Saturday, June 24, 2017

Murder at Sunset

My daughter's favorite book is "An Exaltation of Larks", which lists many colorful names given to groups of things (not just birds). E.g.: an ostentation of peacocks, a parliament of owls, a charm of finches, a murmuration of starlings and -- of course -- a murder of crows.

I knew I wanted to do a sunset (which is actually a gradient, not an ombre, but still allowed), with something shown in silhouette. Enter my daughter again, as whenever we drive on highway 85 to brother's place in Los Gatos, she's always got an eye out for the crow-covered telephone wire that spans it before our exit.

I apologize for the dark and blurry picture, but I lost track of time and had to submit something. I will take better pictures this afternoon and finish my story then...

Friday, May 26, 2017

D'Oh -- it's Klimt!

I was so happy when I learned we were doing soap dough for this challenge, as I've been hoping for a recipe/technique to get soap to behave more like polymer clay.

(Not to mention the opportunity to use "D'oh!" in the post title :)

And I really appreciated having Sorcery Soap's recipe, but as Bee points out: soap likes to stick to everything but itself -- which is the opposite of what is needed.

The ever-amazing Tatsiana Serko has her own recipe/technique, which got me closer to what I was looking for. The trick is to make the dough into bars, like normal soap, then when you need some dough, you plane off the edges and use the insides. Brilliant! 

I only had enough of the exotic oils the recipe called for for one batch, though, so I improvised on my second batch. Luckily, I was rewarded with a dough that's even more clay-like, and which I can actually post here:
  • 25% Lard
  • 25% Coconut Oil
  • 25% Canola Oil
  • 15% Castor Oil
  • 10% Beeswax

The recipe is a rule-breaker, as the castor oil and beeswax are *way* too much for a normal bar. But the castor adds stickiness and rubberiness, and the beeswax adds the plasticity that's needed to make it behave more like clay. I also:
  • Added 1 t/ppo of lavender + peppermint essential oils
  • Used a superfat/lye discount of 8%, and 2:1 water: oil, but no sodium lactate or salt
  • Added 1 teaspoon/ppo of kaolin clay and 1 scoop/ppo of powdered milk, stick-blending them into oils
  • As with Tatsiana's recipe, poured the batter into individual bar molds, and put them in the freezer to stop gelling

I tried making all sorts of things, but I'm what's known as "artistic for an engineer" (i.e., not artistic). My Klimt-inspired bar was more of an endurance test to see what the dough could do. It's made up of "mod canes" in a bunch of bright colors:

It's a lot of work to get the colored dough mixed and ready to use, but you can save a step if you color and condition the dough at the same time:
  1. Plane off and discard the outside of the bar
  2. Plane off a bunch of slices from inside the bar
  3. Weigh out piles of slices for each color
  4. Kneed a pile of slices into a rough mass and then squash it out flat
  5. Brush some rubbing alcohol onto the mass and add a small heap of mica
  6. Kneed the messy mass until it's a soft, pliable, single-colored mass
You don't strictly need to use alcohol, but I find that it makes the colors more vibrant than with just dry colorant. But I've found that the only way to get completely smooth and consistent colors with dough is to color before trace, otherwise, there will always be bits of traced, uncolored dough in there.

To make the mod canes, I started by cutting out a bajillion little discs of dough:

If I were insane enough to do this again, I'd make little balls instead of discs, as it would go faster.

Once I had my disks, I stacked them into a cheap polymer clay extruder, pushed the handle, and out came these messy-looking 3/8" noodles. I didn't do a great job of capturing all the steps, so please see Lisa Pavelka's Extruded Mod Canes post of you want to know how it all works.

Then, I layed them flat, squished them together and cut and stacked them. Any time a cane wouldn't stick to it's neighbor, I'd brush it with a tiny bit of water, and then it would stay.

It came out pretty cool-looking, but I was worried it might fall apart, so I added a another band of dough in a checkerboard pattern, then put the whole thing into a bar mold with some black cold-process batter to make sure it wasn't going anywhere:

(The above picture was taken after using the bar for a week, just to make sure it would stay together!)

I dry-brushed the bar with gold mica for the Klimt-look, then took whatever scraps of dough I had left and attempted to make a swirled lentil bead:

FWIW, earlier in the week I made this crown on a pillow:

I used some paper templates for the rough shapes:

Then shaped it and smoothed it with water:

For the pillow itself, I made a cookie cutter like this:

I made the tassels using the same extruder, but with a different disc:

Of course they need gold mica, too!

Neither of these creations comes close to what other (actually artistic!) folks have come up with for this challenge, but it was fun to do, and I'm happy with the dough recipe I came up with. :)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Rusted Soap

I have never once been mistaken as someone for whom less is more.

It doesn't even make sense mathematically.

