Thursday, December 8, 2011

How To: Christmas Tree!

My favorite time of the year is the holiday season--particularly December because I get to spend a lot of creative energy making my space look cozy and Christmas-y.  This tutorial is for a Christmas tree and I'm sure you could use it for any sort of tree decorating idea.  I'm not religious so there won't be any really religious overtones here.  I'm also not that into reindeer, elves and Santa items so you'll see that also as you go through here.  I will give you options for how to incorporate religious or Santa things into your tree.  Good luck and I hope this is helpful!  This is my first "how to" post so if you read through and like it (or think there is something I could do better) please let me know!

First things first: You need a tree!
If you've gone through the process of buying a tree before feel free to skip this part and go to next step: trimming and lighting.  This may be my favorite part of the whole process.

Picking your tree:  HEIGHT: Measure where you are putting your tree (or at least do a really good job at eyeballing it.  If you're in doubt lean towards a smaller tree.  You can ALWAYS find wooden boxes to stack your tree on or hang lights and garland from your ceiling to fill in space.  I like my tree to go up about to a foot to two feet from the ceiling (at it's highest point).  Remember that your tree stand is going to take up some space.  I think most ceilings are about eight feet tall.  The tree in this tutorial is a five footer. FATNESS: Decide based on your space and style if you want a fatty or a skinny tree.  I like the fatties, I think they look more cozy and less commercial--although I do know over the last couple of years the popular trend is to go skinny.  REAL OR FAKE?! I like real because they smell better, they feel better, and in my opinion they look better.  A fake tree offers a lot of advantages though: they are cheaper in the long run, they don't have bald spots, they don't shed and they are exactly the same year after year.  If you're getting an artificial tree same thing goes: height and fatness--you also have to think about lit or pre-lit.  Although unless you're going with colored lights I'd say get a pre lit tree.  Why bother with extra pieces if you're trying to go easy.  If you like stringing lights (it's my least favorite part) then by all means, don't get a pre-lit. TYPE OF TREE: OK, so this probably should go before "fatness" but at least you'll be in the right section of the tree lot (most people separate the trees by height).  I can only talk solidly about two types of tree: Douglas Fir or Spruce.
  • Douglas Fir: Darker, richer green color.  Softer pine needles.  The branches are flimsier overall (this is really important to think about depending on the ornaments you have or intend to buy).
  • Spruce: Lighter green, funkier shaped branches (the pine needles have a pretty awesome prong shaping).  The needles are stiffer and pokier and I dislike being stabbed and scratched by my tree so I'm liking my Douglas Fir this year. But, it has a really good shape and structure to it.  Better for heavier ornaments
If you've never bought a tree before you'll want to be able to tell the people what kind of tree stand you have.  I have one with a spike that goes into the bottom of the tree so I have to remember to tell the tree lot attendants that I need a hole drilled in the bottom of my tree (some places don't do this).  Some people have tree stands that have little clamps that screw tighter around the base of the tree--no drilled hole necessary.  Make sure your tree attendants cut off the very bottom of the trunk, this will help the tree absorb water when you fill up the bowl and it that will keep it greener for longer (and less of a fire hazard).  Have them net your tree if you're putting it on your car and bring a tarp or blanket to put between the tree and the car or you will scratch your paint.  They'll tie it down for you, etc.  They basically do everything to get you off the lot and to your house with a happy little tree.

Once you have your tree at home get it in the stand as quickly as possible, put it where it's going and give it water.   It will start to seal up where the fresh cut was right away so you want it in water (just like fresh cut flowers). 

PART TWO: Trimming and lighting. 
So, now you have your little tree hanging out in your living room.  Turn it until you have the best face forward (most trees have bald spots, holes, burned/dried out areas).  If you put your tree up against a wall this saves on lighting and decoration expenses because no one will see the back and so you don't have to deck it all out.  If you're putting your tree in the middle of a room or against a window you'll need to take this into account when buying decorations.  I light and trim my tree at the same time because the lighting helps me see the shape and my vision for the tree.

 Lighting: You will need two strings of light for a five foot tree if you're only lighting about 3/4ths of it.  You may need one more string if you are doing the back also.  If you want rainbow lights those are pretty awesome too.  Same rules--I just like white. Take your string of lights and start at the bottom.  Make sure your cord can plug in (I do this with the lights plugged in so I can see where I am placing everything it also ensures that I don't pull the cord out of  reach of the socket. Work your way across the visible part of the tree and a little further beyond, bring the light string up and make your way back around until you reach the top of the tree or the end of the strand.  Plug in a new strand and stick the unlighted cording as far back into the tree as possible.  Bring the lights back where you left off (last lit bulb) and keep going--we don't want big unnecessary gaps in lighting.  Once you're out of lights take a step back and use a phone camera (or any camera without great clarity) and take a picture from as far back as possible.  The picture will give you a good indication of where holes in lighting are (and holes in the tree).  Fix what you can by pulling the lights over to that space.  But, remember, pulling lights out of one spot will create holes in other spots.  Also remember, some bald spots are OK because you have decorations you'll want to add in and it's nice to have some "canvas" for that.  
Trimming: Once you've lit your tree and taken the picture it should be pretty evident where you're lopsided and or uneven (with regards to trimming).  You may have already hacked off a couple of really obvious spots.  I took some off the bottom before lighting but basically grab a pair of good sheers/scissors/knife (be careful) and trim the bottom so you have eight to ten inches of space under the tree--even all around.  This will make your tree more symmetrical and it will allow you  to show off your tree skirt or those great gifts underneath.  If your tree is lopsided, don't fret.  find an old book (dictionary, little journals) or a block and rest it under the leg that needs to be hoisted up.  Do this carefully if you have already put water in the tree's bowl. And, SAVE what you cut off your tree, you can use it as decoration somewhere else (mine is on the mantel but you can also use it in anywhere else (on the back of the toilet or on the bathroom counter, in your kitchen, tacked along your balcony railing, etc.  I might make a post on how to do this so it doesn't look shoddy too.... we'll see.  If I don't and you're curious, just ask).

