Vol 3, Num 8 :: 2004.04.09 — 2004.04.22
My favorite things to use for making gifts at home are little treasures that you can find in the woods, on the desert, in a field, or in your own backyard. There are so many things worth gathering, just waiting to be put together to brighten up a spot in someone’s home. I start by gathering bits of bark, flowers, mushrooms, moss, leaves, and rocks. Then I dry them. My process is simple; I just gather them and let them sit. Some treasures may not make it, but most do.
To dry flowers, I put them between the pages of a book.
Woods treasures baskets are small baskets, one or one-and-a-half inches (three to five centimetres) in diameter, filled with a bouquet of small seeds, dried leaves, twigs, berries, vines, and flowers. For a basket I use the cap from a large acorn, or any other small cap. If I use an acorn cap, I sometimes use a finish on it for a slightly glossy effect. I fill the bottom of the basket with something like floral clay or styrofoam to hold the arrangement. After I’ve arranged and glued all the tiny pieces to suit me, I glue the basket on a small piece of bark (pieces of bark with bits of moss attached look great).
A similar bouquet in a small vase is a little variation to this. I use any bottle that’s handy; food coloring bottles work well. Or, lacking the right size bottle, I just wad papier mache into a vase shape and make a hole in the top for an opening to hold the arrangement. I cover the bottle with paint, and finish. Here again I use a small piece of bark for a base.
Many times when I find a really great-looking piece of wood, bark, or gnarled root, I’ll work with that to make a miniature forest floor. For this I might use lichens or small mushrooms (which will dry by themselves in a matter of days).
Dried flower plaques are a little more time-consuming, but tremendously satisfying. I buy unfinished wood plaques, stain the outer rim with a wood finish, and paint the middle flat surface with a few coats of black paint. I use dried flowers, stems, grasses, ferns, and leaves. I set and reset them, until I find the arrangement that I like. Then, using a small artist’s brush or a toothpick to dab the glue, and tweezers to hold the small things in place, I glue them to the plaque. Then I gently press them down to the plaque with my finger and wipe away the excess glue.
I like using woods treasures to make miniature wreaths out of small acorns, berries, seeds, etc. These tiny versions are great, inexpensive, and easy to do. I cut out a three-inch (seven centimeter) circle of cardboard for a base, and glue an ornament hanger or a paper clip at the top for a hanger. Then I just start gluing on whatever dried things that I have around. On some, I use just acorns; on others, a combination of things. Then I coat it with any varnish and add a tiny red bow at the top. I have done a few wreaths with shells; while they’re not as traditional looking, they are rather nice. I’ve also tried tree-shaped and ball-shaped arrangements.
I’ve always liked stained glass, but the real way of making it seems expensive and complicated. So I tried something different. From a glass company, I get a number of large, broken pieces of cathedral glass in many colors, for free. And I buy, for very little cost, some sheets of plain glass cut into circles and rectangles. Then I crack the large pieces of colored glass into smaller fragments by putting them into a heavy sack and tapping it with a hammer. I pick out pieces in the right shapes to put together in a flower shape. After the flower is shaped (jigsaw puzzle fashion), I fill in the rest of the plain glass in the same fashion using only one color of glass and glue all the pieces to the plain glass, making sure to press out the air between them (otherwise the glue might not be transparent when it dries). A small wire loop should be glued between the cracks at the top as a hanger.
Then I mix the grout and rub it into all the cracks. (You usually mix grout with a little water; I mix mine with black poster paint or acrylic. This makes the grout black and eliminates having to paint the areas of gray when it’s dry.) Using my fingers to fill in the cracks works best. After filling in all the cracks on the surface, I smooth a border of grout around the edge to give it a finished look. Then I put a coat of finish over the whole thing.
I’ve made small papier mâché Easter eggs for several years now. I simply ball up some used foil to mold the egg shape, and cover it with papier mâché. After it dries (in a low oven) I paint it a solid color, then decorate it with tiny flowers or other design, using a fine brush. Then I put on a coat of finish. These are especially pretty nestled in a bed of moss or leaves, rather than dime-store “grass.”
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