Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How to straighten photo using PicMonkey

It seems like sometimes, no matter how carefully and straight I try to aim my camera lens, I end up with crooked pictures! I know it's just a silly little thing to fuss about, but sometimes it drives me crazy! Case in point:

Now, I could have sworn when I lined up that photo that the bottom was all squared up with the frame of my lens! I know it's such a small detail, but it's actually super easy to fix in PicMonkey (my favorite photo editing site). I was happy to discover this trick a little while ago and wanted to share it with you guys:

Step 1: 
Upload your photo, and under Basic Edits choose "Rotate":

Step 2:
Click on the "Straighten" button...notice how it places that grid over the photo?

Step 3:
Now, drag the straighten button to the left or the right, and it will rotate your photo either left or right. You can use the grid to guide you as to how straight your photo is within the frame:

Ah, much better! Just 3 easy steps, and see how the bottom is all lined up nicely along the frame? Now I can sleep tonight! :D

PS - I'm not super picky about this all the time...sometimes I do take crooked pictures on purpose! ;)

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Ice Wine Soap

I hope you all had a lovely Easter weekend! We just returned from spending the weekend in Whistler, BC, which is a lovely little resort village nestled at the base of the Blackcomb and Whistler mountains, near Vancouver, BC. You may have heard of Whistler, as the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics were hosted here:

Photo by Jon Wick licensed under CC by 2.0 

 Photo by Jon Wick licensed under CC by 2.0

Even though we have had a relatively mild winter in BC, the skiing and snowboarding were still amazing high up in the mountain. Admittedly, I am not as much of an outdoors enthusiast as my husband and kids, but I really appreciated the views of the snow-covered mountains, the cozy feeling of the village, and the foodie aspect along with the shopping that the village offered. Speaking of food, I stumbled upon this amazing bakery called Purebread:

I wanted to pitch a tent and camp outside their door all day and night. I cannot say enough good things about their rustic but elegant cakes, breads, and pastries; Raspberry Chocolate Loaf, Hazelnut Fig Bread, Salted Caramel Bar, Morning Glory (muffin? croissant? whatever it was, it was amazing!), Lavender Earl Grey Scone, Berries and Cream Puff, Brown Sugar Sponge Cake, etc. I seriously wanted to order one of everything, and I am convinced it is quite possibly the best bakery on this entire planet. Although, my son reminded me I have not been to Paris. Touché, son.

My daughter really loved the Lucia Gelato, and of course you can’t go there without treating yourself to a Beavertail pastry, which seems to be a staple of the Canadian ski slopes! Cows ice cream was my husband and sons’ favorite. We also had an amazing burger with fresh-cut fries at Boomburger. And even though it’s a small village, there are 3 Starbucks there!

How does this all tie into soap making? Well, while I was there, I noticed that many of the gift shops featured ice wine gifts; ice wine tea, truffles, cookies, syrup, etc. Now, I admittedly am not a wine connoisseur, and I have never heard of ice wine before, so I had to research it. It turns out that ice wine is a type is a dessert wine that is produced from grapes that have been collected while they are frozen on the vine. Because the water in the grapes is frozen, this allows for a more concentrated grape juice to be squeezed from the frozen grapes. Ice wine harvesting is fussy - the frozen grapes must be picked on the first morning that it is cold enough, and the whole crop needs to be picked within a few hours! This results in a smaller amount but more concentrated and very sweet wine; needless to say, it is also pricier than traditional wine because of the risk and smaller yield associated with this type of harvesting.

Naturally, my thoughts turned to using ice wine in soap! I have wanted to try wine in soap for a while, and thought it would be fun to try an Ice Wine soap inspired by our trip to Whistler.

Seeing as I was only using this ice wine in soap, I chose the least expensive bottle that I could find, which was this bottle of 2011 bottle of merlot ice wine from the Okanagan Valley in BC:

To prepare the wine for soap making, you need to boil some of the alcohol out first, as this will help you avoid any heat volcanoes during and after your soap making. To do this, you need to simmer your wine on low for about 15 minutes (which should remove about 60% of the alcohol content). Studies have demonstrated that simmering, even for long periods, will reduce some, but not all of the alcohol*. 

