Decor without dazzle | November 23, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

- November 23, 2012

Decor without dazzle

Home-made ornaments can become part of the holiday tradition

by Eric Van Susteren

Christmas has come to be associated with spectacle and glitz. With their deep-colored shimmering tinsel, endless strings of dazzlingly bright, multi-colored lights, and increasingly (and disturbingly) realistic depictions of playful cherubs and pious seraphim, house and tree decorations may be the worst offenders of the wintertime gaudiness arms race.

Why not try ornaments that are more reserved and subdued? Using soft, tasteful colors and simple and easy-to-create designs, the restrained crafter can make ornaments that keep up with the Jones', but won't induce headaches when looked at.

Nancy Van Susteren has been creating home-made decorations for years; she contributed the following instructions for her favorites:

Paper stars

These easy-to-make holiday stars are constructed with paper temporary blinds found at Lowes or Home Depot for less than $5 each. They filter light nicely and look elegant hanging in front of a window. If allowed to hang freely from a skylight or cathedral ceiling, they will twist and turn gently in the wind.


temporary paper blinds

cutting surface

straight edge

box cutter with new cutting blade

single-hole punch

hole reinforcements (not shown)

glue or glue stick

heavy-duty white thread and needle


1. Using a cutting surface (the pictures show a quilt cutting board, but a kitchen cutting board would work, as well), place a straight edge on top of the folded blind at a very sharp or acute angle, and slowly and gently slice through all the layers of folds, a few folds at a time, moving the cut layers out of the way.

2. Cut one peak in half for gluing star together.

3. Punch holes on bottom, straight edge of star, about a quarter inch from edge and roughly in the middle of the fold a couple of folds at a time. You can use a previous hole as a template to make the hole locations consistent.

4. Put a thin coat of glue over the entire surface of the half peak you cut in step 2.

5.Roll paper blind into loose cylinder shape and glue half peak to full peak on other end, matching edges so that they form another corresponding peak. If edges don't quite match, trim with scissors.

6. Thread white heavy-duty thread or light string (using a large needle makes it easier) through all the holes.

7. Hold both ends of string in one hand and gently press the star flat.

8. Gently (but snugly) tie the two ends of the string together, and cut the string close to the knot.

Using paper punch, punch hole in one peak or valley, reinforce with a hole reinforcement. Hang and enjoy.

It's important to remember that the length a blind is cut will be half the diameter of the actual star, so a 3-inch cut will make a 6-inch star. Different sized stars have different uses: a small star (3 to 6 inches in diameter) might work well for a Christmas tree ornament, while a larger star could be perfect for hanging in a window.

One blind can make quite a few stars, depending on the size of the blind and the stars. In order for a star to look its best, there should be between two and three times as many "ridges" as the length of the cut. For example, a star with a 3-inch cut (which will make a 6-inch star) would need between six and 12 ridges, plus a half ridge for gluing. That means a single cut could yield two to three smaller stars or a single larger star.

Paper hoop ornament

These ornaments are made with inexpensive wooden embroidery hoops and translucent decorative paper. The embroidery hoops can be purchased for $1 to $5 at craft and fabric stores. High-quality art or stationery stores usually carry an assortment of imported paper in large sheets. Ask for unryu, mulberry or watermarked tissue paper (regular colored tissue paper works well too). There are some lovely colors, prints and textures that cost between $4 and $10. One sheet can make quite a few ornaments. Choose a small bottle of acrylic paint and a spool of one quarter- to one half-inch ribbon to complement the paper you've selected.


Sheer or translucent decorative paper

3-inch to 6-inch wooden embroidery hoops

Super glue

Alligator clips

Emery board

Acrylic paint that complements the paper

Ribbon that complements the paper

Glue stick

Sharp box cutter

Cutting surface

1. Remove the brass screw from the outside ring, and glue the metal fastener and the wooden edges of the ring together with super glue. Clamp the ring with an alligator clip (you can sand wooden edges with emery board if they are rough or uneven) and let it dry. Paint all of the rings, including the metal fasteners, with paint that complements your choice of paper. Le them dry completely before starting the next step.

2. Apply glue evenly to one edge of the rings using a glue stick and press the rings onto the back side of paper, making sure the paper underneath is fairly taut. Weight with books and let dry.

3. Cut the ring from paper leaving a rim of paper outside of the ring.

4. Carefully cut the excess paper from the rings using a very sharp box cutter. Hold the box cutter at an angle right next to the ring and slowly turn the ring to cut the paper around the edge, taking care not to cut into the wooden ring. If the paper is not cutting smoothly, then the glue is not completely dry or the box cutter is not sharp enough.

5. When cutting paper on the rings with metal fasteners, cut around the ring as above, except for near the metal fastener. Turn the ring over and carefully cut paper below the metal fastener in line with the wooden ring.

6. To make hangers for the rings with metal fasteners, cut a 10- to 12-inch piece of ribbon at a very sharp angle to thread through holes in metal fasteners. Knot the ribbon, leaving some space between fastener and knot, trim the ribbon ends.

7. Use the ribbon to make hangers for the rings without the metal fasteners. Cut a 2.5-inch piece of ribbon and glue its edges together with super glue to make a small ring and clamp with alligator clip. Cut an additional length of ribbon about 6 inches long, glue it into the ring and clamp together. When it dries, compress the ring to form two even loops on either side of the center, glue and clamp. Glue the smaller ring to the larger ring and clamp. Remove alligator clip, put a dot of super glue at the top of the wooden ring, press the ribbon hanger onto the glue and clamp it with an alligator clip, being careful not to puncture the paper with the point of the alligator clip.

Hang these translucent ornaments in front of the lights on your Christmas tree to give them a warm glow.

Editorial Assistant Eric Van Susteren can be emailed at


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