Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Soap Challenge: Butterfly Swirl

I knew from the outset I would not make more than one attempt to get this one. I've not done a lot of hanger swirls, although I like the look.  Zahida of Handmade in Florida has done some amazing soaps using the hanger.

I also wanted to try something different for me- using a color for a background rather than white.  I decided to go with a gold background, and white, black, and deep red for the swirls.

I don't have a lot of process pictures, since I was both soap maker and photographer this time.  No way I was going to risk stopping the process and having the batter go thick on me!  I used one of my recipes that has proven to be a slow mover in the past- coconut oil, olive oil, shea butter, avocado oil, sunflower oil, and castor oil.  I scented it with Brambleberry's Champagne fragrance oil- love how that smells!

Here's my batter, divided out.  I used a bit of yellow oxide and a lot of Shimmer Gold mica (from Nurture Soap Supplies) for the main batter.  I used activated charcoal, TD, and Brambleberry's Merlot Sparkle mica for the accent colors.

I poured about half the gold batter in my mold, then drop swirled the colors, trying to stay on one side.  After all the batter was in the mold, I did some swirls on the top.

So far, the colors look good, just what I was hoping for. We'll see how they look in 24 hours. . . 

I realized the next day that I'd forgotten my sodium lactate, so the loaf was soft.  This one will need a nice long cure.  However, after 36 hours, I couldn't wait any longer, so I VERY carefully unmolded the soap.

So far, so good- but I want to see the inside!  So I made one cut- it looks good, I think I may get some butterflies!!

I waited another twelve hours before cutting the entire loaf.  I played around with different combinations, and decided this is the one that was most successful.  (The differences in the colors are because I used two different cameras- the top pics are from my iPhone, the last is with my Pentax DSLR.  The last photo is the most accurate color representation.)

To say I am thrilled would be an understatement!  Thanks to Amy Warden of Great Cakes Soapworks for hosting the challenge!

Monday, January 19, 2015

When I'm Sixty-Four. . . .

Wow, five since my last post.  I'd say it's a good indicator of where my head has been in the last few weeks- certainly not in a blogging mode.

We had a lovely Christmas, both my brother and Shannon were here.  I celebrated a milestone three weeks after Christmas- referenced in the title!  It feels a bit weird, because I don't feel that old.  My mother used to talk about wondering who that old lady was in the mirror, because she didn't feel like her inside.  Now, I can relate.  I'm grateful to be told regularly that I don't look my age, and my health is good so I don't have to act it either!

I have also been doing a lot of thinking about the coming year, and where I want to take my creative life.  Writing about my inner conversations is not easy for me- forgive me if this sounds disjointed.

The creative aspects of my life are a refuge, they are a large part of what helps keep me feeling young.  I have a community of friends who share this passion to create, both online and 'in the flesh'.  I treasure my time alone in the studio also- I find the solitude rejuvenating.  Our culture and time bombards us daily with information, noise- it is nice to seclude myself and just turn all that off.

I have noticed over the past few months that the drive and focus with respect to my fiber art are lessening.  Granted, the soap making (another creative outlet, I would add) has impacted that.  I don't want to give up the fiber art, but it is no longer the sole outlet for my creative urges.  How to balance them?  I'm not very good at that; when I get interested in something I tend to immerse myself and go at it full bore.

What conclusions have I reached?  I'd already taken one step a couple of years ago, when I decided to quit trying every surface design and quilting technique under the sun and limit myself to those that make my heart sing.  It has made for some interesting conversations in my small local art quilt group, as several members are polar opposite.  We are still working on making the group a safe haven for all of us.

I think it is time to take the idea of limitations to other parts of my creative life.  I'm hoping that this will mean my work becomes more authentically "me"- a goal I have been striving for.  It will mean backing out of some arenas.  It may mean taking the time to recharge by finishing a more traditional quilt sitting in my UFO pile.  It will mean asking the same question consistently- will this take me further along the path I want to go?
 I hope you wish me well on this fork in my road.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Third Time's the Charm- Spoon Swirl with the Soap Club Challenge


Artic Waters, by Beverly Hart

I made a third batch of soap Sunday morning, hoping to finally get it all right and end up with a bar of soap I'd be happy to enter in the challenge.

My first decision was to use a different recipe- I wanted one that I knew would get to a thicker trace.  I used a recipe I'd developed and used previously- one that definitely thickened more quickly than the recipe I'd used in the previous two batches.

I got everything together- checking twice to make sure I didn't forget ANYTHING.  My son was kind enough to take pictures of the process, after I'd made the batter.