Unfortunately, I got distracted and ended up simmering mine for much longer than I wanted too - about 30 minutes, and I was left with a very sticky and condensed syrupy mixture. My poor kids were convinced I had started a brewery in our kitchen - the wine aroma was so strong! I ended up reconstituting the syrup with some water to make it thinner and then let it cool overnight. I did taste a tiny bit of the condensed wine, and it was VERY sweet and tasted very much like a strongly concentrated grape juice. It would make an amazing drizzle on top of some vanilla bean ice cream….mmmm!

To make this ice wine soap, I used just enough water to melt my lye (just over a 1:1 ratio of water:lye). I added the ice wine at trace. I used a combination of strawberry and rhubarb to fragrance the soap, which had the perfect balance of pungent, fruity, juicy and tart elements to compliment an ice wine infused soap.  

Whenever I make soap with a new (unfamiliar) ingredient, I try to have a plan A, B and C in place:
Plan A is in case it moves really fast - my goal here is just to plunge the soap into the mold as fast as I can, nothing fancy here. 
Plan B is in case it behaves well and I have some playtime, I can play around with some embeds or layering and texturing the tops. 
Plan C is my always my failsafe plan; in case all of the above goes horribly wrong, I can always throw the soap in the oven and hot process it….it may not turn out as pretty, but it produces a perfectly usable soap!

This turned out to be a Plan A on the verge of a Plan C soap. When I added the ice wine, the soap immediately turned chocolate brown and thickened up…so much so, that I could barely get the fragrance evenly distributed. Did I mention that the raw soap stunk? Like that lovely ammonia-like smell that we get in soap making from using milks (thankfully, this unwelcome fragrance usually dissipates fairly quickly). Also, because the raw soap color had turned so dark from the ice wine, I had to blindly add some burgundy and violet mica, hoping that as the soap cures out, I will be left with something of a merlot color.

I was hoping to take pictures of the previous part of the process, but you can see how this part got away on me!

Because of the extra sugars in the wine, I immediately put the soap in the freezer to keep it cool. It is kind of a plain soap, so I jazzed it up by adding some blue, violet and iridescent glitter to the tops along with some iridescent star confetti: 

PS - After making this soap, I found this wonderful article by Anne L. Watson on formulating and experimenting with beer and wine in soaps, I really wish I had read it before I attempted this soap...hope you find it helpful if you decide to try this -> Beer and Wine Soaps

PPS - Jenny at I'd Lather Be Soaping has a great video and blog post on making wine soap too!  

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*Alcohol Retention in Food Preparation. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 92:486-488 *

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Blackberry Sage Soap (with piped rosettes)

I haven't made a 'me' soap in a while, and thought I would like to have another try at a rosette soap. You may remember this post from all the way back in June 2013, when I first made soap rosettes!

There are a couple of things to keep in mind when doing this type of soap with a piping technique:

1. Work at low temps (90 to 100 degree lye solution for me)
2. Choose a slow moving recipe
3. Select a fragrance that does not accelerate or discolor

My first attempt this time was this soap:

It is fragranced with Birthday Cake, and while it turned out okay, I thought I would like to try it again with a smaller tip to see if I could get more definition in the flowers (I use open-star tips for my rosettes).

Because I am fragrancing this one with Blackberry Sage, I pictured a light earthy green for the bottom and a muted purple topping. I actually colored the whole soap a very slight green, similar to the color you would have if you had used pomace olive oil in your recipe. I poured the bottoms, leaving some room at the top for the rosettes:

I remember (maybe from a tutorial of Amy's?) that if you place something on top of your mold, the soap underneath will set up a bit faster, so I placed a baking sheet on top of my molds while I prepared the rest of my soap, so that the base would be ready for my heavier rosettes.

