When you try this old-timey craft, you'll find that
there's more to an onion than waters the eye.
by Lynn Herion
Onion waxing is an old folk pastime. When I was a child, my
friends and I would gather buttons, broom straws, thread,
glitter, construction paper, and anything else that our
imaginations told us could be used for decorations.
Fashioning our onion creations provided us with many hours
of entertainment, and when the designing was complete, we'd
watch them sprout and grow.
I've continued the tradition of onion waxing with my own
clan. It provides an ideal diversion for a rainy day, and
we use the finished products as decorations, gifts, and
party favors. The cost is right, too, since the only cash
outlay required is that for a few of the vegetables and for
a bit of paraffin. If you'd like to try the art of onion
waxing with your own gang at home, let me tell you how it's
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
First, of course, you'll need a supply of onions. Choose
some that are already sprouting and others that have yet to
put forth shoots, and try to collect a variety of sizes and
shapes. When waxed, onions take as little as a few days or
as long as a couple of weeks to sprout . . . an unknown
that adds suspense to watching your creatures when you've
finished making them.
It'll take about a pound of melted paraffin (or old candles
or crayons) to coat 10 to 20 onions, depending on their
sizes. You can use crayons as a main ingredient of the
melt, or add just a small number of them to color the wax.
You'll also have to round up a metal container large enough
to accommodate an onion and a melted bar of paraffin or its
equivalent. Because wax can be rather difficult to remove
from a pan, I suggest using a two-pound coffee can or a
similar container that you can set aside to be used solely
for this project. In addition, you'll need a saucepan
that's big enough to hold the can in several inches of
water. Never melt paraffin in a container that's
set directly over a heat source, as the wax has a very low
flash point and may catch fire.
Next, gather the decorating materials. Your choices for the
trimmings are limited only by the range of your
imagination. Broom straws, fibers, acrylic and tempera
paints, ribbon, and plastic or natural flowers are just
some of the items you may want to use. Other materials
you'll want to have on hand are old aluminum pie pans or
foil on which to set the dipped onions, inexpensive
watercolor brushes for painting designs, and allpurpose
glue for attaching hair, ribbons, and the like.
TAKE A DIP
Once the materials are gathered, strip the outer, paperlike
layers from the vegetables until you get to a firm surface
that will hold wax.
Next, place the coffee can (or whatever) in a pan of water
and melt the paraffin, old candles, or crayons over medium
heat. If you intend to use crayons just to tint the wax,
let the paraffin or candles melt down completely before you
add the coloring. Then remove the container from the heat.
To dip an onion, hold it by its tip or sprout and lower it
into the wax. When the surface is coated all over, remove
it and allow the wax to harden for several seconds. Repeat
this operation 10 or 12 times, or until a thick layer has
been built up (you may need to reheat the wax during this
dipping process). Then, to form a flat base on which the
onion can stand, set it on a level surface (here's where an
aluminum pie pan comes in handy) for a while after each of
a few final dips.
Now comes the fun part: decorating. If you plan to add
adornments that must adhere to the wax, such as eyes or
whiskers, you'll need to do the work quickly, before the
coating hardens. Other methods of
decorating—painting, for instance—work well
after the wax has set up. And if by any chance you create a
"monster" that you don't care to keep, simply peel of the
wax, remelt it, and start anew, using the same onion.
This simple craft adds a welcome twist to our clan's
rainy-day activities . . . and I think your family will
agree that it's a pastime worth reviving.