So it wasn't that much of a surprise when Amy said my Easter-inspired soaps weren't exactly rustic enough for this month's Rustic Soap challenge.

I had been thinking: it's an egg. Like on a farm. Farms are rustic, right?

And I'd shaped these by hand, like without a mold. Isn't that rustic? Hmmmm.

I tried a few more in what I thought were earth tones, but my family took one look and declared... Nope. Still not rustic.

What was I missing???

Apparently sparkly mica isn't rustic. Who knew? Sigh...

So, I put them aside and made the next batch using only clays and tea powders for colorants. Sadly, they don't sparkle one bit. 

See? Not even a little. 

This challenge included some sort of packaging, and again, I was stumped. 

I consider shimmery organza bags and velvet ribbons to be sort of a baseline, so what was I to do?

Apparently, very little. 

Don't get me wrong, as it still took me forever to come up with this. Striped cotton ticking in tan and black, and a custom, home-made label printed on simple kraft paper. 

The background printed too light to tell, but it's intended to look like an old fence. The fonts are Janda Apple Cobbler and Bernard MT Condensed.

My husband says they're still not rustic enough, as they should be just a single, dull color. I disagree. After all, they literally look rusted. Hello? Rusted? Rustic? That can't be a coincidence...

In case you're wondering, I made these from cooled hot-process soap dough, using this recipe:
  • 30% Lard
  • 25% Coconut Oil 
  • 20% Costco Mediterranean Blend Oil
    (50% canola, 40% olive, 10% grapeseed)
  • 12% Castor Oil
  • 10% Shea Butter
  • 3% White Beeswax
I skipped my usual sodium lactate and used 40% water, which is almost twice as much as I normally do, so they take much longer to harden than I'm used to!

I like to make up a big batch and keep it in a gallon ziplock for when I (or my daughter) need some soap dough to make something with. I usually scent it with Cucumber-Melon (from Nurture Soap), as everyone loves that one, but I did this batch using Indian Sandalwood (from Nature's Garden) as it's more exotic and the scent lasts forever. Like years, even unwrapped.

To make these two bars, I:
  1. Measured out 9 oz of dough, and broke it into little pieces with my fingers
  2. Spritzed the pieces with water
  3. Tossed them in green tea, yellow Brazilian clay and Australian black clay
  4. Started squishing them together, working out a design as I went
  5. Plopped the whole mass onto a silpat mat
  6. Shaped it into one long bar
  7. Let it sit for a while to harden up, and then cut into two
The process is pretty straight forward, and is based on the same idea as a pencil line. But, it does take a bit of practice to get the ratio of colors right, and to keep the sections from coming apart as they dry.

For this soap, I was going for more of a stone look, so I pulled the shapes into longer sections to make them look more like veins of marble or granite. The middles could of course have just been a solid color, but it's more fun to me if the designs to go all the way through the bar. Here is the backside of one:

FWIW, I did try making a fluid hot process bar, with mixed results. It turned out pretty complex for hot process (i.e., you really can do swirls!), but keeping everything hot was a pain, and the tops were so ugly! Here's what I made, scented with Wholesales Supply's Sweet Pumpkin Pie fragrance:

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Cosmic Christmas

Every year, my husband and I take turns choosing our style of Christmas tree decor.

This year it's his choice, which means brightly colored balls, big 1970's lights and lots of tinsel. Very Brady Bunch. Next year, we'll have little twinkly white lights and delicate ornaments in muted colors -- stopping just short of Martha Stewart, but only because I have less staff. ;)

So what does this have to do with soap? Everything -- if you're me!

This month's soap challenge is called the Cosmic Wave. It's one of the more difficult ones we've attempted, because you have to get the batter thickness, color balance and placement exactly right.

I mean exactly.

And you have to have some luck on your side, as once you mix the colors in the pot and pour, they need to just flow out as they will, without one wiggling them about. This works just fine as a study in Brownian motion, but is nerve wracking if you're as control-oriented as I am!

In my first attempt, my batter was too thin, and each successive pour just sunk to the bottom in a muddy mess. On my second try, the batter was too thick, and it ended up looking like a blobby finger painting.

What you see here is my third, and while I'd love a few more tries, we're heading out of town at the crack of dawn, so it'll just have to do:

The colors are some of my favorites for Christmas: lichen, plum and raisin. And while not traditional, I really like how they go together, especially for the holidays:
Since I used only 5% of the batter for each color, I super-saturated them at 1.5 t/ppo. The remaining 85% was colored with titanium dioxide.

For this intricate technique, I used a slower-moving variant of my go-to recipe:
  • 30% Lard
  • 41% Costco Mediterranean Blend Oil 
  • 25% Coconut Oil 
  • 4% Castor Oil
Which just means altering the ratio to use less coconut and castor with more olive/canola/grapeseed than I normally do.

