roses came out better.  I was aiming for the effect of soft creamy blooms with just a hint of green.  Still subtle but a little more obvious.  Finally I made some with a mix of white and a blue-purple.  I was sure they would give a distinct colour contrast, but again it was quite random as to how the soap came out the bag.  Still, I really like the more subtle colouring.

I loved this challenge and it is a technique I will definitely be doing again … and again … and again.  Think I’ve found my soaping happy place!

Piped Soap Challenge

Okay, so undaunted here I am preparing for the September Soap Challenge.  In the past 6 months, despite enrolling for all of them, I’ve only actually created an entry worthy soap twice!  But, hey, it’s been fun trying out the new techniques.

This month it is all about piped soap.  Yet again, as a new soaper, this isn’t something I’ve tried but I’ve seen some amazing creations by other soapmakers so I’m really excited to give it a go.

First thing was to order up some cake decorating equipment.  I don’t really own any as I don’20160901_120812t even ice cakes (doesn’t bode well, does it?), but inspired by Amy Warden’s challenge tutorial and a bit of research online, I got myself a dinky little set of Russian tips (no, I’d never heard of them either) and a set of Wilton petal, flower and leaf nozzles.  How cute is that tin?!

This month Amy has provided an extensive set of guidance notes with hints and tips from other soapers.  Checking out the notes, I decided to go with the recipe suggested by Kyme Garcia.  A simple blend of equal parts castor oil, coconut oil, palm oil, and olive oil.  All of which I had to hand and, if it all went pear shaped, it wouldn’t be an expensive disaster.  I also added some beeswax (to reduce soda ash) and sodium lactate (to help them firm up).  I decided to only use fragrance in the base loaf (which I’ll make over the weekend) so I didn’t need to worry about acceleration or discolouration.  Kyme recommended only making 8oz/200ml of soap at a time, and I must say it was quite nice making a smaller batch as there was much less time waiting around for the oils and lye to reach the correct temperature.

I split the batch and coloured one dark pink and the other a lighter pink.  One was a mica which I added directly to the batter, and one an ultramarine which I mixed with a little water first.  Even this small amount of water loosened the batter slightly so getting them to the same consistency was a bit of a challenge.  Lesson learned – next time stick to the same type of pigment for all batches.  Also, use more contrast as my colours were just a little too subtle.

I could probably have benefited from waiting a little longer, but after about 30 mins I decided to pipe.  I used a Wilton 104 tip and here’s what I got …

One the left is the first and on the right my second one.  I think the mixture was still a little too soft so, even though I didn’t think they were too awful, I scooped them up and popped them back in the bag.  You can’t do that with a swirl you don’t like!

I continued to make a batch of roses, although some looked more like ranunculas or peonies.  But still,  I think they’ll look okay once arranged on top of the soap with a few leaves added.

For a first attempt, I was not too disappointed.  I then changed bags and tried one of the Russian tips.20160831_172539  My batter had reached a better consistency now and Amy Warden got amazing results with these, so I had high hopes.

Hmm,  back to the drawing board I think.  However, I kept them in the hope that they could perhaps be used as fillers in among larger (and prettier!) flowers.  After all, not every flower in nature is perfect  🙂



Not having much luck with my soap!

Here it is – my attempt at the Dancing Funnel Technique for August’s Soap Challenge Club competition.


Doesn’t look too bad in the picture (apart from the fact that the design isn’t much of a dancing funnel!), but what you can’t really see from the photo is the dreadful opaque graininess that developed on all my bars (to prepare them for their close up, I trimmed these bars quite a bit!!).

I really don’t seem to be having much luck with my soaping right now!  Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to make a second batch this month as we have been away from home quite a bit. But anyway, here’s the story of my soap …

I was determined this time to stick exactly to the instructions including Tatsiana Serko’s recipe.


