I am in Santa Cruz this weekend for the Goat Hill Fair where I am demonstrating a fun and timely craft project- Vintage-Style Bottle Brush Trees! I’m not just showing how to use them in projects, but how to actually make your own and customize them to suit your crafts! I brought along lots of examples to share at the fair and thought you’d like a little inspiration, too. Here is a photo of two bottle brush trees. The one on the left was made in China. The one on the right was made in Petaluma, by me.To make the trees, start with sisal rope. Most sisal rope, found at the hardware store, is a sort of bleached-cream color. Cut short lengths of rope as shown. As you make more, you will find a length that works best for you, whether making one tree at a time or two with the same length. The length determines the final width of the tree.The rope sections are untwisted, then pulled apart into piles of fibers laid in the same direction.A length of 18 guage galvanized steel wire is bent and folded over the pile. I make two trees from one pile, so I place the wires in opposite directions. I then cut the pile at a diagonal… and finally each into a triangle/tree shape.I grip the end of the wires into a vice on my workbench as shown.Using wire cutters, I cut a piece of wire from a coat hanger and bend it into a hook shape. That then goes into my power drill as if it were a drill bit.I slide the hook into the end fold of the wire at the top of the tree shape…then turn on the drill to spin the wire, which will wind from the vice end to the drill end, careful not to spin too long that the entire wire breaks. Not to worry, it rarely happens.The result is a Christmas tree that reminds me of a stray dog in need of grooming. A bit of trimming with scissors and a lovely little tree begins to emerge. Use the two tips of the scissors to “comb” out the tangled fibers as needed while you trim.Use waxy floral tape to wrap the wire stems if preferred. If dying your tree, you may prefer wrapping stems after coloring the sisal. To color, I mix a small mason jar filled with rubbing alcohol with whatever amount of dye I want, more for darker trees, less for lighter trees. The alcohol makes the dye dry very fast and is a great way to dilute the color to preferred hue. For many of my trees I used my rainbow assortment of vintage shoe leather dyes that I found a few years ago at our local recycle center. Store bought liquid dyes work just as great such as Tulip and Rit brands. One thing I noticed while dying the trees is that the ones that were dipped had less kinked fibers (branches) on the final trees than those left their natural color. Seems the liquid or alcohol relaxes them a bit. Here are some of my trees after dying. A thrifted cribbage board works great as a drying rack.The wires can be trimmed to any size and bases for the trees can be made using anything from vintage wooden game pieces to other things you may already have laying around. Here are some crafts made with these trees:
These trees were tucked into a grungy vintage tobacco tin opposite a reproduced postcard image. Both sides were finished with craft store fencing.A little pottery vase makes a cute tree urn decorated with a vintage postage stamp. This tree was lightly painted with Mod Podge then dusted with mica flakes.
Here’s a purple display made from a vintage silver sugar container (with a glittered styrofoam ball inserted to hold the trees) and covered in murcury glass garland, and finished with a county fair rosette.This little sweetie fit just right into a vintage spool of thread (secured with hot glue) and topped with a stamped brass embellishment.I just love this old Ball freezer jar, perfect for a frozen display. My St. Nicholas is a little vintage ornament with string removed.By dipping in two of the same color- one diluted more than the other- I was able to create ombré trees. These are set into vintage candle holders filled with hot glue and finished with glitter.Here is a tree that has not been colored, tucked into an antique record cylinder used as an artist trading card display.You can even make jewelry charms with these little trees! Sisal bottle brush trees can be used throughout the year for occasions other than Christmas. They make adorable Easter decor. Here’s one tucked into an egg cup. I glued this glittered tree into a vintage glass drawer knob, placed a jump ring into the bent top wire and created a holiday ornament. Tiny embellishments can be glued around the tree like ornaments. Here I used tiny jingle bells, and glittered scrapbook supply stars glued back-to-back as the tree topper. I found the tree base as-is at an antique shop- score!So many cute little containers make good pots for planting these trees. Here’s a vintage and decorated toothpick package stuffed with floral foam and Spanish moss.Even this tiny tin toy pitcher makes a sweet tree pot. Of course there’s the ol’ stand-by apothecary bottle filled with glitter. I drilled a tiny hole into the cork before poking the twisted wire into it to keep the cork from breaking. And, lastly, here is my tiniest tree that is just under two inches tall. These trees are just so much fun to make. I make them assembly-line-style over many days. One evening I will cut and unravel rope on the coffee table while watching a movie. Another day I will wire and spin and trim. Another time I will dye and dry them. The final trees are great to keep on hand for future craft displays or to use as favors, ornaments, place settings or a few dozen other uses. Have fun!