I added my colorants, using Blue Vibrance and Turquoise micas from Nurture Soap Supplies, and titanium dioxide in the main batter.  I also added kaolin clay for whiteness, and a combination of Fresh and Clean fragrance oil and peppermint essential oil.

I poured most of my main white batter into the mold.  It's already at a medium trace, should be great for a spoon swirl.

Then I started pouring the colors in.  One of the disadvantages of a heavier trace is that the colors are more apt to sit on top, rather than drop to the bottom of the soap.  Even pouring from higher up didn't change that much.

Time to get busy with the spoon.  I was definitely dealing with a thicker batter than in the previous two tries.

And, since this was a spoon swirl challenge, I decided to texture the top with the spoon rather than do swirls with my skewer.  I like the way it turned out.

I did not cover or insulate this- since I was using a wood mold instead of silicone, I did not want to take a chance on glycerin rivers.  I waited until late Monday afternoon to unmold and cut.  Here's the other side of the bar.

One little air bubble, but I like the way the colors move and combine.

So, there you have it- the third time was the charm with this challenge.  I had fun with the process, and certainly learned along the journey!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

A Soapy Challenge

I'd noted some time ago that there seem to be a lot of similarities between quilters and soapers.  One of their commonalities is a liking for challenges.  They seem to be a means to learn and stretch creative muscles in both camps.  I finally decided to take the plunge and join Amy Warden's challenge this month.  (A note to my fiber art friends- if soap making bores you silly, better skip this one!)

The technique for this challenge is a spoon swirl, which is fairly simple and lends itself to thicker batter, which I've had no problems achieving.  I'd just gotten a sample pack of micas, and was itching to use them.  I knew I wanted to do something cold and wintry- after all, it is December!

I had my recipe, then got all my ingredients ready to go.  My oils and lye solution. . . 

My two micas, dispersed in a little oil.  I also used titanium dioxide in the main batter.

My fragrance and additive- I really wanted white soap, so I used some kaolin clay.

I blended my batter- so far, so good.  It really stayed fluid- in fact, too fluid for a spoon swirl.  But I pressed on- when has a batter not thickened for me?  The micas mixed beautifully, and I love the metallic sheen they lend.

I poured my main batter into the mold.

Then I added the colors.  First the blue. . . 

then the teal.   Mmmm, that batter is still really fluid, not thickening quickly at all.  Where was this batter when I needed it for my Christmas tree swirl?

I did the spoon swirling- hoping that it would look good even though it seemed too fluid.

I had more white and colored batter left than I'd anticipated, so I did another layer on top and spoon swirled that.  Then I plopped the little bits of leftover batter onto the top.

I couldn't leave it like that, so I swirled the top with a chopstick.

Isn't it gorgeous!  The colors were just what I wanted!  It sat overnight, and then all day Saturday while we did some holiday activities.  I came home late Saturday afternoon, grabbed the knife I use to cut, and headed to the studio.  It looked great, no glycerine rivers, awesome colors and swirls- but it crumbled!  Almost every slice had crumbling.  I googled to try to find out what the issue could be, and then it hit me- I'd left out the shea butter.  A quick check with pH strips confirmed that my gorgeous soap was lye heavy.  Arrrrgh!!

However, I knew exactly what I had done wrong, so I decided to rebatch that night.  Marly was kind enough to grate all the soap, then we threw in the shea butter I'd omitted with a little water.  I turned the crock pot on to high, and we started stirring and watching.  It took a couple of hours, but it melted down so I could get it in the mold.  It wasn't the gorgeous soap I'd planned, but for a rebatch, it wasn't bad at all.  I unmolded it late this morning, and checked it again with the pH strips.  Success!!  It registered right where it needed to.  It cut beautifully, still smells great, and has pretty color.  It kind of reminds me of the formica countertops in homes in the 1960's.

I also made a four bar batch Saturday night, determined to have a soap worthy of entering the challenge.  The swirls may look good, but I managed to forget the fragrance oil in that one.  Good grief!!  I'm waiting til tomorrow to cut that one, it is still on the soft side.

So this morning I made my third batch of soap, hoping to finally get it right.  But that will be another post. . .

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Around the World Blog Hop

Gee- this was supposed to have been posted in mid-October!  I got it all ready, then forgot to take it out of draft.  So here you go, better late than never I guess.

