Friday, November 30, 2007

Cinnamon Stick Bundles

These ornaments are not as simple as taking a bunch of cinnamon sticks and wrapping them in ribbon. For stability, they need to be glued together with a glue gun.


1 lb bag of cinnamon sticks, 6 inch length
Glue gun


1. Sort through the bag of cinnamon sticks and create two piles: thick sticks and thin sticks. The idea is to use thick sticks on the base for stability, use the thin ones in the middle and thick ones on top. You will need about 10 or 11 sticks per bundle.

2. Take 3 thick cinnamon sticks and glue them so they are side by side, almost like making a raft. Let glue cool and set a few seconds.

3. Take 6 thin cinnamon sticks and begin gluing them to the base and building a triangular stack.

4. Take 3 thick cinnamon sticks for the sides and top of the bundle and attach with glue.

5. Cut a 12 inch length of satin ribbon. Place bundle in the center and tie into a bow.

Storage: there should not be any special storage needed with these bundles.

Notes: if you really want the cinnamon smell to permeate, you can lightly grate some of the sticks (messy) or add drops of cinnamon oil to some of the sticks (but make sure it doesn't spread and damage the ribbon).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Copper Pinecones

Here's another chance to go crazy with the spray paint can! When I decided that I wanted pine cone ornaments on the tree this year, I had to think about several issues.

One issue was how to hang them - do I wrap them with green florist wire and then attach them to the branches? That would take alot of time and when removing them they would be difficult to see since they naturally look like part of the tree.

Another issue was what finish to apply - do I really need another gold item what with the Gilded Walnut Garland and Gilded Dried Pomegranates (a future post)?

I took about one-third of the pine cones that I bought at Kennicott, sprayed them with a copper metallic paint, and then attached brass screw eyes to the top for hanging. Again, a strong copper color against green and with some lichen and kiwi green ornaments gives a great and unique look.


30 medium sized pinecones - (6 inch ponderosa pinecones)
Metallic copper spray
Dropcloth or large shallow box
Brass screw eyes
Electric drill and small (1/32") drill bit


1. Select the pinecones and place them on the dropcloth or in a shallow box.

2. Spray with the copper paint in a well-ventilated area. You may need to paint one side then turn them all over and paint the other. Don't forget the tops and bottoms as well.

3. When dry, insert brass screw eyes. You may need to create a starter hole with the drill and drill bit.

Storage: there should not be any problems with storage although some people have written that they tend to place pinecones in a 175 degree oven for a bit to kill any bugs that might be infested. I've never encountered this. I also use pinecones that are lightly lacquered - this seals in (or out) any creepy crawlies.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pheasant Feather Fans

These ornaments are very similar to the Peacock Feather Fans described in an earlier post.


100 pheasant feathers (ringneck, golden, etc.) 4 - 6 inches long
Copper wire, 24 gauge or less
Wire cutter or scissors


1. Cut a 6 inch length of copper wire.

2. Select eight feathers and arrange so that some are "front" (lighter color) and some are "back" (darker color). Gather together and try to fan them slightly with your hand.

3. Wind copper wire around the quill ends of the group of feathers.

4. Fan out the feathers if possible.

5. Cut a 12 inch length of ribbon and tie in a bow at the top of the quill end.

6. You should be able to hook a wire ornament hanger into the back of the bow to hang the ornament.


Wrap in acid-free tissue paper and place in a large padded envelope or box.


I like to use olive or kiwi green satin ribbon with the pheasant feathers - there is a nice contrast of colors. I also use copper wire rather than standard green florist wire since it may peek through.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Aunt Tess' Swags

I've made these as 9 foot long garlands in the past but since I plan on having a gilded walnut garland on the tree this year, I wanted something small but still with the same look and feel of the larger garlands.

I named these Aunt Tess' Swags mostly due to the use of orange slices. My great-grandmother, Therese McGinnes Austin, would often tell us that one of the prized items to receive in a Christmas stocking at the turn of the 20th century (she was born in 1894) was an orange. Growing up in New York City, I imagine being able to eat an orange in the dead of winter was quite a treat. Also Grandma, as I called her, was a savvy woman who knew quite a bit about herbs and spices. So these are a tribute to her.

Most of the ingredients are ordered over the Internet from San Francisco Herb Company. Also feel free to add and remove other items - I've made these with large dried rose heads, small dried artichokes, and hazelnuts.


