Fun and Son-Episode 3: Fish In A Bag Soap

May 30, 2020

We Made Fish In A Bag Soap!

Fish in a bag soap is not a new idea by any means, in fact, it’s so popular it’s hard to know who to credit with the idea.  Spencer and I tried our hands at it and it was pretty fun, and turned out really well.  Here are our final fish in bags:

Fish in a bag soap finished product

You Might Say We Beta-Tested This Soap 🙂

If you follow my blog, or my shop products, you’ll know that I’m a fan of a good word play.  When I ordered the plastic fish for this project from Amazon, I was initially upset because there were very few actual goldfish in the assortment.

Holding up the bag of fish, it occured to me that the blue and purple fish look like beta fish.  So while we didn’t end up with a lot of carnival-style goldfish in bags, we did end up with cute beta fish bags instead.  

A Fun Kid-Friendly Soap Project

If you have seen the other Fun and Son posts and videos you will know that I’m typically on the lookout for things that I can do with Spencer that are interesting enough to keep his attention, and interesting enough that I want to do them too. 🙂

This is a great soap project to do with kids.  The fish in a bag soap uses melt and pour soap, so unlike cold processed soap (see my DIY soap video for basics), there is no use of lye or inherently dangerous ingredients.  Obviously, there is melting and pouring to be done, and there needs to be supervision, but Spencer said he would definitely do this project again, so that’s a good sign that it was enjoyable!

Step By Step Fish In A Bag Soap

Below is a brief step by step for how to make this fish in a bag soap, but there is also a link to a video tutorial below.  

Start By Gathering Some Supplies

Not surprisingly, to make fish in a bag soap, you need fish, bags, and soap. 🙂

Bag of plastic toy fish
Bag of plastic toy fish from Amazon. Link is below in the supply list.
Cuffed treat bag
We used 4x9 inch treat bags which we rolled down the tops of to create a small cuff. I like these because they are really clear, but any similarly sized treat bag will work. I have linked several options for you below.
Stephenson melt and pour clear soap base

Unmold The Block of Soap and Chop Into Cubes

Pull off tab of soap container
If you aren't familiar with melt and pour tubs, do yourself a favor and make sure you pop the tab on the side of the lid!
Flip over and pop out soap block
Flip over the container and push from the back to release the block. We put ours on a parchment covered cutting board.
Chopped up soap block
Chop up the soap block into chunks approximately an inch large. Place them into a microwave safe container, preferably something with a pour spout like a Pyrex measuring cup.

Melt Your Soap

Microwave in 30 second bursts until all soap is fully melted.  If you want, you can add a little blue colorant to make the soap appear more clear.  This is also when you would add fragrance if desired.  In the video you can see how adding the blue turns the melted soap from a yellowish color to a more clear color.

You will also want a spray bottle of 91-99% rubbing alcohol to pop the bubbles on the surface of the melted soap.

Almost melted soap
Stirring between 30 second microwave bursts will help break up the last few stubborn cubes.
Adding blue colorant
We added some seriously diluted blue lab color to the fully melted soap, which gives the appearance of additional clarity.
Bottle of rubbing alcohol
Spray the top of the melted soap with 91-99% rubbing alcohol to pop the bubbles, and set the soap aside to cool.

Prep Your Bags

While your soap cools, prepare your bags for pouring.

Open top of treat bag
Open the top of the treat bag.
Fold treat bag top down
Fold down the top of the treat bag into a little cuff. Be careful not to split the sides of the bag.
Prepared bag
This will leave you with a nice open bag that will be easier to pour into.

Pour Your Soap

Skin formed on top of soap
As the soap cools, it will form a "soap skin" on the top. Carefully spoon that off of the top.
hold bag open to pour
Holding the bag open, slowly pour soap into bag until you have the desired amount. We filled our bags about 1/3 full.
Spray with rubbing alcohol
Spray your rubbing alcohol onto the top of the melted soap as bubbles will have formed during pouring.
Bubbles before spray
Here's a closer look at the amount of bubbles before the spray of rubbing alcohol.
bubbles after spray
This is what it looks like immediately after the spray of rubbing alcohol. It's like magic!!

Insert Your Fish!

Next, you need to insert your fish.  I will warn you, this sounds like it’s going to be the easy part, but it’s actually quite tricky.  The fish toys naturally wanted to float upside down….which is not a good look for a fish in a bag soap. 🙂

Drop your fish into the bag
Drop your fish into the bag. He's going to go wherever he wants, so your only real goal here is to get him into the bag without making too many bubbles. If you do happen to make bubbles, just spray with rubbing alcohol again.
Get fish to front of bag
Gently lift the bag
Once you're comfortable with your fish placement, gently lift the bag and squeeze together at the top, being careful not to squeeze out any warm soap or dislodge your fish.
Clip bag and leave to cool
Clip the bag closed with a chip clip, clothespin, or baggie clip and gently put it in a container to cool and firm.
Tie with ribbons!

Glycerin Soap Notes...

Glycerin is a widely used ingredient in skin care products.  It’s water-soluble, odorless, colorless, and is a natural humectant.  Because it is a humectant, it draws moisture to itself (which is one reason it is so popular in bath and beauty products!) 

Because glycerin draws moisture to itself, glycerin soap has a tendency to “sweat”. This “glycerin dew” is totally normal and is a result of the glycerin pulling moisture from the air around it. 

If you want to keep your glycerin soaps from sweating (assuming this bothers you at all…I personally don’t care), you can wrap it in plastic wrap or put it in a container once it’s dried in order to keep moisture out of it’s way. 

In the case of the fish soap, I would recommend a small soap dish since it’s probably not going to last long in your house because little people will want to get to the fish inside as quickly as possible!

Video Tutorial and Product Link

If you love the look of this fish in a bag soap and don’t want to make your own, they are for sale in my shop here:

I think they would be a natural choice for a party favor for a carnival-themed or fish-themed birthday party! We ended up getting 5-6 fish out of each 2lb block of soap base, so if you are making these for yourself, plan accordingly when you order supplies for favors. I will list supplies for you below.

Finally, here is a link to the video tutorial.  You can laugh along with the fish stuggles…getting that little plastic fish to stay put was laughable. 

Materials used for this project are listed below.  Some links are affiliate links, and if you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.  If you do, thank you in advance for your support of this blog.

4×9 cello bags:
Soap base: 
If you are an Amazon shopper, this one may be more convenient with no shipping costs:
Blue color (totally optional):
I used the one from Brambleberry (again, I was already ordering a bunch of other stuff, so shipping wasn’t a concern):
If you are an Amazon shopper, I have also used these soap dyes, which are food grade and skin safe (and can also be used to color slime if that’s something you’re into!):

We did not fragrance our batches, but you could obviously fragrance yours with a small amount of essential oil or fragrance oils.   This set of fragrances offers some fun scents including an ocean breeze scent:  

I personally think plain glycerin soap has a nice clean smell without any additives. Spencer suggested “fish scented”, but I didn’t think that was a great idea. 🙂 

Love, Amanda

The Shop @ A Mandatory Activity

May 24, 2020

Did I Accidentally Start A Company? Maybe.

I’m writing this post a little late, and so I apologize to those dear friends to whom I have not yet shared this news.  COVID-19 and staying at home has affected us all differently, but I am firmly in the camp of people who have been having the weirdest dreams (when I’m actually able to sleep, that is).  One morning, I woke up to realize that I had designed an entire product line in my sleep, and so I accidentally (?) started a company.

Ok, I’m simplifying matters a little bit, and nobody accidentally starts a company.  At some point I did have to get a business license and tax ID number and all of the things that don’t happen by accident, but it’s accidental in that it wasn’t part of the GRAND PLAN.

Ok, I never really had a grand plan.  I had a blog idea and things to share and teach and that was good enough, until quarantine. 

Let Me Welcome You to The Shop @ A Mandatory Activity

Please allow me to introduce you to The Shop @ A Mandatory Activity.  There is now a convenient little shopping link at the top menu bar, and that will take you through to the site if you want to have a look around. 

If you’re just here for the tutorials, that’s totally good.  These are still mandatory activities and nothing is going to change.  As I’m writing this blog post I’m also supposed to be working on a design for my nephew’s birthday card, so my projects have increased, but not shifted!

