Pockets of Gold

This is for my entry to the March 2020 Soap Challenge, hosted by Amy Warden. This month we were attempting the Clam Shell technique.

I'm continuing with the style of this blog post being briefer than the ones I've done in the past as I now make videos of my Challenge Club soaps and post them to YouTube. So if you'd prefer to watch a video, why not head over there (the video is just under 15 minutes long), clicky thing to take you to the video.

If you don't fancy that, hey that's cool too, I hope you enjoy the blog, I've tried to keep it as close to a 5 minute read as possible, If you just want pictures, then scroll to the bottom.

Teri Endsley of Tree Marie Soapworks was our guest teacher, showing us her Clam Shell technique, and as you would expect from Teri she produced a beautiful and informative video to explain the technique. Elements Bath & Body were sponsors for both the regular and advanced categories - Thank you for your support.

I decided to enter the Advanced category where the clam shell pour had to fill an entire mould and be cut vertically, as you would typically cut a normal bar of soap. The challenge of this category was to cope with the volume of soap going into a mould and controlling the trace and pour so that you could produce bars with a consistent design, nice clear clam shell patterns and also be able to see the feathering in the clams without it being blurry.

I actually had two attempts at this challenge, I was pretty happy with my first attempt and was going to leave it at that, but there were a few queries about the technique that cropped up as I did my first pour and it made me think 'what if'. Now, I'm completely rubbish just sitting on 'what ifs' so after a few day I couldn't take it any more and had to answer my questions.

Pour One

I knew I wanted to add something to the standard two colour requirement. People in the Challenge Club are so creative, so you have to work hard to try to stand out. I decided that I would stick with a two colour pour in my clams, but every now and again drop in a different colour clam, so that the bar was mainly filled with clams of the same colour, but maybe one or two would pop out in a different colour.

I decided to use Black Plum and Rhubarb fragrance oil from Candle Shack (UK) as it's a lovely fragrance and perfectly behaved. My main clams would be lime and dark pink and with the others being purple and white.

Why this colour scheme? Well I think the colours go well with the fragrance, plus I have been preparing to sell my soaps in the UK. You may be aware of the tight regulation we have here, where any soap you want to sell has to be assessed by a chemist, you can have one base recipe that you must stick to exactly and then create variation from that. Each variation must use the exact base but has additions (typically limited to 5 or 6 extras only), so this includes your fragrance oil and any colours. Once that variation is approved it cannot be changed, if you want to adjust anything (even the proportions of the colours you use) you have to pay for a new assessment. I have this scheme certified, and so for the 1st time I could actually sell my Challenge Soap after it's made.

I didn't want the purple/white clam to be in a ordered row, so decided to drop it in every fourth pour so that it would stagger across the bars. With that in mind I made up my batter and split 3/4 for the pink/green combo and 1/4 for the purple/white. I blended just to emulsion before splitting and adding the colours and then fragrance, hand stirring each addition in. I then left the batters to come to the trace I wanted without any further blending. I find leaving the batter at this stage helps the trace stay consistent for longer, whereas if you blend to the trace you want the batter tends to keep thickening at a quicker rate. Oh and if you're wondering, this was a previous 'what if' issue I had, so I did a test to compare the two techniques.

Each colour pairing was poured into a jug to get an even quantity of colours. I found it was important to pour close to the side of the jug, or even down the side to get the best straight line in the middle, if the stream of batter was aimed closer to the centre line the effect of the stream landing in the batter could be enough to pull batter from the other side, which could cause muddied area.

Mould propped up and let the pour begin, right, left centre and repeat, doing three of the green/pink and the one purple/white. I used drink coasters to prop up my mould, which worked well as they were about 5mm thick, so the mould could be lowered in gradual stages, which would prevent the sudden slip of the batter and the problem of new batter flowing over the top of the old and creating a sort of second row.

The soap was then wrapped and CPOPed overnight and cut the next day. I was pretty happy with the results of the pour and was set to have this as my entry.

It was such a fun technique, but one thing I didn't like was the fact that when cutting the loaf, the first few bars weren't clam shell, they were ok, but not great, the best bars came from the poured end and the middle, beyond that they were not as good. I didn't like the feeling of waste in the technique, where you only really got a satisfactory result from part of the loaf, maybe it was just my pour technique, but it seems a fairly consistent pattern from most attempts I've seen.

So ….....

For the non 'clammy bar' problem I wanted to use the ends as much as possible to get 2 shots at good bars, so decided to pour from both ends. It would be interesting to see how the soap bunched up in the middle, I figured possibly less than in the 1st loaf did at the far end as their would be less weight of soap.

So my pour plan was:

  • Keep the mould flat, no tilting - I can't tilt if using both ends, but I like the idea of not dropping the mould down and causing the soap to shift, I also felt that the trace of my soap (not too thin) would stop excessive spread.

  • Rotate the mould between every pour, so right side end 1, then right side end 2, then left side end 1................ so hopefully I could keep the flow even on both ends and not have either end set up too much before pouring the next clam.

  • Still drop in my different 4th clam, so I needed to concentrate to swap the ends, pour locations and colours at the right time.

I changed my colours, because I fancied a new scheme, for the main claims I used teal and white and then I wanted pockets of gold clams (2 shades).

I liked the result, it wasn't really any more difficult to do than the first version and I liked not having to try to decide when to remove or add spacers. My very middle bar was weird, but no worse than the weird ones from the first pour, but the rest were all pretty good clam shells, so loss of 1 bar rather than 3 - good news. I like my second loaf the best and it was lovely to have nearly a full loaf to choose bars from.

My mould is square rather than rectangular, so that limited the room for the clams to sit next to each other, but I think the shapes are pretty consistent with the Advanced categorty tutorial example, more scallops than the clams you get from the regular pour. It was such a fun technique I can see a wider mould made from a cardboard box at some point and a further attempt.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, I hope you enjoyed it. Please feel free to leave any comments below.

Happy soaping


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