Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Christmas Tree Decor: 101

Last week I posted pictures of one of my Christmas installs.  I decided to post another on how to achieve the same professional look in your home.  It really is easier than you think, you just have to pay attention to the details.  You just need a few supplies like floral wire and wire cutters to help you along the way.  I hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving and have fun putting up your tree!

This is my moms tree, and the colors are burgundy, gold, and cream.  Her tree is themed with rustic berries, and classy vintage style ornaments.

Step 1: The Tree

I prefer to decorate artificial trees because they are easier to decorate.  Their limbs move where I want them to, which makes placing ornaments much easier.  Another plus to artificial trees is most come pre-lit now which makes my life much easier!

For the die hard Christmas tree fans out there who love the fresh scent a real tree gives you, I have a few pieces of advice.  When looking for a tree, find the freshest cut trees available.  "Box stores" cut their trees months in advance which will leave you with a Charlie Brown tree faster than you can blink an eye.  If you have a local nursery that sells trees, they should be able to tell you when theirs were cut.  A couple of features you want to look for are sturdy limbs and branches and a few open holes for larger ornaments to nestle into.  Once you pick the perfect one, have the retailer put a fresh cut on the trunk so the tree can drink.  After you get home, you may have to do a bit of trimming to get the perfect look you want.  Save these branches for later decorating.

Step Two: The Lights

If you have been blessed with a pre-lit artificial tree, say Hallelujah and move to step three!

If you haven't been blessed with a pre-lit tree, say a few grumbles because this might take a while!  I have a rule of thumb that for each foot your tree is tall, you should have one strand of mini lights.  So, if you have an 8 ft tree, you need 8 strands of mini lights.  Yes, it's a lot.  Yes it will take awhile to put them on.  Do not skimp on this, you will be rewarded with a beautiful tree when you are done!

Start at the top of the tree and wrap EVERY branch from the center trunk out to the tip and back to the trunk again to move to the next branch.  Here's the kicker:  Light cords are your visual enemy.  So, take floral wire and fasten the cords to the underside of the branches.

EVERY branch x how ever many branches you have on your tree = a few hours worth of work.  

I'm not kidding when I say not to skip this part!  Once this is done, if you have an artificial tree, guess what?  You now have a pre-lit tree for next year!  If you have a real tree, guess what?  After Christmas, throw away the tree with the mini lights on it.  You will spend hours trying to get them off, and at $1.99 a strand, it's just not worth the headache or hassle!  Let them go and buy again next year.

I also like to add specialty lights to my tree.  In addition to the 8 strands of minis I put on mine, I also have 2-3 strands of lights that bubble and strands that have larger bulbs.  Extra lights are optional, but it does give the tree some character once the ornaments are on.  Don't forget to hide the wires!

Step 3: Ribbon and Garland

I was not a fan of ribbon on trees a few years ago because I had visions of big bows covering the tree, and that went out of style a long time ago.  Then I had a client insist on ribbon and I came up with a loop idea instead of bows.  I think it's a great compromise and I've really grown to love the look.  I like to use two or three different matching/coordinating ribbon prints for trees.

I start at the top and attach the ribbon with floral wire.  Then I work the ribbon down and make a few loops with the ribbon and attach that to the tree with wire.  Repeat this process until you have covered the tree in about 4-6 strands of ribbon.  The ribbons do not all have to go down the whole length of the tree.  You can curl the ends of some starnds and let it hang nicely.

Large loops are in!  Bows are out!

Curled ends are a nice touch!

Garlands are also a nice addition into the tree.  I like to work them in around the ribbon, but if you want to add them first so they are behind the ribbon, you can do that as well.  Make sure you buy enough to cover the whole tree.  This tree is 9 ft and I used two strands of garland.

Garlands are great decor!

Step 4: The Topper

I don't like going up and down the ladder a hundred times, so I usually try and decorate the top of the tree first so I can move the ladder out of the way.  Over the past couple of years, tree tops have become wild and crazy with sticks, branches, picks and sparkles coming out the top.  No more plain jane angels and stars!  My mom is a traditionalist though, so we have compromised with an angel and picks.

The first thing I do is insert the sticks and picks into the tree top from all angles.  Next, I position the Angel so she is sitting steady on top.

