A New Hobby

Monday, January 20, 2014

A good friend once called it "the magpie instinct," for there are certain things—fripperies—women, in general, are suckers for and can often be found hoarding for no reason: tarot cards, pretty stationery, postcards, glorified vaseline in pretty tins. Particularly everything scented, from personal perfumes to stickers to diffusers to candles.

Tarot of the Imagination, by Ferenc Pinter, my favorite Tarot deck of all time, not a slumber party diversion so much as a work of art. I ask you, how could one not covet this?

I think you see where I am going with this: I am the first to admit my "magpie instinct" is quite strong, and thus it is that I collect all of the above, as funds allow. Note I say "as funds allow", for pretty things that do not directly contribute to survival are considered by others as "luxury goods" and are therefore expensive.

Let's do the math, shall we?

A scented candle from Diptyque or Voluspa that burns for 100 hours goes for anywhere from 40 USD to over 150 USD, about 40 cents to a dollar and a half per hour. A small candle from the Korean company Aronica that burns for about 40 hours goes for 10k KRW, about 25 cents per hour. (Of Yankee brand I will not even speak.) Add in the factor that scent selection is limited, especially at the lower price points, and you have a very pricey hobby on your hands. So after doing a little research, I set out to make my own.

There are generally three things that go into a candle: wax, wick, and additives, such as fragrance and dye. For wax I chose soy, because I've found soy burns cleaner and doesn't give off the oily smell that paraffin does when burned, not to mention paraffin is a known source of environmental toxins*. For a wick, I chose wood, because in my experience wooden wicks produce almost no noticeable smoke—except when being lit and put out—while cotton wicks produce a low level of near continuous smoke. Plus, the crackling sound wood wicks make is really neat, almost like a mini fireplace. Additives are the most costly, costing me around 3300 KRW (about 3 USD) for every 200mL candle I make. I don't bother with dyes, because they're one more additive to morph into harmful compounds when burned, and when in doubt, the creamy surface of a plain wax candle goes with any container or interior decor scheme.
Though this pumpkin-colored candle by Luminology, against pastel mint porcelain, is quite adorable.

This brings me to a total of 8500 KRW for a candle that gives me about 50 hours of burn time. About 17 cents per hour is far cheaper even than the cheapest decent candle on the market, for a product that's tailored specifically to my tastes... not to mention that it's the making of the candle that's the fun part.

So lo, my first batch of candles:

CandleWorks' "Frankincense and Myrrh" with petitgrain and geranium essential oil. Smells like a men's cologne, but a really nice one, something like I imagine a film noir man in a fedora wearing.
This one is "Frankincense and Myrrh" with "Lavender Leaf" (a knockoff of "Diptyque Feuille de Lavande") and some laundry detergent musk. It's a meditative, soothing scent, and nothing at all to do with pomegranate.

And of course, like any hobby, there's a learning curve. You have to get the temperature just right, both when adding scent (add scent when the wax is still too hot, and the fragrance will escape from the wax) and pouring the candle into its container or mold, you have to mix the wax very well and very gently (otherwise, a greasy film will form), and you must be very gentle when pouring, so as to minimize turbulence and allow the wick to soak in the liquid wax. The greatest challenge I've faced so far is getting the top of the candle smooth and pretty, and this is largely due to too low pouring temperatures (especially for Golden wax, which is finicky about these things) and sub-par pouring. This is my second batch of candles, which I took especial care to pour carefully, but even so you can see a number of flaws.

This surface is mostly intact: there's some cracking and rippling on the surface, but it's nothing a hair dryer can't fix.
The surface is smoother here, but there is a little caving around the wick. This is quite a common issue, especially with Golden brand wax, and again, often easily fixed by a hair dryer.
Sometimes, however, the entire surface collapses in, as seen here. There is also a little mottling that suggests the fragrance oil hasn't been well-incorporated

At least the containers are pretty. From left to right: "Sea Salt and Rice Flower" (a powdery floral with hints of the sea), a Diptyque "Baies" knockoff (gently spicy blackcurrant and rose), and a Jo Malone "Black Vetyver Café" knockoff (dark coffee with an additional mouthwatering roasted note).

* Notwithstanding my preferences (which are solely practical), I am well aware that any claims to superior environmental and health effects of soy are highly debatable: you can read more about it here.

A Deceit of Lapwings

All happy people are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy people are more or less alike.