Using mica swirls to decorate soap tops
Mica swirls are usually made with mica in oil: the mica/oil mix is dribbled over the surface of the wet soap and the design swirled through it; over subsequent hours, the oil is absorbed into the hardening soap, leaving the mica behind like a swirl ‘footprint’. It is a beautiful effect and I have used it many times on my soaps. It produces fluid swirls that flow with the batter due to the oil/mica mix sitting and moving happily with the oil-heavy batter beneath.
The glycerine/mica swirl has a distinct difference: oil and glycerine do not mix readily, rather like oil and water. Instead of the mica mix moving smoothly with the batter, to be drawn out into continuous fine lines, the glycerine/mica mixture ‘beads’ up into discrete droplets. These may be quite large, or tiny, like pinpricks. Over the next 24-48 hours, as with the oil/mica mix, the glycerine is absorbed into the soap, leaving the mica behind. The difference in this instance is that the glycerine ’beads’ excavate small mica-lined ‘cavities’ in the top of the soap, leaving a wonderful three-dimensional, textured effect.
The two techniques together can lead to a stunning effect.
I first tried out the glycerine/mica swirl with ‘Primavera’, having seen, and greatly admired, the beautiful work done by Mossy Creek Soaps. Bitten by the bug, I then made ‘Spectre’ and ‘Bim’s Passion’ – the glycerine/mica cavities and ‘spangle’ pinpoints can be seen quite easily in these ones.
oil/mica – cappuccino mica
glycerine/mica – bronze and gold micas
oil/mica – lime green and purple micas
glycerine/mica – silver mica
On to the Soap Club Challenge…
Well, after these soaps, you could say that I was well and truly hooked on this technique. When Amy Warden decided to have it as her next Soap Club Challenge, it seemed perfect! As I had already made these three soaps prior to the Challenge, a new soap would be required, so I started thinking…
My choice this time was one with a more citrus tang to it, yet still with a floral undertone. An essential oil blend of may chang, ylang ylang, lavender and patchouli seemed to be just the thing; to echo this, I decided on a lilac/yellow base swirl complemented by oil/mica swirls of gold and purple and a glycerine/mica swirl in a silver, pearly white. A base batter packed full of shea butter and olive oil, tussah silk and milk powders and with a superfat of lovely rosehip oil seemed just the thing. I slab mould would give a large surface across which to swirl, so I chose a perennial favourite, the wonderful ‘Tara’ mould from The Moulds Shop.
I then decided to go the whole hog and make a video from start to finish (a daunting prospect indeed, as I had not made a video before!). Owing to the extreme age of the camcorder (the poor thing is pre-flash drive / USB connection), the quality is somewhat grainy, but the jist of what I wanted was there. As for the commentary… let’s just say that that needs some work (at least my quaking knees didn’t show up!)
The whole video, from start of mixing to a slide show of the finished soaps may be viewed on our new YouTube channel ‘The Stonesfield Soap Company’; simply click on the link below to take you there.
As an overview, the following slide series summarises what I did, once I had poured a thick layer of my main base batter (uncoloured):
I separated out two small portions of soap for colour accents: yellow (using yellow oxide) and lilac (using lilac ultramarine). These were then swirled gently through the main base batter (picture 1) using a chopstick. To allow for a single layer of colour on the top, I carefully spooned over the remaining base batter (picture 2) – this would provide a good, plain background for the top design. Next came the accent highlights from the coloured batter, poured in a zigzag across the surface (pictures 3 & 4). I was ready for the mica swirls…
First came the purple oil/mica (picture 5), then the gold oil/mica (picture 6) and lastly the glycerine/mica (picture 7). As the glycerine is quite viscous, I gave it a gentle warm in the microwave to thin it out a little prior to pipetting it on. As well as pipetting trails across the surface, I like to make ‘spatters’ by giving the pipette a sudden, hard squeeze. The effect is to give a multitude of tiny droplets (‘spangles’) scattered across the surface. The micas applied, onto the swirling (picture 8).
All that was left was to insert the dividers (picture 9) and put it to bed for at least 48 hours (to allow sufficient time for the glycerine to be absorbed (oil absorption is quicker). Then, the moment of truth and the turning out of the soap (picture 10)… The silicone liner made it a dream to turn out and the dividers left a beautifully smooth, glassy surface along the sides of the bars.
Taking a closer look at the bars, one can see the beautiful trails of tiny ‘spangles’ left by the glycerine mica as well as the larger, textured imprints.
Am I pleased with this? Yes. The design has turned out very nicely and the scent… well, it has held up beautifully! I will leave you to decide what you think about the bars. If you would like to leave a comment, please pop over to the post about ‘Maylang’ on our Facebook page – Stonesfield Soap.
All there is now left to do is to wait until ‘Maylang’ is ready to go into the shop (mid June) and wish it well in the competition.