Recently, a friend of mine told me about the Soap Challenge Club – a group of soapers, learning and growing their talent through friendly competition.  Each month they pose a new challenge, you create and submit your entry, then vote on who executed the technique best.  I was definitely intrigued so I registered.  But I didn’t just sign up for one month, I pre-registered for the next four challenges!  In for a penny, in for a pound, I guess?  Anyway, I figure it’s a great way to learn some new techniques, share tips, get inspiration and practice, practice, practice!  So here goes!

Month One:  May – The Column Pour.

In three years, I’ve never done a column pour.  This should be interesting.  I watched the tutorials and some YouTube videos, read all the guidelines and rules then started dreaming of my big win!  It seems simple enough.  In a column pour, the soap batter must be poured over and object (the “column”) so that it slides down the sides and pools at its base in the mold. The liquidity of the batter and the object used as the column will affect the design created.  Wow!  This is going to be interesting!

To be honest, I was a little nervous about my soap recipe thickening up too quickly.  I decided to go back to some of my favorite videos where there was a lot of swirling involved.  I landed on a video by the Soap Queen and although I didn’t use her recipe, it did give me inspiration for the one I ultimately created.

Next, what in the world will I will for my column?  After much consideration, I used the bottom of a water bottle.  I subsequently used a small vase, a star shaped candle holder and a square block in my second, third and fourth attempts – but more on that later.

I then chose my colors, opting for five in total:  white, black, pineapple yellow, granny smith green and peacock blue. I was going for complimentary colors that also have enough contrast to show off the swirls.

Finally, it was time….and I was ready!  With video recorder on and set to capture the entire pour, I set about combining my oils and lye for the perfect batter.  I portioned out the batter into five separate containers and mixed in the colors.  Everything was going smoothly!  I began to pour the batter, alternating colors as I go.  The different colors of batter pool at the column base in three separate sections like a flower with three petals.  It looks great.  When I’m about half way through, I stop and take a dowel and pull it once through each of the three petals.  Then I rotate the column a quarter turn and proceed pouring again.  When I was nearly out of batter, I gently removed the column from the mold.  Using the little bit of batter that remained, I filled in the center of the mold right where I’d removed the column.

Now I’m ready to swirl!  This is by far my favorite, yet most stressful, part of the process!  You need just the right amount of swirl; too little and the soap design is boring; too much and the colors could start to get muddled.  Truthfully, there’s no right or wrong here – it’s just a feeling you get when you stand back to take a look and your heart goes [cue John Lovitz from his  SNL days] “Yea, that’s the ticket!”

There you have it, column pour done!  Except you already know I didn’t stop there.  Over the next few days, I found my pour was not curing well. I got very nervous that’s my recipe wasn’t calculated correctly or that I didn’t mix the batter enough.  So, for column pour #2, I changed things up, the recipe, the column and the colors.  OMG! Complete disaster!  While the soap looked absolutely beautiful in the mold, it never hardened!  It’s weeks later and it’s still pretty liquid! No Bueno!

On to attempt #3!  Another new recipe and back to the original colors with the addition of one more color – a dark green.  Recipe = Great!  Colors = Meh.  Know the old adage less is more?  My attempt #3 is proof!

Attempt #4, again I changed everything: recipe, column, colors – and it went well, really well.  Except, I look at it and can’t help compare it to my original pour (Attempt #1).  I feel guilty, like I’m choosing a favorite child!  I love all my children, but you know – there’s always that one that can really put a smile on your face, and for me that’s my original pour.  Now, I can only pray that it firms up enough to cut into regulation size bars.

Thankfully, it did.  I guess what I have here is an instance of beginner’s luck?  I’m not saying I’ve got this competition in the bag – not at all.  I’m way too insecure for that – and I’ve got reason to be.  “Amazing” is the adjective that comes to mind when seeing some of the other participants creations.  But, I will say that in the last three weeks, I have learned a ton and had fun doing it and that’s all I really wanted in the first place.  So, in that respect I AM a winner – and I’m ready for the next challenge.  June can’t get here soon enough!

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