Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Favorite Fun Soaping Books!

Hiya, Wonder Turtle fans! Wally the Wonder Turtle and I thought it would be fun to put together a list of our favorite soaping books, so here goes! If you've ever thought about soaping, these books are a great place to start. And if you're already a soaper, hopefully these will be useful for you, too!

The very first book I bought on soaping was Marie Browning's 300 Handcrafted Soaps: Great Melt & Pour Projects. When I was first embarking upon my own soaping adventures, I walked into my local bookstore and was lucky enough to find this book sitting on the shelf. I thumbed through it and felt absolutely giddy about the possibilites. Plenty of gorgeous photos adorn nearly every page, and Browning's overview of melt-and-pour soap crafting and designer techniques gives even the newest of newbies the confidence to give her recipes a go. This book will give any melt-and-pour soaper a solid foundation to build upon.

Another beautiful book devoted to melt-and-pour soaping is Debbie Chialtas's SoapyLove: Squeaky-Clean Projects Using Melt and Pour Soap. This book is also a joy to look at. Chialtas takes melt-and-pour soaping to a whole other level, and her soaps are impressive works of art. In this book, she reveals how to make your own little works of soapy art through detailed instructions for 25 projects. There are tons of full-color photos in this book, too; not only do you get to see the finished product, but you see photos of each step in the process. When you look at one of Chialtas's soaps, you may think, "I could never make something that looks like that!" But Chialtas says, "Yes, you can, and I'll show you how!" Full of tips, tricks, and inspiration, this is a book that novices and experts alike will find extremely useful (and fun!).

Even though I am a melt-and-pour soaper, I wanted to read up on how soap is made. The Natural Soap Book: Making Herbal and Vegetable-Based Soaps by Susan Miller Cavitch gives an excellent overview of the cold-process method. She goes into the chemistry of soap (did you know that soap is actually a salt?), the ingredients involved in soapmaking, and several recipes. A handy glossary is also included. Even if you're strictly a melt-and-pour soaper, it's good to know how soap is made. You never know when a customer will ask you a question about the soapmaking process or how an ingredient listed on your label contributes to that process -- it is far better to have an accurate answer than to say, "I don't know"! Plus, the soapmaking process is rather fascinating, and this book may inspire you to give the cold-process method a try!

Okay, The Directory of Essential Oils by Wanda Sellar isn't a soaping book, per se, but it has lots of useful information about essential oils. If you're thinking about fragrancing your soaps with essential oils, this is a good place to start. Although you won't find usage charts or calculators here, you do get a good overview of more than 80 essential oils, their aroma profiles, their uses through history, their properties, and any precautions or warnings about the essential oil. Blends are suggested, too, for each oil.

Ready to take the next step and sell your soaps? Check out Maria Given Nerius's Soapmaking For Fun and Profit. The first section of the book, the "For Fun" part, introduces you to soapmaking and describes cold-process, melt-and-pour, and hand-milled techniques. Part Two is the "For Profit" section. Nerius discusses pricing, selling, and marketing your soaps. Series Editor Barbara Brabec also includes "A Mini-Course in Crafts-Business Basics" toward the back of the book, and it gives you a crash course in the legal and financial issues of having a small crafting business. (Brabec also has written many books about small crafting businesses, so take a look at her other books, too.) Although this book was published in 1999, it still has good info and will point you in the right direction.

I know this post is about books, but I would be remiss if I did not mention Bramble Berry's Anne-Marie Faiola's Soap Queen blog and Soap Queen TV as must-sees. The Soap Queen blog is full of soapy recipes, inspiration, and advice; head on over to Soap Queen TV's video episodes to see Anne-Marie demonstrate how to make soap and other fun projects from start-to-finish.

This is just a start -- there are so many wonderful books and resources out there, but these make my short list of favorites.

What do you guys think? What are some of your favorite soaping resources? Do you have any titles you would recommend for soapers and entrepreneurs? Wally and I would love to hear from you!

Happy soaping, everybody!

Monday, February 15, 2010

New at Wonder Turtle Soaps - Buttercream & Snickerdoodle!

Check out our Buttercream & Snickerdoodle soap, new at Wonder Turtle Soaps!
Wally the Wonder Turtle thinks this soap smells good enough to eat! (He quickly discovered, though, that it is not good to eat.)

