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Swirling and trace


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I've been making soap for about a year and have decided it's time to venture out and experiment with colors and swirls :)  I am having a heck of a time getting the trace just right to swirl the soap.  My first few batches ended up too thick so I just ended up with basically a layered pattern.  Now tonight, I decided to cut way back on using the stick blender and only used it to mix the lye and oils, then hand mixed the scent and the color in part of the batch.  I was afraid of the soap seizing up like it normally does so I barely had trace when I poured the soap and added the color.  I think it was probably too thin.  I'm sure it could be the FO making things more difficulty but if you have any tips to share I'd love to hear them!  They make it look so easy on the videos :) 

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Swirling just takes lots of practice. I think most of us work on it for years while others just have a knack for it and make it look easy. Like you the hardest part for me is getting the trace just right for each recipe and fragrance. Seems like no two are alike and each needs its own timing.


For some fragrances I find I need to add them at the last moment. That means after I have already split my batch into different bowls to color, colored each bowl, then I add the scent and whisk it in to blend just before pouring. Other batches I can add the fragrance and blend before I split the batter into bowls to color. But I have found that in most of my swirling batches I need to add the fragrance towards the end.


I also only do swirls in certain recipes that take longer to reach trace. Oils and fats that reduce trace time are olive, lard, sunflower, grapeseed. At least those are ones I am sure of. Brambleberry has a recipe blend that is perfect for doing swirls in. You can get some good ideas watching videos on Soapqueen and Youtube for swirling recipes and techniques.


I always use a stickblender when I first blend my batch together after I add my lye. I want my batch to emulsify so I know its well blended and won't seperate. I use short bursts on my stickblender to emulsify my batter.


For swirling, I want my batter emulsified but just at a very light trace for most swirling. For a 'drop' type swirl where I drop my second colored batter high above the first one I need my batter ready before light trace or at very liquid state. I was reading somewhere about how you don't actually have to have your batter reach trace to still make soap. So I never worry about reaching trace for swirling. I only want a light trace if I need a firmer batter for some techniques or untraced batter for techniques that need a more liquid or fluid like batter. I have found that a batch that has not reached trace will still saponify just fine. The only thing you need to be concerned about is seperation of oils or fragrance. You will only learn this from practice. Hope this makes sense.

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Thanks, glad to hear it takes practice for everyone :)  I think you are right about different scents and oils being a factor.  I'll try it in a few other batches with other scents and see how it goes.  I haven't tried adding the scent after splitting the batches so that's another great suggestion.  I also saw some information about not having the soap at trace and just blending it well to avoid separation.  Looks like I have lots of options to experiment with.  Thanks so much!



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The best way I found to practice the intricate swirls (don't laugh) is with cake batter and food coloring. Just mix up the cake mix like you normally would, separate out portions and food color them, and then swirl to your hearts content. You never have to worry about seizing, acceleration, or the batter getting too thick. The only thing you have to worry about is the colors getting muddy and then eating all that cake you have practiced with. 


This will help with techniques, timing etc. 

Then when you put it into practice using soap maybe start swirling in unscented soap so you don't have to worry about the scents moving quickly on you, and then you can gradually move up to scented swirled batches. 


Me personally - I soap at RT, I add my scent to my RT oils, and I bring my oil/lye combo to just this side of emulsification... that usually works unless I have an especially stubborn scent. 


But the cake trick? I still do that - especially when a particular technique has been alluding me. 


Good luck! 

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JC above beat me to it. Cake batter! Practice all you want without it turning to concrete. And you can eat the results. What could be better?

The swirlability and working time depend a lot on your technique and formula. Oils that take longer to trace, like olive and lard, give more time to fiddle.

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Hanger swirls need to be in that medium trace so you can layer but it still requires me to barely emulsify with the sb and not be tempted to make sure its well blended. The trace is perfect by the time I separate and color the batter. Nothing feels better than to be in control of your soap and know that this is not just a happy accident. I make nothing but goats milk soaps and the sugars make it real hard to get that thin trace you need for certain types of swirling but that's my choice. I've read that castor and palm increase saponification, as well as, Borax. I generally soap at about 85 degrees and find that a happy medium rather than cool temps or hot temps. You have to move fast whatever you're doing and make sure that the fo dosen't cause acceleration or discoloration. HTH


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