Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Hope Santa was good to you this year!
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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Easy Christmas Decorating Ideas: Ornament-Covered Tree

I bought a cardboard cone from Michael’s in November with plans to make some kind of tree out of it. I determined late in the game that I wanted to make an ornament tree, and am slightly ashamed to say that I didn’t finish this process until Saturday. At least it’s done and sitting beautifully on my coffee table in time for Christmas.

After waiting too long to determine that I wanted to cover the cone in glass ball ornaments, I ended up going to multiple places looking for mini glass ball ornaments to make the tree. I ended up snagging some small ornaments from Michael’s, some from Target, and some from Merrifield Garden Center, a local nursery that has a beautiful Christmas shop in season. At first, I was just going to do red, silver, green, and white. After purchasing ornaments in these colors, I called an audible and decided to add some color to my tree. This process resulted in an ornament assortment of different colors and sizes.

First, I prepped the cone by painting it with silver acrylic paint, which was only about $1 from Michael’s. I applied the paint with a foam paint brush and let the paint dry overnight.

First, I removed the “crowns” of the ornaments, which are the little metal pieces at the top that hold the metal loop on the ornament. You can usually just pull these right off. Be a little careful because the ends of the metal loop are compressed into the ornament and will expand when you pull it out of the ornament. I only removed the crowns two or three ornaments at a time because I didn’t know how many ornaments I would be using for this project.

I used a glue gun to attach the ornaments to the cone. For the first row, I picked two different sizes and alternated them around the bottom of the cone. To attach the ornaments, I put glue around the surface that the crown was attached to and held it to the cardboard cone until the glue solidified enough to hold the ornament on.

On the second row, I tried to alternate sizes, but wasn’t quite able to stick to that pattern. I made an effort to place ornaments so that I created as few gaps in ornaments as possible, but that wasn’t always doable, so the tree did have some gaps. I kept going around the tree, attempting to vary size, color, and texture of ornaments close together. To make some ornaments closer together or fit better, I glue the side or the ornament directly to the cone, rather than using the end of the ornament. I also glued some smaller ornaments to each other rather than to the cardboard cone.

This process proved to be a lengthy one, and took the better part of an entire evening. I have to admit, I was a little discouraged when I was only part way through this process.

I kept plugging along, being mindful of which colors I was using most frequently and which ornaments I needed to conserve.  As I neared the top, I paid close attention to the way ornaments were fitting. Once I got to the top, I clustered ornaments to eliminate as many gaps as possible.

After covering the tree with ornaments, I used the same silver beads that I used in my tree-topper to cover large gaps between ornaments on the tree. This actually added another dimension to the tree.

To make this project, I used a ton of mini ornaments, which included about 34  larger ornaments and many more small ones. If you wanted the tree to have a more uniform look, you should choose two different sized ornaments and stick to them. I ended up using four different sizes altogether.

I’m quite happy with the festive finished product!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Last Minute Christmas Decorating Ideas: Cheap and Easy Wreaths

Looking for a few last minute decorating ideas of before Christmas? I’ve seen a number of really cute wreaths this year made of all sorts of different materials.

Via Apartment Therapy

Via Design*Sponge

Via Design*Sponge

Via Apartment Therapy

While I would’ve loved to attempt some of these more complex wreaths, based on my limited time and budget, I had to go for two cheap and easy options. Below are two very easy examples of wreaths you can make to add some quick Christmas cheer to your humble abode.

Tinsel Wreath

I chose to make a tinsel wreath because I love the vintage look of tinsel garland, and I already had a bunch of tinsel garland on hand. If you don't have any, it's available super cheap at the dollar store.

Our large pile of tinsel garland that came from Roomie 1's dad's house
Making a tinsel wreath is incredibly simple. You can use pretty much any kind of smooth wreath form. I choose a wire one since it was only about $3.50 at Michael’s and I knew it would be easy to hang (even though I didn’t end up hanging it).

I wrapped the garland around the wreath form twice and then used floral wire to secure the end of the garland. Tinsel garland is pretty fragile, so it’s nearly impossible to secure the end by tying it. After the end was secure, I wrapped the garland tightly around the wreath, making sure not to leave any gaps. I used two pretty long pieces to cover the entire large wreath.

