From popcorn on strings to evergreen wreaths, making holiday decorations is a longstanding tradition in Maine.

Megan Whitman said much of the yarn she uses is found at thrift stores. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

For some, it’s a way to make extra money or to craft a heartfelt gift. Others create ornaments, displays or table-scapes to decorate their own homes.

Megan Whitman of Canton is knitting red, green and white stars to make a garland for her aunt. Her goal is to make 20 stars of different sizes by Christmas. It’s a good way to use up leftover bits of yarn, she said.

She said she makes something every year. Last year, it was cinnamon tree ornaments. She doesn’t do it to save money.

“With knitting it’s hard to say it’s about money because yarn is so expensive,” she said. “It’s a way to say you love someone. The time that went into it seems like a thoughtful way to celebrate.”

With a 3-year-old and a 4-month-old, it’s hard to say how long each star takes to knit, Whitman said.

“I am always heavily interrupted,” she said. “If I sat down and committed to it, I could probably do one in two hours.”

Her advice for others who want to make decorations or gifts?

“Start early, don’t plan to do too much or you might end up depressed,” she said. “Set the bar low. Say you’ll make five and if you make 10, then you’ll feel really good. The holidays are supposed to be fun. If you’re brutalizing yourself with too much work, that’s not what it’s for.”

Tammy Strout of Buckfield started early. She already has a tree full of homemade ornaments, a Santa gnome, a reindeer and a “few little jewel trinkets,” she said.

Tammy Strout of Buckfield made this reindeer holiday decoration to gift or sell.

She gets her materials from local craft stores or discount stores and sometimes uses things from around the house, she said.

For the Santa gnome, she used fake fur, artificial berries and a wooden knob for the nose — and hot glue. For the reindeer, she used a green garland, plastic clothes hangers, felt for the antlers, a bow, a bell, googly eyes and a red ball for the nose.

Each took about 20 minutes, she said.

She hopes to sell some decorations this year, she said. She posts items on Facebook and in crafting groups.

To those who want to grab the glue and fake fur, she advises them to first and foremost enjoy it. “It’s my quiet time,” she said. “It’s very fun and you can be creative and come up with ideas. Learn from your mistakes and the next one will be even better.”

Marge Kilkelly of Dresden started making decorations and ornaments to gift and sell because she is a frugal Yankee, she said.

“I can’t stand to throw anything away,” she said. “I also see opportunities in things that some others don’t.”

An opportunity came in two large jewelry boxes full of pins, earrings and necklaces that she loved but no longer wore “as jobs changed and I got older,” she said.

Marge Kilkelly’s angel wing earrings can also be used as tree ornaments.

She found other materials that could be “upcycled”: old cellphones and laptops, vases, fishbowls, old dishes, teapots.

“‘Whimsy is as whimsy does’ describes what I do and why I do it,” Kilkelly said. “My studio is a world apart. While I am trying to figure out what to do with something, all the worries of the day melt away.”

Two of her favorite creations are angel wing earrings (which also make nice ornaments) made from repurposed necklaces and other jewelry, and cup-and-saucer bird feeders (see directions).

She makes them as gifts, to sell and for her home, she said.

“The family gifts are a fun way to see what folks like. One Christmas I had a little tree with a variety of pieces and let family kids select which one they wanted. It was a great way to see what kids liked!”

Marge Kilkelly’s cup-and-saucer bird feeder. Submitted photo

Her advice: “The most important part is to enjoy what you are doing. Don’t get discouraged by even epic fails. My first bird feeder wasn’t laid out properly, so when it was glued and set, it didn’t hang right. Poor birds, the seed would fall out as it was being filled. I was much more careful after that to focus on the design.”

In a nutshell, “figure out what went wrong and try again.” (For directions to make the angel wing earrings and cup-and-saucer bird feeders, see related story.)

WREATHS AND DRIED FLOWER ARRANGEMENTS

For the more earthy decorators, the Universities of Maine and New Hampshire Cooperative Extension programs recently sponsored a webinar titled “Tips and Tipping for Long-Lasting Holiday Decorations.”

It featured three presenters who specialize in agriculture, horticulture and flower-drying.

Dave Fuller, a University of Maine agriculture and nontimber forest professional, noted that wreath-making has a long history in Maine, both as a craft and an industry, for personal use and for income. (For more on wreath making, go to extension.umaine.edu/publications/7012e/)

About 2 million evergreen wreaths are made every year in the Pine Tree State, at an estimated value of $75 million, Fuller said.

He said newbies to the craft need to make sure they use the right kind of greens.

