Sunday, December 6, 2015

Hanging Pine Cone Tree

The first Christmas in a new place is so fun yet hard at the same time. We're loving seeing the snow capped mountains in the distance, seeing new town traditions and decorations, and being with our new friends. At the same time though we're really missing some of our favorite things about Silver City: the shops and decorations downtown, the lighted Christmas parade (even though it really isn't anything spectacular), and our friends and family. 

One thing we could always count in in Silver City, no matter how broke or flush we were each Christmas, was that we could have a great tree. Tree permits to cut a pinon pine under 10 feet are free there, and we found some great spots to cut our trees each year. Even when we were completely strapped for cash we could have a real, pretty tree and then make simple homemade decorations for it. 

Christmas 2014
This year, we had to get creative when it came to our tree. We had a few parameters that had to be worked in that made this interesting. 

1. The space in the house.
There just isn't room for a big full tree. We thought about having it outside and decorating it with bird/nature friendly items and only bringing it in the house and putting on the "real" decorations on Christmas Eve. But that still left no tree inside all December, and I really love the we kept thinking on how to make this work in our space.

2. Price.
A few unexpected expenses have popped up suddenly, and we need to do Christmas on the super-cheap this year. We've done that before. Everyone has broke Christmas years. Ours are some of our more memorable ones actually. But it does mean planning different and doing things a little different than in "normal" years. So buying a tree was out. Plus, after getting a free tree for the past 5 years, I really just can't hardly bring myself to go buy one when I know 5 hours away is a whole forest of free trees! We debated driving over and cutting one, but figured once gas was taken into account it wouldn't be as cheap and the drive home would be longer as we couldn't go as fast with a tree on top (and...I really don't want to put a tree on top of our current car). Excuses and whining, I know.

3. Christmas Cheer
We're not really sure why, but Cameron and I are having a hard time getting in the holiday spirit and getting excited for Christmas. We want to be. We want to enjoy our first Christmas in Winslow. We thought about just doing one of the cheap mini-trees, like we did in our Tucson years, but we've quickly run out of surface space, and we wanted something that took more effort, made more memories, and brought more cheer into the house. This coming week we'll make a paper tree on the kitchen door and attach paper ornaments to magnets for Darrow to play with, but we knew we needed "our" tree, one that spoke to us. I don't know if this sounds silly to any of you or not, but it was an important aspect in "The Tree" for us.

So with those parameters I went off to look for ideas or inspiration in our few options in town...Walmart and the local hardware store (with their craft section that was originally stocked in the 90's and still has some of it's original merchandise). I came home with nothing. No tree, no materials to make a tree, and no ideas. And then I walked in the door and the first thing I saw were the pans of pinecones I'd gathered and baked to have on hand to craft with. And suddenly I had an idea! 

I'd been looking all over the internet and Pinterest for ideas and had seen this one in my searches: 
by Not Martha
I'd found that idea in years past and had even read through the tutorial at the time. When I saw this idea this year I knew we didn't have enough ornaments to make this and buying enough booted this out of the super-cheap realm. So I'd passed this idea over. But walking in and seeing those pinecones I realized I could do this same idea, just with the cones and it would fit all our tree parameters! 

I excitedly told Cameron my idea and he was on board and even suggested painting some of the cones. I loved it, and immediately got to work. I wanted this tree up that night. I already had all the cones, the circular cooling rack, gold spray paint, and sewing thread, so I got to work. 

I painted 1/2 the pine cones gold in the last light of the sunset and left them out to dry while I gathered the other supplies. 

As I went through my thread and held it up to see what color would work best I realized I didn't have anything that was even close to our beige wall color. Everything stuck out like crazy. So I decided to go ahead and run to the store and grab a spool of fishing line to use. While there I found a small pack of mini red ornaments and knew that would make the tree pop, so I grabbed those too. So the total price for my tree ended up being $6. Buying everything outright for this would have upped the price quite a bit (Amazon tells me for the cooling rack , the ornament hooks, the fishing line, the hooks to hang this from the ceiling, the ornaments , the gold spray paint , and the pine cones it would have been $30.19). This still isn't a bad price for a tree if this is the look you want really. But I was on a mission to do this as cheaply as possible. I could have stuck with no ornaments and the sewing thread and done this completely from supplies I already had on hand, but I "splurged". 