I've been invited by Gina of Clay and Fiber to participate in a world wide blog hop.  Gina is a very talented artist living in Florida, who has a unique style combining her love of fiber and clay.  Take a look at this post to get an idea of just how talented she is.  I've gotten to know Gina through the cyber group Tangled Textiles that I have been part of for several years now- if my computer records are accurate, we did our first challenge in June 2011.  Gina always has a fresh take on our challenges- and I know how lovely her clay work is, since I own some!

And now, on to the hop---

What quilting/sewing thing am I working on?

I have two projects going on now.  One, that is close to being done, was inspired by a piece of black fabric that I folded, then discharged twice- once in bleach, and once in Thiox.  I finished the machine quilting this weekend, and now have to finish the hand stitching.

My other 'in  progress' piece is the next challenge for Tangled Textiles.  There was no set theme, just the requirement to document the process.  I immediately knew I wanted to create a piece using the indigo fabrics I'd dyed a couple of months ago.  Many of my quilts start with my hand dyed and printed fabric.  Right now, I'm just playing with the fabric, laying out some ideas to see how they look.  I will probably resort to the sketchbook at some point, but I'm not there yet.  Don't these blues and white just sing together?

And, just for good measure- I'm knitting some small Christmas presents.  Handwork really does soothe the soul.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Hmm, I'm not sure I can say it does differ in any significant way.  I'd say my work is characterized by my love of hand dyed fabric, fairly minimalist design, strong use of color, and a growing love of including handwork in the pieces.  Those attributes certainly are not unique to me, but I hope in my growth as an artist that I am finding my own voice that makes it stand out as mine.

3. Why do I write/create what I do?

I can't imagine not creating, for a number of reasons.  I grew up sewing, knitting- it was just part of our lives.  It's played a bigger role at some stages than others, but it has never not been there for me.  After I got my master's degree, I started working in a field that is emotionally draining.  My fiber art has been a place of refuge from that.  It is also the polar opposite of my professional work in other ways:  it is something I create totally on my own, I am solely responsible for the outcome, good or bad, and I have a tangible object that I have created at the end of the process.  Those who say that quilting (or knitting, or painting, or writing) is cheaper than therapy know what they are talking about.  It has certainly been my therapy through some difficult times, and provides me joy in the not-so-difficult times.

Ten years ago I was eager to try any technique I could learn, and had a growing stash of embellishments and fabrics.  Over the years I have decided that the only way for me to grow is to set limits- limits on what I can use, limits on the techniques I learn, even limit the classes I take.  I've always loved clean, simple design, and loved to piece- so my more recent work reflects that.  I'd also say that I am influenced by nature, but try to abstract what I see and feel rather than try to recreate a realistic picture of it.

I started writing my blog in 2005, after we moved.  It was initially a way to journal my creative journey, and turned into a way to connect with other artists around the world.  I must admit that sometimes my motivation to write waxes and wanes, depending on what is going on- but I've not left it fallow for more than a month or so.

4. How does my writing/creative process work?

My fiber work generally starts with the fabric.  A piece of hand dye may inspire some ideas in my head, and I'll just start playing with the fabric.  I'm a firm believer in therapy sewing, and having strip sets ready to go when the muse wants to play.  I rarely draw my ideas out ahead of time.  I seem to work better when the fabric and I are having a conversation, and it tells me what it wants to be.

As for the writing- I do set limits there, because there are parts of my life that I either am not able or do not want to post on the world wide web.  It really has become a way to keep an ongoing journal of my fiber art (and other avocations), a way for me to better understand my own process.

All that being said, here's a sampling of some of my work . . . 

 I don't have three bloggers to point you to, but I would like to point you in the direction of one artist whose work I love. Lisa Flowers Ross is an artist living in Boise- I love her clean, simple design esthetic. In addition to be very involved in the art community in Boise, she has created art for some very unusual places- like, traffic boxes!  And, she is a featured artist in a gallery in Ketchum this month, with a couple of new pieces that I found stunning.  So give her blog a visit!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

I love long weekends!!

I've had five days to play in the studio- doing both fiber and soap- oh, and a new addiction that goes hand in glove with the soaping.  But first to fiber.

I got Reclamation (or whatever it ends up being named, I'm not sure yet) faced.  I still have a sleeve and label to add, but those are no-brainer tasks I can do during the week after work.  I am happy with it- but it is still talking, and telling me it needs more!  I keep seeing metal on it, so I think I will have to walk the aisles at Home Depot to see if any inspiration strikes.  Do they make copper washers?  I doubt it, but what I keep seeing are copper circles.

