What I’ve been up to …

Thank you!

Thank you so much to the lovely people who voted for my rather less than perfect entry to the February Soap Challenge Club.  I don’t know who you are, but you made my day 🙂  Especially when there were some stunning soaps you could have spent your votes on.

For anyone who is interested this is what my soap now looks like …

The pretty teal colour on the top has matured into a grey taupe colour (so Kelly Hoppen 😉 ) and it has developed a thick layer of soda ash but only in the dips and hollows.  Must admit, I’ve had plenty of soda ash but never seen it concentrate only in certain areas like this.  Strangely enough, I quite like it – looks like it has been dusted with icing sugar!

Anyway, putting that one behind me now and looking forward to the March challenge.  The theme is rimmed soaps with a guest tutorial from Tatsiana Serko of Creative Soap by Steso.  Her work is stunning as you can see below (the one top left is the soap to be featured in the tutorial).   I love her aesthetic and the precision in her work is amazing.

I’m quite excited about this one and really keen to have a go myself.  So, wanting to avoid last month’s disaster, I thought I would get ahead of the game and check out You Tube for some inspiration.  However, the only rimmed soap videos I could find were a couple by Kevin Devine of Divinely Designed.  I watched a number of his videos when I was starting out and he is clearly an experienced and talented soaper.  But sorry, Kevin, you didn’t make it look easy this time.  Starting to get a little worried about this one.

Have also read the sign up page at Great Cakes Soap Works which says you need a slab mould.  Oops!  I don’t have one of those.  Also, apparently improvising with shoe boxes is out.  This is going to be interesting.

I’ve also decided to stick religiously to whatever recipe is recommended, even if it included palm oil which I tend to avoid.

Join me next week to see how my adventure in rimmed soaps goes!


Snow Falling on Cedars – Phase 2

Well this isn’t embarrassing at all!  Phrases like ‘unmitigated disaster’ and ‘what was I thinking’ spring to mind.  Never mind, we learn by our mistakes and those of others, so in the interests of sharing the learning I’m still going ahead with my entry.  (‘Glutton for punishment’  is another phrase that’s just popped into my head … good thing I’m laughing about it :-).)

So, to recap if you haven’t read my previous post … I came up with the great idea of doing a land-scape style soap for the February Soap Challenge.  Going for the all natural category, it was to have spirulina coloured cedar trees with snowflakes falling through a lilac-grey sky (coloured with alkanet infused oil).

Now close your eyes … try to picture it … pretty cool, eh?

Okay, you can open your eyes now and behold what actually happened …

20160220_115853Don’t worry, I’m chortling about it too.

Things probably started to go wrong with the original mix.  Three days after being in the mould I tried to cut the embeds but after the first cut I could see it was still too soft.  I could also see the outer surface was starting to oxidise and turn brown (apparently this is common with spirulina) which you can see on the edges of the  second from left tree (yes, those are meant to be trees 😊).  So I decided not to cut until I was ready to make the final soap in the hope of retaining some of the green colour.  This at least worked! Yeah!!

Next came making the snow.  I’d made a block of white soap in a plastic takeaway container, but could I get it out?!   Ten days later it was still the consistency of butter, and not even straight from the fridge butter.  Even the eternal optimist in me realised that carving pretty little snowflakes wasn’t happening.  So instead I decided to go with plan B and try making shreds of soap.  Grating the soap wasn’t going to work so instead I tried …

Method one – lemon zester :  okay result but shreds tended to curl up.

Method two – garlic press :  finer strands but tended to stick together.

Method three – oral syringe :  found this lurking in the back of the cutlery drawers from when the boys were little; gave a good effect but far too tricky to get the soap into it.

Method four – potato ricer : basically just a big garlic press, good for making a lot of shreds at a time, but they all stick together 😕  (It is, however, the best thing ever for making mashed potatoes so highly recommend you consider getting one if you don’t already own one!)

20160219_104205So eventually I was ready to make the main soap and assemble the whole thing.  If you, haven’t made alkanet infused oil before, it really is the most gorgeous cherry red.  However, once mixed the lye it turns a dull grey.  But, as it oxidises it takes on a lavender shade.  Don’t you just love the alchemy of soap!  I had previously used this when doing a soaping session with a friend, who assured me her soap had matured into the lavender-grey shade I was hoping for.

So I made my basic soap batter which turned ….  green!  20160219_112709You can see it starting to happen in the picture on the right.  Please comment if this has happened to you – I’d love to know where I went wrong.

