Archive | February 2014

Alien Brain and Other Soaping Headaches

Some days when I’m soaping, it’s all I can do to keep the gremlins at bay.  I often CPOP my soap (cold process oven process), which means that I put my soap molds in the oven at low temperature to force gel.  Typically, the oven is set at the lowest temp, the mold is placed in the oven when you put your soap to bed and then shut off 20 minutes to an hour later. Then you leave your soap for about 24 hours before unmolding.

Lately, I’d been having…uneven…results.  Lots of ash, which I don’t really mind but it was getting a little thick.  And then I would see this ripply top and occasionally bubbles on the sides. IMG_4730So I researched and hunted and talked to my friends on the soap forums. Finally! A name for it.  “Alien Brain”. The fantastic thing about identifying a problem, is that once you put a name on it, you can find a solution.  A little research and I found this helpful post on SoapQueen. And that nasty business with the bubbles and bumps turned in to this lovely  three color Lavender Patchouli blend:IMG_4806

Bubbles: gone. Ash: gone. Me: Happy.

So fast forward to this morning, when my soaping projects just started hitting on all cylinders.  This morning I tested alfalfa powder as a natural colorant.  Natural colorants aren’t typically as vivid as micas or other colorants, but they have a lovely muted tone. I added the alfalfa at trace and got this light yellow/green soap before insulation. I also threw in a sample of Frankincense and Fir fragrance oil for laughs.

Alfalfa powder test

Alfalfa powder test

Oatstraw Test

Oatstraw Test

The oatstraw test was a little darker than the alfalfa powder.  I soaked the powder in a small amount of the oil which I added also added at trace.

Since things were moving along so swimmingly, I banged out three additional batches: A two color white tea and ginger with mica swirl, baby bedtime with pink brazilian clay and plumeria with purple brazilian clay and mica pencil line.

You can buy my finished soaps at my Etsy shop.

All in a days work

I’m really excited to unmold all of these batches tomorrow.   And that’s the source of another of my problems. I discovered last week that just because I can get the soap out of the mold, doesn’t mean I should.  Last week, after my Friday soaping bender, I made Fixer promise not to let me unmold for a least 24 hours. Boy that extra 6 hours sure makes a difference.  Where I previously had left small pieces of soap stuck to the sides of the mold, now my loaves were coming cleanly away from the sides.  A nice soap planer can fix a multitude of soapy sins, but isn’t it just better not to have the problem in the first place?

One thing that this blog is making increasingly clear is that I need to spend some quality time with my camera and really improve my product photography.  I’ll be sure to share what I learn.

Soaping goes to the next level

In addition to Charter Members of the US Lavender Growers Association and the Indie Business Network, we are a member of the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetics Guild.  This May, I’m leaving Fixer and the Littles and heading to Arizona for the annual HSCG conference.  Color me thrilled.  And while I’m there,  I’m gonna get certified.  Yep. That’s right.  Certified.  The Guild offers 3 levels of soap maker certifications.  And for your trouble, you get to post a dandy badge on your website and promotional materials that assures your clients and customers that you are a proficient saponifier.  Sooooo, my plan is to take the Basic and Advanced certifications at the Conference.  Part of the Advanced certification is the submission and evaluation of a sample bar of basic, multi-oil soap.  To that end, I have cooked up a basic, no artificial anything loaf of my trinity soap for my sample submission.  The soap will be evaluated on documentation, packaging and lather as well as the written portion of the tests.

advanced test soap

In the future, my long term plan is to complete the Master Soap Maker certification, but that project looks like a doctoral dissertation, so we will just have to see how life plays out.  But a girl has to have a goal, right?

This soap will be available for sale at my Etsy shop.

Hey Good Looking

Well, hi there! I bet you thought we’d gone. Nope, I’m back.  I just realized that it’s been literally months since we’ve updated.  It was a busy summer, that’s for sure.  Five days after my last post, I quit my job of ten years and left to head up the quality assurance department for an organic herb farm.  And hasn’t that been a steep learning curve.   The switch from manufacturing frozen veggies to medicinal herbs has been eye opening.

In the meantime, we caved in the face of weed pressure and ordered a pallet of super heavy duty weed barrier.  By the end of the summer, we had planted close to 600 plants.  The early season babies grew wonderfully. The late season babies will be fairly lucky to have survived the winter. As recently as January, many of the plants were still pliable and looking pretty ready to come out of dormancy.  Then about a week ago, Central Washington suffered a significant cold snap. Although it hasn’t been nearly as bad as the winter weather afflicting the rest of the country, it was plenty cold for us and gave me cause to worry a little bit about plant survival. After a few inches of snow to go with the cold,  a strangely warm wind kicked up and there went the snow.

Planting season is now looming and with it, the arrival of our plants for this year. Phase 2 of lavender expansion was initially expected to be another set of 600 plants. Our grower decided that this year was the year that he would buy a mechanical transplanter, so instead of ordering 600 plants, we ordered 2000.  Standby for photos of planting.

Also this winter we purchased a small still for our own use in distilling small amounts of lavender oil. We successfully produced about 10 mL of oil, which doesn’t sound like much until you consider typical yields for lavender distillation.   Plus, it was really exciting to produce it.

I’ve also been soaping up a storm and resurrecting my neglected Etsy store.  My current offerings are in draft form, so you can’t check it out yet, but soon…

Here’s a few pictures of our labors.

Midsummer Babies

Midsummer Plants

November babies

November babies

three loaf arabian night wip arabian night white tea and amber

Coconut Lemongrass Feb 2014 White Tea and Amber Feb 2014 Energy Feb 2014 Black Raspberry Vanilla Feb 2014 Duc D'Anjou Feb 2014 Yuzu Feb 2014 Knock Out Feb 2014 Black Lavender Amber Feb 2014

 

You can buy any of these soaps and other at my Etsy shop.

First Distillation

First Distillation