I loved doing the hand embroidery.  I have a smaller piece of this fabric left that has more gray in it- I'm thinking of doing something similar, but doing the quilting in gray instead of the gold, and seeing what it does.  I think I have some gray fabric I auditioned for a border, also.  Something to play with this winter.

I also worked on my Tangled Textiles piece- but if you want to see that, you'll need to head over to the TT blog.

I got the last of my Christmas soaping done this weekend.  The Christmas colored soaps turned out well, just need a little cleaning up after they've cured a month or so.  I am getting better at this swirling business!!

 The Christmas soaps are scented with a blend of Champagne and pomegranate fragrance oils, and the bottom one with Champagne and ginger fragrance oils.  They smell heavenly!

The lavender swirl soap is scented with lavender, coriander and eucalyptus essential oils.  I'd used the coriander blended with other essential oils before, and not been happy with the result.  With the lavender, it is fantastic.

And, I felted some of my older soaps that were still perfectly usable but had lost most of their scent.  I finally got the hang of using the really nice Merino wool to felt after a couple of failures.  The trick is to lay down lots of very thin layers of fiber- I think I did about six.  With a coarser wool, I was only doing three layers, and it worked. With the Merino wool, not so much. The top one is done with a variegated roving I got in Grand Junction this summer- it made some lovely soaps, all very different!

And, this weekend I used my tall and skinny mold I made last weekend for the first time.  I made another rendition of my Rose Clay and Charcoal soap, this time with a dandelion zebra swirl.  I will be trying this again!

The soap at the top of the picture is upside-down- but I like the way the swirl looks from that perspective.  It reminds me of a mountain with the moon rising behind it.  I think I'm going to play with that technique again, and see what I can do with that image.  And, I am very happy with my tall and skinny mold!
I worked on my labels and packaging- I do have some orders for soap for Christmas!  If you can't tell, I really am enjoying this.

Saturday Marly and I tried something new- we made lotion.  I only needed to get a couple of ingredients, since I already had the oils from soaping.  It was so easy- it took longer to measure and heat the ingredients than it did to make.  And the lotion is fantastic!  We scented it with lavender and coriander, like the soap.  I will be doing more of this, and never buying commercial lotion again!

But tomorrow it's back to work, at least for a couple of days. Then I'll be back in the studio, quilting my TT piece.  Hopefully I can get that done next weekend!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Whoosh- Where Did October Go?

I cannot believe it has been a month since I posted.  It is not for lack of things going on here, there has been lots.  I try to cram so much into my weekends, I am spending less and less time on the computer.

I got started on my November piece for Tangled Textiles- but to see that, you'll need to wander over to the Tangled Textiles blog.  We are posting our process for this challenge- and since I don't do a lot of sketching, this has been a bit of a challenge for me.  I am happy with the progress I made this weekend.

And I have been soaping like mad, trying to get stuff done in time for Christmas.  I figure this is the last weekend I can soap and be sure they are ready.  I am really happy with what I've done!

 Top soap is Barefoot in the Sunshine, scented with green guava and pineapple and peach fragrance oils.  The second is unscented goat's milk soap.
 Turquoise and cocoa soap, designed for a particular bathroom.
 Color Block soap, colored with all natural colorants- annatto, alkanet, cocoa powder, and green clay.  It's scented with eucalyptus and lime essential oils
 Green clay and Salt bars, scented with eucalyptus essential oil
 Secret swirl soap, unscented (the batter moved too fast!)
 Pumpkin Beer soap
 Red Clay and Charcoal soap
 Rose clay and charcoal soap

The combination of chemistry and artistry just fascinates me- it has many of the same elements that fabric dyeing does.  And, like fabric, I have a product I can use when all is done!!  I have gotten really hooked on using hand crafted soap, I don't think I will ever go back to a commercial product when making this is so easy and fun.  Next is lotion making- I now have all the supplies!  Think of all the money I could NOT spend at VS, or BBS, or the BS.

I have some older soaps that I will be felting, since they have lost much of their scent but are still very usable.  The felted soaps went over really well when I sold at the quilt festival over the summer, and I figure it is an easy way to use soaps that might otherwise go to waste.

This weekend I made my last three batches before Christmas-

Christmas soap, scented with Champagne and ginger fragrance oils, and

another small Christmas soap, scented with champagne and pomegranate fragrance oils, and lavender swirl soap, scented with lavender, coriander, and eucalyptus essential oils.  Those won't come out of the molds until Tuesday- I can't wait to see how the swirls look!

So that is how I split my time now- fiber and soap.  Either way, it is feeding my muse!