I’m very proud of my accidental little company, and I’m really enjoying the journey so far, which is why it’s felt so weird not to have shared the news here.  Honestly, I had to take a moment to catch up with initial demand, which was a fantastic problem to have (do NOT mistake that remark for complaining)…I just didn’t expect the initial volume. 

I’ve since restocked everything over the course of the last few weeks of evenings and weekends though….so no worries if you’re actually in the market for some candles or need to order gifts for someone. 😉

Let me talk to you a little bit about the genesis of the idea, and my vision of the future and where this all fits in…

Word Play At Play

While in my strange limbo between sleeplessness and vivid dreaming, I started having a game of word play in my head.  It’s not totally abnormal, but I can usually shake it off.

This whole blog is one giant play on words, and I think my brain does a lot of these shenanigans on its own that don’t make their way to paper or pen or blog or idea.  I blame my Dad, who was the same way.  Dad jokes for me were on a whole other level.

If you read my first blog post, The Blog Post Nobody Will Read, you will know that I started this blog almost in response to his death.  I decided life was too short to be scared to try to do the things that make you happy.  My mandatory activities.  

There are plays on words throughout a lot of my posts, and a warning shot in the “about me” section…I like a good bad pun.  

And I Am A Materials Girl

That header has been in the list of things I’ve been wanting to write about for awhile, so don’t be surprised if it makes its way to a blog post title too…but I need it here right now.

I am often thinking about what kinds of things I’d like to make next, or what I want to learn, or whose birthday is coming up and what I’m going to make or give them.  During the process of putting together this blog, I’ve run into SO many creative people, and creativity inspires creativity.

I’m really happy making cookies and cakes and papercrafts and a handful of other projects, but I also want to continue to learn new things.  

You might call me a materials girl. 🙂  For me, inspiration for something comes from an idea that I then need to think about how to communicate and in which material, OR I have a material in mind and I need to figure out what to do with it. 

Here’s an example.  I found this stupid pillow at CVS last Fall on clearance for $4.  It made me smile and I walked away from it, and by the time I had finished actual shopping, I decided I needed to swing back to the clearance aisle to bring him home.  

Because in my mind, he was a great-looking cookie.  See what I mean?  

CVS owl pillow

(Incidentally, this all happened before I started the blog, but not before I had the idea for the blog…so I will have some footage to share when we get closer to Fall project time!) 

In this case, the material to convert this owl pillow into something to share with friends and family, was to make him into a cookie.  That was the right “material”.

The more materials I learn how to use, the more ideas I am inspired by, and that’s what happened with my shop.

Some of the Products

What I was thinking about, lying in bed, was how difficult this time must be for people who were already unhappy.   I know how fortunate I am to be quarantined with 2 of my favorite people, but I started to feel so sad for those who must feel much more hopeless.

What came to mind was the idea of social distancing, and how I wish I could put some Zing into it for those who really needed some help.  

Suddenly, there was Social Distance-Zing.  A burst of grapefruit and mango to lighten your spirits. The right material for this project was wax.  20-40 hours of aromatherapy… 

I had most of the materials except the fragrance in my candle stash.  I designed the labels and branding myself, put in an order for the fragrance oil and some others I thought might be nice. 

 One of those scents was almond.

And a couple of days later, there was Marzipan-demic.  A nice, warm, nutty fragrance that makes you want to cozy up at home with a good book.

Marzipan-demic candle

Two other pandemic-related candles emerged as well.  Flat-tin the Curve (which was inspired by…you probably guessed it, the candle tins I saw when I was shopping for candle jars online.

And also, Shell-ter in Place, which in my mind was the nautical option.  We can’t go to the beach at the moment…but you can take a vacation with your nose.  This one smells like sun and sand and sunscreen and legit makes me feel like it’s summer.  I got playfull and made little shell embeds for the top, and did a little swirl of color to make some beachy waves before my wax totally dried. 

Shell-ter in Place will be the first candle that I show you guys how to make.  Embeds and all.  Coming soon…

Flat-tin the curve candle
Shell-ter in place candles with open lids

The embeds led to more embeds…and when I started working on my graduation gift set, On A Grad Hoc Basis, and Caps and Grounds…it seemed like a great plan to throw some wax coffee bean embeds on the top of Caps and Grounds.  When you melt the candle, the embed melts and the colorant disperses and turns into kind of a latte color when it cools and solidifies again.

