Yuletide Craft: Old-timey Trees

Yuletide Craft: Old-timey Trees

bottle-brush-trees-door-knobsI embarked upon the Yuletide season with a trip to the country and a bit of antiquing. My sister and I spent a festive afternoon exploring the garland- and light-bedecked market stalls, on the hunt for vintage Christmas ornaments with their faded colours, tarnished tinsel and that nostalgic old-world feel.

One of my favourite decorations at this time of year is the bottle brush tree. Whether they’re plain green, bleached ivory, or dyed soft pastel, have tips touched with snow or glitter, or are adorned with tiny glass balls in rose, pale green, blue, burnished gold and silver, they make wonderful decorations that can be displayed in so many ways. One vendor had this display of modern bottle brush trees cleverly fitted with antique door knob/cabinet pull bases, and I couldn’t resist bringing home the three on the right – even though I knew I could easily make something similar myself. (I loved the chipped red one, but alas, the state of my pocketbook ruled it out.) Indeed, the next day…

bottle-brush-tree-ornaments… I found some inexpensive yet good-looking cabinet knobs at a discount store. (Each style came in a pack of two – a true bargain.) One looks and feels like weathered bronze and is quite heavy; the other has a shiny brass finish which I briefly considered trying to scuff up and give an antique patina. (I decided I liked the play of all the different finishes, so I left it alone. Probably a good thing.)

The trees also came from the bargain store. (They and the cabinet pulls were the only items I had to purchase for everything I made here; all other supplies came from my disconcertingly large craft stash.) A dab of hot glue to affix the wire stems in the hole in the knobs, and I had instant old-timey décor!

diy-bottle-brush-treesI had some trees left over and didn’t have to look far to find more bases. And so… I “planted” the largest tree in an old glass inkwell that came from the same antique market on a previous trip. First, I filled it with glittery silver vase-filler pebbles, to give it a bit more interest. The cloudy glass and subtle glimmer (hard to fully appreciate in these photos) mimic the metallic sheen of mercury glass – one of my very favourite things ever. Not wanting to damage or mar the inkwell, I stuck the tree stem into a cork that just happened to be the right size (okay, I have about four bags of assorted craft corks), and wrapped the neck of the bottle with ivory lace. I’ll probably change out the red ribbon (all I had) to something a bit more aged looking, like dusty pink or celadon green.

The little round “topiary” is glued into a thimble that came from one of those emergency sewing kits. It was the perfect size for this tiny faerie tree! All it needs is a sprinkling of pixie dust, and the Wee Folk will be celebrating.

When I bought the bottle brush trees, I also found a sweet spirally wire tree ornament that fit one of my cabinet pulls. I removed the hanging loop and a jingle bell that was attached to the bottom. With a bit of hot glue, I had yet another type of door-knob tree in about one minute. (Of course, these and the bottle brush trees, with their various bases, would make lovely hanging ornaments, if they’re not too heavy.)

bottle-brush-tree-ideasI could have gone on making an entire forest of these adorable trees, which look so great grouped together, especially since they’re not all the same. I love the subdued mix of metals and glass, colours and textures, combined with the shimmery snow-tipped branches. For bases, there are so many other possibilities! Wooden spools, wine corks, (drilled) toy blocks, miniature teacups, shot glasses, tiny gift boxes or vases, apothecary or essential oil bottles, will all lend an old-time air. Use cork, florist foam, Styrofoam or sticky-tac putty for tree stem stabilization if necessary. I kept my trees fairly plain (except for one), but of course you can dress them up any way you wish, or go nuts with the glitter. In fact…

… see the ivory-coloured tree? I made that one! I’d read that bottle brush trees can be bleached to turn them pale green or white, but only if they are a natural material such as sisal. I’m pretty sure my trees are synthetic, in which case the bleach probably wouldn’t work, so… I dug out a roll of sisal twine and some craft wire, followed online instructions and made my own. My ivory tree needed some glitz, so I painted the tips with matte Mod Podge and sprinkled on some silver micro glitter (also hard to see in the photos). Okay, so it’s not exactly the classic bottle brush shape, but I’m pleased with my vintage-y sisal tree!

mason-jar-snow-domeAnd finally, I love snow globes and domes, and I’ve always wanted to try making one with a mason jar. First, I embellished a bottle brush tree with glued-on pearly “gems”, then hot-glued its base to the inside lid of a large mason jar. I wanted the tree to be just barely glimpsed through a perpetual snowflake swirl – as if the dome had just been shaken – so I painted the inside of the jar with a thin, even coat of gloss Mod Podge and threw in a few pinches of clear, iridescent glitter, quickly turning and rolling the jar to distribute the glitter where I wanted it. (Concentrating some of the glitter at the bottom makes it look like a snow-laden sky when the jar is inverted.) I was pretty heavy-handed with the glitter, but I rather like the misty, dreamy effect. After everything was dry, I tucked some fluffy faux snow around the base of the tree and screwed on the lid. Et voilà – instant waterless snowdome!

bottle-brush-trees-and-snowdomeStay tuned for more Yuletide crafts, coming soon!