 THIRD: Decorations:
At this point there is so much you could do with your tree.  I'm not big on stereotypical commercial Christmas or religious icons so I went warm and wintery.  Here is what is on my tree:
  • 8-12 pine cones
  • 4 small flower sprigs (cream/off-white)
  • 3-4 white/cream magnolia sprigs with cream berries
  • 2 cream and glitter magnolia sprigs with red berries
  • 5-6 red berry sprigs
  • 1 long thing of bronze tulle cut up in pieces (anywhere from six inches squared to 1.5' squared--squared is approximate.  Some of the pieces are large triangles or rectangles.... Doesn't matter how you cut them as long as they are pretty sizable but not gigantic)
 So, depending on your own personal style you may have Christmas ball decorations, or items your children have made, or any other sort of decoration.  I like themed so if you're doing it that way think in terms of two to three (magnolias, berries, pine cones).  Those three are your focal points, if you have too much going on you'll lose the simplicity.  If you're working on Christmas balls pick three sizes (small, medium, large--but not GIANT unless you can really make it work.  That probably means resting one under the tree and or buying a huge tree).  If you're using a mix of decorations or things your children made then don't worry about minimizing the "clutter" of different types of ornaments.

For any tree style: separate out your items into sizes AND types or colors (whatever stands out the most).  Mine are separated by type.

I don't use garland but if you do this needs to go on after lights but before decorations.  It is REALLY hard to put garland or lights on after decorations so don't forget (I've done it).  Put them on the same way you put the lights on.  If it's thin and shiny garland put it close to the lights.  If it's fat, heavy, non reflective garland space it between and/or below the lights so you don't block them out.  

OK, now start with your largest ornaments.  I have about six big sprigs and I place them on first--I start by doing my topper and then place one towards the bottom of the tree, then the middle, then the other side, etc until they are all placed (think like you're jumping to opposite empty spaces).  Next, take your medium size  (I do my small flowers next).  Do the same thing but try to keep 6 inches or so from any large item and a two feet or so from any medium size.  Same idea: opposite empty spaces.  Try to stay off the same "line" of branches with any item otherwise it'll look like you just placed things in rows.  You want it to look spontaneous (even though it is completely not).  Next, reach for your smallest items (in my case these are the red berry sprigs because the BERRIES are small--not necessarily the sprigs.  If you look at your tree from a distance you'll get a good idea of where you need to fill things in.  Do this a lot: back up and take a look.  Move pieces if you feel like you're missing a big space.  Some of the little ornaments can go closer together  and some farther apart. Since the main big pieces of your tree are done this will just fill in and it isn't as hard to be "spontaneous."  I try to keep about three to four inches between any small item though.

Pine cones and tulle (loose tinsel).  You may not have pine cones depending on what you're doing.  You can treat them as a medium size ornament if you want but I like to keep them until last and stick them in any residual bald spots I might have.  These guys are a PAIN if you're putting tulle in also--just be patient, they stick to the tulle and you'll have to pry them apart if you don't like how they look and need to reshape.  I also use the pine cones to wedge up branches that I want a little bit higher up.  They're natural and so they don't stand out much at all.  Kind of like little surprises that people may or may not notice--but when people notice them I always get compliments so I stick with them.  I buy unscented but they sell scented ones (watch out for the oil, it sticks to everything and stings if you get it in your eyes).  Tulle and loose tinsel are last and fun.  For tulle... take a corner of one of your chopped up pieces and stick your arm into the tree where you want the tulle (bald spots or under/around your large ornaments or sprigs), let go, pull your arm out being careful not to pull the tulle out too. (If you have a LOT of smaller ornaments then you may want to cut long narrow strips of tulle and stick them in so that there are just points of sparkle coming out of your tree.  I use big sprigs and sizable flowers so I want so volume to the tulle.)  With loose tinsel you want to take a small pinch and either toss it at your tree or set it on the edge of the branches.  You may need to do some readjusting if you're tossing (the stuff is very light and so it doesn't always come down perfectly).  I'm not a huge fan of the loose tinsel because I find it complicated but if you've got a good eye for it you can make it look amazing.

Last touches: if you have a tree skirt you can put it on at the beginning or at the end.  I wait until the end because I don't want to step all over the skirt while I'm fussing with the tree.  I use a dark green sheet.  Use your tree trimmings to either decorate your mantel (see picture) or to fill in  more gaps on the tree.  From there, you're done!

Unfortunately my camera battery is dead so I couldn't take a great picture of the tree with lighting but this is it more or less.  I have a teeny little Santa's Village underneath my tree now (which I inherited from my grandmother).  You can stack presents, or even old books would look nice.  It just depends on your style and the look you're going for.

Namaste and Happy Holidays, Everyone!

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