Tutorial: Inverted Stamp Technique – Lattice Tops & More

Tutorial: Inverted Stamp Technique – Lattice Tops & More

posted in: Auntie Clara's Blog, Blog Post, Tutorial | 126

I’ve often been asked how the inverted stamp technique tops on my handcrafted soaps are made. A while ago I promised to write a tutorial with pictures about this so here we are.

The inverted stamp technique is a method of embossing the surface of soap. When embossing soap with a stamp you force an imprint into the soap. With the inverted stamp technique you do the opposite: you ‘pull out’ a mark on the surface of the soap – hence the name. I make no claim to have invented the technique; it’s been around as long as cold process soap has been made. But I have worked extensively with it and made it a defining design feature on several of the soaps in my standard line. It’s practical because it allows you to add interest and decor to soap tops while essentially keeping them flat for easy packaging.

The inverted stamp technique makes use of that phase in soapmaking when ongoing saponification causes the soap batter to go from runny emulsion to a solid state. Among soapmakers this phase is commonly known as ‘trace’, referring to the trace that is left on the surface of the thickening soap batter when touched. Unlike embossing with a stamp which typically happens when the soap is fully saponified and can be done any time over a period of several weeks or even months, the inverted stamp technique is a little more challenging in that it has a short window of opportunity – a minute this way or that can make a big difference for the final result.

So, the viscosity of the soap batter is crucial. The other important thing is the tool – or tools – used to emboss the soap. You can, of course, use anything you happen to have handy to make a mark in soft soap. I prefer to use thin steel wire for this because I feel it gives me more control than just the edge of a spatula or cookie cutter pushed into the soap.

Implements for Inverted Stamp Technique
Embossing tools for Inverted Stamp Technique
These are some of my inverted stamp technique embossing tools. All made with thin, flexible steel wire: a length of wire, bent to shape with the ends pointing in the same direction as handles to hold on to. If you feel uneasy about using uncoated steel wire you can bend plastic coated steel wire into shape – or you can give your embossing tool a dip in epoxy for a lye-resistant coating. These tools all work the same way, they just leave different marks on the soap.

 

 

Here’s how you do it:

You pour the soap at very light trace. In fact, you should pour as soon as your emulsion is stable. This is often the case well before trace. The benefit of pouring before trace is that you’ll be able to scrape out your bowl or pot into the mould without leaving any drip marks on the surface. Drip marks on the surface may seem slight when the soap is wet but tend to look a lot more accentuated once the soap has set.

Once the soap is in the mould you check the surface. If you managed to pour at emulsion you’re likely to be fine and can proceed to the next step. If you poured at trace and you have drip marks on the surface you’ll want to smooth them out. You can do it with a spatula, scraper or something else that produces a flat surface. Or, you can add a bit of extra texture with something that produces drag marks. For lattice tops I like to use this guide for chopping onions, but eg an Ashanti comb or afro pick could serve the same purpose:

Onion guard for texturing the surface before 'stamping'
Onion chopping guide for texturing the surface before embossing with Inverted Stamp Technique
Now you’re ready to start ‘stamping’. If you had to smooth out drip marks on the surface you’ve got no time to waste and have to go right ahead. If you poured at emulsion and the soap is still very runny you need to wait for it to get slightly thicker. ‘Slightly’ is the operational word because for the best results you have to catch it at the perfect moment. If the soap is too runny you won’t be able to make a well-defined mark. If it’s too thick the marks will be over-defined, ie you’ll get jagged peaks where you pull out your wire. Under perfect circumstances I have time to wait for the soap to thicken up and I usually prod one corner with a stick to see when the mark is just the way I want it. As long as the soap is still runny it’s very forgiving; you can keep ‘backtracking’, making a mark in the same spot several times until it looks right.