It was nice to try some different oils such as Babassu and Macademia Nut.  I even relented on my no-palm-oil stance since that’s what Tatsiana had used.  (I did however buy organic palm oil which my supplier assures me is produced in a sustainable way – apparently they have visited the producers to check!).

Aware of how important it was going to be to avoid any acceleration in this recipe, I purchased my fragrance oil from Gracefruit as they give details about acceleration and discolouration for all their fragrance oils.  I selected their Pomelo fragrance which is a lovely citrusy blend, and true to their word it didn’t accelerate or discolour at all.  My colour inspiration also came from the pomelo fruit which can have pink flesh with a yellow rind, so I chose Burlesque Pink and Lemon Pop micas as pigments.

Hand mixing the batter to emulsion was the first challenge.  And I suspect this is where things started to go wrong.  I did think I had a stable emulsion – honest! – but soon realised I should have stirred for a while longer.

I got quite excited when the colours went in …

But, once I started to pour the design I realised it was just too thin:  it was hard to control the pour and the batter constantly dripped out the bottles; the colours ran into each other and I struggled to get nice defined circles; and, I developed a layer of clear liquid on the top.

Undaunted, I popped it into the oven to gel.  I set my temperature at 80°C /125°F, maintaining it for 30 minutes before letting it cool in the oven.  If you’ve read my previous post you’ll know I was excited to be able to line my slab mould with a cat litter liner.  I was worried that this would melt in the oven but decided to go ahead after testing a piece first.

On the left you can see what went into the oven … and on the right what came out!  Hmm, not so pretty.

Getting it out the mould proved a challenge, especially removing the bottom liner.  After leaving it a couple of days to harden I still couldn’t remove the bottom so I improvised with a piece of thread which I ran down between the plastic base and the soap.  A few pieces stuck to the liner, but otherwise it actually worked okay.  Think in future I’ll maybe just line the mould with paper and use the dividers.

Trying to pull the bars away from the dividers just tore the soap, so again a bit of improvisation was needed.  This time I chopped up a store card to the same size and used it to push them out.  This worked quite well, and stopped me getting finger impressions in the soap.

I had been a bit concerned that the bars would be too small but they turned out okay.  I would say they were more toilet soap sized rather than bath size, but still, it was nice to get 12 identically sized bars.

Once out the mould, it seemed to be mainly the pink areas which were affected by the strange texture, although it could be it simply showed up more in the pink that the yellow.  The opaque areas also had a grainy, almost crumbly, texture and this extended about a centimeter down into the soap.

I suspect it was linked to the batter not being properly emulsified.  Then I got to thinking that perhaps these areas would be lye heavy so my soap may not be fit to use!  Drastic action was required.  Bring out the crock pot!

I chopped it all up (doesn’t it look like Spam 🙂 ) and re-batched it.  Interestingly, the crumbly, opaque areas took significantly longer to melt down that the rest of the soap.  In fact, I ended up putting it in the mould when it was still quite lumpy and you can see the speckling this has given below.  To make it a bit more interesting I decided to add pencil lines using blueberry mica.  The mica didn’t seem to want to stick to the re-batched soap as easily as it does to wet CP soap, but it has jazzed it up a bit.

It still smells gorgeous and the end scraps lathered very nicely. So, after a lot of phaffing about, I’ve ended up with a usable soap.  Success!

The next challenge is a decorative piped soap.  Hmmmm …



When all else fails …. read the instructions!

Oops! I definitely should have read the instructions for this month’s Soap Challenge.  If I had I would have realised that the Pipe Divider Swirl had to be made in a slab mould, not a log mould.  As a result I was disqualified! Amy from Great Cakes Soap Works, who organises the challenges, was terribly nice about it and kindly gave me the heads up that a slab mould might be a good investment, especially as I am going to need one for the next challenge.

