The March Soap Challenge Club challenge was to create a soap, or series of soaps, using the inlay technique - which involves carving a design out of a new soap and filling that in with either a fresh pour of cold process soap, or pre-made soap dough (which is cold process soap that was covered and stored out of air before it fully cured).
My first task was to make two soap embeds. I used a small heart-shaped tube for a heart embed, and a round column mould to create the ciricle. My initial plan was to use two colours in the round column mould with a divider that I would pull out after the pour to create a yin yang effect in blue and purple. That plan fell apart when the reality of simply pulling out the plastic divider proved more difficult that I had imagined it would - in part because it was also going around the outside of the mould and more slipped than pulled nicely... so I swirled the blue and purple and the end result was a fairly nice round earth impression.
The next step was to make another batch of soap that was divided into two colours - white and black. The black was saved for soap dough. The white was poured into a loaf mould and the embeds added along the length of the loaf. The circle embed was rolled in gold mica before being added to the top with a drizzle of white batter on top of that to finish it off. That worked well to create an edge to the circle embed.
This was oven processed at 50 degrees C in my dehydrator for 5 hours and left over night to set up, and cut the following morning.
I was feeling a little lazy and didn't want to make a range of colours of soap dough, so opted for black and a silhouette-type look. I have since discovered that you can colour the dough after it has been made by adding a mix of oil and mica - although I suspect this might cause or result in DOS at some point.
After making the loaf mould I had poured the black portion of the soap batter into individual moulds and covered the tops with clingwrap to keep the air out. These were popped into ziplock bags the next morning until I was ready to use them for inlays.
The next step was to choose my design. I opted for a seated meditation cum yoga silhouette. I printed out the design, resizing it a few times, and then carefully cut the right sized one out. This was placed on top of the soap bar and the outline was drawn using the sharp point of the skewer.
The outline needs to be at least 0.5cm deep (or more). If you go any shallower it is easy to lose the edge of your design in the process of carving and scooping out the rest of the soap.
One the outline was defined, I used the skewer point in more sideways motions to help remove the soap from the design, but eventually settled on using a plastic set of clay modelling tools I found lying about.
Then the inlay part... filling the carving with black soap dough. That was relatively easy. I was careful to use small amounts of dough at a time and push it in well. For sections like the arms, I rolled pieces of dough to the right length and then pushed them in place.
I used a flat plastic spatula-like scraper to remove excess dough at the end, and Isopropyl alcohol was great for helping to clear up any messy patches - but I did still end up with glitter everywhere.
My initial plan was to repeat this design on all the soaps, but I realised I could create yoga-theme by finding more silhouette designs - and so the process was repeated.
I had to include one tai chi silhouette (for those who don't know, that has been a 20+ year hobby and I teach a small group in Oxford) within the set.
My major disappointment was that the fragrance oil I used in the white portion discoloured to off-white. I've regularly used Nag Champa from Zen Designs, but used the last stock of that on the embeds, and I didn't even stop to think, when I ripped that horrid plastic lid off one of Pure Nature's bottles, that the Nag Champa I had bought on special from there might behave differently... well it does.
Although time consuming the technique is a lot of fun, and offers heaps of possibilities. I will definitely do this again!