Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Last Day First Day

It's the last day of the month and I've a busy day ahead. I was in the workshop early this morning on a wrapfest and that's gonna be the flavor of the day. I love wrapping the soap bars. It's relaxing, and it's so satisfying to pull them off the shelves and start the prep for cleaning and dressing them.

It's the first of the new month tomorrow. That means it's the web site changeover. Jason will be in the hot seat this evening, so if you're shopping please try to bear that in mind. I've already chosen the order box freebies for June. All made and lined up in their rows. Every one of them ready to do the happy dance as they go into the order boxes.

Website changeover for June, happening this evening. The new month is almost here!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Local Night At Whole Foods

Another shipment of Manor Hall will soon be on its way to Whole Foods Market Symphony Store in Boston. I've also been invited to their local evening, taking place on June 6th. I will be there between 5.00pm and 7.00pm, handing out samples and meeting and greeting customers. I'd love to say hello to you if you're in the area, so mark your calendars and I'll see you there!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Art House of Almonds

Meet House Of Almonds. Layered in pink and cream, with swirls of every shade between. She holds plenty sweet almond oil to keep skin feeling soft, and a beautiful scent that could never be mistaken for anything else.

Curing now and available to buy on June 3rd, 2011.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

How It's Done: Rainy Day Sunrise Part 4

This is Rainy Day Sunrise Part 4. If you missed Parts 1, 2 or 3, you can grab Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

Okay, so here's the great slab of soap. Since unmolding, it has sat on the prep shelf for a further 24 hours. This time varies from soapmaker to soapmaker, but I find that a further 24 hours gives me a drier product to work with. In the photo, you can clearly see the end result of the bamboo skewer. I'm pondering. Maybe when I make this batch the next time, I might swap the finery of the skewer for the handle of wooden spoon. I think I'd have preferred a good blaze of white rather than the delicate streaking the soap has now revealed.

Time to break out another one of my complicated tools... otherwise known as a guitar wire. I'm slicing the slab of soap into logs. The mold I'm using at the moment yields four from each batch, which is three twangs of the guitar wire. I'll be showing you how to rig this nifty little tool up for yourself in an upcoming post. For slicing logs, it's a breeze!

The beautiful moment of the long awaited cut. It's the first peek inside, and I'm well pleased. You can see that the orange main body has given way to a golden yellow. It will morph a little more yet. I'm absolutely thrilled with the white I layered on top. Looking at it, I think I was right ditching the orange line. This bar is Rainy Day Sunrise and the rain flows freely from the skies above. For me, an orange line would have created a hardness when I really wanted to portray free flowing without restraint.

The row of freshly cut logs. The mold I'm using at the moment yields four from each batch. I really do like the white line sitting underneath the ripples that I painted on top. It is rather like water with its gentle wave of movement.

With each log standing upright on the workbench, I like to shave the corners off the long sides of the top. This is called "bevelling". Bevelling is used in many different ways by soapmakers. Some will shave their bars along four sides. Some will shave their bars along every edge they can see. For my Art House Soaps, I just like to create a little roof on top of them. Angled like a wooden picture frame, it's the finishing touch for the canvas I've been working on.

Now comes the feeling of the adrenaline rush that you get when riding the steep hill of a rollercoaster. I'm just getting to the top of it and as I push the blade down to make the first slice of soap, I'm finally gonna get to see what it really looks like inside. I know the barbecue skewer worked and I also know that the lines were fine ones, but has every line I drew worked? Did the skewer go far enough down every time I used it? Fingers crossed as the roller coaster peaks the crest and heads for the descent.

