Reader Questions #1 (Blogtober 10)

Back in mid-September I put out an appeal to you lovely people for questions to help me with topic ideas for Blogtober and I wasn’t disappointed.  Rather than try to answer them all in one post, there will probably be three posts in total during Blogtober – this here being the first.

Question 1 came from Claire of Saponista, who asked ‘What is your favourite soapmaking oil, and why?’  Without a doubt, my favourite soapmaking oil isn’t actually an oil, it’s a butter – cocoa butter, and I can’t imagine making soap without it (that’s a bit of an exaggeration of course – I made castile recently, and there ain’t no cocoa in that, but as a general rule each batch I make contains 10% cocoa butter) Cocoa butter adds skin loving properties to soap, and because I choose not to use palm oil, it also helps a lot with making a nice hard bar.

Question 2 comes from Jo who asked what I do about soaps and bath bombs that aren’t perfect.  I’ll be honest, I have my own idea of what a ‘perfect’ drop swirl is, and it’s very rare that I achieve what I see as perfection.  Consequently, practically none of my soaps are perfect in my eyes and I’m always striving to make them better. Providing a soap is a good hard bar, even if the design isn’t my best, it’s made available for sale. (Having said that, I’ve just cut one this week that I’m really not happy with – 3kg of soap that is more than likely going to have to go on the reject shelf – but I’m keeping the details of that one for a post later on this month)  

Bath bombs, on the other hand, don’t go out unless they’re pretty much perfect.  It took me a while to be able to get the mixture to the right consistency every time, but I think I’ve cracked it and it’s rare that I get bombs that aren’t pretty good (but the odd one that doesn’t quite make the grade will always find a place in my kids’ bath!)  Interestingly (and this was part of Jo’s question), although I live in a particularly wet part of the country, I haven’t found that the climate or weather conditions have any effect whatsoever on my bomb making abilities.  This seems to go contrary to what I’ve heard so many others say about bath bomb making, but there you go, that’s my experience.


Jo – I will write up some of my top tips for bath bomb making in a near-future post – I promise!

Question 3 kind of leads on from the last question, and came from Barb of Scrub Me Down Soap who asked how the weather affects my soaping.  This one’s easy – it doesn’t!  I live in a mountainous area, but the climate is effectively wet, cloudy, windy and mild.  We don’t experience great extremes of temperature, and the only time the weather has ever affected anything to do with my soapmaking was that time my coconut oil unexpectedly melted and made one hell of a mess in my storeroom. It’s ALWAYS solid at room temperature, but that one time – arrghhhhh we just don’t get that kind of heat here often…

Question 4 is another one from Barb – what music do I listen to when soaping?  Actually, it’s not always music.  I LOVE the radio, and I’m a big fan of BBC Radio 4. It keeps me up to date with current affairs and has the most insanely interesting programmes, on all subjects under the sun.  When I do listen to music, it’s inevitably rock music; contemporary rock,  70s rock, or any era in between, including the occasional trip down memory lane to my uni days with 1990s indie rock.

Question 5 is the last one for today, and yet again comes from Barb – where do I buy my stash?  I buy my oils and butters from a variety of companies, including LiveMoor,  Mystic Moments, and the local Cash&Carry for olive oil. (Anyone else notice how expensive olive oil is at the moment?!!)  I buy my soap colours (micas) from U-Makeitup , and my bath bomb colourants from Soaposh.   As for fragrances, I buy most of my fragrance oils from the wonderful Gracefruit (who. by the way, have the BEST customer service) and essential oils, well I’m currently looking for a new supplier, so if you have any recommendations…

Thanks for reading – back tomorrow!

Vickx

The Week in Soap: 8th Oct ’17 (Blogtober 9)

It’s been a quieter week on the soaping front.  I was grateful for that to be honest – we had family visiting for the first half of the week, and I’ve been getting into the swing of Blogtober.  Day 9 today, almost a third of the way through the month already!!