24 gauge florist wire (paddle wire), green
Wire cutters or scissors
Dried orange slices
Cinnamon sticks, 6 inch length
Bay leaves or salal (lemon) leaves
Nutmeg, whole
Walnuts, plain or gilded
1/2 inch satin ribbon


1. You will need to prep some of your materials by drilling holes into them with a small drill bit: walnuts, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg. (I recommend drilling the walnuts before you paint them - this way if they crack, you can throw it away or toss it to the squirrels)

2. Determine how long you want each swag to be, I usually make mine 8 - 10 inches. Add an extra 3 inches to the desired length - you will need this to make loops on each end.

3. Measure your wire length and cut with wire cutters or scissors. Make as many wires as you need.

4. Make a small 1/2 inch loop at one end and twist the wire around - this will be your "knot."

5. Determine a sequence of materials - I usually have a walnut at each end, bay leaves, nutmeg, bay leaves, cinnamon, bay leaves, orange slice, bay leaves etc.

6. You can make each ornament exactly alike or feel free to vary them. I find it helps to sort out the bay leaves or lemon leaves first so I have many that are not broken and about the same size.

7. Once you feel you have enough on the wire, create a larger loop (about 1 inch), wrap the wire and try to tuck it into the last item (that's why I start and end with walnuts).

8. Finish with tied ribbon on each end or on just one end.

Storage: Especially with the dried orange slices, you need to guard against infestation. Wrap in acid-free tissue and place cedar chips or moth balls in the box.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Rosebud and Ribbon Ornaments

I like the look of having mini-rosebuds on a round ornament but it can be quite a bit of work to cover the entire surface, even a 1.5" diameter ball. So I've wrapped the ball with two strips of 1" satin ribbon and placed the rosebuds in the four open quadrants.


6 foam balls, 1.5" diameter
Satin ribbon, 1" width
Glue gun
Mini-rosebuds, bouton style (with sharp stem) in pink or red (1 lb. bag)
Brass screw eye hangers


1. Measure circumference of the foam ball and cut two pieces of ribbon so that they can wrap around the ball with a slight overlap.

2. Using the glue gun, glue the ribbon in several places to the ball. You will have time to adjust the ribbon before the glue sets.

3. Once the glue has set and cooled, begin placing the rosebuds into the ball. With the sharp points of the stems you will not need to glue the rosebuds.

4. I usually start along the edges of the ribbon, making sure that it doesn't pucker. Continue to add rosebuds until entire open area is covered.

5. When entire ball is covered, take the sharp end of the scissors, and slowly pierce a small hole in the ribbon at the top. Then screw in the brass screw eye. You may need to add a small dab of glue from the glue gun to ensure that the screw eye will hold.


Again, with dried flowers involved, make sure that these ornaments are stored in a box with acid free tissue and if needed cedar chips or moth balls.


The rosebuds are not cheap - and the red ones are even more difficult to find than the pink ones.

Also, you could use fancy pins (with pearl pinheads) to secure the ribbon instead of glue.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Peacock Feather Fans

These ornaments are fairly easy to make and a dozen can be cranked out in less than an hour.


60 peacock feather tips - with eyes, 6 - 8 inches long
Copper wire, 24 gauge or less
Wire cutter or scissors


1. Cut a 6 inch length of copper wire.

2. Select five feathers and arrange with eyes facing up. Gather together and try to fan them slightly with your hand.

3. Wind copper wire around the quill ends of the group of feathers.

4. Fan out the feathers if possible.

5. Cut a 12 - 15 inch length of ribbon and tie in a bow at the top of the quill end.

6. You should be able to hook a wire ornament hanger into the back of the bow to hang the ornament.


Wrap in acid-free tissue paper and place in a large padded envelope or box.


I like to use copper metallic ribbon with the peacock feathers - there is a nice contrast of colors. I also use copper wire rather than standard green florist wire since it may peek through.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Gilded Walnut Garland

This is the first item I began to make for A Catskill Christmas and is one of the most time intensive. Basically the garland is 20 feet long, involves drilling holes in walnuts, painting them with 24kt gold spray paint, then stringing them on 24 gauge florist wire.

In the past, I've made smaller garlands of about 6 to 9 feet and with objects such as dried rose heads, lemon leaves, orange slices even dried chili peppers. But I found that those garlands had storage issues - many leaves and pods broke open and were difficult to replace. And there is nothing more fun than having your pets find chili pepper seeds under the Christmas tree!

With the gilded walnut garland, the paint helps to seal the walnuts and if one breaks, it would be fairly easy to take two walnut halves, place them around the wire and glue together.


Large phone book
Drill with 7/64 or smaller drill bit
Walnuts, whole and unshelled
24kt gold spray paint
Drop cloth or large box
24 gauge florist (paddle) wire
Wire cutters or scissors


1. Sort through the walnuts and look for any with cracks or other damage. Use these for baking, eating, or toss out for the squirrels.

