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Candles Take Shape For the Holidays

Photography: Johnny Miller

Source: Martha Stewart Living, November 2007


A molded candle can light up a room even after the flame is out. The following arrangements draw from the natural beauty of the season, whether the candles are whimsical (three-inch tom turkeys and tiny purple pinecones) or realistic (orange pumpkins, yellow gourds, and green 'Forelle' pears with blushes of red). They're ideal as a centerpiece for the holiday table or as a gift for a dear friend.

The first thing you'll need to make these candles is a mold in which to pour the molten wax. Although the candle mold was invented in France during the fifteenth century, it did not achieve great popularity until the 1800s, when the mass-production methods of the Industrial Revolution made molds affordable for the average person.

Homogeneous candle making, however, is not the goal here. A large selection of molds is available at crafts stores, or you can make your own, as we've done using birch logs and pumpkins. Even a candy mold will do the job. Just don't use plastic, which may melt.

We favor beeswax for its soft, opaque glow, which provides a visual warmth that remains after the wax has been colored. Finally, we dress up some of the candles with paint or petal dust for a realism that plain wax can't achieve.

When you spot a pumpkin with a striking silhouette, make a candle in its likeness. Grouped together, pumpkin and gourd candles, along with walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and bittersweet, make an eye-catching display.

Color Glossary

Colorant is sold in blocks; cut 1/4-inch square shavings with a knife or a vegetable peeler. For every pound of bleached beeswax, use the following number of shavings to create the various projects in this article.

A. Tan turkeys: unbleached beeswax; no colorant
B. Off-white turkeys: no colorant
C. Rust turkeys: 4 cherry, 3 sunshine yellow, 1 white
D. Pale-orange pumpkins and gourds: 6 white, 4 brown, 2 rust brown, 2 sunshine yellow, 1 olive
E. Orange pumpkins and gourds: 10 sunshine yellow, 5 rust brown, 2 brown
F. Yellow gourds: 6 sunshine yellow, 4 white, 2 brown, 1/2 rust brown
G. Burnt-orange gourds: 6 sunshine yellow, 4 brown, 4 rust brown, 3 cherry, 3 ruby
H. Violet pinecones: 3 violet, 2 brown, 1 ruby
I. Lavender pinecones: 3 violet, 1 true black
J. Logs: 10 brown, 3 rust brown, 3 true black
K. Pears: 2 olive, 1 turquoise, 1 sunshine yellow, 1/2 rust brown

Cast in different sizes and colors, these turkeys look splendid from their cake-stand perch, while smaller turkeys preen atop small dishes and saltcellars.

Working From a Pre-Existing Mold

1. Prepare the Wax

Beeswax has a luxurious aesthetic -- it even develops a natural bloom over time -- and a faint honey scent, but it's more expensive than other waxes. To save money, mix it with a paraffin that has a similar melting point, but keep a majority of beeswax to retain the look. To figure out how much wax you'll need, fill the mold with water, then pour it into a measuring cup. Use that amount of wax, plus a few extra tablespoons as a cushion. Shave off the amount of candle colorant you'll need. (See the color glossary above.) Melt the beeswax in a double boiler or a candle-pouring pot; if you use a regular kitchen pot, clean it thoroughly before cooking food in it again. Once the wax has melted, slowly add the color shavings, and mix well. Using a candle thermometer to monitor the temperature, bring the wax to 140 to 160 degrees. Test color by pouring a small amount onto parchment paper and allowing it to cool. Meanwhile, prepare the mold by coating it with a mold release or nonstick cooking spray. Then use a small paintbrush to spread the spray throughout the crevices, making sure the entire mold is coated.

2. Set the Wick and Wax

Thread wick onto wicking needle or large tapestry needle. Push needle through closed side of mold (you may need to use small pliers). Place a wooden skewer across opening of mold, and tie wick to it. Pull wick taut, and secure loose end with masking tape. Keep mold together with rubber bands or masking tape. When wax is melted and color is mixed, pour into mold. Wax may shrink as it cools, leaving a gap. Reheat wax, and add more to fill in. Pour excess wax into a heatproof container; cool, and save for future use.

3. Remove the Candle

Small molds will set in a few hours; larger molds need about 24 hours. To remove, take the rubber bands off, cut off bottom wick, and untie top wick. Gently loosen the mold-one side at a time-then delicately pull the candle out. Rub it with a stocking to remove any flakes and smooth out the edges. Trim the top wick to 1/4 to 1/2 inch.

Working From Your Own Mold

1. Create the Mold

For a birch-log candle mold, use a 2-inch screw to secure a strip of wood to the top of a small log. Wood strip should be long enough to lie flat across a container (a mailing tube, a bucket, or any plastic container) that's a few inches wider than the log on all sides. Cover the log with two coats of Butcher's wax (available at hardware stores) to prevent the bark from peeling off and sticking to the mold. Then spray the log and the inside of the mailing tube with mold release, and let it dry. In a clean plastic container, mix the rubber-mold compound according to the manufacturer's instructions. Center the log inside the mailing tube. Slowly pour the compound into the tube around the log, until it's even with (but doesn't cover) the top of the log. If your log starts to float, weigh it down with a can. Let the compound cure overnight. This same procedure can be used to make molds of pumpkins and gourds -- just attach the strip of wood to the bottom of the fruit. Because the surface will be smoother than that of the log, it's not necessary to coat it in Butcher's wax.

2. Remove Casting

To remove the mold, cut away the container with a craft knife. Then gently make two cuts (through to the log) along opposite sides of the rubber mold, down to about an inch from the bottom. As you carefully pull apart the two sides, you may need to cut more deeply. Remove the object from the mold, and run hot water through the mold to rinse out any loose pieces of bark. To make the candle, follow the instructions under "Working From a Pre-Existing Mold."

3. Paint the Candle

For the log, mix ivory-colored acrylic paint with candle-painting medium according to the manufacturer's instructions. Using a small paintbrush, coat the log, and let it dry. With a stocking, gently rub the surface to remove paint and create a barklike texture. To paint a pumpkin stem, mix brown paint with candle-painting medium, and apply with a small paintbrush.

Using a Candy Mold

To transform this candy mold into a wax basket, we clipped it shut on the sides (clips come with the mold). To prevent leaks, we covered the clips and outside bottom seam with gaffer's tape. Follow candle-making instructions from "Working From a Pre-Existing Mold," but bring the wax no higher than 150 degrees, and skip the wick. Fill the entire mold with wax; wait 15 minutes, or until about 1/4 inch of the wax has set around the edges (it will change from clear to cloudy). Pour excess wax into a heatproof container; cool, and save for future use. Let set for a few more hours, then gently remove the basket and clean up seams with a knife.

Decorating Pears with Petal Dust

With a soft craft paintbrush, lightly apply petal dust on one side of the pear's bulge to create a rouge effect. (Apply it much like you would blush makeup.) The petal dust will come off if rubbed, so don't let blushed sides touch other objects when pears are displayed.

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