Intro: Rainbow of Anarchist Flag Soaps
I recently had an opportunity to go camping with over a thousand people who consider themselves libertarians and anarchists. Sometimes the word "anarchist" is mis-used by members of the news media to describe violent thugs who break windows and burn things.
In the case of my camp-mates, anarchy is a philosophy of peace. It is the recognition that a person owns his or her own body, and should be able to decide how to use it, as long as doing so doesn't bring harm to others. Anarchy is sometimes referred to as "lack of rulers", and anarchists feel that the world be a better place if people ruled themselves and governments were voluntary.
Individual anarchists come to their philosophy from different backgrounds. These different schools of thought are symbolized by a flag bisected diagonally. One half is always black, to indicate anarchy, with the other half symbolizing the "flavor" of anarchy.
I make soap, and so I thought it would be fun to interpret these flags as bars of soap and see if I could sell some to the campers. In this Instructable I describe the process of making the soap using a special jig, as well as a couple different methods of selling the soap, including an Arduino-enhanced rainbow soap belt for walking around and an honor store at the campsite.
And with the Rainbow Contest now active, what would be a better time to describe my effort? Please vote!
Step 1: Diagonal Soap Jig
Making the diagonal flag soap requires that two separate colors of soap be used. The first, black, is poured into a form that is tilted at just the right angle to fill from the bottom rear to the top front of the mold. I used a 17" mold with a silicone liner. The silicon makes it easier to release when the soap has set up for a day.
It is critical that the jig be exactly level. It it is not level front to back, the diagonal line will not go exactly from corner to corner. If it is not level side-to-side, the soap emulsion will slip to one side or the other.
After some experimentation and several attempts at getting things right, I ended up putting a two-dimension bubble level in the bottom of the jig and adding leveling legs. This allowed me to get the level exactly right no matter what the level of the work surface. It worked pretty well.
Step 2: Gather Soap Ingredients
Now it's down to the savonnerie (that's French for "soap factory"). When you're making soap, be sure to protect your eyes. A little lye in the eye is a life-changing experience. A lot of people also wear gloves because lye is caustic. I don't wear gloves because I don't mind the burn and it makes me a bit more careful. I always wear eye protection, though. Not something you want to mess with.
I used my standard recipe that cleans very well and takes fragrances and colors. It's 70% beef tallow that I render from fat provided by a local butcher. Tallow makes the bar hard and it is an effective cleaner. To that, I add 20% coconut oil. This gives the soap a nice lather. Bubbles are fun, but they also provide an efficient technique to lift oils from the skin, thereby cleaning. The final fat is shea butter. Shea butter is nice because some of it remains after the soap is made and provides a moisturizing effect. My recipe is:
- 1085g tallow
- 310g coconut oil
- 155g shea butter
The recipe is for a 17" loaf. First, measure the fats and heat them up. I use a large crock pot.
Step 3: Add Lye, Color, and Fragrance
As the fats are melting, prepare two sets of color and fragrance.
We'll split the oils into two equal parts before adding these things. Since the two colors will be poured at different times, we'll need to measure two sets of lye. I have pre-mixed lye/distilled water in a large container to make things easier. The lye/water mixture for this is:
- 228g 50/50 lye/water premix
- 170g distilled water
Remember that this lye is half of what you would need for the entire batch, since they will be processed separately.
The black of each bar of soap is the same fragrance, one called "Black Amber and Lavender" it is a calming smell that works very well for a morning shower. Most of the fragrances and colors are from Bramble Berry. The fragrance in the bars depends on the color:
- Yellow: Banana
- Blue: Rise and Shine
- Green: Christmas Forest
- Orange: 10x Orange essential oil
- White: Energy
- Gray: Grapefruit
- Lavender: Lavender
- Pink: Japanese Cherry Blossom
- Red: Coco Chanel
- Black: Black Amber and Lavender
40g of each fragrance is used. This works out to about 3.4% of the batch. Again, remember that the final product will have 80g because we are working in halvsies now.
Each color is a different mica, pigment, or oxide. After some experimentation, I settled on
- Yellow: 3.75g Yellow mica
- Blue: 3.75 blue cobalt mica
- Green: 3.75g green pigment
- Orange: 2.5g orange pigment
- White: 5g titanium dioxide
- Gray: .2g black oxide
- Lavender: 7.5g ultramarine
- Pink: .5g Electric Bubble Gum
- Red: .5g American Red
- Black: 4g black oxide
The colors are fine powders, so it's best to pre-mix the colors by putting it in a small cup, adding a little bit of oil, and mixing. I use a little battery-powered latte frother. Works great.
