How can a soap swirl design prove so difficult to replicate?
I did a soap swirl design several years ago that I thought was not going to turn out well. Cutting it the next day revealed a happy accident with a stylized leafy pattern that worked well with the woody essential oil blend. I named the soap “Walk in the Park.”
I realized when I attempted to recreate it that I didn’t take very good notes after my soaping session and had no idea how I made the first batch. I’ve been trying to recreate this soap swirl design off and on ever since.
I was much less experienced at creating soap swirl designs when I made the original “Walk in the Park”, but I do remember that the soap thickened quite a bit after I poured it and removed the mold dividers. I think that may be one key to recreating it.
A Soaper’s Notes
Soapmakers keep accurate records on each batch of soap they make. I keep mine on the lye calculator page for the batch. That includes such information as:
- Each oil/fat used and the amount in pounds, ounces, and grams
- Lye quantity required to saponify (make soap) from the oils in the batch
- Liquid volume and type (milk, distilled water, etc.) in the lye solution
- The amount of “superfatting” in the batch to ensure that all of the lye is used with some extra oils for good measure (and gentleness)
- Any additives
- Fragrance (natural essential oils or synthetic fragrance) in the soap and their amounts
- And any colorants
You’d think with all of this information that replicating a soap batch would be easy. But there are several other factors that add difficulty to the process.
Other Factors Impacting Batch Success
As I mentioned previously, I am better at judging the amount of mixing required to control soap thickening (trace) than I was several years ago. Soap swirls usually require a thin trace to allow the soapmaker time to work on the swirl technique. Others require some body or heft to the soap so that soap layers won’t break into each other as they are poured. Or to create drag when using a hanger swirl, such as in the top pattern in the above soap. It takes very little blending to go from zero trace to light trace, which is often a starting place. Just a few seconds more and you are left trying to pour cement! 🙁
Certain fragrances, even essential oil blends, can also speed trace. The soap maker should make test batches on new fragrance oils, and be aware of essential oil properties to avoid surprises!
You can’t really see what is going on inside of most molds. How the colors are flowing around each other is a mystery unless you’re laying down undisturbed layers of soap. In many soaps, colors are moved around using a variety of tools, such as skewers or hangers.
Color combinations should have contrast for excitement, cohesion with the scent and overall design, and should not be overmixed or “muddy”. Many soap makers, such as myself, use the color wheel to plan their soap color schemes. Websites, such as Design Seeds, offer great inspiration.
Recreating “A Walk in the Park”: A Recent AttemptI decided I didn’t like the white section above so I made a brown swirl on one side of the mold to represent tree bark. I added a little dark brown to the medium brown in an in-the-pot soap swirl. Then I did a hanger swirl, in about the same manner as the original soap. After I put the soap to bed and started cleaning up, I realized my color palette was very camo-like and not what I had intended at all. OH NO!
So, there’s (ahem!) another factor involved in replicating soap designs: soap makers are always wanting to make changes. It’s hard to keep myself from making improvements in colors, scents, and the designs themselves. Changes that increase the risk of soap design fail.
To my relief this soap swirl did turn out kind of “foresty” and not very “camo”. While not exactly the design I was looking for, it doesn’t look too bad and the design goes well with the masculine essential oil blend that I’ve used in all of these soaps. SUCCESS!
If you make soap, do have difficulties recreating past soap swirl designs? Tell us about them in the comments below.
Thanks for reading,