Updated: Sep 19, 2019
Being a veteran of 1 challenge of the Soap Challenge Club https://soapchallengeclub.com/ I was feeling a little more comfortable this month. I'd been through the process and now knew how everything happened. The big difference for me was that the challenge actually centred around producing bars of soap. Now for a lot of you you're probably thinking 'well yes, that's obvious it's a soap challenge' but what I mean is that last month the focus was on decoration on top of a bar, so I was able to practice fairly efficiently without wasting any batches of soap.
I don't sell my soap yet (hoping to in the future) and there are only so many bars you need for personal use/gifting. This and the cost of just producing lots of soap meant that I couldn't afford to do a lot of practice attempts. So I set myself a limit of what I would use to practice. Looking through my oils I have a reasonable amount of coconut oil, but not loads, so I set that as my limit, whatever I could make with that, without ordering anything else was what I was happy to use.
Slab Mould Trauma
The challenge needed a slab mould, which I don't own, you can get them in the UK, but they're pretty expensive. But I did have silicone from a previous project. I'm quite 'handy' so I set off to make my own silicone slab mould. Well, I had a number of problems, which I won't go into here, those of you who are on the soap challenge Facebook group may have already seen my post about the experience. To cut a long and very messy story short, at one point I had silicone in a square mould I had made with a slightly smaller square on top of it, this was floating in the silicone, held down by a jug of water taped to the top, hopefully trying to create a flat level bottom in my slab. I didn't hold out much hope (No this is not the way you should do it, nor was it my plan).
However, to my utmost amazement, the silicone mould came out great. It was flat and level and the sides had just the right amount of flex in them to allow easy unmoulding. Here it is:
I have some wood in the garage, so it's a pretty straightforward exercise to make up a box and we're all set.
Attempt 1 - Hmm, thicker than anticipated.
Now for soap at last. My new mould is just over 21cm x 21cm, so I didn't want to use it to practice as it would use a lot of oils. I found a handy cardboard box, lined it with freezer paper and I was all set. My recipe is pretty slow-moving and I have a couple of fragrance oils that I trust not to do anything odd. I normally soap at about 90 degrees, but I thought, to allow a bit of extra working time that I would soap at room temperature. This should have given me much longer to work, but it didn't. I think where it went wrong is that because everything was cool (about 72 degrees) the oils were not as free-flowing as normal. I'm pretty sure I didn't get a false trace as they never went through that thick gloopy stage, but they just generally felt less fluid to what I'm used to. I don't think I blended much more than normal, but I was conscious of getting a false trace, so maybe I did.
My batter was pretty fluid as I divided up colours and mixed in the fragrance, but they thickened fairly quickly, to the extent that towards the end of my pour it was more of a spoon aided plop. I tried to swirl, but there was no swirling action going on, my stick just cut through and left cut marks, with the batter just staying where it was. So instead I just swirled the whole lot together and left it at that (CPOP overnight).
Attempt 2 - Oh they're bees?
My second attempt went much better, which was good as I knew I only had one more cardboard box practice before I needed to do the real thing. I reverted to my normal soaping temperature and all went well. I 'd decided that as the swirls would sort of resemble flowers that I would try to emphasise that but also bring in some bees. So attempt 2 was about practising the elements I wanted, but not with any overall design in mind. This is what I ended up with:
I sort of liked the green stem I'd managed to get, but the flowers being so close to the edge limited the amount of swirl and movement. When I showed my partner, he looked confused. Me: It's flowers and bees
Him: Oh they're bees are they?
Me: Well they're suppose to represent bees, and the soap will have a name, I'll think of something to say bees.
Him: Ok (not sounding convinced)
It's handy having someone around that will give you honest feedback because let's face it apart from the yellow and black, they're not very bee-like. No wings and the tails are far too long.
Overall I'm happy with attempt 2, I've learnt a lot and have plans for my final soap.
Submission soap - Gathering Pollen.
So here we are, at last, my submission soap. I'm a planner by nature, so if I can think about something upfront and go in with a plan I will always choose that option. So I spent some time in the evenings after work, mucking about with designs, thinking about the swirling and pipes and then how much batter I would need for each part of the design. I'm now down to the final bit of my self imposed ration. I've calculated that for the thickness of bars I want, that I'll need 2.05kg soap batter. I have enough coconut oil for 2.57kgs, so luckily a bit extra, some of that will be needed as soap will get stuck in the pipes etc, but I do have a bit of leeway for calculating the proportions for each part. My final plans:
I need some wings on my bees. Now the easiest way would be to use a squeeze bottle, but that's not within the rules, so I need some very small tubes. I end up with toilet paper rolls cut in half lengthwise, rolled up and then taped level with the base of my white 'bee' tubes:
All tubes are dipped into some melted soy wax I have leftover from last months challenge and then placed in the mould before being left for the wax to harden:
I chose my colours, mix in some oil and put them into the pots I'll pour from. I know I want to move fast, so write the quantity of soap batter and fragrance oil I want in each container onto the container with a pen, then I emulsify the batter, divide and mix into the colours:
I had a two-coloured base. I was conscious that my batter would be very fluid at 1st but if I poured the base all in one go it would thicken too much before I finished filling the pipes, so I added fragrance to half of the base colours and poured them alternately from the corners. This all went very smoothly, I started to have a very small amount of seepage under the toilet roll tube wings, so quickly squirted a bit of grey wing colour in the wing pipes to stop any further inflow.
Moving on to the flowers and bees, I wanted a darker base of the flower with a lighter edge around the petals, I also wanted a stem to come out of the bottom of the flower head. For the flowers, I found using the cut off bases of plastic containers nice and flexible, and reusable, unlike paper cups. For the bees, as the pipes were so narrow I used squeeze bottles. I added the fragrance oil and went to work filling the pipes, here's a little pick of how I filled them:
When they were up to the level I wanted I then added the fragrance to the remaining base and poured that.
From my practice, I knew that I wanted a good fluid batter for my swirl through the flowers, but I wanted the bees to be less fluid as I wanted to retain their round shape to a certain extent, with the part where the swirl came out of the bee making the little stingy tail, without it being unnaturally long as it had been in my practice. So I pulled the flower pipes 1st and left the bees in. Took a look at my swirl diagram, to make sure that I was happy how to do the swirl so that it came out of the flower head, through the green part and dragged that to make a stem on its way to the next flower. The batter was still lovely and fluid and I ended up with what I wanted - yippee!!!. Sorry the picture's a bit fuzzy, but I quickly grabbed my phone and took a shot without mucking around too much:
Then finally to pull the bee pipes. I dragged a skewer from the outside of the grey towards the body to make wings and then dragged through the yellow / black to end up with the body and stingy tail:
Wrapped up and popped in the oven to gel
I know, I got here, at last, here they are, I hope you like them: