Nearly every month, my husband and I help host an event called the Christian Stewards’ Collective. The goal of these events is to make and buy household goods that correspond with our values–localism, fair labor practices, regenerative environmental ethic, financial stewardship etc. As with most good things, making and buying in these ways is much more joyful, effective (and cost efficient!) in community. At a typical event, we might have anywhere from 4-15 people. In the past, we’ve toured our local grain mill and divided a 50-lb bag of flour; shared seeds and prepared transplants for fall gardens; pre-cut and prepared “freezer meals” with local and organic ingredients; and purchased bulk orders of meat or other goods.
We launched our 2018 calendar this month. My husband took folks a tree walk, gathering tree cuttings and making growth-stimulating “willow water” to propagate the cuttings into new trees. I had recently purchased Chris Dalziel’s book The Beeswax Workshop and was excited to lead those interested in making beeswax food wraps. We used Dalziel’s recipe and instructions, which she has detailed in this blog post.
I had seen these wraps at our local co-op, and finally purchased one last fall at a farmers’ market. The basic idea is to take a piece of cotton fabric, soak it in a mixture of beeswax, pine resin, and jojoba oil, and then use it in place of plastic “cling wrap” or Ziploc bags. The wrap I had purchased worked nicely, especially when I wanted to take a handful of nuts and pretzels from home to work — I could toss them in the wrap, gather and give it a twist, and not worry about everything falling out in my bag. Having a larger set of wraps would make picnics and lunches much more convenient (and less dependent on plastic).
I also wanted to make more wraps because, although not a sewing or weaving project, the project promised to illustrate a “whole cloth” ethic well. First, almost all the materials allowed me to reuse materials I already, or to support markets I believe in:
- Cotton muslin – I had yards and yards of red gingham someone had given me, so using it for food wraps required no purchasing, and it helped clear out a very crowded corner of my workroom.
- Beeswax – We purchased our beeswax from the Austin Honey Company. You should be able to find a reasonably local source of beeswax wherever you live. Buying beeswax is a great way to support a local business.
- Pine resin – While I could not find a local source for this, Dalziel points her readers to Diamond G Forest Products, a family-owned company from Georgia. Their products are grown, harvested, and distilled in the USA, and their customer service was wonderful.
- Jojoba oil — I didn’t have high hopes for finding any local sources for jojoba, but at least I could buy it from HEB, my favorite Texas grocery store. The HEB company has a lot to recommend it, and, as it based in San Antonio, nearly qualifies as local in my book.
Actually making the wraps, however, included a steeper learning curve than I expected. We followed Dalziel’s instructions (linked above) carefully, so I won’t repeat them here. I will, however, point out a few of the problems we encountered and the solutions we developed.
- Freeze your beeswax
- Most books or tutorials involving beeswax either instruct you to grate the beeswax or buy it in pastille form. Our local honey, however, came in bricks. Thankfully, it isn’t necessary to grate these, or even to try and cut them. Simply place the entire brick in the freezer overnight. The next day, the wax will be brittle, and you can break it in small pieces easily with a hammer. I managed to smash up five pounds of frozen beeswax in under five minutes. These small pieces, then, melt much more easily than a solid block.
- “Blot” = “Pretend you are an aggressive massage therapist working with a tense bodybuilder”
- Dalziel’s instructions have you brush onto the fabric your wax/resin mixture with a paintbrush, pop the fabric into the oven to re-melt and distribute the mixture, and then use your hands and another fabric wrap to “blot” the excess wax from the wrap. We found the excess wax/resin to be our biggest frustration. As instructed, we would lay a fresh piece of cloth on top of the wrap in progress, and use our hands to distribute the wax and blot the excess. However, no matter how much we tried to distribute the mixture with our hands, the backside of the wrap would still have large blobs of wax pooled all over it. We finally realized, that “blotting” was a much more aggressive action than our dabbing and smoothing. Instead, we began to wad up the fresh cloth, and work it over the waxed cloth with the heel of our palm, pushing as hard as we could. Some of our these cloths didn’t even need to have any of the mixture brushed on — after serving as a blotter, they were completely saturated.
- Maybe use a scraper?
- Because we working in an outdoor kitchen, we only had the utensils we had brought with us. We did discuss, however, that after blotting, a good final step would be to scrape both sides of the wrap with something like a bench knife or dough scraper. I may still try this with some of the wraps we made.
- Provide instructions
- Beeswax wraps are not a product most people are familiar using and caring for, so it can be helpful to provide instructions if you make these to give or sale. Feel free to use this graphic or create your own.
Had I been making these wraps alone, I would hated the project halfway through. However, working alongside two friends, we were able to work through the problems, suggest and test ideas, and come up with wraps that improved greatly from the first to the last effort. In two hours, three adults and one child made about 20 wraps. Knowing what we do now, we could probably make twice that number in the same time if we divided the various steps more intentionally.
Our wraps turned out well overall. Nearly a week later, they are still quite tacky/clingy, and I wonder if I might experiment with slightly less resin next time, or if they are simply still a bit too saturated. Nevertheless, they work well and bring some really happy textiles into my kitchen.
Each participant took home four wraps, with a supply cost under $5 for each set. Considering that commercial beeswax wraps can cost $18 for a set of three, it was well worth the time it took to make them. And when add the quality time we spent laughing, problem-solving, and learning together, we gained far more than we spent.
Have you ever used wraps like this? Do you like them? Have you tried to make them? Have any tips or tricks to share?