The holidays are almost here and one of my favorite things to do is use what nature provides to decorate my home. You can go into almost any store this time of year and find super cute country crafts. You could buy them, but it is so much cheaper (almost free) and fun to gather the materials and make them yourself. When you make the things you use in your home you can customize sizes, colors, and materials, and you can get the kids in on the action as well. Having items you and your family have made instills a sense of pride in everyone, plus when you decorate with nature you’re not buying more stuff that will eventually end up in the trash.
Gathering Your Supplies to Decorate with Nature
Before it gets cold and you lose the bounty available, take a walk and collect anything and everything you think you could use. Acorns, small seed pods, pine cones, magnolia pods, vines, and flowers are beautiful and make interesting natural decorations. Vines that are at least as thick as a pencil and pliable can easily be made into wreaths and swags. Brush off excess debris from vines, leaves, and seed pods and lay them out for two or three days before using them for crafts. You can store your leaves in the pages of an old phone book. This will help remove excess moisture, which prevents mold, and prevents them from curling up.
There are many flowers that are very easy to preserve by air drying. Flowers dried at the end of summer are ready to use for fall and winter decorating. Whether you arrange dry flowers in a vase, wire them onto a swag, or glue them onto a straw wreath, they are a naturally beautiful way to bring the outdoors into your home.
Air-drying flowers is a simple process. Cut the flowers when they are just about to bloom or in their early bloom stage. Remove all the leaves from the stems. Group the flowers together in small bunches. Tie each bunch tightly with string. As the flowers dry, the stems will shrink. If they are not tightly bound, they will fall out of the bundle. Hang your small flower bundles upside down in a warm, dry, and dark location until completely dry. This usually takes two to three weeks.
Some good flowers to dry this way are hydrangea and oak leaf hydrangea, artemisia, nigella, larkspur, Spanish moss, statice, celosia, baby’s breath, lavender, yarrow, strawflower, bachelor’s buttons, and roses.
The pine cones you collect and clean can be used as they are or you can bleach them for a wintery look. To bleach pine cones, mix one part water to two parts bleach. Let pine cones soak for twenty-four hours before removing. Let dry.
Crafting with Fall Leaves
The first fall project is a leaf bowl. It is a fun and messy project that kids really enjoy. First, go on a nature walk and pick up a bag of beautiful leaves. Once you get home, brush them off and lay them out for a day. This allows any bugs to crawl off of them. When you are ready to make the bowl, blow up a balloon. Mix equal parts white glue and water in a bowl. Thickly cover the bottom half of the balloon with the glue mixture using a sponge paintbrush. Lay a leaf on the bowl and generously cover with glue. Continue adding leaves, overlapping each leaf, until the bottom of the balloon is covered with leaves. Let dry for 48 hours. Pop the balloon to reveal your fall leaf bowl. This bowl looks great holding miniature pine cones, acorns, or potpourri.
Another thing you can do with bags of beautiful fall leaves is make a garland. The size you make depends on the amount of leaves you have collected and where you want to hang it. A smaller garland looks nice draped over the top of a window while larger garlands can be made to hang over doors and across mantels. To make a leaf garland, string your fall leaves on heavy-duty thread or fishing line. Knot both ends and hang. This is the kind of craft that can be worked on as you have the time. Even very young children can do this with minimal supervision and a plastic needle.
Decorating with Candles
Candles are an easy way to change the look and feel of a room. In addition to providing a warm glow, you can get them in any scent imaginable. Remember the two basic safety rules when decorating with candles: do not put them close to flammable materials and never leave an open flame unattended.
For a traditional fall look using candles, simply arrange pillar candles on a cake stand. Add acorns or coffee beans around the base of the candles. This arrangement can be easily rearranged for the Christmas holiday season by using a berry garland and a string of LED lights around the base of the candles instead of the acorns or coffee beans.
Candles wrapped in cinnamon sticks are another great look. They are easy and inexpensive to make. You need pillar candles, thick rubber bands, cinnamon sticks, twine, and ribbon. To make each candle, slide a rubber band around the bottom of the candle and push up a couple of inches from the bottom. Slide cinnamon sticks, one at a time, behind the rubber band, flush with the bottom of the candle. Continue until the candle is completely encircled with cinnamon sticks. Wrap twine around the candle five or six times in order to cover the rubber band. Wrap the ribbon around the twine and tie in a bow.
You can make an unusual candle arrangement by raiding your recycling bin. Taper candles fit snugly and safely into wine bottles. Once the candles are standing in the wine-bottle candlesticks, use a piece of twine to tie a small evergreen branch around the neck of each bottle. These upcycled candlesticks look great on a mantle or down the center of a dining-room table.
