Making Haida Potlatch Soap

This is one of the soaps that I get the question “how did you do that?”, more times than any other bar of soap.  This bar of soap took me about 8 years to conceive and 2 years to perfect the technique. Actually, the technique will never be perfect in my eyes as I discover new ways to make it better. These are my favourite soaps to make because it challenges me every single time and makes me think and grow as a soap maker.

I started by formulating a recipe that will not set up too fast. This is a crucial step. You still want the conditioning and lathering properties without sacrificing the hardness of the bar. Next was finding colors that would give me the pure black, white and red I need for my design without colors fading, bleeding into each other or causing the soap lather to discolor or stain. I finally perfected a combinations of micas, oxides, activated charcoal, titanium dioxide and clays. Last but not least, choose an essential oil blend and/or fragrance that will suit your desired scent without accelerating the trace of your soap.

I have learned over the years to masterbatch my colors. This means that I premix large batches at once to ensure a more consistent color between batches. The drawback to this method is that you have to use it within a few days of mixing or it becomes a thick gooey paste. When planning my Potlatch Soaps I try to make 4 – 6 batches on the same day.

When my soap is at a very light trace (and I mean very light trace) I add the scent then split the 25 pound batch into 3 containers then add my premeasured color. At this point I have to work really fast as the soap starts to set up faster once the color and scent is added. So I put my biceps to work and start pouring. This method of soap pour is called a “Column Swirl or Column Pour” as it is poured over an upright column. This is a great example of how my technique has changed over the years; I no longer use a column for my pouring I now do a “Faux Column Swirl” by pouring right into the mold without the block. This way I don’t get the demarcation lines from the corner of the block but the result is very much the same. Although I have to work fast I am still paying attention to my design and pouring the soap colors according to my inspiration piece (Oh my aching biceps)  😛

I keep pouring, alternating color until all of the batter is poured then pull out the centre column. The final design is scribed into the soap with chopsticks, skewers and other high tech pieces of equipment *wink*. Again, this is not done randomly; although I have to work really fast I am really paying attention to how my form lines are looking. Of course I am trying to achieve the forms commonly seen in Haida art. From the time I split the batch to the time I have finished the design is about 10 minutes. Anything past that and the batter takes on a consistency of fudge and I can’t do anything with it. The soap is covered and insulated (I call this putting it to bed) for at least 24 hours before unmolding and cutting.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply