This is my first challenge and boy was it intense. For a minute there I thought I wouldn’t have an entry, but on my fifth try I finally got it right. I started late, so I did 5 batches of soap in 5 days. Luckily I had made a tiny 4.5x11x9 mold from a maizena box that made 4 soaps with only 300g of oils per batch (with +-33% lye concentration). Because the mold is so skinny I got a good shimmy with a pencil and I didn’t have to look for other shimmy tools.
For those not familiar with the technique, the idea is to pour along the sides of a tilted mold that’s higher than it’s wide. For this challenge we had to change sides exactly 7 times. There was a regular category where we could only pour once before changing to the other side (we could pour several colors at the same time as long as they were poured from the same cup), while for the advanced category we had to do at least 3 pours before changing sides. If the technique is well executed and the batter stays fluid enough the batter from one side will bump into the batter on the other side and create a shimmy in the middle.
For my first attempt I wanted to get the effect of water flowing onto the beach. In my color experiments curcuma gave me a soft sandy yellowish orange, so I thought it would be perfect for the beach part with some specks of cane sugar and brown sugar. As it turns out natural colors behave differently in different recipes. I did my color test soaps with a high oleic recipe while for this challenge I was experimenting with lots of butters (30% Shea, 20% Cocoa butter in this recipe). What I got was definitely not sand. For the water part I layered 3 different shades of batter colored with indigo and spirulina infusions in my cup and poured out 1/3rd at a time. I kind of like the effect that I got with that, though the colors didn’t turn out the way I expected.
The one thing that I thought would give me problems was my recipe. I was afraid it would move too fast for me to pour everything, but it behaved perfectly. I added my lye to only 75% of my oils (temps were between 35-40°C), blended until light trace and divided into separate cups with the different infusions at 25% of oils. This reversed light trace to emulsion and gave me plenty of working time. Maybe the scent I used also helped. It was an EO blend called seascape (eocalc.com) with rosemary, lemongrass, eucalyptus and cedar.
Encouraged by the good behavior of my batter at the first attempt I decided to try the advanced category (minimum 3 pours before changing sides). My plan was to work with pink clay, white clay colored purple with alkanet and white clay+indigo powder, I thought I could make nice intermediary colors and do a pink to blue ombre with 5 pours per side. Sounds too ambitious? It was.. I don’t know if it was the clays, the scent (an EO blend from eocalc called woodlands with 50% amyris) or the 30% rice bran oil that my previous recipe didn’t have because I was out or still something else that made it accelerate. Maybe it was a combination of all of the above.. I mixed to light trace, added my rice bran oil, divided into 3 different cups with clays and by the time the clays were stirred in the batter had the consistency of pudding. I plopped the 3 colors into the mold and quickly made a hanger swirl tool from some garden wire to make it look somewhat pleasing. The scent is absolutely divine, it smells of trees and flowers and nectar and this soap has the best decorated top of all 5 tries, so it’s not a loss, but it’s definitely not an entry either.
Because I thought the second attempt wasn’t ambitious enough (I don’t really learn from my mistakes, do I?), i decided to go for 8 different colors this time: black, blue, blue-green, green, yellow-green, yellow, yellow-orange and orange. The idea was to have 8 pours per side. As you can see that didn’t happen. Even though I used a recipe with less butter (40% shea instead of 50% on the last try) my batter went to medium-thick trace within 10mins of hand stirring. It reversed a bit after adding my infusions (at 20% this time), but not enough to get a good shimmy. Lucky for me I made a mathematical error in my panic and divided my soap into 7 colors instead of 8, so i could just pour one color on each side. Thanks to this fail I was able to properly adjust my colors and get a good color scheme. I still don’t know exactly what the accelerating factor was. It could’ve been the rice bran oil (at 20% this time) or the scent – an EO blend called fallen (eocalc.com) with petitgrain, ylang ylang, lavander and bergamot, so I decided to cancel out both of these factors for the next try.
I still couldn’t get the idea of a blue-orange color transition out of my head, so I tried again on my fourth batch. I was almost out of Shea butter, so I changed the recipe to 30% cocoa butter and replaced all the rice bran oil with high oleic sunflower (this traces slower for me than olive). I also chose an EO blend with lots of orange called candyland (you guessed it.. from eocalc) there’s bitter almond in there and it smells absolutely lovely and sweet. My batter behaved very well. It took me 1.5hours to get to emulsion (mostly hand stirring, but also about 20x 1second bursts with the stick blender) and even though it took me about 45mins to an hour to do all the pours it stayed at emulsion (maybe a very light trace in the end). I was even afraid the batter might have been too thin on this one, but it turned out way better than I ever dared to imagine. Unfortunately it was disqualified because the first pour was only black while for the advanced category a minimum of 3 pours per side is mandatory (and because there were 7 pours on each side for the other blobs I obviously couldn’t enter in the regular category either).
Back to the drawing board I went for one last try. I kept the recipe and EO blend the same, but decided to add an extra layer of orange to get some more depth to the colors. This made for 8 pours of 7.5g each before switching sides, which I did 7 times (so 56 pours total). My boyfriend helped by reading the weight on the scale aloud and telling me when to stop. That way I could concentrate on pouring properly.
At the end of this soapy week I finally have an entry I’m happy with!
I just wanted to disclose that I edited all of the above pictures to better represent the true colors of my soaps. I mainly darkened the background and lowered the brightness. In some pictures I played around with warmth and contrast, but most of the time that wasn’t necessary. I also sometimes blurred the background to make sure it wouldn’t distract if there was a crease in the fabric. I put the soaps next to my phone screen and with my screen fully lit and night light turned off the colors are as good as the same (as close as I can get them with limited photo editing experience). Only the pink color in my second try doesn’t work with me. I can’t get it to look the way it does in real life without distorting the blue and grey.