The beginning of my metallic creation.
I put the wreath on a washstand in our living room and leaned it against the wall. I like the way it adds a metallic element the room, and it helps vary the heights on the little Christmas toy vignette I created.

I made my washstand (that I picked up from a craigslist curb alert!) into my toy table.
I actually started collecting German smokers while working at the Christmas Attic.
Personally, I like the tinsel garland simple without any adornments. But if you wanted to jazz it up a bit, you could add things to it like ribbon, glass ball ornaments, or even lights.

Yarn Wreath

I’ve seen yarn wreaths everywhere this year, and really liked the texture and and winter sweater-like feeling of them. We needed something Christmassy for our kitchen, so I decided to pick up a straw wreath form and some yarn from Michael’s and try my hand at making one.

The yarn was on sale at Michael’s and only cost me about $2.50 per roll, and the wreath form was about $4. I used 1.5 rolls of red yarn for this project.

To make the wreath, I tied the yarn around the wreath, securing the knot on the back.

Straw wreath form with a couple rounds of yarn on it
 I then wrapped the yarn tightly around the wreath. Because the straw made the wreath an uneven texture, I didn’t worry about covering the entire wreath solidly on the first time around. The most difficult part of the process was looping the roll of yarn around the wreath so often, which was taking FOREVER. To expedite this process, I unrolled a portion of the yarn roll, and then wound it tightly around the rest of the yarn roll. Because the yarn was wound tightly in a circle on the roll, I was able to quickly roll the yarn tightly around the wreath and prevent the yarn from getting tangled.

After one layer of yarn, the wreath was almost covered. It had a few gaps because of the uneven surface of the straw wreath form. I went over it a second time to fill in the gaps.
 I went around the whole wreath twice with the yarn. The second time, I made sure every surface of the wreath form was covered. While I loved the examples of yarn wreaths that had felt flowers on them, I didn’t have any felt on hand, so instead I tied some leftover ball ornaments to the wreath with yarn. Once the ornaments were on, I took a piece of tinsel garland and wrapped it around the area where the ornaments were. I used a piece of yarn to secure the ends of the tinsel garland to the wreath.

To hang the wreath, I took a wide ribbon, cut it about a yard and ½ long, and used small nails to secure the ribbon above the bay window in our kitchen.

I hung the wreath in our kitchen window with ribbon leftover from the bow on my frontdoor wreath.

The ornaments I used were leftover from my outdoor garland.
Even though I would have loved to attempt some of the really cool wreaths that I’ve seen this year, the ones that I made were cheap and easy ways to make our house look a little more festive, which is exactly the kind of decorations I’m looking for when Christmas is less than a week away.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Cheese on Wheels

I pretty much love all foods that involve melted cheese, so when I found out through my Urban Daddy email that there is now a food truck that sells gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches in DC and Arlington.

And you can track their location on twitter @bigcheesetruck! Is this real life? I wish this rolling piece of heaven would show up around 2 or 3 am on the weekend.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Let it Snow!

It's been over 5 years since I've attend a Fairfax County Public School, but I still get giddy when I see or hear messages like this one...

Yes, it's snowing in NoVA! Naturally, the entire metro area has overreacted to the Nth degree. **Fingers crossed that I can still make my haircut at 5:30.**

But seriously, the snow is beautiful, and it's actually the first one of the season. I haven't done a song of the day in a while, I think this is the perfect occasion for one. Happy snow!

How to Make a Christmas Bow

Using bows and ribbons in your home is one of the cheapest, easiest ways to add some Christmas to every room. You’ve probably seen bows in stores before, and you may have even noticed that Michael’s charges quite a bit for them. But, as I am about to show you, bows are actually quite easy to make yourself. And with all of the Christmas ribbon at Michael's 60% off this week (at least in NoVA), now is a great time to add a little last minute cheer to your home and your presents.

Bow on my wreath
For this type of bow, you will need some wired ribbon. Wired ribbon is good because it lets you form the bow so that it keeps its shape. Home Goods and Michaels are great places to look for ribbon right now because most holiday ribbons come in longer rolls than the regular ribbon, and it’s pretty much all on sale right now.

