Last year I was so excited to be in our ‘new’ house I went a little over-the-top with Christmas and planned on writing an entire series for Getting The Designer Look.
Well, I got only one post written. But there’s quite a bit of info in there and I might repeat myself here and there. You should be used to that by now.
There was a time when I was the floral/display designer at a large craft store. When October rolled around, it was my job to decorate all the trees, not to mention various vignettes and other displays. We could easily have twenty or more trees, depending upon how many lines of ornaments the buyers had purchased.
Each tree was set up expressly to sell ornaments which were hung on racks by the trees as well as set in bushel baskets under the tree.
So I had a few goals – 1) design a beautiful, appealing tree that would entice customers to look at the ornaments, 2) fill the tree with interesting items besides just Christmas ornaments so customers might be inclined to follow my lead and 3) fill the center of the tree with fabrics and ribbons so the tree still looked full at the end of a day.
You see, even though there were racks and bushel baskets full of ornaments for sale, many customers would simply take the ornament off the tree. By the end of a shopping day, the tree would be completely empty unless I had it filled with fabric.
Along the way, private customers would ask me to decorate the trees in their home (which the store didn’t allow so I got to do that by myself, which was wonderful). These clients had high-end, affluent homes and did not want their 11-14′ trees simply hung with ornaments. Oh no. They wanted the themed trees full of fabrics, ribbons, and floral clusters I used in the store’s trees.
I’ve been decorating my own trees the same way since then . . . from 1997 to 2007 or so . . . and I’ve just gotten used to doing it that way. I’ve always wanted to do a video to show people how to stuff a tree with fabric but I don’t know how to light it properly so viewers could actually see what I’m doing. Forgive me if these photos aren’t clear . . . or my instructions. Maybe by next year I’ll figure out the lighting.
Shoot, you probably already have your tree decorated anyway!
Artificial trees have come a long, long way since 1997, believe me. Prelit! And mine here sets up in three steps.
Nothing like what we went thru in ‘the old days’.
Whether you have a prelit artificial tree or enjoy the tradition of going to a tree farm for a live one, there are a few rules of thumb for lighting them. The first one is the obvious one – test all the lights before stringing them. By the way, those little light testor thingies work pretty well.
Ok, moving on.
Tip #1 – For every foot as your tree is high, use 100 lights.
Seven foot tree = 700 lights. Six foot = 600 lights. And so on.
This will seem like way too many lights, especially if you’ve been using about half as many, which most people do. But once you see your tree absolutely glow, you’ll never go back to those ‘paltry’ few.
Safety Tip: make sure you connect only 300 lights to each other. Have plenty of power strips handy.
Tip #2 – Don’t wrap lights around the tree like a Maypole
Trust me, when you have to light 15-20 trees, there’s no way to light them the ‘regular’ way. Instead, visually divide the tree into 3 triangular sections, from the top to the base. Weave the lights vertically in each triangle section rather than round and round. Also, leave lots of ‘play’. You’ll want to be able to tug the lights to showcase a particular area or ornament.
This tip comes after years and years of lighting trees. The first “professional” tree I did I actually wired the lights to the branches so the wires wouldn’t be visible. Good grief.
Of course, you won’t have customers removing ornaments from your branches – well, maybe little kiddo shoppers – but there are design reasons to using fabrics in a tree.
Color. Texture. Dimension. Pattern.
Those are just a few benefits that fabrics add to a tree. If you have a theme, a fabric will pull it altogether. For Woodland or Country, burlap is perfect. Lace would bring a Victorian feel. And so on and so on. I’ve used everything from feather boas to sheer organza.
I buy fabric based on color and texture. I like some with sheens – like satin – and some with texture, like velvet. But not always.
There are no “requirements” here. Use what you have on hand or can find for a decent price. Why? Because the majority of the fabric won’t even be seen. It’s used to fill the inside of the tree, to add color, texture and pattern.
