Adventures in Melt and Pour
Or, Learning Lessons the Hard Way
A lot of us started out wanting to make soap, except for one thing: LYE!! (cue music: dum-dum-DUUUMM!)
This is completely understandable. Lye IS scary stuff, and even once you've learned all the correct ways to handle it, you need to be on your guard for some unexpected mishaps. Adding water to the lye, instead of the other way around, for example, can lead to what's known as a "lye volcano" and caustic lye water all over you and your kitchen counter. Even once the soap is mixed and put in the mold, a lye volcano can occur, leaving a difficult mess to clean up. There's a reason for the rubber gloves and goggles, folks!
So, many of us turn to melt and pour soap, and I was one of them. The thought is, "Let's take the scary lye out of the equation, and let's just do the fun part of adding fragrances and colors!" This is also a good way to go if you want your older kids to share in on the fun (side note: Each of us is the best gauge of their child's maturity, but ages 10-12 is generally a good place to help out an adult with melt and pour).
Here's the thing: there's a pervasive idea out there that melt and pour is "easier" than making cold process or hot process soap. And it is...sort of. I mean, you get to take the whole lye thing out of the equation, so that's one less step. It's like making cupcakes from a box mix instead of from scratch. Most of us already have the ingredients and ability to make those scratch cupcakes, but dang it, sometimes it's just easier to open the box!
But with melt and pour soap, just because the only "special" equipment you might find useful is your microwave oven, there's still a learning curve if you want to try and pull off something unique! And what I've been trying to do is get down a swirl, similar to what is done in cold process soap.
It's not been easy. Some of my first MP soaps were a disaster, aesthetically speaking. I did great with straight pours, okay with layers, but swirling-ugh! Let's just say that I learned pretty quickly another reason why MP makers love their craft--the ability to remake your soap easily!
I'm learning that the temperature at which you pour each of your colors really makes or breaks your design. Too hot, and you end up mixing the colors in the mold. Too cold, and you end up with a clump of soap in the middle of your main color, at best. These "mistakes" can be either remelted, or cut up and used as embeds in a new soap. And the temperature difference can be as little as a couple of degrees! AND--that temperature can be different, depending upon the type of base that you're using!
This bar was made from a batch of soap which I cut up to use as embeds in the middle layer:
and a lovely example of clumping soap:
So this all leads to two choices as I see it: either be willing to experiment-a LOT, or buy premade kits that are more or less going to work for you, depending upon your personal ability to follow directions! ;-)
My most successful layered-swirly soap is one I bought as a kit and followed directions (mostly) to a tee. Brambleberry's Cotton Candy soap is a beautiful design that has a fun, sweet-smelling scent to go with it. I added the embed heart for fun. I've been able to make this soap twice now and it's turned out great both times!
However, from there it's been trial and error:
See that swirl up above? Yeah, me neither. And I made at least 5 more batches, each one not quite right yet I could tell I was getting a little closer:
This layered lavender-scented soap almost got a swirl! You could even say there is one, it's just a little light.
I kept at it, watching videos and reading soap maker's boards and asking questions from those who have already reached that pinnacle of success I am striving for, and I kept hearing the same advice: lower your temperatures, and experiment, experiment, experiment.
Finally, yesterday I got closer to my goal:
This one is scented with Birthday Cake fragrance--and it's the closest I've gotten so far with the kind of swirl I'm aiming for!
This masculine bar is scented with Warm Flannel:
Yay! These bars represent what I'm hoping to do with melt and pour soap. While I do like layers and embeds, getting down the swirl represents to me mastery over this craft.
I've come a long ways since starting down this path a few short months ago! Of course, until I can get a good result more often than not, I don't consider myself really proficient at it. Still, I think I'm heading in the right direction. Then, who knows where I'll go next?
Grace and Peace,