Oh yes, full tummy turnover! The canvas is hung on the wall. It looks good close up, and with a few steps back I'm happy with what I've painted. It's an Art House Soap. It's Rainy Day Sunrise and I've portrayed it wonderfully. And you know what? I don't think I'm going to be using the broad brush of a wooden handled spoon next time. I think the finery from the bamboo skewer has given me the nice flowing fall of rain. What does the artist in you say?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How It's Done: Rainy Day Sunrise Part 3

This is Rainy Day Sunrise Part 3. If you missed Part 1 and/or Part 2, you can grab Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Picking up now from yesterday's Part 2 post, I'm going back to one of the two jugs that contain the reserved color from the pan that held the main body of the soap. I'm gonna add some more turmeric to it. I'm looking for a deeper color to contrast with the color of the main body pour-off in the other jug. I really like this shot, by the way. It's a true action shot of me stirring like crazy with a stainless steel teaspoon.

Believe it or not, after a minute or two of stirring feverishly, this is the color I end up with. It's going straight into another one of those complicated tools, otherwise known as a squeezy ketchup bottle. Love the way it actually looks like ketchup, wouldn't you say?

And here is the partner to the ketchup bottle. Yes, it's the mustard bottle. And what have we got sitting on the wax covered countertop? That's right, a drop from the pour of the jug containing the reserved main body soap. At the moment, it would appear that one is a bright red ketchup color, and the other reflects the color of the mustard bottle. Don't be fooled... these colors will have changed dramatically in less than 24 hours. In soapmaking, we refer to this as "color morphing".

Okay... this is more like it. This is what I've waited for. And if you think you've waited, believe me when I say the less than 15 minutes it took me to get to this stage from the first trace felt like 15 days. I'm getting jiggy with the ketchup, and it's feeling good.

Now I'm getting jiggy with the mustard, and it's feeling even better.

And here's the long shot. Oh, I'm loving it now!

And I bet you thought I'd finished! If you look at the spatula spoon, you'll see a totally different color. It's the creamy colored soap that I decided to leave a little bit in the bottom of the poured off white colored soap jug. You see, when I changed my mind about the colored line, what I didn't tell you was that in making the snap decision to abandon the idea, it was because I'd decided to drizzle the top with white. In my head, the vision of my original drawing suddenly changed. I considered that a darker orange line would fight with a white drizzle. Take note of the four cheese pizza sitting in the mold, and remember what I said about "morphing".

36 hours later... and here's what I've got when I've turned it out of its wooden box. Suddenly not looking like a four cheese pizza anymore. And look at the main body. Not exactly the same bright orange that it was when it first hit the bottom of the mold. But hey... have you noticed the work of my trusty bamboo skewer? Just wait until tomorrow, when we get to log it up and slice it into bars...

Almost there! Come catch Part 4 here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

How It's Done: Rainy Day Sunrise Part 2

This is Rainy Day Sunrise Part 2. In case you missed Part 1, you can catch up here.

So as you'll remember from yesterday, I reserved a jug from the pan containing the main body of the soap, which is orange, but will turn yellow as the curing stage gets underway. I've now got a smaller jug and I'm splitting it in half and setting both aside. This is still a thin trace. I need it thin like this so I can play later.

Here we have the main body of the soap sitting in the mold. I helped the trace thicken a little bit by stick blending the turmeric when I added it to the pan. The main body has sat for about ten minutes while it thickened even more. To the right is the jug of creamy white soap I reserved at the very beginning before I added the color. This too has thickened.

At this point I made a snap decision against the dark orange stripe I originally intended for the bar, and went straight to the next layer. My Art House soaps develop as they go along, often into something I could have never put on paper. My original drawing serves as just a guide to keep the creativity reigned in, yet allowing my mind to run free.

Here I am carefully pouring the white soap on top of the main body, over the back of a spatula spoon. I have the spoon very low to stop the white from sinking into the orange. This is a really fun stage and I love it.

I'm working around the sides of the mold here until eventually I end up in the center. I'm trying to keep it level without being perfect about it. It's really like pouring cream on top of black coffee, but on a bigger scale. I always loved doing that as a kid.

For this next stage I'm using the great complicated tool otherwise known as a barbecue skewer. I'm pushing it through the soap, dragging a little of the white through the orange, in a straight line. I'm hoping this will give a nice "trickle" effect inside the cut soap.

Now it's feeling good! Evidence. I can see that it's worked. If there's orange being dragged out at the end of every line, that means I've pushed a little of the white down. I've not even started to play yet, and already my excitement levels are up.