After I position the angel, I add a pre-made pick of greenery, berries and feathers that I found at Hobby Lobby into the top.  This can be anything you want as long as it matches your decor.  If you had a fresh tree that you had cuttings from, this is a great place to stick those!

Voila!  The top is done!

Step 5: Picks and Flowers

Next I like to add floral picks and flowers into the tree.  Working from the top down, I add in berry sprays and silk flowers or poinsettias.  I like to make the picks come out of the tree since the top has picks coming out.  I add the flowers in among the loops of ribbon and empty spaces.

Repeat this throughout the tree.

This tree is ready for ornaments!

Step 6: Ornaments

Many people do not like themed trees because they have so many sentimental ornaments that they have collected over many years.  These random shapes and colors tend to throw themed trees off if they are added by themselves.  An easy way to get the look of a themed tree and keep your sentimental ornaments is to buy solid colored Christmas balls in a coordinating color to the ribbon, garlands, flowers and picks.  I like to choose one color and an accent color of silver or gold for formal trees.  If you use multi colored lights and your ornaments are multi colors, then you can get away with multi colored Christmas balls.  Either way, you want to buy enough solid colored Christmas balls to give your tree the themed color appearance.  Usually 8-10 large 6 inch balls and 24-36 4 inch balls will do the trick.  Using larger 6-8 inch balls will give you a pro look.  These can be nestled into the tree to give you depth and color in the tree.  The smaller 4 inch balls can then be hung on the outer branches.

I have a couple of guidelines that I refuse to deviate from when hanging ornaments.  First, throw away your cheap ornament hangers, paper clips and fishing line for hangers.  They are unsightly and will do nothing to protect your ornaments from breaking if your child or animal brushes the tree by accident.  Instead, use floral wire or ribbon to attach your ornaments.  The floral wire is green and blends in with the tree.  It is also easy to wrap around the branch and hang an ornament.  I like to use ribbon for fancy ornaments which can be tied onto the branches.  Both of these methods are better and more polished than ornament hangers or paper clips!  My second guideline is never let the wire show.  Always wrap the excess wire around the branch.

Do not do this!

No wires showing!  Much better!

After you have your ornaments wired and ribboned, you can begin placing them on the tree.  Start with your largest Christmas balls first, and gradually work your way to the smallest.  Don't forget to nestle the larger balls into the tree for depth, and hang the smaller ones in front for better visibility.

Large ball nestled into the tree

After you have all the solid colored Christmas balls on, you can then start adding your regular ornaments on.  Again, start with your largest and work your way to the smallest.

Step 7: Stand Back and Admire Your Work!

See?  That wasn't so bad, was it?


  1. Sarah, that was a perfect post. Everything was well documented both with pictures and words. Now, there is no excuse to see poorly decorated trees in the world, lol.
    Just like you, I had to learn all these "tricks" to decorate clients trees. However, I never throw away my lights(no matter what a pain it is taking them off), I invested in LED lights a couple of years ago(not cheap). I also get a real tree, and stand it outside for the winter, and hang suet balls for the birds on it.

  2. Thanks Deb! I guess your right about the LED lights! Man I hate fighting those mini lights coming off! Gives me a headache just thinking about it! :o) I have a few clients that do outdoor trees too. I think it's a great idea for the birds to enjoy!

    Hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

  3. That tree looks great! Last year I had mine up by Thanksgiving, but the urge to decorate hasn't hit yet . . . I'm crossing my fingers that it comes upon me soon :-)

  4. Hi Sarah,

    What a great post! Your step by step guidelines are very clear. You have inspired me to get to work tomorrow on my tree!

  5. Great post, Sarah! You really know how to decorate that tree! It is gorgeous! Come decorate my house!

  6. That looks like it was in a magazine! Love it! You are very good at putting all of it together. My kids decorate our tree. And it shows. :)

  7. Thanks so much for sharing how you decorate. I love the top with the sticks, etc. and I am going to try the ribbon idea this time. I like the idea of having a theme and having sentimental decorations, too. Thanks, Sarah!

  8. I am a traditionalist with many sentimental ornaments. I really like the way you showed us how to incorporate them into a themed tree. Fabulous!

  9. Hire wooden chair, event chair, chiavari chair, led bar, vintage chair, artificial tree, eames chair for Weddings, reception parties, Corporate Events, special occasions or Shows.


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