Inverted Stamp Technique
Not quite there yet
Inverted Stamp Technique
Looking good now
Inverted Stamp Technique
There we go! Nicely defined but still fluid relief

 

 

Here’s the tool I used and another top made with the same tool holding it at a slightly different angle:

Inverted stamp implement
Inverted stamp embossing tool
Inverted stamp technique
Green Spaghetti!
When you ‘stamp’ the top in the inverted stamp technique, you literally just touch the surface of the soap. You don’t want to upset any of the delicate swirls or layers you might have hidden inside the soap so no need to dig deep. You just gently dip the embossing tool into the surface of the soap and pull it right out again. If you’re using thin wire at light trace like I like to do, the soap will close in on itself the instant you dip in the wire. As you pull up again the wire lifts up the soap and leaves a perfect, neatly defined ridge on the surface of the soap. It’s important to pull the wire straight up; pulling it sideways or at an angle will distort the mark on the surface. Once you’re done embossing the area you intended to decorate it’s a good idea to let the mould stand undisturbed another moment or two to let the soap thicken. If the trace is still light, moving the mould might send ‘waves’ through the surface distorting your design.

The inverted stamp technique of embossing soap can obviously be used for an endless number of designs depending on how skilled and artistic you are at bending wire – either on its own or in combination with other design techniques. One of the most popular designs using this technique is the lattice top with crossing diagonal lines making a wafer-like pattern on the top of soap. In the picture below you can see that the soap batter was already slightly too viscous when I made my lines. The ridges are of uneven height due to jagged peaks forming as the thickening soap begins to stick to the wire.

Lattice Tops
Lattice Tops

 

Lattice Top Embossing Tool by Auntie Clara's Handcrafted Cosmetics
Lattice Top Embossing Tool

 

Lattice Top Diagram by Auntie Clara's Handcrafted Cosmetics
Auntie Clara’s Lattice Top Diagram
This is how I make the lattice tops on the Buttermilk Baby Soap:

  • I first pull my comb/onion chopping guide along the surface of the soap making drag marks parallel to the long sides of the mould.
  • Then I grab my wire (the angular, u-shaped one in the pic above) and start making parallel marks diagonally across the mould. Keeping the distance between the marks and the angle constant is a bit of a challenge. My wire fits perfectly at an angle between the insides of my mould so I use the sides of the mould as a guide for the angle. To get the distance right I try to work rhythmically – on the beat.
  • When I’ve gone down in the one direction I go in the other direction making marks down the length of the mould ending up with a diamond pattern. I try to keep the diagonal lines close together – to get as many diamonds as possible on the top of each bar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lattice top on Buttermilk Baby Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's

Halfway there: drag marks along the length of the mould, parallel lines diagonally across the mould in one direction and now parallel lines diagonally in the other direction. My lines are about 1-1.5cm apart

 

Lattice top on Buttermilk Baby Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's
Lattice top all done
Lattice top on Buttermilk Baby Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's
Can’t reach the corners of the log with my wire
Inverted Stamp Technique
Cut bars, each with a pretty diamond pattern on top

 

To me a pretty lattice top on its own is quite striking and my personal preference is to do the inverted stamp technique on a background of one solid colour. But you can easily combine a lattice top with other design elements like colour and embeds:

Green Tea & Silk by Auntie Clara's
Green Tea & Silk Soap with lightly embedded jasmine buds
Blue renaissance by Auntie Clara's
Blue Renaissance Soap with lattice top and mica swirl

 

 

I mostly work with log moulds, but the inverted stamp technique works well with slab moulds and individual moulds too. The larger the surface area the more you can show off the embossed designs eg by using several different embossing tools to create intricate combined designs. Note, however, that a large surface might take longer to emboss so make sure that you work with soap formula and fragrance that doesn’t thicken too fast.

Here inverted stamp lily pads are featured on their own and combined with cold process frog embeds:

Pina Colada Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's
Pina Colada Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara’s
Inverted Stamp Tool
Lily pad embossing tool
Frog Prince Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's
Inverted stamp technique lily pads with frog embeds

 

 

Works nicely with individual moulds too:

Tomato Leaf Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's
Inverted stamp embossing on Tomato Leaf Soap

 

Tomato Leaf handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's
Tomato Leaf Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara’s about to be unmoulded

 

 

Here the leaf tool was used to make single ‘prints’ on individual oval bars as well as to make a pattern covering the top of a log:

