by Bonnie Bartley
Yes, these are truly easy to make. Even my very first attempts came out great, yours will, too. Here’s how!
Follow standard procedures for working with melt & pour soap (MP).
You will need:
Transparent Glycerin Soap Base
White Glycerin Soap Base – if desired
Colorants – micas, oxides or liquid colorants
Essential or fragrance oils of your choice
Rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle
Melting vessels (microwaveable plastic or Pyrex pitchers)
Variety of “molds” – margarine, Cool Whip, Gladware/Ziplock bowls
Toothpicks, silicone or rubber spatula, knives, peelers, scrapers etc.
Melt & Pour Glycerin Soap
You can use any brand of melt & pour soap, whichever is your favorite. I use the clear for most of the gemstones. The opaque stones, like the turquoise and jade, are made with white base.
I don’t add anything to the base except for color, fragrance and occasionally exfoliants. Make sure you are using a good quality base. Adding oils, butters, glycerin etc. will not improve the soap, harden the base, or increase lather. The soap is called melt & pour, it is ready to use as is. Adding oils and butters to a saponified base (MP) will result in those additions being “free” oils in the bar. If you feel the need to enhance the base to make it better, you need to find a new base. If you want to create something more luxuriant with fine butters and oils you should be formulating cold process soaps where you will get the benefits of the saponified fatty acids.
I prefer to use micas in the gemstone soaps. They offer a wide spectrum of hues and provide a variety of gem like effects including pearlized, solid, metallic and glittering. I have over 50 micas that I use for stones. Occasionally, I use oxides (lapis is ultramarine blue) but they don’t blend as well as the micas. Always use skin safe colorants.
Liquid colorants and dyes are used on a limited basis because of the migrating or bleeding. There are times that you may want the migrating colors. Take note of the black veining on the lapis picture (below). This effect is created with liquid colorants. I make watermelon tourmaline by making the layers dark green, clear and dark fuchsia. I know the colors will migrate blurring the “line” of the layers. If you see real watermelon tourmaline it has that gradient look so liquids work well for that stone. I also use liquids if I want a clear stone like emerald or ruby. I use the rock base, with pearlized matching mica and top off with the clear that is colored with the liquid. The liquid color will migrate but it is not as noticeable as the other layers are dark or similarly colored.
Liquid colorant is also used in the turquoise and jade soap as I use white base and micas don’t work as well with the white base. They need the transparency to really sparkle and you cannot get a vibrant deep gem quality color with the white base and micas.
Essential and Fragrance Oils
Any skin safe essential or fragrance oils can be used. Be sure you follow the manufacturer’s directions for safe usage percentages. You will want to be wary of any fragrances that will morph your colorants. The most common offenders are fragrances with vanilla. A good fragrance supplier will tell you in the product description if the color will cause browning. There are vanilla color stabilizers on the market that work most of the time.
Step 1: Components
Spend a session making components of colored MP in whatever colors you want to use in you gems. The components will be carved chunks of soap in several shades, sheets of soap for veining, small base rock, crystals etc.
To make shades of colors for your stones, just color the MP with the lightest shade you want, pour 1/3 of it into a mold, add some more colorant to deepen it, pour 1/2 of that into another mold then darken it further to get your third shade. You can also do a solid, a pearl or glittery in the same color family.
I use lots of browns, bronzes, blacks, etc. for the base rocks and the contrast that surrounds the gemstone. Since I use that for just about every stone, I make up several molds of those colors as well.
When the soap has cooled, remove it from the mold. I use a variety of tools like knives, ice cream scooper, melon baller, dough scraper, large forks, etc. to get chunks of MP ready for the rocks. Small pieces, especially those used for the rock base, can be made in the food processor (I recommend a separate processor for soap). I like my dough scraper best, just slice it up and chop to the desired texture. Cut large chunks with a dough scraper then carve the individual pieces with a vegetable peeler to get a natural rounded look to each piece. In nature, you find very few straight edges. Keep the scraps from carving; you will melt them to use when assembling your stones.
I also make sheets of thin MP mostly in gold, bronze, black and white. These will be added to make veins in the rocks. Just color the MP. I don’t fragrance the sheets because they are used in a variety of rocks. Pour it out onto a silicone sheet, cookie sheet lined with saran wrap or directly on a clean counter. If bubbles form, spritz with alcohol. When cool, peel it off and you have very thin sheets for veining. I tear the sheets by hand to get a more natural edge rather than cutting. The soap sheet “curls” on the edges when torn.
When you are ready for the more advanced gems that are set in quartz, you can make the chards as well as the crystals. The clear shards quartz-like supporting the crystals are the same for all projects so I make a lot of that. I usually melt clear MP, add a tiny amount of snowflake, or silver, or pearl mp and let it harden. Then using the dough scraper I cut in into fine shards. The crystals are cut individually.
I store all the cut up components in zip lock bags. This step is the most time consuming. Once you have these pieces ready, you can make many dozens of gemstones in a couple of hours.
Step 2: Creating the “master” block
I suggest starting with a basic gemstone rather than the more elaborate crystal museum type of stones.
You can use just about anything for a mold as long as it is flexible enough to remove the finished soap. I have custom-made silicone molds that I use, but I started with Cool Whip, margarine, Ziplock/Gladware type containers. You will have a little more waste with these types of containers as you will have to cut away the edges to get rid of the shape of the bowl. With the smaller square zip/glad containers you will get 3 to 4 small stones.