Undaunted, I ploughed on regardless. I cut up the rest of my trees (soap still too soft, made them too small, snow effect not really working) and laid them in the mould with a few strands of snow.

After this I alternated my main soap with layers of snow shreds (sorry no pics as I was working fast at this point – ‘snow’ was a pain in the @*% to handle and the green ‘sky’ was beginning to set up). Anyway, finally got everything in the mould and textured the top. Think this was probably my soap’s finest moment … at least it looked okay when wet … if a little green 😊


Next day, it was time to cut and reveal the horror that is ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’. I think the snowiest thing about it is the lovely layer of soda ash forming on the top!

As I finish this post, about an hour after the images were taken, the strange green is slowly turning the sort of teal/aqua colour you can see at the top of the bar. So that’s nice! In a week or so I may post another picture so you can see how it ended up, but in the meantime the deadline for the Soap Challenge is today. Even though the soap hasn’t really worked out and, having seen some of the other fantastic entries, I know I’m going to get nil points (hey, I wouldn’t even vote for it and I made it 😂 ), I’m still going to enter simply for the practice of linking a blog for the first time.

Never mind, there’s always next month.




Soap Formula: 30% coconut oil; 30% rapeseed (canola) oil; 20% olive oil; 10% castor oil; 10% sweet almond oil

Colours:  spirulina for trees; white clay for snow

Main soap

Soap Formula:  30% coconut oil; 30% olive oil; 15% shea butter; 15% sunflower oil; 10% castor oil; pinch Tussah silk; 1 tbspn honey powder; 2 tbspns goat’s milk powder

Colour: alkanet (infused in sunflower oil)

Fragrance:  natural and organic oil blend from The Soap Kitchen which contains cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, black pepper, patchouli, mandarin, orange, ginger and coriander essential oils



Snow Falling on Cedars – Phase 1

In a rush of blood to the head, I decided to subscribe to three months of the Soap Challenge Club’s competitions.  January was the Circling Tiawan Swirl – a new technique for me and I thought I did okay for a first attempt.  It was certainly a lot of fun trying something new.  February however is not a new technique but rather a creative challenge with the theme ‘Winter’.

There are two categories using either natural or synthetic colours and fragrances. I immediately knew I wanted to enter the natural category – I mean, the prize is the Soap Queen’s latest book Pure Soapmaking – but what to do?  I wanted to challenge myself with a new technique but inspiration just didn’t come.  Finally I spotted a soap on Pinterest (I think?) that had small chunks of white soap embedded in a pale teal green soap.  The little chunks brought to mind falling snow and so the germ of an idea formed.

To me a snowy sky always seems to have a pale lilac grey tone to it, so I decided to colour the main soap with alkanet root infused sunflower oil.  However, just having some cubes of white soap floating in it didn’t seem that adventurous.  And when I saw Amy Warden’s snowman soap video, I knew I had to up my game.

At the same time I was playing with ideas as to what to call my soap.  Snowy Sky? Snowfall?  Snowflakes? Snow Falling?  Then it came to me … Snow Falling On Cedars!

I’m going to have a go at a kind of landscape soap with snow falling on cedars.  Of course, Googling cedar trees made me realise that they aren’t all the conical fir trees I had imagined, but some are so that’ll do for me 😉

So tonight I made my embeds.

I wanted to create triangular shapes of varying heights to look like the trees, so I’ve tilted my mould slightly so I can create a variety of heights without having a lot of left over trimmings.

The soap is coloured with spirulina which I’ve never used it before but what an amazing shade of emerald green.  I suspect it may give a finely mottled effect, as it doesn’t seem to actually dissolve, but I think that could actually give quite a nice texture.  I’ve added a thin layer of white soap which I have lightly swirled through the top – I’m hoping this will give the impression of snow lying on the trees.

I’ve also made a tray of plain white soap.  As suggested by Amy, I’ve tried to lighten this with some white clay but I’ve used virgin olive oil in my recipe and I suspect it will turn out a little creamy.  My plan is to cut out rods from this which I’ll carve so that they have a snow flake profile; well probably more like small asterisks but I hope the effect will work.  Again never tried it before and it may not work, so my fall back is to simply create shreds of soap using a lemon zester and lay these longways into the mold as I pour in my main soap.  Hopefully this will create a falling snow effect.

Fragrance wise I’ve used a natural and organic oil blend from The Soap Kitchen which contains cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, black pepper, patchouli, mandarin, orange, ginger and coriander essential oils.  It reminds me of the smell of fresh cut fir.  As it is quite a dark oil I’ve only added it to my tree embeds as I didn’t want to risk discolouring the snow.