Milk & Silk Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's
Milk & Silk Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara’s
Teacher's Pet Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's
Teacher’s Pet Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara’s
Teacher's Pet Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's
Teacher’s Pet Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara’s
Inverted stamp embossing tool
Leaf embossing tool

 

 

A curved scallop shape to suggest curly wool on the Lanolin & Lemongrass Merino Soap:

Lanolin & Lemongrass Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's
Lanolin & Lemongrass Merino Soap by Auntie Clara’s
Lanolin & Lemongrass Handcrafted Soap by Auntie Clara's
Lanolin & Lemongrass Merino Soap by Auntie Clara’s
Merino Soap by Auntie Clara's
Merino Soap by Auntie Clara’s

 

 

And finally a nearly perfect ‘squiggle’ execution on top of the Black Sheep Merino Soap:

Inverted Stamp Technique embossing tool by Auntie Clara's
Squiggle tool for Black Sheep Merino Soap
Black Sheep Merino Soap by Auntie Clara's
Black Sheep Merino Soap by Auntie Clara’s
Black Sheep Merino Soap by Auntie Clara's
Black Sheep Merino Soap by Auntie Clara’s

 

 

126 Responses

  1. Genius! Thanks for sharing, your soaps are gorgeous!

  2. Clara,
    What can I say except AMAZING. Thank you for your generosity in printing this blogpost. Your soaps and techniques are inspirational and I look forward to learning something new with each post. Thank you. Jx

  3. Thank you for sharing this great technique!

  4. Thanks for sharing

  5. Best tutorial ever! Excellent explanations. You are a true artist. Love your work. Now I want to try this! 🙂 Thank you very much.

  6. I love what your doing. It is brilliant!

  7. Awesome tutorial, thank you so much for this 🙂

  8. Stunning! I love this technique and you have simply perfected it! Your soap and images are beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Amanda

  9. Thank you very much for sharing Clara Lindberg
    Your work is wonderfull.
    Regards.
    Sergio

  10. Nicole Sullivan

    Wow Clara, this is such a wonderful tutorial, your explanation is extensive, leaving no detail out…. Great job! Thanks so much for sharing your expertise, your artistry and precision is mind blowing, as always! Hugs

  11. Gorgeous! Thank you so much for taking the time to put this together. It’s so creative and offers quite a bit of inspiration. 🙂

  12. Thank you so much for sharing your techniques ! I LOVE looking at your soaps. They are truly beautiful works of art. Thanks again for posting! <3

  13. Thank you so much for your tutorial. Such beautiful soap and a lovely technique! A favorite quote: “It is in the sharing that the secrets are kept.” Thanks for sharing.

  14. Thank you so much for sharing your technique and tools! I”ve been playing around with textures lately and this is wonderful.
    Wishing you lots of continued success!

  15. Cathi Thorpe

    I have to admit I’ve been stymied by the talk of an inverted stamp on soap. Thank you for an excellent tutorial! Yay! Something new to try!

  16. Kim Velasquez

    Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful tips.. The information is fantastic. I am going to get some wire today and try out this technique. Every time you post a photo, I admire your exquisite soaps. and your photography. Thank you, thank you.

  17. Absolutely beautiful tutorial, blog and website! Your photography is stunning. Thanks so much for sharing. Can’t wait to give it a go.

  18. Your soaps are so lovely. Thank you for sharing your technique. You make the possibilities look endless 🙂

  19. Thanks for sharing your awesome creativity with us! I love the way your embossed soaps look, I’m inspired and think I’ll attempt your technique =)

  20. You are incredible~! Beautiful and creative. I love that about you!! Thanks for sharing!

  21. Clara, I’ve really enjoyed seeing your soaps with this technique over the last few months and have even tried it a few times. Thank you for sharing your creativity.

  22. Very Beautiful. I am a new soaper and I am amazed at some of the talent and also the willingness to share by some of the soaping artists. Smile
    Thank you

  23. Rachel B St. Rose

    Love this idea. I do cake icing I will try it with actual soap and see.

