Monday, April 26, 2010

The Great Fail, Part I

I've been wanting a larger soap mold for when I make cold process soap. One, because it's so much work to make it, it's not worth making small batches for all the time I have to put in.  Two, and probably more importantly, it's rare to find a recipe that yields less than a 4 pound loaf of soap.  When you own a single 2.5 pound loaf mold, that just ain't gonna cut it. Sure, I can scale down the recipe, but that requires more math than I want to tackle.

I've had my eye on some wooden molds with the fancy fold down sides.  Most have little wing nuts to hold the mold together, and then you loosen them up and take the side off to get the soap out. Those little babies are great...and then I look at the price tag. Sorry.  NOT shelling out $35+ to get a hunk of wood and a couple of bolts. The one pictured above is from and is priced at $35.99. Still too rich for my blood.

Since I wasn't buying a mold, I needed to build one. So I went ahead and did the math...a lot of math. I figured out the number of cubic inches per ounce of soap and did multiplication and addition and a bunch of other math stuff to figure out the dimensions I'd need for such-and-such type of soap bar. I'm telling was a LOT of math. (Maybe it only seemed that way since I haven't actually had to DO math in like, 8 years or something, when I last had a calculus class in highschool. But anyway...) And after I did the math, I busted out the drafting table and drew a full scale engineering plan, laying out the exact specifications for how the mold would be built. This, I know, was a bit obsessive and overkill, but I hadn't gotten out my architecture tools in quite some time (probably since the year AFTER I stopped doing math on a regular basis) so that was more of a fun little side project.

With my plan in hand, I took a trip to Lowe's. I selected a birch plywood to make the mold out of, and my other hardware included a package of hinges, and two 3/8" carriage bolts with matching washers and wing nuts.  Total cost, with tax: $11.50. (No really did come to that even amount!)

I don't have a saw, so I took the boards to my step dad and had him cut out the appropriate shapes I needed.  Once that was finished, I put the mold together and was ready to go.  Or so I thought...

Tune in next week to find out what happened next.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sunflower Glycerin Soap

A while back I purchased a silicone baking pan from Wilton that’s shaped like a flower. I used it once and then it was immediately devoured by that dark monster known as the craft closet. Being the internet junkie that I am, I was reading away at Five Full Plates during their spring cleaning challenge. Those lovely, strong women, through their literary eloquence, FORCED me to take part in their goal making and I chose to battle the craft closet head on. I can’t say I got very far in the challenge, because in nudging that monster to regurgitate its fine loot into an organized and useful display of tools, I found the pan and was then distracted by the idea placed in my head for its use.
So here’s what you need to make my cute sunflower soaps:

• 16 oz clear glycerin soap base

• 1 package of Lavender Buds-I used the Life of the Party Brand sold at Michaels

• Golden Yellow Soap Colorant

• Fragrance of your choice

• Rubbing Alcohol in a small spritzer bottle

• Circle shaped cookie cutter that will fit inside the daisy mold-I used a fondant cutter from Wilton

• 8x8 silicone baking pan

• Wilton silicone daisy pan

• Glass Container that’s microwave safe to melt soap in-I use pyrex measuring cups because they have an easy pour spout. Mine are the 4 cup capacity, but you could get away with a 2 cup measure for this project.

• Spoons or skewers for mixing

• Microwave

If you’ve ever used lavender in a soap making project you know that it turns brown when the soap hardens. We’re going to use this to our advantage, making it the center of our sunflower soap. Each bar is going to consist of 3 parts: The base, the center, and the over-pour. In between each element you’ll want to spritz the soap with rubbing alcohol, as it helps the layers adhere to each other. You should also use the alcohol on the top of each layer as you pour it to help remove bubbles in the soap. Don’t worry though, the heat in the soap will break down the alcohol so it won’t stay in the soap.

Preparing the centers
1. Melt 2-4 oz of the soap base in the microwave following the manufacturer’s instructions.

2. When completely melted, add two generous handfuls of lavender and mix well. You’re trying to get a dense scattering of the buds, so it almost looks like it’s all buds in the mix and very little soap.

3. Pour the mixture into the 8x8 baking pan and let it harden; about half an hour or so. Don’t worry if it doesn’t completely cover the bottom. You just want a thin layer.

4. Spritz the top with rubbing alcohol to remove any bubbles.

5. Once hardened, use your circle cutter to punch out 6 discs from the lavender soap and set aside.

The base layer
1. Melt 4 oz of the soap base and divide it amongst the wells in the daisy mold. You want a thin layer in the bottom of each well. If you don’t use it all, that’s fine, just set it aside to use in the over-pour layer.

2. Spritz the top to remove any bubbles.

3. Here’s the tricky part: You want the base layer set up enough that the center discs won’t melt from the heat of the soap, but not so much that it’s completely hardened. If the base is still sort of gel-like on the top, but it will hold the weight of the disc, that’s perfect. If you look at my final soap bars you’ll see a cloudy spot over the center of flower. This is because I waited too long to add the center discs. That cloudy spot is actually an air bubble between the 2 layers where they didn’t adhere well.

4. The timing will depend on the depth of your base layer of soap, but I’d say about 3-5 minutes (maybe even less) after you pour the base, spritz the top of the base with alcohol and center the lavender circles in each of the daisy molds.