One sniff of this Buttercream & Snickerdoodle fragrance will make you think you've just walked into the sweetest, yummiest cake and cookie bakery in town. Rich caramel, sweet buttercream, cocoa, and vanilla are rounded out by hints of nutmeg and praline.

Mmm-mmmmmmm! Sound delicious? Head on over to Wonder Turtle Soaps to get your very own bar!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Soap How-To: The Tilted Layer Effect

I was playing around with a new technique a couple of days ago and was really pleased with the results. It's a two-toned, tilted-layer design:
Cool, huh? Wanna know how to do it?

Okay, here's what you need:
  • White melt-and-pour soap base
  • Non-bleeding yellow soap-safe colorant
  • Non-bleeding green soap-safe colorant
  • Skin-safe fragrance oil (approved for use in soap)
  • Soap mold of your choice
  • Spritzer of rubbing alcohol
  • Microwave oven, measuring glasses, measuring spoons, spoons for stirring, thermometer, plastic wrap, scale, cutting board, knife or other cutting implement
Feel free to mix things up and try different soap bases, colorants, and fragrance oils. Just be sure your colorants are non-bleeding so your colors don't eventually migrate and run together (unless that's what you're going for!). I chose a white base so I would end up with pretty pastel shades.

Clear out a space to work. You may want to put waxed paper over your countertops to protect them from spills.

Set up your molds. For the first layer, you will want to tilt your molds so you can pour at about a 45 degree angle. Here, I have balanced my molds on some handy-dandy soap blocks and placed a big book at the bottom to keep them from slipping:

Determine how many ounces of soap you will need based on your mold's capacity. My square mold holds about 4.5 ounces per cavity, so I multiply that by how many bars I want to make (4.5 oz. x 6 bars = 27 oz.). I want half to be yellow, and half to be green, so I will need approximately 14 ounces for each (allowing for some extra -- it's always best to have too much than too little). If you have any leftover soap after your pours, just pour the excess into another mold. You can always remelt it for another project!

Cut up your base into chunks so they'll melt faster and more evenly in the microwave. (Obviously, be careful while cutting and do not allow children to handle knives.) Measure your cut-up base on a scale and place in a microwave-safe measuring glass.
Cover the glass with plastic wrap (to keep the moisture from evaporating from the soap) and microwave in 30-second bursts until fully melted.

Color and fragrance the soap for your first layer. Add your colorant, stirring, until you reach the desired effect.
Add your fragrance. Stir well. Fragrance is a personal thing -- some people like more, some like less. Recommendations range from .25 oz. to .5 oz. per pound of soap base. I shoot down the middle and use about .35 oz. per pound, which works out to about 2 teaspoons.

Pour your soap into your tilted molds.

Spritz with rubbing alcohol to burst any surface bubbles. (Don't worry, the alcohol evaporates very quickly and will not affect your soap.)

Allow this layer to harden until a skin forms that is sturdy enough to support another layer. How do you know when it's ready for the next layer? Gently blow on it to see if you see any ripples. If you do, the soap needs more time to set up. If you don't, it's time to pour again. You want to pour your next layer when the first layer is still warm or else you'll have adhesion problems.

In the meantime, repeat Steps 2 and 3 to prepare the soap for the second layer. I colored the second layer green.

Once your first layer has set up, carefully set your molds FLAT on your counter or tabletop.

Allow the soap for the second layer to cool to about 115 degrees (this is where the thermometer is handy). If you pour too hot, you risk melting the first layer. The soap you are about to pour should be cool enough that you can comfortably stick your finger in it without it burning (be very careful if you decide to test this!).

Generously spritz the first layer with rubbing alcohol right before pouring. This is a very important step, as the rubbing alcohol helps the layers to adhere. Gently pour the second layer until your molds are full. Spritz one more time with rubbing alcohol to pop any surface bubbles.
If you're clumsy like me and overpour like I did in the lower left corner, don't worry -- you can trim the excess away with an Exacto knife after unmolding.

Here's the soap in the mold. See the tilted-layer effect?

Let your soaps set up in their molds. Ideally, let them sit overnight to fully harden. I personally don't recommend putting the soaps in the freezer to speed things along.