  24. Wonderful technique. Thank you for the tutorial! Can’t wait to try this 🙂

  25. thanks for the info. very well done. your soaps are very elegant

  26. Thank You for the great tutorial. I run a soap group in Southern California and we will have to try this for one of our meetups.

  27. I love this technique. I am a soap maker and also I design jewelry and this is a technique that I use to make some of my freeform earrings. i love it!. Thank you for sharing.

  28. Darinka Ilic

    Ja sam iz Srbije. Izvinite sto ne pisem na engleskom jer ga ne pisem najbolje, pa se bojim da ne ispadnem smesna. Nadam se da ce vam pomoci kompjuter u prevodu. Vas tutorijal je odlican. Sveze i sjajne ideje. Puno vam hvala sto ste ovo podelili!

  29. What an amazing tutorial! I’ve loved your soap designs from afar 🙂 and it’s so generous of you to share your methods – thank you!

  30. I love this! Especially the green soap with the hearts and frogs 🙂 So beautiful! Thanks for the great tip

  31. Lyz Foster

    What a clever idea! Love it! 🙂

  32. Tanya Chappell

    Wow! Thank you for being so giving and writing this brilliant tutorial Clara. I have done some embossing/invert stamping so I understand how important timing is. Your designs are wonderful xx

  33. Jennifer Soule

    I think this is one of the coolest looking soap toppers I’ve seen as of yet. Thanks for sharing this idea and now I have some new soap to work on and make some new designs:-)

  34. Thank you everybody for the kind words and encouragement! My work with this technique has been inspired by the beautiful creations of other soapers. If this tutorial, in turn, can serve as inspiration for others it makes me happy!

  35. Hi Clara,
    I just wanted to say thank you for the tutorial. I’m so gonna give this a go! I’ve been in awe of your soaps and photography for a long while now and this generosity with your talent is so great, so thank you!
    Tiggy
    xx

  36. hello, I’m writing from Italy to thank you for sharing your method of stamp reverse, I was able to create beautiful decorations, thank you! Laura

  37. Thank you for truly inspiring.

  38. christina

    thank you for sharing. u r inspiring

  39. Fantastico grazie oer l’ispirazione!!!

  40. […] yet it remained very thin. I poured it anyway into the mold. I wanted to try Auntie Clara’s inverted stamp technique, so while I waited for the soap batter to thicken to the right consistency, I made a masterbatch […]

  41. This is a beatiful technique! Embossing wire is not so easy 😉 But I will definitely have another go at it. It is worth it!

  42. The pics are really nice and beautiful. I wish you could do a YouTube video on this. Thanks again.

  43. What else is there to say about this. This is a wealth of information Clara. Thank you!

  44. Hello Clara
    What a beautiful thing you have created here!!! 🙂 I am literally stunned!
    My only question is how on Earth did you manage THAT CLEAN cut? What did you used for cutting bars?
    Sincerely
    Rima

    • Thanks Rima! I use a very simple one-wire cheese cutter to cut the bars. I always lay the log on its side so the wire doesn’t push down through the top but slices it sideways, as it were.

  45. Inez Mathis

    We want to put a animal design inside out soap. How do we go about doing this?

    Thoughts,Inez Mathis

    • If you make melt & pour soap you could embed a small animal-shaped soap in transparent soap. Alternatively you can make animal shaped embeds using a cookie cutter and place them inside a log so that you slice through the animal silhouette when you cut the log.

  46. Wow! Amazing work!

  47. UNBELIEVABLE ! You are truly artistic. And a double thankyou for sharing this technique! I absolutely love it.

  48. How amazing all your work is!!! Do you use only natural colorants?
    Congratulations and thanks for sharing your experiences! 🙂

    • Thank you! I use both natural and synthetic colourants. Because I don’t have access to a large selection of synthetic colourants I often end up using natural colourants by necessity.

  49. Great tutorial I’m gonna try this. Thanks. Beautiful soaps you made here.

  50. Hi Clara! I found your website via Facebook when someone linked your beldi soap recipe. I am now a big fan 🙂
    I absolutely love this technique! I wonder: what are the names of the tools that you use or how did you go about creating the tools if they are homemade. Thank you

    • The tools are all made by bending fine steel wire. I just call them ‘wire tools’..