For the fragrance, I mixed:
The latter is one of a handful of decelerating fragrances I use only when I need to, as they all have a cloying and rotten-smelling note. Bleh, but they work!

  • Soaped at about 85F
  • Used no lye discount, as I mixed my colorants 1:3 with fractionated coconut oil
  • Used my standard 1.5:1 water:lye ratio with 1 oz/ppo of both fragrance and 60% sodium lactate
  • Mixed quite a bit with a standard stick blender, as the decelerant slowed things down almost too much
  • CPOP'd in a 140F oven for two hours, and unmolded after four hours

Next time, I'd do almost all of it as a quick in-the-pot swirl, and just add the cosmic wave technique on the tops. There's really no point to doing it elsewhere, as it won't show. D'oh! That way, I could also skip the decelerant and make a much bigger batch.

Which is exactly what I'm planning to do for my Christmas Sugar Plum Swirl...

Friday, August 12, 2016

Dancing Bubbles

This month's soap club challenge is the Dancing Funnel, which is basically a series of overlapping circles. It looks really easy to do, but, like so many others, turns out not to be.

Tatsiana presented the technique using a super thin, hand-stirred batter that I wasn't able to master. When I tried it, the colors ran together and the circles distorted into odd shapes.

I was trying a much softer recipe than I usually use:
  • 40% Costco Mediterranean Blend
  • 38% Lard 
  • 20% Coconut Oil
  • 2%   Castor Oil
Plus 28% water and 1t ppo of my go-to decelerating fragrance oil (White Tea & Ginger from Nature's Garden). 

It seemed like it took forever to harden -- I'm used to unmolding after 4-6 hours -- and the circle definition was terrible.

For the next batch, I dropped the water to 22%, and switched to a neutral accelerating FO (White Tea & Ginger from Crafter's Choice). This worked much better, as it started to set up as I went, allowing better definition as I got to the top:

I intended this to look like bubbles, so the circles are small and monochromatic, and colored with different intensity levels of the same blue mica.

(My daughter, Maddy, says she loves this soap, but pointed out that bubbles aren't actually blue. So, next time, I'll be sure to make them transparent... ;)

FWIW, the color levels I used (of Tropical Teal from Nurture Soap Supplies) were:
  • Dark: 1 t/ppo
  • Medium: 1/2 t/ppo
  • Light: 1/4 t/ppo

One of the best things about this technique (IMO) is that the design goes all the way through the bar, which always makes me happy.

On the sides, the circles are flattened and look a bit like chrysanthemum petals. Even the back looks pretty cool, which doesn't often happen:

I wish I had had more time with this technique, but summer vacation followed immediately by back-to-school prep on top of work made it hard to squeeze it in.

I'm not making excuses, though.

OK, I clearly am, but still! :)

I hadn't been planning to submit this, as I felt I could have done better, but my husband pointed out that I was being a big baby, so here it is!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Patriotic Pipes

Hmmm, I wonder what month this challenge was in? :)

It's been a discouraging, yet oddly entertaining year politically, what with the upcoming election.

But that's not what led me to this color scheme -- it was the stripes.

I just love red and white stripes. Maybe it's a leftover from Christmas, but they make me happy.

So, I had been planning to do a "Christmas in July" sort of thing, when the 4th rolled around...

I love how it turned out, but holiday themes go from timely to tired in the blink of an eye. Luckily for me, my son adores red, white and blue, and doesn't care about such things. :)


This is, of course, for the Soap Challenge Club's Pipe Divider Swirl, my new favorite technique. So much so that I must of made 5 batches, in different color schemes, and they're all good enough to give away to family and friends, which almost never happens for me!

If you're unfamiliar with the technique, you can watch it's creator demonstrate it on YouTube. It's basically a faux funnel pour in a tray mold, using pvc cylinders to separate the foreground colors from the background.

I used my new Brambleberry 9-bar silicone liner for these, and as it's translucent, I could print out a bar outline grid and slip it underneath. 

I traced the circles on the liner itself, which survived every batch but still easily come off with alcohol.

Instead of beeswax or cocoa butter, I used soft soy wax to affix short pvc sections to the silicone, which both adhered and detached really well.

The colors in my first batch came out completely different that I had pictured. I've been trying to work light/bright greens into my soaps, but haven't quite mastered them, yet.

The next batch had, of course, to be purple. It came out too speckled, and there wasn't enough contrast between the two shades of purple to show up on camera.

OK, so what's next? Bright green combined with purple, of course! The green and purple came out too vivid, and the the pink not vivid enough.

How about that same pink, in two different saturation levels, combined with black and turquoise?


OK, back to my entry. I had a lot of fun swirling it, even knowing I'd plane off the tops in the end. I didn't plan anything (obviously), but went for a lot of little flourishes, just cuz I like them.

