Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Tale of a Mermaid

I've been honored to be invited to participate in Brambleberry's Soap the Rainbow series.  What is Soap the Rainbow?  Basically each invited soap maker has an assigned color from the rainbow, each week the soap maker will make a soap project based on the assigned color.  For details see the link: Soap the Rainbow Series & Contest

Guess what my color is for this week?  BLUE!!!
So fitting for the hot hot summer!
Here are a few of my inspirations:

Glass Sculpture Made by Ben Young

Glass Sculpture made by Paul DeSomma and Marsha Blaker

Ocean Counterpoint made by Stone Ridge Glass

Besides the ocean theme (the obvious choice) for the blues, I want to add a little romantic element into the scheme,  what can be more perfect than mermaid, seashell and pearl?  I have an image in my head that involves a mermaid's tail flopping on top of the rising waves chasing after the precious pearl washed up to the white sand beach.  I don't want to buy a ready made mold to make the mermaid's tails, I prefer a more organic look, so I decided to find a way to pipe them using a cake decorating tip.  You can use any tip that is used to pipe rose petal, it's quit easy.

Everything went smoothly, the soap was made, video was recorded, then the day after I realized the video file was never saved!  What a nightmare...
I had to make another "emergency" batch to record again the night before this tutorial is due!  Unfortunately I only have limited mermaid tails left, but you can see the entire process.
Last but not least here are some salon shots of the original batch of Tale of Mermaid soap:

Sunday, May 1, 2016

When Soap Gives me Earth Looking Balls

This design is an total accident, sometimes that produces the best unexpected result.
It all started with a rather "failed" soap project.  I made a small batch of soap using a few new silicone molds I got as Christmas gifts.  Unfortunately those molds didn't release well, left me with lots of deformed soap pieces.  I usually roll scrap or left over soap pieces into balls and this was no exception.  It just happened that the 3 colors I rolled together were white, green and blue.  I only noticed how much those soap balls look like little planet Earth after rolling them!  When life gives you lemon you make lemonade, so of course making Earth theme soap is the only right thing to do!

I name this Ocean Earth soap and it's scented with a water related fragrance.  It smells like salty ocean front with wet beach sand, subtle note of sea kelp and hints of eucalyptus leaf and cedar wood.  I layered it with different shades of blues and topped it off with a layer of soap with fine pumice sand.
Soon after this soap was made we took a trip to Iceland hoping to catch a rare sighting of beautiful aurora.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Castor Oil Soap Experiment Part 2 of 3

It has been good 4 weeks since the soap samples were made.  For those of you who just happens to join me for the little experiment, please refer back to my previous blog post for Part 1: Castor Oil Soap Experiment Part 1 of 3 for details.
I cut one sample per block of soap #1-3, each has similar dimensions and same weight in grams.  They all started out 30g each and now after 4 weeks they have been shrunk to 27g each.
Soap #1: made with 25% castor oil
 Soap #2: Substituted 25% castor oil with avocado oil & cocoa butter
Soap #3: Substituted 25% castor oil with hazelnut oil & cocoa butter
I simply took a sewing needle and went through the top of each sample to attach a color thread then hang them in each glass container with 300g of my tap water.

Now look what happened 2 hours later, just 2 hours:
My observation is that Soap #1 has been dissolved a lot, just in the short period of 2 hours, while the other 2 samples actually gotten swollen.  I weighted them at 2 hour mark and surprisingly Soap #2 & 3 actually gained weight! 
  Let's look at the chart:
I had to give up after hour 24 because even around hour 18 the soap containing 25% castor oil was hard to pick out of the glass because it's almost totally dissolved, see photo below:

The soap water from the 25% castor oil soap lathered well at least!  Next post I will show the blind testing result chart from my blind testers.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Using Cookie Cutter and Piping Tips for Soap

I am amazed how much patience a cake chef has, especially when decorating a cake, it is so time consuming!  I don't bake, this is as close to "baking" as I ever get by using cake decorating techniques in soap making.  By combining the use of cookie cutter and piping tips your soap can look very 3D like these:
Little flower and butterflies were cut ahead of time using these cutters and some left over scrap soap pieces:
The metal ones I acquired from a local Japanese store and the plastic plunger style ones are from online purchase.  They are all common kitchen tools.
With cut line markings on the mold as a guide I used piping tips for the branches and leaves.  You might think piping the branches is hard, actually it's the easiest thing to pipe, the more you wiggle the more realistic it looks.
If you can't find a piping tip like the one on the left, there's an easy DIY tip, just cut a diamond shape out of a piping bag like the image on the right, which is exactly what I did because the tip I have at home is too big for the job.