And this is what I leave you with today. We've still got another half to a quarter inch of the mold left to get really creative with. It's looking nice and level (thank you new workbench!) and the soap has really behaved itself. I already know it's gonna feel great to use.

So, what have we got now? We're down to two jugs of orange soap that I split in half from the one big jug that I poured off from the pan way back at the beginning. Tomorrow I'll be getting my little artist beret on while I start to paint. I'll see you then...

Oooh, look! Part 3 can be found right here.

Monday, May 16, 2011

How It's Done: Rainy Day Sunrise Part 1

I thought I'd really let you in behind the scenes. This is a new era for me and Manor Hall Soap. A number of you have been with me from the beginning and know Rainy Day Sunrise has been here since then. This is the journey of the new Art House style Rainy Day Sunrise, which will be replacing the classic style bar.

The above pic shows my worksheet, which contains my "artist's rendering" (in this case a conception of the new bar) together with some of the key ingredients, such as infused olive oil, and turmeric, which you can just barely see behind the sheet. The pot on the extreme left is the essential oil blend of lemon, may chang and rosemary.

My collection of tools for the job, white spatulas and barbecue skewers. Believe it or not, every one of these will probably get used for the one bar.

This is me standing at my workbench. I'm never out of these pink and black boots while I'm working. Or the striped socks. I usually push my toes under the bottom of the bench. Don't ask me why... it's a comfort thing.

Jug of lye meet pan of melted oils. They call it the "cold process" or "cold kettle" method of soapmaking, but these components are usually around 120 degrees Fahrenheit when they're added together. Soapmakers have their own favorite temperature, depending on their recipe. For me, I liked around 120 degrees for the classic soap bar batches. Because I want to be able to play more with the soap, the Art House bars are being soaped at just under 100.

I've used a stick blender to get it to a light trace. Trace is the stage where the mixture leave a "trace" on the side of the pan. The consistency of a trace is often described as being like mayonnaise. I don't want mine like mayonnaise for the Art House style because I want to be able to get artistic with the soap and I don't want it setting up fast on me. I'm pouring off the creamy white soap into a jug which I'll be using later on when I start layering.

Here, you can see the very light trace on the side of the pan. I'm mixing in some turmeric to give the soap a nice light yellow cast. I've added it to small amount of olive oil to help it blend into the soap easier.

I've poured off a jug of the colored soap and I'm reserving it to use later when I start painting with it. Although this looks bright orange, the color will fade as the soap cures and hopefully it's going to leave me with a pale yellow.

This is the rest of the soap in the pot and this will be the main body of the batch. I'm pouring it into the mold and as you can see, I've got another inch in the mold to play with.

So here's what we've got so far. Two jugs of soap reserved, one creamy white and one pale yellow (eventually). The main body of the soap is sitting in the mold, and there's an inch or so for me to play artist with. I'll see you tomorrow as I begin the next stage of Art House style Rainy Day Sunrise soap...

Never fear, Part 2 is here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Gathering Speed

The new Art House style soap making is really underway, and they'll be appearing on the website as each classic style flavor is sold out. The new soaps weigh more at 5 ounces each. They're noticeably chunkier and feel absolutely great sitting in the hand. I've been able to buy my ingredients in larger quantities, and this has meant that I can pass the savings on to you. The cost per ounce will drop from $1.46 per ounce, down to $1.27. I feel really good about being able to do that.

I've always been one to lead, and this means moving with the times... or even keeping ahead of them. The big project that's been happening here behind the scenes all year is really gathering speed now. Like many projects, there are phases to implement as it all gets brought together in one conclusion. Back in February when we opened the new workshop, a phase of the project got underway. I reformulated a few products from my product line. Packaging styles come and go, ingredients increase in price due to natural disasters, and new ingredients become more desired as suppliers bring the latest and greatest to market. I'm thrilled with the new formulas, and also the new packaging and label design that will be accompanying their launch.