First, cut two pieces of floral wire about 6 inches long and keep it nearby.

Once you settle on your ribbon, unroll a little over a yard (depending on how big of a bow you want). Leaving enough material for a tail if you want one, take the ribbon and fold it over, pinching it where you would like the center of your bow to be.

First loop
 Where your finger is pinching the ribbon, twist the ribbon so that the wrong side is showing.

Then, fold the ribbon over in the other direction, trying to make the loop about equal to the other side. I find it easier to eye-ball the length more accurately when the ribbon is flattened out.

Once you have folded the ribbon over, twist it in the center and continue the same process on the other side. Continue this process until you have the amount of loops you desire on both sides. I have been using 3 loops per side.

After you’ve made your loops, slip the tail from the most recent loop over and around the back so that the right side faces the same direction as the bow. Then, take a piece of floral wire and secure it around the middle of the bow. Wrap it around the back and secure the wire tightly.

Next, fluff the bow, pulling the loops out to the sides and giving them shape. This is kind of a trial and error process, so just play with the loops until  you’re happy with the look.

After you’ve fluffed the bow, cut a small piece of ribbon, about 3 inches long depending on the size of the bow. This piece will be for your center loop that hides the wire. You can you the same ribbon for this loop, or you can use another ribbon if you want to give the bow a two-tone look.

Make a small loop with this ribbon so that the ends overlap. Place the loop so that the open ends face vertically on the bow and the closed ends face the loops. Thread your second piece of wire through the center loop and secure it tightly around the back. Wrap the two pieces of wire for the bow and the center loop together a few times.

Continue to fluff the bow and mess with the tails until it’s the shape you’re looking for, and use the excess wire ends to attach the bow to your tree, the top of a picture frame, garland, or another creation.

Bows were a cheap way to bring Christmas into our kitchen.
One great thing about bows is that you can make them for all kinds of occasions -- other holidays, weddings, baby showers, etc. Go pick up some inexpensive ribbon and master this yourself!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Decorating in Super Small Spaces

As I mentioned in my previous post, my little sister lives in NYC. She’s a student in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and shares a tiny apartment with two fellow NYU students on the Lower East Side. Being from such a Christmassy family, she wanted to decorate her digs. If you’ve ever seen a New York apartment, adding ANYTHING else for the holidays is difficult. Solution? Tiny tree and wall décor.

My sis bought this 3’ pre-lit Alberta Tree for about $20 ($26 w/tax and shipping) from Target and placed it on an end table (actually a nightstand) next to her TV. The lighting on the tree was a little sparse, so she added a strand of 100 lights to it. She bought an assortment of ornaments of different sizes, colors, and textures from Kmart and hung them on the tree. Finally, she used a star that she had from home.

This tree worked well in a small space because it's tall enough to make a statement but still skinny so as not to take up too much table space.

An extra strand of lights and the assortment of colors, sizes, and textures on the tree make it a bright and colorful addition to the small urban apartment.
I know that I encouraged personal elements on trees in my post all about them last week, but I’m willing to make an exception for a small tree. Small trees are more accents than they are focal pieces, so the personal décor that you already have in the apartment will stand out more than the tree.

My sister also recreated the garland that I made and hung it on the soffit that “separates” her living room from her “kitchen”. She bought unlit garland at Kmart because it was significantly cheaper than pre-lit garland, put two strands of 100 multi-color lights on it, and then attached red, green, silver, and white ornaments to the garland with wire. She had a tough time finding wire in the city, but was able to locate it at a small hardware store near her place.

Pretty garland? Check. Total lack of kitchen storage? Check.
Sis and her roomies also hung multi-color Christmas lights around their apartment for their party, but didn’t do much more in the way of decorating. But in their small space, a few things went a long way in adding a little holiday cheer without taking up space. I know what you're thinking -- where are these things going to go after Christmas? Since both items are pretty small, they'll be tucked neatly under someone's bed until Christmas time rolls around again next year.

Cheers to bringing some brightness to a tiny apartment in the big city!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas Decoration Inspiration from the Big Apple

Last weekend I went up to NYC to visit my little sis and some friends. I think I’m still recovering.

