Recently I decided to participate in a soap challenge group. I’ve heard about this group for quite some time in some of my soap-making groups, but never really considered joining until a few weeks ago. I think what prevented me from joining sooner was the cost for subscribing, and the fact that don’t consider myself a competitive person, so winning wasn’t really important to me. What changed my mind, was the challenge itself. It’s motivation as well as a great way to try new techniques, get inspired by others, and work on improving my photography, videography, and blogging skills. So, I see it as professional development, really!
Each month is a different challenge and there are specific guidelines for each of the two categories (regular and advanced). However, only one soap per subscriber can be entered, not one for each category. Some people make several batches for either category and pick their favorite to enter. I made only one because this is my busiest time of the year, leading up to Christmas, with online sales and the farmer’s market. The challenge this month was an in-the-pot swirl (ITPS) technique with two pours only for the regular category, and unlimited pours for the advanced category. An ITPS is achieved by combining different colors of the soap batter (usually by layering them) into one bowl and pouring the bowl of mixed colors into your soap mold. The result is a random design where no two bars look the same. Here are some examples of previous ITPS soap designs I have done:
This was my inspiration
Because of my lack of time this month, I decided to stick with what I know, and try to improve a soap that I had done before: my Northern Lights soap. It’s a beautiful design with the silhouette of a conifer tree against the starry, aurora borealis night sky.
Northern lights can be seen here in central Maine, but not as often as we used to see them when we lived in northern Michigan. Seeing the vibrant, dancing lights over Lake Superior is an experience that everyone should have. Sometimes they appear as vertical colorful streaks of light, and sometimes they are swirls of colors in the sky. It is truly awe-inspiring.
So, for this soap, I was going for the bright green swirls of color with accents of purple and pink. As a "natural" soap maker, I'm somewhat limited in the colors that I can create. Instead of using lab-created colorants and micas, I use only clays and plant based natural colorants in my soaps, which can be tricky to work with. The "northern lights" in my previous batches were pink (made with Moroccan red clay) and green (made with organic moringa powder) against a gray sky (made with activated charcoal). So, this time I wanted to improve by making brighter colors.
Usually I make this in three pours (one for the tree, one for the black ground, and one for the swirly sky), but I needed to make this soap in two pours (no ground) to enter it for the regular category of this month's challenge. Maybe next month I'll try for the advanced category.
To make this soap, I start with the tree. I do that by making ¼ of my soap recipe, coloring it black (with activated charcoal), and pouring it into one corner of my log mold. This is counted as my first pour for the challenge. The next day, after it sets up, I take it out of the mold and hand carve the tree. Then, I put the carved soap back into my mold and work on the ITPS for the rest of my soap. I also add sea salt to my soap batter which creates little white specks that resemble stars. It's scented with an essential oil blend made up of eucalyptus, amyris, tea tree, lavender, and cassia (cinnamon). To me, it has a very cool, refreshing, and woodsy scent with a hint of warm, spicy cinnamon.
And this was my result:
The fist day, the alkanet (my purple colorant), looked like a gray-ish purple and the sea salt "stars" were not yet visible. But after a couple of days, the colors deepened and the stars came out!
As an unintended effect, I got a moon and the big dipper!! How cool is that!?!!
The ingredients used in this soap are: lard, water, sodium hydroxide, organic coconut oil, organic castor oil, natural colorants (activated charcoal (black/gray), annatto seed (yellow), alknet root (purple), and organic moringa powder (green)), essential oils (eucalyptus, amyris, tea tree, lavender, and cassia), and sea salt.
Overall, I'm very happy with how it turned out. I'm thankful that this challenge motivated me to improve my techniques. I definitely like this version much better than my previous two Northern Lights batches. And I'm so excited to see and vote on the other creations!
Want to see how I made it? Check out the videos below!