Holiday Crafts Inspired by Traditions Around the World
There's no better example of America as the colloquial "melting pot" than our holiday season, which is full of our own takes on beloved traditions handed down from generations past. The holidays remind us of how ever-evolving our own culture is, as customs carried across oceans and over borders by long-ago loved ones have been handed down, passed around, and relived. And so it is that a tartan from a Scottish clan's kilt can become a treasured Christmas stocking, or the delicate Christmas pyramid that your mother's omi and opa displayed so proudly each year is now a topper for a delicious gingerbread cake.
In the spirit of celebrating unique heritage around the world, we're sharing our own festive interpretations of international motifs with inspiration from Scottish, Russian, French, Mexican, and German cultures. Display a straw wreath from Eastern Europe, because there is no warmer welcome. Knit stockings from Scotland, because your children will use these, too. Personalize candy boxes a la France, because little luxuries come in small packages. Decorate a holiday table set with paper lanterns and votive candleholders that comes from Russia with love, because sparkle makes a statement. Deck your halls with foil poinsettia garlands and sconces, because there's magic in colorful twinkling lights, or offer a sweet surprise in Christmas pyramids originating from Germany because candles are not just for birthday cakes.
While these ideas are decidedly unique, they can be blended in among other family heirlooms each and every year; asking little ones or other family members to aid in their creation makes them that much more special. All of these crafts will become joyfully yours.
In Eastern Europe
An old-world idea from Eastern Europe takes a modern turn in this keepsake wreath. Polish villagers, who would traditionally fashion Christmas decorations with materials they had on hand, bent and manipulated strands of straw into stars, or "gwiazdy." Clustered around a wire wreath frame, these store-bought stars have a sculptural, streamlined look.
Straw Star Wreath
Gluing the stars to different-size clothespins (instead of directly to the wreath form) gives the wreath more dimension. To make the wreath, use a glue gun to adhere one star to one clothespin. Repeat, making more points; glue some to the flat sides of the clothespins and some to the very ends. Clip clothespins to the wreath form. Continue until the wreath form is covered. Glue some stars directly to the wreath form to fill holes as necessary.
Shop Now: Ingebretsen's Nordic Marketplace Straw Star Oranments, $12 for 24, ingebretsens.com. PolArt Straw Star Ornaments, $17 for 16, polandbymail.com. Recollections Mini Craft-It Clothespins, $3 for 18, michaels.com. Cavallini Mini Wooden Clips, $8 for 24, papersource.com. Maine Wreath Company Double Rail Wreath Ring, 14", $6, mainewreath.com.
Nae, you don't need a single drop of Scottish blood beating in your brave heart to appreciate the warmth of tartan, or come from the Emerald Isle to love a cozy Aran sweater. These stockings, made from wool fabric, knit cord, and a shrunken sweater, are easier than they look—so an afternoon's effort will be cherished for years to come. When you hang the stockings on Christmas Eve, why not leave out tea and brown-butter shortbread for Santa?
Plaid Christmas Stocking
The tassel embellishment is optional. To make the plaid stocking, print the pattern and cut out fabric. Fringe the cuff piece on three sides, carefully pulling strands from the wool's weave to create fuzzy, frayed edges; leave 1 long edge intact. With right sides facing, sew the perimeter of the stocking with a 1/4-inch seam allowance, leaving the top open. Trim the seam allowance along the heel and toe to prevent puckering. Fold the cuff piece so the fringed short sides overlap a bit more than 1 inch. Wrap it around to top of sewn stocking, and adjust overlap as needed so cuff width matches stocking width. Pin to secure. Sew around the top edge of stocking with a 1/4-inch seam allowance. Turn right-side out. Braid yarn for a hanging loop, if desired. Stitch a loop inside the stocking at its side seam. Attach a kilt pin where the fringed cuff overlaps, and slide on the tassel.
