Category Archives: decorating

How To Make Lithuanian Straw Ornaments

As promised, here are steps to make a very basic Lithuanian straw ornament with a four-sided base (šiaudinukas).

himmeli

Okay, these are made from copper tubing, not straw. But the steps are the same!

We are going to use paper straw instead of the traditional rye straw because it’s easier to work with and easier to find, and we’re going to use fishing line instead of thread because when you use fishing line, you don’t need a needle.

Supplies:

  • White paper art straws (you could use plastic as well, but I would judge you)
  • Clear monofilament fishing line (not braided)
  • Ruler
  • Scissors

First, cut twelve pieces of straw so that they are all equal lengths. I recommend anywhere between two to four inches per piece for this first attempt. Be very precise in your measurements because even small differences in length can make the final product lop-sided.

Now cut about and arm’s length of fishing line and string four of the straws onto it, threading them to almost the very end of the line.

Bring the two loose ends of fishing line together and tie them in a knot so that the four straws you strung on the line form a square. From now on, we’re going to call this our “foundation square.”

square

Tuck the short end of the fishing line into one of the straws in the foundation square to hide it.

Now string two more straws onto the long end of the fishing line and tie a knot at one of the corners of your foundation square so that your shape looks like a house with a roof:

house

From now on, we are going to call that roof part an “ear.” (Just go with it.)

Tie another ear onto your foundation square by stringing two more straws onto the end of the fishing line and tying a knot at the next corner of the foundation square. Your shape should look like this:

cat ears

Repeat this process until your foundation square has four “ears.”

IMG_7399

A foundation square with four “ears.”

(When you run out of fishing line, just tie more on making sure to hide the knot you use to secure it within one of the straws.)

When you have four ears around your foundation square, run the fishing line up through one of the ears so that it comes out through the pointy end.

Then tie the ear out of which the fishing line is protruding to the ear opposite from it to form a pyramid. Your shape should look like this:

pyramid

Now thread the end of the fishing line back down to one of the corners of your foundation square and through one of the remaining “loose” ears.

Tie the ear out of which the fishing line is protruding to the ear opposite from it. Your shape should look like this:

IMG_7402

Cute, but not very exciting, is it? This form is the basic building block that, once mastered, makes creating elaborate variations possible. Here are some simple ways to add interest to a basic four-sided ornament:

Use longer straws for two of the four sets of ears:

Use longer straws fro two of the four sets of "ears" to make a teardrop shape. (This is an ornament I made using brass straws.)

Use longer straws for two of the four sets of “ears” to make a teardrop shape. (This is an ornament I made using copper straws.)

Nest a smaller ornament inside a larger one:

Here's a small three-sided ornament nested within a larger one.

Here’s a small three-sided ornament nested within a larger one.

Hang a smaller ornament to the end of a larger one:

An ornament I made using copper straws and pieces of amber.

An ornament I made using copper straws and pieces of amber.

Or use longer straws for the foundation square and shorter straws for the ears:

himmeli ornament closeup 4

You can also hang smaller ornaments from the corners of a larger one:

IMG_6120

The instructions I’ve provided are for making ornaments using a four-sided foundation square, but more elaborate ornaments can be made by making the foundation square five, six, seven, and even eight sided. Alternately, a simple triangle/pyramid shaped ornament can be made using a three-sided foundation.

Good luck.

Did you like this? Subscribe to the blog. (It's free!)

The Chill Pills Are Working

Last year, I got a bee in my bonnet about having a perfectly matched Christmas tree. I excommunicated all the tattered and handmade ornaments to a mini tree which I relegated to the sunroom, and informed the family that only the pre-designated red and gold ornaments could be hung on the official Christmas tree.

I then tried to sell the mini tree to my offspring as a very special tree they could decorate in any way they pleased (even though I snuck back during the dead of night to re-arrange their handiwork), but they saw right through the chicanery. One child was so upset that she did not come out of her room for two hours. I recognized the folly of my ways eventually, but not before ruining Christmas Decorating Day and creating traumatic memories that my children will need years of therapy to work through

That’s why last weekend, before we hauled out all the Christmas stuff, the P-Dawg said, “Are you going to do that thing again where you don’t let the kids put up their favorite ornaments?”

