How To Decorate Christmas Ornaments

Photo of a Christmas ball

A long, long time ago in a faraway place known as adolescence, I worked in a Christmas shop owned by a German couple. The dress code at the Christmas shop consisted of a dirndl, white knee highs and clogs, and though braids were not required, they were smiled upon. (Little did I know that years later I would rely on that outfit-minus the braids, plus a push-up bra and beer stein--as a last-minute Halloween costume.)

When I first started working at the Christmas shop, every time I heard the husband and wife speak together, I was sure that their marriage was on the brink of collapse. After a few weeks, I figured out that it was the combination of the guttural language and the lack of any greetings or endearments that had led me to this (incorrect) conclusion. Once I knew that their marriage was intact and my job secure, I began to enjoy my work.

A big part of what made my job at the Christmas shop fun was the companionship of my two co-workers (whose affability and keen wit has been paralleled since only by that of my How to Do Thingsland compatriots). They were two women re-entering the work force after raising children, and they were raunchy in the best sense of the word. They were funny, honest straight shooters who opened my eyes to the fact that life does indeed continue on after thirty (and even forty). We would sit in a room referred to as the fishbowl (due to the large glass window that customers watched us through) and decorate Christmas ornaments as we chatted. I learned a lot about life in that fishbowl; one of the things I learned was how to decorate Christmas ornaments:

  1. Choosing your ornament. Choose an ornament that has no pre-existing design or decoration. Either glossy or matte will do though keep in mind that a glossy background will compete with sparkly embellishments. So if you're going for a Dolly Partonesque rhinestone cowgirl theme (consider two ornaments), stick to matte.
  2. Size. And speaking of super-sized ones....the largest of the ornaments are difficult to decorate simply because it's nearly impossible to maintain a straight line with embellishments such as lace or trim. The smaller ornaments are also challenging to decorate since your fingers feel like oversized sausages as you try to work on them. If you're just starting out, stick to mid-size.
  3. Proportion. Consider proportion as you decide on your ornaments and materials. If you are going for a classic understated look, you'll want to leave plenty of blank space on your ornament. You can make these choices as you go along, but if you have your heart set on a particular combination of materials, be sure that the ornament will be big enough to accommodate them and still leave enough unadorned space on the ornament to set them off.
  4. Materials. Anything goes. Velvet, sequins, ribbon, lace, gems, fake eyelashes--if the strength of the glue bond can hold the weight of the object, the object can be glued to an ornament. Let your creative self roam as you choose materials. I glued one of the aforementioned braids of my hair to an ornament once, but that's another story.....
  5. Glue. Be sure to work with the glue in an area that is well-ventilated. Come to think of it, maybe that's why our conversations in the fishbowl were so good!
  6. Type. Perhaps there is a specialty glue out there that doesn't smudge but I have yet to find it if there is. Any glue that is appropriate for the materials you are using will work. You can spend the big bucks for some specialty glue or you can use Elmer's. The real trick with the glue is location, location, location.
  7. Location. It's very hard to get glue from a bottle to land where you want it. Put a small amount of glue out on a piece of paper and then use a toothpick or very small brush to "paint" the underside of the material. This is definitely not a post-eggnog type of project--your fine motor skills need to be operating at 100%.
  8. Method. Apply glue in a very thin layer. Always put the glue on the material and then apply the material to the ornament. Otherwise, the glue is likely to squish out when you press the material down.
  9. Mistakes. Have a wet rag (preferably soft cotton) close by and if you get glue somewhere on the ornament you don't want it, wipe it up as quickly as you can. If you remove it quickly enough, you'll be able to avoid smudging.
  10. Glitterati. If you secretly (or not so secretly) see yourself as a member of the glitterati, you can paint your name in glue on the ornament and then gently roll it in glitter. It's not quite the same as having it up in lights on a marquee, but there is at least the glitter factor.

Take it from someone who's worked in Santa's workshop--even the professionals leave a glue spot now and then--so try to look at your mistakes as testaments to the care you put into your work. The real beauty of a handmade ornament, in addition to the love and expletives that you have put into making it, is that a little imperfection is what makes it unique.


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