Great Cakes Soap Challenge Club Straight Line Designs Challenge


Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

 

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings…”

~Lao Tzu

As the saying goes, all good things must come to and end – and so it is with Amy Warden’s legendary Soap Challenge Club. Although I am finding it difficult to write this knowing it will be the very last challenge, I am comforted knowing I am not alone in my sorrow.

Over the past several years, Amy’s Soap Challenge Club has been an enormous source of learning and inspiration to soap makers all over the world. Not only that, but it has brought countless people together in such a way that inspires encouragement and a genuine camaraderie. Although I am so very sad to say goodbye to the Club, I am filled with immense gratitude for what the it has done for me. I have Amy’s club to thank for my success as a soap maker and for the true friendships it helped spark. I will remain eternally grateful to Amy and everything she has done! 

Okay, wiping the tears away. On to the Challenge!

 

Straight Away

For the final challenge, we had guest teacher Toni Watt, of White Milk Soaps in Australia. The challenge was to create a multi-layered soap using perfectly straight lines, or at least as perfectly straight as possible. Easy, peasy you say? I beg to differ. While pouring soap in straight lines seems like a very elementary thing to do, it is not quite as easy to pull off as one would think. To be honest, it is not so much a difficult technique to conquer, it’s more the planning and execution that has to be lined up just right —no pun intended. If you are off in one small place, it completely affects the entire design. Toni graciously shared some of her tricks to mastering the straight line. (Her information was very helpful, but I do admit to being quite captivated by her delightful Australian accent!)

Our guidelines for this challenge:

  • Your soap must be made with cold process or cold process/oven process only, featuring straight lines in the majority of the soap. They may be horizontal, diagonal, or a combination of both.
  • The soap must all be poured in one “session”. No embeds. You may have as many or as few straight lines as you wish, depending on your skill level and how the lines will best serve the overall design. The goals are straight lines and multiple layers, in that order.
  • You may finish the top of your soap however you wish.
  • Soap colorants and body-safe glitter are the only non-soap embellishments allowed, either as pencil lines between layers or to decorate the top of your soap.
  • Your soap must be created in a log mold.

 

 On the Straight and Narrow with Darrow

I have actually been dying to try this technique every since I saw some of the un-freaking-believable creations of a lovely woman named Janet Darrow. Janet is an incredibly creative soap maker and one of the admins of the Facebook group Soap Making, which has a very impressive member count of over 43,000, and is growing every day! Janet is one soap maker who has absolutely mastered the art of straight-lined designs. This is one of my all-time favorite soaps and one that Janet made:

Gorgeous Straight- Line design by Janet Darrow

Needless to say, when she posted this photo in the group, the comment counts and “likes” went through the roof. Janet was very generous in offering tips and tricks and even the recipe she used for this soap. I fell in love with the delicate, thin lines in her design and wanted to give it a try. I’ve never been known to start with baby steps so why not? I moved forward, full throttle, in hopes of capturing this same look in a design of my own. 

 

Getting the Facts Straight

Success in recreating a multi-layered soap with perfectly straight layers fell down to a few important factors. With information combined from both Toni and Janet, I was able to round up the following key strategies:

  • The soap batter needs to be very thin and fluid to create the perfectly level and completely straight line.
  • The surface of each layer needs to be as smooth as possible. Any hint whatsoever of uneven areas, lumps, bumps, crevices, etc. will show in the design. 
  • Each layer must be set up, or at least be hard enough to support the next layer being poured. This means being patient most of all. You don’t want the layers breaking through to previous layers, especially when you are 29 or so layers in to your 35 layer design. Trust me! Toni offered a trick to knowing if it was set up enough by looking at the surface of the soap. If had lost its glossiness and appeared with a dull, matte-like sheen, it was probably ready. Janet suggests popping the soap in the freezer for a bit after each layer to help it harden it up faster. 
  • Pour each layer from one of the ends and tilt the mold to distribute the batter along the layer. This alleviates the messy streaks of soap along the sides of the mold. 
  • Treat each layer as a separate, individual batch of soap. However, instead of mixing up a bunch of tiny batches of soap, they both suggested taking the full recipe your mold requires and divide everything (oils, lye, water) by the number of layers you desire. Both ladies mixed all the oils and divided the mixture into a small container for each layer. Janet handled the lye and water a little differently by using a masterbatched lye solution. After calculating how much oil mixture would be divided into each container, she plugged the weight into a lye calculator to determine the correct amount of lye and water needed for that amount of oil. She then mixed the water/lye ratio for each layer as it was poured. This is the method I chose to use.
  • Mix your colorants into each individual container of oils beforehand but wait to add the fragrance and lye/water as you make each layer.
  • Use a higher percentage of hard oils and a water discount. Toni suggested a recipe of 65% hard oils with 35% liquid oils, Janet’s typical recipe is 75% hard oils and 25% soft. They both used a water discount of 25% (lye concentration is 33%).
  • It was suggested to use an accelerating fragrance oil to help everything set up quicker. Be careful however, and make sure you really know how your fragrance oil behaves. If it accelerates too quickly, the layers won’t be smooth when you pour it. 
  • Use a frother, mini-mixer, or small whisk to mix everything. 
  • Toni suggested to use the oven to CPOP (Cold Process Oven Process) the entire thing once you have finished all the layers to help force the gel phase.

