Ha’penny holidays: DIY decorations from nature

The snow has finally arrived and I’ve begun to reminisce about Decembers past. Some people find the Christmas season a bore because of the constant warble of carols or the frantic rush for presents, and I don’t blame them, but I also love the rituals of tree and cookies and Charlie Brown. Even in university, I held mini celebrations to keep the spirit alive. They were low-budget and sometimes lonely (I had exams and final essays at the same time) but they boosted my morale, and more often than not, they didn’t cost me a penny.

Think of this post as a companion to Exploring Norwich Student Style: a how-to for those who refuse to be held back in life by limited funds. Homemade decorations from natural materials are the focus today. Next week, I’ll introduce you to the wonders of wallpaper!

Go wild

Ever notice how many decorations are just plastic imitations of evergreens, berries, and other natural materials? You can save quite a bit of money if you opt for real over synthetic. Backyards, gardens, and some parks (depending on local law – always check!) are full of free and beautiful things.

Before you go outside:

You don’t want to bring fungi, wood lice, or other pests into your house, so make sure to expose your materials to extreme temperatures before using them. Put branches and pine cones in the oven for 1-2 hours, and more delicate things in the freezer for 48 hours. Please note that these methods aren’t guaranteed – always check for reports of invasive species or plant diseases in your area.

Keep it legal: Ask first! Don’t take anything without the landowner’s permission, or permission of the local government if you’re on public land. In a conservation area, the law usually prohibits you from taking anything at all to prevent damage to the ecosystem.

What can we make?

For most projects, you’ll only need basic supplies like hot glue and strong scissors or clippers. If you have (or want to learn) some wood-working tricks, try online tutorials and your local library for free instructions on more complicated crafts.

Pine cones might just be the most versatile of all: brushed with paint, rolled in glitter, hung on chandeliers, given twig antlers and a red nose… They come in all sorts of shapes, and their rustic look keeps other decorations from looking too prim.

Last year I made this pine cone garland (following these instructions). All it required was string, scissors, and twine.

Check out this list of projects on the fabulous DIY site Bren Did for more cone crafts. The ‘snowflake’ below is my favourite.

Image by Bren Did

Twigs & branches also have a rustic feel, but they come in a much wider variety of colours than evergreen cones. Red osier dogwood has beautiful cranberry bark, willow twigs are bright yellow-green, and white birch logs stand out in the winter dark.

If you have thin sticks and twigs, try:

Heavier branches and logs can become:

Evergreen branches are in a class of their own, though they’re often overlooked in favour of trees and store-bought wreaths. Repurpose off-cuts from Christmas trees and trimmings from your yard as anything from dainty sprigs on the table to a garland over the door.

If you want to make your own wreath, you’ll need a base to attach the branches to. A wire frame from an old store-bought wreath works, or you can make your own base out of willow branches following this tutorial. I’ve made wreaths out of wild grapevine and Virginia creeper using the same technique, and it works brilliantly.

Add some cedar boughs, wallpaper leaves, and a (pretend) cardinal, and the result is:

Stay tuned for next week’s post, featuring more winter crafts made of wallpaper!

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