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Holiday crafts projects that are earth-friendly

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“Green, homemade holiday decorations are a lot more special than anything you can find in a store,” said Michael Aldrich, a longtime crafter from Greenfield. “You get to recycle, use your creativity, and end up with something people will cherish.”

Faye Omasta, of Hickory Dell Farms in Northampton, shared thoughts and ideas about green holiday crafting ideas. While the first thing that may leap to mind is the use of balsam and pine boughs to make wreaths, kissing balls and memorial boxes, you might need a little help with skills.

Omasta will be running workshops and private parties on her farm to help people create the greenery goodies for the holidays.

Here are seven ideas for green holiday crafting:

1. Frozen holiday wreaths and candle holders. “Most people have a Bundt cake pan or Jell-O mold. If not, you can easily pick one up at a local thrift store,” said Aldrich.

Aldrich said that all you have to do is put about an inch of water on the bottom of the pan and freeze it. Then layer your choice of holly leaves, berries, bittersweet or small pine cones and the like. Pour more water over the mixture and freeze again.

Once the layer of natural items is frozen, pour another layer of water over top and freeze again. Once everything is frozen, place the pan briefly in warm water and the wreath will pop out easily. All you need to do now is tie a string or bow to the wreath and hang it outside.

“Keep in mind, you need to have a steady temperature of 32 degrees or colder outside for your wreath to remain intact,” said Aldrich.

He also suggested adding green or red food coloring to the water, though he prefers the simplicity of no color.

“I like having the wreath clear. It looks like crystal and is more elegant,” he said. You can also use other forms, such as tin cans, using the same process to create decorative ice candle holders. Simply place a smaller can inside of the other and create the layers of ice and natural items in between the cans. Once you remove the smaller can, you have a space for a candle.

2. Felting is becoming a more popular craft and can be a fun project to do with your kids. Omasta explained the process. First you need to have clean and carded (untangled and intermixed fibers formed into a continuous web) sheep or llama wool. Omasta said that in the carding process you want to create layers of fibers “crisscrossing one another.”

Next you wet the fiber fabric with warm water and Ivory soap. “Once you have a number of layers together you can then put them over a form such as a ball, hat or a flat surface to create a fabric,” she said. Omasta said you then want to hold the fabric in place with a nylon stocking.

Now the real “felting” begins. “You rub and rub and rub to make the scales (part of animal fiber that allows interlocking) lock together,” she said. Omasta said the process takes some experimentation as items may turn out bigger or smaller than planned.

Or the shape may be a little off. “I tried making mittens once and they ended up being oven mitts,” she said with a laugh. Omasta also sells kits at her farm with sheep, bunny and pig forms to form the felt to.

3. Drying apple, orange or lemon slices for garlands in another option. Aldrich said to get best results in maintaining color when drying the fruit slices “heavily brine them (with salt).”

“You use about one pound of salt per quart of water. Soak the fruit slices for about an hour,” he said, then set the slices on layers of paper towels and dust with more salt, which can be brushed off later. Aldrich said the additional salt helps dry the fruit more quickly and furthers the preservation process. Once dried, string the slices as you like.

4. Try your hand at lemon peel ornaments. Aldrich said use a paring knife to peel the lemon in a downward motion to create a spiral. You preserve the peel in the same way as the dried fruit slices. Once dried, pierce one end with a needle and colored thread.

5. One other fruit-related craft done by brining is what Aldrich calls “Santa apple heads.” “You can either simply carve faces in the apples or hollow them out like a jack-o’-lantern. You can use seeds for the eyes,” he said. If you decide to hollow the apples out you can also put tea lights in them. “It’s a nice homey decoration for parties,” said Aldrich.

6. Consider using recycled clothing for ornaments or stockings for stuffing. With minimal sewing skills and a little glue, you can create stockings from old flannel shirts and jeans, Aldrich said. “Use the buttons and whatever else you want to attach to the stockings for designs or someone’s name for example,” he said.

He also suggested cutting out shapes of fabric and gluing them to cardboard backing, and decorating them as you wish for ornaments. “You could even glue someone’s picture onto the ornament,” he said.

7. Finally, you can decorate suet balls for outdoor trees. Aldrich said to soften vegetable shortening or suet and mush in seeds and berries birds will like.

Don’t use holly or mistletoe berries, as they are poisonous. Form the mix into a ball and tie twine or ribbon around it and place in the refrigerator to harden.

“The suet balls are great gifts for bird lovers too. Just be sure it’s wrapped well, kept cool and opened quickly,” said Aldrich.

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