“Of course not. I made a mistake last year. They can hang any ornament anywhere and any which way they like.”

When we hauled out the boxes, my daughter approached me and asked very timidly, “Mama, which ornaments are we allowed to put on the tree?”

It was then that the shriveled up husk I call a heart disintegrated altogether.

“There are no restrictions on ornament placement this year,” I told her. I’m sorry I was such a jerk.

Then I sat back and watched them go to town. What’s more, I was able to restrain myself from moving even one single ornament from the branch it was clustered on with three or five of its low hanging friends.

And I’ll let you in on another secret: When I put up the banister garland, I did not loop it around the rungs using a precise, mathematical pattern as I have done in the past. In some places, garland is bunched together and in other places it’s spread out. Also,  there is about three feet of garland with malfunctioning lights right in the middle of the whole she-bang, which I’m choosing to pretend does not exist.

As a casual observer you may not even notice this, but for me it’s a personal victory. One which I tend to perseverate on when I wake up in the middle of the night with a sudden urge to re-hang the banister garland, but a victory nevertheless.

Did you like this? Subscribe to the blog. (It's free!)

The Tao of Decorating

This January has been a time of creativity and renewal here in the Rama household. After the holidays, I was seized with a deep and immediate desire to re-arrange furniture.

First I organized some bookshelves into a rainbow:

Then I pushed various items of furniture back and forth, back and forth across the family room and re-arranged objets d’art until I was blue in the face.

The family room overhaul necessitated an emergency trip to TJ Maxx for some accent pieces, plus a new KitchenAid ice cream scooper, a bar of oatmeal soap and a special microfiber towel that is supposed to dry your hair in five minutes flat.

It’s not something I’m proud of, but I have a weak spot for fake plants. I feel strongly that fake greenery lends a certain je ne sais quoi to a room’s atmosphere and never dies, but it’s been a sore spot in our marriage from day one. Over the past eleven years, I’ve managed to sneak a fake boxwood garland, several clumps of fake ivy, some fake poinsettias, hyacinths, dogwood, and one fake ficus into the house. But while at TJ Maxx the other day, I limited myself to only one fake item: a plastic yellow pear.

The P-Dawg has thus far tolerated the faux plants because they are so tasteful and unobtrusive, but I wondered if he would draw the line at fruit? I worried, too, for myself. One day it’s a plastic pear on the bookshelf, the next it’s a cornucopia straw hat with the price tag still dangling from the brim.

“Is that a plastic pear up there?” the P-Dawg asked me as we settled in to watch TV the other night.

“Do you like it?” I asked him. “I needed something yellow to offset the new lamp and the blue bird figurines.”

“What lamp?” the P-Dawg asked with a glance around the room. “What blue accent figurines?”

Easy to miss

I didn’t let it offend me because I know that a good interior designer often makes nearly imperceptible changes which nevertheless enhance the entire feel of a space.

“Do you notice that the entire feel of this space is different?” I asked my husband.

“That pear is really yellow,” he said.

Later the P-Dawg decided to do some re-decorating of his own. He went ahead and got a bunch of his Japanese prints professionally framed and hung them up all willy-nilly around the house.

We don’t have a good marital track record when it comes to picture hanging, the P-Dawg and I. In fact, I’d say it ranks right up there with “having a baby” on the list of Top Ten Marital Stressors (see also, loading dishwasher, finding a parking space, rinsing out the bathroom sink).

I was standing on a credenza in the office, nudging one of my knickknacks over by a half a millimeter when he came in to inform me that he’d hung up some prints. He asked that instead of taking them down immediately, I should have an open mind.

“Just let them hang there for a couple of days before you make any decisions,” my husband suggested. Then he left the house.

