Updated: Aug 12, 2019
Hello and welcome to my blog, as the title suggests recently there have been a lot of new things for me. A short while ago I dipped my toe into the world of making cold process soap and since my first bar, I have been hooked. This blog's not about my soapy journey so far, but about my hopefully not too rash decision to enter the Soap Challenge Club's August 2019 challenge - Brush Embroidery.
Now I think this might be a fairly long read, so I hope I don't bore anyone (well just click off if I do). This is my first blog (new thing number 2), it's about my adventure into the soap challenge, hopefully, if it's not a complete disaster (the soap or the blog) there will be many more to come. As already mentioned I'm a real soap newbie, so if anyone has any advice or comments, I'd be glad to hear them, can people leave comments on blogs? I don't know, see, I'm new at this too. Guess I'll find out later.
I'd been browsing through the soap challenge website for a while, paid for the one month access to the tutorials, watched them all, tried a couple (as well as watching so many soapers on YouTube) and finally took the plunge (I'm calling this plunge day). I thought this would be a good one to start on because I could practice the piping and design without churning out copious amounts of soap with any failed attempts.
Plunge day - evening
Yippee the tutorial is up, having watched it through, downloaded and taken notes it doesn't seem too hard. Ho, ho, ho, how many people have thought that before having a go, let's face it the tutorials aren't going to be full of people having a disaster. I'm all excited and keen to get going. First off, think of a design. Not flowers, not flowers, there's nothing wrong with flowers, but I knew I wanted something different. Thinking about the style of pattern the brush embroidery makes I came up with the idea of peacocks. Rummaging around on the internet I hit on some pictures that inspire me.
Now patience isn't my strongest trait, I get really excited about things and when I've got an idea in my head I can't wait to run with it. I'm in a bit of a catch 22 situation, I need a design, but I need to know if I've got any skills in the brush embroidery department before I make a design. Also, what's practical to fit onto a piece of soap. I don't really want to get all my stuff out to make a tiny batch of soap, so instead make up a batch of buttercream. I already have a couple of piping bags from a cake I made several years ago, so I'm all set.
Now I bet that bowl of buttercream is the most exciting picture you've seen for ages. Practice was, let's say OK, I spot an initial problem. My plan to do a full peacock's not going to work, there's no way I can get any detail in on something at such a small scale, so a slight change in plan is needed. I wouldn't say I've got this cracked, but I'm starting to get the feel for the technique. I'm a right old sleepyhead by now, so off to bed for me.
So, realistically how big can you make a bar of soap, well, yes I know, basically as big as your mould, but let's face it, it's a bar of soap and I can't see that making a jumbo bar is in the spirit of the challenge. My normal bars are 7cm x 8cm and I don't think a larger one would feel right to hold or use, so that's my size limit.
A good old bit of doodling and I get a selection of ideas that I bring down to a final 3. I've gone for the side view peacock on a branch, although I'm reliably informed by my partner that peacock's don't go in trees. Hmmm, true, but they do jump up on things, so let's just say he popped up there, anyway, surely no-one will mind if it's not 'naturistically' (is that even a word?) correct. Second is the close up of the peacock and the centre of his tail, I decide to make him face the opposite direction to my inspiration picture as I don't want both birds in the 3 soaps facing the same way. Lastly, I want to do a close up of the feathers, so I can get the detail of the beautiful design (the peacock tail design I mean, at this stage I still have no clue whether mine will be beautiful or a disaster).
Next colours. Looking closely at the peacock tail feathers I can see that they're actually two-tone, a darker green, with shimmery light green on top. The 'eyeball' patterns are pretty detailed, a sort of pointed egg shape with aqua / teal at the back a sort of sand at the front and a dark blue dot in the middle, so I mix up a small batch of soap, to test the colours to see how they come out and also practice the brush embroidery in some soap rather than buttercream. I'm pleased to see that the texture of the soap is easier to work with than the buttercream I'd used previously.
I wanted to do a soap base that wasn't just a single colour, the brush embroidery is just on the top surface, therefore as soon as it's used the design will be ruined and disappear. I thought about creating some sort of scene in my slab mould, painting the peacocks and having them so that they made a scene, but the designs I'd chosen made it so that this wouldn't work. I wanted a solid colour to paint the design on, so in the end opted for a straight lines design, using the colours that I'd decided on for the peacocks as the various layers.
