December 30, 2013

Marketing Strategy Part 2: Lavender Rave

One of the many great things about making soap is you can easily change what you call it and how you market it.

This started out as Lavender Mosh Pit, but when I realized mosh pits are as much a part of the past as answering machines and record stores, I updated it.

I'm not sure this actually reflects what a rave is like. I've never been to one. I'm much too old.

Made with olive oil pomace infused with lavender/alkanet/charcoal, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, cocoa butter, shea butter, lard and castor oil.

Fragrance: lavender, lemongrass, ho wood, may chang, sage and rosemary.

Marketing Strategy Part 1: Lavender Mosh Pit

I had this whole punk rock thing in mind when I made this batch.

It's a collage—like the posters we made back in the 80's with letters cut out of magazines and and photos of Ronald Reagan. I used all the bits and pieces of every lavender-based soap I had hanging around my kitchen (including an entire batch of lavender castile soap that was going to become this year's Be My Guest Soap, but I just never got around to doing it).

The fragrance blend (which includes rosemary, may chang, sage, lemongrass and ho wood) is more energizing than relaxing, almost aggressive. It definitely ain't Yardley's.

I cut it, cured it, labeled it using an adorable punk rock font (no more cutting letters out of magazines!), wrapped it in a ripped up black t-shirt fastened with safety pins, spent an entire afternoon trying to get the right photo (it's not a very photogenic soap)—then realized the people buying this soap will most likely not be old punk rockers such as myself. Kids today don't know a mosh pit from a Ramones picture disc. They weren't even born yet when Sid killed Nancy.

I learned a valuable lesson from my Mommie Dearest soap: sometimes you can be too clever and snarky. It results in dismal failure.

So the punk rock theme got trashed. Eighty-sixed. The soap was renamed for this generation, relabeled using a hip and trendy font and rewrapped in black vinyl (a tablecloth from the 99 cent store) and fastened with lavender rubber bands.

And so I present to you and everyone under forty: Lavender Rave

December 14, 2013

Milk and Honey

This might be my new favorite soap. Rich, creamy—unscented—but the gorgeous scent of honey, oatmeal and cocoa butter comes through. My skin actually seems to crave washing with it. I don't know if that's actually possible.

I chilled the lye and let the oils cool to room temperature to avoid scorching and volcano effects. Both the honey (3 ounces for 70 ounces of oils) and powdered milk (3 teaspoons) were added at trace and both dissolved in warm water. Powdered oatmeal sprinkled on top. After pouring it into the mold, I set it near an open window—again to avoid overheating.

I'm a little shocked at how white the bars turned out. I was thinking the honey would turn more amber. I'm wondering if the honey has a low sugar content. I don't know if that's actually possible either.

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

December 11, 2013


Maverick is available at Fine and Dandy
on 49th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues
in lovely downtown Hell's Kitchen.
I outdid myself on the fragrance for Maverick—although I didn't write down the amounts of the different oils I used, so I'll never be able to re-create it. Perhaps that makes it all the more special.

It starts with earthy sandalwood, cedarwood, tobacco and just a touch of patchouli. There's a subtle spiciness from black pepper. Top notes of bergamot, rose and orange and vanilla to round it all out.

It's gentlemanly, but far from being uptight and stiff. Think Cary Grant and Tony Bennett. Smooth, sophisticated. An independent thinker who makes his own rules and isn't afraid to break them.

Funny, when I make soap for men, it seems like I'm making soap for men who I'd like to date. Maybe I should slip my phone number under the soap label. You never know.

Vintage Champagne

You can buy Vintage Champagne
at Fine and Dandy on 49th Street
(between 9th and 10th Avenues) in Hell's Kitchen.

Making soap with Champagne might become an end of the year tradition for me.

Last year's was made with Moët & Chandon White Star. This year's is André's Pink—although I beg to differ if it really can be called Champagne since it's from California, not Champagne. I think it should actually be labeled 'sparkling wine.' But I'm no authority.
Last year's batch was scented with almond fragrance oil that wasn't formulated to use in soap and seized the batch. This year I blended almond and Champagne fragrance oils (and some may chang essential oil) I got from Bramble Berry. The Champagne doesn't really smell like Champagne to me, more like 7UP—but it actually smells effervescent.  The blend ended up very lively and fun. A little celebration in a bar of soap. And no seizing.
I did have a happy accident with this batch though. Note the crackling effect. That's from using titanium. It overheated. But I think it's quite pretty. It gives it that real vintage look. Ironically, the titanium didn't make the bar super white. Go figure.

