Thursday, 4 August 2016

squeaky clean

I am totally bursting with creativity at the moment. I have been rather busy in the soap kitchen. Since my last soap post I made three new soaps, all different. We are a squeaky clean family!

For all three soaps I used my go-to soap recipe, by Anne Watson from Smart Soapmaking. It contains coconut oil, olive oil and shea butter in roughly equal amounts. I like to add shea butter because it makes for a soft conditioning soap that feels pleasant on the skin. I know how this soap behaves in the making process, which is useful because I wanted to try out new techniques.

one day old coffee soap

one week old coffee soap

one month old coffee soap

A few weeks ago I made this coffee soap, it looks rather rustic... The soap took some time to discolour to the dark brown it is now. For this soap, I found inspiration in Ann Marie Faiola's book 'Soap Crafting'. I use soap making books a bit like cook books, I like the picture of a dish and try to recreate it without actually using the recipe. The two layers are made by adding different amounts of discolouring fragrance oil to two halves of the soap and add ground coffee to the layer with less fragrance oil.
I had heard of fragrances that can accelerate the saponification process but I had never experienced it until the day I made coffee soap... do you remember the chemistry lesson about catalysts from your school days? Well, this soap was a great demonstration of an excellent catalyst. One moment I was whistling happily, stirring with my trusted old stick blender, the next moment I had soap with a consistency of thick and sticky mashed potato in my pan (when it normally remains liquid and pourable). I swore quite a lot when I tried to mix in the ground coffee evenly. There was no elegant pouring into the mould after that and smoothing the surface was almost impossible. At least with the second layer, I was prepared for the quick thickening.... When I first cut the soap two days later, it looked like the soap in the top photo. The soap smells like sweet black coffee with a hint of cream. Not quite how I like my coffee to smell but pleasant enough.

My next soap was a yuzu fragranced orange coloured version of the lemon poppy meringue soap I made earlier this year. Yuzu is not a fruit I was familiar with but its scent is definitely one to remember, lovely. It is somewhere between grapefruit and orange, sweet but not sickly sweet. Most citrus scents fade to nothing in a short time but this particular fragrance oil should last (if I am to believe the supplier). Alistair insisted to help but managed to get some fragrance oil in his eyes despite wearing goggles. He was not a happy boy but a bath sorted him out in no time. I didn't try to make a proper 'meringue' on top, just a plain layer, mostly because I thought it would be easier to just pour with Alistair. I like the crisp line of black pigment separating the white and orange layers. I can't wait to use it.

I received a flat soap mould with dividers for my birthday and wanted to use this rather than the loaf cake tins that I normally use. I chose to make a lily of the valley scented green and white swirly soap.  I love this scent, it reminds me of spring and first perfumes. The swirls for this soap are not 'proper' swirls but were created by squirting different coloured soap mixtures first into a blob, then right in the middle of the first blob, changing colours as you squirt. The squirting was rather fun. I used condiment bottles, the ones one might find on a formica table in a diner somewhere in the middle of nowhere. The soap was stuck in the mould because I forgot to line it. I froze it for a bit remembering the materials shrink when they are cold. It did help. The scent is divine and it won't be easy to wait until the soap is hard enough to use.

I have learned a few things making these three soaps.

Things can go wrong when making soap and quick thinking is useful. I had to improvise with the coffee soap, which turned to mashed potato gloop and the swirly soap, which was stuck in the mould.

Fragrance oils contribute to the chemical process and influence how a soap turns out. I started to keep notes on the behaviour of fragrance oils in cold process soap making. Some suppliers mention how a fragrance will behave, which is handy.

I didn't know it was possible to use fragrance oils for colouring soaps, too. How cool is that?

On the topic of fragrances, finding really good fragrance oils in the UK seems difficult, the ones I have bought so far often smell nothing like the real thing, others have an unpleasant artificial after-scent. I had been looking across the big pond to Brambleberry, a really well known supplier for all things soap but some fragrance oils can't be shipped by air or the postage would be prohibitive. I found a European supplier in the Netherlands that stocks Brambleberry fragrances and I was delighted to find they ship by air. Funny, the same fragrances can be shipped by air within Europe but not from America.... it must be the legislation rather than an actual problem with shipping. Anyway, I now have small collection of fragrance oils that are ever so divine.