2. Make sure your drill is ready, the bit is tightly secured, and if cordless, that it is fully charged. Always wear safety glass when working with power tools.

3. Use the phone book as a surface for drilling: place a walnut on the open book with a large number of pages underneat. Position drill bit in the middle of the walnut - find a location where there is no slippage. Hold the walnut with your other hand on each end. Drill with light pressure until the bit goes through the front and back ends of the walnut. This will take some practice: if you press too hard the walnut may crack. Discard any walnut that are cracked.

4. Once all the walnuts are drilled, place on a large drop cloth or in a large box. Spray surface with gold paint. Wait 5 - 10 minutes to dry. Rearrange nuts to show unpainted surface or shake box to randomly arrange walnuts. Repeat painting and drying until entire surface is gilded.

5. Cut a 21 foot length of florist wire for a 20 foot garland. The rule of thumb is to add an extra foot to whatever length garland you want. You will need extra wire to make hanging loops at each end.

6. Create a 1" loop at one end of the wire and wrap the remaining wire around the main wire.

7. Begin stringing walnuts - this is a good project to do while watching television. Place a drop cloth or old sheet under you since there will be small walnut particles all over as the wire goes through the walnut. If the wire will not go through a walnut - place aside and try later. I have never had a walnut, if drilled properly, not work for strining.

8. As you string, push walnuts down to the end of the wire and make sure there are no spaces but still let walnuts move around.

9. When you have reached the desired length, create another loop at the other end with the wire.


Realize that there are holes in the walnuts and insects may want to feast on them in the summer. I usually place tissue paper and some moth balls or cedar chips in the box with the garlands - don't over do it, but enough to keep the bugs out.

Notes and suggestions:

- I've chosen to paint the walnuts after drilling and before stringing. This way if a walnut cracks during drilling, I haven't wasted paint. And painting the garland after stringing would not allow the walnuts to move around.

- You could also try copper or silver paint as well as glitter paint. Even try using red and gold paint and alternate the colors on the garland.

- Walnuts work best but I've also used hazelnuts (filberts). However they are expensive and much smaller thus difficult to drill without losing a finger.

- Put wire ribbon bows at each end of the garland if you are using it to decorate a doorway or window draperies.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cabinet Photo Ornaments

This idea for an ornament came from a box of old cabinet and carte de vista photographs that I inherited. I wanted a way to remember family and ancestors around the holidays and this is the perfect way to do it.

If you don't have these types of photos, they can be purchased in large lots, sometimes even grouped thematically by women, children, etc., on Ebay. I usually search under Collectibles, Photographic Images, Antique (Pre-1940), Cabinet Photos using the word "lot." I chose not to use my family's photos. It doesn't bother me that the subjects in the photos I used are not related to me. I like the look and I think antique photos of children go well on a Christmas tree.

One thing I do, however, is to scan the fronts and the backs of the photos I buy. As a genealogy and family history buff, I know what it is like to lose photos or not have them labeled properly. There are websites where I can post these and hopefully someone will identify them. I usually look at the back and note the location of the photo studio. Then I will seek out a genealogy website that specializes in that city or county and post there.

Materials Needed:

Old photos - preferrably CDV, Carte de Vista, or Cabinet format
Glue gun with hot/cold settings
Multipurpose glue sticks (hot and cold)
Preserved Cedar or Sheet Moss
Dried Mini Rosebuds
Card stock
Hole punch


1. Prepare a clean work surface and use a fabric drop cloth, old tablecloth or old bed sheet. Plug in the glue gun so it is warmed up and ready.

2. Select your photos. Go for groupings of infants, children, animals (which are very rare in CDVs), women with fancy hats, etc.

3. Glue card stock to the back of the photos using the glue gun. Select a color that compliments the color of your other ornaments. The card stock will be seen if the photo happens to spin around.

4. Punch a hole at the top of the photo to allow for an ornament hook or ribbon to hang photo.

5. Select pieces of preserved cedar or sheet moss and arrange around edges of photo but do not glue.

6. When you are happy with the layout, begin gluing cedar to the photo using the glue gun.

7. Next, place mini-rosebuds in locations around the photo. I often choose the four corners or two corners (diagonally or horizontally across from each other.)

8. When you are happy with the layout, begin gluing the rosebuds to the photo using the glue gun.

9. Remove any glue "ghosts" or "whispers" once glue has dried.

Other Ideas:

- Don't be afraid to experiment and use other items such as glitter, rhinestones, cedar roses, other types of dried flowers, etc.

- Try to keep the color of the embellishments the same as the colors of your other ornaments.