I was going to leave it for a few days, but my partner pointed out that I might be a bit tight for time if say it went wrong or something as I still have to actually do the embroidery, photograph, write a blog, as well as normal life/work and the fact we're away for a long weekend. So I planned to do it the next day.
Fragrance, well now time to sort through my extensive collection, I have three! (remember I am new) so as you can imagine it took ages to choose, well actually it wasn't a straight forward choice. I have Black raspberry vanilla (I know, so does everyone, but it's a nice safe one to start with), Black plum and rhubarb and Enchanted forest. The 1st two are great and don't accelerate, the Enchanted Forest can be tricky, It was reported as no acceleration, no ricing, no discolouring, but when I popped it into bottles to do a dancing funnel I very quickly ended up with 3 bottles of pretty solid soap. (I'm in the UK by the way so reviews and info on fragrance oils is very sparse here if you can find any at all) Enchanted Forest made more sense for the soap, but it worried me that if it accelerated quickly it would stop me having nice flat layers, so I'm undecided and go to bed to sleep on it.
As soon as my head hits the pillow I start thinking again and eventually decide that if I have enough Enchanted Forest left for my soap I will use it.
2.15am the next day, I'm awake and can't get back to sleep, so up I get. I'll just make up my lye solution, then get a nap on the settee in the lounge, hmm, then I just weigh out my oils and at about 3.30am when everything was at the right temp (90 degrees for me) there I am 'stealth' blending (it's basically stick blending but trying to be quiet because it's silly o'clock). I used the Enchanted Forest but just made sure I worked super fast from the point the fragrance went in to each mini batch (65g soap batter per layer). It was a close thing. I would literally just get it in the mould tip to spread the layer and it would be set a second or so later, so no mucking about. The advantage was that I didn't have to wait very long between layers.
I had decided to use my log mould and cut the bars horizontally, so I made up my soap to be two bars thick, I can get three 8cm bars from the length so that 3 extra in case of problems.
I made the loaf so that the tops of the two bars are facing the middle, that way I can get as much done as possible whilst still leaving the top faces uncut until I'm ready to embroider. Each layer is 5mm thick, but the white middle is 2cm, allowing a top for each soap, plus an amount to cut and plane to a nice fresh surface. CPOP oven at 75 degrees turned off as soon as I put the soap in and left until the next morning.
I left the soap in the mould for about 36 hours, then after another 24, I cut into three 8cm x 7cm blocks. I didn't slice horizontally through the white as I wanted to leave that as close to 'embroidery' time as possible.
Embroidery day, I sliced the soap horizontally and prepared for embroidery
I don't have pictures of the process as I didn't want raw soap on my phone, plus I was too absorbed in what I was doing. I used Amy's recipe and it worked really well. I only have two piping bags, so mixed up two colours at a time, yes I know I could have made some out of baggies, but I actually liked the idea of making some colours up and then as I was partway through using them starting the next colours off to get to the right texture.
I did the feathers on all bars first. Whilst practising I'd tried various ways to get the affect of the dark and light green colours on the feathers, I found each time I put the second colour on it disturbed or smudged the first. So, in the end, I did a teeny weeny ITP swirl by putting the 2 colours together in the icing bag so they would come out two-tone, this worked really well. I then built up from back to front, so that the parts that were closer were thicker in the piping, I had to do two layers on the blue front of the peacock so that it didn't appear sunken.
For the small colours, aqua, sand and dark blue for the 'eyeball' patterns in the tails, the white and black on the faces I didn't use a piping bag, the amounts were so tiny, just over a teaspoon. Instead, I just filled a piping nozzle 3/4 full each time and pushed it through with a gloved thumb.
I used a variety of brush techniques, the one that Amy did on her lacy coloured soap for the feathers, adapted slightly to give a bend to the stroke, the small petal brush stroke for the small lime green feather area and then just brushing over the blue. Piped on a tree branch and embroidered some flowers to finish.
I was worried about ash, so sprayed regularly with alcohol, seem to have worked, so far so good, no ash.
Here they are, hope you like them.
If you're still reading - you hero!!!! I'm sorry it's so long. I stopped here, before it got even longer with details about photography etc.
Thank you for reading and thank you so much Amy for organising and managing the challenges, so much fun.