Christina’s Wax Wonders

by Peter Schmidtke

Candlemaker Christina Kotlowski may just stoke up a banana split the next time a storm knocks out her power. That’s because one of Kotlowski’s latest paraffin creations bears an uncanny resemblance to a tasty sundae treat. Kotlowski experimented with different textures to simulate whipping cream, and she even used a banana mold and ice cream scoopers to shape the wax. “I tell people you make it just like you would a normal banana split,” she said. Kotlowski, a full-time social worker, translated her hobby into a second income. She makes candles, bath salts, incense, body mists, lotions, neck pillows, and soaps for Milwaukee-area residents. Kotlowski has been in business with “Christina’s Candles” for two years, and she makes all of her products in her two-bedroom apartment on E. Clarke Street (Her mother, Beverly, does all of the sewing for the neck pillows.) Kotlowski said the other renters in her building have been wonderful about putting up with her new business. “I also have great friends who haul things for me–wax is very heavy.” “I started this business with pretty much ten bucks in my pocket, and everything I make goes back into the business,” she said. Although Kotlowski’s business is relatively new, she has been pouring candles for the better part of a decade. “The candles that I make are from my own recipe. There are all different types of waxes and materials that can go into a candle. It’s a matter of finding the correct wick size, finding scents that work with my wax formula. Not all scents and oils are created equally.” Before she pours the wax into a polyurethane mold, Kotlowski first must melt it in a large metal pot. “I know this sounds strange, but by the way the wax crackles, I can tell you what temperature it is,” she claimed. To make multi-colored candles, Kotlowski pours separate layers, waiting for one layer to cool before pouring another. “And there are different techniques that you use to get different effects. A colder temperature will produce more of an antique look. Some of my most beautiful candles are mistakes I’ve made. It’s trial and error, and it’s a lot of reading. There are a lot of different things you can add to waxes–beeswax, dyes, crystals. Everything you add changes the way a candle will burn,” Kotlowski said. She stressed the difference in quality between a mass-produced candle and one of her own. “All you have to do is pick up one of my candles, and say, a Walmart candle, and you can just feel the difference. A lot of the factory-based candles do not burn consistently because the elements are not as well mixed.” As Kotlowski explained, if the scent is not mixed evenly throughout the candle, the scent will not be emitted at a steady rate when the candle is burned. To prevent this from happening, Kotlowski works with a smaller, more manageable supply of wax. She pours her candles eight at a time, and while this may be more time-consuming, she says the extra effort makes for more uniform candles. Kotlowski caters to weddings, baptisms, bridal showers, home parties, and fundraisers. “The brides have a certain image of what they want for their weddings, and for baptisms I will often make candles in the shape of angels.” For home parties, Kotlowski fills up the back of her truck with displays of her products and sets up shop for the day in a resident’s home. While Kotlowski does do fairs, like the Locust Street Festival and the Wisconsin State Fair, she said that summertime is a “bad time for candles.” Last year at the Greendale Historical Days, she lost several hundred dollars worth of candles when the wax melted from the heat. But Kotlowski said she will be doing Locust Street Festival again next year. “I live in the area, and I like all the energy and the different types of music.” “My main focus is fundraisers,” Kotlowski says. She recently became involved with the Title 4E Child Welfare Grant Program, a combined program with UWM and the Milwaukee Bureau of Child Welfare. Kotlowski provided her candles at wholesale to students at UWM, who in turn sold them to benefit children in foster care in Wisconsin. The first 4E fundraiser generated funds for a picnic and gifts for the children. Kotlowski is quick to point out the personal benefits of candlemaking. “It takes me someplace else. In my day-to-day life I work for childhood services, and before that I worked in a hospice setting. So it’s just a different outlet. “And I really like coming up with something new that people like. Just seeing the reactions I get from those.” In the near future, Kotlowski would like to create a catalog and a web site for her business. “And more neck pillows, incense, and bath salts.” To order products from Christina, you can reach her at 372-1987. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – issue 8 – September 2002