In the midst of late nights, holiday parties, and guilty pleasure food, I managed to snag a few pics of Christmas decoration inspiration from around Manhattan. I’m definitely regretting not taking more (Including one of a house on 18th between 1st and 2nd in the East Village/Lower East side that mixed pine cones and ornaments scattered throughout beds and flowerpots on their tiny porch. If you're out there, I want a picture of it!)
Red lights and white branches on the ceiling of Pete's Tavern, which has a stellar brunch deal by the way. $12.95 for a number of brunch options, coffee, and alcoholic brunch beverage. Cheers!
Love this wall of different sized ornaments on the storefront of JC Penny. It would be oh so easy to create with a mixture of ornaments, a hot glue gun, and cardboard/wood/styrofoam/any other flat surface you can think of.

I was [obviously] obsessed with the paper stars in the window of Macy's and would love to use these throughout my house for Christmas. Maybe next year!

And more stars from Macy's. Don't they look cool stacked on top of each other?

More Macy's stars in red.
THE tree. Not so much inspiration as it is festive. And check out my friend in all his tweed glory (he was dressed for his date to the Nutcracker later that evening).

OK, you caught me, the only Christmas decoration here is a far-reaching reference to the weiney whistle in the Santa Clause. But I just couldn't help myself.  (That's what she said).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Topping Off Your Tree for Under $15

Partly because I was on a budget and party because the selection of large tree-toppers was totally picked-over, I decided to make my own tree-topper using materials from Michael’s. I bought four of the same glittered branches for $1 each (they were 50% off) at Michael’s and wired them around the tallest branch on the tree. The branch had a light on it, allowing the light to reflect off the glitter on the branches.

Glittery branches from Michael's -- $1 each
Branches wired to "trunk" of the tree
At the base of the branches, I used to floral wire to attach clusters of silver glass ball ornaments. This gave the tree topper more interest and hid the white plastic base of the branches. Finally, I took smaller silver bead ornaments that I bought in Michael’s mini tree section, wired them into clusters of five, and places them among the larger silver ornaments.

Cluster of three ornaments wired together -- $3.99 for 12
Cluster of silver bead ornaments wired together -- $2.50 per pack

I lived with the tree topper in this state for a little less than a week, and it was bothering me a little bit. It didn’t have enough interest, looked too much like the rest of the branches in the tree, and looked a little too space-agey. So, I went to Michael’s and found a white branch with pearl-like beads on it and stuffed in into the cluster of other shiny goodness. The round shiny beads on the branch link the round shiny ornaments a the base of the tree topper, making it look more cohesive. I’m much happier with this very simple addition to my original creation.

The final product
Materials and cost of project:
  • 4 glittery branches – $4 ($1 each)
  • 1 branch with pearl beads – $1.50
  • 8 silver ornaments – $3.99 (on sale)
  • Silver beads – $2.50
Total: $11.99

Friday, December 10, 2010

How to Decorate a Gorgeous Christmas Tree

Our grown-up Christmas Tree. Pay no mind to the hand-me down, work-in-progress backround decor.
I love Christmas trees, and I am so excited to have my own full sized tree in my house this year. Christmas trees make a room feel warm and cozy, and they’re a wonderful opportunity to really personalize your holiday décor.

When decorating your tree, keep in mind that the Christmas season is a very personal time of year, and your holiday decorations should reflect that as much as possible. Your Christmas tree should never look like it could be picked up and dropped in a department store or someone else’s house; it should look yours to the max.

So how do you decorate a tree that looks beautiful but still incorporates personal elements? It’s actually quite easy.

Figure out where you want to put the tree
This step is important because it will determine what size and style tree you need, which helps make the tree feel like part of everyday décor and not just some gigantic piece sitting awkwardly in your living room.

I think that the best place for your tree is the room where you will see it most, because why have a tree when you aren’t even in the same room to enjoy it? Once you pick a room for your tree, find a spot that still allows a clear walking path through the room. We put ours in the middle of our picture window on the front of our house, so we get to enjoy it inside and show it off to the neighborhood at the same time.

Find a gorgeous tree
I find that when you want to be specific about your tree decorating, artificial trees afford much more freedom, are easier to put up, and more stable once they are up because you weren’t messing with a tree stand. Don’t hate me for this. I also think that real trees can look majestic and smell wonderful. Personally, I have an artificial tree because it works for me right now, but I think that real trees can be beautiful too.  