You really can’t go wrong with these so use your creative side to make each stone unique. The following directions are just a guideline. Feel free to experiment.
Basic soap rocks:
I start by placing enough black/brown base rock in the bottom of the mold to make a layer, as thick or thin, as you like. I generally prefer a thin layer. Melt some clear MP; you can add a little sparkle if you like, it is best to use a mica that is more individual sparkles than a pearl or solid one. Spritz the soap chunks with alcohol, and pour the hot MP over the rock base. I like to have just enough melted soap to hold the chunks in place without covering them completely so you don’t have a flat layer/line.
Allow soap to cool until quite hard, but not necessarily fully hardened. I think you get better adhesion between layers if you don’t completely cool it. I use hot MP, you may have a little melting of the previous addition but that give it a more natural flowing appearance and less chance of separating layers. Always spray components and layers with alcohol.
I like a few large chunks of dark stone to serve as an “imperfection” in the rock. I place these in the mold on top of the rock base. Melt some dark MP, spritz the chunks with alcohol and pour some hot MP into the mold, just enough to cover half of the black/brown chunks. While it is still hot start adding your larger pieces of the color gemstone pieces that you carved earlier. I use variety of sizes and shades. Fill the container about 1/3 or the way full and press down firmly. Some of the dark liquid MP will surround the colored. Continuously move the mold around until the soap thickens to a gel, allowing the soap to form an undulating layer of molten color on top of the bumpy layer.
This gives you the look of uneven layers like you find in real gemstones. Allow to cool. One nice effect is to pour a contrasting color onto the previous layer, again moving the bowl around to create another uneven layer.
If desired, you can: add pockets of shards, clear or base rock strategically placed throughout the stone; use a paintbrush to dust metallic mica between layers; or sprinkle a few grains of poppy seed, cornmeal, or jojoba beads into the clear layer to replicate imperfections in the stone. Using very hot MP will melt some of the adjoining soap to create a marbling effect. Another interesting effect is to roll some of your “component” chunks of soap in metallic mica before putting it in the mold.
You can add some veining with pieces of a sheet of black, gold, silver, copper or white MP over or in between the pieces. Nature is random. Don’t strive for perfection! Now put in some more pieces of gemstone. Repeat the process until your mold is full.
Step 3: Carving
Once your master block is completely cooled, you can unmold it. Decide how many stones you can get from this block and make your first cuts with a large knife. I usually cut on an angle to create more visual interest.
The next step is to use a paring knife to carve away the basic shape. You don’t want to have any signs of the original container. First, decide if you want a crystal like cut or something rougher. For the rough cut just cut away the container shape at random angles. Carve away until you are satisfied with the shape.
For the crystal cuts, I start by making angled cuts on the edges to get beveled edges. Cut and bevel all the sides. You can be as elaborate or simple as you like with the facets. Fine-tuning can be done with a peeler.
The carved soap may be a little dull from handling, if so, spritz it with alcohol to bring back the sheen.
If you have any tiny holes in the stone, highlight them by brushing metallic mica into the crevice. You can create crevices with the point of the knife, peeler or chopstick. Use a good paintbrush with a chisel point to “paint” the crevice with mica. If the mica doesn’t want to stick to the soap, spray the brush with alcohol before dipping it into the mica. One tip for getting a clean edge on your metallic mica fissure is to paint in the color, then using the peeler or knife slice away a very thin layer of soap. You will end up with a striking sharp edge with the gold/copper sparkling inside.
Advanced techniques – Museum pieces
Crystal formation soaps that replicate museum quality gemstones can be made using the same techniques as the basic soap rocks. These are not really user friendly as soap goes but they are fun for the “Wow” factor.
To make the aquamarine stone, I made sheets and “sticks” of MP by pouring a layer about 1/8 inch. I colored it with mica and used an eyedropper to drop in tiny amounts of darker colors to get the shading. I unmolded it and cut it into strips then filled a cup with the sheets and sticks. I then filled the cup with melted MP (slightly cooled so it didn’t melt the sticks) unmolded and carved out the shape I wanted. Then you just place the finished crystal into a bed of “quartz” MP. The quartz is just clear MP colored with snowflake or pearl mica, shredded in the food processor and cut in to shards with a dough scraper. I used a small round mold, poured in hot MP to act like glue to hold the pieces together while letting the sharp soap shards to stick up out of the melted MP. After cooling, remove and roughly carve so it does not have the “bowl” shape.
The amethyst and emerald and ruby formations are done the same way. Carve the crystal elements separately and hold together with shards and hot mp. The Tiger Eye & Malachite are done one layer at a time. Malachite is dipped in layers. The veined lapis rock was made by using a large fork to chop up the component chunks creating the craggy edges. Another layer of “dirty” soap made with cornmeal, seeds, etc can be added to the outside to add another dimension by melting MP with the additives and dipping the piece into the slurry until the desired effect is reached.
The geode is a great way to use up all the scraps you will have after the hand carving. The center is the same shreds used for the “quartz” held together with melted MP, like making a snowball. I melt the other scraps to get the colors for the layers. It is messy but I use my hands to dip the center in the melted MP, smoothing and dipping over and over again until you get the desired effect. It takes a while but uses up everything so there is no waste. I finish by dusting metallic mica on the outside and when cooled completely, cut in half or quarters. I use a fork or chopstick to roughen up the quartz center to give a more crystal like appearance.
By Bonnie Bartley of Allegheny Hearth