Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What I've Been Working On: 15 years of Handmade Christmas Ornaments

One year my mom decorated her entire Christmas tree in pink and silver.  Another year, she and my sister spent a couple of hours hot-gluing real candy to the branches of their live tree.  They didn't even bother getting the ornaments out that year. 

My theme, on the other hand, is always the same- handmade eclectic!  Every year I make a new set of ornaments to put on our tree.  The old broken ones get tossed and the new ones get added.  I let the kids put up the tree.  The only thing I do is hand out the ornaments so they can't rummage through the box and break things.  Our tree will never be magazine-worthy but we love it!

I thought I'd share some of the ornaments we have done over the years.  These are sort of in chronological order.  (Most of them aren't dated.)  All of these are handmade but not all by me. We do have a few store-bought ornaments on there because one year my sister complained that we didn't have enough "sparkle" on the tree and proceeded to buy us a set of ornaments the next year (even after I told her that I only wanted to use handmade ones).  I put them up so as not to insult her.  It's not worth fighting over...

Anyway, here they are (be warned, this is long):

I'm pretty sure this is our oldest ornament.  Rock made this in scouts years ago.  It's a coke can.  They cut the top off and then cut the sides of the can into strips and curled the strips around a pencil to make a wreath.  Hmm, one of these years I might have to make these with the kids... (Yes that's hubby's picture in the middle, wasn't he cute?)
I made this when I was a teenager.  One of my few attempts to tole paint.  I quit when I decided I wasn't going to get any better!
I worked in a ceramic shop the year after graduation.  That's when I made these cat ornaments.  There used to be some reindeer as well but the kids broke all of them.  I loved painting ceramics...

This one and the next were made of styrofoam balls wrapped in scraps of fancy trim and sequins.

Pompoms and hot glue.  What more can I say?

I was a huge Garfield fan when I was young.  These were made of shrink plastic, using pictures from a Garfield coloring book.  The kids always fight over these two.

When we first met, Rock sent me a dozen roses at work with a poem.  (We got married 6 weeks later.)  I dried the roses and put them in 3 clear plastic bulbs and added some ribbon trim.  I think these are my favorite ornaments.

We were pretty poor after we first got married so I made these origami stars out of wrapping paper and glitter glue.  Most of them have been crushed now, but I still have a few.

Mom knew we didn't have money for ornaments that first year so she and my Grandma made me these huge styrofoam and colored plastic wrap lollipops.  The kids have destroyed all but this one and it's in pretty sad shape too.

These were the first ornaments I made with the kids.  We drew all over some aluminum foil with permanent markers and then carefully wrapped the foil around styrofoam balls.  Added a hanging loop and a ribbon and we were good to go.

Ahh, my frogs.  My sister loves frogs so I decided to make ornaments for her one year.  I loved them so much I made a set for myself.  They are made out of craft foam and hot glue.

Mom made these ones.  Glazed ceramic, decal flowers and silk flowers on top.  They look breakable but they really aren't too bad.

I did an ornament exchange with a bunch of women on my favorite homeschooling message board one year.  This one was my favorite.  I don't know how she knitted such tiny stuff but I love them!

This one's a little goofy looking but I was in charge of weekly activities for the 8-9 year old girls at our church one year.  We made these angels out of the old-fashioned clothespins, wired ribbon, lace, pipecleaners and other stuff.  They had a lot of fun making them.
And, of course we can't forget the beaded ornaments.  These were actually made over several years.  Some of them are woven and some are made with pipecleaners.  I made a few, mom made a few, and mother in law made some of them- even my daughters made some!

This one's woven.

Beads, lace and pipecleaner.


And this one is my son's contribution to the Christmas tree this year.  I turned him loose with the box of pipecleaners and some basic instruction and this is what he came up with.

Well, that's it.  Are you thoroughly bored yet?  Have you ever made Christmas ornaments for your tree?


Polymer Clay Tutorial: Striped Filigree Christmas Bulb

It's time for a holiday tutorial!  This one is a really simple project that can be quite striking.  This one is in candy cane colors but you could add green to the red and white or use any other Christmas color combination you want. 

I've also included some information in this tute about using an extruder.  I use mine a lot and I've mentioned it in a few of my other tutorials so I thought it was about time I showed you some of the hints and tips I've learned.  Hey, let's start with my extruder pusher!

So this is what it looks like.  There are two 18-inch 2x4 boards.  Drill a hole in the top one with a bit a little bigger than the barrel of your clay gun.

Attach the two boards together with a big hinge.  (My clay pusher is covered with white duct tape 'cause I was too lazy to sand and paint it but I didn't want slivers.)  You can kind of see the shape of the hinge under the duct tape.

Close the boards and stick the drill through the hole in the top board to make an indentation in the same spot on the bottom board.  This is to keep the plunger from slipping.  You don't want it more than 1/4 inch deep or so.
To use it, you just load the extruder with clay (more about that below), stick the plunger in, stick the head of the clay gun through the top hole, rest the end of the plunger in the bottom hole, and push the boards together to get the clay through the hole.  (This photo shows the plunger not quite lined up with the barrel of the clay gun.  You don't want that.  I made sure everything was straight before I pushed the clay through.  It helps if you only load the clay gun 3/4 full or less.)

Now you know how to use an extruder! :)

Okay, so on to the real tutorial...

Striped Filigree Christmas Bulb

Supplies Needed:
about 1 oz red clay, well-conditioned
about 1 oz white clay, well-conditioned
waxed paper
1 3-4 inch glass Christmas ball ornament
ribbon bow and glue

Tools Needed:
extruder with medium round hole disk and optional pusher
tissue blade

Make sure your clay is good and soft so that it will be easier to extrude.  Roll each of the colors into logs small enough to fit in the extruder and about 3/4 the length.  (I needed about 2 1/2 barrels full.)

Cut both logs in half lenthwise...

...and switch them so you have two logs that are half red and half white.

Wrap each log in waxed paper, leaving about 1/4 inch of the log hanging out the end.

Close up the other end of the paper.  This is to keep your extruder clean.  The paper will kind of scrunch up in there and leave no clay in the barrel.  Wonderful!

Extrude your clay.

Take the plunger out of the extruder before you take the end off.  Toss the paper, unscrew the other end of the extruder and clean it out.  Now you're ready for the next load.

Twist one of your extruded strings on the work surface to give it stripes.

Trim the end of the string and start rolling it into a coil.

When you've gone around a couple of times, press it onto the bottom of the glass bulb.  You should be able to see a mark on the bottom of the bulb.  This should be the center.  If you have trouble getting the clay to stick to the bulb, you can brush a thin layer of liquid clay on there or rub it with one of those glue sticks that kids use for paper and stuff.  This will give the clay something to grab onto. 

Keep wrapping the string around in circles, twisting as you go.  Cover half of the bulb and trim the end neatly.  This was one entire string for me so it fit perfectly.

It's easier to handle the bulb if you don't have raw clay covering the whole thing so at this point you need to bake it.  I like to hang it on a bamboo skewer and rest the skewer on a glass candle holder with the bulb hanging inside.  Bake at 265F for 30 minutes.

When it is cool,  pull the cap off.

Get another string and cut the end straight.  Lay it on the bulb flush with the end of the other string.

Keep wrapping and twisting.  If you run out of string, start another one.

Hopefully, your strings will get to the top at the same time.  If you have a bigger gap on one side than another, you may have to tweak a little.  The last strand should go about halfway up the neck of the bulb.  Trim the end at an angle so it lays even with the rest of the strand.

Carefully put the cap back on.  Hang it up and bake it for another 30 minutes.

Add a bow and hook and you are done!

The kids are looking forward to making some of these this week!