Knit Christmas Stocking
The base of this stocking only looks hand knit—it's actually a wool fabric that's sold by the yard. To make the knit stocking, print the pattern and cut out fabric. You will need 9 lengths of knitted I-cord: one 5 inches long, two 8 1/2 inches long, two 17 inches long, two 19 inches long, one 15 inches long, and one 8 inches long. To knit the I-cord: With one needle, cast on 3 stitches. Knit one row; do not turn work. Slide stitches to other end of needle, pull yarn gently, and knit all stitches again. Continue in this manner until cord is desired length. Cut yarn, leaving a tail. (Optional: Lengths of finger knitting or spool-knitting will yield similar results.) Arrange I-cord pieces onto one stocking piece, so they resemble cabling. They go in this order, from left to right: 5-inch piece; two 81/2-inch pieces, twisted; 17-inch piece; two 19-inch pieces, twisted; 17-inch piece. Stitch in place. For the "bumps" between the "cables" make two or three backstitches for each one. Place cabled side down on other piece of the stocking, sew together, and turn it right side out. Sew the 15-inch piece of I-cord around the opening, then add the 8-inch piece as a loop for hanging.
Felted Christmas Stocking
A shrunken sweater feels like felted wool—thick and dense. This is a family-heirloom-worthy use for an outgrown Irish knit sweater (or one that accidentally found its way into the washer and dryer). Felt the sweater by machine-washing in hot water, then drying in a dryer set on high heat. You may need to repeat this process a few times to sufficiently shrink the sweater.
Create a stocking-shaped template and arrange it on the sweater so the waistband will serve as the top of the stocking. Cut out pieces. With right sides facing and leaving a 1/2-inch seam allowance, sew the perimeter of the stocking. Turn it right side out. Braid yard for a hanging loop, if desired. Stitch loop inside stocking at side seam.
Shop Now: LL Bean Heritage Irish Fisherman's Crewneck Sweater, in Natural, $179, llbean.com.
It's a tip of the beret to the fanciest stores in Paris—and a reminder that homemade chocolates inside handmade boxes are every bit as extravagant as trinkets picked up in France (and considerably more affordable when distributing by the dozen). The project is as easy as printing our clip-art (in addition to French, it comes in several other languages) and adhering it to small jewelry boxes. The pralines, center, can be prepared a couple of weeks in advance; the truffles, bottom, closer to the festivities. Top it all off with a little bow professionally printed with "Bonnes Fêtes."
Shop Now: Rodeo Drive Jewelry Boxes, 7" by 5" by 1", in Matte Chocolate and Matte Burgundy, $15.75 for 10, boxandwrap.com. Bags & Bows Jewelry Box, 3 1/2" by 3 1/2" by 1", in Cocoa, $2.12, bagsandbowsonline.com. Paper Presentation Matte Paper, in Lava, Raspberry, Pink Feather, and Rouge, $8 for 50 sheets, paperpresentation.com. Namemaker Personalized Satin Ribbon, 5/8", including our "Bonnes Fêtes" and "Happy Holidays" styles, $17 for 10 yd., namemaker.com.
Because sparkle makes a statement: The inspiration for this glitzy table comes from Russia, with love. Paper lanterns are spray-painted gold to resemble the gilded onion domes of the Kremlin, and votive candleholders are wrapped in ornate papers, calling to mind walls of icons. Much of the glamour comes from nothing more than wallpaper, spray paint, and craft punches.
Gilded Lanterns and Table Settings
Our golden lanterns, trays, and table cover were given a coat of spray paint. For the table, we wrapped a hollow-core door in textured paper and set it on two sawhorses. To create the look, start by opening a lantern and spraying it with paint; let dry for at least three hours. Turn the lantern, and spray any part you missed; let dry for at least another three hours. Spray the tray inside (all over) and out (leaving bottom unpainted); let dry. Unroll enough paint paper to cover the table (or door), and secure it on the underside with painters' tape. Spray with paint, holding the can about one foot from surface and moving can in gentle back-and-forth motion. Let dry at least 3 hours.