We needed a full-sized tree for the spot we picked in front of our picture window in order to make the proportions work. Walmart was selling 6.5-foot trees for $40, but they looked pretty fake, and the space really needed something 7 feet tall. The nicer, taller trees were around $100, and I wasn’t prepared to spend that much just one the tree itself (I’d already spent that much on garland). Using my favorite source, I picked up a beautiful pre-lit 7.5 foot tree on Craigslist for $60! The tree was in a shorter box, so I was able to fit it in the back seat of my car. If you are finding that you can’t afford a tree, I suggest asking around if someone in your family is trying to get rid of one, or taking to Craigslist.

Via Craigslist DC
I could go on and on about trees, but perhaps I will save that for another post in order to speed this one up a bit.

Choose a style for your decorations
I say choose a style before choosing a color scheme because your style plays into your color scheme a lot. Are you going for Hollywood glam? Something super feminine and pretty? How about something contemporary and masculine? I decided to use a mix of vintage and natural elements into my decorations.

Choose a color scheme
Choosing a color scheme for your “backdrop” ornaments and other elements like garland is a good way to make your tree look unified while giving you room to include more personal elements that may not “go” per-say with your design aesthetic. Initially, I chose to incorporate red, silver and silvery-blue into my tree. After putting up some decorations, I determined that I also wanted a little lime green in there too. I chose this color scheme because it worked well with our existing décor, which has a lot of greens, blues, and reds in it already.

Like I mentioned previously, the style you selected definitely affects your color scheme. If you’re going soft and feminine, you’ll likely want to use pinks, bright blues, and lime greens. If you’re going mega glam, you’ll probably want lots of metallic gold, silver, and even mirrored items.  

Buy the bones
I refer to the elements like garland, round ball ornaments, and any other kind of fillers as the “bones” of the tree. These are the pieces that anchor and establish both the style and color scheme of your tree.

I love using a mixture of different size and texture round ball ornaments in my chosen color scheme on the tree. They reflect light beautifully and fill a tree quickly. I bought a mixture of red, silver-blue, silver, and green balls from Walmart and Michael’s. Plastic ornaments appear to be far more readily available this year at places like Target and Walmart, and they’re actually cheaper than glass balls. I still prefer the glass ornaments, but I’m on a budget, so I mixed. The Michael’s glass ornaments were on sale for $4, and I used those when I couldn’t find the color green I was looking for at Walmart.

Round ball ornaments aren’t the only type of filler ornaments that work well on the tree.  As long as the ornaments are consistent, and relatively simple in color, and are repeated throughout the tree, they will work to establish a unified look. Some ideas for other types of ornaments include glass or white plastic snowflakes, glass icicles, or even pine cones.

When it comes to selecting garland, I chose an economical kind: silver-blue plastic beaded, $3 for 9 feet at Walmart. I used the thin beaded kind because I liked the way it would reflect light, but be a relatively subtle element on the tree. There are many different materials that you can use as garland. Some of my other favorites are ribbon, feather boas, and paper chains.

One type of filler that few people consider is the sticks of leaf-like pieces or flowers at the craft store. Using these faux branches or flowers by sticking them in the tree is a fun way to add interest and depth to your masterpiece.

Let the decorating begin
If you are putting lights on your tree, you want to essentially wrap the lights around the branches of the tree instead of draping the lights like garland. This gives the tree more depth by illuminating the inside of it.

Once the tree is lit, the first thing I put on is garland. A lot of people think that garland needs to go continuously around the tree, and that they should drape it over the branch. Garland doesn’t actually need to look like one continuous piece. As long as you have it placed in semi circles around different parts of the tree, it should look good. Rather than draping garland over a branch, I learned from the Christmas attic that a great way to hang garland is by using an ornament hook to hang the garland from the underside of the branch. This gives you a little more control when hanging the garland, and helps the garland drape better.

Hang your garland underneath the tree branch.
 When putting up ornaments, I like to put up one color at a time so that I made sure that ornaments of the same color were distributed throughout the tree.  First I hang the largest ornaments, and gradually fill in with smaller ones. It’s important during this process to constantly be stepping back to see the tree as one big picture so that you’re placing things in good spots on the tree.