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

December 5, 2013

Citrus Bang Beach Bars

I really like the concept of using embeds with a fragrance that compliments the fragrance in the overpour. I think it ends up smelling different than if you simply blended the fragrances together—the scents seem…crisper, more pronounced.

I also like the idea of using leftovers.

Citrus Bang Beach Bars have embeds leftover from my Verbena Beach Bars (lemon verbena, holy basil, may chang, bergamot, grapefruit and ginger essential oils). The annatto-orange is an overpour fragranced with orange, may chang, peppermint, eucalyptus, rosemary essential oils and a little spearmint fragrance oil.
Quite fab.

Update on my Yet-Untitled-Cozy-Mystery: I've come up with a bunch of titles—not ready to share with you, gentle readers, but have submitted them to my writing workshop. Looking forward to getting feedback.

November 30, 2013

Winter's Kiss

The green embeds started out as a batch onto themselves, but when I cut it, I wasn't thrilled with the fragrance. I used eucalyptus, rosemary and basil essential oil and some spearmint fragrance oil and it was too spearmint-y. I kept thinking of Wrigley's Doublemint Gum. And the plain—although pretty—green (from basil) bars just didn't do anything for me.

I chopped the batch up and embedded them in new titanium-dioxide-whitened batch scented with a good dose of rosemary and a touch of basil.

Perfect. It's refreshing and great for clearing up a stuffy nose or foggy head first thing in the AM.

The name Winter's Kiss came to me on the tour bus as we drove underneath the UNIECF Snowflake on 5th Avenue and 57th Street.

Still no luck on naming my Yet-Untitled-Mystery-Novel—even after an evening of Mai Tais and brainstorming.

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

November 15, 2013

Chocolate, Almond and Raspberry

The little pink embeds are rejects from my (Not) Seeing Red experiment.

This batch is completely out of character for me as I'm not a big fan of candy-smelling soap, but I'm not just making soap for my own selfish self anymore. And I've had a few people tell me they love sweet scents.

I received a free sample of Holiday Candy fragrance oil with my order from Brambleberry, so I figured I'd use it to make soap for those with a sweet tooth in the shower.

I blended the sample (which smells like those hard candies shaped like raspberries with the gooey centers that your grandmother had at Christmas time) with some almond fragrance oil. The almond mellowed out the sweetness factor and made it a bit more sophisticated.

The soap itself is made with a big dose of cocoa butter and colored with cocoa powder. That added to the overall scent as well, made it more complex and smoother. It's still not my cup of tea for a bar of soap, but it is heavenly.

They all got packaged in pink fabric. Cute, huh?

The bathing beauty in the background is from a signed paint-by-numbers painting
I found on the street. Who could throw out art like this?

November 9, 2013

Coffee with Milk and Sugar

I made these guys using two separate tandem batches.

The first with twice-brewed coffee added to the lye (or to be more accurate, the lye added to twice-brewed coffee because you should NEVER ADD LIQUID TO LYE!). I also used coffee-infused olive oil pomace and the last of my precious coffee butter. And coconut oil, palm kernel oil, castor oil, cocoa butter and my old buddy—lard. At trace, I added two tablespoons of sugar (for a little extra lather) and a bit of vanilla fragrance oil. I didn't want to overpower the scent of the coffee.

The second batch was 100% coconut oil (with 20% superfat). At trace, I added powdered milk that I'd dissolved in warm water and my brand new pal—titanium dioxide.

Titanium dioxide from Brambleberry

Is titanium dioxide a natural colorant? No. But it is chemically identical to the mineral pigments that are mined from the earth—but doesn't contain harmful heavy metals. And it's used in as a whitening ingredient in both soap and cosmetics.

Here's a tip on using it: Rather than mixing the powder with oil before putting it in your soap batter, stir it into a little distilled water. It dissolves easily and no lumps.

Anyway, once my two tandem batches were at light trace—dark coffee and white milk—I attempted an in-the-pot swirl, but I'd made too much soap for one pot, so I did a little in-the-pot and a little in-the-mold swirling. I got a little overzealous and some of the swirls blended into a light brown—which actually made me very happy.

More swirls using titanium dioxide will be attempted soon. So stay tuned.

Like coffee soap? Then check out Black, No Sugar, Cardamom, Coffee and Oatmeal and Son of Cardamom.

November 3, 2013

Verbena Beach Bars

Graffiti makes such a nice backdrop

I made a batch of salt bars—or Beach Bars as I call them and they came out super crumbly. Salt bars have the tendency to be crumbly anyway—but these were outrageous. Pick one up and chunks of salt and soap avalanche onto the floor. And if there's one thing I hate, it's messy soap. Which is odd because I'm not an anal person.