Once the oils are heated, pour half (775g) into a pourable pitcher. Add the color first and mix with a stick blender. Then add the lye. Once you get to a light trace, add the fragrance. You should work quickly, as some fragrances make the batter set up pretty quickly.
Step 4: Pour the Soap Emulsion
Take the emulsion over to the jig where the mold is waiting. Carefully pour it, making sure it is distributed evenly from right to left. Be careful not to splash the back wall or you will end up with a black spot on one of your bars.
Now comes the wait, but don't walk away too far. Depending on the temperature of the soap and the conditions of your environment (temperature, humidity, patience), the black set-up time will vary. Probably 10-20 minutes is good.
Step 5: Second Color Pour
When the black is firm to the touch, it's time to start the color. You'll follow the same process of pre-mixing the color, and then adding lye and fragrance. Except now, when you pour, you will remove the loaf from the angled jig and put it on a flat surface.
Carefully pour the color from a low angle being careful not to disturb the black. This is probably the most critical step. If you pour too aggressively, or if the black hasn't set up enough, you'll get an uneven line. If the black has set up too much, the bar will split diagonally after it is cut and cured.
After the second pour, cover the loaf with a box and a towel and leave it for at least 24 hours. This will give the chemicals enough time to react and create mild soap.
Step 6: Cut and Cure
The next day, the bar will still be pretty soft, but it's time to cut. I use a rig that has piano wire. This wonderful device will make perfect cuts 10 at a time.
Now it's curing time. I made a curing cabinet that has wire racks to maximize the amount of air. It also has a fan and filter in case I need something cured quickly.
Curing allows the lye to fully react with the fat, so you end up with no lye or fats at all. It will all be turned into soap. Curing also allows the water to evaporate so you end up with a mild, hard bar of soap.
The soap should be cured for at least two weeks. Four would be optimal for this recipe.
Step 7: Rainbow Soap Belt
Part of the reason I wanted to make this soap was to meet new people and start conversations. Of course, selling the soap would be nice, too. I needed something that would show off the soap and would be mobile so I was not tied to one spot.
I was inspired by the "cigarette girls" that roamed clubs in the 40's and 50's offering "cigars, cigarettes, Tiparillos" to patrons. Their platform seemed kinda big and heavy; I wanted something a bit smaller. Since I had a rainbow, I wanted to show it in a rainbow shape. I cut a piece of wood in a semi-circle big enough to fit around my waist and added a strip of steel in front to catch the soap. A belt in back to tie it on and suspenders made it wearable. The rig allowed me to move pretty easily.
But it still wasn't "rainbow" enough. I had a Blinky Tape strip, which is a set of RGB LEDs connected to a little Arduino. I taped that to the steel bar in front and programmed it with the standard rainbow sketch. Now I had enough rainbow! A little USB battery pack ran the unit all day and evening.
Next, I re-tasked a little shoulder bag I got from a conference. I could keep two dozen bars of inventory in a plastic box. The bag also provided a spot for an advertisement and a place to hang the descriptive cards. I also took some little bags and stickers with the name of the web site. People appreciated having the bag, rather than putting a raw bar of soap in their pocket!
Add a kilt and I think I've pretty much captured the cigarette girl look. If only I had that pillbox hat!
Step 8: Collateral
I did a little research to learn the colors of the various flags and their meanings. And then I created a set of cards, one for each color/philosophy with a picture of the flag and a brief description of the school of thought that it represents. These were laminated and then a grommet was put through each one so they could be placed on a shower curtain hook.
I used a keychain return device so people could read the cards without losing them.
Another thing I tried was an "honor store". If people came by my camp and I wasn't there, I wanted to make sure they could feel, smell, and buy the soap. So I re-tasked an old kitchen cabinet to house the soap out of the rain and provided a place so that people could buy the soap, either by putting money in a locked slot or scanning the bitcoin barcode. The honor store was a success and not a single bar was taken without payment.
I used this site for flag colors and descriptions.
Step 9: Results
As I anticipated, the rainbow soap belt attracted a lot of attention, and I was able to get into some very interesting conversations with people.
One of the things I was wondering is whether people would pick a particular soap based on the school of thought that it represented or pick one based on how it looked or smelled. To my surprise, it was about half and half. In fact, one person wanted the yellow "anarcho capitalist" soap but didn't like the banana smell. So she picked the red "anarcho communist" soap because she liked the Coco Chanel scent.
The top seller was the yellow "anarcho capitalist" soap. The second best seller was the all-black "anarchist" soap. The third best seller was the pink "queer anarchism" soap.
When I opened the lockbox on the honor store, I found some money and a nice note!