For each batch, I used my favorite recipe:
  • 42% Lard
  • 22% Costco Mediterranean Blend Oil 
  • 25% Coconut Oil 
  • 11% Castor Oil
  • I soaped at 85° F, with an 2% lye discount
  • 1 oz/ppo fragrance oil + 1 oz/ppo sodium lactate
  • My fragrances were all over the place -- mostly the best-behaved ones (i.e., "Superstars") from Nurture Soaps (8th & Ocean, Cucumber & Melon, etc.)
  • Each FO was combined with 50% of my go-to decelerator (White Tea & Ginger FO from Nature's Garden)
  • The red is Nurture Soap's Really Red, which is gorgeous, and 1/3 the price of TKB Trading's Red #30. Hello Christmas...

Can you see the fireworks, or is it just me?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Confetti Soap

This month's soap challenge is Sculpted Layers, which is based on my Winter Wonderland soap*. I'm teaching it, so I'm not competing, but I thought folks might want to see how I use left-over soap.

For the sunrise soap I made, I just dumped the excess batter into individual bar molds for my family to use later.

sunrise soap made with natural colorants and essential oils. The hills have
faded from dark green at cutting to almost uncolored, despite my having
used 4 T/ppo of spirulina. Would chlorophyll stay brighter?

It's truly hideous, but with lemongrass and sage, plus the high castor oil and sodium lactate, it's a luxurious, natural soap that just happens to match my shower tiles :).

a sad looking individual bar made from the leftover batter

For the waves soap, I had a different plan in mind from the start.

waves soap for this month's challenge club

It's a confetti soap so dense it looks almost like an Impressionist painting. I usually make a batch of confetti soap after each challenge, using my rejects. OK, maybe two. :)

who doesn't love a confetti bar?

For this one, I started with the leftover wave soap, plus some other scraps I had on hand.

I also made some extra individual bars in the other bright colors I wanted to add, trying to match my new hand towels (from Cost Plus).

confetti base colors

another bar that ended its sad existence in a much happier place

How It's Made

You'll be shocked to learn that I'm very particular about how the confetti looks.

I like it to be in thin ribbons, with a rounded profile, and curling a bit if possible. 

To achieve this, I first cut the bars in quarters, lengthwise, and let them dry out for a few days. I then grate them lengthwise by hand using the small julienne side of a cheap box grater from Target:

closeup of a box grater similar to the one I use (that's around here somewhere...)

I grate them into piles of individual colors, and let them dry some more before combining them, so that they won't stick together.

colors grated into individual piles

Just before making the soap, I gently toss the shredded soap together using two bowls to mix the colors as uniformly possible, without breaking the ribbons.

combined ribbons, ready to be used

For this batch, I used about 40% ribbons to 60% batter, which is probably the limit as there were a few air holes in the finished bars.

To calculate everything, I started by figuring out how much batter I'd need to fill my 2.5 x 3.5 x 8" mold -- about 40.5 oz, all in. I then grated 17.5 oz of confetti, and subtracted that from 40.5, leaving 23 oz of batter needed:

  40.5 oz batter
- 17.5 oz confetti
= 23.0 oz batter

Working backward in soapcalc, I could then keep lowering the oil amount until the batter amount got to 23 oz. OK, so I actually have a confetti spreadsheet, of course, but that's what I'd do without one!

To mix the batter with the ribbons, I worked in sections, adding a pile of ribbons to a bowl, pouring batter over it, and gently tossing until it was all combined. I then spooned it into the mold in sections, pressing down to get the air bubbles out.

For the batter, I used the same recipe as with the ribbons, but chose Nurture Soap's 8th & Ocean as the fragrance oil, as it's one of my favorites. It's sweet and girly, but well behaved, and I wanted the batter to stay thin.

After 2 hours in a 140F oven, with a few hours to cool, it was ready to cut.

It ended up a bit busy to go with my towels, but it still makes me happy.

Just as a confetti soap should...!


*A quick aside about the inspiration for my Sculpted Layers technique...

It all started with Pasito a pasito, who never ceases to amaze me. His work, combined with this amazing polymer fine art on Pinterest, inspired me to try to create a soap embed extruder.

I failed completely (thus far -- I never really give up ;), but the technique I used for the Winter Wonderland challenge came directly from those attempts. 

That said, some other very innovative and inspirational soap makers have used similar techniques before me, and I'd be remiss to not call them out!

Clara Lindberg's fabulous Mexican Lace tutorial features a distinct geometric middle sculpted layer, but I still haven't figured out how she did it...

Debi Olsen's adorable button impression mat soap includes a clever use of cardboard and ric rac to sculpt her layers.

As always, I tip my hat to the always amazing and incredibly generous soaping community!