Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Right Tools for the Job

As a maker, I'm of the firm belief that you should splurge on the best tools you can afford for the job you're doing. In soap making, you can improvise easily. Molds can be made out of cardboard boxes, Pringles containers, plastic tubs, silicon muffin cups, almost anything really; cutters can be as simple as a sharp knife or a small wire cheese cutter.

However, if you're doing any kind of production and you want consistency in bar size and shape, you do need to invest in some equipment. The past two weeks have been all about that -- investing in my little business.

I've had my eye on a couple of pieces of equipment for a while but really couldn't justify the expense... until now. We decided it was time to invest in Mission Meadows Soapery. One of the tools I ordered is a bar cutter. It's the same idea as a wire cheese cutter but on a larger scale.

This should eliminate the uneven bars I've been getting, even with an improvised stop on the cheese cutter. An entire loaf can sit on that tray; no more balancing the loaf on a six inch slab of marble while it wobbles while trying to cut it.

The second piece of equipment is a loaf splitter. I don't make many batches in a slab mold but there are some soaps I make that are best cut horizontally first, then into bars. Until now, I've had to use a knife for that and it's been awkward, to say the least. Enter the loaf splitter...

It's adjustable from 1/2" to 3.5" in height and should make quick work of cutting the loaves and it opens up a world of design ideas.

Until now, I've been using battery operated kitchen scales to measure my ingredients. I have two such scales and they've been okay. Lately, though, my "good" scale has been frustrating me no end and there have been times I'm not sure I have the right measurement of an ingredient. If it's something I'm making for myself, I'm not too concerned but if I'm making something that I'll be selling, I need my scale to be accurate. It was time to upgrade the scale.

This is the MyWeigh KD 8000; it can be powered by batteries (3 AAA) or it can be plugged in. That is just what I need! This scale has a 30 year warranty (it will outlive me, most likely!). There's a plastic cover over the front panel and I've been told by numerous soap makers to use the cover. It's there to protect the scale from spills and oopsies (yes, that's a word). It measures down to the gram (for anything smaller, I have a jeweller's scale) or .01 oz and up to 8000 grams (8 kilos). It's known to be a workhorse of a scale.

To round out my investment, I also decided to splurge on a small planer, used to bevel the edges of the soap bars. When the bars are cut, the edges can be "sharp" (if you can call soap sharp). Realistically, after a wash or two, there are no more harsh corners but beveled edges just give the soap a more polished appearance. This is a small hand plane from Kakuri, a Japanese company.

I have two loaves that have been curing in my soap room and are ready for wrapping. I decided to test out the planer on the two loaves, 18 bars. It took just minutes to bevel all eighteen bars and I like the finished look. Now, they just need wrapping. The trimmings are in a paper bag and will be used in a future batch of confetti soap.

I love all my new "toys". Now, I just need to make soap! Until now, I've been somewhat uninspired but ideas are starting to swirl around my brain. No soap making today, though. Today will be spent with friends and family. Tomorrow though......

Monday, February 17, 2020

To Market, To Market

Yesterday was the first of my market Sundays for this year's season. It was great to see all my market family again! A good crowd came out to our little market in the country and even the regular customers were happy the season has started back up.

I'm not totally thrilled with my setup this time; it's looking a little...... blah. The gift sets (on the boxes, top center) get lost against the white background and I'm really not liking the soap in the organza bags. They're great in that they can be picked up and easily smelled but the soap isn't as easy to see and people don't really notice them. 

Last week, I ordered a pattern for a shelf unit that John will be putting together for me. We'll see how that goes; he's really not the handyman type. If the new shelf works, though, I think it could be a good addition to my table. I also think, though, that if I'm going to be in a similar spot (against the wall and out of the sunshine that could affect some products), I'm going to have to go up with my display and I'll need more colour. Any opinions are welcome!

Speaking of the gift boxes, they finally came together and the general consensus is that they look amazing. I don't think this was the right time to introduce them (only two days after Valentine's Day) as only one sold but Mother's Day is coming in a few months and I think they will be a more popular item at that time.