- Place flowers in the hair or on the hats of women.

- Try using bits of lace or ribbon for girls' dresses.

- Use a ribbon punch around the perimeter of the photo and lace sating ribbon through the holes.

- You may use white glue (Elmer's) or spray adhesive if you don't want to use a glue gun. You may have to wait longer for drying times.


Up front, I'll warn you that these will be difficult to store. Preserved cedar will break and rosebuds will fall off over time. Each year, before I put up the tree, I look at what ornaments need to be fixed and always keep extra cedar and rosebuds on hand.

Use acid-free tissue paper to wrap photos. Line a sturdy box with bubble wrap or other leftover packing material. Label the box "fragile".

Monday, November 19, 2007

What is A Catskill Christmas?

I've started this blog as a way of documenting the creative process. I probably should have been writing back in June during the conceptualization of A Catskill Christmas but I didn't. So you may see quite a bit of backtracking or flashbacks.

A Catskill Christmas is a private, not-for-sale, line of Christmas decorations. I am not sure if I want to pursue this as a side enterprise or eventually make the items public and for sale. In the meantime, I am returning to an endeavor that I pursued almost 15 years ago when one year I made all my own decorations for Christmas.

The name A Catskill Christmas is a tribute to the part of the country where I grew up. The Catskills are nestled between the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania and the Hudson River. For the most part it comprises the counties of Greene, Delaware, Ulster and Sullivan. The Catskill region contains breathtaking mountain vistas, large amounts of trees and wildlife, and was (and still is) a refuge for people from New York City during the summer months.

Part of living in "the country" as it was called, was being resourceful and using items that nature seemed to provide for free. I know nothing is free, even in nature - you have to be its caretaker - that is the price for nature to keep providing for your needs. Growing up it was easy to find flowers and leave for drying, nuts and seeds, twigs and vines.

Here are the concepts behind the items of A Catskill Christmas:

  • Items are individually hand-crafted.
  • Emphasis on plant, mineral and animal based items (dried flowers, moss, twigs, gold, bronze, copper, nuts, feathers).
  • Absolutely no use of plastic.
  • No modern day or religious iconograhy (no Disney, no Nativity, etc.) but more secular icons (St. Nicholas or angels) is permitted.
  • Emphasis on sense of smell - use of cinnamon, nutmeg, beeswax.
  • Colors used will be greens, golds, coppers, browns predominantly. Avoid use of purples, yellow, oranges and reds.
  • Create hang tags with info on item, name of website, etc.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Glass Ball Ornaments

I realized at the beginning of this venture that I couldn't possibly make all the ornaments I needed, at least not in 2007. And I wanted to have glass ball ornaments on the tree. I can't make my own glass ball ornaments. Even Martha can't make her own, although it is rumored she is able to create air or dirt.

In October, I spent several hours scouring the Internet searching for glass ball ornaments that would meet my requirements. The ornaments had to be available in various sizes (from 1.25" diameter up to 4" diameter), specific colors (greens, golds, browns, etc.) and different finishes (matte and shiny). In addition, I wanted ornaments at a good price, with reasonable shipping costs, and packaged as to prevent damage.

Well here I can describe my adventure, what I bought and what I didn't buy, what I liked and what I didn't like. Let's call it the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

I can't recommend Christmas Lights Etc. enough. This was the first website I located that met most, if not all, of my requirements. I just felt that their prices were a bit high compared to others. But as my mother used to say, "You buy cheap, you pay twice." Boy was she ever right.

The selection of glass ball ornaments, not to mention lights and other items, from Christmas Lights Etc. is incredible! They have sizes from 1.25" diameter up to 7" diameter. Available finishes include matte, shiny, pearl, and metallic. And the colors! On some sizes and finishes they have 42 different shades and colors.

The ornaments arrived quickly and were expertly packaged. Here is a photo of the acrylic cylinders that they were packed in. There were no dings or scratches at all.

Here are the colors that I ordered in 1.25" and 2.75" diameters:

The colors, from left to right, are Chocolate, Cognac and Kiwi

The Bad and The Ugly

I really should rename that heading to The Sad and The Ugly. Here is what happened.

I located another vendor, Merchant Overstock, and found their website through Google. I spent quite a bit of time reviewing their selection and it seemed very similar to Christmas Lights, Etc. only not all of the shades were available. But the prices were lower.

Since I look on Amazon for absolutely everything (I even buy groceries there!), I thought I'd search for "matte green glass ball ornament" and lo and behold, the same ornaments were available. The merchant's name was Season's Designs but the items were sold and shipped by Merchant Overstock. Since I had lots of gift certificates on Amazon, I thought I'd use them for the ornaments.

