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They set a mood, warm up a room, and just look pretty on a shelf. But many types of candles also have a dark history — they’re made from animal byproducts (beeswax, tallow), or they emit toxic soot, or they increase CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

For those who prefer an all-natural, nontoxic golden glow from their candles, there is another option. Soy candles don’t give off soot like paraffin candles and last longer than candles made from animal products — but they’re just as beautiful and make for wonderful gifts. And best of all, they’re easy to make by hand, requiring basic tools and just a few ingredients.

For your friend whose apartment looks like it could be in the pages of Dwell or Martha Stewart Living, consider making a natural soy candle. You can tailor the soy candle to suit her style — be it a candle scented with lavender, or a candle housed in a reclaimed teacup, or a simple white candle in an old Mason jar. She’ll feel good turning off the lights and lighting a homemade candle that isn’t harmful to the environment, and you’ll get to flex your creative muscles without spending too much time or money.

Basic supplies for making soy candles:

  • 2 cups soy wax flakes for container candles (available at your local craft supply store)
  • Glass bowl
  • Saucepan
  • Wooden spoon
  • Candy thermometer
  • Essential oils (lavender, vanilla, ginger, nutmeg, etc.)
  • Wick sized to fit container
  • Glass jar or other container
  • Clothespin
  • Scissors
Optional supplies for making homemade soy candles:
  • Wick holder
  • Candle putty
Instructions for making soy candles:

1. Melt the wax. Place soy wax flakes in a glass bowl, and place the bowl on a saucepan about a third full of water, creating a double boiler. Heat the wax, stirring occasionally, until it is soft and pourable. (You can also heat the wax in the microwave, at one-minute intervals until melted.)

2. Add the fragrance. Let the wax cool (the temperature of the water should be about 120 degrees) and then add 5-10 drops (or about an ounce) of fragrance oil.

3. Place the wick in the container. Spoon a small amount of wax onto the center of the bottom of the container. Dangle the wick into the container until it touches the wax, making sure you have enough wick at the top to hang over the end of the container. (You can also purchase wick holders and candle putty at a craft store to secure the wick at the bottom; simply follow the directions on the packaging.)  Hold the wick in place until the wax hardens; then pinch the top end of the wick with a clothespin and set the pin across the top of the container, keeping the wick centered and upright.

4. Pour the wax. Stir the wax so that it is smooth and then slowly pour it into the container. Leave some room at the top. If you have leftover wax, let it harden and then save it in a container for later use.

5. Let the wax harden overnight. The next day, trim the wick, and your soy candle is complete!

Embellish your candle jar with a simple ribbon or piece of yarn tied around the neck. If you have a vintage matchstick box or an empty matchbook from a place that is special to you and your friend, create a tag out of it for a personal effect. Then give and glow!    

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