BAR-twork: Pencil Lines

If you’ve ever used handcrafted soap, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen soap with a pencil line, or a thin line of mica or other colorant that separates the soap either in the middle, or even in a marbling pattern. What you may not know is that this is actually a very simple technique that can be used with any process of soapmaking, although there are certainly tricks to each; all you need is a tea strainer and some imagination!

Cold Process Pencil Lines 

Cold process soapmaking is a treasure trove of creative design opportunities when it comes to soap, and the pencil line is no different! To create the pencil line effect in your cold process bar, follow these easy steps.

  1. Measure approximately 1-2 tablespoons of your pencil line colorant into a tea strainer or other small strainer of your choice; be sure that whatever you are using will fit through the mesh. 
  1. Bring your tried and true recipe to trace and add any other colorants and fragrances as you normally would. 
  1. Pour half of your batter into your prepared mold and tap the mold gently to eliminate bubbles. 
  1. Hover the colorant-filled tea infuser over your half poured soap and gently tap the side of it, moving back and forth over the soap to produce an even coating of colorant. Avoid making too thick of a layer! If your pencil line is too thick, your soap will separate at the line. Think of it as a dusting instead of a blanket. 
  1. Using a towel or paper towel, wipe the inside walls of your mold just above your pencil line to avoid unwanted colorant getting on the top of your soap. 
  1. Pour the remainder of your soap into the mold by deflecting it with a spatula or spoon, and keep it close to the surface of the pencil line to avoid scattering the colorant. 

And that’s it! Cure your soap as you would any other time; we’ll discuss cutting it at the end of this article.

Hot Process Pencil Lines 

Doing a pencil line in a hot process soap can be a little more tricky, but it is still completely possible.

  1. Measure approximately 1-2 tablespoons of your desired pencil line colorant into a tea strainer or other small sifter/strainer and set aside. 
  1. Prepare your soap batter as usual, complete with colorants and fragrances if desired. 
  1. Fill your mold halfway with your batter, mindful to tap the mold when you have done so to create an even surface.
  1. Hover your strainer over the surface of the soap and tap the side of the strainer gently to produce a light, even dusting over top as you move it back and forth. Avoid layering the pencil line colorant on too thick, as this can cause your soap to separate. A light dusting will do the trick. 
  1. Clean the inside walls of your mold above the pencil line to avoid unwanted pencil line colorant mixing with your top layer of soap. 
  1. Carefully spoon the remainder of your batter into the mold directly and somewhat quickly; avoid spreading the soap with a spatula. Tap your mold once it is filled to be sure that it is completely settled. 

As with the cold process method, allow your soap to fully cool and cure.

Melt and Pour 

Melt and pour can be a bit more difficult when it comes to creating a pencil line, but it can be done. Although simple sprinkling a colorant on as we do with cold process and hot process will most likely make your soap break at the pencil line in melt and pour, you can also take a small amount of melt and pour batter and color it with the desired pencil line colorant for a similar effect. If you choose this method, be sure to deflect your pour with a spoon or spatula close to the surface of your first pour to avoid splashing and unwanted mixing. 

Too much colorant can cause your soap to split at the pencil line, not to mention a crumbly mess!

Time for the Cut! 

Your soap has cured and you are ready to see that pencil line! Before you cut your soap, tip it on its side; this will help any bleeding colorant to travel along the pencil line instead of mixing into your bottom layer of soap.

Final Thoughts 

Pencil lines can create symmetry or when used asymmetrically, can create a beautiful marbled look for your product. Experiment with colors and designs to incorporate this elegant method into your current line!

Hot Process Soapmaking for Beginners

If you’re anything like me, you had a few questions when you first got into the art of soap making. Top on your list was most likely, “what are cold and hot processes, and what’s the difference?” Today, we are going to explore hot process soap making and go through a simple step by step tutorial on how to make your very first batch.

First, let’s talk a bit about the fundamental difference between hot process and cold process soapmaking. Hot process uses an external heat source to bring the soap to gel phase, where it is then molded. This is contrary to cold process, which uses internally generated heat to do this. Design-wise, hot process has what many call a “rustic” or less refined look, with little to no opportunity for swirling or intricate designs. However, many soapmakers love HP because of it’s quick turnaround; many soaps can be used the following day (although a longer cure time is recommended for a harder bar).