So I chopped and crumpled the bars up and used them as embeds. The second batch of soap kind of seals in the salt goodness.

The first batch was made 75% coconut oil, so the bar would still lather up with the salt. I did a superfat of 20% so all that coconut oil wouldn't be drying.

The rest of the batch was olive oil pomace that I infused with flowers from Queen Anne's lace. It made a pretty pale yellow—and Queen Anne's lace (or wild carrot) is supposed to be good for dry, chapped skin. There's a ton of it growing in the garden. I was under the impression it was a native plant, but after doing some research found out it's from Europe and considered invasive. In other words, a weed.

I also threw in a bunch of melt and pour scraps to jazz it up.

The second batch is just a standard recipe with some shea butter.  The olive oil pomace is infused with the last of the lemon verbena I grew last year. Again, very pale, but pretty.

The whole shebang is scented with lemon verbena, holy basil, may chang, bergamot, grapefruit and ginger essential oils. It's a real WOW! fragrance. Very uplifting and energizing.

One of my New Year's Soap-Making Resolutions was to create the Ultimate Lemon Verbena bar. This might be it, but it's not how I imagined it at all.

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

October 26, 2013

The Gravedigger's Soap. And a Short Film.

In honor of Halloween, I made a batch of soap and an accompanying film that will (hopefully) creep you out.

Scary, huh? Makes you afraid to go into the shower, right? Worse than Psycho.

A bit about the soap: I started out with the skull and bone. I used a Wilton candy mold which clearly stated that it should not be used for soap. I ignored it since a) I was using melt and pour and b) I'd already bought the mold, was home and ready to start this project before I saw the warning. Nothing bad happened, although I wouldn't use the candy mold for cold process soap.

The 'grave' is over 60% olive oil pomace. I was hoping it would make a more translucent bar. To be honest, I was actually trying to replicate this fab soap from Batty's Bath. I really love how you can see the skeleton inside.  It's truly beautiful soap.
Buy this soap!

I think my batch ended up opaque because of the cocoa powder I used to get a freshly-dug-soil brown.

I might have been OK without it since I used patchouli and vanilla (and some black pepper) for fragrance and they have the tendency to turn soap brown. The scent, by the way, is absolutely perfect. I will definitely use this blend again. It's haunting and mysterious and sexy in an undead sort of way.

The 'dirt' on the top is smoked sea salt and ground walnut shells that I had kicking around in the soap cupboard. And there's lemon verbena 'grass' in there somewhere—but you can't really see it.

It's still fun soap. And maybe the fact that you can't see the skull and bone makes it a little creepier. It's more of a surprise.

I'll try blatantly ripping off Batty's Bath again next Halloween. They say good artists borrow and great artists steal. Maybe by next year, I'll become a great artist.

Have a happy Halloween, dear readers. And be sure to lock the bathroom door before getting in the tub.

If you like this blog, check out my new one:
The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

October 20, 2013

Lavender Sonata

Sometimes I have trouble coming up with titles. My Yet Untitled Cozy Mystery is a good example of that. And I have a bunch of brilliant short stories that I can't submit for publication until I know what to call them. Artists and poets have the luxury of just using "Untitled in Red" or "Untitled #23." Novelists and short story writers can't get away with that.

And sometimes, I have trouble for coming up with names for my soap. Like this one. I couldn't just call it "Lavender." It begged for something more. But what? " Lavender Dreams" has been done to death. "Lavender Twilight" has vampire connotations. " Lavender Fields"? Eh. "Manhattan Lavender"? Yawn.

And I didn't want to do something snarky or overly clever.

And then yesterday, while going by Lincoln Center on the tour bus, it hit me: "Lavender Sonata." The swirls have kind of a musical look to them and the fragrance is a lovely melody of lavender, ho wood, orange and tea tree. And the oils I used make a harmoniously cleansing and conditioning. Yada, yada.

So presenting  "Lavender Sonata." Appearing in your shower for a limited engagement.

Now, if I can just come up with a title for My Yet Untitled Cozy Mystery.

Lavender Sonata Ingredients:
Olive oil infused w/lavender/alkanet, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, cocoa butter and castor oil.
French green clay.
NYC tap water.
Lavender, ho wood, orange and tea tree essential oils.

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

October 6, 2013

Shaken and Stirred: Packaged

I wanted to show off the packaging for Shaken and Stirred. Well, not the actual packaging which is just a cello bag cut in half and some incredibly expensive yarn given to me by my friend, Poppy to try my hand at felting soap (a dismal failure). It's the label that I'm so pleased with.

I love art deco fonts. I love art deco anything. Who doesn't? 

