How to Create Vibrant Swirls in Hot Process Soap

Using HP to make swirled soap
Using HP to make swirled soap

Many people think that hot process soaps have to be simple and rustic.  I used to think that too, and the first few soaps I made using this technique were functional but pretty boring from a design perspective.  After much practice and research, however, I have learned that it is very possible, and not very difficult, to make gorgeous swirled soaps using the hot process method.  If you are curious how I make HP, check our this post on my process.  And I followed up that post with another called 12 steps to better HP soap.

This post is about how I make make colorful, vibrant swirls using HP.  One thing I would like to mention; you don't to follow these rules to make a gorgeous soap and I often break these rules myself.  However, when I do follow them, I am usually very happy with how the soap turned out.

Here are my guidelines:

1. Use at least three colors, and preferably four

2. Make sure you have a light color and a dark color to create contrast.  And pour them in succession to see the contrast in the swirls (this means make sure the light and dark are next to each other)

3.  Select colors that complement each other

4. If possible, match the colors with the scent

5. Do at least two rounds of pouring (more on this below)

6. Make a swirl plan (more on this below)

7. Be sure to "burp" your soap (more on this below)

Using white in my soaps definitely helps create a vibrant contrast.  It often glows next to the darker colors.  The soap at the top of this post is a great example, as are the two soaps below.

DSC_0156
DSC_0156
Sweet Orange Chili Pepper
Sweet Orange Chili Pepper

Here is a soap where I did not create enough contrast.  If the middle light pink had been white (or even a very very light pink), and the orange a darker color, I think that this soap would have been more eye catching.  We will come back to this soap again when we talk about a swirl plan.

could have used more contrast
could have used more contrast

If I am going to layer my soap using horizontal rows of soap, I like to make sure I have at least two sets of pours for each color.  For example, if I am using Colors A, B, C and D, I want to pour each color at least twice (i.e. A-B-C-D-A-B-C-D).  This is not always necessary but can looks very nice, especially when using a tall skinny mold.  I don't always pour each color for the entire length of the mold because I like variation in each slice.

two sets of pouring
two sets of pouring

What is a swirl plan?  Well, I like to use a gear tie for my swirls.  The flexibility of a gear tie allows me to resize the length for the various molds that I use (another tip I learned from Sharon Johnson).  When I first started using a gear tie, I was worried about "over-swirling" and mixing up my colors too much.  This is actually harder to do than you think.  The first few soaps I made this way were a little dull because I did not make a plan and just ran the swirl through the soap two or three times.

could have used a better swirl plan
could have used a better swirl plan

I use three different kinds of swirls in my plans - up & down, side to side, and spiral.  When I say up and down, I mean that I move the gear tie up and down while moving is across the width of the loaf, kind of like a sound wave.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 1.42.53 PM
Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 1.42.53 PM

The same idea applies to side to side.  You move the gear time from left to right while also moving it from the bottom of the mold to the top (or top to bottom).   I try to determine how many times I want to go back and forth and estimate how much to move up in between each pass.  In the soap below, I was not very even in spacing the swirls, and could have used another pass in the lower part of this soap.

could have used another swirl pass in lower half
could have used another swirl pass in lower half

The spiral idea is pretty cool too.  Starting on the outside, move your gear tie around the mold in a circle, and make the circle progressively smaller, or you could do it in reverse.

Here is a cold process soap I made where I did some spiral swirling with the gear tie.

CP soap with spiral swirl
CP soap with spiral swirl

I get very frustrated when I make a soap with a vibrant design and it is full of little bubbles!   Grrrrr.  The best ways to avoid this are to have a fluid batter and to "burp" your soap.   This means you bang it firmly but gently on a hard surface.  Too gently and you don't get out the bubbles, but too hard and you mess up your design or even worse, fling soap out of the mold.  I try to burp the soap after every two or three colors, but sometimes I forget.  And I am never happy when I forget to burp the soap.

Do you have any tips on creating vibrant swirls using HP?

Happy Soaping!

Molly