Today the wonderful Amy Warden from Great Cakes Soapworks is taking over Soap Queen to talk about overcome your soapmaking fears. Amy hosts the monthly Soap Challenge Club, and is constantly pushing herself and the soaping community to try new techniques. I have taken part in the club several times, which has resulted in a few tutorials including Misty Maritime Moon Cold Process Soap and the Leopard Spots Tutorial. Because Amy is always conquering new techniques, she knows a thing or two about overcoming soapmaking fears! Read on to learn more about Amy’s soaping journey. – A. M.
I remember making my first batch of cold process soap back in November 2002. I wanted to make something for my friends for Christmas that year, and after looking for ideas on the internet, I stumbled upon Kathy Miller’s website. I read everything I could about how the process worked and what to expect before jumping in. There was no YouTube, nor Facebook; soapmaking blogs had not yet begun. My only visual references were the few photos on Kathy’s site. I wondered what trace looked like in real life. I had no idea, but I figured I would know when I saw it.
I went ahead and bought all the supplies I needed for my first batch of soap – except for a stick blender and a scale. I used Kathy’s recipe that calculated ingredients by volume – which included an entire 12-ounce can of lye. It was a huge recipe, and I used the full water amount and a spoon to stir it.
You might be able to imagine how the rest of this story played out. I stirred for HOURS, until I couldn’t stand it any longer and thought it looked like soap was starting to form in my pot. I added my fragrance and poured it in the mold. The next day it was completely set up, so I dumped it out of the mold to cut it. Much to my horror, it completely crumbled like wet sand! Not just the edges…the entire batch of soap!
So, I did the only thing I knew to do. I went back to Kathy Miller’s site – specifically the troubleshooting section! I came to the conclusion that the soap really hadn’t reached trace and the only way to fix it was to put it all back in the pot and stick it in the oven to hot process it. This turned out to be a good thing, since my goal was to give this soap to my friends for Christmas and it was now the end of November.
I dumped all the soap back in my stainless steel pot and put it in the oven at around 200 degrees. I let it melt down for an hour or so, stirred it, and let it melt some more. Remember, this was nearly 6 pounds of soap, so it took a few hours, but eventually I could tell it was starting to come together like it should. I dumped it back in the mold and when I cut it the next day, the texture was perfect!
I learned some very important lessons from that first batch of soap. First and foremost, I learned the importance of using a stick blender! I also learned that the soapmaking process is extremely forgiving. Each new soap is an adventure for me. In all my years of soapmaking, I’ve only had to trash two batches – and both times it was because I had forgotten one of the base oils and either the batch was too large to rebatch or I wasn’t sure how much extra oil was needed.
It took me a long time to start experimenting with fancy soap designs. Here are some of the progressions you can see in my soapmaking techniques over the years:
One of the main reasons I’ve seen my skills grow lately is the Soap Challenge Club! Every month I have to tackle a new technique and be able to create a video tutorial and written instructions for it. The members of the Club are super supportive and really inspire me and each other to create some really beautiful work. Sometimes I can get it right the first try, but there have been many times it takes at least three tries to get the soap to look the way I want it to. Most recently, that was the Spinning Swirl! I couldn’t get the batter to stay fluid enough to spin by the time I got it all layered in the mold. Once it worked, it turned out beautifully though!
I have to say I’m jealous of those of you just getting started now with all the resources you have available, including this wonderful blog! You can actually see soapmaking videos on YouTube that show you what trace looks like and how to create some stunning swirls. Maybe you’re still in those beginning stages when the world of soapmaking seems intimidating. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be! Yes, you need to respect the lye. Outside of that – have fun! Most importantly, don’t get overwhelmed by all the fancy looking soaps you see on Facebook or YouTube. Start with something basic so you can get a feel for the process, and then go from there. You’re always welcome to join us in the Challenge Club if you need some fresh ideas!
The best advice I can give is to keep a journal with good notes of your process so you can learn what affects the outcome of your soap. What was your recipe? What temperature were the oils and lye solution when you combined them? How long did you stick-blend the soap? Did you add the fragrance to your oils before adding the lye solution or at trace? What did you use to pre-mix your colorants with? Did you insulate your soap? How long did you have to wait to cut it? How long did it take to cure? Once you know the variables, you can change them up (one at a time, preferably) to see how it affects the results.
Making soap is one of the most rewarding things I’ve learned to do. I love planning out how a fragrance should look with a certain color palette or swirl technique. There’s something magical about watching the oils and lye solution come together to make soap that never gets old. Cutting into a fresh batch of soap to see what’s inside is like Christmas morning! Not every batch turns out exactly how I envision it, and that’s ok too. There’s always the next batch! Always.