I’ve been making some soap.
It’s like magic, cold process soapmaking. Take one jug of super-concentrated lye solution, about the most corrosive, dangerous chemical ordinary people can buy, though in some areas it’s becoming scarce as part of the War Against Drugs. Add lyewater to one huge pot of grease. I use all vegetable oils, and superfat to around 5-8% to ensure complete saponification of the lye, and so that the final soap will have a good proportion of oil in it as well as the natural glycerine.
Mix with a stick blender. At first, it looks like a roiling, ominous mixture of oil and lye. Probably because it is a roiling, ominous mixture of oil and lye. Over the next 5-15 minutes, the mixture emulsifies and opacifies, and you have an opaque creamy coloured liquid. Then it comes to “trace“, which is when dribbles from a stirring implement remain visible on the surface for at least a few seconds.
Trace is where the magic starts to happen – saponification – where the lye and the oil combine to make soap (the sodium salt of a fatty acid) and glycerine. It’s also the panic-stations part, if trace is happening fast: I have to quickly get my colour mixed in if I haven’t already, separate off swirl portions, blend in fragrances, and get the soap into the mould and any swirls added before it solidifies. This is not usually a big deal with plain soaps and diluter lye solutions, but many fragrance oils, some additives (like shea butter), and more concentrated lye solutions (which I use now) can speed things right up.
So bing-bang-boom, I mix, pour, swirl and put the whole thing to “bed”. I prefer soaps that have been through a “gel phase“, so I insulate the soaps in a couple of fleece blankets, adding a heated wheatbag if the day is cool. If I’d like the soap to cure more quickly (and it doesn’t have any milk or honey, which can overheat and “volcano”), sometimes I do the CPOP method. CPOP is Cold Process-Oven Process. I do all of the above, except instead of insulating the soap, I put it in a very cool oven for an hour or so to force gel phase.
Next day I pop the still-soft soap out of the moulds. Let it dry for a couple of days, trim it, and voila! Beautiful, silky, soap that doesn’t make me itch or strip my skin off.
Naked soap: Pure, 100% olive oil, unscented castile soap.
Kinda psychedelic. Essential oil blend: clary sage, petitgrain, mandarin, lavender, bay leaf, vetiver, patchouli, and cedarwood. This soap is very high in cocoa butter, and also contains pink clay.
These little dragons are from the kinda-psychedelic batch above. I love this celtic dragons mould.
Ginger Orange soap. I love this Glyphs mould, too.
Scented with Sweetcakes “True Rose” fragrance oil. The fixed-oil base is olive oil, coconut oil, macadamia oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, and sunflower oil.
This stegosaurus is scented with an essential oil blend including rose geranium, lavender, orange, palmarosa, petitgrain, rosalina, and rosewood. She also contains pink clay, goats milk, and local raw honey.
 I have skipped some of the details: if you’re thinking of starting soapmaking, read up on chemical measurements and safety first. I recommend MillerSoap.
 Or not so rapidly, in the case of this particular castile. I’d forgotten that extra virgin olive oil traces slowly, and I’d kept temperatures on the low side because I was using a 45% lye solution for this one. So it traced like a slug – I had to put it in the corner for an hour or so, stirring intermittently, before it decided to start thickening up.