  51. Stuart Pepke

    Just lovely soaps!

  52. […] tool I made of craft wire. I learned about this technique from Auntie Clara. You can read about it here. And last, but not least, I sprinkled the top with glitter. I got this really cool set of glitters […]

  53. There are a few soap maker’s I admire. You are brilliant, amazing. I haven’t seen this technique ever before. Thank you for inspiring me. Why don’t you do you tube video’s?

    • Thank you! My video shooting abilities are sadly lacking – plus I’m an old bird, old enough to have grown up without videos. But, never say never. Who knows, I might just be the next Quentin Tarantino of soapmaking! 😀

      • Laura calderon

        I am 59 and just like they say…we reinvent ourselves. I made a squiggly wire like you did. As soon as I saw it …my mind went to work lol.. because brilliant people like you inspire us to do the things that we have a passion for. Sometimes technology makes my head explode but without it we wouldn’t be able to see the beautiful creations you do. Thanks again..Laura Calderon from sunny California.

        • Love it when the mind goes to work! 🙂 Good luck with your squiggles!

  54. Did you use mechanics wire to make your designs or something thicker? They look amazing!

    • My favourite wire is a galvanized 0.7mm binding wire. Flexible, thin and easy to work with.

  55. Thank You SO much for this enlightening tutorial! I greatly appreciate your Artistry and giving nature.
    Thanks so much for these wonderful ideas! Blessings.

  56. GORGEOUS!! I LOVE the look this gives to your soap. Thank you for taking the time to share so much great information about this technique!

  57. I would like to thank you for me loosing sleep last night! lol I thought about this all night and couldn’t stop–I can not wait to try it–its amazing and thank you for sharing, that is very kind 🙂

    • Ouch! Losing sleep is generally not so good, but if it was a stream of creative ideas that kept you awake it might not have been so bad 🙂 Good luck with your project!

  58. Diana Mitchell

    That is so awesome and I was always wondering how you did that. That was so very nice of you to share with all of us. Keep making those works of art 🙂

  59. Thank you it is wonderful !

  60. Oooooh! How pretty is this?
    Love this technique. Very nice. of you to share your creativity. Thank you.

  61. Thank you for your amazing sharing!!! I really appreciate that and think I learn a lot from you and I really love your gorgeous soap!!! I want to raise a question about how to put the flowers or leaves on top without making them black or brown? The trace soap seems to easily get them burnt….I’ve tried lavender and rosemary and rose, they all turned ugly black and brown, very frustrating 🙁 But I see your some of your wonderful soaps can keep the original color of the flowers!I just wonder how can you make it? Would you mind sharing this skill as well? Will be grateful to get your reply 🙂

    • Botanicals in soap tend to gravitate towards brown. I’ve often had parts of flowers or petals turn brown where they touch the batter, but mostly the parts that don’t make contact with the batter stay inact. The only thing I can think of suggesting is cutting down on water in the batter. The lower the water content the faster the saponification and the shorter time the plant matter gets exposed to active lye. With less water in the batter there is also less caustic moisture for the dried plant parts to absorb. This is a guess – but you can try it 🙂

      • Thank you very much Clara!!! I did try another way that I waited until the next day when the soap became solid but still very soft to be easily insert something on it. It worked well for the rose but it was quite time consuming for the lavendar and rosemary cause I had to insert them little by little with a toothpick. Next time I am going to try your way and hope it to be nice 🙂 Great thanks again and looking forward to your new amazing post:)

  62. I’ve been following you on Instagram for a few months and love your designs. Thank you for sharing this technique. I’ve been pondering how you do this and talking about it to my family for longer than they would like. 🙂 I’m going to ty this on my next batch of soap. Now I’m going to talk to my family about which design to start with. 😉

  63. Thank you Clara! I am eager to try this out. BTW, can you share where you found the hexagon shaped molds?

    • Hope it works well for you! 🙂 The hexagonal moulds are moulds that I made. One of these days I’ll post a tutorial about them.