The first of the new formulations to make their debut on the website will be liquid soap and shampoo. For now, they are all marked out of stock and their pages are being prepared for their launch. More news on this will follow later in the month as production of them nears completion.

Brand new products have also been decided on, and these are in production too as we get set to make the summer one to remember.

Sadly, a few products will be making their goodbyes. This has been the hardest of all the decision making for me. I can't possibly keep my blooms in continual growth without pruning a little. One of the first to go will be the SinkSiders foaming hand soap. It's been a tough decision, but the bottles that were once affordable, no longer are. At 16 ounces, these bottles are also huge and with subsidizing shipping the way that I do, I take a serious hit on costs. I'm looking for a smaller 8 ounce bottle in the hope of bringing them back one day. But for now, they are making their goodbye as soon as they are sold out.

This is an exciting time for me right now. I'm enjoying the tease as I make my announcements. Over the course of the next four weeks I'll be making other announcements... and then I get to unveil the biggie with everyone. I don't know how I'm gonna stay quiet for so long!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Shout About Your Blog Day

Here we are again. Come one, come all! If you blog, I'm inviting you to come on over and tell us all about it. Boast, brag, shout it loud, shout it proud. Many of you have blogs and many of them are unsung. From embroidery through to rock climbing. From baking through to belly dancing. From budding author through to poodle parlors. From photography through to coupon finders. From lipstick though to the best shoes ever!

Whatever your passion is, whatever you blog about... today is your day here at the Manor. Share your blog, share your passion. Today is Shout About Your Blog Day. Come on over to our facebook page. Make sure to Like us, and then let the world know you're out there.

Wednesday May 11th, 2011. Shout About Your Blog Day. All day long. You're invited. Come Like, and come share. Come Shout About!

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Sneak Peek Into What's to Come

I'm smack in the middle of a long SoapFest. It's part of the reason I had to bring my annual May family break forward at short notice. I'm sharing here with you a small slice of change which will be taking place behind the scenes of my little soap empire as a large project nears its end and starts to gather speed.

Last October, plans for a huge project here were drawn up. With growth you cannot stay where you are. We had initially slated spring as the launch date for the project but as December got underway, having Manor Hall on the shelves of Whole Foods Market meant the project had to take a back seat for eight weeks in order for the workshop renovation to take place.

Workshop completed, we got back on track as we opened in February. Part of the project is a complete new look for the soap bars. I've enjoyed the Art House soaps this past year. It gives me a chance to be creative in my work, but it was always meant to be a place for one-off limited editions, where when I had time to myself on a day off I could still enjoy my creativity without it having to be work.

Over the coming weeks you will notice the classic soap bars steadily being replaced with the look and style of my Art House collection. This is me. It's who I am. It's what I enjoy the most. I love making soap. I love making good soap. I believe it to be the best. In the beginning, my wax wrapped jackets were beautiful. There was nothing like it out there in the hand made arena back in 2004, but as each year of Manor Hall has gone by, I've found it harder and harder to keep up with the wrapping. I even got The Barbara wrapping them too and she grew the nimble fingers over last summer.

Then came mid-October and the run up to the Holiday season was upon us. Even with me and Barbara on serious late night wrap fests, I found myself having to train Jason. That was absolutely ridiculous. He's the techy guy, and if he's wrapping... he isn't available for the many demands that the techy stuff requires. I try to run a tight ship, and pride myself on customer service. Something had to give, and give fast. Manor Hall had to grow, and that meant a few changes.

Today I'm unveiling the first of a series of exciting changes for me and The Manor. New style Classic soap bars are making their debut soon. The size has increased. Soap bars will now be weighing in at around 5 full ounces instead of 4. This means, despite a small price increase, more soap for your purchase... and in turn means less on shipping for you. The packaging will also be new, to more suit the style of bar.

Meet Sweet Neem. She is absolutely beautiful. Kind and soft in the extreme. Calmingly layered, she's swirled on top in her true beauty. Soft and gentle doesn't have to be plain and boring. Enjoy her soothing kiss on your delicate skin.