DIY: Christmas Decorating

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This herbal holiday tree is eloquent in its quiet simplicity.
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A festive garland is made from ingredients commonly found in gardens and kitchen cupboards.
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This herbal holiday tree is eloquent in its quiet simplicity.

Bring Christmas into your home with simple pleasures. The sweet fragrance of cinnamon and clove, festive peppermint candy canes dangling from colorful ribbons, bright swags, and fragrant bundles of herbs can decorate a home and set a holiday mood throughout the season. For many people, this time of year is already associated with expense and debt, and so we went looking for some herbal holiday craft projects that can be made from nothing–or almost. We asked Don Haynie, a whirl of creative energy and co-owner of Buffalo Springs Herb Farm in Raphine, Virginia, to develop some quick and easy Christmas decorating projects for us.

He came up with two basic craft ideas that can be varied in an infinite number of ways to suit the materials you may have on hand, the look you want, the fragrances that remind you of Christmas, the amount of work you want to do, and even the mood you’re in. One is a decorative tree to hang like a wreath on a wall or door or to give as a gift. After the holiday season, it becomes an appealing but practical drying rack from which to hang your bundles of herbs from the garden. The other is a garland to drape or hang around a doorway or window, along a mantel, around the kitchen cabinets, or on any surface or corner that needs a touch of Christmas. Both are fragrant, festive, and adaptable.

A Simple Stick Tree

The framework of this Christmas tree is made from sticks, so take a stroll in the woods to find the materials. When choosing sticks, look for different wood types, and leave the bark on if you’d like the finished tree to have a rustic look. You’ll need three sticks for the framework and two or three more for the inside braces, depending on the size. (This one is about 3 feet tall, but the tree could be any size.) You can see the basic tree construction in the photograph on page 60.

Lay your sticks in a triangle on a tabletop and after you’ve decided how big a tree you want, cut them to the appropriate lengths, letting them overlap by an inch or two. Join the sticks at the corners by tying them securely with pieces of raffia, string, yarn, wire, or ribbon.

To decorate the tree, choose small bundles of dried or fresh herbs and everlastings, each tied with a bright ribbon or other material. Evenly space the bunches along the crossbars of the tree to see how they’ll look, then secure them to the tree framework with the same material as the bows or a different one. Our tree has ten bundles on the crosspieces and one at the top.

Variations On A Tree

Another way to assemble a tree is to construct only an outer triangle and omit the crossbars. Tie your decorations onto the two sloping sides so that they hang down into the center at varying heights, or use lots of bundles, tying them close together and close to the sticks so that they overlap each other and cover the entire framework. You could also add a sheaf of raffia or ribbon to the center bottom stick to dangle down and suggest the trunk of the tree.

Or let this simple triangular framework suggest other ideas. Instead of crossbars, tie wire, raffia, or yarn to the sides across the middle like a spiderweb and from it hang small, lightweight decorations: single dried flowers, dried apple, lemon, or orange slices studded with cloves, cinnamon sticks tied with ribbon, or delicate Christmas ornaments. If the tree’s destination is a kitchen wall, herbs, spices, dried fruits, and nuts are especially appropriate. Sages, mints, citrus, cloves, and cinnamon have aromas that many people associate with the holidays.

For additional color and texture, use everlastings such as statice or yarrow or tie dried cranberries in a bunch with a needle and thread. Experiment with color. Want an orange and yellow tree? Try dried safflowers, orange and lemon slices, yarrow, and statice.

Candy canes, gingerbread children decorated with white icing, pinecones, tips of evergreen branches . . . let your imagination run free.

Garland From The Garden

The second simple, something-from-nothing craft project is a garland, which can dress up any entryway or window frame. Almost any kind of garden vine, now stripped by nature of its greenery, can be the starting point for a garland: try vines of bittersweet, grape, honeysuckle, kudzu, or ivy. Raffia braids and twisted or braided gift-wrapping ribbon are other possibilities. Garlands can be any length; ours is about 6 feet long. Twine the strands together, securing them occasionally with thin wire. For variety, try twisting different types of vines together, using strands of varying thickness.

From the vine garland, hang any decorations you like, one about every 3 to 5 inches, depending on their size. Clumps of bright red chiles give the garland on page 63 a festive Southwestern look, but look closely and you’ll see a variety of materials that can be found in any kitchen and are applicable to any decorating style you choose, from Victorian to country. Dried orange slices, cinnamon sticks, and dried bean pods fill the gaps between small wreaths.

The tiny wreaths on the garland are made of simple materials glued over a backing of pipe cleaners or other material fashioned into a circle. One wreath is made of overlapping bay leaves; on another, pumpkin seeds are glued into place over the pipe-cleaner circle, then trimmed with red raffia. A third tiny wreath is made of stems of a fragrant herb twined together and loosely wrapped with red raffia, which also forms a bow at the top; in this case, stems of wormwood are used, but any other flexible, aromatic plant stems would work as well. You can also thread dark and golden raisins on wire and twist the wire into interesting shapes.

You can always tuck a little tradition and symbolism into a garland. Santolina, for example, was believed to ward off bad spirits, so it’s perfect for over a doorway. Austrians in the past hung tiny mirrors from their garlands to protect their homes against evil. Include a sprig of thyme to symbolize the wise and thrifty ways in which you’ve decorated your home this holiday season.

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