Shop Now: Even-Ribbing Round Paper Lanterns, 12", 16", and 20", from $2.70 each, paperlanternstore.com. Beehive Paper Lantern, $5.60, paperlanternstore.com. Graham & Brown Small Squares Wallpaper, $21 per roll, homedepot.com. Martha Stewart Metallic Finish Spray Paint, in Rose Copper and Yellow Gold, $8, michaels.com.
Votive Candleholder Covers
These votive covers go hand in hand with our Russian-inspired paper lanterns. Gold paper may gleam, but even plain brown kraft paper throws pretty shadows and glowing light, too. You'll need to wrap metallic paper and tissue paper around a votive holder before lighting the candle for the first time. To make them, cut kraft or metallic paper and tissue paper so it wraps around votive holder with a 1/2-inch overlap. Feed kraft or metallic strips through the punch until the entire surface has been cut out. Place punched paper over tissue paper, and wrap around a votive holder. Tape in place.
Spanish colonists gave tin to Mexicans, who over the years perfected the art of soldering and painting bright ornaments from the material. The Mexicans, in turn, gave us the idea of evoking that cheerful, sparkling look with something as simple as foil candy cups on pink mini lights, poinsettias made from metal sheets, and a tart-tin sconce. Decorating a mantel in these happy reds and pinks anchors a room—and serves as an ample stand-in if your space (or holiday travel plans) doesn't allow for a large trimmed tree.
Shop Now: Amaco ArtEmboss Metal Sheets, in Copper, Aluminum, and Bright Red, 9 1/4" by 12", starting from $8.49, dickblick.com.
Candy Cup Holiday Lights
Light reflects off the foil cups for a brilliant display. To make the lights, turn foil cups inside out, so the fuchsia or pink is on the inside (it's okay if the cup looks flatter and wider). Cut slits at the center of the cups. Slide one light through each slit. Repeat until length of lights is completed.
This decoration doesn't have to be reserved for the holidays—it's lovely any time of year. To make a sconce, paint the tart tin; let dry completely. Attach a candle clip. Affix it to the wall with two removable adhesive hooks (one on the wall, one on the back of the sconce). And, of course, never leave lit candles unattended.
Shop Now: Krylon Stained-Glass Paint, in Cranberry Red, $7.82, dickblick.com. Gobel Tinned Steel Round Fluted Pan, 8", $8, bedbathandbeyond.com. Blumchen Classic Scalloped Candle Clip, in Silver, $10.50 for 10, blumchen.com.
Equal parts merry-go-round and wintry scene, Christmas pyramids originated centuries ago in Germany. The multitiered towers are usually carved from wood and have moving parts powered by the rising heat of candles. It's no wonder they can leave any kid wide-eyed in amazement. But the finest ones are expensive, with new ones running into the thousands of dollars, and not exactly compact. Thus, the inspiration to make your own. Use it to decorate our gingerbread layer cake (it gets zip from fresh ginger and has a creamy mascarpone frosting) with many of the usual pyramid hallmarks: wooden pine trees, arches, little lady carollers, all topped with a whirling spinner.
Shop Now: Factory Direct Craft Unfinished Wooden Dimensional Tree Cutout, $2 each, factorydirectcraft.com. Creatology Large Peg Wooden People, $3 for 4, michaels.com. ChristKindl-Markt Pyramid Fan Assembly in 217 mm, $32, christkindl-markt.com.
Wooden-Figurine Gift Boxes
Adorn simple boxes with figures similar to those on our German pyramid cake. Set them out near the cake, and offer them as favors for guests to take home. To make them, start by painting the rims of your wooden boxes; let them dry, and then print the template for the figure's arms. Trace the figure onto basswood, and cut it out with a knife. Using a brush, glue arms and wings to figurines. If making snowmen, drill shallow holes at sides to insert arms; glue, and let them dry. If you're creating angels, paint your wings separately, and then glue to the painted body.