There are a few essential things you’ll need in order to embark on your first hot processing journey. For this article, we will be covering hot process soap made in a crock pot.

You’ll need the following equipment:

  • A crock pot
  • A plastic, glass or stainless steel container to measure lye (do not use aluminum or tin: the lye will react negatively with it)
  • A heavy duty plastic, glass or stainless steel container for mixing the lye and water
  • A scale (a kitchen scale or postage scale will work nicely)
  • Spatulas (wooden or silicone/rubber)
  • A stick blender (a stainless steel shaft will make for easy cleanup)
  • Safety goggles
  • An apron
  • Gloves
  • A well ventilated work space

This article is going to focus primarily on the process itself with the assumption that you have found a recipe and are ready to use it.

Let’s do this!

Step One: Measure and Prepare

Measuring your ingredients and preparing your mold first will drastically streamline your hot process soapmaking experience. Measure your oils (both solid and liquid, but keep them separate for now), lye, water, fragrance and colorants; then, prepare your mold.

Step Two: Melt Your Oils

Now that you’re all measured and prepared, set your crockpot on low and add your solid oils. Once added, they will take a bit to melt; while you’re waiting, move on to Step Three to mix your lye water.

Step Three: Mix Your Lye Water

This can be the most intimidating step for new soapmakers; I was there too! When handled properly, lye is perfectly safe. With your apron, goggles and gloves firmly in place, mix your lye into your water; never, ever pour your water into your lye: this will cause a negative and dangerous reaction. Stir the water with your chosen wood or silicone spatula as you are sprinkling the lye in to keep it well mixed; stir slowly, being careful not to splash, until incorporated. Then, let your lye sit until it is clear and completely dissolved; this will also give it time to cool. You will notice that combining the lye and water will produce fumes; this is perfectly normal. Do your best not to breathe in these fumes.

Step Four: Combining Melted and Liquid Oils

Once you have mixed your lye water, check on your oils. If they are melted and if you have chosen to use liquid oils too, you can add those at this point to heat.

When your oils are heated to around 120-130 degrees, then you can add your lye water. Your oils should not be over 180 degrees when adding the lye water, or a negative reaction will occur.

Make sure your oils are melted completely before continuing.

Step Three: Time to Make the Soap!

Alright! You’ve checked your oils and they are at a balmy 120-130ºF, and your lye water has cooled for about 15-20 minutes. Time to combine the two and make beautiful, beautiful soap!

Lay your stick blender on the side of the crock pot and gently pour the lye water into the oils you have. Do this slowly; rushing may cause unnecessary and harmful splatter. By using the shaft of the stick blender as a means of diffusing the lye water, you will drastically reduce the risk of being splashed.  Once you have poured in all of your lye, stir for a few moments with the bell of your stick blender to begin incorporating the lye water into your oils. Then, pulse your stick blender on low and slowly circle around the pot, keeping the bell of the blender immersed in the batter; this will help to eliminate air bubbles. Periodically, hold your stick blender upright and while the bell is seated flat on the bottom of the crock pot, tap it up and down to get rid of unwanted bubbles.

Lay your blender against the side of your crock pot; slowly pouring the lye water down the shaft will help to prevent splashing.

Stir, stir, stir! You will be alternating between pulsing your stick blender and using it to stir for about 10-15 minutes to emulsify your mixture, and reach what is called trace. You’ll know you’ve reached trace when you pull your stick blender out of the batter between pulses, and ridges of liquid are visible on top of the mixture (see below).

The trails in the soap indicate that trace has been reached.

Once you have reached trace, it’s time to cook! Put the lid on your crock pot, and continue to the next step.

Step Four: Cook it!

 Your soap is going to change form quite a bit through the cook process. You may notice that the edges start to bubble; this is normal! Once the bubbles rise, you can do one of two things; either you can stir it down gently (recommended if it starts to bubble a lot) or you can leave it to cook. Be sure to scrape the sides of your crock pot while the soap is still in the cook process; if you scrape down while it’s hot, you’ll cut down on the amount of dried soap on the sides before you mold.

