Candles floating in small pools of water truly light up a casual summer table. Like little boats, the candles stay buoyant because of the way that they're made: They're flat on the bottom and not too thick, so they won't tip or flip over when placed in water-filled bowls or other vessels.
You can create lots of floating candles in just a couple of hours, and the molds for making them are probably sitting in your kitchen cabinets right now: Muffin tins, cookie cutters and tart molds have just the right shape. They also make it easy to turn out candles by the dozen. All you have to do is melt the wax, pour it into molds, add the wicks and wait. Before long, you'll have little lights to brighten your table or to give as gifts.
Make the candles from used tapers, pillars or votives that you have at home, or if you prefer, start from scratch with wax and dyes from a crafts store.
Tools and materials
Muffin tins or other molds
Petroleum jelly or cooking spray
Paraffin or beeswax candles or wax bricks and color chips
Crafts stick, for stirring
1 1/4-inch metal-tabbed tea-light wicks
Use this technique for all the molds: Coat the molds with petroleum jelly or cooking spray; set them aside. Place candles in a double boiler over just-simmering water (never over direct heat; wax can catch on fire if it gets too hot). As the wax melts, stir it and carefully remove the old wicks.
If you're using wax bricks, melt them and add color according to package directions.
When the wax reaches pouring temperature (150 degrees Fahrenheit for paraffin, 160 degrees for beeswax; if you don't have a candy thermometer, wait until a thin film forms at edges), slowly pour it into the molds. Carefully lower in the new wicks.
After the candles harden (30 minutes to 2 hours), lift them out by the wicks. If they resist, put the molds in your freezer until they pop out easily. Wipe off any haze with paper towels. Trim wicks, if necessary, to 1/4 inch before lighting.
Use simple, broad shapes such as stars to make sure the candles will float. To turn a cookie cutter into a mold, tape it to a foil-lined baking sheet: Run a strip of masking tape along the bottom edge of a cutter, leaving a bit of overhang. Then snip the overhang at the cutter's curves and corners so you can fold the tape and press it against the foil to secure. The cutter should sit flat on the foil.
If you use a set of graduated cutters, you can make candles in several sizes at once. (Beeswax is best for these candles because it has a more viscous consistency when melted, which prevents it from leaking out of the molds.)
Begin by picking a size: Mini-muffin candles will burn for an hour or so; large ones, for three. A variety of candles in tonal hues — such as warm reds, oranges and yellows — look wonderful together. Vary the candles' sizes by pouring wax into large, medium and mini muffin tins, and create a playful polka-dot presentation.
For uniform results, pour the wax to a depth of no more than 1 inch, regardless of the tin's size. Or try scalloped, shallow mini-tart tins (about 2 1/2 inches in diameter each) to make candles with pretty shapes.
— Arranged on a long runner, floating star-shaped candles in blue or red bowls make a festive Fourth of July display.
— A bunch of candles set in a large bowl with orchid blossoms make a tropical-style centerpiece. If you have the space, position small bowls with a single candle or orchid around each individual place setting.
— Floating candles and citrus slices look enchanting together; the fruits' scents are an added bonus. Slice a few lemons, limes and oranges, and set them in a glass bowl amid candles in a range of complementary colors.
— Float a single candle inside a clear cylinder (you can use a vase or a drinking tumbler). Use just one for an understated centerpiece, cluster several for a mantel display, or create a circle of glowing towers on a picnic table.
— For a hostess gift, package several tart-tin lights in a cylindrical vase or other glass vessel and top with a bow.
Hannah Milman is editorial eirector of crafts for Martha Stewart Living. © Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia LLC Distributed by New York Times Special Features