This is the first post in our new blog, "Happy Accidents in Soapmaking." We hope readers will enjoy discovering just how much fun cold process soapmaking can be. Curious about the mother-and-son team at Scent of the Sun? Learn more.
Like so many soaps, Blackberry Dance arose from a happy accident. Fragranced with fresh blackberries and hints of jasmine, the soap is one of our favorites if only for how it reminded us just how whimsical and spontaneous cold process soapmaking can be.
The Nervous Joy of Soapmaking
Soapmaking is an art, but it’s also a science. Soapers jealously guard their soap formulas, and it’s easy to see why—chemistry can be a lot of work! Getting the formula right takes time, testing, and experimentation. But once you’ve got your formula in place, the fun of soapmaking takes over: creating colorful designs and mixing just the right blend of fragrances to make the perfect soap that your customers will enjoy as much as you do.
It’s that last element—the aromas—however, that can sometimes be the rub. One of the exciting and occasionally nerve-wracking aspects of soapmaking is trying new essential and fragrance oils. Each one reacts differently when it hits the soap batter: some oils thicken the batter so quickly that it becomes almost impossible to create a design—a process called “acceleration.” Other oils thin the batter to a liquid consistency, allowing for beautiful drop swirls. The reaction is critical, and the time it takes for the batter to thicken is all the time you have to create your design.
You can plan for the reaction. You can read reviews from other soapers who have used the fragrance. But you never know until the oil hits the batter.
With Blackberry Dance, we read countless reviews of the oils we based the soap on, and each said they performed well with little acceleration. We planned accordingly, designing what we hoped would be an elegant drop swirl of light and deep purple. And with that in mind, we set up our studio, grabbed our oils, butters, lye, and micas (powdered minerals used as colorants) and went to work.
A Pleasant Surprise
We had our plan, but the oil had other ideas. As soon as it hit the batter, it began to seize and accelerate, dragging against our silicone spatulas. In mere minutes, we realized a drop swirl was going to be impossible: it was simply going to be too thick to mix. Plan B would have become Plan A, had we had one. But we didn’t, and so we grabbed a gold mica and did the first thing that came to mind.
For us, that was separating the soap into three layers—one deep purple, one light purple, and one white—and lining each with a layer of gold mica. That way, we wouldn’t have to mix the colors much at all, but merely layer them into the mold as we raced against the thickening batter. And that’s just what we did with the first two layers.
In our haste, however, we’d left a good amount of soap batter that we didn’t have a clue what to do with. Ultimately, whimsy provided: we had just enough dark and white batter to round out the upper layer with a simple but classic in-the-pot swirl. Swirled droplets of gold mica rounded out the top of the bars.
Making the Cut
With the soap made, all we could do is wait. We didn’t know if the design would come together until we cut the loaf into bars—but when we did, we were pleasantly surprised. The soaps reminded us of just why we make soap: for our customers, for the fragrances, and for the fun of soapmaking.
It’s an intricate dance, but it’s always an enjoyable one—in this case, a Blackberry Dance.
Rick Brown is one half of the family-run vegan soap business in the Nashville area that is Scent of the Sun. Learn more about us.