I colored the rest of my soap with purple mica. It's a muddy purple, because the base was slightly green, but I think it works for this blackberry soap. I stickblended it until it was thick enough for piping and put it in my piping bag:

I test my soap, to make sure it will hold up for piping - this is holding it's shape well and looks good to go! 

Working on the piping, I think the smaller tip is can see the rosettes better:

It is also important to tap down your molds as you are piping your rosettes, it helps the rosettes to settle a bit in the base soap and spread out slightly toward the sides of the mold. Here they all are in the mold:

And out!

It's a very simple technique, but so versatile...I love the way these turned out! :)

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Using Aloe Vera (freeze dried) Powder in Soap

I am not familiar with freeze dried aloe vera powder at all, but I received a sample from Aloe Vera of California and decided to give it a try:

According to the literature I received with the sample, the aloe gel is harvested and concentrated, and then freeze dried and ground into a fine powder and mixed with maltodextrin. Maltodextrin is a starch-derived food additive that is commonly used as a thickening or filling agent in foods; in this case, I am wondering if it is being used to prevent clumping? 

This aloe vera powder is food grade and certified organic, and their prices seem very reasonable!  The powder I am using is a 100:1 concentration, and they also offer a 200:1 concentration and a 50:1 concentration. 

I have used aloe vera juice in soap, and this powder can be reconstituted to make aloe vera juice. The powder is very economical to use, because it has a long shelf life (2 years) and you just need such a small amount of the powder (99 parts of distilled water to 1 part aloe vera powder, if using the 100:1 concentrated powder) to make the aloe vera juice. Once you have made your aloe vera juice, you can use it right away (chill it first) or freeze it into cubes to use later.

I am testing this reconstituted juice using my favorite 100% coconut oil and aloe vera juice recipe from Kenna of Modern Soapmaking (click on the text in the blue box below to access the recipe):


I actually converted the liquid in her recipe to grams because I am used to working in grams, so I measured out 297 grams of water to mix with 3 grams of aloe vera powder:

Then, add the aloe vera powder to your distilled water to make the aloe vera juice:

I noticed the powder didn't completely dissolve right away, but that may have been because I was busy taking pictures and didn't stir it as it was going in; in any case, after letting it chill in the fridge (it needs to be chilled for Kenna’s recipe), it was all dissolved and the water was clear.

Once it had sufficiently chilled, I measured out the lye and added it to the aloe vera juice - the aloe juice turned a very cool bright yellow when mixed with the lye!

It was cloudy at first but then settled to a clear yellow color. While I was waiting for my aloe vera lye solution to cool down, I measured out the rest of my ingredients. This is the easiest soap to make, because there is only one oil to measure - the coconut oil!

From past experience in working with this recipe, I remember that this soap likes to heat up like crazy, so I actually chilled my molds in the freezer prior to pouring the soap:

I previously had not noted on Kenna’s instructions that she recommends you add half your lye solution to your coconut oil and stickblend well, then add the remaining half of your lye solution. I asked her the reasoning behind this, and she says it is to make sure the some doesn't trace too quickly - great tip! I will try this method with my other soap recipes too - my base recipe comes to trace VERY quickly, so I am hoping this method might give me a bit more time. 

As Kenna suggests, I brought my soap to very thin trace only (just until it was emulsified). For the color, I wanted kind of a mossy green, so I am going to try this Woodland Green mica powder from Lather & Lotions:

I love using micas because there is no premixing required, I just stir them with a whisk into the raw soap:

I also wanted try this lovely Lavender Green Tea fragrance from Brambleberry; apparently it was one of the winning fragances from their 2012 S.O.A.P. panel. It is described on their website as being “fresh and clean smelling, almost like a linen scent. It reminded one of our panelists of an Aveda blend with its natural lavender notes.” Sounds divine, right? And a perfect match for an aloe soap :)

Once you have added your color and fragrance, you are ready to pour your soap into the mold:

Look at that dreamy green color! :)

Putting it in individual molds helps to prevent the soap from heating up too much; however, despite my best efforts, this one did start to heat up and was gelling in the centers, so I immediately placed the soaps in the freezer.

