Spokane candlemakers are crafting a healthy sense of calm

click to enlarge Spokane candlemakers are crafting a healthy sense of calm
Erick Doxey photos
Local candlemakers like The Candle Bar Co. use nontoxic soy wax.

While candles can light up a room anytime of the year, there's simply no denying how something feels more appropriate about the sweet-smelling flicker of burning wick as fall colors give way to the solemn chill of winter. And while it's easy to pick up a big waxy pumpkin spice or Christmas tree-scented candle from a big-box store, there are plenty of local independent Spokane candlemakers whose handcrafted products are both more fragrant and legitimately healthier.

When it comes to buying candles, there's one main thing all consumers should (but probably don't) consider — toxins. It seems crazy that this is the case, but most candles you'll find on a regular store shelf are made with paraffin wax, which is actually a petroleum product. This being the case, the simple act of burning such candles can release carcinogens like toluene and benzene into the air. Certain fragrance oils meant to fill your spaces with delightful aromas can also contain unwanted chemicals (check your labels — any candle with harsh chemicals has to have a Prop 65 label disclosing they contain carcinogens). While you might get the endorphins from the smell of the burn, your body isn't gonna be digging the compounds it's inhaling.

With health in mind, most artisanal Spokane candlemakers use nontoxic soy wax and fragrance oils that are certified clean. After all, it's hard for candles to bring peace of mind, when one's body isn't also at peace.

While there's not exactly a Spokane candlemaking "scene," journeying to meet the candle creators is (pun half-intended) an illuminating experience. Not only does each maker have their own approach, but their workspaces showcase how broad the world of candles can be.

click to enlarge Spokane candlemakers are crafting a healthy sense of calm
Holli Brown pours a candle at The Candle Bar Co.

The Candle Bar Co. on the main drag in the Garland District certainly stands out as the most public-facing indie candle shop in town. Founder Holli Brown has been pouring her own wax creations for 13 years and in the current store space on Garland Ave. for 4 1/2 years.

"I started making candles, because I couldn't afford them," Brown says with a laugh.

In addition to offering up 50 to 60 candle varieties (Earl Grey and wonder — vanilla, citrus, black currant — are standouts) on the floor at a given time ($10.50-$26) and hosting candle-making classes (usually twice a month on Saturdays), The Candle Bar Co. also provides a unique service — candle refills. Customers can bring back their old jars for a 30% discount or bring in a candle container of their own — even quirky ones like mugs — for $1 per ounce. It's a bonus level of sustainability that may bring some mental peace even after the wick has burned away.

In an extremely cozy garage-adjoining shed just a few minutes drive from The Candle Bar Co., Tara Knight of Knightlight Candles plies her trade. Knightlights doesn't go overboard with varietals — there are nine standard fragrances (like Nightcap's bourbon, peppered apples and firewood), six in the Spokane Parks line (Manto Park smells of lilacs and roses), and other seasonal additions ($14-$36).

"Candles bring beauty and light and peace," says Knight. "They're symbolic of so many things: meditative, spiritual, bringing light. And part of health and well-being is giving back."

To that end, Knight also brings a very socially conscious approach to her business. For her Curious Candles line, Knight crafts unique scents and then gives 50% of proceeds with local community aid organizations like Global Neighborhood and 90+ Project. Knight's dream is to eventually expand the business and specifically hire women-in-need to be Knightlight's employees.

click to enlarge Spokane candlemakers are crafting a healthy sense of calm
Knightlight Candles Photo
Knightlight Candles' "Curious Candles" line raises funds for community-aid organizations.

Rocking a more do-it-at-home vibe, Sue Griffith runs Bungalow Candle Studio out of her somewhat crowded apartment in Southgate. Now an empty nester, the former payroll tax accountant uses the extra space her sons vacated to run the creative business she's always dreamed of running. While Griffith has built Bungalow into a thriving enterprise that she says needs to move to an exterior studio, there's something delightfully DIY about her mildly cluttered living room creation space. She packs so much into the tiny space, crafting around 100 varieties of her soy creations like Trails of Mt. Spokane (huckleberry with pine) and Spokane Sweater Weather (cashmere, vanilla cassis, sandalwood) ranging from $10 to $36. Most notably, she offers candles with wooden wicks, which add a comforting crackling to your candle-burning experience. For Griffith the human connection and the memories that scents can evoke make the whole endeavor worthwhile.

"There's something about burning a candle that can help reduce anxiety, reduce stress. These may not be what the Western medicine world is saying, but in other sort of homeopathic arenas, it's beneficial to our health," says Griffith. "This wasn't just making candles, it was about connecting with people through scent. Scent's amazing. It's one of our most powerful senses."

In terms of pro tips that the three candlemakers offered — do a long first burn, and trim your wicks! While counterintuitive, making sure you do a burn that melts the entire top layer of wax will actually lead to the candle burning evenly, which will extend its life. Short initial burns lead to tunneling (when a crater develops with a lot of wax buildup on the side). Wicks should be trimmed to a quarter of an inch after use to reduce the black smoke the candle creates, minimize soot and lead to longer burns.

No matter what gets your heart a' burning, Spokane candlemakers have just the thing to make your home a safely scented cornucopia of calming aromas.

Spokane Folklore Society Bi-Monthly Contra Dance @ Woman's Club of Spokane

Wed., Dec. 6, 7:15-9:30 p.m., Wed., Dec. 20, 7:30-9:30 p.m., Wed., Jan. 3, 7:15-9:30 p.m. and Wed., Jan. 17, 7:15-9:30 p.m.
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About The Author

Seth Sommerfeld

Seth Sommerfeld is the Music Editor for The Inlander, and an alumnus of Gonzaga University and Syracuse University. He has written for The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Fox Sports, SPIN, Collider, and many other outlets. He also hosts the podcast, Everyone is Wrong...