What would the holidays be without candles? Christmas dinners would lose that cozy glow, menorahs would sit empty, and you'd have to come up with some other gift idea for your cousin.
The thing is, most of the pretty pillars, votives and tapers out there are artificially scented, petroleum-based imports shipped in from overseas. And since Canada has yet to ban lead wicks, you could be giving your family the gift of memory impairment and developmental delays. Isn't that sweet?
Commercial beeswax versions cost an arm and a leg. But if you make 'em from scratch, not only are you giving your friends and family a gift poured with love, sans corporate intermediaries, but you're also helping them chill out during the holiday frenzy, since beeswax emits calming negative ions as it burns. (Note: when buying beeswax, look for unbleached, undyed varieties at health stores and art supply stores.)
And, no, vegans, we haven't forgotten you. Petrol-free soya wax is a really affordable way to go. You can order some for $1.95/lb from St. Mary, Ontario-based Village Craft and Candle (www.villagecraftandcandle.com).
If you want more hands-on instruction, Melanie Stephens will lead a workshop on hand-dipped candles at Grassroots on Danforth in the new year (for info or candles, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org).
Dip 'n' drip
Step 1 Break 1 lb beeswax (only $8.88/lb unbleached at Gwartzman's on Spadina) into chunks. Put 'em in a heat-resistant container (e.g., a large juice can) about as tall as you want tapers to be. Put container in pot of water on stove on medium heat until wax melts. While you wait, cut 16-inch lengths of 100 per cent cotton square braided wick (Lewiscraft or Loomis Art).
Step 2 Fold wicks in half. Grab a wick by fold, then dip in hot wax for 1 second - without dipping your fingers. For the first dip you'll need to push wick into wax with a stick. If wicks stick together, separate them with a knife. Straighten any kinks with fingers. Set aside and move onto next wick until all your wicks have been dipped once, then start again on round two of dipping.
Step 3 The amount of wax in your can will eventually start to recede. Have an extra pound of beeswax melting on another burner so you can top up your dipping can.
Step 4 Keep dipping and watch your candles get thicker and thicker! Stop at whatever width you're happy with.
Step 5 Between dips, it's a good idea to roll your candles on a flat surface to smooth out any bends. If they crack a little, that's okay. The next dip should fill in any faults.
Step 6 All that dipping will create, ahem, a waxy nipple of sorts on the bottom of your candle. Cut it off with a knife to make a flat bottom. Let candles sit for a day before burning or giving them away. One pound of beeswax, by the way, should give you 8 pairs of tapers. Smaller ones are perfect for menorahs and quick to do!
Step 1 Cut 1 lb beeswax into chunks and melt in double boiler. (I melted mine in a large glass measuring cup in a pot of water.) If you've been making drip candles, you can use any leftover beeswax now. Add Indian madder root to the melted wax to give it a rusty tone, or beetroot powder for a lavender hue (both available at Thuna on Danforth and Herbie's Herbs on Queen West).
Step 2 As beeswax melts, prepare your moulds. You can make moulds out of anything in your cupboards. We used contact lens solution bottles with the tops cut off, a vegetable powder bottle and a small Tupperware container. You can use tetra packs, frozen OJ concentrate containers, even thick paper cups. Experiment. Grease moulds with a thin layer of oil.
Step 3 Punch a small hole in the bottom of your mould. Feed your wick through it and tie in a knot to fasten in place. It's also a good idea to stick a wad of plasticine or something of that sort over the knot to ensure that no beeswax drips out the bottom.
Step 4 You need to rig your wick so it stands up straight in the middle. Lay a pencil or chopstick across the top of your mould and twist your wick around it to keep it centred and tight.
Step 5 Once your moulds are good to go, grab your container of melted wax (careful not to burn yourself!) and pour wax into moulds. Once poured, do not top up. It could create funny lines.
Step 6 Air bubbles might form in your beeswax candle as it starts to harden. Grab a chopstick and puncture the skin to break bubbles. Make sure you have some extra wax melted. Pour a layer of hot wax over punctured candle to make the surface level again. Once completely dry, remove from mould. If it won't come out, place mould in freezer so beeswax contracts. Wait a day before burning.
Roll, baby, roll
Step 1 Lay a sheet of beeswax flat on a counter. (Dyed sheets are available at Lewiscraft, but natural sheets can be purchased from Benson Bee Supplies, 1-800-214-7366, $1.35/sheet). One sheet will make one tall taper or two shorter ones). Warm briefly with a hair dryer. Too long and it'll melt! If you don't have a hair dryer, just make sure sheets are at room temperature.
Step 2 Place wick at one edge of the sheet. Make sure you have enough wick so it juts out an inch or two at one end.
Step 3 Start by rolling the beeswax tightly over the wick, then keep rolling till you've got yourself a candle. The tighter you roll, the slower your candle will burn. Once it's completely rolled, press on the sheet's edge with your fingers to give it a more seamless look.
Step 4 You can doll up your rolled creations by pressing all sorts of things into them, but first blow-dry your candle again to warm it up.
Step 5 Manually press dried flowers, shells or spices like star anise into wax. Or just dress 'em up with a hemp twine, ribbon or scrap fabric. FYI, be sure you tell your giftees to keep their eye on decked-out candles, since flowers can catch fire.
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