Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dipping, Moulding and Forming: Not the Latest Dance Steps But Candlemaking

Making candles was another part of the housekeeping chores assigned to women, but candle making took time and patience, with many steps involved. Therefore, it isn't any wonder that the craft was one of the earliest trades known in Canada, and the candle-maker/travelling salesman, was always a welcome sight as he made his rounds.

However, it was still a skill that young girls would be taught, since you could not always count on being able to purchase these necessary items. Candles could be dipped, moulded or formed, though the moulded method was by far the easiest.

When dipping candles, the prepared wicks were slowly and steadily dipped in hot wax, cooled and hardened, then the entire process laboriously repeated. It was important to maintain the correct temperature: if the wax was too hot it would not cling to the wick, or if was too cold, it clung only to the bottom. Beeswax, which was soft and pliable, was often moulded around the wicking.

Candles were made in cool weather and stored in closed boxes away from rats and mice. And in the 'waste not, want not', life of Victorian Canada, the ends of wax candles, were used in making starch to give an extra gloss, or home-made starch was stirred with a wax candle to give the same effect.

Spicy-smelling bayberries were used for candles in maritime areas and these berries were also sewn into small muslin bags to grease slow-moving irons.

The cheapest and most common candle was made of tallow: which was melted clarified animal fat, usually mutton
or beef; though in some of the early settlements, where cattle was scarce; deer, bear, coon or hog fat was used.

In some backwoods settlements candles were so scarce they were used only on special occasions like Christmas Eve or a birthday. At other times, the light from the fire sufficed.

An early status trick was to dip evil-smelling tallow candles into hot wax to give them a more expensive look.

The discovery of Paraffin made the work easier, as it was simply melted and poured into the molds to harden.

Eventually, oil lamps would replace the need for candles, though every home still kept a good supply, and candle making went on throughout the Victorian Era.