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  • Suitman

Late March 2017 - Review

13/3/2017

I reviewed the condition of the first six batches of soap that I made over my first two months of soap making. They all seem to have developed issues, even though they are not very old.


The first batch was 100% olive oil. As it has cured, this soap has turned white and has hardened considerably. Castile soap of this kind apparently needs at least a few months to cure. This soap is now nearly 3 months old and should be just about ready for use but unfortunately has developed early signs of DOS (Dreaded Orange Spot). This is a sign of rancidity beginning to happen in the oils used to make the soap. This may be because I bought my earliest oils from Coles and Woolworths (local supply) who may buy relatively old oil because they can turn it over quickly. It could also be because I use regular tap water for the first six batches, rather than distilled water as has been used since.


Batches 1-6

Showing different signs of soda ash, DOS, and sweating














The second batch, which was 60% olive and 40% coconut, was made on the same day as the first batch, under similar conditions. These soaps were made at room temperature in the heat of summer, with no heating of the oils. The process was uninterrupted, with mixing of lye and oils occurring when the lye solution had cooled sufficiently.


Batch #4 –

dreaded orange spot (DOS)









Less than a week later, I made a third batch (three times more quantity than the first two batches). I was fortunate that this batch actually turned out the best of the first six tap water batches. I experimented with this batch by adding salt to harden and sugar to give a tighter, foamy soapiness. These additives worked well, with the soap having a lovely lather and being the hardest and longest lasting of all the soaps I have made to date. This review has been a good reminder of what has worked, as well as determining problems and their causes. (I have recently been adding sodium lactate, in minimal amounts, to harden and have not had as good results as having used a little bit of salt (1 teaspoon in about 1.85 kg of oils).


This third batch was the only one of my early soap making efforts that went through what I later learned was ‘gel phase’. The saponification process, during which the fatty acids within the oils bind and react with the lye to form soap, produces heat. If enough heat is produced for a sufficient period, the soap-mixture changes colour and transforms, making the final product look somewhat translucent. This batch went through gel phase because I made it in a two litre juice container that I closed the top of (not knowing this insulation would promote gel phase). I also kept the batch indoors to keep an eye on whatever was going on. This meant the batch was also insulated by the indoor heat (where the summer night heat lingered).


I also experimented with using plastic moulds with this batch. Unlike the soap mixture that was put into the juice carton for moulding, the mixture that was put into plastic moulds didn’t go through gel phase. This is because these moulds were not insulated, and there was a reduced quantity in each mould, which were sitting on cold metal. These soaps have a different colour and have more readily developed soda ash, which is not harmful but is aesthetically undesirable.


I have also noticed an increased risk of rancidity through handling. This is because I have been generating offcuts in my quest for a suitable size and shape bar (because of working with the various moulds I have tried). This is confirmed by the fact that all the hand moulded lumps of soap I have reclaimed from offcuts have the most noticeable degree of rancidity. Consequently, I need to get some suitable gloves for working with. The rubber ones I have for handling lye are too cumbersome for working with generally, so I am investigating reusable latex gloves. This is not as easy as I thought with these sorts of gloves being disposable… that is not an option.


Heavy signs of rancidity in a lump of soap hand moulded from off-cuts.







15/3/2017

When I made the fourth batch of soap I ended up having a number of interruptions. At this time I was still using tap water and working at room temperature. The interruptions meant that the process of combining the various ingredients occurred over a considerable period of time and therefore both the oils and lye would have been cold, or at least at room temperature. This batch also had reasonably high sunflower oil content, which in hindsight may have been a bit dodgy. I ended up removing this oil from soap making duties and took it into the kitchen for use. As it turned out, it had a bad smell when used so it must have been off. This was despite being well within the use by date.

Through researching the issue I found out that oils are actually a perishable item and need to be kept in a cool and dark location. I had been simply keeping all my soap making equipment and ingredients in my bedroom, where they were exposed to sunlight and summer heat. In this regard I certainly take some responsibility in not keeping the oils properly, but I also have a suspicion that cheap supermarket oils are risky at best, having probably bought the oil cheap because of age, knowing that they are able to turn it over quickly. At this time I decided to move the oils into a reorganised linen press so that they were out of the light and protected a little from heat. I have gradually had to take over more of this space as I have progressed.


