Great Cakes Soap Challenge Club – Secret Swirl

Secret Life of Woad




Time again for another edition of Amy Warden’s Soap Challenge Club. The challenge for March 2017 is a secret…the Secret Swirl to be exact. It was once again divided between two categories, this time one for Natural entries and the other for Synthetic entries. I will be entering the Natural category.

Our guidelines were:

  • The soap must be made with cold process only in a LOG mold.
  • The soap design should feature either the secret feather swirl or the reverse feather swirl (or both). 
  • In order to enter a soap in the all-natural category, it must not contain any synthetic ingredients. No fragrance oils, micas, pigments, oxides including zinc oxide and titanium dioxide or dyes. A list of ingredients will be required for all entries in the all-natural category.


The Technique

The technique this month is known in the soaping world by a few different names. It is sometimes called the feather swirl, secret feather swirl, or hidden feather swirl, and can also be done in reverse, creating a tree swirl or reverse feather swirl. The secret it refers to is the feather – or tree – like swirl, seemingly suspended in the middle of the soap, which is not revealed until the soap is actually cut. In order to create the look, alternating layers of soap are poured in the center only of the mold, and surrounded by a different color batter on all sides. Dividers separating the middle layers are often used but they aren’t absolutely necessary if you are able to pour carefully. To create the swirl itself, a hanger tool is plunged straight down the middle layers to the bottom, then sliding the tool along the bottom, and straight up and out one side of the mold. The reverse swirl is made with the hanger tool already in the bottom of the mold. After the layers are poured, the tool is slid along the bottom of the mold, then brought straight up through the middle layers, and out.


My Technique

If you know anything about me, you know I don’t do simple. I decided I wanted to try Amy’s suggestion of using BOTH the traditional secret feather swirl and the reverse feather swirl in my design. As I pondered how to make that happen I tried to visualize the motions in my head and how I would proceed. I kept getting stuck at one point, however. I understood that I would obviously have to create the reverse feather swirl first since the hanger tool had to be in the bottom of the mold before I began the pour. My concern was that after I completed the first motion of the reverse swirl by bringing the tool up through the layers, I would then need to do the regular swirl by taking the tool back down through the layers. To me this either meant I would just be undoing the swirl I just made or I would make some ugly swirly mess. I thought that if I could perhaps shift the layers somehow as the tool traveled upwards, then the downwards movement would allow the tool to swirl the layers from a different angle. I came up with the idea to move the tool slightly, from side to side as I pulled the tool up. My thinking was that it would cause the layers to shimmy just enough to give the tool a different path coming back down.

This is the map I came up with:


Have I mentioned I don’t do simple?

I have been experiencing quite a bit of spring fever lately. At the first hint of spring I seem to want to toss out the dowdy winter wardrobe colors to usher in the vibrant colors of spring. As many of you know, in the world of soap making, natural colors can be a little tricky. Some of the easier colors to obtain naturally such as brown, orange, green and red just didn’t say “Spring!” to me. Now blues, pinks, and purples…well those are a little more in the ballpark, but also more difficult to achieve. 

Recently, I stumbled upon some soap made with gromwell root. Boy, oh boy! Talk about a gorgeous deep purple! I finally obtained some a while back and I have had it infusing in oil for a month or so. I also had a small stash of colored clays that have yet to be used and decided to add them to the mix. Purple Brazilian, green zeolite, and French pink clay would be pretty good spring combo additions!

I still had some woad and indigo powders tucked away, although I was not as excited about using them. I have never really been able to get either woad indigo much bluer than a grayish denim color. I began researching to try to find ways to make them bluer and found some great information. Amy recently conducted some wonderfully informative experiments with indigo (see them here) but I also stumbled on several soaps made with woad that were stunning! Many of them had a teal, almost turquoise color to them and some even achieved a delightful robin’s egg blue. I wanted to go with the woad but there wasn’t a ton of detailed information on how people were achieving such beautiful hues. Well, not free information anyhow. I hope to be able to purchase some of the more detailed resources soon but for now, I have to make do with what is available. I did find an interesting theme, however. Many of these amazingly colorful soaps had goat’s milk in them. I decided to try some experiments to see if the milk really made a difference.


