I’ve had the opportunity to see Irene Linauer teach soap making several times. The first time was several years ago when she taught a workshop on making “soap rocks” – sculpted, layered melt and pour soaps with veins of mica that look just like semi-precious gem stones. She made creating these wonderful works of soap art easy – and made you want to run out and try it for yourself. (I know I did!)
But what Irene is really known for in the soap making community is her easy-to-learn techniques on marbling soap. For years, Irene’s marbling techniques have been passed along in the soap making community from soap maker to soap maker like an old time oral tradition. I’m happy to report that Irene has put four of her marbling techniques onto a DVD so that now everyone can learn from Irene. Just like the soap rocks, you’ll want to make and marble some batches of soap right away.
The DVD, simply titled, “Marbling Techniques” gives step-by-step instructions on different ways to create vibrant color swirls in your cold process soaps. Irene says, “I love playing with the color and design movements in the soap. There is an endless variety of patterns you can achieve and I never get tired of seeing what beautiful designs just seem to burst out afresh with each batch I make…Together we will unravel the mystery of marbling while having fun at the same time.”
Now, Irene states at the beginning of her DVD that this is “an advanced course” and that you will need to understand the basics of cold process soap making. (She has another DVD entitled “Basic Soapmaking.”) I agree with her. If you are going to be successful at these techniques, you will need to understand the basics of soap making and also the general concepts of trace, soap making safety, and the qualities of soap making oils. Once you mix your oils and lye together and start to swirl, you need to move quickly, so a solid understanding of all of these basics will be important.
Irene's Soap Making Recipe
Her recipe is a primarily a blend of olive and coconut oils, with a little bit of palm oil, and shea and cocoa butters. (Notice that there is no castor oil - castor speeds up the trace too much!) This blend is especially good at being very slow to get to trace, so it gives her (and you) a lot of time to swirl and marble before the soap starts to thicken.
The first marbling technique she teaches is “Measuring Cup Marbling”. She is making her soap in a medium size acrylic slab mold and a loaf/log mold and using oxide, ultramarine or mica as a colorant. (Basically anything that’s not going to bleed.
With this technique, she mixes one color into a measuring cup full of soap that’s been separated from the main batch. Then the base soap (which has had goat’s milk and titanium dioxide added to it) is poured into the mold, and the colored soap is poured (from two different heights) into the base mold.
Then Irene works her magic using her trademark modified slimline spatula. (It’s a rubber cooking spatula that has had the sides trimmed off.) It’s magic not only because she does it so well, but also because she shows just how easy it can be if you follow the techniques she shows.
In the next batch, she uses a “Squirt Bottle” marbling technique. In this three color batch, she separates out three portions of mixed soap and mixes three different colors into about ¾ cup of soap each. These colors are then put into squirt bottles. Then, after pouring the base soap into the slab mold, she drizzles and squirts the colored soap into the mold using the bottles. Using her spatula, she then marbles the color through this batch. “Can you tell I’m having fun? I love marbling!”
In the third section, she demonstrates "Marbling in the Pot". (This is the first technique I ever learned and is the technique I use in my soap making basics tutorial.) In this batch, she mixes two colors in cups of separated soap, and instead of pouring the colored soap into the slab mold, she pours it into the soap pot that she mixed the main batch in. Then the whole pot is poured into the mold and (using the super spatula) swirls it marvelously.
Her fourth batch uses a technique that all of the soap makers I know who have seen this video have been really amazed by. In this batch, she marbles in a loaf mold. As she shows in the first three batches, marbling is pretty straightforward in a slab mold. But how do you do it in a loaf mold? In a loaf mold, the bar is situated sideways. You can do a layered type soap, and do some mixing like I did in this blue and white swirled soap, but you can’t quite get the lovely intricate marbling that she made in the other batches. Well, Irene solves this with a tool just as innovative as her trimmed spatula and shows that intricate marbling can be done in a loaf mold!
As a bonus to the four marbling methods she also demonstrates a technique for using embeds in cold process soap as well as using soap stamps, soap appliques and soap painting. In this section, you can really see Irene's creativity and love for artistic soap making come through.
At the end of the video Irene is surrounded by a stack of cold process soaps that she has marbled or embellished and she goes through a number of them showing how she made them – a show and tell session of some of Irene’s amazing soaps. If you've ever been to a soap making gathering or convention, you know exactly the scene - soap makers showing off their soaps, sharing and learning techniques, and just celebrating the art and fun of making soap.
In this DVD, it feels like you’ve brought a long time friend into your kitchen who is sharing some of her soap making recipes and techniques with you. Irene is charming and funny, with not a bit of pretention, and her teaching style is very clear and easy to follow. She makes marbling look so easy – and if you follow her techniques, it really is. I know this first hand – I have learned how to swirl from Irene, and from soap makers who learned from Irene. (Many of you who have learned how to swirl from articles on this site have in effect learned from Irene as well - the soap making tradition does indeed get passed on from soap maker to soap maker!)
Irene's real gift is that she makes marbling (and soap making in general) look so fun! I don’t recommend watching this DVD unless you’ve got the ingredients and time to immediately go make some batches of soap!