If you’re keeping an eye on your budget this Christmas, fancy having a more natural look or just want to try something different, then get your hands on some pine cones. They’re easily available in any pine forest at this time of year, so organise your family as workforce, pack some flasks of hot chocolate and a collecting basket and take yourself off for a family day out.
When you’ve collected the pine cones, they need to be dried out thoroughly before use. Cover a baking tray with aluminium foil, arrange the cones on it and put it in the oven for about an hour at 100 degrees Celsius. In addition to drying them, the heat should encourage any closed cones to open into lovely, spiky, architectural shapes.
Traditional pine cone door wreath
For a traditional wreath, you’ll need an oasis ring (available from florists or online), and some plastic-covered garden wire. You’ll also need a selection of greenery, including holly and fir. Wrap the wire round the base of the pine cones, pulling it through the spikes until it’s as invisible as possible. Leave a ‘stalk’ of wire at the bottom, and wrap this round the oasis ring to hold the pine cone in place. Wire 8 – 10 cones at intervals around the ring in this way. Remove any surplus leaves from the holly, and trim the stem down to 3 or 4 centimetres. Push the holly into the ring around the base of the pine cones (it’s a good idea to wear gloves at this point, to protect your fingers). Fill in any gaps with fir twigs until no oasis is visible. Finish by wiring on cinnamon sticks tied with coloured ribbon, or tiny baubles.
Modern pine cone door wreath
If your taste is for something a little more contemporary to decorate your door, you’ll need 40 – 50 pine cones. You’ll also need a wire or wicker ring (available online and from some craft shops and garden centres). Divide the pine cones roughly into three piles, and spray the cones in each pile with a different metallic paint such as bronze, silver and gold. If you’re using the wreath outside, buy water-resistant paint if you can find it, to combat the British weather! Once the cones are dry, wire them onto the ring with one row facing inwards, one row facing straight out and one row facing outwards, either mixing the colours up or using one colour per row.
Pine cone firelighters
What could be more Christmassy than a roaring fire? Pine cones are very flammable thanks to their high oil levels, and burn well all by themselves. These scented firelighters add a little festive spice though, and also make great presents. You’ll need some large pine cones, a small quantity of soy wax (available from online suppliers) and the scented oil of your choice – cinnamon or orange work well.
Put the pine cone in a small container that will hold it upright, such as an old ramekin or mug. Boil some water in a large saucepan, and put the candle wax in a small metal can or heatproof bowl inside the saucepan. Stir until melted, then add a few drops of oil. Carefully pour about two tablespoons of wax into the bottom of the pine cone container, and leave it to dry. As it dries, the cone should adhere to the wax so that you can lift it out. These make an attractive display piled in a fireplace or wrapped in cellophane bags as gifts.
Christmas tree decorations
A simple craft idea is to spray the pine cones with metallic paint, then dip the ends of the spikes in white glitter to look like snow. Add a look of dark-coloured thread for hanging from the tree.
Place card holders
For this, you’ll need a set of pine cones that are roughly matching in size, some all purpose glue and some air-hardening modelling clay (available from online suppliers). If you’d like to paint your cones, you’ll also need some spray paint. Roll the clay into small balls, then flatten each one into a disc about 5 cm wide 1 cm thick. Coat the bottom of the first cone with a little glue, and press it into one of the discs. Repeat for the others, then leave to dry. To use, push the place card between the top spikes.