Afterall, you know what they say about yellow snow!

PS   actually wrote this post about ten days ago but didn’t want to publish until I had figured out how to do my images, hence the fact it is being published on the same day as my ‘Phase 2’ post.

Ingredients on their way

I have just spent a very happy couple of hours topping up my stock of butters and oils in preparation for making a new batch of body butter and entering this month’s Soap Challenge (I’ll blog about that next week).

Making my own body butter has been a revelation to me.  I had long been a fan of  L’Occitane’s Shea Butter which ticked all my boxes – organic √  fairly traded √  pure ingredients with no chemical nasties √  – all except one, price.  It currently retails at £28 for 150 ml which seems a little ‘lumpy’ to me.  I was sure I could make it myself much cheaper, after all it only contained one ingredient.  So I went online, bought some shea butter, melted it down and poured it into a container.  It was moisturising but, boy, what a struggle to get out of the jar!  So there ended my adventure in body butters, until …

… I got into cold process soap making.  Strange connection you may be thinking, but those of you who make soap will know that soap sites invariable contain links to other homemade skincare and cosmetics.  In researching more about soap I stumbled upon tutorials for body butter and, guess what, you’re meant to whip it!  Who knew?  Okay, probably lots of people, but it was news to me.

So, armed with my electric hand whisk and a little patience (after melting and blending your butters and oils, you need to thoroughly chill everything before whipping it), I whipped up a batch of the most luscious, gorgeous body butter I’ve ever tried.  It has a wonderful mousse like texture and I love that I can have total control over what I put in it.  Because I don’t add any water there is no need for chemical emulsifiers or preservatives so it is 100% skin loving.

It’s been months since I last made a batch but I have just about used up my last tub so it’s time to make a new batch.  After a very pleasant morning Googling of the properties of various butters and oils (including a sneaky peek at what some other leading brands put in their products – well if it’s good enough for Liz Earle, it’s more than good enough for me!).  I now have my formula …

75% of the recipe is solid oils and butters.  I’ll be using:

  • Coconut oil – organic – it melts quickly on skin contact and is an ideal moisturiser on all skin types particularly dry, itchy or sensitive skins.
  • Mango butter – non-hydrogenated –  although a solid, is still quite a soft butter so helps prevent the finished product getting too hard at room temperature.  Mango butter is an excellent skin softener with, apparently, healing and regenerative properties.
  • Shea butter – unrefined, wild harvested, fairly traded – in the past I’ve used refined shea but trying unrefined this time sourced from Akwaaba Social Enterprise Ltd, which is a co-operative of 130 ladies based in norther Ghana, West African.  Suspect it will be creamier in colour and probably have a more distinctive smell but that doesn’t really concern me.  What is a plus for me is that being unrefined means it hasn’t passed through so many chemical processes, so more of the beneficial properties remain.

The other 25% will be liquid oils, which help create the soft texture.  There are so many wonderful oils to choose from, all offering different skin loving properties.  I found it so hard to choose, I’ve ended up with 10 different oils in my formula:

  • Avocado oil – unrefined, organic –  although a heavier oil, avocado is reported to penetrate deeply into the skin and is high in vitamin A and D.
  • Wheatgerm oil – unrefined, cold pressed, organic – naturally rich in vitamins A, D and E and many of the B vitamins.  Vitamin E is great for promoting skin cell formation, and for nourishing and rejuvenating dry, mature, dehydrated skin, and reducing scars, stretch marks and damaged skin (it could have been made just for me!).  It also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects.
  • Jojoba oil – organic – jojoba helps promote healing of the skin as it has antimicrobial properties.  In composition, it closely resembles the skin’s natural sebum so is easily absorbed and tolerated even by those with the most sensitive skin.
  • Marula oil – a less well known oil, it is beginning to hit the headlines as the latest wonder ingredient in a number of skin care products.  It contains powerful antioxidants (60% more than argan oil) and a high concentration of nutrients, minerals and essential fatty acids that protect against environmental aggressors, reverse photo-damage, boost cellular activity, hydrate at the deepest levels and repair the skin.  What’s not to like!
  • Borage seed oil – cold pressed – also know as Starflower, borage is rich in gamma-linolenic acid (an essential fatty acid) which helps locks moisture onto the skin
  • Rose hip oil – cold pressed – known as a potent anti-aging treatment to help reduce wrinkles and fine lines.  A rich source of vitamin A and essential fatty acids, it is good for scar tissue, stretch marks, damaged and dry skin.
  • Cranberry seed oil – cold pressed, unrefined – quite the luxury oil as this costs almost three times as much as any of the others, however, it promises to pack a punch with high levels of vitamin E as well as other anti-oxidants (in fact higher than found in any other vegetable oil!).  It is easily absorbed and is highly nourishing and moisturising.
  • Pomegranate seed oil – cold pressed – another oil high in antioxidants.  These help neutralise free radicals which cause skin aging.
  • Grape seed oil – glides smoothly on to the skin with moisturising properties.  It has mildly astringent and antiseptic qualities and can assist with skin repair.
  • Apricot kernel oil -organic – readily absorbed into the skin, it is said to slow down the aging process and to be of great use in treating inflamed skin.