On Monday I made two double batches, both restocks, of Welsh Rose and Blodau:

Welsh Rose & Blodau (Flowers) in the mould

Welsh Rose & Blodau (Flowers) in the mould

The Welsh Rose wasn’t my best – it accelerated a little and the colours weren’t as bright as they usually are, but it’ll be fine.  The Blodau on the other hand, turned out great  – this is a closeup of it in the mould which proved to be really popular on Instagram:

Close up of Blodau in the mould

Close up of Blodau in the mould

On Tuesday I made more restocks – double batches of Clarity and Traeth Craig Du (Black Rock Sands):

Clarity & Traeth Craig Du in the Mould

Clarity & Traeth Craig Du in the Mould

The new wire for my cutter arrived on Tuesday, and it would appear I ordered the wrong one again. AARRGGHHH  It was a coiled string (?) and slightly thicker than I expected it to be.  Well, we fitted it onto the cutter anyway (taking a bit of a risk but by Wednesday morning I had 12kg of soap to cut and I couldn’t risk it getting too hard) and although it IS a little too thick, it did the trick.  I did a bit of research and discovered that I probably need 20 gauge wire, so I’ve ordered some and it should be here soon.  What a flippin’ palaver!

On Wednesday evening I gave my regular weekly soapmaking presentation.  I can’t tell you how much I enjoy giving these. It often turns into a bit of a conversation rather than a ‘talk’ and I get to indulge in waffling on about my favourite subject to a captive audience. AND then I get to sell them soap too!  I’ve only got another two or three weeks to go before they stop for the winter, but the manager has already asked me to go back next season – hurrah!

Thursday was another completely soap free day, and Friday was spent in the office, cutting soap, labelling soap, wrapping soap, photographing soap etc etc….

I took some better pictures of my Christmas specials, which I’ll be sharing with you this week, and of the mountain soap (from yesterday’s post) and this one – the Blodau from earlier this week:

Blodau - just cut

Blodau – just cut

I realised that the reason I don’t get round to sharing cut pictures as much as the ones in the mould is that I don’t usually tidy them up until they’ve been curing for a couple of weeks, so I made and effort to try to tidy up the freshly cut bar and take a picture, and it worked ok I think:

Blodau, tidied up

Blodau, tidied up

Towards Friday evening I started to develop a sore throat which worsened as the evening went on and meant I got very little sleep on Friday night. Saturday was spent feeling ill, lethargic, weak and sorry for myself generally, and Sunday was mostly spent in bed, trying desperately to kick whatever it was that was making me feel so rubbish…

I’ll be back tomorrow, come what may, hopefully with a clearer head and body that’s more willing to co-operate!!

Vickx

 

A Name Change (Blogtober 8)

For the last few months I’ve been working on a mountain design. I live in the heart of Snowdonia, practically at the foot of Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa) itself, and wanted to make a bar of soap that might appeal to the many walkers and climbers who are drawn to the area.

The last version of Yr Wyddfa looked like this:

Yr Wyddfa

Yr Wyddfa

Although they proved to be really popular (and I sold all 30 bars in record time) I wasn’t happy with the design.  Firstly, Snowdon doesn’t look like that. Secondly, (faint of heart look away now) it looked like a big ole pile of dog s**t. Not what I want people to be thinking when they look at a bar of my soap!!

So, anyway, a few weeks ago I made another attempt using the sculpted layers method. (I need to make another batch soon so I’ll try to do a tutorial at that point, but in the meantime there’s a great tutorial here by Danica of Seife & Anderes.  I had thought that this method would give me uniform bars, all with a similar looking mountain scene, but nope, I think I need a fair bit more practice for that to be the case…

New version, to be renamed 'Eryri'

Yr Wyddfa reinvented…

Although these mountains look much more realistic, they still don’t look like Yr Wyddfa, and are clearly not uniform.  Pondering this dilemma I had a lightbulb moment.  I’ll just change the name of the bar from Yr Wyddfa (Snowdon) to Eryri (Snowdonia).  We have so many mountains in Snowdonia, why limit myself to trying to reproduce one peak when I could potentially represent them all? 😀

The colours aren’t quite right in these, I think I need to revert to my dog s**t colours!!

So, introducing Eryri (Snowdonia). It’s fragranced with a blend of peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus, patchouli and lime essential oils – a fresh, outdoorsy scent.

Thanks for reading, back tomorrow!

Vickx

Social Saturday (Blogtober 7)

Welcome to the weekend folks!  I’m not only celebrating the fact that it’s SATURDAY but also that I’ve got to the end of the first week of Blogtober without too much difficulty.