  64. Your soaps and designs are just lovely! I appreciate the technique of inverted stamping.I will experiment soon.

  65. Wow, TFS this…..I will be trying these out soon. Very creative and inspiring!

    • It’s a pleasure! It’s a nice technique that offers endless possibilities for completely unique designs.

  66. just beautiful

  67. absolutely amazing; you have such a creative mind. thank you so much for taking time away from your creativity and sharing by making the tutorial which was great.

  68. Renato Novas

    Hello Clara !!!! First I want to congratulate her for the work . Truly a work of art. Spectacular creativity. I really enjoyed the ” stamp invertivo ” very good. I will try to do it.
    Please, it’s possible you refer a recipe I get such a light trace ? I live in São Paulo , Brazil , and here we can not products suitable for cold process , usually essential oils quickly harden the mass .

    • Hi Renato! You need to use oils that trace slowly (extra virgin olive oil is perhaps the most typical oil in this respect, but lard, i.e. animal fat from pork meat, also comes to trace quite slowly and gives you lots of time to work) and omit oils that trace quickly (e.g. shea butter, castor oil and palm oil). Then you need to keep mixing temperatures as low as your oils will let you and only blend enough to form an emulsion. It’s very important not to over-mix. If you are making small batches you can mix them by hand. To begin with you can try this without any fragrance or essential oils and then choose essential oils that don’t accelerate saponification, e.g. lavender, lemongrass, peppermint or eucalyptus.

      • Renato Novas

        Thank you so much for the return, once again would like to register your work is fantastic and its dedication to expanding its experiences are priceless. You are a happy person, and happy people are blessed. Once again thank you.

  69. Truely Artist!

    Salute from Thailand.

  70. Sheila J Kleinschmidt

    Oh my goodness, I am new to soap making, but have many ideas for making soap that represents the area I live in. This tutorial holds so much promise for me in that I can now try to execute some of my ideas.

    I’ve been having fun playing with color but especially like the idea of one color.

    Also, I just tossed tomatoe leaves…would you share how you used them in your soap?

    Your work is incredible…I am in awe….Sheila in Alaska.

    • Hi Sheila. The tomato leaf here is a fragrance by BrambleBerry. I’m not sure actual tomato leaves do well in soap or bring any particular benefits, but fresh they have an amazing herbaceous aroma.

  71. Fest Clara!

    I just love your Soaps!!! What is your secret to prevent Soda Ash? All my soaps become white and i don’t get rid of it.

    Greetings from Germany
    Martina

    • Thank you! My best advice for preventing Soda Ash is to keep water low and to protect the saponifying soap from cool airflow. Either insulate the soap or keep it in a box or cupboard until it’s fully saponified.

  72. Ola Clara! Thanks a lot for your interesting posts! How low you keep the water…can you tell a %? Also, do you know any tricks to unmould easly a recycled mould made of paper (toilet rools) or plastic tube (like a bottle)?
    thanks so much for any advice.
    Much love
    Sara

    • I usually soap with water around 20% of oil weight. I line my wooden moulds with baking paper. It works perfectly every time.

  73. AMOLE JOHNSON

    NICE TECHNIQUES. I REALLY LOVE THEM ALL.

  74. So cool ..love it

  75. Alina Maria Ciurezu

    So beautifully and so ingenious! Thanks

  76. You inspire me! Thank you for sharing this technique. You have really broken it down in such a helpful way. Looks very easy to follow. I gather finding the perfect moment to place the wire may take a few experiences but, I am now up for the challenge. Thanks again!

    • Thanks! Like everything this probably takes some practice to get exactly right: the size of the stamp, the design and finding the optimal moment to stamp. I like to keep the stamps small and close together to get as much detail as possible on each bar. The best moment to stamp tends to be just as the soap is losing its gloss.

  77. Anita Blalock

    Just awesome!!!!!!

  78. Your soaps are amazing! Thank you for explaining the technique!

  79. Thank you for sharing. So informative. Beautiful work.

  80. Marie Nadeau

    You are the queen of perfect soap ! I love your work and your dedication. Thank you for sharing your art and techniques.

Leave a Reply