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ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS POSTED TO THE FELTMAKERS' LIST ABOUT FELTING SOAP
Making Olive Oil Soap
Mon, 04 Feb 2002- Lori Flood.
If you have questions and I'll try to answer
them but keep in mind that I am a novice at this too. I strongly recommend a
good soapmaking book before you venture in to this! If you don't want to make
your own soap I do sell it. However, I'm sure it is more economical to buy it
locally. The hard part is finding it without weird additives. Also note that a
liquid version of castile soap is available but I have found it to be too
Credit where it is due! Chad Hagen introduced me to the wonders of olive oil soap in one of her beret workshops. It has a “slimy” texture that lubricates the wet felt project which helps to keep designs and fiber in place while friction is applied. It is also very easy on the hands, creates minimal suds so that the felt is easier to see, and washes out of the final project very quickly.
How the bar soap is used: It is used by first shredding the bar with a cheese grater or similar technique. I place about 1 cup of soap shavings into a quart of hot water and whisk it gently until the soap dissolves. When this cools it will become thick and “snotty”. This is the stock solution and seems to hold up well over time (at least 3-4 weeks). I make a working solution by removing a few spoonfuls and whisking it into enough water to make a milky-looking solution. Everyone will vary this step depending on preference. I like less soap to wet my project and soapier solutions during the felting. The working solution tends to break down if it is not used within about a week so I make it up as needed. Note: you can add a drop of fragrance to your working solution if desired!!
How to make the bars: First, I suggest that you get a book on soapmaking. It will cover the principles and safety in more detail. The internet is useful but the information is more fragmented and it’s a lot harder to get a simple, straightforward overview. However, you will find saponification tables on the web that give the amount of sodium hydroxide needed to saponify about every imaginable type of oil or fat.
The book I use (and contains the Castile soap recipe) is:
The Complete Soapmaker
Tips, Techniques and Recipes for Luxurious Handmade Soaps
Norma Coney 1996
Sterling/Lark Publishing Company, Inc. NY
387 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016
ISBN 0-8069-4869-8 (paperback)
I have never had any other instruction on soapmaking so this book must be OK.
Basically, soap making is the saponification of oil in the presence of an alkali (base) such as lye. The visual affect of saponification is hardening. What chemically happens to the oil to become soap is beyond me. Many oils used to produce luxurious soaps must first be rendered from animal fats. We don’t have to do this. Castile Soap only requires olive oil. By the way, my understanding is that the one drawback to castile soap is that it is slippery in the shower! Saponification is a chemical reaction that would destroy most fragrances and other additives. That is why you will see that most handmade soaps say “handmilled”. This just means that after they have made their soap and it has saponified (hardened), they re-melt it and add the additives. It can then be poured into fancy molds to cool and harden. Again, since we don’t care about fancy soap in pretty shapes, we can skip this step. I did handmill some of mine to see if it made a better felting soap and saw no difference.
What I make is a basic olive oil (castile) soap:
Place 52 ounces of olive oil in a pan that will hold the 20 ounces of water/lye that will be added later. Dissolve 7 ounces lye in 20 ounces of water. Always add the lye very slowly to the water, stirring constantly. The water will heat up due to a chemical reaction when dissolving lye. Never add water to the lye always add the lye slowly to the water.
Note: keep soap making supplies separate from food making supplies (pots, spoons, etc.).
A word about lye:
Lye is sodium hydroxide. It can be found in grocery and hardware stores near the drain cleaners. I work in a research laboratory and take it off the hands of labs that no longer want it sitting around. I don’t believe that mine is any different than what you will find commercially.
It can be volatile and it will warm up the water as you add it. I have used this chemical a lot and, in my experience, this is not an extremely concentrated solution and I have not experienced fumes or any caustic burns when I have splashed it on myself. But I do work in a lab and I am pretty casual about general lab chemicals. Do be sure to use gloves and protective eyewear (regular glasses or old sunglasses will work). The book covers the safety issues of handling this chemical and it would be worth a read if you do not have a background in this. Basically, lightly touch the side of your pot frequently as you stir in the lye. If the pot starts to get hot (or generate lots of fumes) just wait until the lye you have added mixes longer and the solution cools a little before you add any more.