 

Let’s Get Something Straight

I cannot tell you how many different ideas flew through my mind for this design. I needed to narrow them down so I went online for color design inspiration. I knew I wanted this design to serve as a sort of soap Grand Finale, which meant lots and lots of colors. Although there are many great resources online for color palette inspiration, many of the them are narrowed down to only a few colors, typically around four to six total. I instead focused on finding beautiful and vibrant images.

This is one photo that really spoke to me. I loved all the vibrant colors and how festive it looked:

 

My first challenge was to simplify the colors and narrow them down to a workable palette. One of the best tools I know of to assist in these types of jobs is Photoshop. I found an awesome tutorial explaining just how to go about this here

I chose to narrow the colors down to 35 (yes, that meant 35 layers!) and ended up with a palette of these colors:

For a design tip on how to determine where a certain color falls on the color wheel, click here.
 

 

Straight Off

Since I decided to go with so many layers, everything was broken up into pretty small amounts. I chose to weigh all my ingredients in grams instead of ounces for more precise measurements. I divided up my oil mixture into 35 individual cups…

…and added my colors to each cup.

Some of the helpful equipment I used to facilitate everything.

A mini-mixer was the perfect way to mix the very small amount of batter for each layer.

After each layer, I popped the mold into a small oven that was heated to about 125 °F which helped it set up faster. From start to finish, setup and pouring included, it took me about 13 hours to make.

 

Scared Straight

I will say one of the most difficult things of all was the waiting it took between each layer. Impatience had no business in this soap design. Impatience is also something I typically have a very short supply of.

The consequences of being impatient reared its ugly head at the tail end of the design. Disaster struck at approximately 1:30 AM, just as I hit layer 29. I was beginning to feel like I was in the home stretch and seeing light at the end of the tunnel and pulled the soap out of the oven for layer 30. I had thought enough time had passed and it appeared to have the correct sheen so I mixed up the next layer.

Unfortunately, I was bleary-eyed, exhausted, (and completely finished with all of my Christmas shopping at that point) and was very, very mistaken. As I began pouring layer 30, it started breaking through the surface of layer 29. I immediately stopped pouring and set the mold back down — and yes,  I will admit to uttering a few colorful words. (Alright, fine, there were more than a few colorful words and they were also shouted at the tops of my lungs!) Luckily, I caught it quick enough. I just waited a few minutes longer and poured the remainder of the layer.

The damage was minimal as we only suffered a casualty of 1.5 bars. However, due to the layer break-through mishap, and the shocking realization that one or more of my surfaces was not level, I lost the needed space to pour the final 35th layer. I am sad to say that my ambitious, 12-bar, 35-layer design was reduced to a mere 10-bar, 34 layered design in the end. 

Play it Straight

After all was said and done, I feel it was a pretty successful attempt. While I think this technique is definitely not for the newly-hatched soaper, it is not an overly scary technique to conquer. 

My biggest piece of advice to mastering the straightest of lines is to remember this equation:

plan + prep + patience = perfection

  • This isn’t a technique that is conducive to a creative whim taking over mid-pour. Figure out your design before hand, plan it out, and stick to it.
  • Make sure you are prepared by having all the proper tools, equipment, and supplies ahead of time and most definitely make sure you have all the space you need to spread out. Thirty-five individual cups of oils take up a lot of space.
  • Be prepared with a decent recipe and know your fragrance oil and how it behaves before hand!
  • Be prepared to have plenty of time on your hands.
  • And most importantly, be prepared to to be patient. Arm yourself with things that will keep you busy and keep you from watching soap dry…or harden…or whatever!

 

Straighten Up

It was really difficult to capture the true colors of this actual soap. It almost looks like an entirely different soap depending on the light it’s in. I tried to capture them in as many different lighting scenarios as possible. 

 

Straight out of the mold

Brighter background and lighting

Sparkles!! I love how the colors glitter in the sun!

Comparison of my inspiration photo and the final soaps

Outdoor lighting

 

I wanted to enter this photo for my entry photo but decided against it since it is so dark. This was my favorite shot however, because it is the one that most truly captures the moody, yet vibrant colors of the soap in real life. 

 

Straight to It — My Entry!

My entry for the Grand Finale of the Soap Challenge Club!

For the scent I chose to use Spanish Fly from Mad Oils/Arizona Mad Oils. It’s a complex and intoxicating scent that is a perfect compliment to the design itself,  as well as the dramatic and vibrant colors.

 

Straight Talk

It may be time to say goodbye to the yellow brick road we have been traveling on, the one that brought us all the way to Kansas and to the soap-wizardess herself, Amy Warden; the very same one that whisked us all away on dozens of soapy adventures. It is now time to say goodbye to this yellow road and to the challenges that brought us all together. Sadly, this may seem like a permanent goodbye for some. I however, choose to believe otherwise. This particular road may be ending, but up ahead there is a gate beginning to open, revealing a bounty of other roads just waiting for new adventures. For each and every person I have had the pleasure of knowing on this journey, I will always have a special place very near and dear to my heart just for you. I am excited to see where these new roads lead us and I truly hope our paths will cross many times over! 

So now is my time to say a fond farewell to the legendary Soap Challenge Club. It is also my time to say hello to all the new roads we are about to venture down.

….I’m kinda hoping there might even be a few purple brick roads along the way!

 

Thanks for stopping by!

Until next time…

 

 

 

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