More to Come

So, it’s safe to say that we have some new mandatory acvities, because man is this a lot of fun.  I have been working on my Father’s Day candles this weekend and then I’m halfway through ideas for the Fall fragrances and bubble bars and pumpkin pie soap slices and OMG THERE ARE SO MANY FUN PROJECTS TO BE DONE.  One. At. A. Time. 

I have also been making soap (and made soap cupcakes this weekend which I’m in love with).  If you saw my soap making post and video from last week, you will have seen the first soap that will be for sale in the soap section.  Soap takes 4-6 weeks to cure, so the soap will slowly pop up as it becomes available.

I’ll also get to show you how things are done!  I recorded the soap cupaking making, of course, so there will be more to come.  

More candles, more soap, likely a slight re-org of the blog (Lifestyle to candles and soap? What do you guys think?)

Sorry for the length of this post, but the longer I put it off, the more there was to share, so I’ve ripped off the band-aid now and I can just work on posting updates instead of a whole explanation of what the heck…

For those of you who already knew and have been so super-supportive.  Thank you.  Truly.  I’m trying to be brave and take chances, and follow this journey wherever it’s going, but it’s SO much easier to do when people believe in you.


The Basics of DIY Soap

May 15, 2020

Have You Ever Wondered How To Make Your Own Soap?

You know the soap I’m talking about…you pick it up at a Whole Foods, or a craft show, or a farmers market and think about how cool it is, and you think “Can I do that?”  Let’s run through some of the basics for DIY soap making.  

Making soap is no joke…it’s complicated, it involves a toxic ingredient, and you don’t get the immediate satisfaction that you can get with other crafts.  

But man, I’m tellin’ you, when you pull that loaf of soap out of your mold, it is Satisfying (capital S for emphasis). 🙂 BUT, it is totally doable with some DIY soap basics, and we’re going to review safety, process, supplies, the works.

Here is the soap that I made for this tutorial.  It’s not fancy, but it’s not not-fancy either.   The moment when you take your soap out of the mold is kind of “the reveal”.  Either your heart sings, or sinks.

But let’s talk about how we get here.

Soap coming out of the soap mold

First Things First. And Safety is First.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you that learning how to make soap is something that you can casually try with little equipment.  You CAN get away with items from around the house to use for molds, but there is no getting around safety gear.  BASIC.

That being said, let me address the gloves in the photo above.  Normally, you would want some proper nitrile gloves, but I don’t have any more at the moment and we’re in the middle of a pandemic and gloves are hard to come by.  Even if I found some, I’m not sure I’d feel great about buying them knowing we have as shortage of PPE at the moment, but let’s not get too far off-topic, Amanda.  So…I got some new dish gloves instead.  I’m not nimble, but I’m protected!

You will need some goggles, no question about it.  

No, it is not okay to just wear your glasses.  

BASICS OF DIY SOAP TIP: You must also get rid of any amount of vanity that you may have had before you started your soaping adventure.  

You will look like a crazy person. 

And because I no longer have any vanity, I get to show you these pictures. 🙂

Soap making safety gear on!
Purposely making crazy person eyes while holding lye container


Now, I’m purposefully giving you crazy-eyes for this picture of me cradling my bottle of lye, but I do feel like once you get your goggles on, it’s easy to take on an alter ego…and I guess mine is just  a little bit nuts. 

Bottom line here is put your gloves on, wear your safety goggles, cover any exposed skin, wear closed-toed shoes, and keep the floor clear of any slipping or tripping hazards. 

Let's Talk About Lye

You NEED lye to make real soap.  And frankly, lye is the reason I didn’t try making soap earlier. 

I was afraid. 

Lye is the thing that we are working so hard to protect ourselves from.  Lye is sodium hydroxide and it’s very very toxic.  It will burn you. Even in the video attached I’m too busy talking and took a breath that was a little too deep and felt the hairs inside of my nose start to burn off.  The biggest  most basic DIY soap tip is to be careful with your lye.

I mean, BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR LYE.  If you have any Mr. Yuck stickers hanging around from the 80’s, put them all over your lye container.

