Deck the halls with your own homemade ornaments

Instead of replacing that box of broken Christmas balls, why not make some ornaments yourself to grace this year's tree? For about the same price as store-bought ornaments (or less), you can come up with some beautiful creations yourself, and when made by family and friends, they will be cherished long after the last shiny ball has broken.

So put some Christmas music on the stereo, set a pot of Christmasy fragrance simmering on the stove (drop a few cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg, and perhaps some anise into boiling water), and clear the kitchen table. Here are just two of many ornament ideas for the holidays.

First, a thread ball. All you need are small balloons, liquid starch, and regular sewing thread. Blow up a balloon to the size desired for the ornament. Roll it in some starch and then wrap thread around it as if you were winding a ball of yarn. Don't cover the whole balloon - the air space is what makes it delicate and pretty. When you have enough thread on it, gently roll it again in the starch until it's well-coated. Let dry completely (several hours or overnight). Pop the balloon and carefully pull it out of one of the openings.

Glue ornaments are equally fun and easy for all ages to make. You can hang them in windows like miniature stained glass ornaments, or put them on your tree. They're especially pretty with tiny white Christmas lights behind them. Materials:

White household glue. Tacky glue (found at fabric stores) for glueing cord ends is optional.

Wax paper.

Food coloring.

Toothpicks.

Gold cording (found at most fabric stores), about an eighth of an inch wide and heavy enough to retain a shape.

Glitter, sequins, and metallic thread (all optional). Here's what to do:

1.Bend gold cording into the desired shape. A 1- to 2-inch circle works fine, but more elaborate shapes can be formed. Glue cord ends together with tacky glue if you have it; regular glue takes a little longer to stick. Place it on a piece of wax paper.

2.Squeeze a small amount of glue onto the wax paper inside your circle (or other shape). Use enough to cover the entire open area, but don't let it get too thick or it will take too long to dry. Use a toothpick to spread the glue around the circle so that it touches the sides of the cording.

3.Now it's time to decorate. Put a small drop of the desired food color on the glue and swirl it around with a toothpick. You can draw pictures, but keep in mind that the color will spread as the glue dries, so fine lines are almost impossible to draw. Simple or abstract designs are the most successful, but just experiment to see what looks best to you.

Try mixing two or more colors in a swirl pattern. Or, make a green wreath or tree and add dots of various colors as decorations. To avoid the color spreading too much, or getting too dark, put drops of food color on another part of the wax paper and use that as a palette with the toothpick as your brush.

If you want, sprinkle glitter on your design, or place sequins along the border. Metallic thread can be tied into bows and added to decorate a wreath, or placed on the edge of the ornament.

When the ornaments are partially dry (usually several hours), use a toothpick to make a hole for their hangers. (Metallic thread strung through and looped is nice.) Be patient at this point. Thorough drying can sometimes take as long as two days, depending on how thick the glue is.

When the ornaments are done, they'll be hard, and easy to peel off the wax paper. And don't try to speed the drying process in the oven! It won't help, and it makes the wax paper stick to the ornament.

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