Garlands create rhythm and punctuation in tree decor, giving the eye a place to pause as it travels around discovering all the objects placed throughout the branches. There are a number of ways to string them:
To make a dramatic spiral, wind the garland around the top of your tree in tightly spaced revolutions, and then graduate to more openly spaced turns as you wind your way down and around (the distance between diagonal lines is perceived as a progression in scale and makes for pleasingly weighted proportions). To determine how long a garland you need, do a trial run using a piece of string.
For maximum textural effect, decorate the upper, middle, and lower sections of the tree in garlands of graduating size. Use small objects for the garlands that will go at the top of the tree, mid-sized objects for the midsection, and larger objects for the lower portion of the tree. (The garlands can also be made from objects that are all the same size—just be sure to space them together a little more closely at the top and gradually widen the distance between them as you work your way down the tree.) I like to divide the tree into at least three tiers; you can do more if you like.
A garland doesn't have to be a continuous spiral or a full circle; it can also start and stop like a decorative swag, each separate length of garland dipping once or twice in a strategically placed spot on the tree. This is a particularly useful technique if you have a short, vintage garland, or a strand of beads you want to include in your design.
However you hang them, here are some ideas for homespun garlands that you can DIY from what's on hand in the pantry:
1. Spicy Popcorn Strands
Add chiles and bay leaves to traditional popcorn garlands—simply sew through a couple of bay leaves and a long, slim chile pepper every 4 to 6 inches of strung popcorn.
2. Popcorn, Peanut & Pretzel Garland
Alternate several inches of popcorn with peanuts in the shell, adding a small pretzel twist every so often for further snack appeal.
3. Sweet Tooth Garland
For a sweet variation on the popcorn garland, string caramel corn with mini marshmallows.
4. Hansel & Gretel Garland
Picture a gingerbread house deconstructed! Use monofilament to string big fat marshmallows and leave gaps every so often and knot a Twizzler in between. Collect large gumdrops to add to the mix.
Frilly noodles—trumpets and reginetti—both available in our Shop.Photo by James Ransom
5. Kiss Garlands
Tie Hershey's Kisses on silver cord. Use only the silver foil-wrapped chocolates for the iconic look.
6. Dried Pasta Garlands
Imagine this appetizing garland in a Tuscan farmhouse. String different sizes and colors of pasta on jute, making small, medium, and large garlands to hang at the top, middle, and bottom of the tree. (You may need to tie a knot around individual pasta to keep them from slipping inside larger shaped ones.)
7. Cranberry Garlands
String cranberries on clear stretch elastic gossamer cord for jewelry making, alternating the berries with half-inch white pompoms cut off from trim (purchase a half yard at the fabric store). For a variation, skip the pompoms and sew through kumquats from stem to the bottom end to alternate with the cranberries.
8. Bottle Cap Chains
Collect colorful beer or soda bottle-caps, punch holes through the center of each, and string them on monofilament. Space the caps at intervals and hang a cap perpendicular to the strand by punching a hole near the top and using a piece of fine-gauge wire to twist into a hanger.
9. Wine Cork Garlands
Put your collection of wine corks to good use (or ask your favorite restaurant to collect a few for you). All you need is 20-gauge wire in copper or silver, a pair of small round nose pliers, and some wire snips to craft the links in between each cork.
Do you string garlands by hand for your tree? Share your favorite things to use in the comments.
Carrie Brown is the author of The New Christmas Tree and the owner of the acclaimed Jimtown Store in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley. She has celebrated every December for the past 23 years by decorating uncommon Christmas trees for the store, her home, and her clients. Feature articles on Carrie’s decorating style and recipes have appeared in Martha Stewart Living, House Beautiful, Better Homes & Gardens, Good Housekeeping, Food & Wine, Country Home, and Sunset. Her kitchen design and store were featured on Food Network’s Ultimate Kitchens and HGTV’s Country at Home. She is the co-author of The Jimtown Store Cookbook (HarperCollins, 2002) and frequently works as a stylist for books, print, and other media.