What to Do with Scraps of Felt, Part V: Make a Whimsical Tree-Branch Decoration

Here's a relatively easy little project using scraps of felt to make a cute table-top tree-branch decoration. Use it as a centerpiece or as stand-alone decorative piece (I'm thinking Martha Stewart here -- maybe you have a corner table or better, an old-fashioned tea cart standing somewhere in your home -- set your whimsical tree-branch there to enjoy continuously.)


  • Small tree branch (I found mine in the park)
  • Scraps of felt in different shades of green, plus a few other complementary colors if you feel like it
  • Scissors
  • Needle and thread or embroidery floss (possibly optional -- I'll explain)
  • Glue (I used quick-drying tacky glue but you may know of something better)
  • An actual vase or something that can be used as such, e.g., a wine bottle
  • If you use an actual vase, something to set the branch(es) in so they don't move around, e.g., river pebbles.


  • Gently brush any debris from your branch and snip off any dangling ends. Set aside.
  • If you're using a vase to set your branch in, prepare it by filling it with river pebbles or the like. Set aside.
  • Select your scraps of felt. Depending on the size of the branch and your taste for realism, choose pieces big enough to make leaves that "fit" the size of the branch. I personally didn't bother to do this but bravo to anyone who does!
  • Cut out your leaves. I cut mine freehand but you can certainly use a template if your taste for realism is strong or you're going for a more polished finished piece.

  • Set your branch in your container of choice. Attach your leaves to the branch. There are obviously a number of ways to do this. I tried glue first but my tacky glue didn't cut it. I suspect a glue gun would. Being without one, alas, I reverted to sewing. It worked fine, and wasn't as horribly laborious as it sounds. You could probably also add some nice flourishes using fancy thread or embroidery floss if you're skilled in that kind of thing (thinking Martha Stewart again here).

  • If you sew, you might want to reinforce your stitching and secure the positioning of your leaves with a dab of tacky glue on the back.

  • Snip off any loose threads, shape your leaves a bit and otherwise tidy-up your work as necessary. Enjoy!

Until next time --

Gelatin Plastic

I first encountered homemade "gelatin plastic" several years ago when I was looking for relatively easy and definitively inexpensive ways of creating art/craft materials for making gifts. Cash and time were extremely tight so shopping for and buying "real" materials (e.g., air-dry clay) was pretty much out of the question. I was limited to what I could concoct from everyday grocery, hardware-store and office-supply items like Elmer's glue, cornstarch, and in this case, gelatin and food coloring. So I found various recipes and how-to's online and adapted them to suit my particular purposes---most of the projects I found were of the "fun rainy-day activities for kids" variety so it was a matter of maximizing the capabilities of the material to make something that an adult could give another adult without anyone being horribly embarrassed. The following modified how-to for gelatin plastic makes for relatively flat, smooth-edged translucent shapes that you can combine into (or use singly as) cheerful sun-catchers.

  • Three envelopes powdered gelatin
  • 9 tablespoons water
  • Several drops food coloring
  • X-acto knife
  • Flat-bottomed dish (glass is best)
  • Shape templates (optional; not pictured)

Place the water in a saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Add food coloring and heat on low flame, stirring pretty much constantly until the gelatin is dissolved. Pour the mixture into a flat-bottomed dish and let set---most recipes say for 45 minutes to an hour, but I prefer at least a few hours. The longer set-time makes for less curling as your cut pieces dry.

Once set, cut the gelatin sheet into various shapes and sizes using cardstock templates (if you like) and an X-acto or similar knife---not scissors, as some recipes suggest. Scissors make for a less even edge. Ditto cookie-cutters. The difference becomes obvious once the pieces dry.

I like to leave my cut shapes in the original dish to dry, rather than remove them as most recipes/how-to's instuct. The original adhesion between the gelatin and the surface of the dish seems to help keep the pieces from curling overly much when they're drying. I also like to lightly tape down the edges of my cut pieces to help keep them flat as they dry. I haven't had any luck with the multiple plastic container lids and paper-towel/cheesecloth contraptions that many recipes/tutorials recommend for this purpose. Gelatin is much stronger-willed than that!

