I realized I haven't mentioned my soap in quite a while. I'm not really sure why. I'm still soaping. Quite a lot actually. As my family will attest to since I'm constantly gifting/pushing soap on them! Soaping goes much quicker than knitting. Far less photo-ops. But recently, I decided to slow down and get pictures of the process, at least this is how I do it.
I keep all my supplies boxes for easy transport from the storage area (basement) to the work area (kitchen).
I start with making the lye/water solution and setting it aside to cool.Next I weigh and melt my oils.While the lye cools and the oils heat, I prepare my mold. The mold needs to be lined with freezer paper to keep the soap from sticking to the mold. It also ensures the sides of the soap will be nice and smooth. This is a 2 pound mold I purchased from Saratoga Scents. I have a silicone bread loaf pan that I sometimes use, it does not require lining, but I'm not as happy with the shape of the finished bars. The wooden mold provides nice, square sides. Very little trimming is needed with this mold.
If I'm scenting and/or coloring the soap, I measure the fragrance oil(s) into their own cups and I combine the color powder with a little water to dissolve. I like to use disposable plastic bathroom cups for this since these ingredients are messy to clean up.
Once the lye/water and oils are about the same temperature, you combine them and stir until the soap thickens. I like to use a stick blender for this step. I've never tried making soap the "old fashioned way" by hand stirring it to trace. I hear that can take a long time, hours even! With the stick blender, I reach trace in less than 10 minutes.
When trace is reached, I add the scents and colors. This batch was a fairly ambitious 3 color swirl. I pulled approximately 1/3 to be left plain, 1/3 was colored with cocoa powder and scented with chocolate fo.
The final third was colored burgundy and scented with cherry almond fo.
Then the 3 colors were poured into the lined mold. The color looks exceptionally bad at this point. The soap then sits in the mold for about a day before unmolding. (Missed pictures of this step). I cut my soaps into 1 inch bars and let them air dry for a few days before stamping with my Milky Way cat stamp. The final result...Chocolate Covered Cherries soap. The log of soap probably should have sat another day before cutting, you can see the marks at the bottom where the soap stuck to the blade. And the swirl is practically non-existent. I've come to the conclusion it would be better to keep the majority of the soap one color and have much smaller amounts of the swirl colors. Regardless of it's cosmetic flaws, it's a fabulous soap (if I do say so myself).
Here are some more pictures of recent soap creations. This picture shows my drying area, a piece of needlepoint plastic on newspaper on a shelf in the basement. Works very well and can hold 3 batches of soap (I only make 1 or 2 pound batches). Finished soaps. Clockwise from the top: Cocoa Rose (my husband's aunt's favorite. I make this pretty much just for her since I'm not a huge rose fan); Green Tea (this is a new one for me, made with green tea in place of water and scented with green tea fo. The scent is very herbal); Pumpkin Spice (made with real pumpkin, see recipe here, and spices. This was done in the silicone pan, see how the shape is different); and a soap I made just for the holidays this year called Merry Christmas (it smells fantastic, but I hate the color of the lather. I'm picky about stuff like that.)
And finally, my all time favorite soap, Lavender. This batch is as close to perfect as I've come. I used lavender essential oil, the real stuff, not fragrance oil, and it smells DIVINE. The swirl is nice and the bars have the right "feel", hard but not brittle, nice opacity. I have given some of these away, but I'm hoarding the rest. I love them so much.If you want to learn to make soap yourself, I encourage you to pickup a good book and check out the abundant resources on the Internet. Some of my favorite books are, in order of preference: 1 Everything Soapmaking (a 2nd edition of this is being published this spring if you can't find the original); 2 Soap by Ann Bramson; and 3 the Soapmaker's Companion. There are tons of great websites to explore. Some of my favorites are, in no order: Soap @ About.com; Soap Calc; Miller Soap; and these Yahoo Groups... SoapMaking 101 and SoapMakers.
I hope you enjoyed this look at soapmaking. I feel better having given my second favorite hobby some much deserved attention. Soaping is a fun and satisfying process. It feels to me like modern alchemy, taking unrelated substances and producing something completely different, even if it's not gold.