I have also a good collection of colourful pigments and look forward to make a bubblegum scented twelve colour super swirl soap. Just kidding :-)

There is only one problem: we now have more soap than we can possible use in a year. I need to start giving some away to justify making more. Keep your eyes peeled for a give-away later this summer. Wishing you a lovely day! xx


  1. They look so good, I need to stop being lazy and make some. I usually just end up ordering some from Etsy and they're not cheap.

  2. It's all very interesting, I'd love to have a go at making soap. Proper soap like you do not kit form. I really should buy the book as I'm sure I promised someone homemade soap and washcloths for Christmas. x

  3. oh those swirls are just beautiful xxx

  4. Love the swirls. I need to make more soap soon and now feel inspired by yours to try something more exciting than my usual unscented bars. Do you notice with handmade soaps a build up of slightly jelly like residue in the plug hole? Not sure if it's my soap or bad housekeeping (or both).

    1. I haven't inspected my plug holes that closely but there is not much but hair on the sink drain stopper thingy. I noticed though that some of my soaps produce jelly like residue even just on the soap. I think it depends on the fats used. I played around with fats recently and made a soap with a high almond oil content. This soap seems to make a slimy residue even when cured for weeks and weeks. My normal recipe doesn't seem to do that.

  5. I am in awe of your soap making skills. They all looks so luscious!

  6. Christina I am so impressed and in true awe of your skills. I like to play around with fragrance but am a little scared to go through the whole process. Yours look wonderful.

  7. They look fabulous, good enough to eat. What a brilliant effect that swirly soap has, I bet it smells divine, I love lily of the valley. I've never heard of yuzu but I usually go for citrus scented soap, especially lemon, so I bet I'd like that. Poor Alistair having a mishap with the fragrance oil, glad it was sorted out with a bath.

  8. Wow Christina, these all look brilliant and I am in awe of your creativity in the soap-making dept. This is is a million miles away from my one and only attempt at soap making and I think I need to try again. Those swirls and lily of the valley scent too... On the subject of flavourings, back in the day when I worked in the wine and spirit industry I visited a flavouring factory in Switzerland - what an eye opener!

  9. Your soaps are so interesting! They look professional to me. One of my favorite things about any handmade crafts market, or even an upscale grocery store, is the handmade soap. I always stop to look and smell. Your orange soaps are especially gorgeous! I love the thin, clear black line between the two layers, just perfect.

  10. I never knew the ins and outs of soap making until I read your blog..totally inspiring. Think the green swirly one is my favourite. Have you thought of setting up in business and having your own shop. Now there's a thought! B x

  11. I love the colours in the soaps. I don't think I should even get started in soap making - I think I would get truly addicted. I think I will carry on looking at yours. Jo X

  12. Your soaps look fabulous, I can see there are many rewards to this hobby. I should imagine your friends would never tire of receiving such gifts - maybe you should get into the barter system, we do rather well swapping our lemon curd for honey, jam and the like! Shame we are not closer we'd be on for a trade!!!
    Have a great week
    Wren x

  13. Wow! They look amazing and so professional! I'm seriously impressed by your soap-making skills; it's never something that I've tried but I know from teenage experiments at making moisturisers (which never turned out as well as I hoped) that it takes some effort to get them to turn out so well! xx

  14. OH they are amazing! Wow. I am in awe. I would love to come and spend a day in your kitchen making soap with you, the thought of it terrifies me but you have such a ease with it all. Perhaps it is your scientific background?

  15. Oh Christina, the first line of your post just hooked me right in! I now really, really want to make soap. I've often thought it would be an excellent homemade gift, along with a crocheted or knitted wash cloth, but was always a bit scared to try it. These all look and sound divine. I must pluck up the courage and have a go. xx

  16. I love reading about ypour soap making exploits. It satisfies the (very basic) chemist in me. I'm a bit scared of the hydroxide though...I'm a bit clumsy y'see. I think one of your early posts was on soap too :) The new scents look fab...I really like the swirly one! xx

  17. These all look incredible! What a fabulous skill to have, and so interesting to see all the different variations x

  18. My goodness, these are gorgeous soaps. I love the orange one,that dramatic black between the layers is so professional looking, and the green swirly one is amazing! Perhaps you should book a stall at a pre-christmas Craft Fair to use up your excess? X


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