Allow your cut pieces to dry for 2-3 days (or more, depending on their thickness), then drill holes for hanging. Most recipes say to make holes for hanging when the pieces are wet, but I think you get a better result if you wait until they're dry. It's hard to predict how large the hole is going to be once the gelatin dries, and the edges can also come out raggedy. Raggedy edges will not do! Embarrassment will ensue!

Hang the pieces on a suction-cup hook and stick on a window. Use fishing line for a "floating-in-air" effect. Wait for the sun to shine through them; be surprised and intensely gratified at how pretty they are!

Until next time --


Tools on Tuesday: Hot Knife

About a year ago I became interested in working with EVA (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate) foam, a dense and somewhat rubbery material commonly found in craft stores (often in the form of model kits for kids). I was looking for a way to make colorful, lightweight yet durable sculptural shapes that didn't involve painting. I found myself a great tutorial about working with EVA foam and got myself the recommended tools and a few 1 mm sheets to play around with. As the tutorial had warned, I found the foam extremely hard to cut well. You need to use as few strokes of the cutting blade as possible, or else you'll get raggedy, uneven and/or choppy-looking edges. And you CANNOT trim, shape, or otherwise fix said edges after the fact. It just makes a mess---both of the cut piece and your work area!

What a mess!

And I thought that if I really want to make nice-looking things with EVA foam I should use a heavier grade of foam, which would be even harder to cut well. More research led me to the tool I needed: a hot knife. Then life intervened and I had to put my exploration of EVA foam on hold. Then, this past Friday I found out that I didn't get in to the renowned Renegade Craft Fair in June. Wah. So on Saturday I took myself to Michaels for a consolation prize. I still had three packs of 3 mm foam hanging around from a year ago waiting to be used, and a new project, especially one requiring a new tool, would cheer me up.

So I got a hot knife. But not just a hot knife. No. I got the ultra-nifty, anything-you-could-possibly-dream-of-doing-with-a-hot-thingamajig model of hot knife (the Creative HotMarks tool by Walnut Hollow, pictured at top). Not only does it cut, it stamps, burnishes, heat-transfers, and all kinds of other scrapbooky good stuff like that. I don't really need all of those things but I didn't find the basic model of hot knife until after I checked out. It was in the locked cabinet by the shopping carts. So it was kind of too late to get that instead. And I liked the heat-transfer capability of the niftier model. So I took it home.

I'm delighted to report that the hot knife part of the crazy hot thingamajig works on 3 mm foam---not super-great, but waaayyy better than the utility knife I tried first as a comparison. Hooray! Creating lightweight, durable, colorful sculptural shapes without having to paint has become a possibility for me. But it will take practice.

Utility knife, stencil and 3 mm EVA foam. My comparison case.

The results: Choppy...

...and uneven. As compared to:

First cut with the hot knife. Still a little raggedy and uneven, but better, and so much easier!

One thing I learned that may save you some trouble if you try this out yourself is that, at least with 3 mm foam, it's hard to go all the way through the foam without first tracing the shape onto it with your stencil.
The stencil limits your use of the knife blade to just the tip. But tracing the shape with a pen or pencil first will leave marks on your finished pieces. The solution? A stylus!

A stylus is a small hand-held instrument with ball-tipped ends. It's great for poking around in small spaces, and, it turns out, for tracing shapes onto EVA foam. The foam is soft enough for the stylus to leave a visible mark. No ink or graphite needed.

When I traced my shapes first I was able to use more of the knife blade and came away with much cleaner edges. It's still tricky to get the shapes even on all sides, but cleaner edges make a big difference.

When all was said and done I had a bunch of nice-enough pieces with the promise of better ones to come. To flesh out the vision I used my practice pieces to make a little something.

I glued smaller pieces onto larger pieces and then strung them together with fishing line. Voilà! Decor!

Until next time -