Amy Warden’s Soap Challenge for January, 2016 uses the Circling Taiwan Swirl, a modification of the Taiwan Swirl that hit the soaping blogs a while back, to create a pair of soaps resembling a lotus flower when placed side-to-side. The soap loaf is cut into bar sections and those are cut horizontally to reveal the pattern. Only the two end sections will reveal lotus blossoms when cut in half horizontally, so you have to carefully plan the cutting.
It is also important to work with a very thin soap batter in order to perfect this technique. This is a feat in itself! Certain fragrances and stick blending taken just a bit too far will make the soap thicken before you can pour it into the mold sections, remove the dividers, and create the swirl pattern.
Making My Circling Taiwan Swirl Soap
I used a very nice lavender and citrus essential oil blend that my husband loves and I knew wouldn’t accelerate trace (make the soap thicken quickly). I poured the blend into my base oils at the start, so that I wouldn’t forget them. Then got all of my equipment and everything ready before adding my lye water/aloe juice combination to the oils (I haven’t noticed any acceleration with the addition of aloe to my lye solution so far.)
Once I poured the almost room temperature lye solution into my room temperature oils, I stirred the resulting soap batter well to incorporate the two, and then hit it with a few short stick blender bursts. I stirred a little more, and then repeated stick blending for just a few seconds. When I noticed emulsion (a slight coating on the stick blender’s blade guard) after those few bursts, I retired the stick blender for the duration.
Then I separated the soap into four equal parts, and stirred in the colorants for each section of the Circling Taiwan Swirl. I used green, yellow, blue micas, and titanium dioxide for the white section. I felt that there should have been good contrast between the colors for the greatest impact.
I tried using the suggested “rubberband method” to hold the mold dividers down and prevent the thin batter from leaking under the dividers to other sections, but this didn’t work for me. Some seeped under, even though I only poured a little bit into each section at first. I believe this was either because my soap batter was very thin, or my rubber bands were too weak. In either case, I held the dividers down with one hand while pouring with the other. A little clumsy, and no way of taking photos of the process, but it worked.
I find removing dividers to be a pain, but I managed a somewhat messy extraction. After they, and their end pieces, were out I immediately took my swirling tool and placed it into one corner of the mold. I used a stainless steel drinking straw for this, because it was the same thickness all the way down the straw, as opposed to a tapered chopstick. This allowed me to get the Circling Taiwan Swirl evenly throughout the soap loaf.
I managed fairly close swirls by moving the straw back and forth along the mold. Then I moved it along the sides of the mold to create the circling part of the swirl. Don’t ask me how many times I circled, because I didn’t count. I just watched the pattern form and then stopped before I started muddling the colors together. This part was quick and it was fun watching the swirls curve around.
I immediately cleaned off one of the plastic dividers and placed it over the mold to allow the soap to set up a bit before spraying the top with alcohol and “putting it to bed.” I covered the whole thing with a very thick folded towel; the plastic divider keeping the towel at bay. It definitely gelled under there making for nice bright saturated colors when I uncovered it the next day.
I’ve been having a little problem lately being patient and allowing my soaps time enough in the mold to unmold easily, so, in addition to using sodium lactate in my cooled lye solution, which I always do, I gave this one a second day in the mold. It unmolded very well, without sticking to the sides.
Cutting My Circling Taiwan Swirl Soap
As previously mentioned, this swirl requires a special cutting style, often referred to as the “mantra style”. A mantra soap swirl is similar to the Taiwan soap swirl, except that there are two dividers instead of three. (Actually you can do both without dividers, but Amy specified that dividers were to be used in this challenge.) I hate dividers! Did I already say that? Anyway, the soap must be cut horizontally into two layers, and then each layer cut into bars of the desired width. This style saddens soap makers with multi-bar soap cutters like mine. It renders them (the cutters, not the soap makers!) useless for this type of swirl…well almost!
Since the ends of the soap loaf are the most important part (because that’s where the lotus blossoms appear), I decided to cut those two ends off first. I was going to cut freehand with a knife and cutting board, which would have made okay cuts (well, maybe slightly wonky ones), but then I thought about my loaf cutter (a wire cutter used to cut multiple loaves out of a block of soap.) I put the 2 1/4″ guides in place, turned the long loaf vertically and ran it through the cutter. Voila! A perfect section. Then I flipped the shortened loaf over 180 degrees and ran the other end through the cutter. Another 2 1/4″ section! Yay, I didn’t mess that up!!!
Next, I continued cutting ends off of the loaf, which left me with a total of four 2 1/4″ sections, and one that was much shorter (still plenty wide for soap samples, though.) I turned each soap top-side-up in the loaf cutter and cut off the top of each one, for a smooth face on the top bar.
Now, onto cutting the sections into slices. Being so happy that I found a way to wire cut the sections, I decided to try using my wire soap slicer for the bars. It’s brand new and I’m excited that it makes 1 1/8 thick bars. I carefully placed each one in turn on its side at the stop end of the cutter, and pushed the wires down through the soap. Then lifted two perfectly shaped bars out of the cutter for each larger section. 🙂
I really like the way the soaps turned out, and may try this technique WITHOUT the dividers. Many thanks to Amy Warden of the Soap Challenge Club and all of those soapmakers who spent their time and resources to bring this fun swirl technique to the soap making community.
I’m excited to report that I won the grand prize in the experienced soapmaker category for this month’s challenge! There were so many beautiful soaps submitted from all over the world!!! My thanks to all of the soap makers who voted for my soap. Special thanks to Amy Warden for hosting these great challenges and to Majestic Mountain Sage for sponsoring the experienced soapmakers’ portion of this month’s challenge.