The next batches, 5 & 6, were also made under interrupted conditions, as I was still unaware of the problems that were going to arise because of working at a low temperature. I can only imagine how much worse soap making at room temperature would be in winter. Within two weeks of having made the last batch (#4) it was mysteriously ‘sweating’. I have not really determined what this is but am assuming that saponification had not occurred properly. It is now about 8 weeks since making this batch and it is still sweating. Batches 5 & 6 are suffering similarly as well as signs of rancidity. It just so happens that these batches used high levels of the sunflower oil that I took out of service.


Oily sweatiness and DOS in batches

4, 5 & 6









17/3/2017

As a consequence of the problems that had arisen with the last three batches, I researched for solutions and ended up changing a number of practices. As previously mentioned I moved oils into the linen press and I also put the cocoa butter in the fridge. I stopped using the sunflower oil I had been (I had another brand on hand). Additionally, I started using distilled water and I purchased a cooking thermometer to work at a temperature between 48 and 54 degrees Celsius. This helps to promote ‘gel phase’ which give the soap a slightly translucent look. So far these changes seem to be paying off.


I keep the homemade shaving cream that Noah made (which is actually more like shaving oil) in the fridge. This keeps the ‘cream’ firm so that using it is like rubbing butter on your face. The oils work well as a shaving lubricant and don’t clog the blade. It’s nearly finished now so I’ll have to think about making a batch of my own soon… either that or experiment with shaving soap.


The shaving cream is solid (from being refrigerated)


It feels like rubbing butter onto your skin.





18/3/2017

The soap nut solution I made works reasonably well for washing the dishes. (I have yet to try it out on a heavily greased set of pans). There were not many suds, which I guess is an aesthetic component rather than indicating actual cleaning power. At this point, I’d tentatively give the solution the thumbs up. I probably just need to get used to the different look and feel so I’ll persevere.

The heavily diluted mixture I made to use as shampoo is proving more difficult to get used to. This is a thin mixture which just feels like cold water being poured over my head. Whilst in a nice warm shower, this is not very pleasant.


The other thing I don’t really like is the lack of suds, which I’m used to when washing my hair. Consequently, it’s difficult to tell if anything is working. I will continue with the remainder of the thin solution I made, but I am unlikely to make another batch, even though a stronger, less diluted mixture may be all I need to do. I don’t like the feeling of the cold water and would prefer something a bit sudsier, so I will make a batch of the super-luxury soap, which has the same ingredients as a shampoo bar recipe I researched. This particular bar is apparently also suitable for use as a pet shampoo. This has given me the idea to also encourage pet owners to adopt a D.I.Y approach.


19/3/2017

For some time I have been researching a lot about Joseph Beuys and his ideas about social sculpture. (When I determined that this work would be a ‘social sculpture’ I was unaware of the term, its origins or its uses and applications). Consequently, I believe I had a truly inspired thought as the approach I am taking perfectly reflects Beuys’ ideology. This grounds the work with an art historical precedent, and interestingly (but not so unexpectedly with the hindsight of knowing about Beuys’ work in this area), this concept is continuing to be investigated and developed. This is evident in works by contemporary Cuban artist Tania Bruguerra, and in particular her collaboration in developing the Museum of Arte Util.


I have been thinking about the name School of Alternative Consumption and am considering changing it to Society of Alternative Consumption. This is because; even though the artwork has an educational element, the term ‘school’ suggests something for the young, which could be restrictive in attracting individuals generally. Additionally, the term ‘society’, whilst meaning a special-interest sub-group, actually suggests society at large. Due to the artwork’s on-the-ground, community focus, a Society of Alternative Consumption would be preferable.


21/3/2017

Reading an article: Tech Start-Ups Have Become Conceptual Art – dated Mar 17, 2017 in ‘Art Weekly’ (?) REF - written by Ian Bogost.