The over-pour
1. Measure out approximately ¼ oz of your fragrance and set aside. Measure out your colorant if needed. This is the first time I’m trying out an oxide colorant I purchased from, but any non-bleeding yellow colorant of your choice will also work.

2. Melt 6-8 oz of soap base.

3. Pour in your fragrance and stir thoroughly.

4. Add colorant until the soap is your desired shade of yellow, and stir well again.

5. Spritz the soap layers inside the daisy mold and pour the yellow soap over the top. You want enough in each well to cover the top of the center disc, plus a little more if you have the soap for it.

6. Spritz with alcohol one last time to remove any bubbles on top.

That’s it!

Leave your soap alone overnight. Try not to bump or move it, or you risk putting wrinkles in the soap. When it’s fully hardened the next day, remove it from the daisy pan and wrap the bars in plastic wrap to keep them fresh until you want to use them. And because it’s melt-and-pour, there’s no cure time, so you can use them right away. Have fun sudsing up!

Monday, April 19, 2010

I'll get right on that...someday.

Yes.  I know.  I'm supposed to post the instructions for the cute little sunflower soaps I designed.  I made them.  I promise.  They turned out mostly like I had wanted. But, I forgot that you know, it's MONDAY, because I haven't had a day off work since last Wednesday so time sort of runs together.

My scheduled day off (tomorrow) is currently in limbo so we'll find out if I get around to writing up the post for them then.  I have an outline of notes and lots of pictures, but they're not currently playing nicely TOGETHER somewhere, so when I get a chance I'll force them to behave and appear for you.  Double promise and pinky swears.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Lip Smackin'

Soft, smoochable lips. Do I want ‘em? You bet. Do I have ‘em? Not a chance. So I decided to try something completely new and I made my own lip balm. (By the way, smoochable is totally a word. Spell check be damned.) I followed Ann Marie’s recipe from the Soap Queen blog. (If you click here you can follow it too.) The lip balm turned out very nicely, but I was a little disappointed in the project.

First off, this project was EXPENSIVE for the amount of lip balm I wanted to make. You only need a couple of teaspoons of each ingredient, but of course you’ve got to buy a whole whopping lot of each item because, well, that’s the quantity it’s sold in. The beeswax alone, for a 1 lb block was around $18. Before you start thinking I’m crazy for paying that amount for a “fun” project I’ll tell you the 2 reasons I went ahead with it.

1. I work for a craft store. I get an employee discount that makes enough of a difference in cutting the costs to make the projects worthwhile for me. Also, I had a 50% off coupon for the beeswax.

2. I have also recently started to dabble in cold process soap making. All of the ingredients used to make the lip balm can also be used in this hobby as well. So sure I bought a 1 lb block of beeswax and only used 2 teaspoons of it, but the leftovers won’t just be a rotting waste of money in the craft closet some place. They have other purposes for me.

The second disappointment about the project pertained to the measurements for all the ingredients. I just estimated by looking at my teaspoon measure, but some of them are just silly. For example, the recipe calls for 2/3 of a teaspoon of olive oil. I have 3 sets of measuring spoons in my possession and none of them have a 1/3, let alone, a 2/3 teaspoon measure. Another one of the weird ones was for the optional 1/16 teaspoon of honey. Who has a 1/16th teaspoon measure? I’ve never even heard of that. Like I said, I just guessed. The lip balm hardened just fine, so apparently I wasn’t too far off.

I ended up with 3 full twist tubes, 1 full lip balm pot, and another pot that was half full. If I wanted I could keep melting and pouring and have enough lip balm to last me a year with all the ingredients I have left. I think I’ll hold off on that, but I may look into finding a way to add flavoring for another batch.

My general findings for this project:

1. Fun to try, execution was really easy.

2. Only kid safe if they know how to handle hot things, and definitely with adult supervision since you’re melting using the stove top and not the microwave.

3. Best if you know you want LOTS of lip balm. (Think party favors or stocking stuffers.) Otherwise, too expensive unless you can find smaller quantities of ingredients.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Ahh Candles...

Relaxing, isn't it?

The last time (and really, the only time) I have ever made candles was back in about the 4th grade.  It was part of an after school project where some wierdo teacher was trying to keep a million little kids occupied until their parents came to save her from their crazy, rambunctious elementary ways.  I remember there being a crock-pot full of molten wax as each of us were handed a large wick and instructed to "dunk" repeatedly until our candle had filled out to look something remotely like a taper. Apparently that's how the pioneers made their candles...or something educational-ly sounding like that. I can't recall liking that project very much, but I did enjoy making my own melt-and-pour candles. 

I followed the instructions from Ann Marie's Soap Queen TV spot. (You can view her instructions here.) She made holiday travel candles, but I made mine in tropical scents. Gotta love the coconut!  The process was super easy and now I've got 4 great new candles to enjoy.  Can't beat that.

I used a special soy wax that is microwavable, but if you can't find it, just melt your wax in a double boiler.  You might also notice that I choose not to add any colorant to my candles, just the fragrances which come in the blocks suspended in wax. Melt the wax in the microwave, add fragrance, pour into the's that simple.  Below, I have a photo that shows what the candles look like right after they've been poured as well as what they look like once the wax has set up.

So far they've been burning great. Nice and even, with a pleasant mild scent.  This project was definitely a winner.