Again, this recipe sets up super fast, so you want to remove it from your molds and cut it within 6 to 12 hours (make sure you handle with gloves as the soap will still be caustic at this point).

In my case, because they were in individual molds and I put my soap in the freezer, I was actually able to remove these soaps from the mold after only 1.5 hours! I ended up with partially gelled soaps, but I think it works in this soap. And it actually allowed me to see what the color of this mica would be gelled and ungelled, which is pretty cool!

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Fragrance Oil Testing

I am in the process of testing some new fragrances :)

These fragrances are very exotic to me....I usually gravitate towards bakery and sweet scents, so it is good for me to branch out and try new things! I haven't tried any new fragrances in while, so it was nice to pull out my trusty cold process testing recipe to try out these new fragrances.

As many experienced soapmakers will tell you, it is always a good idea to test any new fragrances in CP (and MP) before you use them. The chemical process involved in making cold process soap can very often change the color and performance of your fragrance oils in the cured soap. Even in melt and pour soap, the vanilla content of the fragrance oil can change the color of your finished soap over time.

I like to use a basic olive oil/coconut oil/palm oil recipe for testing my fragrances in cold process soap.When I am testing fragrances, I bring my cold process soap to very thin trace (just emulsion) before splitting it out into individual portions for testing. In this case, I used 4 ounces of raw soap to 0.25 ounces of fragrance oil for testing (which is equivalent to 1 ounce of fragrance per pound of oils, if my math is correct!). I bring the soap to thin trace only, so that I have time to split it out and mix the fragrance oils well into each portion and check for any color changes, morphing of fragrances, or any acceleration that may occur.

The fragrances that I am testing are from a new (to me) company - they have previously been selling fragrances in Latin America, and now have a store in the US, Paris Fragrances.

Here are my observations upon pouring, along with the scent descriptions from their site:

Breu Branco Brazilian Wood: No acceleration noted, no discoloration noted on pouring. Top Notes: Bergamot and lemon in a warm woody fragrance. Finished out with notes of pink pepper, black pepper, paprika.

Buriti Amazonian Fruity: Accelerated, no discoloration noted on pouring. Buriti is a fruity floral musky fragrance from the fruits of a rain forest palm tree called Buriti.

Belissima Bella Donna: No acceleration, no discoloration noted. Sophisticated fragrance. This one is very soft and floral to me. 

Pitanga Red Brazilian Fruit: No acceleration noted, no discoloration on pouring. This Brazilian cherry fruit is from the south forests of Brazil. Pitanga in the native Brazilian language (tupi) means red. Top Notes: Red pitanga, tangerine, grapefruit. Exotic smell, it is fruity - hot and sweet.

Pink Guava Brazilian Fruit: No acceleration noted, slight discoloration on pouring. Top notes: Slightly citrus, like orange or bergamot - a juicy mix of orange, cashew, guava and other notes.

Here are the fragrances just 2 hours after pouring. You can see even after 2 hours, some of them are starting to discolor already. PS - I am in love the butter yellow color of the Bella Donna fragrance! 

First impressions? My nose was immediately drawn to the Breu Branco Brazilian Wood, so that is what I soaped first. While bakery scents are my first love, woodsy fragrances are a close second :)

2 hours after pouring, I can't stop sniffing the Pitanga Red Brazilian Fruit, it is intoxicating! 

I will update this blog post again in 1 week and then 1 month after the soaps have cured, to assess how the colors and fragrances have held up. 

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Hemp Soap - made with homemade hemp heart milk and hemp heart infused oil

Wow...has it really been 5 months since my last post?! I can hardly believe it. My deepest apologies for my extended absence, but I really needed to take a huge step back and focus on important issues that were happening during that time. Thank you to those of you that reached out and checked up on me, and I will look back through the comments and try to answer any questions you have left for me :)

As you can see, my soap making was put on hold during that time, and I forgot how important it was for me to express myself, be creative, and share my passion with others. I am hoping you will allow me to pick up right where we left off last time :)

As you know, I love making milks from scratch to use in soap. Yes, it is more time consuming, but I am always fascinated to learn about and try new types of milk soaps. Those of you who follow my blog will remember that I have made vegan milks from scratch a few times before, including banana milk, oat milk and almond milk. The latest that I tried was hemp milk that I made from scratch using these hemp hearts:

To Make the Hemp Heart Milk:
I found these hemp hearts at our local health food store. To make the hemp milk, I combined ½ cup of hemp hearts with 2 cups of water in a blender, and blended until the mixture was smooth. Then I strained the hemp milk through cheesecloth to remove the pulp. 