Unmold your soaps after they are set. Unmolding can be tricky, so here are a few tips. Try to pull the sides of the mold away from the soap to break the air seal. Then turn the mold over and press gently on the back. You should see an air bubble, and you can chase it around until the soap pops out.

Melt-and-pour soaps contain glycerin, which attracts moisture. It's best to wrap your soaps in some sort of plastic wrap after unmolding to keep them from "sweating."

Enjoy your soaps!

Psst ... you can get your very own Fresh Zucchini Flower soap like this one at Wonder Turtle Soaps on Etsy!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

New White Tea and Ginger soap at Wonder Turtle Soaps!

Hey, there, Wonder Turtle fans! Check out this fun and funky White Tea and Ginger soap at Wonder Turtle Soaps:
White Tea and Ginger is a complex scent. It's a bit floral, a bit spicy. Strong, yet light and soft. White floral notes of hyacinth, freesia, and peony mingle beautifully with bergamot, lemon, and daylillies. The scent is nicely rounded out with ginger, nutmeg, and musk. All of these elements come together to create a warm, soothing fragrance.

White Tea and Ginger is one of my all-time favorite fragrances, and Wally and I think it will soon become one of yours, too!

(Ever curious if Wally the Wonder Turtle actually helps with all of this soaping? Here he is, examining our latest batch.):

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Zen and the Art of Soaping?

I have never been referred to as a "relaxed person," unless the person referring to me is being sarcastic. And I want to be perfect, which, of course, is impossible. The ever-present threat of impending imperfection (gasp!) hanging over me makes me nervous.

See, I am a planner. I have a very clear picture in my mind of how I want something to look, or how I want something to go. If things go awry, it throws me off. As you can imagine, I am thrown off a lot.

Soaping throws me off sometimes. I will go into a project with a vision -- sometimes I even sketch out a picture first. I consider how many layers I want, how many ounces I want total in my 2.5-pound loaf mold, and then figure out how many ounces of each layer I need.

And it will be beautiful. It has to be beautiful.

Well ...

It would be nice if everything was always beautiful all of the time. But it's not, even when you plan, plan, plan, as if planning is some sort of vaccination against disappointment.

Take this horrifying specimen, for example:
This soap was supposed to depict a dolphin frolicking in the surf. I made a sparkly dolphin embed and shredded some blue and white soap to look like frothy waves ...

Not so much. Sorta, maybe?

It has discolored a bit too, making it even more disgusting. Now, I made this dolphin soap a long, long, long, loooong time ago when I was only a couple of months into soaping. All of the other soaps from this time period were used up eons ago. Why do I still have this particular bar, then? Because for all of this time, I have been too embarrassed to put it in the bathroom's soapdish or even in my own shower. This poor bar cannot be saved. But it can be remelted and re-molded and turned into something new, although it's getting pretty old and may not melt so well. (It still smells good, though, like coconut!)

Fast-forward to just a couple of weeks ago when I made a honeysuckle soap. I had planned to have a layer of pale yellow with yellow and orange chunks, a layer of clear with flower cut-outs floating inside, and another yellow layer with chunks.


That didn't happen. The chunks stuck out of the first layer and would have intruded into my clear layer. If I poured more yellow to cover the tops of the chunks, the symmetry of the whole bar would be thrown off. So, I abandoned the idea of doing a clear-with-flowers layer in the middle and decided to just do an entire bar of yellow with chunks and then top the bar off with a thin clear layer with some pretty little flowers embedded on top. Even though it was not what I had planned to do, this happy mistake turned out very nicely (way better than that pathetic dolphin soap):
Lesson learned: Don't try to force things. If it's not working out, take it in a new direction and go with it. Relax, it will be fine, and it will probably turn out pretty anyway. Not all mistakes spell disaster. You may be pleasantly surprised when things take a an unexpected turn -- things may turn out way better than what you had pictured in your mind's eye to begin with.

Or you might be not-so-pleasantly-surprised.

But with glycerin soaping, at least you can always remelt if everything just goes to heck.

Oh, if only life were as forgiving as glycerin soaping ...

Hey, maybe there's a life lesson here that can be applied beyond the realm of soaping?

Nah ...