Making Rainforest Butterfly Wing Soap
The delicate beauty of butterfly wings fills my soul with joy. After I made monarch butterfly wing soap I looked for photos of other types butterflies. Soap design Inspiration came from blue morpho butterflies from the rainforest of Costa Rica. And so I began...
Fun facts: The vivid, iridescent blue coloring ion the morpho butterfly is a result of the light reflecting microscopic scales on the backs of their wings. The underside of the morpho’s wings, on the other hand, is a dull brown color with many eyespots, providing camouflage against predators such as birds and insects when its wings are closed.
All soap is made from an alkali (lye) solution and the salts of fatty acids (oils and butters). When these combine a chemical reaction called saponification occurs. The amount of lye and water I use are determined by entering the amounts and type of oils and butters in a lye calculator. In this case, I'm using 66 ounces of oils and butters, 25.8 ounces of distilled water, and 8.92 ounces of lye.
Once the water and lye combine, they get very hot. To give me as much time as possible to design before the soap batter thickens, I didn't combine the lye/water solution with the oils until both cooled to room temperature (70-85 degrees F).
Next, I measured and heated the oils. For this recipe, I used shea butter, coconut oil, olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil, and castor oil. I mix my oils in big buckets and then measure what I need. After measuring, I heated the oil mix in the microwave and left it to cool along with the lye solution.
While the lye solution and oils were cooling, I prepared other ingredients and equipment. First up was the soap colors. I tried to emulate the colors of the morpho butterfly the best I could with these colors: Black Oxide Pigment from Brambleberry and Snow White, Key West, and Aphrodite micas from Mad Micas. Micas are a naturally mined mineral with colors created in the lab to assure purity.
I'll be using squeeze bottles to make the design, so I'm lining up the mica colors, mixing containers, and bottles so I can be all set to combine the colors with the soap batter.
I went ahead and poured the colors into the mixing containers. This is the Aphrodite Blue I'll use for the wing design.
Next, I selected Jedwards bergamot (a type of citrus) essential oil and Brambleberry Chamomile Cybilla fragrance oil to try and capture the fresh plant smells of the rainforest.
I then got my mold and design tools ready. I used a slab mold with dividers and comb tools I made myself with wooden skewers and cardboard.
Once the lye solution cooled, I mixed in sodium lactate to harden the soap and make it easier to pop out of the mold. Sodium lactate is the sodium salt of lactic acid. It's produced by fermenting sugar from a natural source such as corn or beets.
With both the lye solution and oils cooled to room temperature, I slowly poured the lye solution into the oils.
Then I combined them with a stick blender. I only blended long enough to emulsify (evenly mix) the lye solution and oils.
Next, I added the fragrance blend.
I poured some of the batter into the containers with the colors and mixed with a whisk. I used the same whisk for all colors by starting with white, then the Key West blue for the soap base, and finally the black.
I poured the batter in the mixing containers into the bottles.
Here are the bottles mixed, capped, and ready to use. I'll be using less white than the other colors, so the bottle with white batter is partially filled.
I mixed the Key West blue into the remaining batter.
Then I poured the Key West colored batter into the mold. Thankfully, the batter is still fluid enough to make my design.
Let the designing begin! I'll start with some squiggled bands of Aphrodite blue across the width of the mold.
Then free-form criss-crosses of black.
Followed by thick bands of black.
Now on to the white and black "eyes" of the wings.
You're not seeing a suggestion of butterfly wings yet? Just you wait. This is just after using the wider comb and as I was using the narrower comb to make continuous S curves down the length of the mold. I wasn't able to photograph myself using the wide comb because it required both hands.
When the design was complete, I carefully set in the dividers and sprayed the top with alcohol to prevent soda ash as this batter cooked itself into soap. Not shown, but I then covered the mold and insulated it with towels. This caused the batter to heat up and produce a hard and brilliantly colored soap.
After 24 hours I uncovered the mold and let it sit and harden for three days before I popped the soaps out of the grid.
Thankfully, this butterfly soap didn't flutter away like the morpho butterfly. But is the soap now ready to use? No, it must cure for 4-6 weeks while it completes saponification. When the soap is hard enough during that period, I'll trim the edges.