Here's how the sets look (everything is labelled in the actual boxes): 

The Bath Lover's Gift Set
From left to right: Lots of Bubbles Bubble Bath (scented with Salt Water Mermaid fragrance oil, Raspberry Lip Scrub and Lip Serum, Salt Water Mermaid Bath Salt, Foaming Facial Mud Masque (top right), Cocoa Butter & Peppermint Lip Balm, and Vanilla Rose Face & Body Moisturizer
The Shower Lover's Gift Set
From left to right: Foaming Bubble Scrub Bars, Cocoa Butter & Peppermint Lip Balm, Foaming Facial Mud Masque, Raspberry Lip Scrub and Serum, and three Shower Steamers (Menthol Eucalyptus, Menthol Lemon, and Menthol Lime)
When I posted the picture of the Bath Lover's Gift Set in one of the Facebook groups I'm in, I had a number of people ask me for the recipe for the Lots of Bubbles Bubble Bath. After conferring with the owner of the group, I was asked not to share the recipe in the group. I also conferred with Voyageur Soap & Candle, where I had originally obtained the recipe. The recipe is no longer available through Voyageur but all of the ingredients are available through them. 

Because I didn't have permission to share with the Facebook group but did have permission from Voyageur Soap & Candle, I've decided to post the recipe here. It comes together quickly and really does make "Lots of Bubbles"!

Lots of Bubbles Bubble Bath
Yield: 1 kg
  • 50 grams BSB Surfactant
  • 200 Grams Amphosol CG Surfactant (aka Cocamidopropyl Beetaine)
  • 230 grams Bioterge AS40 surfactant
  • 500 grams distilled water
  • 10 grams Glycerin
  • 5 grams Aloe Vera Extract
  • 5 grams Germall Plus
Mix all ingredients together. Because all ingredients are liquid, there is no need to use hot water. Preservatives and fragrance can be added at the same time as the other ingredients. Colour as desired.

If you want it thicker, add salt in small amounts, stirring to fully incorporate until the desired thickness is achieved.

If desired, you can also use Crothix to thicken at approximately 2% in place of the equivalent amount of water. You would then add this at the beginning, to the surfactants, heating to melt. You would then have to wait until cool to add the preservative and fragrance.

Note: I don't thicken mine. I don't think it's necessary but you may like your bubble bath with a thicker consistency.


Saturday, February 8, 2020

Busy, Busy, Busy

It's a busy day here in the Mission Meadows Soapery kitchen/lab. Over the past two years, I've made some amazing products that aren't soap, per se. I've introduced them to my market customers but the products simply haven't moved at all so I've been trying to come up with a way to get customers to try them. I've decided to put together a few gift boxes, each with a variety of products that are not in my current line but are items I think people will love once they try them.

To that end, I found some boxes I think will work for a simple gift box. Items in this one are for sample purposes only. I've decided to make two kinds, one for those who love baths and one for those who prefer showers.

Today has been spent making some of the products I'll be including in one or both of the boxes. For the time being, I'll only be making three or four of each box and each will have five or six products.

First up is a product especially for those who love their showers... or who don't even have a bath tub in their homes (inconceivable to me... I love my baths!). These are Shower Bubble Scrub Bars. When you rub these over your wet skin, they begin to foam with a lush, fragrant foam. They're almost like a bath bomb for your shower!

They're made with coffee, almond flour, and sugar for scrubbiness and a combination of cocoa butter and mango butter for moisturizing. They smell like a cup of mocha with a shot of vanilla, the perfect thing to wake you up in the morning. Each bar is enough for 2-3 showers. I know they look edible but don't.... just don't.

The second product I made today is Vanilla Rose Moisturizing Cream. I made a similar cream, scented with a combination of rose, patchouli, and sandalwood and coloured a very pale pink, a couple of weeks ago (I don't think I blogged it). This is the same recipe but is uncoloured and scented with Vanilla and Rose fragrance oils. The vanilla fragrance may cause the cream to turn a light tan colour; that's what vanilla does in time. It's made with wonderful ingredients like Colloidal Oatmeal, Argan oil, and Aloe Vera Extract. Seriously, this stuff rivals some of the high end creams you can find at your local department store.

When John smelled it, he said it smells a bit like Pond's Cold Cream, a scent I've always liked. Seriously, this stuff smells really nice!