To the Lab!

I recently acquired what I believe is an ice-cube tray, with six 2″ x 2″ x 2″ compartments. I found it to be the perfect size to conduct experiments such as these. With this initial woad experiment, I decided to test a few specific things:

  1. What effect, if any, goat’s milk had on the final color of the soap
  2. What effect there was when the woad was added at trace, vs. when added directly to the lye water
  3. Would the addition of bentonite clay lend any green hues to the blue color (I saw a beautiful teal-colored soap in which she had added bentonite so I thought I’d see if it played any part) 

I apologize for the absence of photos of the actual experiment. I was too caught up in thinking through the scientific part of it and it never dawned on me that pictures might actually have been a good idea! 

I made three small batches of soap; the first batch was woad and bentonite added to the lye water, the second one had the woad added directly to the lye water, and the third had the woad added at trace. Each batch was then divided in half and put into two different containers. The first set of three was left as is. To the second set, I added a teaspoon of goat’s milk powder which had been reconstituted in water. I had read that gelling the soap typically brings out the best colors so I forced gel by CPOP (Cold Process/Oven Process). The silicone mold was placed in an oven that had been pre-heated to 170 °F and turned off. 

The results were very interesting. The first set which had no goat’s milk added to it resulted in the color blue I am accustomed to seeing when I use woad. The only slight difference I noticed between the three was a slightly bluer hue in the sample where the woad had been added at trace. 

The results of the set with goat’s milk added were interesting as well but also disappointing. The third milk sample where the woad was added at trace turned a lovely turquoise color. The two samples with the powders added to the lye water were a gooey and oily mess. Oil pooled on top of both of them and when I removed them from the mold, both left behind globs of a gelatinous orange-colored substance. They never did set properly and there were several holes in areas where oil had seeped out. In the areas where the oil didn’t seep out, it appeared as if the oil re-solidified somewhat and left behind creamy pockets. The creamy parts were a pretty blue but overall, they were a mess!

I was pleased with the results but I couldn’t help feeling like I might have done something wrong with the two misbehaving samples. I decided to try the experiment again, this time adding a slightly different variable. This time, I wanted to see if leaving the goat’s milk powder dry would make a difference.  

Using the same three configurations: adding bentonite and woad to the lye water, adding woad only to the lye water and adding woad at trace, I made three more batches and then divided each into two containers. The first set I again added the reconstituted goat’s milk. The second set I added dry goat’s milk powder. 

The results were intriguing. The replication of the second set in the first experiment produced almost the exact same results. The samples with the powders added to the lye water and the liquid goat’s milk resulted in the same oily mess. The sample with the woad added at trace produced a very similar color. The slight difference could be the result of how much woad I put in this sample compared to the first. I only eye-balled the amounts of powder I put in each sample. Rookie mistake!

The other set where I added dry milk powder resulted in samples that were more similar in appearance to each other, much like the samples in the first experiment where no milk was added. The difference with these, however was that the samples with the milk added definitely produced more of the teal/turquoise hue I was hoping for!

My conclusion was this:

  1. Adding milk most certainly made a difference in the resulting colors 
  2. Adding bentonite did not lend any color variations to any of the samples
  3. For whatever reason, the combination of adding the powders to the lye water and adding the liquid milk is a disaster. Any theories as to why this happened are welcomed!
  4. Adding woad by itself at trace seemed to make for the prettiest color

Armed with the results of my experiment, I decided my method would be to use the reconstituted goat’s milk and add the woad powder at trace. 


The Creation

My original color plan was to have the woad as the main part of the soap, with layers of white (white kaolin clay), pink (French pink clay), blue (indigo), light purple (purple Brazilian clay), dark purple (gromwell root infused oil), and light green (green zeolite clay). After mixing all the colors in some oil, I freaked out a little bit with the one that was supposed to be pink. I was seeing more brown with a tint of orange rather than the pink I wanted. I panicked and decided to try adding a little of the gromwell oil, hoping to give it more of a pink hue. No dice. It became an even darker shade of brownish-orange. I panicked even more and added some madder root, hoping it would bring some red to the mix. Nope! I stopped my failing attempts at color mixing and decided to move forward as is.

These are the colors I ended up with after mixing:

I set up my mold with two dividers down the middle and my hanger tool off to one side of the mold. First, I poured a thin layer of the woad-colored batter. I then poured alternating layers of each of the accent colors, adding some of the woad-colored batter to each of the side sections as I moved up. I chose not to add any woad in between the colored layers, hoping that my design idea would pay off and bring some of the woad color in as I swiped my hanger tool.

After the mold was filled, I removed the dividers. I swiped the hanger tool along the bottom of the mold and up through the layers, moving it slightly side to side as I did. I then plunged the tool straight back down through the middle of the layers, along the bottom of the mold, and straight up one of the sides. 


I finished by adding a solid layer of the woad color to the very top of everything. (I had originally added some soap dough flowers to the top as an accent but they just did not look right in the end with the swirl design, so I ended up chopping them off when I cut the soap!)

I placed the finished soap in the preheated oven, turned the oven off, and let is set over night. One interesting thing I noticed with the woad batter, is that during the pour, it turned a sort of olive-green color. When I stirred it, the blue color came back but it would quickly turn green again. I was a little worried this variation in color would be seen in the finished soap. I managed to take a picture of the color variations I saw when I poured some of the left over batter into smaller molds. 


I was relieved to see that the variations did not show at all in the finished soap. I actually experienced another very interesting detail in regards to this particular portion of the soap. I did not gel it and the resulting color was a grayish blue. The same batter! This pretty much proved the idea that gelling soap with woad plays a very important role in achieving the beautiful teal color I was wanting.

Please excuse the extremely rough quality of the soaps. I have not cleaned them up yet but wanted to include a shot of them here. 

Un-gelled soap from the same batter!


The Results!

The results? UNBELIEVABLY FREAKING AMAZING! Sorry for shouting. I just cannot get over the color that I ended up getting! The teal/turquoise color was absolutely amazing and beyond any expectation I had. The swirl pattern itself was neat and the rust color I ended up with instead of pink actually gave the soap a nice look. The design of the swirl itself and the movement within the swirl were interesting as well. The way I moved my hanger tool seemed to make a difference in the overall design, but I don’t know for sure and I really don’t care! (Sorry, Amy! I know this is supposed to be about the hidden swirl, but…THE COLOR!)

The colors I ended up with went so far beyond the results I achieved with my little experiment. I managed to get so much more vibrant hues, and the colors were so much deeper! My theory on this is that I added an essential oil blend to this soap that had quite a bit of yellow tint to it. (That could possibly explain the alternating green/blue coloration in the batter) Another slight change I made was to use some of the recipe’s water allotment to reconstitute the milk powder so no additional water was added to the recipe. The milk I added in the experiments was in addition to the recipe’s water. Whatever the reason, I am beyond thrilled with the colors! I absolutely promise there is no hocus-pocus or adjustments to the color besides a little lightening of the shadowed areas. The slight variations in colors between the photos are most likely because of the different light sources and/or different backgrounds.

My entry!

Soap Specs:



Coconut oil
Olive oil
Sunflower oil
Powdered sugar – 1 teaspoon/PPO
Tussah silk


White: white kaolin clay

Pink/brown/orange: French pink clay, gromwell root, madder root

Green: green zeolite clay

Blue: indigo powder

Dark purple: gromwell infused sunflower oil

Light purple: purple Brazilian clay

Turquoise/teal: woad powder

Essential Oils: 


An incredible blend Lemon, Ylang Ylang, Eucalyptus, Bergamot, Lavender, Cedarwood, Rosemary, and Geranium.



Thanks for stopping by!

Until next time…

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April 7, 2018 11:15 am

Thank you for the awesome step by step!

March 27, 2017 4:17 pm

PS: Great hanger swirl idea & technique too!!

