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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Colours of Spring

A few weeks ago I was chatting to an italian co-worker and we were indulging in some altogether very british complaining about the weather.  “Typical England.  Only one day of sun and then always raining.” came the complaint in her very thick italian accent, utter exasperation latent in her tone of voice.  I smiled and nodded in agreement as I tried to think back to the last time it had rained for any sustained period of time.  Internally I was puzzled as to why, despite her perception of british weather, I’ve never seen her without a pair of sunglasses balanced hopefully on her head.  Perhaps it’s some type of charm to plead with the sky and that’s why she wears them on her hair rather than her eyes.  She sells store cards in the shop I work in so perhaps it’s part of the get up to sell more credit cards; by imparting a sense of sunny holidays and the good life.  Wealthy people and big shots wear sunglasses, yes?

Musings on my impression of her appearance aside, my quest for an easy life meant that I chose not to point out to her that our part of the country has had so little rainfall in the past two years that the whole area is in drought and currently under a hosepipe ban, an enforcement which if broken can land you a hefty fine.  That’s more typical England, the fining I mean.  More recently however, we’ve had some April showers.  Alternating blasts of bright sunshine followed by drenching downpours of rain and/or hail, the sky alternating between pale blue and deep, brooding dark purplish grey.  During one such sunny break yesterday I ventured out into the garden.  As it was sunday the noise of the traffic was barely audible and all I could clearly hear was the dripping of the fallen rain off the plants in the garden.  The sky in the east was purple-grey and in the west is was pink and blue.  Everything in the garden seemed so refreshed and vibrant and I couldn’t resist grabbing my camera to capture some of the colours of spring.  I have a row of raspberry canes lining one side of my garden path and the leaves change colour gradually through the seasons but they are never as green as they are during the spring and after rainfall.

Prompted by my recent reading of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, I pondered, should any extra terrestrial ask us (humanity that is), which colours represent the seasons best, presuming they’re asking those of us who live far away enough from the equator to experience seasons, what would we tell them.  I’m sure if such an event ever occurred a suitably well equipped and academic committee would be formed to provide the answers.  But in the meantime, I make my own personal preparations.  Spring is pale blue, light and vivid green, muddy brown  and purplish-grey.  Have your own suggestions?  Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments, whatever’s easiest for you).  I think I’ll postpone mulling over the colours of other seasons until I experience them as they come this year.  The visible spectrum of light is such a wondrous thing and yet we’re burdened by the knowledge that there is so much our eyes fail to see.  Good ol’ Carl Sagan, making me feel both amazed and annoyed at being human. 

In a roundabout way, I’m linking this to one of my current crochet projects which is a so-called ‘Springtime Throw’.  The pattern was reproduced in an issue of Mollie Makes magazine and I have since purchased the original book, Cute and Easy Crochet by Nicki Trench.  When I first saw the picture of the throw I fell in love with it and despite being strapped for cash most of the time, set about buying a few balls of the expensive yarn to make it.  It’s 432 squares of 30 different colour combinations.  But now after pondering the colours of spring, I can’t really say that the throw is made up of the colours of spring.  Perhaps it’s a spring throw in terms of tog, like a duvet.  Still incredibly beautiful though and I look forward so much to payday so I can buy a few more balls of yarn and finish a few more squares.  I’ve completed about 250 squares and this is what that looks like.

Perhaps it’s a spring throw in the sense of happiness and joy it evokes.  Just how I felt when I was walking to work one day and noticed the quintessentially english willow trees that bow over the river were just beginning to bud after a cold and dry winter.

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Homemade Candles-Part Two: The Method

There are three stages to make candles in moulds; first, second and final pour.  But first of all you need to set up your moulds and wicks.

Cut a length of wick about 3-4cm longer than the length of your mould, be it candle mould, jam jar, tea-cup etc.  Thread it through your metal wick holder and lower into the mould, so that the wick is roughly centred.  Place a toothpick, straw, pencil or something similar across the top of the mould and drape the excess wick over the top and fasten to the sie of the mould using a little blutack or a small piece of tape.

Place the wax in a pan, one preferably with a pouring lip and one that you don’t mind giving over to candle making as you’re unlikely to ver get all the wax out and make it a suitable cooking pan ever again, and very gently heat the wax until liquid (do not overheat wax or it will catch light and similarly do not use naked flames around liquid wax.  If you’re worried, do buy a small starter kit and follow the instructions carefully.  This is what I did and I’ve never had any problems), adding any colour or fragrance once the wax is just liquid.  Carefully pour a small amount, enough to fill the mould be about 0.5cm and cover the metal wick holder.  This is the first pour.  Now you need to allow time for the wax in your mould to set so it can hold the wick in place for the further pours.  You can either leave it to cool down and set eventually, or preferably, you can transfer the mould into the fridge, taking care not to move the wick position, and let it set for ten minutes.  While you’re doing this, do of course remember to take your pan of wax off the heat.

