Monday, January 10, 2011

Experimenting in your workshop

I know this can be a demanding hobby/craft/art/calling/obsession and I know it can be an expensive one sometimes, but making mistakes and "wasting" supplies is part of the process. I know this is a hard thing to accept - I can't count how many times I've kept a product around thinking I'll try to fix it rather than throwing it away - and it's one of the reasons making small batches for a first time or dubious product is a good idea.

The reality is that the best way to learn how to make products it to make them. Make it and use it. You'll get an idea of how it feels, what it looks like, and all those other important things like the process involved, the viscosity of the product, how easy it is to pour into a container, which container is best, and so on.

The trying out new things process is expensive. I can't count how many bottles of cocamidopropyl betaine and bags of SCI I used trying to come up with new recipes that failed, but they weren't wasted. I learned something new from every mistake. I learned that SCI is essential in making a shampoo bar hard enough to withstand the rigours of the shower but soft enough to glide over my hair. I learned that SCI with stearic makes my hair oilier than the SCI without, and I learned that SCI without stearic can go clear in a liquid product. I learned that products without cocamidopropyl betaine aren't as thick or as mild as those with it. In short, although my mistakes were destined for the dumpster, I learned a lot about surfactants from each "failure".

If you've got a recipe you love, start out by substituting one ingredient. I remember sitting at the coffee shop near my office trying to figure out if I could substitute avocado oil for sunflower oil in a foot lotion recipe I found on the Dish. Instead of getting into the workshop the next morning, I spent a ton of time debating it, writing down all the merits of each oil and what they brought to the party. When I finally used it, it felt really nice and made the cream thicker and more tenacious! So I use avocado in my foot lotions all the time now!

Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Learn the rules of the game, then break them. Make the lotion exactly as described the first time, then try your own ideas the second time so you get an idea of the skin feel, the  viscosity, the emulsification, and so on. This is really the best way to learn!


Meaue said...

This is definitely an obsessive, expensive and demanding hobby (and I love it)! I think about this stuff all day - waiting to get home from work and "make something"! Through each of my failures I have learned something valuable - sometimes it takes me a couple of times to "get it"... I can only hope one day to know a small percentage of what you know, but that can't be had without risks and failures. And yes.... I learned small batches are best for a new recipe... nothing worse than having bottles and bottles of separated lotion. I could never be this far without you, Susan!

Will said...

It's cheaper than booze and probably as relaxing.

I know that I was at about batch 20 before I made a lotion I'd use.

Plus, this almost forces "social interaction" and psychologically that's a good thing.

So experiment away, forget the hundred(s) bucks washing down the drain (literally).

Ummm, in case it's questionable, I AM FOR this LOL!


ukihunter said...

My favourite part of this hobby is the experimenting. I really enjoy learning about new ingredients by subbing out one ingredient for another, looking for specific qualities to add to a product. It's great once I have the final product but it's the "process" that keeps me coming back.

It is definitely expensive, (as I do not sell to recoup some of the cost) but, worth every penny.

p said...

One bit of advice that has helped me enormously - get a scale that goes down to 0.1 g (or even less if you can get it!). It allows you to make tiny batches, taking much of the financial pinch out of experimenting. If it turns out well, you can always scale up later! I used to use a 1 g scale, so if I wanted to make a balm and know what's in it well enough that I could accurately reproduce the results, I'd have to make 100 g of balm - that can be expensive, especially if the balm turns out poorly! Now I can literally make a 10 g batch of a balm instead. Yeah! Getting a better scale has totally revolutionized my crafting - it's so much easier to try out a new idea now.