For an easy Christmas centerpiece, gather up your mason jars. You will also need some floating candles, fresh cranberries, evergreen cuttings and ribbon. Wrap your ribbon around each mason jar. Put a few small sprigs of evergreens and a handful of fresh cranberries in each jar. Fill the jars 2/3 full with water. Add a floating candle to each jar. These are beautiful glowing jars on a dinner or buffet table.
Use your camping lanterns if you want holiday lighting without an open flame. Instead of candles, fill the lantern with inexpensive holiday ornaments and a strand of battery-operated lights. These lanterns look good indoors or out and are a festive and safe alternative to candles if you have very small children.
For another flame-free lighting option, fill wire baskets with pine cones. Add a strand of battery-operated lights to each basket. This looks great with white or colored holiday lights, and is a fun decoration to have in a child’s room.
Decorating with Wreaths
Wreaths are a perfect seasonal decorations. They are very expensive so making them is definitely worth the time and effort required.
The broken-rake “wreath” is the easiest wreath you can make. Even better, you can change the look of it each season. You need the working end of a broken rake. If you don’t have one, just wait. If you’re anything like me, you will have one soon enough! Hang it on a door or wall. For fall, drape Spanish moss or a strand of fall leaves through the tines and hang a garland of dried fruit from the first tine to the last. Tie a bow where the handle used to be. For Christmas, keep the rake but change the arrangement by using strands of berries and evergreens. Hang a favorite ornament or two from the tines.
A wreath made with colorful Indian corn is a gorgeous fall decoration. Unless you grow your own Indian corn, you will spend a little bit of money to make this wreath, but because it is so spectacular and will last if stored carefully, I think it is worth it. Start with a straw wreath base. They come in a variety of sizes. A 15” straw wreath will use about 40 ears of Indian corn. Gather multi-colored Indian corn with the husks still attached. The cobs should be approximately the same length. To make this wreath you will also need a hot-glue gun and a large sheet of plastic. Spread the sheet of plastic out to protect your workspace. Fluff the husks on the corn. These can be fragile, so be careful. If the husk breaks off, hot glue it back on. Using a generous amount of hot glue, attach each ear of corn to the straw wreath. Line up the tips of the corn to make the wreath even. Let the wreath dry completely. Pick the wreath up from the straw base and shake. If any ears wobble or fall off, re-attach. This wreath will keep indefinitely with proper storage. It must be completely dry before storing. Once dry, double wrap it in heavy-duty trash bags.
Grapevine and Fabric Flower Wreath
I think grapevine wreaths look great hanging anywhere just as they are. If you want to add a little something extra to a grapevine wreath, it is easy to do. You can make no-sew fabric flowers with scraps of fabric you probably have on hand. I like to use burlap, but you can use anything you have available. Cut a strip from the fabric you have chosen. The longer and wider your strip of fabric is, the bigger your finished flower will be. Put a thin line of hot glue or fabric glue on one of the small ends of the fabric strip. Begin to roll tightly. Add another line of glue after every second or third roll. Continue until you have used the entire strip of fabric. Add the last line of glue and hold your flower tightly (a clothespin works well for this) until it is completely dry. Once you have multiple flowers made, hot glue them in a cluster on the grapevine wreath. Cut a wide strip of fabric, or use a wide ribbon that coordinates with the flowers you made, and use to hang your wreath.
Starburst and Snowball Wreath
For this wreath, you need twigs in various lengths, chunky white yarn, a hot-glue gun and glue sticks, cardboard, and scissors. First, cut a circle out of the cardboard with a hole in the center. This will be the base of your wreath. Next, begin gluing the sticks you have gathered to the cardboard base. Start by gluing the longer sticks, spacing them evenly around the wreath base. Fill the spaces between the longer sticks in with the shorter sticks. While the sticks are drying, make your snowball pom-poms. Wrap the yarn around two fingers ten to twelve times. Tie a knot, cinching the middle of the yarn tight. Slip the yarn off your fingers and cut the loop on each side with sharp scissors. Trim and fluff the pom-poms until you are satisfied with the way it looks. When you have made enough pom-pom snowballs to cover the interior circle of the wreath, hot glue them in place. Let the glue dry before hanging. This wreath looks good as is, but you could also hang an ornament from one of the longer sticks or weave a strand of battery operated lights around the sticks.
These are just a few examples of the wreaths you can make. You can make a number of easy wreaths with the flowers you have dried, pine cones, seed heads and pods, and feathers by hot gluing the items you have gathered to a straw wreath. You are only limited by your imagination!
Celebrate the homestead life while appreciating and using the resources nature has given us by decorating with nature. Whether you make seasonal decorations on your own, or gather the materials and invite friends and family (and maybe their gathered supplies) over for a “make and take” party, enjoy the blessings of the upcoming seasons.
Highly recommend that people avoid using invasive plants to decorate, like Oriental bittersweet, unless they then BURN said wreath/ornament when they are done, to prevent seed spread by birds and rodents.