The holidays are a time of love, family and joy. We all sit around, eat cookies, talk of times past and exchange gifts. Oh yeah. Then there’s the annual sweating bullets because we just realized we can’t afford gifts for Grandma, much less the new gift-toting neighbors.
That’s where Anne Sneary comes in. She’s the fiber specialist who showed me how to make these holiday ornaments. Originally she was to show me how to make glamorous Japanese temari balls. While they were truly exquisite, they required the learning ability, sewing talents and dexterity of a brain surgeon. I have neither, so I asked if we could perhaps modify the project. Anne, being the accommodating type she is, came up with the pleasing ornaments that I believe any ‘ol person could make.
The whole thing was a piece of cake (easy enough for your kids to make while occupying them for long stretches of time). I also liked the fact that what you see is what you get; you don’t have to worry about what it will look like when it dries. Mistakes are easily fixed, although it’s pretty hard to make any in the first place.
Not only do these ornaments make low (almost no) cost gifts, but they’ll spruce up your own tree without producing the drooping branch effect that weightier ornaments cause. No worries, and something for the neighbors. Although my family celebrates Hanukkah, not Christmas, I can assure you that Grandma Silver will definitely be receiving her share of ornament balls this holiday season.
2 1/2 inch to 3 inch Styrofoam balls (under $1) coned
Merino wool fiber (found at weaving and/or spinning supply shops for $2 an ounce; I figure you’ll need 1/2 ounce per ball and a few, festive colors) Note: Merino is the finest form of sheep wool.
soap flakes (Ivory is a reliable brand)gold or silver metallic thread and needleglue and glitter (optional)
1.Fill a Crockpot with hot water, add soap flakes and stir.
If you are making these with kids, make sure you’re the only one near the hot water.
2. Pull off approximately 1 foot of wool fiber from the bundle — using the color you want for the background — and hold it in your left hand. Now grab it at the top between your fingers and the ball of your thumb, and pull off a 3-inch strand. It should separate easily; if not, you’re pulling too much wool.
3. Keep pulling off 3-inch strands from the top until you have about 20 of them. Pull off some strands from the other colors as well.
4. Dip the Styrofoam ball in the hot, soapy water, and then wrap one of your wool strands around it, smoothing the fibers. Hint: If you have some strands that are messier or thicker than the others, use those strands first.
5. Continue placing strands on the ball, dipping them in soapy water and smoothing the fibers. The more you smooth, the rounder the shape. You may want to wear surgical gloves if you have very sensitive skin. Also, try not to be put off by the smell which, unfortunately, stinks like a wet dog.
6. Once all of your first-color layers are on, start adding on layers in the other colors. You can use as many or few as you want. Be creative with your designs.
7. When all of your layers are on and you’re pleased with the design, start rubbing the top layer of wool gently with your fingers and the palm of your hand. Make sure you do this over a bowl or plate since soapy water will be pouring and dripping out. When the wool fibers are on so firmly that you can’t pinch them from the ball, start rubbing more and more firmly. It should take approximately 15 minutes from start to finish until the fibers are perfectly molded onto the ball.
8. To rinse off soap from your ornament, hold it under clear sink water. Then, dip it in a solution of 3 tablespoons of vinegar per 1 quart of water; rinse off again in clear water.
9. Roll the ball over a towel and let air dry for a couple of days. Wool is one of those tricky materials that can feel dry on the surface but be really wet underneath.
10. Thread a piece of metallic thread through a needle and knot at the end. At the top of your ornament, stick the needle in and sew yourself a big loop for hanging it on the tree.
Anne and her partner Joanne Georgeown the Felt Foundry in Boulder, CO. They make and sell hats, vests and other products using colored felt.