Friday, January 27, 2017

Scented candles—fragrance and squishy wax

There’s a lot to like about scented candles.

First, there are all the different fragrances available. I’ve been fascinated with fragrance most of my life:  perfume, flowers, homemade potpourri, and soaps wrapped in delicate tissue. But candles have always been the easiest way to accumulate a lot of different scents in a compact and relatively inexpensive form.

When I was growing up, I read a lot about perfumery and the fragrance industry. I could have told you the difference between a top note and a base note, cologne as opposed to toilet water, and distillation versus enfleurage. I was particularly interested in people’s ability to identify different smells and the psychological effects thereof. Since I had a large collection of scented candles, I ran a totally unscientific study in which I blindfolded family and friends and handed them candle after candle, asking them to guess at the scent and describe their reaction to it. There wasn’t really a purpose behind the questions, just curiosity.

More recently I tried to make use of scent psychology by deciding to pair my stories to particular scents. For the Cinderella story I’m currently revising (The Slipper Ball), I decided to use Yankee Candle’s “Sage and Citrus”. The idea was that I would burn the candles as I worked, thus forever linking the fragrance to the work and making it possible to get into the right frame of mind simply by striking a match. So far I haven’t been consistent enough to get the plan to work, but I’ve still got plenty of revision ahead. And when I get back to the story about the psychic teenager (The Summer of the Deer), I’m going to run through my collection of Tyler Candle Company’s “Head Over Heals”(sic).

But scent isn’t the only appealing thing about scented candles. The wax itself has fascinating qualities as it goes from solid to liquid and back, with a soft, putty-like stage in between. As a kid, I loved to pour some of the melted wax out and squish it around until it hardened. My father showed me how to melt blocks of paraffin and make new candles in Dixie cup molds. Later, I graduated to dipped and braided candles, candles made in a duckie mold, “whipped wax”, and trying to carve designs in wax with wood carving tools (hint: warm wax is less likely to break off in chunks.)

I haven’t done much with candle-making for a long time, but some of the fascination with wax got passed on. For my birthday a couple of years ago, my daughter borrowed some essential oils and presented me with lemon- and peppermint-scented candles that she had made while I was out of the house. Aww…

On top of having fragrance and squishy wax, scented candles are an opportunity to use decorative candleholders, thereby delighting the eyes as much as the nose. Elegant or fun, sparkly or subdued—there are holders for every taste.

And then finally, scented candles are candles

Their flames are so pretty in a darkened room.

Till next post.


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