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Sometimes Things Don’t Work Out Like They Are Supposed To!

I tend to get very excited when a new soap variety starts brewing in my head.  And make no mistake…it definitely is a brew, a concoction if you will.  Sometimes it starts with the faintest whiff of a new scent: the aroma of a crushed herb I haven’t explored before, the pungent fragrance of fresh earth as I turn the garden beds, or the comforting smell of a branch burning in the fire.  Other times it’s a color.  Is there an herb, flower, leaf, or twig that will produce that color in my soap?  And will it hold up when exposed to the caustic effects of sodium hydroxide?  You would think after 20+ years of making soap there’s not much left to discover but there is always another variety waiting to come to fruition!! Sometimes things don’t work out like they are supposed to!

The Development Process

No matter how the process begins, there are a number of factors to consider before the ingredients ever hit the soap pot.  For instance, if the idea begins with the incorporation of a new herb I need to know how that herb will color the batch before making it.  If it adds color to the soap, do I want to use it in a swirl, to color the whole batch, or is best used in a layer?  Over the years I have developed a satisfactory method that helps me determine ahead of time how a new ingredient will color the finished soap.

The Soap Pot

Likewise, there are questions to be answered before using a new essential oil.  Some essential oils add only their fragrance to the pot…spruce and rosemary come to mind.  Some on the other hand add their own color to the batch…dark patchouli for instance.  And yet others, quicken the trace which is really important to know before you make the batch especially if you’re planning a difficult swirl affect or a layered bar.  All of these aspects of soapmaking demand the proper amount of research so that you don’t spend a small fortune creating batches of soap that are unusable of otherwise unacceptable.  I know all of this, and yet sometimes in the excitement of bringing that vision to reality…

Sh!# Happens


The “idea” began to ferment late last fall.  I had checked the weather (you do that a lot when you live in the mountains) and discovered that although it was 85 degrees that day, in 24 hours it would be 25.  As always, I was unprepared.  So I spent a couple of hours gathering dry kindling and preparing the wood burning stove.  The following evening as temperatures began to drop like a rock, I laced the fire, carefully placing each of the branches I had gathered the day before (it’s always fun to build that first fire, not so much in the middle of February when you’re OVER it).  Most of the branches were pieces of oak that had dropped during summer storms and were covered with their signature funky grey moss.  When I lit the fire and inhaled the aroma…I remembered.


I remembered the 2 oz bottle of Oakmoss Absolute that one of my best friends had sent me years before and was hiding in my essential oil pantry.  I ran to grab it, and yes the scent was identical.  Quietly it had sat there for years.  I refused to use it for two reasons.  One, it is one of the more expensive oils to use and two, my friend is no longer here and using it might mean letting go.  I put it back in its place of honor and forgot about it, or tried to forget about it.  The seed had been planted.

Oakmoss Absolute

Fast forward seven months, and suddenly I feel if I don’t make an Oakmoss soap with a smoky swirl I think I will die!  I knew exactly how it would look!  I would pour the white base into the mold, then pour a charcoal gray into the main and swirl it with a whisk pulling the color up from the bottom imitating the swirl of smoke.  This is going to be awesome!  I am the soap goddess!  Umm…maybe not!


My plan for the batch was to add Activated Charcoal powder to a couple of cups of soap from the main in order to create the smoky swirl I had in my head.  Oakmoss Absolute is very thick and very dark.  Indeed, it is so thick and viscous that it has to be warmed before it is pourable.  And it is so dark, it is almost black and yet it never occurred to me that it would add its own color to the batch!  No problem. Forget the charcoal powder.  I decide during the soapmaking process that I will add the complimentary essential oil to the main white part of the batch and use the Oakmoss in the 2 cups of saponified oils I will use for the smoky swirl.  It’s going to be fabulous.  I happily pour the white uncolored soap to the mold and then go to grab the oakmoss scented cup with its beautiful brown/black color to begin the swirl. 

Oakmoss Soap Block

It was supposed to pour out and hit the bottom of the mold so I could use my whisk to swirl it upward through the soap to mimic smoke.  But somebody didn’t do her research regarding Oakmoss Aboslute’s behavior in the soap pot.  It had reached a full trace in the few minutes it took me to pour the main.  That nice thin stream of color I was planning on swirling would now be more like plops in a desperate attempt to get it into the main before losing it entirely.  Being the consummate professional that I am, I pushed through and achieved a fabulous swirl…on the top of the soap! 

The Final Cut

When my son came into the soap studio a couple of days later while I was cutting the bars and said, “That looks like sh!#” and “Does it even smell right”, well I won’t go there.  Needless to say, I should have spent the time to think through the batch.  All is not lost.  The batch smells amazing even if the swirl is not what I wanted.  It just goes to show…there is always something more to learn…in life and in soapmaking.  Things don’t always work out the way they are supposed to but they always work out.  And we should always be thankful for gentle reminders from our friends! 

Oakmoss Soap
Oakmoss Soap