Fabric isn’t the star of the show. It’s more like the backdrop, if you will.
Since fabric comes 44″ wide to 60″ wide for decorator fabrics, you can cut the widths in half or even strips of 6-8″ and it will be even more economical.
Last year I found a flat fold on sale at Walmart. It’s not really shiny but it does have a teensy bit of sheen. I think I bought a couple of yards, which I cut into various sized pieces, after cutting the 45″ width in half to roughly 22″.
Christmas trees are probably the only creative project where my OCDish tendencies are dominant. I have no idea why. I’m sure some counselor would have a field day with that one. (Among others)
How To Anchor and Drape Fabric in Trees
Okay, here’s how I anchor fabric in my trees:
- take one end of fabric and fold it over so any rough edges and threads are hidden
- stick the folded over bundle in between two branches
- twist the branches over the fabric to anchor the fabric
- you’ll drape some fabric, then twist branches again, over and over
note: If you have a fresh tree, you can use green paddle wire or green chenille stems as anchors.
How to Drape the Fabric
This is the biggie. It looks all designer-y, but it’s not. Trust me.
And if you share OCDish tendencies with me, you need to let ’em go for a while because, remember, this fabric is only the backdrop – not the star of the show. Mkay?
Now, you’ve anchored one end of the fabric, leaving you with a long ‘tail’. Now you’ll loosely gather a bunch of fabric and tuck it all the way into the trunk of the tree.
We’re still at the top of the tree so you’ll need maybe 12-18″ for your first ‘tuck’.
It’s probably a good idea to anchor that tuck with two branches close to the trunk until you get used to the whole ‘tuck and drape’ thing.
For the next drape you’ll need a longer drape, gather into a bunch, tuck it fairly close to the trunk and anchor it. Continue doing this until you run out of fabric.
Once that piece of fabric is draped, you’ll gently pull the center part of the drape out from the trunk towards the outer branches. Not all the way . . . . backdrop, remember? If some fabric does happen to come to the outside of the branches, no worries, you can easily push it back in when you add other decorations.
Okay, couple of things/questions. You don’t need a huge long piece of fabric so it drapes the entire length of the tree. Since you’re tucking into to the center of the tree, nobody will ever know if it’s one long piece or not if you take the next piece and continue it downward in the same area.
Next point – don’t drape the fabric completely vertical or symmetrical. Think “waterfall”. Think “loose”. Think FLOW and FLUID.
Like I said, this tree took about 2 yards and I did 3-4 sections.
Oh yeah, last point, you’ll need longer drapes of fabric as you get to the bottom since the branches are longer and wider. But no worries – you can always stick some extra fabric here and there without going back to the very top and anchoring it.
Other Types of Fabric
What?!? I have to do this with another kind of fabric?
Only if you want your tree to have oodles of texture and dimension. Adding more than one fabric will make your tree look fabulous not just when the lights are on, but also when the lights are off too.
But oh, when you turn the lights on . . . fabulous.
Anyway, I bought some bronze netting years ago. And I mean YEARS. Yes, it’s torn here and there but I still use it. In trees, in garlands, wreaths, you name it. Netting, or tulle if you prefer, has a wonderful ‘hand’ with tons of body. And the little holes allow the lights to show thru, which I happen to love.
You can see the netting is close to the same color as the fabric I used. Totally unnecessary to do that. Contrast your colors if you want. Or keep them in the same color family. Both give sensational results.
You could add more fabric if you wanted at this point. Totally up to you. And how much ribbon you have.
Ribbon?!? You put ribbon in the tree with all that fabric too?
Yep, sure do. But before we get to the ribbon let’s do some flowers. Does it matter which you do first, flowers or ribbon? Nope.
If you’re using floral decorations, chances are they’re fairly large and will take up more space than ribbon, which is why I’d put them in before ribbon. But it’s up to you.
Other than that, I try to save anything fragile – glass ornaments, twigs or branches – for the end so I won’t stick my arm in and break them.