Tips I read for this suggested buying 30lb fishing line, but after actually making this now I think I could have gotten away with a thinner line and had a more floating tree look rather than cones on strings. But this works for now! 

The Not Martha tutorial uses a grid cooling rack, but mine just had straight lines, so I started out by wrapping fishing line in perpendicular lines across the cooling rack to make a grid so the ornament hoods wouldn't slip all over the place. 

 Before above and after below. 

Next, I hung up the cooling rack from the ceiling fan so I could work on it at a comfortable and easy height. Notice my super high tech and beautiful hanging hardware. Yea scrap yarn! 

From there I just jumped in, starting with the top and center pinecone and working my way down and out. The Not Marth tutorial shows how to make an awesome circular pattern and how to lay it all out evenly. I decided to wing it because I was feeling lazy and I didn't make my hanging diagram. It worked though! 

For each pinecone I made a slip knot in the fishing line and looped it over the top 3-4 scales of the cone and pulled it tight. 

From there I held it up to the cooling rack to see how long I needed to cut it, and added an extra inch or two to have room to tie the line to the hanging hook. You just repeat that over and over, making longer and longer lengths of line as you get further out. You can add in more pinecones to give this a full look, or keep them spaced for a more floating look. 

I didn't add in the ornaments until the very end when I could see where I wanted the pops of color. For those I ended up having to use red sewing thread as the ornaments weren't heavy enough to pull the fishing line tight and they curled around funny and tangled up with the pine cone strings. Another reason to go with lighter fishing line. 

At the end we measured how the hooks needed to be spaced, screwed the hooks into the ceiling, and hung it up (detangling the strands that twisted around when we moved the tree mobile). 

And...I love it! A lot! It has that tall skinny Christmas tree shape that I really like!

It took about 4 hours to make by myself (this kind of project with tying knots and working with thread drives Cameron up the wall, and it wasn't worth making bad memories over so he stayed up with me and visited to help make the memory while I arrangement that works for us!), but it was 4 hours we spent in the living room visiting, listening to Christmas music, and just being together. 

The tree hangs just out of reach of Darrow, especially with the table right there that he has to lean over to try and touch it, so it's perfect for this year. It met all three of our criteria for the 2015 Mower Christmas Tree perfectly and makes me smile when I look at it. 

What have you done on your broke years for trees? Anyone have pictures of their "alternative" Christmas trees to share? Post them in the comments on this link on the Facebook page! We want to see them! 


  1. I'm so glad you thought of the perfect way to adapt this craft! I know what you mean about the tree- for my husband and I, it's the lights glowing in the dark through the season that helps us get in the spirit. I hope you have a lovely Christmas.

  2. I love how this came out! My first Christmas with my husband we had NO money... just out of college - air-popped popcorn for dinner some nights broke. Luckily, Rich had a part-time job in a thrift store while he was looking for something in his field. One day he came home with a tiny artificial tree. We had no lights or decorations. I made a paper chain and snowflakes to hang on the tree and put the few childhood stuffed animals underneath. It's one of my favorite memories with him. I still have that paper chain- THIRTY years later and it is always on display somewhere in our home every December. Lisa

    1. I love that story! In downsizing for our move I was brutal with what I purged out and I'm wishing I'd kept that little dollar store nativity I bought for our very first Christmas (I think most first Christmases are broke Christmases, lol). I LOVE that you still have The Paper Chain!

  3. It's not a bad thing that they charge for cutting trees. If everyone is going to get their "free" trees, what will be left of the forest? I'm glad you found an alternative. It looks great and is safe for the baby. We've used artificial trees since I can remember. After I got married, I spent two holiday seasons in the new flat and it happened that both times we had to share the holidays with a cat. So I put a tree I made from seed beads on a protected shelf. It's tiny, about the size of my palm. This year I'm making a fluffier mini tree from pipecleaners and we're also thinking of getting an artificial tree of our own and see if the cat approves. Hubby wanted a real one but I'm against that so we agreed to buy some fir tree oil for the smell. Here is my seed bead tree:

    1. Ooh! That is so pretty! Not what I was expecting, but better.

    2. I know they can't offer free trees everywhere, but I do miss that tradition we had going. We were always so surprised at how many people in the area who wanted a cut tree but didn't utilize the free tree permit. With the forests overgrown from fire-fear this works well to work on keeping areas from growing in too thick and creating mega-forest-fire potential.

      Fir Tree oil would make the place smell so amazing!And I love the seed bead tree idea too!


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