Candle sale!

All this month I’m having a candle sale at the Family Tree, the yoga studio where I teach Nia. All candles are 25 percent off, including holiday scents (hollyberry, pumpkin spice, cinnamon and praline pecan). Those are in jars, and then I also have regular scents (apple, green tea, white tea & ginger, sage & lemongrass, citrus basil, coffee, and some aromatherapy) in clear glasses and tins.

Bigger containers are $10.50, from $14, and smaller ones/tins are $7.50 from $10. If you would like one at the sale price but don’t think you can get to the Tree, shoot me an e-mail ( and I can get it to you. These would make great holiday gifts!

How I make recycled candles

Candlemaking has been quite the learning process, especially with my somewhat unorthodox method. Basically, one day Mike and I were driving either to or from Wisconsin and I got this idea that maybe I could melt down old candles that no one wanted anymore and make new ones out of the wax. And what I really wanted to do was put the candles into found objects I collected while thrifting. I looked on etsy and found that others were pouring their wax into teacups and jelly jars, but no one was really using recycled wax.

So I bought a bunch of supplies and dove into it. I discovered that making a candle is actually pretty easy, but making a perfect candle is a lot harder. And when you’re using a slightly different product for every single batch, you are going to get a slightly different result every time.

But, I love a challenge, so I’m still tweaking my process and experimenting with new containers. In case you were interested in how I do it, I thought I’d give a little tutorial.

In my craft room I have a stockpile of candles that basically look like this.

I have just about every color, shape and style – leftovers from weddings, bags of half-burnt candles people give me, garage and estate sale finds.

If they’re too large to melt whole, I start by putting the candle in the freezer for 15 minutes to an hour. When it comes out, it will be really brittle, and sometimes even crack.

I put it in a plastic tub and whack the crap out of it with a hammer until it breaks into chunks.

To melt it, I have this little setup with a burner and a pot with a lid. This keeps everything completely separate from what I would use in the kitchen. Trust me, everything gets too waxy to use anywhere else.

I bought a couple of metal pitchers so that I could do two colors at a time, and this has really helped me since I started making candles with stripes.

So I fill my pan with about an inch of water and heat that to boiling. This melts the wax with a double boiler effect. Then I drop in the chunks and wait for it to melt. I usually stir it a bit, and if there is any debris in there, I’ll pull it out.

Meanwhile, I heat up my glue gun so that I can glue the wicks to the bottom of my containers. I usually use a pencil to push the wick into the exact center of the container without burning my fingers.

Then I string the top of the wick through a clothespin, center it on top of the container, and pinch the end to keep it secure. If your container is wider than the clothespin, you can twist the wick around a pencil and rest it on top.

When the wax is completely melted, you can use a thermometer to test the temperature. Often with big batches sitting there a long time it can get a bit too hot, which can effect the wax when it cools, so I try to keep it below 175.

At this point, if my wax is unscented I usually add a fragrance. In this case I used apple because it seemed to go with the green color, but I have tons of others, and sometimes I will use a few drops of essential oil, like citronella. Originally I thought I would only use essential oils, but I found that too limiting so I added the fragrances.

When wax cools, it actually creates kind of a sinkhole, so you really have to pour twice. The first time you fill it a little lower than where you want it. Let it cool for at least four hours.

Then pour the second layer to fill in the hole, and let that cool. With this candle I poured white for the second layer, and then did a third layer in green to create the stripe.

When it’s all done I put a safety sticker on the bottom that has room to write in the scent. For my tins I also print off logos and stick them on the side.

My initial investment was probably about $100 for a starter kit with a pitcher, wicks, scents and colors, plus the burner and the pot. Later I bought a heat gun, which is great for cleaning out old containers or fixing any bubbles that come up to the surface. It’s basically like a hairdryer, but not for your hair!

My best-selling item

So far my best-selling item on Etsy is not what I set out to make (candles) or what was in the Country Living article (gingham thumbtacks), but the vintage fabric thumbtacks. It’s so interesting, what sells and what doesn’t, but I’m glad for anything that does well. Actually thumbtacks generally are a good seller for me, even though they are pretty ubiquitous on Etsy. I think it’s a myth that you HAVE to create something original. You just have to do what you do well.

And I have to get back to work because I’m all out of vintage tacks (although I do have a set of magnets in stock).

Have you had any Etsy surprises?

The mother lode

When your craft involves making something new out of something old, you get pretty excited over finding the “old” supplies. And for me, that’s the ultra glamorous pile of partially burnt candles.

So I got pretty excited when I was at a wedding over the weekend and every other table was covered with flickering white pillar candles. It’s really the mother lode for me when I can find used wax that is both white and unscented, because then I can remake it into virtually anything. I take the colorful ones and the scented ones, too, but this is ideal. So thanks to Erin, the bride, for letting me pack them up after the reception and carry them home like a crazy bag lady. I have big plans for them!

I loved her “placecards”, too. They’re little galvanized metal buckets with a potted pansy inside. Instead of saying what kind of plant they are, the sticks denote the person seated there and the color refers to what they wanted for dinner. Clever!

Valentine’s Day candles added to the shop

Need a gift for your sweetie? I have just added some more recycled candles to my Etsy shop, all in V-Day friendly colors, and with adorable fabric lids.

