August 2015 Soap Challenge: Mantra Marble Technique

Soap Challenge Aug 2015

As an artist in any medium, you have to keep things fresh. Those of us suffering from the “Oh, SHINY!” syndrome never lack ideas. Frankly, I often have to keep away from soap challenges or I’d spend my time doing nothing BUT.

However, sometimes learning a new technique is so compelling that I just can’t resist – so along with about 160 of my global soap making compatriots, I signed-up for Amy Warden’s Great Cakes Soapworks August 2015 Challenge: the Mantra Marble Technique (MMT).

Here’s Amy explanation of MMT, which she cheerfully credits to Erica Pence of Bath Alchemy Lab:

“Mantra Marbles is a technique that combines Ebru paper marbling with the mantra swirl in a slab mold using horizontal dividers. Half of each bar is marbled, and half is a solid color, then the two halves are married by the mantra swirl in which the loops form a figure eight between the marbled and solid colored soap. The effect is quite stunning, and you can achieve a similar design on each bar.”

(Er…did you get that?)

If you aren’t a soapy arts participant, probably not. But, lucky YOU – today we’ll walk through this advanced soap making technique together so that you gain a true appreciation of Erica Pence’s creativity and Amy’s generosity in designing a challenge around this lovely look.

First, we’ll need a base oil soap formulation that sets-up slowly – no bees wax, shea butter, babasu oil, or other oils that cause raw soap to harden quickly. We want a liquid enough consistency to to achieve the lovely marble technique.

MMT also requires a lined, slab-styled soap mold with dividers for the different elements. To the right you’ll see my 8-bar soap mold with dividers situated at the 1/4 and 3/4 marks, leaving a section for half the volume of soap in the center.

(Alas, I was to learned the error of lining the dividers with freezer paper: when I poured my raw soap into the center section, the dividers – which had seemed steady enough – promptly slipped sideways. Fortunately, my potty-mouthed exclamations summoned our son from the adjoining room. He helpfully held them in position until enough raw soap was poured to keep everything in place. He has, subsequently, been forgiven for spending too much time indoors on the computer.)

In later experiments with this technique, I used plain cardboard dividers which were less prone to slippage.

Next, I prepared the colors and scent, using only natural ingredients of plant- or mineral-based origin and pure essential oils.

I wanted to experiment with a redesign on my Winter White holiday soap so this batch was colored with madder root, activated charcoal, cocoa, and titanium white powders.

The essential oils I had in mind were a bit risky – my blend uses clove oil, which is known to accelerate set-up (hardening) in raw soap – but the other two scents (peppermint and fir) would hopefully balance it out. Fingers crossed.

With my raw soap mixed and scented, I set aside about half the batch for the center section, then divided the rest of the batter between the squeeze bottles used for the four colors.

Now, to get creative…

As Amy noted her description, Mantra Marbles works best with a solid color to set off the side marbled details. I chose white as my solid color, with black, brown, red, and white as my marbling choices.

In a bold and somewhat rash move, I decided to thicken up the center, white portion of my soap by stick blending it to a more robust trace than called for in the instructions – my theory was that having a more solid center would keep the dividers in place so that I might have more time to work with the thinner-traced colors for marbling.

Ah – not so much. As mentioned before, the freezer paper-lined dividers started slipping around and using a heavier traced soap perhaps exacerbated the situation (though fortunately, having our son in close proximity saved this batch from becoming a soapy disaster).

Using the filled squirt bottles, I quickly layered the side marbling colors to provide stability and weight on either side of the dividers, which seemed to help. Eventually I returned to calm and our son returned to his computer game, so all was well. You can see how the three sections ended up looking (Left).

Amy had demonstrated three variations on the Mantra Marble technique. I choose to do the Nonpareil Mantra Marble, which required laying out the soap colors horizontally, removing the dividers, then running a soap comb vertically through the entire mixture.

At first I wasn’t sure about the thick lines that the soap comb left in the center section, but I warmed up to the look after doing the next step…

…which required the use of an implement to created a figure 8 design (ie: the “mantra swirl” in the name) through both the marbled and solid-colored sections of soap, thus uniting them in awesomeness.


Amy demonstrated this using a spoon handle, a skewer, and a pencil, which yielded different results depending on the thickness of the tool. I ended up using a chopstick, which had the desired thickness to meld the two designs the way I had wanted (left side of mold).



After mantra swirling both sides of the mold, my finished soap (before cure) ended up looking like this:

And when cut into bars, looked like this:

I really LOVE both the variation, plus design consistency in each bar. And that thicker soap in the center? Totally cool to see the artfully formed “ridges” produced by the combing through heavier traced soap, combined with the mantra swirling.

An aside: a friend recently returned from (I’m not making this up) “Marble Carving Camp” saw this soap, and remarked that it truly DID remind her of cut marble – perhaps because the ridges were in the white sections?. Who knows? The marble in the title actually refers to the colored, swirled effect, not the solid portion of the bar, but I appreciated her observation, nonetheless.

Just a fun coincidence.

(Or WAS it?) :)

I was so enchanted with this technique that, of COURSE I had to try it out with a few other colors and thicknesses:

The mauve bar (far L) used thinner-traced soap and a subtler color palette – it has a much smoother overall surface. The golden bar, Autumnal Arabesque, (far R) was created at a thicker trace, resulting in even more pronounced ridges.

Ultimately, though, the white bars had the right combination of elements, so Winter White was my entry into the soap challenge.

Thanks, again, Ms. Amy Warden and Erica Pence, for a truly fascinating and challenging technique.

If you, dear reader, are part of this soap challenge – or just giving it a whirl from seeing this post – what were your results?

And if you’re more of a soap appreciator than a soap maker, what do you think of the Mantra Marbles Technique?

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