My grandmother made kelp candles when she first moved to Southeast Alaska back in the days, not that long ago, when we all used kerosene lamps for light and supplemented with candles. I took over when she ceased operations, mainly to use the kelp candles as gifts.
It's a fun hobby to have and gets you outside breathing in fresh air and delighting in the scenery while hunting the kelp to harvest. Some always wash up after the really big storms. And, of course, in the fall all the old bullwhip kelp loosen their holdfasts from the rocks and wash ashore in great, tangled rafts.
Today it was a beautiful, sunny day, but my hope of finding kelp for candles wasn't very strong. The new kelp hasn't yet replaced the old rafts, and the old rafts that had washed ashore had long since rotted and broken up. But still, every now and then you can find a few whips worth harvesting.
And I did find a few old ones, on the verge of rotting, but at least one was still worth harvesting. My kelp collecting companion celebrated our find by stop, dropping and rolling in the sun-warmed gravel.
Back home, I collected the simple materials I use for making the candles: Old crayons for tinting, wax, a roll of wicking and a tin can to melt the wax in.
I cut the whip off the kelp until I have the shape I want. Making a simple bowl out of the round air bladder works best. Then I slice a thin section off the bottom of the bowl so it will sit level. Next, the wax is melted in the can, adding what crayons I want for color, and then the wax is poured into the waiting kelp bowl. The appropriate length of wick is inserted in the melted wax. To keep the wick upright I put a strip of cardboard, with a hole in the middle of it for the wax to go through, across the kelp.
After that it's a week's worth of drying. The kelp will tighten around the wax as it dries and form a leathery holder that will last forever.
Tara Neilson (ADOW)