To Make the Hemp Heart Infused Oil:
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any hemp oil to use in my soap, so I thought I would try infusing my olive oil with hemp hearts to use in my soap. I did this using a quick-steep method; combining 2 tbsp of hemp hearts per 1 cup of oil in a saucepan, and bringing the mixture to a gentle simmer and then turning off the element and covering the infusing oil for 2 hours, then straining the infused oil through cheesecloth.

To Use the Hemp Heart Milk in Soap: 
As with any milk soap, I had a couple of options of how to use the hemp milk. I could have frozen the hemp milk into cubes and added the lye to the frozen cubes, but I always find this is risky when working with a new milk ingredient, plus I would have had to wait for the milk to freeze…and you all know how impatient I am! So instead, I chose to use the milk as part of my total liquid amount and add it at trace. 

If you are not familiar with this method, it involves dividing your total liquid amount into 2 portions; using one portion as water to dissolve your lye (always remember to use slightly more water than lye to dissolve it), and then adding the remainder of the liquid as the milk of your choice at trace. Having said that though, next time I would try adding my milk directly into my oils, before I added the lye solution, as the soap traced very quickly and I barely had enough time to mix the hemp milk in properly.

I chose not to fragrance this soap, instead leaving it as a pure hemp soap with the hemp infused oil and hemp heart milk:

As with any milk soap (because of the sugars), keep in mind that these soaps can heat up in the early stages of saponification. I was hoping to avoid any gelling or cracking, so I put my milk soap in the coolest place in our house (the garage), but when I checked on it an hour later this is what it looked like:

That, my friends, is a sure sign of a partial starts in the center and moves its way out. Now, there is nothing wrong with a partial gel, but I am an all-or-nothing type of girl :) I prefer not to gel, because of the opaque and creamy look of ungelled soap, but that is completely a personal preference. Once I see that my soap has started to gel, there is no turning back. So, I encourage it along until it is in full gel, but putting in on top of a heating pad and then covering it with a towel to encourage full gel. 

You could alternatively put your mold (if it is heat safe) into a really low oven (150 degrees F) until it is in full gel, but my oven does not go down that low, and I end up with bubbles on the surface of my soap, even at the lowest temperature, which is 170 degrees F. 

Also, to avoid any gelling in the first place, I could have put my soap in the freezer or fridge for 12-24 hours, but I have not had any luck doing that either (I end up with crumbly soap). 

And here is it cut:

Have a wonderful weekend everyone! :)

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Advice for Beginner Soapmakers

Hi everyone, I hope you all are having a great summer! I have been very busy, but feel bad for neglecting my soapmaking and blog :( Now, I am feeling the pressure to start building my inventory back up with fall approaching and the Christmas holiday season not too far behind it. This summer heat seems to suck up all of my energy, but I must buckle down and get back to work!

I love getting emails from readers, and I always appreciate it when people take the time to email me and share their successes after trying a recipe or technique I have shared on my blog. It motivates me to continue to share my soapmaking journey with you. So, thank you for your support and encouragement!

I received a question from Stella, and thought it was a good one to share for anyone who is wanting to learn how to make cold process soap. I think her experience mirrors a lot of our own experiences, and I thought I would share her question and my answer as a post, in hopes that it might help others too:

Hi Cee, I happened upon your site through soap making wanderings and I am so glad I did. I have only just begun my soap making journey and I'm so excited. I've been soaking up help and information, do's and don'ts from all over the internet. I'm only doing melt and pour soap at the moment as I want to be able to sell my soaps at markets and fairs around South Australia, as a hobby at this stage. I know that if I go with CP I have to register with NICNAS if I intend to sell, so I'm leaving that avenue for a bit. 