If you’re like me, your only previous knowledge of lye is that it’s what people use to dissolve dead bodies in the movies.  Incidentally, when I ordered my lye, I accidentally ordered WAY too much…so I’m pretty sure I’m on some Government watch list (for people who might be dissolving bodies?  Is that a thing?)

Lye is essential.  Soap is, at it’s core, the product of oils/fats and lye.  Anything else we do to it (fragrance, skin-loving butters, colorant, flecks of ground up coffee beans…whatever) is the artistry.  

Making soap is often described as both an art and a science.  Once you get the science part down, that’s when you get to be artistic.  You do NOT get to be artistic with your safety equipment or your handling of lye. 

You should also make sure all of the bowls and spoons and equipment used for soaping is not shared with any kitchen processes.  You need dedicated soaping dishes, and you must never ever use any aluminum spoons or bowls when mixing your soap.  The reaction with lye, I’m told, is quite dangerous.  I’ve never tried it and I’m certainly not going to for the purpose of this blog post, BUT it’s a good DIY soap basic tip!

Get A Good Soap Recipe

It will come as no surprise to you that there are a number of excellent resources for soap recipes online and in print.  My favorite go-to for soap instruction, ingredients, tools, best practices, troubleshooting, and inspiration is Anne-Marie Faiola of  Her website is a wealth of information on the basics of DIY soap.

This is going to sound like some kind of sponsored post, but it’s not.  She just knows everything and sells everything and has been soaping for 20 years (even though she looks about 30 years old…).  I also have her book, Pure Soapmaking, which I find very inspirational. The link to the book IS an affiliate link because I am an Amazon affiliate…so if you buy it, thanks!

Pure Soapmaking by Anne-Marie Faiola
Pure Soapmaking by Anne-Marie Faiola

It’s fabulous and has more than a dozen solid soap recipes, along with a lot of explanations of what kind of oil and fat combinations work well together and combine well with things like goats milk or coconut milk, or whatever artistic thing you want to do once you’ve mastered the science bits.

Another favorite soaper is Katie Carson of Royalty Soaps.  She shares her base soap recipe, but she also does a lot of elaborate soap “frosting”, and I’ve recently joined her soap frosting club, so I’m excited to try my hand at piping soap!

Both of those are my best two pieces of advice for where I go for recipe info that is reliable and informative.

Making Soap: The Process

I have, of course, included a tutorial video for you on how I made this batch of soap, but I will also include some photos below of the highlights of the process.  I am still making small batches, but I’d like to graduate to more meaningful batch sizes some day.  For now, I’m working on science and artistry, but not volume…

Mix Lye and Water Per the Amounts in Your Recipe

Measure out lye into glass container
On a kitchen scale, weigh out the lye into a glass bowl. DO NOT EVER USE ALUMINUM when using lye. The two will interact negatively with one another...
Mix lye into water
Slowly and gently mix the lye into the appropriate amount of water until it is dissolved. I like to do this in small amounts so I can check to make sure it's dissolved little by little.
Lye water solution gets hot!
Lye water solution gets HOT. The water was room temperature and got up to about 200 degrees. Once it's fully mixed together, it needs to cool.

Mix Oils and Fats Per the Amounts in Your Recipe

Brambleberry quick mix lather
Your recipe will come with ratios for all of your oils, but I chose to buy the lots of lather quick mix from Bramblerry. DO NOT be fooled by the word "mix". It's not a mix of anything crazy, it's just the oils for this recipe all measured out into the correct percentages!
Brambleberry oils melted
The Brambleberry bag of oils can just be popped into the microwave to be heated. Super simple and great for beginners. I personally love it because it allows me to focus on lye safety, not measuring and storing gallons of oils.
Oils go into a bowl
Measure out the correct weight of oils on your kitchen scale into another bowl. The oils will also need to cool as the lye water solution is cooling.

Incorporate the Lye Water Into the Oils

It is said that every soaper has their own opinion about the correct temperature to cool your lye and oils to.  Some soapers prefer to do it hot, at about 130 degrees, others prefer to do it cool, about about 85 degrees.  I tend to hover around the middle and I cooled my lye water and oils to about 115 degrees.  Whatever your preferred soaping temperature, your lye and oils should be within 10 degrees of one another.

