November 2015 Great Cakes Soapworks Challenge:
Tall and Skinny Shimmy
I won’t lie, I’m on the fence about this technique. It took FIVE tries before I was able to get something decent enough to enter. Why was this challenge so…challenging?
The goal of the technique – which btw, looks quite intriguing when done correctly – is to have a thin, “shimmying” line of contrasting color run up the center of the soap. You can see an example of this on my entry soap to the L (“Picasso’s Breakfast”), starting at the bottom where the green color snakes between the yellow and white, then the white curls between the yellow and green, and the thin line of yellow passes between the white and green to the top.
To achieve this effect, one must use an alternating side pour while working with very thin trace raw soap. And there’s the rub…
For those new to soap making, “trace” describes the consistency of emulsified raw soap batter. For certain artistic effects such as embedding designs or layering, a heavier consistency is used. Flowing design work, however, requires thin-traced soap.
The “challenge” is getting this consistency absolutely correct: the soap has to be exceptionally thin trace, as in just-this-side-of-emulsified. Too thick, and your soap won’t pour smoothly. Too thin, and your colors will blend together in a muddy fashion, OR your soap won’t fully saponify (reach the chemical state where the dissolved lye will mix with the oils).
And that’s problematic because…?
Among other issues, your soap won’t hold together (See botched batch, R).
Yeah. That was my 4th attempt, the second one that didn’t come out. Would have been cool, though. My first attempt looked even worse.
Amy Warden of Great Cakes Soapworks definitely comes up with worthy challenges.
The Process, in short:
Because of working at such thin trace, technique developer Tatiana Serko of Creative Soap by Steso recommends that you make a small (6 bar), tall and skinny mold for the project. Though initially annoyed at having to create a completely fresh mold for each try, I grew to appreciate that these were such small batches, given two of my five attempts botched.
Here’s my set-up: The six-bar tall & skinny mold is in the center, with extra foam core strip underneath for the side tilt. For color, I used plant-based pigments (safflower, comfrey, and activated charcoal), plus titanium white.
While Tatiana recommended against using a stick blender (accelerates trace), I found that only hand-stirring greatly increased chances of a failed batch. After experimenting, I opted for very minimal stick blending.
My thin-traced soap batter was divided into paper cups – important! – as one must work relatively quickly with this technique. In an impetuous move, I used scents with floral/spicy notes (patchouli, lavender, grapefruit, cedar, black pepper), which can accelerate trace, but hell, this was my fifth attempt – after that many tries I become rebellious + slightly delirious.
Tatiana also recommended making a “little nose” (folded spout) at the edge of the cup for easier pouring, which was a good call – totally worked.
This technique requires a tilted side pour: soap color(s) flow down the edge of one side, then after carefully switching out the strip at the bottom to the alternate side, pouring your next color(s) set. Repeat.
1) Always pour on the bottom edge of the tilted side (as shown)
2) Tatiana recommends having a color palette card (or alternate way) to map out the order of your color pours/design. Otherwise it’s way too easy to lose track of what you’re doing
(“WAIT! Which side was I just on?!?” Yes – this happened on at least one attempt.)
Here are the three versions that worked:
(Far L) Picasso’s Breakfast: My cousin Maureen came up with that name – BRILLIANT! (She will get a bar.) The shimmy, while subtle, is there.
(Middle) Blue Giraffe: I liked the design but would have preferred that the natural colors (woad and Indigo) would have been bluer. That’s the gamble with natural color, but I’ll keep messing with them.
(Far R) The contrast on the Peppermint Twist (colored with madder root) makes the shimmy more visible, but it simply wasn’t as interesting as Picasso’s Breakfast. I mean, that NAME. That bold graphic! That egg-y image!
Picasso’s Breakfast makes me laugh – isn’t that why we take on these challenges in the first place? To have a bit of fun while learning something new?
What did you think of the Tall, Skinny Shimmy technique? If you’re also a participant in this month’s challenge – did you find it pretty easy or, like me, especially confounding? Shall we thank (or curse) Amy Warden???
(KIDDING – we thank you, Amy!)