Do you have any advice for a beginner soap maker? many thanks Stella 

Hi Stella, thanks so much for stopping by and welcome to the wonderful world of soapmaking! I too started my soapmaking journey by making melt and pour soaps, and I still love to make them as well as cold and hot process soaps. I’m glad to see you have done so much research already before jumping in, that is definitely a great start. I could fill up a whole page with advice for beginner soapmakers, but I will try to narrow it down to a few digestible points for you!

1. Always run any recipes you want to try through a lye calculator; even the recipes you find from reliable sources can have calculation errors in them. Also, as I am sure you have learned by now, there is also some misinformation on the internet about how to safely make cold process soap, and I hope you have been able to spot and differentiate between the good information and the misinformation. Find reliable sources and stick with them! 

2. Document everything. Take notes of every single batch you make. This blog was my way of documenting the soaps that I have made, but you should also keep a notebook with lots of notes and observances of each batch that you make, including writing down the recipe each time and how the ingredients behaved (did the fragrance accelerate your soap or affect the color? did your soap gel? how was the feel and lather? did the fragrance last after curing? etc). You will not be sorry that you took the time to make these notes; being able to look back and reference any soap batch you made will be invaluable, and will ultimately save you time and money (and frustration!) in the future.

3. Always, always test your recipes and ingredients. There is nothing worse than working really hard on a beautifully colored and decorated soap, only to find out that the vivid colors will bleed onto a washcloth, or that your fragrance will fade or change the color of your soap by the time curing is complete. Some surprises don’t show up for several weeks to months, so it is always best to give your recipes lots of trial and testing time. For instance, I made this Christmas soap and the red color ran; not enough to stain a washcloth, but it was good to be able to test this and warn people before I gave it away:

4. Recipes with milks and/or natural sugars (like honey) will heat up, so make sure you make an allowance for this when planning your batch (whether to gel or prevent gel, for example). Here is an example of a batch that heated up, and I ended up with a partial gel and some flaking:

5. Most ‘failed’ soap batches can be saved, either by chopping it up and adding it to another batch or by rebatching it (unless it is lye-heavy, then those ones would have to be tossed). Here is an example of a batch I had to repurpose here:

6. Fancy recipes with lots of ingredients aren’t always better, sometimes you just can’t beat a basic 3-oil or 4-oil recipe.

7. Patience is key. I can’t emphasize this enough…mostly because I am still trying to learn this…lol.

8. Join forums, ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid to experiment and step outside the box. Just because something doesn’t work for one person, doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. For example, our skin shouldn’t be able to tolerate a 100% coconut oil soap (normally it would be far too cleansing/drying), but I learned that you can make a great 100% coconut oil soap here:

9. Introduce yourself to other soapers and join swaps. This is a great way to try out other soaps and compare qualities to see what you like in a handmade soap and how you can improve your recipe. The other soapmakers I have connected with have been incredibly supportive, and we still email each other when we have questions or need advice, I always know I can count on them!   

10. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and don't feel like a failure because your batch failed or didn’t turn out the way you had expected. I have learned more from my unsuccessful batches than I have from my successful ones. And remember to have fun….sometimes jumping into selling can turn soapmaking into more of a production line and stifle creativity; be careful to make sure you strike a healthy balance between the business and creative aspects. Take your time and enjoy the hobby stage, you will not regret the time you took to carefully experiment to make sure you have recipes and techniques that you and your (eventual) customers love!

I hope this information has been helpful, and when you are ready to jump in and get started, I have put together a thorough basic cold process tutorial with step-by-step instructions on the How Do I Make Soap blog, which you can find here:

I would love it if some of my fellow soapmakers would chime in with their best advice for anyone starting out...things you wish you would have known before you made your first batch of soap. Looking forward to hearing your advice, and wishing you all the best with your soapmaking Stella! :)

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