After awhile, your mix will start to look like Vaseline; it will have a glossy, almost iridescent appearance and will be wax-like to the touch. Depending on your recipe, this can take anywhere from a half hour to an hour. Once you’ve reached this consistency, it’s time for the next step!

Step Five: Craft Your Masterpiece

 Now that your soap has cooked, turn off the heat in your crock pot. If you are adding fragrance, you’ll want to allow the batter to cool for a bit first; adding it at very high temperatures will cause some of the fragrance to dissipate, leaving you with a faintly scented product. Adding the fragrance under 180ºF will help to keep it in your soap instead of in the air around you. You can also add your colorants at this point. If this is your first time making hot process soap, I would recommend using one color and fragrance until you get use to how the soap behaves when it is cooling.

You’ve scented, you’ve colored; now it’s time to mold! Grab your prepared mold and plop your soap batter in; you can use your spatula to smooth it out, but try to work quickly. If your batter cools down too much, it will be difficult to work with. Once you’ve filled your mold, pick it up and tap it a few times on your workspace to help work out any air bubbles. If you are using any decorations like lavender buds or glitter on the top, add it now! Decorations will be much easier to place and will stay on better if your soap is still nice and warm when they are added.

You did it!

Now, the waiting begins. Most hot process soap will be ready to slice after about 24 hours; as with any bar of soap, the longer it sits, the harder and better it will be. Letting it sit for at least a week will really make a difference in the overall quality of your bar.

The hot process method of making soap produces a nearly ready-to-use bar, and is a relatively easy method for those just starting out. If your first batch isn’t quite the way you want it, don’t give up! You’ll find that after a few times, you’ll have your recipe down and the method mastered, too.


We want to see your hot process soap- share your newly crafted hot process soap in the comments section of our Facebook post for this article so we can see your awesome work!

Roll That Tape!

Were you lucky enough to join us last week in Tucson, Arizona for the 17th annual HSCG conference? Yes, there was an awful lot of demonstration last week (this desert spa-inspired six layer exfoliant soap by Charlene Simon  was an excellent case in point), but that’s not the only thing we were up to.

char exfoliant vid set up

Oh yes, there was the perfect bath fizzy (those are Holly Port’s hands and her amazing technique),

HSCG_2014-1 fizzy perfection

there were fearless batch-splitting into impressionist-worthy multiple colors (as calmly and very cleanly demonstrated by Erica Pence),

HSCG_2014-4 multicolor pour

and there was even some mica on mica swirling action (as demonstrated here by a safely gloved Tanya Rasley).

HSCG_2014-10 tanya mica swirl

But despite all these lovely demos happening, you may not have seen all of these things if you attended HSCG’s Annual Conference last week.

Wondering why? Here’s a hint, courtesy of Marla Bosworth and a jammin’ Lisa Frank-esque tidal wave soap:

marla and finished soap

Not helping much? How about this?

erica and soap

Getting warmer??

mcginnis behind the scenes (2)

Wonder what we were up to last week? That’s right, we were shooting video (witness rare behind-the-scenes shot above of producer Adam Grogin of Monster Productions). Holly Port of Lotion Bar Cafe, Catherine McGinnis of Soaping101, Erica Pence of Bath Alchemy Lab and The Bonnie Bath Co., Tanya Rasley of Baby Duck Soap Co. and Canard Labs, Charlene Simon of Bathhouse Soapery & Caldarium, and Marla Bosworth of Back Porch Soap Co. all donated their time and mad cosmetic-making skills to film tutorial videos that will eventually land in HSCG’s Learning Library. The Learning Library will be a vetted source of tips, tricks, techniques and creative inspiration for members…and it will be free.

Thanks to these amazing ladies and a killer production and behind-the-scenes crew (can’t forget the dish washers!), we’ll have tutorials on how to layer your soaps, use exfoliants, combine swirling techniques, make amazing bath fizzies, utilize spoons and condiment bottles in your swirling technique, and more. We are still collecting and producing content for the Learning Library, so stay tuned. We will keep you posted on Learning Library progress – we just couldn’t resist sharing these early behind-the-scenes shots! (And while you are oh-so-patiently waiting, allow us to distract you with kittens a time-lapse video of the hard-working conference crew setting up for registration last week.)

What would you love to see in your own personal soap and cosmetic reference library?