Hooray

As well as writing and posting, I’ve also been doing a little blogosphere housekeeping this week. I’ve been working my way through the list of blogs that I follow and have stopped following anyone who hasn’t posted since the beginning of 2016.  I was REALLY surprised, and a little saddened, at how many there are were.  Saddened because some of these blogs were people that, at one time, I absolutely loved following and reading, but I hadn’t even noticed how long it had been since they last posted.  Circumstances change, lives move on, and I do wonder what happened to those people I admired so much. I hope they’re all ok…

Anyway, I realised that the number of active soapy / skincare bloggers that I follow has seriously diminished, and wondered how to plug that gap.  As ‘Social Saturday’ (the concept of inviting people to share their profiles / accounts via your own) seems to have become a bit of a thing on various social media recently, I thought I would offer up this post as a place where anyone with a soap / skin care / bath & beauty type blog could share their blog and perhaps find new ones to follow themselves.

So! Don’t be shy – even if I already follow you, please share your blog in the comments below so that others can find you and hopefully follow you too.

And don’t forget there is also a dedicated Facebook group for soapmaking (and other types of skincare) bloggers here 

Thanks for reading, back tomorrow 🙂

Vickx

Viennese Fingers (Blogtober 6)

Soapmakers Eat Too…

Every year, in mid-August, our village holds a Horticultural & Craft Show. Gardeners, photographers, crafters and cooks compete to show off their skills and be the best in their category.  Our garden is still a work in progress, I’m no photographer and I’ve had no time recently for any craft bar soapmaking, but baking… now baking I can do.  I entered six classes, and won four firsts and two seconds (go me!) One of the firsts was for my Viennese Fingers*

Viennese Fingers

Viennese Fingers

Ok, so these may look a little wonky, but they’re prize winners!  They really are the lightest, crumbliest and shortest of biscuits which are ridiculously easy and surprisingly quick to make. I’ve been making at least one batch (usually two!) of these each week recently and they’re loved by the whole family. Give ’em a go and impress your nearest and dearest.

Before you start, preheat your oven to 180C – if you have a super-efficient oven then you might want to reduce it to 170/175C, but either way keep an eye on the biscuits as they’re cooking.

This recipe will make approx. 20 fingers.

Ingredients:

  • 175g soft margarine (you could use butter, but I’ve found marge is better in these)
  • 60g icing sugar
  • 125g plain flour
  • 60g cornflour
  • 100-150g plain dark chocolate

You’ll also need a piping bag and nozzle. This is the one I use.

Piping nozzle

Piping nozzle

It needs to be be fairly big as the mixture is quite dense – this one is 3cm diameter at its wide end…

To make up the biscuit mix, thoroughly beat together the margarine and the icing sugar with an electric mixer:

Ingredients, thoroughly combined

Margarine & Icing Sugar

Add the two flours and mix well again:

All ingredients combined

All ingredients combined

Now you’re ready to pipe – it really IS that easy 🙂

Place the nozzle into the piping bag (I often use disposable piping bags blah blah…and fill the bag with the biscuit mixture.  I find it helps to place the bag into a large glass and fold the ends over the top of the glass to hold it in place…

Piping Bag in a Glass

Filling the Piping Bag in a Glass

Filled Piping Bag

Filled Piping Bag

Grab a couple of baking sheets, cover them with greaseproof / baking paper – do NOT grease neither the trays nor the baking paper. Pipe 10 ‘fingers’ of mix onto each lined tray (leaving 1-2cm between them as they will spread a little).  As you can see from this picture my piping isn’t particularly uniform, but who cares?!

Piped fingers, ready to be baked

Piped fingers, ready to be baked

Put them in the oven and time them for 14-15 minutes.  See these little round ones at the front? That’s what I do with any mixture left in the bag that I don’t think will make a full finger-worth of biscuit – perfect sized morsels to pop in your mouth when nobody’s looking 😉

Fingers in the Oven

Fingers in the Oven

You want them just cooked, barely beginning to brown… The ones on the top here are too brown – you want them more like the ones on the bottom..

Baked Viennese Fingers

Baked Viennese Fingers

WHILE they’re in the oven, break up melt the dark chocolate. I stand a narrow mug in boiling water in a saucepan, and melt the chocolate in that.

Melting Chocolate

Melting Chocolate

Once cooked, take the fingers out of the oven, leave to cool for a few moments, then transfer them onto a wire rack to cool.   DO NOT throw away the greaseproof/baking paper – we’re going to use it again in just a moment.