While many of the oils and butters I’ve chosen are packed with vitamins, I’m also planning on adding a little natural vitamin E, not only for it’s benefits to the skin but also for it natural preservative action which will help extend the shelf life of my finished body butter (as I said, it does take me quite a while to get through, even when I do give some away to friends).

I’ll not add any colourants as I like the natural creamy white, but I will add some essential oil to fragrance it.  I’ve added a blend of lemongrass, lavender and geranium to my shopping list – can’t wait to see how it smells!

If you’re intereste, I shopped with The Soap Kitchen (www.thesoapkitchen.co.uk).  Their customer service is excellent (they have given me a call in the past when they spotted a mis-match between the number of jars and lids on my order – they were right, I had made a mistake!).  I tend to shop around a little but always come back to them as they offer a great range at highly competitive prices.  I reckon this batch will work our at under £5 per 150 ml.  A little better than L’Occitane!





My first soap challenge

Well technically this isn’t my first soap challenge.  I actually registered for the Clyde Slide competition in September 2015.  I even made the soap.  But in the end I didn’t think it was quite good enough to enter, so chickened out.  This time I was determined to upload my pictures regardless.    So, with a little help from my son and the lovely Amy Warden, organiser of the Soap Challenge Club, I got over my fears of the technical stuff and entered for real.  Soon after uploading my pics I received some lovely comments from other soap makers. You have no idea how chuffed I was. Don’t care now whether I get any votes, I’m just so glad I took part.

So here it is, my entry for the January Soap Challege Club competition using the circling Taiwan swirl techniques.

Lavender Lotus soap

This this one was definitely a challenge …

First batch seized the moment I added my fragrance oil.  I’d used allergen free Cherry Blossom fragrance from The Soap Kitchen.  It’s a really beautiful fragrance, a soft floral but not overly sweet, and I look forward to using it in it other projects … just not soap!  I also realised too late that I hadn’t used nearly enough of my pigments but it was too late to add any more.  It was a case of get the dividers out of the mold pronto and dump the soap in.  Here’s what I ended up with …

First attempt at a circling Taiwan swirl – not really the look I was after 😉

Not too pretty but smells gorgeous.  Perhaps one for just at home.

After this drama, I reformulated what I thought would be a nice slow mover and a trusted fragrance (lavender and basil natural oils blend also from The Soap Kitchen).  It was a slow mover alright!  In fact so slow that more than a week after making it it is still too soft to cut properly.  I only just managed to cut a section from the end in order to get a photo in time for the competition deadline.  Definitely looking at a long cure time for this one!  Note to self – use sodium lactate next time.

Anyway, the entry is in and I’m pleased to have learned new skills along the way – a new soaping technique and how to upload a Pinterest board.

Let the adventure continue!

PS  Not sure I’ll use this again as it really is very slow to trace, but for those of you interested the formula I used was:  30% coconut oil; 23% sunflower oil; 20% castor oil; 15% sweet almond oil; 12% rapeseed.  I worked out my lye using SoapCalc with 5% super fat.  Soaped at 93  ºF. I added powdered goats milk and a pinch of Tussah silk, and coloured with pink ultramarine, violet ultramarine, and titanium dioxide.

And so it begins …

Welcome to my blog!  I’m glad you dropped by.

Here I plan to share my adventures in cold processed soap making, skin care and other crafts … and they will be adventures.  It’s been a year since I made my first batch of soap and since then I’ve made a grand total of 16 batches and dabbled in body butters, lip balms, candles and bath soaks.  In each one I experimented with new formulas, ingredients and techniques, and every one taught me something new.  Along the way there have been some disasters, but nothing I couldn’t either rescue or use in some other way (like my first attempt at shaving soap – hopeless for shaving but makes the most fantastic shower soap!).

I’m still learning.  Sometimes I’m thrilled by my success; sometimes I just smile and put it down to experience.  Either way it’s all an adventure!