Learn how to make an authentic medieval coil candle from scratch with beeswax and DIY candle wicks!
A medieval coil candle – also known as courting candle or candle by the hour – looks like a ball of yarn. And it basically is nothing else than a cotton string dipped in beeswax and wound into a ball of yarn. So all you need to make your own DIY medieval coil candle from scratch is beeswax and cotton string!
By the way, if you’re wondering why people in the Middle Ages made this unusual kind of candle: A medieval coil candle could be used as a kind of clock because it always took the same amount of time until a winding of the coil candle was burned. So a medieval coil candle was a timer and light in one!
History Of The Medieval Coil Candle
First of all, I couldn’t find many primary sources for medieval coil candles. The only primary sources were medieval paintings and Victorian texts about the history of candles. In the Middle Ages, candles were either made of beeswax or tallow. Because beeswax candles like coil candles were expensive only the rich and clergy could afford them.
‘In the twelfth century, candles of wax, and chandeliers, were generally seen in churches; and, as refinement increased, they came gradually into use among the nobility and wealthy all over Europe’ (An Encyclopaedia of Domestic Economy, 1855).
All medieval paintings depicting coil candles that I found show rich, educated people reading a book of hours while holding a coil candle in their hand. Besides the light, a coil candle was probably used as a kind of clock or timer, similar to a candle clock or Victorian oil-lamp clock. My main inspiration for my DIY medieval coil candle was the candle in the ca. 1470 painting The Annunciation by Memling at the MET museum.
Medieval Cotton Candle Wicks
Even if cotton was not yet used for clothing in the Middle Ages candle wicks were already made of cotton!
‘Cotton is found to be the best material for forming wicks; so remarkably is the case, that spun cotton was imported from the Levant for the wicks of lamps in England, ages before it was made use of by the weaver.’ (An Encyclopaedia of Domestic Economy, 1855)
How To Make Your Own Candle Wicks
- cotton string
To make DIY candle wicks, you need a long piece of cotton string. Unravel the cotton string. Then braid the strands into a three-strand braid.
How To Make A Medieval Coil Candle
- DIY candle wick
There are two ways to make a medieval coil candle from scratch: You can either dip the candle (“dipped candle”) or shape it in your hands (“rolled candle”).
Dipping the candle produces a smaller candle because you can dip the wick only once or twice into the melted beeswax before the wick becomes too stiff to bend. So I used the rolled candle making technique to make my medieval coil candle.
To make rolled candles, the ‘wax is first softened and worked well by hand in a kettle of warm water; it is then taken out in pieces, and gradually, bit by bit, disposed round a cotton wick […] beginning at the bottom, and proceeding to the upper part. […] When the candles have acquired a sufficient size, they are made perfectly round and smooth by rolling them upon a table of hard wood’ (An Encyclopaedia of Domestic Economy, 1855).
Dipped Medieval Coil Candle
Grate or chop the beeswax into small pieces (or use beeswax pellets instead). Put the beeswax pieces into a tin can. And melt the beeswax in a water bath.
Dip The Candle
Dip the DIY candle wick into the melted beeswax. Let the wax set a little. While the wax is still soft, wind it up like a ball of yarn.
Related: How To Make Tallow Candles
Rolled Medieval Coil Candle
Shape The Candle
Warm the beeswax pieces or beeswax sheets with a hair dryer. Then form a thin layer of beeswax around the DIY candle wick. To smooth it, you can roll the coil candle between your hands.
Wind Up The Candle
After you’ve finished part of the candle, wind it up like a ball of yarn while the wax is still soft. Then continue to shape the wax around the candle wick and wind it up.
Related: How To Make Rushlights
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