This one is in our formal living room, right above the photos of the kids. I’m still warming up to it, but it sure beats the plastic pear from TJ Maxx.

Did you like this? Subscribe to the blog. (It's free!)

How to Make Lithuanian Easter Eggs

Today I will show you how to make traditional Lithuanian Easter eggs, or “margu?iai” (mar-gu-chei).

But shhhh! Don’t tell the Ukrainians. They think they have some kind of monopoly on this thing.

You probably already have at your disposal all the implements needed to make margu?iai, except beeswax. Beeswax is  the key ingredient, so you won’t want to skip it. I’ve heard of people using paraffin as a wax substitute, but those people were never seen or heard from again.

I ordered my beeswax from the mighty Internet, but you can also find it at natural food stores, craft stores like Michael’s and Jo-Ann Fabrics, or your local beekeeper.

You never know when you’ll need a pound of beeswax. But for decorating eggs, just a few ounces will do.

Okay! Let us take a few deep, cleansing breaths to find our center.

We are ready to begin.

First, boil some eggs and let them cool.

Next, cut a potato in half and place it on a plate, cut-side down.

Now take a large metal spoon you can do without and bend it at a ninety-degree angle.

Don't Try This at Home

(If you are not familiar with ninja mind control, I bet you could also just use your hands.)

Stick the handle of the spoon in the top of the potato, put a few pieces of wax on the spoon, and light a small candle directly underneath it, close enough to the spoon to melt the wax.* Like so:

Next, grab a pencil and stick a sewing pin with a smallish head into the eraser end.

When the wax is completely melted and piping hot (may be smoking just a little bit), you are ready to begin decorating.

Dip the pin head into the hot wax and hold it there for a few seconds. Then take it out and brush it on your hard boiled egg with surgeon-like precision, using careful, measured strokes. You’ll need to re-dip the pin head in the wax for each stroke you want to make on the egg. The hot wax always goes on in a teardrop shape, which lends itself nicely to flower, sun, and vine patterns.

The key is to transfer the hot wax onto the egg quickly, before it cools and hardens on the pin head. And once the wax is on the egg, THERE IS NO GOING BACK.

Why? Because the parts of the egg that are covered in wax will not take color, so even if you try to hide your faux-pas by scratching it off, when the egg is dyed, the mistake will become visible for all the world to see. You’ll probably be run out of town  and on your tombstone will be written, “She screwed up a Lithuanian Easter egg and tried to cover it up.”

Shame.

When you feel you have applied a sufficient amount of wax patterns on your egg, dip it in food coloring mixed with hot water and a few tablespoons of vinegar. If you want to go Old Country on your eggs, you can boil all manner of plants and flowers – like red onion peels or beets – to create distinct and vibrant colors. I use Lawry’s food coloring drops.

When you take the egg out of the dye, it should look something like this:

Not too shabby, right?

But, wait! The fun doesn’t end there. You can make multi-colored margu?iai using one simple trick I’m about to show you out of the kindness of my heart.

Wait for your beautiful colored egg to dry.

Take it back to your workstation.

Put some more wax on it. Keep your hand steady and make it nice, for Pete’s sake.

Now, dip the egg in another color dye. The wax patterns you put on during the second go-round will take on the color you dipped the egg into the first time.

Dare I say the end result is magical?

Smart. Beautiful. Lithuanian Easter Eggs.

(If you’ve made these before, please add your tips and tricks in the comment section below!)

* You can also use a fondue pot or similar device, which is a better for regulating the temperature of the wax.

 

Special thanks to R?ta Degutis of the Lithuanian-American Citizens Club of Cleveland, who hosted the workshop where I did my decorating this year. Because if there’s anything I like better than decorating margu?iai, it’s decorating margu?iai while sipping Lithuanian beer. If you live in the Cleveland area, stop by the Gintaras (Amber) Dining Room on Fridays from 5-8 or Sundays from 11-2 for traditional Lithuanian fare.

Did you like this? Subscribe to the blog. (It's free!)