March 27, 2017 4:16 pm

Well, you did it again – another stunning & winning soap!! SO Beautiful!! AND THE COLORS – WOW!
Thank you so much for sharing your process…love the cool experimentation with goat milk; love the gromwell and woad too…so cool!
As always, I really enjoyed your blog and look forward to the next one.
Best always,

March 27, 2017 9:24 am

What can I say that hasn’t already been said…. I might add some more, but it had to be in Norwegian! Your blog post; it makes me so happy to see your engagement, and your generosity of sharing your “know how’s”, and also your the time you put in your soapmaking. Thank you, Debbigirl Your soap looks beautiful, and wow, what a color… Woo, what, woad… I haven’t eaven heard of it., and now that I know of it, it can’t be bought anywhere, or… I also have to check out Gromwell, haven’t heard of that either…. Again, beautiful soaps… Read more »

March 27, 2017 12:08 am

Beautiful swirl, and lovely soap. The colour you achieved is amazing, Debi! I’ve been researching woad recently, so your experiment (and generosity in sharing) have tipped the balance – I NEED some!

March 26, 2017 7:36 pm

Debi, This is amazing! Brilliant feather colors, and that woad!!! WOW! Absolutely stunning. I enjoyed reading your blog, very interesting. Now I’m off to google “woad”, and see if I can get my hands on some, or order the seeds! 🙂

Marie Nadeau
Marie Nadeau
March 26, 2017 6:35 pm

Debi, Debi, Debi…this is just fantastic!!! The colour is so amazing. Congratulations !

Love Your Suds
March 26, 2017 4:25 pm

Beautiful work and gorgeous soap! So well done 🙂 thanks for sharing your process!

March 26, 2017 3:24 pm

Always, always enjoy your posts. So appreciate the time you take to create a post that is educational, engaging, and entertaining.
And, also, loving everything about your soap: color, design/technique, and scent if only.

March 26, 2017 2:00 pm

That blue is amazing!! I have never managed to achieve vibrant colours using all natural colourants but you’ve inspired me to try again. Off I trot to buy woad!!

March 26, 2017 12:51 pm

Great soap. Choice of colors are divine. Appsolultly stunning post.

March 26, 2017 12:00 pm

This is a beautiful soap! The swirl is lovely and the colors turned out most amazing! I wonder with natural colorants how long they retain their color or if they will fade after a few months? I have to experiment more to get experience in this respect.

March 26, 2017 11:58 am

Absolutely amazing that you were able to get these results! I had no idea that you could get this vibrant of a blue from a natural source 🙂 Beautiful, just beautiful!! And I’m extremely impressed with both your patience for all of the testing you did, AND all of the documenting and blogging you followed it up with. Awesome job!

March 26, 2017 6:44 am

That is so true Debi… you don’t do simple… but you do, do amazing!!! Wow you are right… THE COLOUR :-))))) So beautiful! Some time ago, I tried to buy woad but never did find any. Shame that it is no longer available. As always, love reading about your experiments. Stunning soap!

March 26, 2017 5:43 am

Wow Debi – THE COLOR for natural soap – I love it, makes me want to venture out and try some natural ingredients for coloring. Really cool the way you changed up the hanger movement and the results you achieved…nice, very nice.

SoapChic Rhonda
March 25, 2017 8:55 pm

Debi you have done it again, absolutely striking soap !!! Your colors are totally amazing and your feather is just perfect! Oh, and did I mention that woad really takes your creations to a whole new level. I have always wanted to try it out in a soap but had never gotten around to it so, Thank You for using the woad and sharing the results with us all.

Amy Warden
March 25, 2017 2:04 pm

That woad color is magnificent!! Now, what I understand is that there aren’t any suppliers who carry woad any more. Like there’s a world-wide shortage or something. I have a sample that I’ve been hoarding – but what interesting testing results! I wonder what it is about the goat’s milk that changes the color so drastically? It’s crazy cool! Of course the other colors are quite lovely too! Nice job!

Sara Golding
March 25, 2017 1:21 pm

So I have to start by saying – I have been waiting ALL DAY just to read your post. I was starting to worry that you didn’t have one this month- and that would have been a tragedy! Your soap is striking. I have been eyeing Woad soaps for a while and I have never mustered the courage to get some. Anyway. I am so glad you tried it. I love seeing the results. I never woad (haha) have guessed that the goats milk made such a difference. The gromwell is equally as beautiful. Nicely done all around, Debi!!!!

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