A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine asked me to make her a grey soap. This friend is a lovely lady passionate about nature conservation and animals, horses in particular, and she has a large, immaculate and very tastefully decorated home. She has a great eye for style and she knows what she likes and what she doesn’t like. Being a great lover of animals she wanted a sustainable soap made without any animal derived ingredients – obviously with all-natural fragrance.
The beauty of handcrafting soap in small batches is that I’m able to accommodate a request like this: I can design and formulate a bespoke product to the unique needs and wishes of a specific customer. Since I love a good challenge I really enjoyed planning and creating this soap.
Grey is not a shade that I normally try to achieve in soap. Grey tends to be the outcome when things go wrong in soapmaking. Grey is what you get when you don’t use enough colourant, when you don’t mix colourant properly, when you overdo swirling or when the colourant you use cannot handle the high ph and heat of saponification and morphs from its original colour. Grey is a shade that nature gravitates towards but it’s seldom valued in the world of soapmaking. So to now make grey on purpose was a welcome break from my normal soaping pattern – every once in a while it’s good to take the path less traveled.
I still wasn’t comfortable just churning out a solid grey soap – baby steps here – and as I was looking for ideas of what to do with the grey I found this pic of a dappled Silver Islaender horse:
Here was my inspiration! The colour contrast between the blonde mane and the darker, dappled coat was just what I needed to add interest and definition to my grey soap. And since my friend loves horses I had a good feeling about this.
A grey with a dappled effect was what I wanted. But how do you create dapples? You could just whisk in some air bubbles or add shreds of a slightly lighter coloured soap, but that doesn’t give quite the haloed effect of a dappled coat. I came across the answer to this question by accident about a year ago when I made this soap:
Back then I had added a small amount of fine sea salt at trace and much to my surprise each grain of salt took on a ‘halo’ – creating a very dappled effect. Knowing that, I could now put my ‘accident’ from a year ago to good use in my grey soap by adding about a tsp of fine sea salt ppo at trace and making sure that the soap went through a full gel phase.
As far as the oils are concerned I often chose to use tallow as a sustainable ingredient to add hardness to soap and make it longlasting. By using tallow I make use of a by-product that would normally go to waste, I source it locally and tallow has excellent soaping properties being both mild and gentle – and very hard in soap. But since I wasn’t going to use any animal derived ingredients in this soap I formulated a beautiful and luxurious oil blend with shea butter, avocado oil, castor bean oil and a row of other goodies – and it feels wonderfully creamy!
The fragrance brief was clear: a big yes to lemongrass and florals and a no to anything smoky. The essential oils blend I created has a body of rose, geranium and bergamot, lemongrass and a little neroli for brightness and just a suggestion of patchouli to tie it all together. I’m deeply in love with it now and luckily I have it well recorded for future reference.
The only colourant I used in this soap was a small amount of activated charcoal. Activated charcoal has natural detoxing properties and in soap it can be gently exfoliating depending on particle size. For a bit of extra definition I added a charcoal pencil line between the grey and white layers.
To top it off I gave it a little zig-zag river of grey poppy seeds that match the grey but provide an interesting contrast in texture.
Now I just hope my friend will like it once she receives it after cure!