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DIY Christmas decorations and small gifts

Updated on January 6, 2015

Christmas Creations

These are some ideas I have used in the past few years to a) create my own interesting Christmas decorations that can be used year after year, make me proud and both cost less and be more ethical than shop-bought ones, b) make some small gifts to add to the Christmas cards of friends and colleagues, and c) entertain myself during Christmas break: these projects would be great for keeping kids busy with some hands on activities as well.

A friend of mine who loves the festivity and colour of Christmas recently became very disillusioned with the shiny shop-bought baubles many of us use to decorate our homes after finding this article: The article describes the working conditions and pay of the people who make the decorations we find in our shops, and horrified my friend and many of those she shared it with. I was unaware of this situation until I saw her post, but have been suspicious of mass-produced decorations, and making my own, for several years to utilise my creative side, giving me a real break from work over Christmas, saving my household money and creating decorations I am especially attached to having put the effort in to produce them. So I offered to show my friend some of the techniques I have learnt and work together on making Christmas decorations as a social event. I thought there were probably others out there who would also like to start making some things of their own and might not know where to begin doing such a thing as an adult. So I decided to write up instructions as a hub.

These are the items I've learnt to make that I plan to go over in this hub:

  1. Various good origami Christmas decorations I have come across and learned to make, including
  • Simple modular origami Christmas ball
  • Origami flower Christmas ball
  • 16 pointed modular star
  • Wish star garlands

2. Baked Christmas edible decorations made from gingerbread or shortbread

3. Using pinecones and gumnuts and other natural items from your yard to make extra tree decorations, DIY wreaths, and decorations for gifts

I hope that these will provide a few people with avenues to do some constructive DIY and enjoy the festive season in a new way.

Origami flower Christmas ball
Origami flower Christmas ball
Home-made garden wreath
Home-made garden wreath

Origami Christmas Creations

I have found a number of relatively complex origami designs online which are challenging enough for adults to enjoy making and can be made to look superb with the right coloured papers and precise folding. Before you begin, make sure you have some paper in colours you like which you can easily make crisp folds in without taking off the surface colour; some wrapping papers work so you can use your scraps instead of wasting them after wrapping presents, but shiny-surfaced papers usually tear and the surface may scrape off when you fold them sharply. For some of the designs you will need a very large number of squares. Although it is annoying to need lots of paper, it is best to start out using larger squares when you're learning, as it will be much easier to fold the units when the folding is not too fiddly. You may also want some nice-looking thread and perhaps some beads to use to make the hangers for your decorations, and for some of the modular decorations you will need some glue; an ordinary glue stick is fine but fast-drying craft glue is helpful.

Two modular origami Christmas balls

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Sonobe unit Christmas ball

Let's start with a type of origami creation you may already be familiar with. It is possible to make a complex-looking decorative ball from sonobe units. If you don't know how to fold a sonobe unit, don't worry, I'm going to show you, and if my instructions don't make sense, you can also find them on many other websites including here: where I learnt.

To make a ball like the ones in the pictures, you will need 30 sonobe units. Here's how to make them. Try it out with some normal paper first before you try to use your special Christmas colours and patterns. You can incorporate good sonobe units in plain paper into a mixed colour ball with more fancy papers and colours later.

  1. Make 30 squares to fold into sonobe units. Keep them at least medium sized; the units will only be about 1/4 of the size of the original square.
  2. Take a square and fold it in half. Then unfold it, and fold both edges in so they meet the line made by the centre fold.
  3. Unfold these folds too. Hold your square so the lines from the folds you just made are going horizontally across the paper. Fold the bottom right hand corner and the top left hand corner to meet the nearest fold line.
  4. Fold up to meet the centre line again, leaving the corners folded. Then fold the corners of the rectangle inwards diagonally to meet the other side, folding along the line marked by the folded-in corner.
  5. Unfold, then fold up again tucking the corners under the flaps and flatten out. This is the basic sonobe unit. Now we will add some adjustments to make it join other units to form the ball.
  6. Turn the paper over so you cannot see the tucked in edges. Fold the pointed edges in so that your paper looks square. Unfold, leaving them creased and pointing out towards you. Turn back over to the tucked-in side. You should see the tucked-in section like a cross in a square, with the pointed edges folded backwards behind the square.
  7. To join this to another sonobe unit, tuck the pointed edge into one of the flaps on the other unit. the two units should now sit like two sides of a cube, at a 90 degree angle. To make the ball, add a third unit tucking into the same second unit to make a pyramid rather than joining into a square. Keep adding units to make more joined-on pyramids until you have joined all 30 units. See the photos and video below if this does not make sense.

If you want to add a string to hang your Christmas ball, there are a couple of options. First, you can finish the ball, and then use a big needle like a tapestry needle to thread your string through one of the holes and out the other side. Alternatively, you could try to add your string while assembling the units, by making most of the ball, then threading the string through one of the holes and leaving it hanging out the bottom as you work around it.

Here's a video of me folding and joining sonobe units

Origami Flower Ball as Christmas Ball

Step by step petal folding and joining
Step by step petal folding and joining
One completed flower
One completed flower
Two halves ready to be glued together
Two halves ready to be glued together
Completed ball still held to dry by bobby pins
Completed ball still held to dry by bobby pins

Next let's look at a different kind of origami ball. This one is very detailed and in different colours can make a good decoration for all kinds of occasions. It is relatively fiddly to fold so when you're learning, use a medium-large square to get the hang of folding the petals. Each square becomes one flower petal, and each flower will have five petals. You need 60 squares the same size to begin. It is easy to add a hanging string at the halfway point, so this one is simpler to make into a hanging Christmas ball. It does however use glue, so it is not a traditional modular origami project. You can use normal stick glue or a fast drying craft glue. It makes the process a lot faster if you also have a packet of bobby pins on hand - you will see why soon.

  1. Take a square and fold it in half diagonally
  2. Fold both outer corners to the top corner
  3. Fold each flap back on itself so the inner edge is now meeting the outer edge
  4. Lift the flaps one at a time and flatten into a kite shape by opening out the space inside
  5. Fold down the tops of the kite folds so that they are now triangular
  6. Fold the two side (now triangular) sections in half
  7. You now have one petal unit. Curl the flat side of the paper over and glue the two inner faces of the side folds. To save holding each petal until the glue dries, you can slide a bobby pin over the two surfaces you are gluing to hold them together while they dry.
  8. When you have five of these petals you can make your first flower. Glue the sides of the petals together with the pointed ends downwards like a bunch of flowers. Again, you can bobby pin the two petals together while they dry.
  9. Once you have more than one flower, you can start joining flowers. Place glue on the backs of two petals and attach them to the backs of two petals on the other flower. As you join more flowers you will end up with a centre flower surrounded by five flowers in a ring. Some will need glue on more petals as you will be joining them to several other flowers. All can be held in place by bobby pins to dry.
  10. Once you have joined these 6 flowers you have half of your ball. If you want to add a string, do so now. Here's how: Make a loop of string long enough to leave the loop above your half-flower ball and have the ends dangling below the flower. Tie a knot in one end and slide a bead (or several, for extra decoration) onto the string so it is resting on the knot. Loop the string and thread the other end through the bead also, being careful not to let the bead slide off. Tie a knot in this other end so it cannot slip back through the bead. Lay the loop on your half-flower ball so that the loop section is above and the bead end below. Glue the string onto the half-flower ball.
  11. Now make the other half of your flower ball. Once the second half is done, all that remains is to glue the two halves together. This can be tricky to get the two halves aligned nicely, and your bobby pins will again be very helpful. Leave to dry overnight before try to hang.

Doesn't make sense in words? Watch me folding it in this video.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Fold square in half, unfoldRepeat in other directionFold in corners to meet quarters marked by the foldsFold two sides to the centre to make a kite shapeTurn overFold back top triangleFold in half towards the other sideMake 16Join by pushing points of one unit into pockets either side of other unit
Fold square in half, unfold
Fold square in half, unfold
Repeat in other direction
Repeat in other direction
Fold in corners to meet quarters marked by the folds
Fold in corners to meet quarters marked by the folds
Fold two sides to the centre to make a kite shape
Fold two sides to the centre to make a kite shape
Turn over
Turn over
Fold back top triangle
Fold back top triangle
Fold in half towards the other side
Fold in half towards the other side
Make 16
Make 16
Join by pushing points of one unit into pockets either side of other unit
Join by pushing points of one unit into pockets either side of other unit

Sixteen pointed origami star

Now let's look at something other than a ball - this is the best of a few different star/snow flake designs I tried. Again this is a modular design, and you will need to make the 16 units that form the 16 points individually from separate squares.

  1. Take your first square and fold it in half in a straight line (not on the diagonal). Unfold and repeat in the other direction to mark quarters on your square.
  2. Fold each corner of the square to the lines made by the quarter folds so that you have a smaller square with four triangle flaps.
  3. Fold two of the corners to the centre line to make a kite shape.
  4. Turn the paper over. Now fold the top of the kite shape down so your paper becomes a triangle.
  5. Turn back to the other side and fold this triangle in half. You should now have a slender triangle with and smaller triangular section on the end. If you turn it so that you are looking on the main fold from above, you should see that the smaller triangle has pocket sections at the sides.
  6. To join units, push the two ends of one unit into the pockets of the unit in front. If you have started with big squares, your star might hold together on its own through the pressure once all units are inserted. However, if you are using small units or different thicknesses of paper, you may need some glue on the points of each unit to make your star a longer-lasting decoration.

Wish Star Garlands

Now to use up all the scraps from the edges of paper you've been measuring up into squares. Make long thin rectangles out of the scraps and they might just do for a wish star. Instructions for wish stars say you need a specific dimension rectangle, but I've found that if you cheat a little and glue the ends down if they don't tuck in properly you can use up most long strips of more than 2cm width. This link shows how to make the strips of paper into wish stars, and there are many more tutorials out there so I won't bother explaining this part step by step.

Next, make your collection of wish stars into a pretty tinsel replacement. You'll need some thread, a needle long enough to push through one side of each star and out the other, and some beads in Christmassy colours. Thread the needle with a good long length of thread so that your garland can be long enough to be interesting, then tie a knot through one of the beads and add a loop behind the bead to allow for easy hanging. Carefully take your wish stars one at a time and push the needle through one corner and out the opposite corner to thread them onto the chain, adding a bead with a knot tied around it between each one to prevent them squashing up at one end and keep the beads in position. When you have just enough thread left, or no more stars, tie on another bead to secure the other end and add a loop for the second end of your garland to hook onto a tree, curtain rod or similar. These garlands can easily take the place of tinsel on a small tree.

Here's a cute example:

Baked edible decorations

These work best with gingerbread because it lasts ages, but any roll out biscuit/cookie dough that comes out fairly crisp will work. You just need some Christmassy biscuit cutters (or a bit of skill with a knife to cut your own decorative shapes) and a skewer, plus your favourite dough. Make up your dough and roll out on a floured surface, and cut into Christmassy shapes (I just did stars and love hearts of various sizes). Before baking, use the skewer to poke a neat hole in a suitable spot on each cookie for a string to hang it on the tree. Then bake your cookies and decorate as normal before adding a loop of string through the holes. You can then use these as you would candy canes, giving them away off your tree as treats to friends, or give them a collection to hang on their own tree as their Christmas gift. They can be made in all shapes and sizes so you can personalise them, and you can use your favourite recipes. All round win. There is a cute example and interesting recipe here:

Below are some pictures of gingerbread ornaments I made for friends and family.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Natural stuff as decorations, gift ribbon and wreaths

There are probably a reasonable number of things in your garden that could be useful for making decorations - if not, take a walk in a local park. Here are some things that are useful to collect:

  • Pinecones
  • Gumnuts and seedpods of varied shapes and sizes
  • Rushes or reeds
  • Twigs of pine or pine-like evergreen that last well when cut
  • Citrus fruits
  • Flowers which dry well such as everlasting daisies, cornflowers, or lavender

And here are some things you can do with them:

  • Use rushes or reeds to weave a base ring for a wreath by plaiting, twisting or weaving them together
  • Dry flowers and weave the stems through your wreath for colour
  • Peel citrus fruit and coil the peel into dryable citrus-scented rosettes like this: - these can then be attached to wreaths or gifts or used in centrepieces
  • Use oranges to make pomander balls with cloves for lovely-smelling Christmas balls (e.g.,
  • Use pinecones, acorns or gumnuts and seedpods just as they are in centrepieces or hanging on the tree, or get out your gold and silver and white paint and make frosted-looking or shiny ones - you can also hang them in garlands around the house
  • Use sprigs of pine in centrepieces or vases or in gift wrapping along with decorated pinecones, gumnuts, etc.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
A wrapping I did with some natural decorationMy own summer solstice wreath with orange peel rosettes, wheat, pine needles, pinecones, and various dried flowers and gumnutsA beautiful pomander ball centrepiece - this would definitely smell like ChristmasVisit for the tutorial on this lovely pinecone garlandA lovely Australian wreath with gumnuts and eucalyptusSome painted pinecones making a beautiful arrangement - see for more variations
A wrapping I did with some natural decoration
A wrapping I did with some natural decoration
My own summer solstice wreath with orange peel rosettes, wheat, pine needles, pinecones, and various dried flowers and gumnuts
My own summer solstice wreath with orange peel rosettes, wheat, pine needles, pinecones, and various dried flowers and gumnuts
A beautiful pomander ball centrepiece - this would definitely smell like Christmas
A beautiful pomander ball centrepiece - this would definitely smell like Christmas | Source
Visit for the tutorial on this lovely pinecone garland
Visit for the tutorial on this lovely pinecone garland | Source
A lovely Australian wreath with gumnuts and eucalyptus
A lovely Australian wreath with gumnuts and eucalyptus | Source
Some painted pinecones making a beautiful arrangement - see for more variations
Some painted pinecones making a beautiful arrangement - see for more variations | Source

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