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Frugal fun with handmade ornaments

Dec 1st, 2015 | Category: Crafts

Note: This article was originally published in December 2012. We’re sharing it again because it’s a fun one!

by Laura Boynton

Remember that thrill that went through both you and Laura Ingalls Wilder when she opened her Christmas stocking and found an orange? AN ORANGE! And a penny – an especially shiny copper penny? A PENNY!!

Cork birdhouses. PHOTO BY LAURA BOYNTON

I believe that, though few of us have experience with a Christmas this simple or meager, we have all experienced the moment of deflation when the gifts have been opened and we are surrounded by more slippers and soaps and small kitchen appliances and feeling empty in response to the amount before us. It’s too much. It’s too generic. It’s not personal, nor does it connect us to the giver.

When you invest of yourself – no matter if you choose to bake a loaf of bread or sew a quilt or compose a song – the experience of giver and the receiver is an authentic one.  The giver has taken time to think of the receiver and choose colors or spices or riffs that she hopes will resonate. The receiver feels the care, time and thought behind the gift.

With all that philosophizing about gifts out of the way, here’s an opportunity to learn how to make four different ornaments using either recycled or readily available materials. The ornaments can be used to decorate a package or be the gift itself.  While I can’t guarantee you won’t have to also hit a craft store (after all, I doubt everyone’s kitchen cabinets contain acrylic inks, X-acto knives and an assortment of paintbrushes), you will find that the majority of the supplies needed are no more exotic than wire, old socks and sweaters and windfall twigs.  Encourage yourself to think beyond my directions and supplies; if I say 20-gauge wire and you have none, use a length of coat hanger or a twist tie. Think of the listed supplies as suggestions! Any changes or substitutions you employ will make the end results your unique creation. Above all, relax and have fun! The process is the best part and might even leave you questioning who received the real gift.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I have been crafting for many years and don’t always remember (or know) the origin of my project ideas. I think the cork birdhouses and the felted circle trees are my original ideas, but the wreaths and stick trees are things I saw somewhere along the way.)

Felted Wool Wreaths

Materials: Old sweaters, scarves and socks (100 percent wool), scissors, ribbon, 20 gauge wire

Felted wool wreath. PHOTO BY LAURA BOYNTON

Tools: Needle-nose pliers withcutting edge, Monaoilament

Let’s start with the sweaters (or scarves or socks)!  You’ll need 100 percent wool garments for this project – holey socks and ugly sweaters are perfect. By washing items first in hot water and rinsing in cold, then subjecting them to a trip through the dryer on the hottest temperature, you’ll felt the fibers (causing them to shrink and mesh, creating a dense, ravel-free material).

When the entire shrunken, felted pile of woolens is in front of you, it’s time to get out your scissors.  For the wreath ornaments you will need many, many tiny pieces of fabric, approximately 1-inchs square. After all the squares have been cut and you have decided on the colors for your wreath, cut a 5-6 inch piece of 20 gauge copper wire. Bend one end of the wire into a small loop around the end of some needle nose pliers or a pencil (this is just to keep the threaded squares from sliding off the end). Now thread squares onto the wire, either alternating colors or choosing a more random approach. You will want to snuggly pack about 4 to 5 inches of squares onto the wire.  When you have about 1 inch of wire left, pull it through the wire loop you made, bend it back on itself to make another small loop so the two are interlocked. Using your fingers, shape the wire into a nice circle and space the squares evenly, using them to hide the wire join.  If the join still shows, that’s the perfect spot to tie on a little sparkly bow.  Finish the ornament with a 6-inch monofilament hanger.

Felted Wool Trees

(Same supply and tools list as for wreaths)

The trees were made by cutting felt circles of different sizes and threading them in graduating sizes onto the same copper wire used for the wreaths. This time the length of your wire depends on the height you wish the finished tree to be, plus enough for a few funny little curls or spirals at the top. This project also begins with a small loop for holding the circles on the wire, but the loop needs to be bent perpendicular to the wire so that it doesn’t prevent the finished tree from resting flat on the bottom circle of felt.

Twig trees

Materials: Clean, dry twigs, scissors, acrylic paints, beads, embroidery thread, Monofilament string or small paintbrushes

Twig tree. PHOTO BY LAURA BOYNTON

Tools: Drill with small bit, hand pruners, scissors

Twig prunings from deciduous trees are used here to make painted twig evergreen ornaments. Choose dry, smooth twigs – particularly if you plan to paint your trees – and cut them in graduated lengths, ranging from approximately 5” to ½”.  If you wish to paint the twigs prior to assembling the tree, now is the time.  Acrylic paints work best for this. I stuck the twigs in chunks of play-doh so that I could paint all the way around and they could dry upright. When the twigs are dry, drill through the center with a tiny drill bit. Cut either monofilament or embroidery thread to twice the height of your tree plus 12 inches. Thread a single length through a bead, then through the smallest twig, then through another bead, then through the next size larger twig and continue. If you wish, after the largest twig, add a bead for the trunk.  Now, go through a very small bead, then pull the thread through so about a 6” tail remains at the top. Go back through all but the very last bead you put on. Now you should have two 6-inch tails at the top of the tree. Tie an overhand knot at the top and you’ve completed your first twig tree. Now, make some more!

Cork Birdhouses

Materials: Wine bottle corks, Dollhouse shingles, scraps of Balsa wood or driftwood, twigs, tiny pinecones, bits of fake greenery, ribbon or gold thread, fine glitter

Supplies: Scissors, glue gun, paintbrush, acrylic paint

Begin by enjoying a few bottles of wine with friends! Now paint your dollhouse shingles or scraps of wood for the roof. (I cut balsa wood to rectangles approximately one inch by three-quarters – two for each birdhouse). Paint both sides, then cut a length of ribbon or gold thread for hanging the birdhouse. Double the thread and tie ends in an overhand knot to form a loop. Fit the loop between the two shingles, then use a glue gun to join the shingles along their short edge, forming a triangle. Squeeze small amounts of glue onto the top edge of the cork where the shingles will touch and set the roof onto the cork. Paint a black circle on the cork, aligning with the point of the roof to create the birdhouse “opening,” then push a length of twig into the cork immediately under the opening to form a perch.  (I usually push a longer twig in, then trim with the scissors to about ½”.)  Finish the birdhouse by gluing small bits of moss or artificial greenery and pinecones to the roof then sprinkle with glitter! Sparkly and perfect for the oenophile on your list!

A few ideas for recycled garlands:

• Alternate corks and beads on hemp or jute string

• Glue one-inch circles cut from old greeting cards back-to-back on fishing line, varying the distance for a more organic effect

• Make old-fashioned paper chains from old Christmas cards, newspaper, old books or fabric scraps stiffened with spray starch

• Tiny scraps of wool (leftovers from the wreath ornament) can be strung together or alternated with beads.

• String white packing peanuts on fishing line – easier than stringing popcorn but with a similar snowy effect.

Published in the December 2012 issue of Grow Northwest

One Comment to “Frugal fun with handmade ornaments”

  1. Kathy H. Corona, CA says:

    The cork birdhouse is just delightful! It has become a tradition when we gather in Palm Springs at Christmas for me to make a cork ornament. I wasn’t going to make one this year as it’s a season with LOTS of added responsibilities and some physical challenges of mine this year making it harder. But the thought also saddened me. I think these involve no cutting and labor intensive work, plus could be accomplished fairly quickly and look joyful and happy! This could be the ticket! Thanks for the inspiration!

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