In today’s fast moving world of blogs, cell phones, and CNN, you may be wondering how we find the thousands of old-fashioned products that pepper our site, catalog and retail store. Who hand dips candles and weaves picnic baskets? Where can you find someone to create custom wrought iron, or make furniture out of old church pews?
And thus begins a series where I introduce you to a selection of our favorite vendors.
I was in Lehman’s the other day, watching customers react to a lovely display of Lehman’s jelly jar candles. With fragrances like mulled cider, pure vanilla, and pine needle, each customer was first drawn to the attractive packaging (an authentic Ball jelly jar with a color-coordinated label), and then to the scent. Without fail, customers would take off the lid and sniff the candle, not once but twice, before repeating the process with another candle. Then, and only then, could the decision to purchase be made.
“Not all candles are created equally,” explains our favorite local chandler, who created this line for Lehman’s. “You might think it just takes some wax and a wick, but there is much more to it. There are specific characteristics of waxes, wicks, scents and colors. A chandler needs to know the science behind the materials.”
Christine (because she makes product for us exclusively, we prefer to keep her identity confidential) spent a year studying the science behind the product before opening her full-time business as a chandler, the old-world name for a person who makes candles. “I graduated with a fine arts degree with the intention of teaching,” she explained. “I soon realized the hands-on, creative aspect of art was what I craved, not teaching it.”
She works by herself, in what was originally the laundry building behind the 19th century home she shares with her husband. “You have to be very disciplined when you are running your own business. I work all day, sometimes every day, but I enjoy what I do, especially creating new candle lines.”
Christine blends high temperature, fully refined waxes to achieve virtually dripless, clean- and long-burning candles. And she does it all by hand. Like chandlers have been doing it for centuries. “People ask me, ‘Why don’t you automate? You could make so many more candles.’ It is labor intensive, but it is a labor of love.”
As I was talking to Christine, she had to excuse herself for a minute. “I am dipping bayberry candles today and I can’t let them overcook,” she said apologetically. When she explains the secret formulas she concocts using only the finest ingredients, she reminds me of a chef in a high-end restaurant.
“To get the best burning properties possible, each candle style has its own unique blend,” she said. “I also custom blend my own dyes to attain unique color combinations not seen in mass produced candles. My candles are solid color, and never over-dipped to make them look like something they are not. Only fragrances specifically formatted for candles are used so that the scent will thoroughly blend with the wax and burn cleanly .”
The jelly jar candles she makes for Lehman’s, for example, burn for 40 hours! Each year I choose my favorite new Lehman’s product to give to all my college friends. This year they are each getting a jelly jar candle. Now the only decision is what scent for each person. Laura would like the Mulled Cider, but I know Cindy would go for Pine Needle. Pure Vanilla seems right for Teri, but her sister Meredith should get Christmas Cheer. And either Pumpkin Pie or Cinnamon Stick for Carolyn….you get the idea!
If you are a catalog customer, look for our Holiday Gift Guide coming to a mail box near you soon! The cover photograph features Christine’s candles (or Lehman’s candles, I should say) in a gift basket, perfect for the anyone your our list.