Researched reusable 50ml roll-on containers – matter of deciding between plastic or glass – can buy plastic in lots of 24 but minimum order on glass is 200 units. The main concern is the possibility of leeching when reusing plastic and cleaning them for reuse (scratching or something that may allow bacterial growth. Glass has the disadvantage of weight and fragility but is considered better for long term reuse… It’s a shame I can only get the glass in lots of 200 so I’ll search a bit more to see if I can find suitable glass containers in smaller quantities. I would hope that in the long term 200 containers would in fact be required, but that would mean having 200 users (buying ready-made deodorant or buying kits to make themselves.


The last batch of deodorant I made is still going well. I really like it and it is very effective. I still intend to make a more liquid batch by cutting out the shea butter and increasing the castor oil. This would mean only using coconut oil and castor oil. I may even make a batch with just castor oil (and dry ingredients) to see how that goes.


22/3/2017

I’ve been considering the issue of jars and having them returned for reuse and have now realised that I should simply implement a deposit and refund type of arrangement. This would involve paying a first-time, once-only deposit (which I have been thinking of as a fee) that is refunded if/when jars are returned clean. This would usually mean not needing to pay a deposit on subsequent orders. If returned with no additional order, this would require a refund. This is essentially what I have been thinking all along, except I hadn’t been seeing the ‘fee’ as a deposit and refund system. Therefore, the additional payment for containers will be regarded as a ‘refundable deposit’ and will be calculated outside of any percentage discount and payment system.


23/3/2017

I went to a seminar yesterday morning about writing a thesis proposal and literature review… This was informative and provided some useful resources.

After the seminar I went to the High Output Writing group to catch up with everyone but didn’t take any writing with me to be commented on. I have been working on an artwork analysis of Joseph Beuys’ social sculpture, the Free International University, and it would have been beneficial to get some criticism before sending it to my supervisors.


After this, I was shown the studio space I have been allocated at the University. Although it will be a bit of a job to transfer all the raw materials and equipment that I have accumulated, it will be helpful to have a dedicated space, free from the distractions, interruptions and restrictions I have to deal with at home. My main concern is being able to store things away from heat and light.


I researched making liquid castile soap and ordered some Potassium Hydroxide to try making some. I was unable to locate this locally and will need to have it posted (and am fortunate not to have to pay a Dangerous Goods premium – many places refuse to post it). The lye should arrive by in about 5 days. Making liquid soap is an incredibly long process; most likely it will take two days of cooking the recipe in a crock pot. I also need to obtain a crock pot so I will be searching the local second-hand outlets to see if I can find a used one that still works.


I also researched a shaving cream recipe as I have nearly finished the test product that Noah made. This is particularly interesting as it includes honey (which must help to preserve the cream as one of its added benefits). This recipe also uses liquid castile soap, which is what drove my research into finding a good recipe for making that, rather than buying the one made and marketed by Dr Bronners (as many recipes suggest, including the one I found).


24/3/2017

I’ve entered a reading and writing phase and am taking a rest from making soap as part of my practice. This is also because I am negotiating to be able to use some studio space provided by the University to experiment with making various D.I.Y personal and home care recipes. Meanwhile I am continuing to re-programme my lifestyle habitual behaviours, which is proving much more difficult than imagined to overcome autopilot, especially with something as simple as taking bags with me whenever I go shopping.


I am focusing on the sociological side of research at the moment and have been reading, and reading about, Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapellos’s New Spirit of Capitalism


25/3/2017

I working on keyword essays for feedback. I’m writing about the ‘Everyday’, ‘Social Movements’, and ‘Personal Revolution and the Transformation of Art into Life’.


28/3/2017

I’m researching the French journal tiqqun (which was rereleased a year later in book form as Bloom). Other books by the Invisible Committee I’m looking at are; The Coming Insurrection and To Our Friends


31/3/2017

I’m researching the French collective known as ‘Claire Fontaine’ and the Crimethinc collective.


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© 2018 by Mark Richardson. 

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