There are so many different cookie cutters on the market, the possibility is endless.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Sometimes Hard Decision has to be Made

About 2 weeks ago I encountered the worst case of IP (intellectual property) infringement ever in my soap making life.  It used to be mostly harmless infringement, most of the time the offenders didn't even know the photo they used belongs to me.  As a digital age grows so widely spread across the world, the world wide web is filled with countless information and photos.  Most of the people do not understand downloading and re-using information and (or) photos without creator's permission from the internet is illegal.  Unless the information or photos are being re-used solely for educational purposes and not for profit, which falls under Fair Use guideline, it is simply an IP infringement.  Under Fair Use guideline, direct quotation of information or photographs cannot be used for commercial purposes, or without attributing the author.

Most of my photographs had been watermarked with my logo before circulating the world wide web.  This owner of a teaching studio is known to be a repeat IP infringement offender since 2011.  Apparently she had been using 6 of my photos for more than a year without me knowing.  If she charges $35 per person per class, over the period of 18 months, how much revenue did she generated?  What's worse is I am not the only one the business owner has stolen many photos from, there are at least 6 other soap makers I know of.  After contacting the studio and got no respond, Other effected soap makers and I were forced to report her to the FaceBook and her web host.  Most major web hosts and online multi-media sites observe DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) and have policy to respond to clear notices of alleged copyright infringement.  All you need to do is filing a detailed report with the web host and they will have to investigate and perform a force-take-down.  Fortunately Facebook reacted fast to my request and removed all my photos from her Facebook page.  Our effort paid off, her website had been shot down for a few days to resolve all the IP infringement issues.

During the period of time I had to track back my own internet activities to submit evidence of copyright ownership, I finally realized maybe this Photo Gallery page I provided on my blog had been providing people with easy access to steal my intellectual property, it was like a one-stop shop for free.  I had to make the difficult decision to close my gallery down permanently.  It had a good run for almost 5 years.  All I want to do is sharing my hard work and hoping to inspire other people with the same passion.  I never foresee this to end this way.  Please, if you want to use my photos or other people's photos, do get permission first and don't forget to attribute the author properly!  Respecting other people's intellectual property is to respect your own.  

Monday, February 29, 2016

Vortex Swirl Soap

After making soap for 5 years I got bored and unmotivated as I tried most of the techniques that interested me.  I used to soap at least once a week sometimes more.  But I haven't been doing much since the year end holiday season.  One night I decided to force myself to make a small batch just to kick start the momentum.  I didn't know what I want to do, sort of into the going with the flow mood.  It's usually the last minute spontaneous decision after seeing how fast the soap batter moves.  Since the batter wasn't moving too fast I decided to pour ITP (in the pot swirl) style into the mold at random spots.  The next natural reaction is to spin the mold to create some kind of pattern.

Spin swirl has been circulating our soap making communities for a while last year, got pretty popular at one time.  Spin swirl is made by literally spinning the mold at its center axis with or without the help of a lazy Susan.  The unique pattern is created by what the physics called the centrifugal force.  Centrifugal force is an outward force directed away from the axis of rotation in a rotating reference frame.  Ok, plain English please!  It's basically saying when rotating the object(s) at whatever defined perimeter's center axis all the objects in that perimeter will be thrown in a rotating outward direction by the centrifugal force.  Apply that in making spin swirl soap it means the batter is being thrown outward in a circular rotating motion in the mold, the further away the stronger force the bigger swirl.  The result of that is usually a very well marbled outside perimeter swirl pattern but the center stayed still with no movement at all.  It's like a tornado, nothing spins at the very center of the tornado; or think of it as a hurricane, the eye of a hurricane is actually very peaceful.
Watch this short video made by SoapQueen spinning the slab mold on a lazy Susan: Psychedelic Spin Swirl Cold Process Tutorial

Anyway, I had tried to modify the spin swirl last year to find a way to get some swirling pattern closer to the center, see my previous blog post: Modified Spin Swirl  I decided to try something else this time.  Instead of using centrifugal force, I used the concept of centripetal force.  Is it confusing?  Most of the people think centrifugal and centripetal forces are the same.  They are related, but not the same, no, or else why would there be 2 different words, right?

So centripetal force is a force that makes object(s) follow circular path.  What does that translate into making soap?  I simply held my slab mold as it's a gigantic pen (use your imagination) and drew circle after circle on my counter top.  In other words, instead of keeping the mold steady and spin it at its center axis, I use the whole mold to draw big circles (ok it might have been ovals because I'm just human, LOL).  Do you see the subtle differences now?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Castor Oil Soap Experiments Part 1 of 3

Most of the soaping book and online information recommend using between 5-10% castor oil in soap recipes to boost bubble.  It's said that castor oil contributes to lather power of soap.  However, more recent studies show that when making 100% castor oil soap the soap has very little to none lather.  Shocked?!  I was when I first read it!  So what is the truth about castor oil in soap?  What exactly does it do in a bar of soap?  Here are some facts we know about castor oil in soap:
  1. According to wikipedia 85-95% of the fatty acid in castor oil is Ricinoleic with the remaining spread across Oleic and Linoleic.  This fatty acid profile is unique and none like others!
  2. Recipes using high percentage castor oil tend to trace faster.
  3. Soap made with high percentage castor oil tends to be softer.
  4. Soap made with high percentage castor oil tends to melt faster.

Now the million dollar question is, if castor oil really boost bubble in soap, why doesn't the 100% castor soap lather at all?  On the other hand, if castor oil does not boost bubble in soap, why would all information suggest that?  And if castor oil is not used to boost lather in soap what do we use it in our recipes for?  To answer all these mysteries I decided to do a little scientific experiment of my own.

I simply just created a simple 3-oil recipe that takes up 75% of the oil weight with the remaining 25% being the variables to play with combination with and without castor oil.

  • Soap #1: coconut oil 20%  palm oil 20%  olive oil 35%  castor oil 25%
  • Soap #2: coconut oil 20%  palm oil 20%  olive oil 35%  avocado oil 15%  cocoa butter 10%
  • Soap 3: coconut oil 20%  palm oil 20%  olive oil 35%  hazelnut oil 15%  cocoa butter 10%

This first group is used to prove if castor oil soap melts faster than other soap without castor oil.  They would be made with the same water content with the same size and material mold.  As of now these soap had been made.  I will cure the soap for 2 weeks, cut a piece from each block and weight them to be exactly the same gram and pretty much the same dimensions.  Then I will dip each piece into a glass of water (same type of glass with same amount of water) for a period of 48 hours.  Each piece of soap will be taken out and weighted at 2 hour, 6 hour, 12 hour, 24 hour and the last 48 hour mark.  This is to examine the water solubility.

  • Soap #4: coconut oil 20%  palm oil 20%  olive oil 35%  avocado oil 15%  cocoa butter 10%  water contains 5% oil weight brown sugar (sorry, I don't have refined white sugar in my household)
  • Soap #5: coconut oil 20%  palm oil 20%  olive oil 35%  avocado oil 15% cocoa butter 5% castor oil 5%

This second group of soap is to be used together with Soap #2 to examine if castor oil in deed contributes to bubble boosting power like all the information points to.  As of now Soap #4 & 5 had also been made already.  They will be cure for the same 2 weeks before doing the tumbling test with water.  I will again cut a similar dimension and weight piece from each block, pre-washed my hands, then go for 10 second and 20 second tumble lathering test in my kitchen sink.

The final part of this experiment is a bit harder.  How do I find out if castor oil really contributes to "moisturizing" property of soap?  What feels moisturizing to one may not be the same to others.  Here's where I ask my readers if any of you would like to participate in my little scientific experiment.  Each volunteer will receive 5 different samples of soap marked with alphabet letters that are no associated with the soap numbers I assigned.  This is to ensure there are no bias in the final result.  Each participant will have to follow my instructions and perform the same tumbling in the sink test then fill out my survey.  Don't forget to leave your name and contact email in a short comment and I will get in touch with you shortly!