So now you have a pot of oil and a pot of lye solution. The whole trick to turning it into soap is to (while stirring constantly) “trickle” the lye solution into the oil while both solutions are at exactly the same temperature. The only hard part to this (requires patience) is getting the two solutions between 90 100oF (32 38oC) at the same time. Note that this isn’t very hot - just slightly above body temperature. You can heat the oil carefully (very low heat) to the correct temperature or set the pot in a pan of hot water until it reaches the correct temp. The freshly made lye will be warmer than 100oF so you can just wait until it cools to the correct temp. Be sure to stir both frequently for accurate thermometer readings. The nice part of this procedure is that neither solution hardens or changes chemically if it gets too warm or cool and you can keep changing their temperatures until they match. However, never warm the lye on the stove (instead, set the pot in another pan of hot water) and don’t pour the lye solution into the oil over the hot stove or near hot burner’s or flame. Here, I must confess, I use the waterbath at work. I can dial in the temperature, put both pots in the bath, and come back at lunchtime to mix them together. If you can devise something like this - great. If there is a crock pot or some other appliance that would hold the oil temperature perfectly until the lye cooled to100oF then half the battle would be won. I also wonder if a hot summer day (90 100oF) would be the perfect strategy just set both pots outside in the sun…….let me know!!!
Remember to trickle the lye into the oil as you stir the solution constantly. It will thicken, turn opaque, and look grainy. I usually stirred mine about 20 minutes until I discovered the stick blender (must
have, reduces time to 2-5 minutes see below). Soapmakers look for “trailings” to know when they have stirred enough. Trailings should appear as lines on the solution surface when drizzled off of the spoon (like the little designs melted chocolate makes when it is dripping off of the spoon and back into the pot). Honestly, I’ve never seen these and they are apparently difficult to see in this type of soap. I just pour mine after 20 to 30 minutes of stirring into a 12 QT plastic storage container/tub. It takes several days to solidify and you may get a thin layer of oil on the surface the second day that needs to be stirred in. If you did not stir enough most of the oil will separate out and never saponify into soap. Immediately after pouring, wrap the tub (with lid in place) in bath towels. This will allow it to cool slower which is better. Resist peeking at it for at least 24 hours. Mine is usually fudge consistency by the third day. NOTE: it really looks like fudge be careful if you have small children or clueless spouses around!! I cut it as soon as I can and then turn the pieces every day or so until it looks dry and store is in breathable bags/boxes). It is still saponifying during this time and air circulation helps with this process. I get about 18 bars from one batch. I believe that I can felt about 3/4 lb of merino wool with a bar of soap if it has been cured for several months but that is only a guess. Older bars of soap will go much farther.
Stick Blenders are the best invention for soap making!!! Stick blenders were suggested on an internet soapmaking site and they are a “must have”. I have a Braun but I know there are many brands. If
you’re not familiar with them look em’ up on the web. They are hand held, look like a stick, and have a small blade that doesn’t create much splashing (probably designed to mix drinks directly in the glass). Not only is the stirring time reduced dramatically, but they seem to enhance the saponification process. The bars solidify faster and I usually don’t get that thin layer of oil on top of the soap 24 hrs after it is poured. Since stirring long enough by hand seems to be important this blender is the novice’s best friend! However, it is best to stir with a spoon while adding the lye to the oil to prevent splashing then switch to the stick blender. Also, practice in a pot of water with your blender first to get a feel for how much splashing they can create if not used carefully!
Tues. 3 Dec 2002- Sharon Hill.
I made some olive
oil soap about 2 weeks ago. What is it supposed to look like when it is
completely cured? Right now it is a chalky off white color. It sure was a lot
easier to make than I thought it would be. Thanks to those on the list that
suggested giving it a try. I can't wait to use it for my felting.
