Limited hours of daylight challenge us as we head toward the winter solstice, the shortest number of daylight hours in the year. Many trees have shed their brightly colored leaves , and we are thankful to the evergreen for a splash of color in the landscape. Pinecones have fallen from the branches, their seed scales opening wide to let the seeds escape from their cozy hiding place.
Gather ye pinecones where ye may! There are many varieties with characteristics to fit many different craft projects, but the pinecone and the scent of pine is primarily identified with the winter holidays. I imagine that there are few pine tree owners who would mind if you helped them pick up pinecones around the yard for your project. Or you can forage some from the woods.
One of my favorite holiday pinecone crafts is making tiny, decorated trees. Little Hemlock tree cones are ideal for this. Glue the cones in rows around a Styrofoam shape, leaving some irregularities here and there for interest. A hot or cold glue gun is the easiest way. You can take them all the way to the top, or you can leave room for a topper decoration. Try not to leave gaps. If you can’t get open cones close enough to each other, fill the gaps with little cones that are still closed. Leave it for at least a day so the glue can harden, then look for any loose cones. The still closed cones will open as they dry.
After the glue has set, spray paint the tree in a holiday color that you like. Larger Styrofoam cones may require that you step up to a larger, but still small, cones; there are many sizes of cones available in Indiana. Now, decorate as you wish. I like sequins or tiny shiny objects on colored-head straight pins that are long enough to stick into the Styrofoam. Charms are nice. Tiny ribbons on U-pins can be snazzy. Sometimes I just glue little glittery balls between the pinecones. Pinecones will last for years. I have a forty-year-old wreath that still looks great. The small trees can be wrapped up and stored with your other decorations for repeated use. Large wreaths store well in plastic wreath containers. If a pinecone falls off, just glue it back on.
Pinecones can be wired onto wreath rounds, but I find over time they don’t hold up as well as if you take the time now to create a more permanent structure. Pinecones can be messy to work with because of the resin that seeps out of them. Using rubber gloves for handling is recommended. Sunscreen can help take resin off your hands.
Gather more pinecones than needed. An 18-20” wreath will require a lot of cones, around two paper bags full. Spend some time going through the cones looking for tears, breaks and imperfections. Discard damaged ones. I also sort by size and shape. This way, when you get into the actual wreath-making, you have all your materials ready.
Find a sturdy four-wire wreath form that is made of a heavier-gauge wire and welded together. You can find them at most large craft stores. Flimsier ones will not withstand the wreath-making process.
Find a workspace that can be left undisturbed for a while. Cover a table with a tarp or waterproof cloth and set out your sorted cones in groups. Get a big tub of water and your gloves. You can use hot water if you wish to hurry things along a bit, but unheated water works just as well without the hassle of boiling the water. Figure out a design for your wreath. It will be impossible to move cones once they dry. Put the cones in the water to soak until the seed scales tightly close. It may take 15-20 minutes for this to occur.
Start placing the pinecones between the wires pushing through about a third of the pinecone. I start between the middle two wires, then do the outer rows. Push in as many as you can so that they fit tightly together. Put them into positions that please you and make sure that any curved cones are all going the same direction. Set the wreaths aside to dry. This may take a week or two depending on the weather. They don’t have to dry inside.
As the pinecones dry, the scales will re-open and lock into the wires and into each other. Once that process is finished, you can leave them natural or spray paint. You might just like a shiny clear spray, or you may want to spray paint with color and/or glitter. Do your spray painting outdoors for proper ventilation and to avoid inhaling fluorocarbons.
Since pinecones are chestnut brown, if you will be using a light color you may wish to undercoat the pinecones in white paint to get a truer color. Dry well between coats. Then decorate as you would any wreath. The wreaths can be hung inside or out. They can withstand about any kind of weather. If you plan to use them inside, you may wish to glue some felt backing on the wreath so that the stems don’t stain or scar walls.
Through the ages, the wreath has stood for such values as brotherhood, community, victory, togetherness, and eternal life. It is put on doors to welcome company, to bring good luck and to invite good spirit into a home. It is a symbol of honor, respect, and beauty. When we work with things from the earth in making a wreath, it also gives us a chance to handle material that has grown, perhaps, in our own backyard. We can better understand its textures, scent, and structure. Take a moment as you work with pinecones to think about what had to take place to make this material available to you and what other purposes it might have. It will help you connect to the world around you, and who knows what creative thoughts may come to mind!