When the fingers are cool to the touch, take them one by one and dip one end, and then the other, in the melted chocolate.  Place it back down on the greaseproof/baking paper on the baking tray.  Try to make sure that the chocolate from one finger doesn’t touch the chocolate from another or they’ll stick together when solidified and can be difficult to part without breaking the fingers themselves.

If (like me) you find this process a little tedious, simply place the fingers onto the greaseproof/baking paper and drizzle the melted chocolate all over them:

Dipped or Drizzled? You choose...

Dipped or Drizzled? You choose…

Place them, still on their lined trays, into the refrigerator for half an hour then hey presto, you have the most delicious accompaniment to your afternoon cup of tea. Or coffee, if you absolutely must 😉

Thanks for reading, back tomorrow!

Vickx

*Ahem* I’m going to completely gloss over the fact that I was actually the only person to enter the Viennese Fingers category in this year’s show.  I am reliably informed that had they not been up to scratch, I would absolutely, definitely, without a doubt, NOT have been awarded a first for them. And anyway, they WERE bloody good!!!

October Goals (Blogtober 4)

October GoalsGoals.  Goals, goals goals… Why do I set them? Do I achieve more in the months that I set proper goals than I do in the months that I don’t?  Yes, yes I do.  Granted, I’ve not done any empirical research to back up this assertion, so perhaps I should say “I think I do” or “I’m pretty sure I do“, but to be honest, I don’t really care.  I’m a listaholic and I like little more than to tick things off lists.  Goals are REALLY up my street, so let’s crack on with the goals for this month.

The Website

I really, really want to get the website finished this month, however I’ve not idea how long that’s going to take, and I want this to be a measurable goal. I need to spend some time taking some more photographs (one day I’ll get some professionally done but until then, it’s diy all the way baby…)  I also need to move the blog over to the new website, but I’m hoping my other half can do that – there has to be some perks to being married to an IT professional eh? So, I’m going to commit to working on the website for at least eight hours this month – that’s a measurable goal that I think is achievable, so we’ll see how close to launch that takes us.

The Blog

It’s Blogtober don’t you know?! There will be 31 more posts on the blog at the end of the month than there was at the beginning of the month.  That’s a goal and a half I reckon!!

Make a Lotion or Cream.  

Back in August, I was honoured to be gifted an amazing book on making skin care – Luscious Lotions, Decadent Creams & Nourishing Conditioners: 30 Emulsified Lotion Recipes and Detailed Instructions.  The giver was none other than the author herself, Lisa of Aquarian Soap, and I’ve been itching to try something out of the book since I received it. So, this month I’ll be making at least one recipe out of Lisa’s book and of course, sharing the results in a post.

So there we go. Three main goals.  I also need to make more Christmas soaps, wrap and label a shed load of Christmas soaps, keep up with regular soap restocks, design and make up a selection of gift sets and make LOTS of bath bombs.  Throw into the mix a Craft Show that I’m organising in my village for Saturday 21st October and it’s probably a good thing that I like being busy 😀

Oh, and one little one personal one for the road – I want, need, to get back into running. So, despite the fact that I’ve not run a single metre for a couple of months, I’m planning on running 50km this month (shoot me now).

Back tomorrow,

Vickx

 

September Goals Reviewed (Blogtober 3)

I had three goals for September:

  1. Website
  2. Christmas Soaps
  3. 8-10 blog posts

Website

I’ve made a lot of progress, but it’s still not there. I’m really been struggling to find the time to sit down and focus on getting it ready for launch (just see yesterday’s post for how busy I was last week) but I can’t fret too much about it, I just need to keep going. It’ll get there.

Christmas Soaps

YES! 60 bars each of Candy Cane, Frosted Christmas Tree and Warm Gingerbread made last month.  Last year I only made 30 bars of each, which wasn’t quite enough, so I was aiming to double that this year – boom! BUT there’s been so much interest thus far that I’ve decided to go for 90 bars of each. It’s a bit of a leap of faith, but considering the big Christmas fair I have the first weekend in December, I’d rather have too many than not enough.  I’m lucky that I started making them early enough that it won’t be a problem to make more during the next couple of weeks and still have them ready for the start of the festive season.