Avoid spiky spruce and quick-drying hemlock.

Go for white pine or “the beloved” balsam fir, he said. Balsam fir needles are shiny, soft and “friendly,” he said. That’s how you can tell the difference between balsam and spruce.

Balsam is easy to harvest, he said. “You can just bend the tip down and it will snap right off. You don’t need to cut it.”

The best time to “tip” — cut branches — is after Nov. 1 or as soon as it’s been 20 degrees or colder for three consecutive nights, Fuller said. Dry needles are best.

“Start with a tree that is at least 10 feet tall, with nice dark-green needles,” he said. And you’ll need written permission to harvest on others’ property. (For a video with Dave Fuller on tipping branches for a wreath, go here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=TR_-pCzYamEto)

Maine Cooperative Extension expert Dave Fuller talks about how to sustainably harvest balsam fir tips for wreath making in a video created by the Cooperative Extension. Cooperative Extension video image

Winterberries add nice color to a wreath, Fuller said, and they hold up well in decorations.

“You may consider planting it (winterberry holly) on your property. It’s just a beautiful thing.”

But avoid planting or using invasive plants such as multiflora rose or Asiatic bittersweet vines, which grow up trees and cripple them, he said.

For the base of a wreath, you’ll want 24-gauge wire, or you can use grapevine, wisteria, Virginia creeper, a floral hoop or a wire frame from a craft store, said Molly Friedland, owner-operator of The Little Red Flower Truck in Ellsworth.

Friedland’s presentation in the Extension webinar was about drying, preserving and crafting with flowers such as astilbe, globe thistle and dahlias.

The best time to air dry blossoms is when they are three-quarters of the way open, she said. Strip the leaves up the stem so you can bundle the flowers, but leave some leaves “to add beauty” to your arrangement.

Hang the bunch upside down in a well-ventilated dark room if you are going to use them later in the season. The humidity should be 55% or lower, so you might need a dehumidifier, she said, “but air-drying is a pretty mold-free process.”

Another drying process is to use silica beads, a desiccant you can find at craft stores. This process works well with dahlias, roses, chrysanthemums and eucalyptus, Friedland said.

The best method for making potpourri is pressing with a glycerin mix, also available at craft stores.

It’s recommended that wreaths be made with balsam or white pine tips. Above, from left, are: balsam fir, hemlock, spruce and white pine. Dave Fuller/Cooperative Extension

“This is best for eucalyptus, which can keep for years and makes an excellent potpourri,” she said. “I’ve also heard of people doing this with maple leaves.”

And perhaps the simplest way to dry flowers is water drying. Leave a little water in the bottom of a vase and let the plants dehydrate for seven to 10 days. This works well with hydrangea and yarrow, she said.

The first thing you’ll need to make a floral wreath is a nice, clean workspace, Friedland said. You’ll also need 24-gauge wire, glue, floral tape, twine, a wire cutter and a pruner.

It’s “very much a full-body experience,” she said. “It can be a little intense when you’re trying to make a perfect match with each flower, but it always looks good. They’re flowers.”

A floral wreath made by Molly Friedland at Little Truck Farm in Ellsworth.

Lynn Holland, Extension horticulture and social media professional, also works with flowers and evergreens to make holiday displays and table-scapes, which she sees as a good alternative to centerpieces.

“Think of (a table-scape) as using repeating items down the middle of the table,” she said. “It leaves plenty of space and you can pass dishes around.”

It could be fresh but not necessarily lush, she said. And you could space it out with some grape leaves.

As for displays and arrangements, branches from a Christmas tree and rosehips make good accents, Holland said.

For one kind of display, she places small, waterproof ornaments with cranberries or oranges in a glass bowl, and adds evergreens, dried hydrangea, twigs, wheat and white-painted branches.

You also can use outdoor planters to create year-round decorations, she said.

“Take half of the dirt out and put in a foam block, dry or wet, depending on what you’re sticking into the foam,” she said. “It’s easier to get into than dirt, but you can put stems of evergreens right into the dirt for shape echoes.”

If you use a lot of live things, you’ll want wet floral foam, Holland said, but if you use completely dried flowers, “go ahead and use dry foam.”

More simply, you can make popcorn on a string or seed balls and put them out for the birds after the holiday, she said.

For color and texture and that holiday spirit, Holland created a Hanukkah display with gold balls and evergreens. She paired it with a display of dried flowers, artichokes, artificial lemons, garlic and apples “and some kind of fancy ribbon — and that’s Christmas,” she said.

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