They’re also quite affordable gifts, just $6-$10 plus shipping (and if you live locally I’ll knock that off and deliver them to you).

Get ’em while you can!

Internet hugs

I’m having one of those “you like me, you really like me!” moments.

Last weekend I added some items to my Etsy shop, thinking I should at least have a bunch in there for holiday shopping time. And here I am, 10 sales later, thinking how awesome all of you are that read my blog, follow me on Twitter, promote my shop in your blogs, tell you friends, shop at Craft Saturday, etc. etc.

As cheesy as it sounds, you are really helping one of my dreams come true.

I was not so sure buying handmade would still be important to people who are keeping their money as close as ever. I mean, I know you can buy a knit hat for a lot cheaper than one of mine at a discount store. But it turns out the opposite is true. You seem to value knowing the maker of your goods more than ever. Super cool.

So, I’m gonna keep doing this. God knows I’ve had items that didn’t sell, glue gun burns, candles I’ve had to trash or remake (even multiple times). I’ve knit until my eyes went cross. But here you are, asking for more, holding me up on tough days. I can’t say thank you enough.

And I have to also give major credit to my mom for supplying all of those adorable mugs, and everyone else who’s greeted me with a bag of half burnt candles or a box of Mason jars. I love that you all want to be a part of my little business. And I need your help to make it work!

I am working on some custom orders and Christmas presents right now, but I will get a few more items uploaded to my Etsy shop this week.

If you make it, they will come. 🙂

Loving: jewelry travel case

Yesterday at Craft Saturday I couldn’t leave without visiting the other vendors and picking up a few handmade items. I got this travel jewelry case from Kate i Design. It’s a pretty genius idea — instead of putting your tangled jewelry in a plastic baggie, you zip it into little pouches and slide your rings onto the bar.

I thought everyone had really cute, creative stuff to sell, and the turnout was great. I was definitely worried that with all the bad economic news people would forget about our little craft fair and buy their gifts at Target, but I think the support from everyone’s friends helped spread the word and we had a nice little crowd until about the time it got dark. It was certainly worth my time/money and I would do it again.

The funny part was, people loved the knitwear. Granted it was a freezing cold day and here we were next to a cozy coffee shop, but I think people just really loved touching the chunky wool fabric and trying the hats on. In retrospect I really should have brought a mirror because a lot of people tried on the hat, but probably didn’t fall in love because they couldn’t see what it looked like on.

Two scarves I made on a last-minute whim sold. They were my most expensive items. The cup and mug candles did way better than the jars, so I will probably change my focus more to those. I had lots of interest in the button items, too. I have a lot more ideas of things to make, so I feel both momentum and intimidation about going forward. It’s a scary time, but I’m glad to know people still want to buy handmade. And I think the recycled and rescued concept is something all of us will need to focus on doing more in our lives.

Craft Saturday sneak peek

This weekend is the event I’ve been most excited for involving my crafts. Craft Saturday is at the 4th St. Theater in Des Moines on Saturday. I’ve been a shopper before, but never a seller.

I’ve been crafting like crazy, trying to get as much done as I can so that my table is filled with goodies. Here are some items I’ll be selling Saturday:

These mugs are so cute I can barely let them go. And they’re coffee scented!

I think this one looks like a honey pot.

And everyone needs a pheasant mug.

Fabric scrap button thumb tacks.

And stacked button thumb tacks.

Chunky wool-blend hats.

I’m hoping to have some scarves finished, too.

So, I hope to see all of you locals there. There are some other fantastic vendors you should also check out, and you can see their wares on the Web site,

Introducing: Mary Marie Handmade Goods!

At long last, I finally have something to show for my hours and hours AND HOURS of boiling water, gluing wicks, shopping, researching, taking photos, etc. etc. It’s an Etsy shop!

I do hope you’ll visit and check out my main offerings – recycled candles. A lot of people are making candles out of found objects, but few are also using recycled wax. For me, that’s the best part, and the one my thrifty grandmother (that would be Mary Marie) would be most proud of. Very little goes to waste here at chez candle crazy.

I hope to add some additional crafts made with fabric scraps and old buttons (thanks, mom!) very soon.

Here’s a sneak peak at what’s in the store now.

Set of cobalt blue votives.

Cute yellow mug.

I’ll also have items for sale at the Junior League Gift Mart this weekend (look for the Ephemera table) and at Craft Saturday December 6.

Obviously I’m in the mood to sell, sell, sell! now, but I truly believe these items would make great gifts, and in a time when everyone’s worried about money, I can offer you a handmade, eco-friendly present at a very reasonable price.

All in a day’s work

Today I attended my first estate sale. Thanks to super crafty Erin Randolph for tipping me off to one of the best ways to find old candles and jars (whether or not it’s warm outside). Unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend the first part of the sale (on a Friday night??) so I missed out on what I really wanted, but I did take home this sweet load.

And I love the little basket, which I had just picked up to carry everything in, but they threw it in for free. I love even more that it’s missing a handle.

While I was back in this dungeon of a room looking at canning jars, this other woman goes, “Wow, I’ve never seen so much holiday stuff. Her grandkids must have loved coming over for Christmas.” It felt sort of weird to be rifling through someone’s stuff without knowing the stories behind it, but I hope that south side granny would be happy to see her candles living on in a new form.