Pour lye water down shaft of stick blender
You still have on all of your safety gear, right? Using a stick blender (aka immersion blender) pour the lye water gently down the shaft of the blender. This helps keep it from splashing as it hits the surface of the oils.
Pulse oils and lye until emulsion
Once the lye water is in, you need to combine them. Be careful not to splash up oil and lye with your stick blender. A gentle pulse for 10 second bursts is a good start. You want to combine to just past emulsion. The more you blend, the thicker your soap will get and the harder it will be to work don't overdo it with the stick blending!
Here's where terminology gets really soapy! What you are looking for is something called TRACE. You can see here (and more in the video) where the dribbles from the stick blender are leaving behind a line in the soap batter? That's trace. This is thin trace, but the more the soap sets up, you will move into medium trace and thick trace.

Add Fragrance and Colorants

Prepare colorant
Your recipe will tell you whether you need to disperse your colorant (meaning you take a powder and mix it with water or oils to make it a paste or liquid before adding it to your soap batter).
Add fragrance oils
This is typically a good time to add fragrance oils or essential oils. You will have an amount specified in your recipe. Also, some fragrances and colorant can accelerate trace, so be prepared to work quickly for these last few steps! I stick blended a little far, so my trace was getting thick, so I chose to incorporate my fragrance by hand to keep it from speeding up further.
Color sparingly, you can't go back
Add your colorant sparingly. You can always add more (well, quickly) but you can't take it away. I am also stirring in my color by hand to avoid accelerating trace further.

Pour Into Your Molds and Embellish if Desired!

Pour soap into mold
Gently pour your soap batter into your molds. Use a spatula or other implement to push the batter into the corners that may have been missed by the pour.
Texture between pour layers if desired
For this recipe, I did three layers of green. In between each layer, I ran my spatula through the batter as it was firming up. I wanted to give it some ridges for the next layer to sink into.
Embellish the top of the mold
Finally, you can add texture to the top, or a swirl pattern with a skewer or whatever your heart desires. I went with some dried chrysanthemum flowers from Brambleberry. They have a lot of different dried flower varieties!

Spray With Rubbing Alcohol, WAIT, Unmold, and Cut!

Spray with 99% rubbing alcohol
Put your mold somewhere with some ventilation, but where it won't get jostled. Spray the top with 99% rubbing alcohol to help break any air bubbles and help prevent ash from forming on the surface.
After it has rested for about 2 days, you can unmold it. Make sure to leave your gloves on. Even though the oils and lye have gone through a chemical process, your soap won't be safe to use for 4-6 weeks.
Slice soap into bars and cure
Cut your loaf of soap into bars and cure them somewhere with good ventilation for 4-6 weeks.

Some Final Thoughts On The Remainder of the Process

Once the oils and lye have sat for 1-2 days, they go through a chemical process known as saponification.  As the soap is still curing, it’s best to wear your gloves (and if you’re going to be giving it away or selling it, it’s sanitary that way too!), to avoid any irritation to your skin.

I find waiting to unmold the soap to be incredibly hard.  I guess I’m used to more instant gratification from my craft projects, but I did feel an enormous sense of accomplishment when I unmolded the loaf and it looked lovely with it’s bumpy layers from the texture we provided with our spatula during the layering of the soap.

So, the process is time consuming, you need a lot of supplies, and you need even more patience.  But the idea what you have made your own soap, full of good skin-loving oils and your own design, is very empowering and addictive.  

Once you watch a few Brambleberry and Royalty Soaps videos you’ll be hooked, just like me!

I will paste the links to the items used here below.  Again, the only affiliate link is the link to the book via Amazon.

Finally, the Link to the Video Tutorial!

Materials used for this project are listed below.  Some links are affiliate links, and if you make a purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.  If you do, thank you in advance for your support of this blog.


Pure Soapmaking by Anne-Marie Faiola

Happy soaping!

Love, Amanda

I'm Amanda, and I put the AMANDA in A MANDAtory Activity (and I like a good bad pun). This blog is a focused on baking and crafting for gatherings and gifts! I LOVE making things a little extra special and I love sharing those ideas with you. Have a look around, or read more here.


Affiliate Link Disclosure

Some links on my site are affiliate links.  If you make purchases through affiliate links, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

The Best Machine for DIY Projects
Grow and Make

Happy Crafter

Browse here!