After I hung the ornaments, I stuck white feathers that I bought for $1.99 at Michael’s in branches around the tree to give it a little softness. Initially, I bought the feathers because I was worried that the tree would look too bare. I was wrong on that feeling, but I still like the softness they add to the tree.

Feathers are a cheap and easy way to both fill a tree and add softness to it.
After hanging the “bones”, we all decorated the tree with what personal ornaments we have. Roomie 1 actually had quite a few ornaments because her dad is getting remarried gave her most of his Christmas decorations to make room for his move. We put as much of those ornaments on the tree as we could, no matter how many times Roomie 2 said “oh my gosh this is so tacky, we have to use this!!” I LOVE that Roomie 1 had all those personal ornaments. Maybe the ninja turtles aren’t the prettiest thing on the tree, but they give our tree character and give it a personal, collected-over-the-years feeling that a Christmas tree should have. I actually have an entire box of ornaments given to me by grandparents and parents every year, but they are nice and I’m not ready to bring them with me until I buy a house myself (my mom was thrilled that she didn’t have to part with them yet). I did have some ornaments that I collected during college when I was decorating a mini tree for my apartment there.

Roomie 1's Ninja Turtles Ornament (can you tell what decade we were born in?)

I'm so thrilled we found this in Roomie 1's box of ornaments. It's an ornament from her parents' first Christmas together.

I bought the flower ornament from West Elm this year, and the glass ornament is a Christopher Radko reproduction of vintage Shiny Brite ornaments.
If you’re a young renter like me and you don’t have many personal ornaments, try asking your parents if there are any that they’d like to part with. Even if they’re not flawless pieces of art, they'll remind you of your family when you see them on the tree. I also think it’s a great idea for roommates to make a few ornaments for your tree to give it personal aspects that are specific to your house, not just your family. You can do this simply by painting glass balls or cardboard shapes like those from Paper Source, or you can get a little more creative with paper and other craft supplies. Regardless of your strategy, work hard to incorporate all of your roommates into the tree.

Some additional tree-decorating tips:
  • Ornament hooks are your friend. Even if you have an ornament with a string on it, I suggest putting an ornament hook through the hole through which the string is threaded. This is good because strings are often cut too long for the ornament, and if you hang it on one branch it’s likely to sit between two lower branches.
  • Floral wire can be used instead of ornament hooks to hang ornaments more securely to the tree. Keep in mind that when you do this, the ornament removal process will be much longer than if you were using hooks.
  • Hang ornaments at varying depths in the tree to give the tree dimension.
  • Pay attention to the placement of lights when putting ornaments on the tree. Not only do they reflect beautifully off of glass ball ornaments, they also light up details in some of your more ornate ornaments.
  • It’s better to have too many ornaments on a tree than too few.
  • If you have sets of ornaments, hang them together in one vignette on the tree. For example, my family has a set of three snowmen of the same style (one for each kid) and we hang them together as a group.
  • If your tree is in front of a window, don’t worry too much about decorating the side of the tree facing the window. Unless your window is right on a sidewalk, most people can’t see what’s on the tree when the lights are on. 
  • Always take time to step back from your tree and see how the whole package looks.
Top It All Off
Most people think of the traditional star or angel to top their tree, but there are many other options for tree toppers.
  • Bows are an inexpensive tree topper, and can easily be changed from year to year. You can have one made at a craft store, buy one at a store or nursery (the Christmas Attic makes them with their own ribbon all the time), or learn how to make one yourself.
  • Cluster glass ball ornaments together with floral wire and wire them to the top of the tree
  • Cluster long feathers, branches, or other fillers at the top of the tree and hide stems with ribbon or ornaments
  • If you have a tree topper that looks too small on a large tree, sit it on top of a bow or cluster glass ball ornaments at the base of it to make the proportion of the entire package more in keeping with the rest of  your tree.
When decorating your tree, just be creative! There’s no rule that says you have to stick to conventional tree toppers or garland, and some of the coolest trees are the ones that incorporate unexpected elements into them. Happy decorating!

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