I still haven’t taken ‘proper’ photographs of these three, but this is what I do have so far in case you’ve not seen them yet:

Warm Gingerbread

Warm Gingerbread

Candy Cane

Candy Cane

Frosted Christmas Tree

Frosted Christmas Tree

Publish 8-10 Blog Posts

I published 7 posts last month.  Didn’t quite hit my target, but, if I’m completely honest, I was holding back a little, knowing that I would be trying to post 31 times this month.  There were a few times I thought, “Ooh, that would make a good blog post” and then immediately thought “Ah, no, I should save that for next month…”  Basically self-sabotage, ha!!

Back tomorrow with my goals for October – no prizes for guessing what at least two of them will be 😀

The Week in Soap: 1st Oct ’17 (Blogtober 2)

This last week has been incredibly tiring, if I’m honest. I’ve had busy days and evenings, and I’ve really seen the effect on my energy levels.  I’m hoping that adding Blogtober into the mix for the next month isn’t the crazy idea that I’m currently thinking it might be…

Monday has been become my regular soaping day (as I need to have a loaf ready to cut on Wednesday evenings for my Soapmaking presentation) and last Monday was no exception.  I made three double batches of Bewitched, Lemon Verbena Confetti & Christmas tree:

 

Bewitched, Lemon Verbena & Frosted Christmas Tree

Bewitched, Lemon Verbena & Frosted Christmas Tree

And a close up of the Bewitched, because I can’t resist those swirls…

Bewitched in the Mould

Bewitched in the Mould

On Tuesday I was out and about delivering stock to local shops and doing a bank run, then spent the rest of the day wrapping and labelling bars.  I’ve recently bought some shrink wrap bags to try, as I’m still not happy with my packaging, so I had a bit of a play with them too.  During the evening I was out at a meeting of the local Village Hall Committee meeting (of which I’m the Secretary)

Wednesday saw me at the day job in a local Pre-School, and in the evening I was out giving my weekly soapmaking presentation at a local hotel, and then on Thursday I was back at the day job again, and in the evening I had another meeting, this time for the Annual General Meeting of the Pre-School committee (of which I’m Treasurer)

Friday was again spent wrapping and labelling soaps and bathbombs, as I had the monthly Porthmadog Craft Fair the following day, and I’d realised that I didn’t have nearly enough stock ready to take. I also needed to cut all the soap which I made on Monday (which I really should have cut on Wednesday!) but I got halfway through and the wire snapped on my cutter.  Arrgghhh… Never mind, I was well prepared and had some replacement E strings ready for precisely this eventuality.  Except I’d bought E 1st strings, instead of E 6th strings. Who knew that there are two DIFFERENT E strings on a guitar?  Double arrgghhh… .  I swiftly ordered some of the correct ones, but they won’t be delivered until next week, and I have soap to cut, so I asked Dean to fit one of the thin ones with the idea of giving it a try the next day when I could get back to the office.

I did manage to get the Lemon Verbena Confetti cut before the wire snapped:

Lemon Verbena Confetti

Lemon Verbena Confetti

THEN I remembered that I needed to print some new name/price cards for the fair, so Friday evening was spent wrestling with my printer.  I have an intense love / hate relationship with my super-duper wireless printer.  When it works, I absolutely flippin’ love it, but I’m essentially a hardware technophobe and when it doesn’t work, I’m screwed.  On Friday night it didn’t work, I was tired and frustrated and about to have a meltdown when my other half stepped in and sorted it out. Meltdown averted….

Saturday was the craft fair.  A fairly early start which didn’t help my tired state, and not a particularly busy day, but hey ho, you win some you lose some… I don’t think the weather helped:

My view from inside the Craft Fair

My view from inside the Craft Fair – look at that rain!!

While I was there I took some photographs of all the other crafters’ stalls – there’ll be a post coming up about this local monthly event as part of Blogtober but for now here’s a little peek at my stall:

Cascading Bath Bombs

Cascading Bath Bombs

I got home around 3pm, and spent the rest of the day preparing for a visit from Dean’s parents who were coming the following morning and staying a few days.

Those six days were the busiest I’ve been in a long time, and I can’t even blame the business!  Sunday, by comparison, was a joy.  A lovely family day – breakfast out with the in-laws, a bit of biscuit making (Viennese fingers – recipe to follow) a relaxed afternoon in front of the fire, rounded off with a roast chicken dinner. Even the pounding rain couldn’t put a damper on it. Bliss.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a roundup of September’s goals…

Vickx