Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Take a Break: Create a Victorian Christmas-Tree decoration

The December “take a breaks” will all feature some aspect of things to do to create a Victorian era Christmas. This time period corresponds with the reign of Queen Victoria, 1837 to 1901 and many of our holiday customs stem from this time era, including decorated trees, holiday cards and feasting.  

While Christmas was hardly celebrated at the beginning of the 19th century, that changed rapidly when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert. In 1848, the Illustrated London News published a drawing of the royal family celebrating around a decorated Christmas tree, a tradition from Prince Albert’s German childhood. It wasn’t long before every home in Britain had some form of a tree.

Decorations were lavish, romantic and over the top. The more decorations, the richer the food, the grander the tree all the better.

Tree Decorations
Early in the Victorian era, Christmas trees were decorated with candles, a variety of homemade ornaments, small gifts and garlands. Ornaments were generally hand made by the family, particular children, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, with the tree being decorated on Christmas Eve. This was the time of year to make use of “left overs” -a button, piece of lace, ribbons, scrap of fabric-were used to craft or embellish an ornament.

Trees would have been tall and slender, versus our typical American full and bushy trees. Artificial trees were part of the Victorian era, with the first ones being made of feathers

While we think of green and red as Christmas colors, the Victorians would have used cream, ivory, silver, gold and soft pink to burgundy shades of red. Faux snow was created by taking pieces of cotton batting and laying them on branches.

Below are ornaments that are easy to make for your tree.

 Gilded Walnuts: The walnuts contain a fortune, and these were hung on trees and guests were invited to take one. After experimenting with opening walnuts, my husband used a band saw to open the nuts so I’d have clean halves. 

• Gilt Ornaments: Collect pine cones, acorns or something that is native to where you live. If you are using pine cones, collect them in sufficient time to allow them to dry before you paint them. A good source for how to do this is 3 Ways to Dry Pine cones For Your Christmas Crafts.  Paint with metallic gold or silver paint. Attach a ribbon when dry.

• Christmas Card Ornaments: If you have a stash of old Christmas cards, cut out scenes, using a circular or oval pattern, and attach a ribbon. You can always download a Victorian Christmas card and print on card stock.  

• Cornucopia Ornaments: There are many ways to make a cornucopia. A square piece of construction paper folded into a cone shape is one possibility. Another is to take white paper doilies or scrap book paper and cut out a circle. Fold in half. You can either cut and roll each half circle into a cone, or in the case of a doily, just use one doily folded. Either way, roll into a cone and glue or tape together. Trim the edge of the cornucopia with ribbon, bits of lace or whatever strikes your fancy. Make a handle with ribbon, thread or even pipe cleaners. These can be made as simple or as elaborate as you want. If you need more instructions, watch the video Christmas Crafts-Cornucopia and Paper Fans. Consider filling your cornucopia with small flowers, such as baby’s breath, or with brightly colored candies.

• Garlands: Stringing popcorn, raisins, cranberries, paper chains, candy, nuts or any combination of these items is fine. Beaded garlands were also popular. Using beading cord-dental floss works fine-string beads of various colors. Be sure to tie a knot at both ends and use a starting and final bead that is too big to pass over the knot. Adding glue will give even more assurance that slippage wont happen. While the Victorians used glass beads, wooden and plastic beads are also options.

• Toys: Small toys, such as dolls, miniature soldiers, trains, musical instruments, and teddy bears, can be hung with a piece of ribbon.  Dollar stores are good places to look for these types of items.

• Snowflakes: These can be simple or complex. Below are some sites that you might find useful:

- 3DSnowflake:  If you don’t feel like making them out of paper, you can make some virtual ones to share with friends and family. 

Marbling ornaments: This was a technique frequently used in the Victorian era and is very easy to do. Don’t hesitate to use lightly colored glass ornaments that you already have, but have seen better days. This is a good video, so be sure to watch it if this is something you want to do. She offers a lot of tips, including how to cut the correct cord length. 

• Tree topper: The Victorians used a homemade fabric angel or a fairy to decorate the top of their tree. There are lots of ornaments that you can pick up and redesign as a tree topper.

• Tree skirt: Use a decorative tablecloth or whatever fabric you have that matches and cover the base of the tree.  There’s enough time still to check out the thrift stores for a skirt.

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