Adding Floral Decorations
Floral decorations can be anything from poinsettias to glittered leaves to some magnolia branches if you’re lucky enough to have some in your yard.
Or you have a nice neighbor.
Magnolia leaves in a tree are one of my personal favorites because of the contrast they provide to the pine. I like to spritz a little gold on them, but that’s just me.
There are a couple of ways to add floral decorations. You can insert each stem individually or you can wire them into a cluster. Or you can do both!
Couple of tips:
- Separate all your flowers into piles so you know how much you have of each type.
- Start with your largest flowers (like poinsettia) because they take up the most room and will affect the overall design more than smaller flowers.
- Use one type of flower before moving on to another type – as opposed to decorating one portion of the tree. This ensures you’ll spread the flowers evenly throughout the entire tree.
- Just like with the fabric, tuck some flowers deep into the center of the tree. This will create depth and layers.
- To make clusters, use either paddle wire or florist tape – whatever you’re comfortable with.
- Feel free to add loops of ribbon to a floral cluster.
Adding Ribbon to The Tree
I know there are many people who like to drape ribbon horizontally – like a garland.
I know this because while working at the craft store not a day went by that I wasn’t asked how much ribbon was needed to decorate a this-size or that-size tree.
If there’s a formula for that, I don’t know it.
That’s because I use ribbon just like the fabric – like a waterfall. All different kinds of ribbon, cut in all different lengths.
Again – more layers, more texture, more dimension.
More to look at.
If you happen to like garlands and/or ribbon draped horizontally in perfectly measured loops, I can’t help you. I’ve never decorated a tree like that, simply because I love all of the layers I get doing trees this way.
And besides, it feels oh-so good to put my OCDish side away for a day and just let things flow.
Once in a while I’ll do a few loops of ribbon, wrap a wire around the center and make it look like a little bow.
A little of that goes a long way though. I use it more for tree toppers or fresh trees that have huge gaps between branches and need big clusters.
Speaking of tree toppers . . .
I think I’m in the minority here too. I don’t like a huge bow at the top of a tree. That’s just me. It feels . . . off balance. I generally get wire some twigs or ting-ting, add a few loops of ribbon, then make two or three of those to put around the top of the tree.
Of course, if you have a star or angel or some special ornament, by all means, use it.
As far as glittered feathers though, good luck finding those. These are about 7 years old and I protect them like fine china.
Speaking of glitter, another one of my precious favorites is glittered netting. It’s always the very last thing I add because the glitter drops off. But if it’s draped just right, it looks like your tree is covered in spun sugar.
Did you think I forgot about ornaments?
Of course not. But by the time you have fabric, florals, ribbon, and whatever else, ornaments are simply the jewelry of the tree.
Remember when I said you want your lights to be loosely strung? This way you can accentuate ornament with lights, if you want.
Even the simplest ball ornament looks fabulous surrounded by lights and framed with poinsettia, ribbon and fabric.
I hope you got some ideas today.
It doesn’t matter if your tree is full of glitter or burlap, lace or crystals, shatterproof ball ornaments or heirloom treasures – as long as you love your tree and enjoy the tradition of trimming and decorating it, that’s what really matters.
These photos in this post were all from last year’s tree. I’m not sure I’ll decorate it this year or not.
It’s up. Just not decorated.
I also have my 4′ tree up and on his last visit Grandson suggested we make a “Poppy” tree with nothing but ornaments with my husband’s photo on them. So yeah, I think that will be the “main” tree this year.
It’s a little too soon for the gold and copper tree. (If you look in the mirror, you’ll see Mom’s reflection. I hadn’t noticed it until just now.)
I think a “Poppy tree” will be perfect this year.
Tell me about your tree – is it full of heirloom ornaments or handmade? Do you have a theme? Fresh or artificial? Or do you bypass the tree and just hang a wreath? Mom did that for years until I moved in with her. And now I totally understand why.