October 3, 2013

Basil, Lime and Coconut Milk

Originally, I was going to name this soap '9th Avenue' because it has all the ingredients for Thai food (coconut milk and oil, basil, lemongrass, lime, ginger) and there are a ton of Thai restaurants on 9th in Hell's Kitchen—too many really—on some blocks there're four of them. But in light of this soap's appearance, I've nixed the snarkiness and am being straightforward.

It's a rebatch of soap I'd made using some of that beeswax I'd rendered last year. I made balls with some of the overly rustic honey/beeswax soap then rolled them in powdered lime basil before embedding them. The effect just didn't work. Hideous, actually. The embeds had a regulated look to them—although the embeds I made with the same soap looked great in Plan Bee. Go figure.

So everything got shredded and melted down in some coconut milk. It's still not a pretty soap, but the coconut milk makes for a creamy lather. And it smells great. And makes your skin feel fab.

To make up for the soap's humble appearance, I package it using fabric samples that a decorating store on the Upper Eastside was tossing out. My mother was a decorator when I was growing up and she had tons of swatch books that would get tossed when the fabric was discontinued. She gave a lot of them to a neighbor who pieced the swatches into quilts and cushions. My Barbie doll house also had its fair share of brocade draperies.

The look is a little clunky (so were my Barbie's drapes), but no glue or sewing was involved and it's kind of sustainable.

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

September 25, 2013

Four Thieves

Photo taken on top of our bathtub of goldfish in the Oasis Community Garden

I stumbled on the legend of the four thieves in a book about growing herbs and decided to create a soap based on their recipe.

The Four Thieves lived in Europe during the Bubonic Plague. Everybody was dying. Bodies were everywhere.  But the Four Thieves—who were daring enough to even rob graves—didn't become ill. When they were finally caught, they escaped punishment by reveling the secret to how they avoided the Black Death.

It was a simple herbal vinegar. Being a legend, the recipe varies from one source to another, but the list of ingredients almost always includes mint, rosemary, sage and thyme. Lavender, clove and wormwood come up a lot as well.

All of those herbs do have antibacterial properties, so it makes sense. Of course, they had never heard of bacteria in the 1300's, otherwise everyone would've been walking around with one of those little dangly things of anti-bacterial lotion.

My soap version of the Four Thieves recipe includes olive oil infused with thyme, rosemary, lavender and mint—and also activated charcoal and alkanet. The pencil line is powdered mint. And there's some cocoa butter, shea butter and oatmeal involved as well.

The fragrance is a blend of lavender, thyme, rosemary, sage and mint essential oils. It smelled a little too herbal to me so I added neroli to lighten it up.

I don't know if using this soap will prevent the Black Death (which is still around), but I'm sure it will help ward off the flu and colds. And I love showering with it after working in the garden.

I'm not by the way, the only person who's saponified the Four Thieves legend, there're dozens of bars out there. And Cathy from Soaping 101 (which I'm totally addicted to watching) has even created a video on how to make it.

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

September 19, 2013

Shaken and Stirred

Martini glass courtesy of American Retro Bar and Grill—a lovely place to have martinis

I had this soap in my imagination a long time before it finally came to be—and it's not quite the way I pictured it, but I've gotten over that.

It's a soap version of a martini in the shape of an olive. I'm a purist when it comes to martinis, by the way. They should only come in two flavors: gin or vodka. If it tastes like chocolate or peaches, it's not a martini. It is acceptable (and wonderful) however to infuse you vodka with rosemary or mint or any other herb.

Anyway, back to the soap. The 'olive' part made with a lye infusion of reduced dry vermouth (recently found in my cupboard and leftover from an old, old boyfriend who made the best dirty martinis I ever had) and juniper berries (from my garden). The concoction smelled pretty…powerful when I mixed it, but I'm beginning to actually like the smell of lye and booze. I hope that's not an indication of some strange neuroses.

My lye mixture


I knew the vermouth was going to darken the soap and my olive oil infused with lemongrass and lime basil might end up muddy, so I added some French green clay. Essential oils of juniper, lime and may chang. This was all poured into a mold I made from a mailing tube with a paper towel roll inside to create a cavity for the 'pimento' part.

My mold

It's sort of a reverse embed. The pimento was made of melt and pour soap with Moroccan red clay (that's what my (Not Seeing) Red experiment was all about). I figured an embed of melt and pour would probably lose its shape when cold process soap was poured over it.

And the olive part came out fine—a perfect shade of green. I took it out of the mold after a day and then turned it into a mold (or so I thought) by rubber banding a Ziploc bag on the bottom.

But alas! When I poured the melt and pour into the cavity it began leaking out the bottom. Which is odd since the cold process didn't leak out...