Next up, I made a batch of another of my favourite products. This is a Foaming Facial Mud Mask, made with Canadian Glacial Clay, bentonite clay, kaolin clay, and Activated Charcoal. It also contains Cocamidopropyl Betain, a very gentle coconut based surfactant. It can be used as a facial masque, allowed to dry on your skin, or as a facial cleanser. When you use water to remove the masque, it begins to lather and becomes a foaming cleanser. Seriously, this stuff is amazing. And you don't have to use it just on your face. It can be used as a Spa Bath Treatment; it isn't like a bubble bath but it does bubble and the minerals in the clays are so good for your body.

It can be used in the shower as well. A dollop in your bath puff can be used as a body wash. It can be used as a scalp treatment and shampoo; it can be used as a spa foot soak or a manicure soak. It can even be used as a foot and hand masque. Seriously amazing stuff!

I couldn't let even a little bit of this product go to waste so I scraped out the pot as well as I could and applied it to my face. There wasn't much left, not even enough to do my entire face.

Mud on my face... HA!

And lastly, I made another batch of liquid bubble bath. I've tried many bubble bath products over the years and I have to say that this is my favourite bubble bath ever. Each bottle contains about 4.5 ounces and should be enough for 4-5 baths depending on how bubbly you like your baths. This is, again, scented with Salt Water Mermaid.

All that's left to do now is to make labels, package everything, and figure out my pricing.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

All Signs Point To...

Fun! I've been having fun.

Last weekend, I made another batch of soap, which I think is enough to get me through the first half of the market season. This time, I wanted to use some of the Green Apple fragrance oil that's been languishing in my stash. I do use it for shampoo and conditioner bars but I thought it would be really nice in a soap, too. I wasn't wrong.

It smells so fresh and so clean! My entire (albeit small) house smelled of green apples. I'm ambivalent about the mica on the top but it's too late now. If you've been checking out my gallery page, you will already have seen the cut of this soap. I'm very pleased with the result.

I probably could have coloured more aggressively but I'm pretty happy with this. The swirls are subtle and the fragrance is perfect. I have a feeling this one will be sold out quickly.

I HAVE been having fun this week. It's been a week of reflecting and planning for the upcoming market season. One of the things that has been a bit of a frustration is my table signage. I don't mean the main signage (I have a small banner which I love) but the product signage. I've been using small wooden blackboard signs that are handwritten as needed; I want to get away from handwritten signs and have been looking for ideas to that end.

Pinterest has been a source of inspiration many times and this time was no exception. I came across several pins with cement/concrete crafts and, suddenly, inspiration struck. What if I were to use concrete and paper clips? The concrete base would ensure stability; the signs wouldn't easily be knocked over (as I am wont to do) and the paper clips would hold my printed signs in place. I decided to give it a try.

Home Hardware carries Quickrete in buckets (rather than buying a 50 lb. bag) so, armed with that, a square silicone ice cube tray and some large paper clips, I got creative.

Each cube holds about 1/2 cup of the cement mix; I added more water than the 1:5 ratio recommended because I wanted to be able to pour it rather than "glop" it into the molds. John suggested bending the end of the paper clip that would be sitting in the mix to give it a little more stability - a good suggestion. Because of the added water, I put the tray in the oven, with the light on, for a couple of hours, then let it set overnight. By the next morning, I was able to unmold easily.

The one on the left looks a bit wonky but it's the concrete, not the clip. Apparently my oven isn't level.
I let them set up for a day then decided to paint and seal them. I love the look of the finished bases and I think they'll work well on my table, on which I use an olive green table cloth over a black table cover. I used a dark gold/bronze spray paint and sealed them with a clear coat. From what I've been reading, they'll probably lighten up somewhat after about a month, by which time they'll be fully cured.

I like them so much that I decided to go ahead and make the rest of my bases this morning. I figure I'll need about a dozen for all the signs I'll need, maybe a few more. This time, after more reading, I decided to add some water soluble titanium dioxide to the mixing water, to help lighten the colour of the natural cement. I'm hoping that will give more of a contrast between the gold and the concrete.

As well, this time, instead of using the plastic coated paper clips, I used the plain steel clips. I like them better than the plastic coated clips; they just feel stronger.

This has really been a lot of fun and far easier than I thought possible. There's just one "problem". I still have more than half a bucket of the mix left and nowhere to store it. That means I'll have to make something with it; I've seen a lot of amazing ideas. Now, I just need to decide.

Yup, all signs point to more fun on the horizon!