Christmas Light Luminaries
Make your own Christmas light luminaries
One of our family Christmas traditions is the yearly making of new decorations. Since hand crafts can take a while to make, I begin my search for new ideas around September or earlier! I'm always on the look out for new ideas and crafts to try.
For 2012, I have actually found two ideas to make. Inspired by a photo someone shared on Pinterest, my children and I have started to make luminaries using glass ornaments and epsom salt. The original idea was for glass jars made into luminaries for votive candles, which will be something for another lens. I seem to find it impossible to try a new craft idea without modifying it some how! We decided on an experiment which, at the time of this writing, we don't even know will work!
I hope you enjoy following along as we try out this new craft, and maybe even get inspired to try something like it yourself!
Photo update added.
Note: all photos were taken as we made these luminaries, unless otherwise specified.
These are most of the materials we used to make our Christmas light luminaries. See below for a list of materials.
To make these light, you'll need:
- String of indoor LED lights (we used a string of 50 and covered 24 lights). We used clear lights, but if you choose coloured lights, you can skip the food colouring option.
- Clear glass ornaments. These are available in craft stores in a variety of shapes. We chose hearts; 24 in total.
- Mod Podge.
- Craft brushes. Time to break out the cheap brushes for this project!
- Epsom Salts. Use some of the left over salts in a luxuriant bath.
- Clear Glaze spray. (Optional) If you don't want to use an aerosol spray, you can substitute with more Mod Podge.
- Glitter (optional) Avoid fine glitter.
- Food colouring (optional) Just a drop will do!
Other Materials needed
Here are a few more things that are handy to have to make these luminaries.
- Glue gun with all purpose glue sticks - to affix the lights into the ornaments.
- Ceramic or glass bowls - to mix the epsom salts with the food colouring and/or glitter. If no colour or glitter is to be added, these will not be needed.
- Newspaper or something similar - lay this down to protect your work surface
- Small piece of styrofoam or something similar - to make a drying/spraying rack.
- Bamboo skewers - these are pushed into the foam to hold the luminaries. They can be broken in half, so only one is needed for every two luminaries.
- Flat tray with shallow sides - this can be a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet, the plastic lid to a storage container, or anything that will give a flat surface to work on and keep the epsom salts from getting everywhere. In a pinch, some aluminum foil with the edges turned up will do the job.
- Pen, pencil, chopstick or the handle of a paintbrush - anything that will fit into the opening of the luminary to hold it while it's being worked on.
- Mixing spoons - plastic spoons or forks can be used to mix the color into the epsom salts, while a spoon is handy to thoroughly cover the luminaries later on.
Coating the luminaries
Colouring the Epsom Salts - Optional
The first step was to cover our work surface and gather all our supplies close. With clear lights, we decided to colour the Epsom salts. There's about a cup of salt in each of these bowls, give or take - way more then we ended up needing. Since we were out of red food colouring after using it all to make fake blood for a Zombie Walk, we had only blue, yellow and green to choose from. Only a single drop is needed, though as you can see, an extra one snuck out in the green! With two dozen luminaries to coat, we decided to have six in each colour, plus another six left plain white.
Mixing the colour
A little bit of colour goes a long way! It's important not to add more, as the moisture will cause problems later.
Adding glitter - Optional
The glitter is added after the colour is thoroughly mixed in, so that the glitter doesn't get dyed, too. We just eye-balled the amount we wanted. With the size of the salt crystals, a larger size of glitter works well.
Preparing the tray
We started with the lightest colour first, which was the plain white epsom salts. Since it wasn't being coloured, the glitter was mixed in right on the tray. About a half cup or a bit more was poured out onto the tray.
Making the drying rack
The foam we used to make the drying rack is a type of foam insulation available as sheets in most hardware stores. I'd bought some ages ago to use for blocking my crochet. This is just a small piece of the foam sheet, and we've got twelve skewers, broken into two pieces each, ready and waiting to hold the luminaries as they dry.
Coating the luminaries with Mod Podge
It's handy to work as a group! While one daughter took pictures, I covered the glass ornaments with Mod Podge, then passed them to my other daughter to coat.
It took a few tries, but I found that the handle of an old and wrecked paint brush was best to hold onto the ornament while coating. The ornaments we got were heart shaped, but I made no effort to keep that shape. Because the shapes were flattened somewhat rather then round balls, the openings of each one was slightly squashed, some more then others!
The glass needs to be given a thick coat of Mod Podge for the epsom salts to stick to.
Covering with epsom salts
Once the ornament was thoroughly coated, I slid it off my paintbrush handle holder onto a pile of epsom salts my daughter had ready and waiting. She pushed it into the pile of salt on all sides, then used a spoon to scoop up more and make sure it was thoroughly coated.
If these were to be made into tree decorations rather than luminaries, we would make sure that no salts got onto the neck of the decoration, so that the cap and hanger could be put back on later.