I panicked. This was not a cheap recipe. The red clay, melt and pour base and essential oils cost the same as a night drinking real martinis in the Meat Packing District. I was not going to let this go to waste.

So I started scooping the leaked-out soap back into the cavity while adding shredded soap scraps I had hanging around. Eventually, the melt and pour started to cool at the bottom and created a seal so it stopped leaking out. I ended up with a not-so-solid reddish, pinkish center.

But months later, it's cured and fabulous. Really lush, stiff lather. I love it for shaving my legs and the fragrance is intoxicating, of course.

I might give a bar to that old, old boyfriend who made the great dirty martinis. I haven't spoken to him ages. Maybe he's been deported.

If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries

August 7, 2013

Simply Uninspired

It happens.

It's been too hot and muggy to make soap. And I've been working too much to even think about writing about it. Or working on my Yet Untitled Cozy Mystery.

I get up, go to work, deal with really stupid ("Why is called 'Chinatown'?") tourists, come home, shower with Downstairs Seating Only, then crash out. On my one day off a week, I get out the Schmutz Sticks and make my work shirts spotless. And perhaps pull some weeds in my garden.

What a life, huh?

This will all change soon though. Autumn is coming.

I can feel it.

June 13, 2013

Natural Colorants: (Not) Seeing Red

I wanted red for an upcoming soap project. Red is not an easy color to deal with. Ever. And I've now learned it's especially difficult in soap. Particularly if you're using natural colorants.

My first attempt was using tomato paste in hot process soap. I figured using hot process would be kinder on the color. I knew I wouldn't get red/red from tomato paste, but the red I was looking for was supposed to represent a pimento so a tomato-y red would be OK. But, as you can see, it produced something peachy/pink.

I then scoured the internet hoping to find something. There are micas and liquid colors available, but I really wanted to stick with something natural and/or something I didn't have to order. I live in New York City, damn it. The center of the universe. I should be able to find something to turn my soap red.

At one point, I wondered about buying a few bars of red soap and melting them down. Red soap though is also hard to find. Wonder why.

Finally, while in Westerly—after (unsuccessfully) looking at their vast collection of soap for something red, I spied some insanely expensive Moroccan red clay. I had seen red clays on the internet, but the finished soap looked more orange than what I wanted.

Still, I kinda wanted to get on with my life and perhaps find something new to obsess with. So I bought it.

This is red clay in cold process. I dissolved the clay in some olive oil before adding it.

I wasn't too happy with the results. (You'll see scraps from this experiment in Mommie Dearest aka Bed of Roses. When it finally cured it was definitly pink.)

So tried using the same clay-in-olive-oil in some clear melt and pour.

Not bad. Definitely useable. And now I have nearly 6 ounces of expensive Moroccan red clay for other projects.

June 6, 2013

Downstairs Seating Only

The name of this soap—Downstairs Seating Only—does not refer to the area of your body it's supposed to be used on. In fact, I don't recommend using this soap on your downstairs area at all.

Downstairs Seating Only is a phrase Gray Line Tour Guides will say thousands of times between now and Labor Day. Summer is our busiest season. It's the cheapest (and worst) time of year to come to NYC—and everybody wants to ride on the top of the double decker bus (the best way to see the city). It fills up quickly.

When new passengers board, we have to tell them, "Downstairs seating only." Sometimes they're understanding and patient and are fine with waiting until somebody gets off from the top. Sometimes they don't believe us and go up anyway (with their three kids, grandmother and bulky stroller) only to come down disappointed. Sometimes they get very angry. One year, I had a guy kick the glass out of the bus's door.

Meanwhile, when we're actually giving the tour— upstairs —it's 95 degrees and insanely muggy and their doing construction all over the city and it's like riding through a dust storm. And the sunscreen that doesn't really work is dripping in your eyes. And there's a little kid screaming, "I have to poop." And nobody is listening to us say that the last boat cruise went out at 3:30. And we know half of them won't tip and we're lucky if we get $8.26 by the end of the tour that we have to split with the driver who's been on the phone the whole time fighting with his girlfriend.

And we're thinking about going home to our apartments that we just spent the day trying to pay for, turning on the A/C and taking a shower with a bar of soap that will truly wash away the disgustingness of the day.

And Downstairs Seating Only will do just that. Lots of scrubbing action from my favorite exfoliate, cornmeal. French green clay to help draw out the construction dust that mixes with the sunscreen. A generous dose of moisturizing shea. And the fragrance! A refreshing combo of mints, rosemary, basil, eucalyptus and orange.

Makes the job seem worthwhile.