For the second pour, remove the mould from the fridge and reheat the wax if it has begun to set.  This time, pour enough wax to almost completely fill the mould, leaving about a 1cm space between the level of the wax and the top of the mould, or your desired height of the candle.  Remove the wax from the heat and set aside your mould in a cool place and now leave for 24 hours.  When you return to your candles, you will find that the wax has set but has sunken in the centre around the wick.  For the final pour, again reheat your pan of wax.  You will not need much so no need to pour lots of pellets in, you are essentially just topping up your candles to make them level.  Top up the candle with the liquid wax to the top of the mould or desired height.  Leave to set and then trim the wick.  And that’s it, a lovely homemade and handmade candle for the fraction of the cost of a shop one with the added extra gratification that comes from utilising something you yourself have crafted.  You can of course go all out and make fancy colour combinations and trying even carving them if you wish.  But that’s not what I’m personally about.  I just enjoy the warm fuzzy glow.

Homemade Candles – Part One: The Set Up

Candles have always been a bit of a bugbear for me.  I adore candles in all their forms, but have always felt a bit ripped off when buying them and this was before I got a small kit for £10 and found out how cheap they were to make.  Something so seemingly basic, that has been used for centuries, now cost so much and never seem to last as long as you thought they would.  I’m on quite a low wage and I don’t have the money for candle expenses, and even if I did I’d still resent paying it.  Making your own candles is incredibly simple and cheap and you don’t even have to buy a kit if you don’t wish to.  Here’s how to do it.

Wax 

Save up all the unburnt wax of candles you currently have.  Keep collecting until you have enough, or if you have none, or lack the patience, buy a bag of paraffin wax pellets for candle making over ebay.  Price varies but on average it’s about £10 for a kilo which is alot of candles, especially votive size, or a good few bigger ones, and of course you can save and then recycle any of the wax left over from the candles you make.  If you wish, buy blended pellets-these are a mix of paraffin pellets and beeswax pellets which will give you a longer burn time and this is what I tend to purchase.

Wicks and Wick Holders

You can purchase a long length of candle wick extremely cheaply, but bear in mind the wider the candle you make, the thicker the wick will need to be to ensure an even burn down and a small candle will of course require a thinner wick.  Wick holders you may be able to get out of candles you already (tealights always seem to have them in and I always salvage them), but other than having some very thin sheet metal around and pressing and punching holes into your own, you have to buy.  Woe betide those of us not on friendly terms with their local smithy or school shop teacher.  On the upside, you can buy a large quantity for very little money.

My little collection of saved up tealight wick holders-

Moulds and Containers

If you’re enthusiastic about candle making as a hobby you really can go to town when it comes to buying moulds.  You can get very elaborate shapes and even moulds that will produced a pretty carved effect on the outside of your finished candle.  But neither my purse nor my home have much room for such things and its not exactly in the spirit of recycling.  When I first started I bought a small candle making kit that included two votive sized metal moulds which were great to start out with.  However, now that I’ve got the hang of the process I barely use them opting instead for clean, glass jam jars, of which I seem to have dozens (I never throw out a jam jar) or metal tin cans.  Be aware that when using the jam jars, select ones with as wide a neck as possible- too narrow and your flame will lick at it and either cause the glass to crack or it will cover it with soot.  When using metal cans, try to find ones that have the smooth as opposed to corrugated sides as this will make it far easier to remove the finished candle.  If the whim takes you, head down to your local charity shop and get yourself some pretty vintage looking tea cups or container of any sort as long as it can stand a bit of heat and pour the candle into these.  Alternatively if you have any chipped cups not really suitable for drinking from any more, use those.  Very cheap and effective and you can add recycling to boot.

Colours and Fragrance

Although my personal preference is for that natural opaque off white colour of candle wax (it seems to stir soothing images in my mind like soft wispy clouds being teased apart, or foggy mornings in the countryside) you can buy colours for candle wax.  They come in small flattish chunks and are highly concentrated.  You melt them with your pellets to your desired colour.  As for fragrance, again you can by specifc candle fragrances so you can make you candles and subsequently your room smell like talcum powder, chocolate, vanilla, cut grass etc.  Or just get yourself some natural oils, such as lavender or rose (a bit old lady-ish perhaps, but then I’m fairly certain I was born aged 45.  At least I’m not knitting my own lace doillies or turning down those boiled carrots because they’re a bit spicy for me.  Yet.) of which you need only a few drops, so although one of the costlier aspects, properly used a small bottle will keep you in scents for some time.

That is all of the basic kit really.  I feel that if I got into the method now this post will drag on a bit a few will ever get to the bottom so I’m cutting it into to.  The next post will be on the method, which should be substatially shorter.