So, I headed to The Moulds Shop and ordered myself one of their Tara 12 cavity wooden slab moulds.  It arrived this morning and I am soooooo excited!  (Fellow soap makers will understand my excitement … non-soapers will think I need to get out more).  Here it is in all it’s glory:

I have to say I’m very impressed with the quality of their moulds and at £39.99 I think it’s reasonably priced.  It comes with plastic base and side inserts as well as the dividers.  You could probably get away without lining it but I would be concerned that there might be some seepage.  Then inspiration struck – cat litter tray liners!  (Maybe I do need to get out more?!)  I have a couple of packets of them taking up space in the cupboard since our adoptee, Freyja, decided it was fun to rip them to shreds whenever I used them.  However, turns out they are great for slipping over the mould before popping the plastic liner in place.  The bonus is that the whole mould is protected from splashes (my log mould [also from the Moulds Shop] is looking very ‘lived-in’ since my attempt at creating a pencil line with black iron oxide powder).

So my mould is all prepped and ready to go:

Bring on next month’s challenge … and I promise to read the instructions this time 😉

Pipe Divider Swirl

20160712_220305It’s been a while since I last tried my hand at a Soap Challenge.  I did try to make a rimmed soap, but it went seriously wrong – really should have followed the method suggested!  Still after a slight break, I decided to have another go so have signed up for the next three challenges starting this month with the Pipe Divider Swirl.

The first challenge was adapting the technique to the equipment I have.  I have not yet got round to ordering (or making) a slab mould so decided to simply use my log mould.  Figured I could get the same effect if I cut the bars horizontally.  This worked okay although they were a little wonky (note to self – add decent soap cutter to shopping list as well as slab mould).  The next challenge was sourcing the PVC pipe couplers.  My local Homebase only had really small ones which didn’t look at all suitable.  Undaunted I simply bought a 3m length of PVC pipe con20160709_184001fident that I could cut it into smaller lengths.

Well that didn’t prove quite as easy as I thought.  I ended up with rather squint and  very ragged cuts.  After a bit of pairing with a craft knife they were just about okay.  (Sorry totally forgot to take any photos of this bit – just take my word that it wasn’t pretty 🙂  ).  I used melted cocoa butter, as suggested, to set them into the mould and added a tiny bit extra inside to try and seal up any imperfections in the seal.  This actually worked okay.

For my soap I decided to try out a lard recipe (which I’ve listed below) which behaved itself
20160709_184438quite well.  Although a little early to fully assess, the trimmings gave a beautifully soft, fluffy lather.  My fragrance was a natural lavender and basil fragrance oil which accelerated trace a little which made it hard to get a nice, level top.  Still nothing a little trimming didn’t sort.20160712_222454

The inspiration for my design was the clematis in my garden.  My four colours were Ultramarine Pink, Ultramarine Violet, Hydrated Chromium Oxide, and Titanium Dioxide. This time I remembered to mix my ultramarine with water and not oil – what a difference, so much easier.

I had originally thought I would just guesstimate how much of each colour I wou20160709_185142ld need, but a little voice inside nagged me to do the maths.  Just as well I did.  My guesstimate was that the pipes took up almost half the total area.  Wrong!  It actually worked out at only a fifth, which turned out to be spot on.  Had a tiny bit of soap left which I popped into some mini bundt moulds.  They’re still a little soft, despite adding sodium lactate to the recipe, so not sure yet how they’ll turn out.  But I will be interested to see how the colours are.  I gelled the main soap but not the mini ones.  What is quite interesting is that a ‘halo’ has developed in the green soap around the purple/pink soap.

So here’s the finished soap and my entry for the July challenge.  Hope you like it!


As promised here’s the recipe I used:

Lard Soap

30% coconut oil; 20% lard; 20% olive oil; 20% rapeseed (canola) oil; 10% castor oil.

Extras:  pinch of tussah silk; 15g powdered goat’s milk; 2 tspn sodium lactate; 1/2 tspn each of titanium dioxide, ultramarine pink, ultramarine violet, hydrated chromium oxide; 30g natural lavender and basil fragrance oil.

5% super fat

30% water as % of oil weight