When it came time to change colours of salts, a stiff card was used to push the used salt to one corner, then the next coloured batch was added to the middle. We started with white, then yellow, green and finally blue.
Set to dry
Once coated, the luminaries were placed onto the pieces of bamboo skewer to dry. Mod Podge dries clear, so the colours stand out more the drier it gets.
Sealing and finishing the luminaries
Epsom Salt Coated Luminaries - Dry and ready for glazing
We left the coated ornaments overnight to dry. Once the Mod Podge dried clear, the colours stood out more, while remaining nice and subtle.
Preparing the Luminaries for glazing
The next step was to find someplace where we could use glaze spray. Normally, we would do this sort of thing outside, but it was too cold and, by the time we were able to continue working on these, too dark.
Instead, we cleared space on the floor. We didn't have more paper to protect the floor so we dug out a roll of plastic we had. It's a thin plastic that's usually used on windows for extra insulation in the winter, available in any hardware store.
We kept the luminaries on the foam and simply removed the skewers they were resting on, laying the shapes down. This would be the time to gently brush off any loose bits of epsom salts.
Spraying the Glaze
Be sure to read the instructions on your can in regards to correctly and safely using the glaze spray. Open windows, turn on fans, use breathing masks, etc.
The glaze we used had to be shaken for 2-3 minutes before use. It is dry to the touch in 15 minutes, completely dry in 2 hours, and more coats can be sprayed on at any time.
In the above photo, my daughter is spraying the first coat on one side. After about 5 minutes, she added another coat, then we waited 15 minutes.
Note: If you do not wish to use a spray glaze, these can instead be coated with a thick layer of Mod Podge over the epsom salts and allowed to dry on the skewers the same as before. Doing it this way, the luminaries will need another day to dry before they can be attached to the lights.
Finishing the Luminary Glaze
This is one of the luminaries about 15 minutes after getting its spray of glaze.
After a couple of coats and waiting 15 minutes after the last spray, the luminaries were turned and we repeated the process on the other side.
Attaching the Luminaries - Adding the hot glue
We gave the luminaries about an hour to dry before we started attaching them to the string of lights.
If you're using flattened ornaments like the ones we did, with their slightly squashed openings, slide the luminary you wish to attach over the light first to determine how far it'll go, and where to apply the glue. With some of our luminaries, the entire light fit through easily, while others fit only over the bulb
Apply a generous amount of glue around the light.
Attaching the Luminaries - Fitting the luminary onto the glue
Gently position the luminary over the bulb and press into the melted glue. Hold in position for about half a minute for the glue to set, or the luminaries will tip out of position.
If necessary, add more glue around the join to ensure the luminaries won't suddenly fall off the light string!
Attaching the Luminaries - When odd things happen
For a few lights, while holding the luminary in position and waiting for the glue to set, a bubble would form in the glue like this. Leave it be until the glue has cooled (it will look cloudy) enough to touch. Gently burst and remove the bubble.
Attaching the Luminaries - Fixing problem areas
After removing a bubble, there will be a weak spot in the glue. Add more glue around the join to ensure proper bonding.
The Finished Luminaries - Leaving the glue to set
Once all the luminaries are glued onto the lights, set them aside and leave the glue to set for a while.
Here are our finished luminaries.
The Finished Luminaries - A lovely glow!
Of course, we had to test out our new luminaries! We're really happy with how these turned out.
If the weight of the luminaries (or the cost of the glass ornaments) are not an issue, these would look lovely with all the bulbs covered.
Now the hard part...
... waiting until we put these up!
We don't actually start decorating our home for Christmas until our traditional first day of Christmas, the Feast of St. Catherine's on November 27. We usually just use tape to attach lights to our windows, but with these luminaries, we're going to have to pick up something a little stronger!
Once we've got them up, I'll be sure to take another photo to share here!
Updated: Finished Luminaries - Our new Christmas lights are up!
As we began to decorate our home for our 2012 Christmas, we finally got to mount our new luminaries in one of our windows. Once they were up and tested, we could hardly wait for it to get dark, so we could see how they looked! They add a wonderful touch to our living room.
Another view of our luminaries, hung in our living room window.
Handy Hint - All Season Beauty
These luminaries may be made using Christmas lights, but they can be used all year! Wrap seasonal garlands around the wire of your string of luminaries. In this photo, we've wrapped a couple of lengths of spring flowers around our garland.
The making of a holiday tradition
While I have always enjoyed doing crafts, our tradition of making yearly decorations started for a very specific reason. For my oldest daughter's first Christmas, I wanted to have a tree that was safe for her to look at and explore. I wasn't able to find child safe Christmas decorations that I liked, so I ended up crocheting a number of round balls stuffed with fibrefill and crochet spirals in glittery yarn in Christmas colours. We still have those! In the years that followed, I just kept adding to the collection, often trying completely new crafts in the process. It has since become one of our favorite holiday traditions.