Tues. 3 Dec 2002- Sarah Cole. Sharon, Is it chalky...or is that just the color? How does the soap itself look? If there is a chalk looking substance on the top it means that the lye didn't get mixed fully in and can cause problems. We used to make soap for a business. If I can help, let me know.
Tues. 3 Dec 2002-Lori Flood. Sounds like it looks about how it should. It will continue to harden over time. Mine always get chalky white on the surface and the cut edges always seem to crumble a little. Apparently saponification takes place over months (although most of the reaction happens in the first few days that it hardens). Keep turning the bars for the first few weeks for good air circulation - air is a necessary part of the process. I have used mine within several weeks of hardening but I feel that older soap makes better stock "slime" and it seems that I use less to get the same amount of slime. Perhaps my imagination??? I usually make 3-4 batches at a time and try to stay about six months ahead of my supply so that it has lots of time to cure. I only made 5 - 6 batches of soap last year, still have some left over, and I did quite a bit of felting.
Tues. 3 Dec 2002-Laurie Ball-Gisch. Sharon, If your soap is chalky, it usually means it cooled down too quickly, so make sure its insulated well and cools slowly for the first 48 hours to try to have a smoother finish on it.
Mon, 9 Dec 2002- Sharon Hill. Thanks to all who responded to my olive oil soap question. From your answers, I think my soap is coming along the way it should. Someone asked for the recipe. I got it out of a book called "The Complete Soapmaker" by Norma Coney. The recipe is: 52 ounces olive oil, 7 ounces lye, and 20 ounces cold water. I brought the lye solution and oil to 100 degrees before mixing. The directions are too long to repeat here, but if you know how to make soap, that is the recipe. I also found a good web site with soapmaking recipes, instructions and safety tips. Check it out at: http://www.fragrant.demon.co.uk/makesoap.html.
Here is one more question, Norma Coney's book specifies that the lye solution and oil should be brought to a temperature as close to 100 degrees as possible, whereas the instructions at that web address, says "As long as the lye/water and fats are between 120 and 140 degrees F you will have good success."
That seems to be a pretty big difference. Can any other soapmakers out there comment on what temperatures they use, and if the different temperatures make any difference in the final product?
By the way, the next time I use the recipe above, I think I will double it. The batch was a good size for a first try, but I would like to have a bit more to show for my efforts next time.
I remember a while back that someone on this list posted an olive oil soap recipe, which is where I got the idea to make this. If anyone saved it, it would be interesting to compare it to the recipe above.
Making Slime with Homemade Soap.
Tues. 3 Dec 2002- Helen Swartz. Just a reminder to myself that taking a bar of homemade soap and cutting it up in a gallon jar, filling it with warm water and letting it set overnight to make a slime works great with felting. You have no bubbles to worry with and the fiber seems to felt quicker. I like to use the homemade soap made with goat milk. The goat milk buffers it so it is not so harsh. I have used Ivory also but I like the homemade soap made with goat's milk better.
Tues. 3 Dec 2002- Lori Flood. The homemade soaps are usually saponified soaps like the olive oil (Castile) soap that everyone loves! And one or more of the base ingredients is usually an oil or rendered animal fat. I do feel the need to tell everyone to check those bars closely for insoluble matter such as exfoilants! While small pieces of coconut shells and oatmeal feel great in the shower - they are really hard to pick out of a piece of felt! Other great features to homemade bars are low sudsing which reduces air pockets and makes it easier to see the project, and none of the harsh grease cutters that some dish detergents have! Another note - most people that make homemade soap first make saponified bars or chunks of soap and then remelt it and add fragrances, etc at lower temperatures and then re-pour it as bars. You may be able to get the bars after the first step cheaper and they should work just as well. The olive oil soap I make at home is used after saponification without re-milling. Someone also once said on the list you could buy it in bulk this way on the internet. Some homemade bars are glycerin (clear-looking) bars so make sure the soap was made with lye (sodium hydroxide).