I ordered 15 sets of ornaments for a total of 137 ornaments ranging from 1.25" diameter to 3.25" diameter. When they arrived, I had my suspicions that this was definitely a "surprise" package. I was unimpressed by the homemade box. I am not kidding - it was two boxes cut so and taped to form one box. To me, this means several things: a) the vendor is not known for its packaging; b) they wanted to avoid having a second box and save money on shipping; c) cheap.

I was very disappointed when I opened the items. The packaging was definitely different - no cylinders here - just plastic boxes and many of the ornaments were not sitting in their compartments properly. While only one ornament broke (out of 137 that isn't bad) many had scratches and dings on them. Scratches show up more on the matte finish than the shiny. Take a look for yourself.

Here are the colors I ordered:

The colors, from left to right, are Candlelight Gold, Chocolate Bronze, Dark Gold, Lichen Green, and Moss Green.

If I had known the quality of the ornaments from Merchant Overstock, I would have spent the extra money, and it was maybe a matter of 20 dollars, on the ornaments from Christmas Lights Etc. I guess the only thing worse I could have done was to buy them at Wal-Mart (aka Hillbilly Costco).

Friday, November 16, 2007

Vendors and Materials

Here is a growing list of vendors that I use and the materials that I buy. Links to vendors are also available in the sidebar on the right.
I spent quite a bit of time looking for feathers, such as peacock and pheasant, to make ornaments (small fans tied with copper wire and a ribbon at the top). I located a vendor on Ebay named onlinefeathers.

I was very pleased with the feathers that arrived as well as the quick shipping.

Here are the feathers I bought:

Kate's Paperie

I saw this vendor listed at the back of an old Handcraft Illustrated magazine. They are based in New York City and carry an entire line of paper goods including invitations. But Kate's is most known for its ribbons. Warning: the stuff ain't cheap. But with a good sale (buy in the summer like I did when items can be up to 50% off) you'll have some of the best ribbon around. The colors are vibrant and unbelievable. In fact, I purchased some orange ribbon for A Catskill Christmas and determined that it was way too bright - I was wondering where they hid the batteries!

Here are the colors I purchased for .25" and 1" satin ribbon:

Kennicott Brothers

Kennicott Brothers is a floral supply store that is only open to retailers - meaning that you have to have a resale license. If you have your own business you probably already have one. But if not, try to find a friend in the floral business. Some cities like San Francisco have a flower mart that is open to the public (but they can't purchase at the wholesale prices without the resale license). Going to a floral supply store is the cheapest way to get the basic goods.

Here is what I usually purchase:

Floral Wire (24 gauge on a paddle)
Foam balls (1.5")
Glass Glitter
Glue Gun (dual temperature)
Glue Sticks (multi-purpose)
Pine Cones (lacquered)
Ribbon (copper)
Sheet Moss
Spray Adhesive
Spray Paint (24kt gold, copper)

Nuts Online

I knew I would need quite a few walnuts in order to make several 20 foot long garlands of gilded walnuts. Buying them at the local supermarket at $3.00 a pound and up was not reasonable. Nuts Online has a price of $1.99 a pound for a 25 pound case of English Walnuts. I really couldn't beat this price!

San Francisco Herb Company

I fell in love with the San Francisco Herb Company back in the early 1990s when I lived in San Francisco. This place is amazing and the prices can't be beat. These are the items I often buy:

Anise Star (whole)
Bay Leaves
Cinnamon (sticks)
Cedar Roses
Cedar Tips (preserved)
Cloves (whole)
Cockscomb (dried)
Nutmeg (whole)
Orange Slices (dried)
Pomegrantes (dried)
Rose Petals (dried)
Rosebuds (dried, mini)

San Francisco Herb Company is also the place to go if you do a lot of cooking. Their ground spices are so cheap and the price on authentic saffron from Spain is the best I've ever seen.


For certain ornaments where I didn't want a ribbon for hanging or was too lazy to glue florist wire, I needed screw eyes. These are small hardware pieces with a round eye on top and a screw on the bottom. They come in silver and gold finish. You want to avoid the high end ones for jewelry since they are made of real gold or silver. Also, they tend to be too small. I found a great vendor on Ebay called Wooddenparts. I was able to purchase a packet of 100 14 gauge screw eyes that were almost an inch (these are 13/16") and had an eye large enough for an ornament hook (the eye on these is 5/16"). These are the cheapest I have found for small quantities - most places on the Internet have a $50 or $75 minimum order (you'll be swimming in screw eyes) or else they tack on a special handling fee.