Decorating for the holiday season is underway. If you’re looking for something special to do, making homemade ornaments is both a fun thing to do with loved ones and a way to add meaning to your decorations.
“Gather your family or friends around the table, and spend a day making ornaments,” said Morgan Rublee, who runs the Etsy shop Designs by Rublee out of Dover-Foxcroft.
“Every time you put those homemade ornaments on the tree, you will be reminded of the day you spent with people you love.”
Here are some tips from professional crafters on how to make your own ornaments.
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Pick a design (but keep it simple)
The first thing you will want to do is decide what kind of ornament you want to make. Tying the design to a memory from the year will help guide your search for materials and make the crafting project more meaningful.
“My Etsy business was born when my mom wanted a special chicken ornament to commemorate the year we started keeping poultry,” said Moriah Van Wyk, who creates crafts for the Etsy shop Maine Maid Primitives in Oakland. “Now when I see the ornaments, I remember both our first flock and all the fun I’ve had filling and mailing orders since then.”
Whatever you want to make, Elizabeth Jerome, who runs the Etsy shop ERJ Studio in Falmouth, said to keep the design simple.
“Focus on making ornaments that remind you of special times in your life, and don’t worry about having them come out perfectly,” Jerome said.
Van Wyk also said not to bite off more than you can chew when it comes to design.
“Nothing kills the holiday spirit like frustration over a project that looked good in your head but becomes too complicated to execute,” she said. “Try picking just a few notable features to emphasize, such as shape or texture. This makes your whole tree less overwhelming, makes the ornament distinguishable from a distance and simplifies the crafting process.”
Gather tools and materials
Even simple crafting projects will require a few tools. Odds are, though, you already have the things you need gathering dust in a crafts closet or somewhere else in your house.
“The great thing about making your own ornaments is that you probably have the basic supplies in your house already,” Rublee said. “For example, fishing line is the perfect hanging string and paper clips work great as hooks.”
Jerome said that other materials that work well to attach ornaments to trees include clothespins, strings, ribbons, tin foil, pipe cleaners and yarn.
Hillock said that scissors and glue (she noted that a hot glue gun or E-6000 are her go-to glues) are essential, and a basic sewing kit with a needle and thread may also come and handy. Ultimately, though, the tools you need will depend on what materials you find to use.
“If working with fabrics or yarn, think sewing basics: scissors, needles, thread, and maybe crochet hooks or knitting needles,” Van Wyk said. “If [you’re] working with wood [or] wire, think jigsaws, needle-nose pliers, wire-cutters and similar tools.”
Some of the best ornament-making materials might just be sitting in your trash can or recycling bin.
“One question to ask yourself when considering handmade ornaments is, “What can I repurpose?” Van Wyk said. “Look at common objects from different angles. For example, on my family’s Christmas tree hang strawberries made of walnut shells and reindeer made of wooden clothespins.”
Instead of tossing scraps of fabric, leftover yarn or even that ratty t-shirt, think of how you can craft it.
“I’m a quilter, so my favorite material for ornaments is fabric,” Hillock said. “[If you] have an old flannel shirt or a pair of jeans that have seen better days, get out your scissors [and] cut them up into ornaments shapes, trees, bells [and] stockings.”
Another excellent upcycling material for ornaments is cardboard, perhaps from all of the cardboard boxes for gifts you have ordered for the season or from cardboard rolls for paper towels or toilet paper rolls.
“You can trace an image onto fabric and a piece of cardboard, glue the fabric to the same shape of cardboard you cut out [and] decorate with ribbons, felt [and] buttons,” Hillock said.
If you have scraps of yarn from knitting or crocheting projects, Rublee suggested trying to make a pom pom ornament. Cut out a four inch by three inch piece of cardboard and wrap your yarn vertically around the cardboard, layering the yarn on top of itself. Once you’ve added several layers, carefully slide the yarn off the cardboard and tie another piece of yarn around the middle, cut the end of the yarn and shape it onto a pom-pom.
“Take another piece of yarn to make a hanging loop,” Rublee said. “A tree full of colorful pom-poms is so adorable.”
Head out to your yard
Natural materials make for great DIY ornaments as well.
“I love to use Maine’s natural beauties, such as pine cones, birch wood, acorns and seashells,” Jerome said. “Gathering a bunch of raw materials and laying them out on the table is a great inspiration. We had some birch slices from a previous project out on the table, we decided to try screen printing on them and they came out great.”
Carolyn Breau, who runs the Etsy shop Breau’s Eye View of Maine, also uses birch slices for her homemade ornaments. Instead of painting them, though, she burns designs into the wood. This does require some special equipment, though, in the form of a wood burning pen.
From left (clockwise): Ornaments made from birch tree slices. Courtesy of Elizabeth Jerome & Carolyn Breau.
“They can be found online or at local craft stores, or even Walmart,” Breau said. “The tool itself has its own unique look that is hard to replicate, but you can certainly use paint or even markers to still make a cool design on the wood.”
Check the kitchen
Your spice cabinet might hold a few surprising materials that work well for homemade ornaments.
Hillock said that in addition to items from nature, she likes to use things like cinnamon sticks for her homemade ornaments.
“You could use them as a tree trunk for a Christmas tree ornament,” Hillock said. “You could also glue them into the shape of a star. They smell fabulous.”
Another kitchen material that is great for making ornaments is dried orange slices.
“Thin orange slices dried in the oven and hung so that the Christmas lights glows through them are subtle but beautiful ornaments I have loved for years,” Van Wyk said.
Try, try again
No matter how experienced you are at crafting, it may take a few tries for you to get your ornament just right.
Hillock suggested making a “test” ornament or two before you start making gifts for your friends and family.
“When I have an idea I usually end up making changes before I finish,” Hillock said.
If your first try isn’t successful, keep trying. Ultimately, though, don’t get frustrated if your ornament isn’t perfect. In fact, the imperfections are part of the charm of homemade ornaments.