November 2014 Soap Challenge: Comb Technique

Soap Challenge photo w badge

Hallelujah, hallelujah! I’ve found “my people” and they do SOAP CHALLENGES!

In October, I heard from Amy of Great Cakes Soapworks, who offered a chance to join her monthly soap challenge club. For a nominal fee, members receive a an artsy soaping tutorial, along with deadlines for submitting your creation to post for community viewing/voting, and the chance to win fun, soap-related prizes.

November’s theme was soap “combing” techniques, which I had been wanting to learn anyway. What is this “soap comb,” you ask? It’s a very complex tool used to carve intricate designs in soap – KIDDING – it’s actually a simple but brilliant tool that you can make yourself with cardboard, skewers, and packing tape (though it is used to create designs). Some soap suppliers carry manufactured ones that are sturdier and more accurate, but I had the requisite supplies on hand so here’s mine (to the right).

Amy supplied a slow trace recipe (the soap must stay liquid enough to “comb”) and step-by-step video instructions, but neglected to mention was that this is a totally addicting technique due to endless possibilities for variation. And they all look AWESOME! No matter WHAT you do!!! Despite the fact that it’s a helluva lot of WORK!!!

“My name is #shamanlisa and I’m totally addicted to soap combing techniques.” 

There, I said it. (So freeing.)

Unsurprisingly, I made this recipe, like, FIVE+ times this week, but here’s why: 1) those addicting, aforementioned variations to achieve different designs and, 2) I only work with natural, mostly plant-based (plus a few mineral-based) colorants, which are highly unpredictable. You just never freakin’ know how they’ll look after 24-hour cure. It’s all about testing.

Back to the comb thing-y. You’re probably scratching your head, like, “OKaaaay…you do WHAT with it?” As part of the soap challenge, we have to describe our basic procedures, so briefly, here’re the steps I used on one of the few batches (a “serpentine” swirl) that I remembered to photograph as I made the soap. While the soap I ultimately submitted use different colors and scents, it was a similar process:

The Process

First, I divided my soap batter into a base slab (the black on the bottom of the mold in photo below) and added in colorant/scents – I used activated charcoal powder for the black and scented with frankincense, myrrh, and other essential oils (EOs), which thickened the base layer considerably. (Note that NO EOs are used in the highlight colors, as they’d become too thickened to comb through.)

(Out of respect to Amy’s work putting together the tutorial, I’m not disclosing the finer details of recipes, proportions, etc. – feel free to contact her at Great Cakes Soapworksfor more information.)

base layer w squirt color

For this batch I used purple, gold, and plain mica, titanium white, and activated charcoal powder, to color the highlight stripes. They were applied by either using individual squirt bottles or measuring cups. Here’s what the added bands of layered color look like…


…and then what they look like after an initial pass with the comb:

first pass w comb

Next, one would usually use the comb in between the design lines going the opposite direction, to form a sort of “chevron” pattern. I decided to use an individual skewer to do this because my comb wasn’t very exact and I’m OCD about detail:

skewer detail

 Isn’t this COOL? Already you can see the “magic” happening! Seriously, you could stop here and be left with an awesome design. But will I do that? NOoooooooo.

Next, I turned the mold 90 degrees and used a shorter comb in the opposite direction:

second pass 

…And with an individual skewer, I made “S” curves down the soap…


…which ended up looking like this:

Incredible, huh??? Now you know why I made so many batches – I can’t get over how cool this technique is!

Oddly, after initial 24-hour cure, the purple color didn’t show (nor did woad powder or an evergreen mica on yet another). They’re still great looking, but not what I initially envisioned. Here are some of those efforts (along with the version I eventually submitted):

See – ALL of these comb swirls look totally AWESOME, but some of the natural colors just didn’t translate. For example, the 2nd from left is a cut bar of the serpentine swirl batch I just showed you…do YOU see any sign of the purple mica??? Neither do I. 

These are some of the trade-offs with using natural colors, but I push it as far as I can. 😉

You’ll notice that the redder bar did come out pretty nicely, though, color-wise.

Above (and at the start of this post) you’ll see my challenge submission, Bad Ass Queen, colored with madder root powder, Moroccan red clay, charcoal powder, titanium white, and uncolored soap batter. I’m still adjusting the scent, which at the moment is a combo of rose geranium, lavender, and sage. I used a “peacock swirl” technique,* but I love how it kind of looks like petrified wood. Already I can see it the next version…

(Enough! I must go now ’cause I have an idea for another batch…) 😉

(What do you think of this challenge? What creative project has YOU happily obsessed? Do tell in the comments below!)


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