Joining in with Wild Daffodil’s Photographic Monthly Meet-Up, the prompt for November is Patina. Age-worn metal, lovingly polished wood, and stone left to the elements all produce beautiful objects with the patina of time passed (and past).

vintage-advertising-signsThis century-old barn is home to the Cookstown Antique Market just north of Toronto, Ontario. You’ve seen some of the lovely things I’ve found inside the barn recently; this is the weathered exterior with vintage metal advertising signs showing lots of patina.

vintage-kitchen-tools-with-patinaI’ve also written plenty of times about our 107-year-old summer cottage in Muskoka. These well-used household implements gathered on a wood-burning iron stove in the kitchen certainly show their age; I added a vintage effect to the photo just for fun.

cathedral-door-detailNot forgetting the patina of old wood, here is a detail from a set of cathedral doors (built 1933) in Hamilton, Ontario.

mile-marker-at-Stonehenge-dated-1764Stone can develop patina, too. On a trip to England and Wales about 25 years ago (has it really been that long??), we found this distance marker at Stonehenge, beautifully weathered and covered with lichen. It’s dated 1764 – two centuries before I was born! – and shows the number of miles from London (seventy-nine, from what I can make out) plus an indistinguishable number from Andover. It would be interesting to know if any of my British blogger friends have also seen this monument!

Owl Be Seeing You

Owl Be Seeing You

Quick trivia: what is a group of owls called?

diy-stuffed-fabric-owlsThese cute little fabric owls were inspired by many similar ones found on Pinterest. Some of those pins include instructions, others good tutorial photos (I forgot to take some), but inevitably something important is left out. Using elements from several of them, I came up with the three different sizes of whimsical hooters shown here. In fact, this project really took flight, and I made an entire parliament of owls! (Yes, that’s the official name.) Read on for a basic pattern and step-by-step instructions, which I hope are clear enough to follow without pictures!

These owls are a great way to use up scraps of material and supplies left over from other projects. I sewed on buttons for the eyes; glued-on circles of felt or googly eyes would be cute, too. I chose to keep my owls fairly simple, but of course you could add more adornment; how sweet would flirty little embroidered eyelashes be?! I added ear tufts with yarn, and feathers which keep escaping from an old pillow, to a couple of my owls.

woodland-fabric-owlsThe birds’ bodies are gathered at the bottom, so a base made of a cardboard circle gathered in fabric helps them to stand straight. Note that glue simply won’t hold here; you really need to sew the base on. It’s a little fiddly but finishes the raw edges and the hole formed by the gathering nicely. Instead of this base, you could glue on a circle of felt, even cutting it into the shape of birds’ feet! I think the felt base would work best if you weight the owls (more about that below).

fabric-owls-diyThese critters would make charming tree decorations: skip the base (use felt instead), and add a hanging loop at the top – or just perch the owls amongst the branches!

They could serve as adorable pincushions, too, particularly if they’re weighted with sand, ground walnut shells, dried beans or rice. I’d encase this material in a little bag sewn from muslin or other tightly-woven fabric, then tuck it inside the polyfil stuffing near the bottom of the owl.

To make these wee beasties, you’ll need a few basic sewing supplies plus a sewing machine. For each owl, there are only two seams on the machine, and the rest is done by hand. So, let’s get owling!!!

Materials Needed:
• two different fabrics, one each for the back and front (belly)
• paper; pencil; ruler; protractor; compass (optional, or trace something round)
• sewing machine
• scissors; pins; needle; thread; embroidery floss (optional)
• polyfil stuffing
• thin but rigid cardboard
• buttons, felt, sequins or stick-on “googly” eyes
• yarn or feathers (optional)

Here are the basic pattern and the measurements needed to make the small, medium and large owls shown, which are all fairly round and plump (and really not that big!). To make larger or more elongated ones, increase the length of the sides and adjust the angle of the front (belly) piece accordingly; the smaller the angle, the slimmer the owl.

stuffed-fabric-owl-patternSMALL (2.25” tall)
Back/Sides: 12.5 cm sides, 85° angle
Front: 12.5 cm sides, 45° angle
Bottom (fabric base): 6 cm circle
Bottom (cardboard base): 3 cm circle

MEDIUM (2.75” tall)
Back/Sides: 15 cm sides, 85° angle
Front: 15 cm sides, 50° angle
Bottom (fabric base): 6.25 cm circle
Bottom (cardboard base): 3.25 cm circle

LARGE (3.25” tall)
Back/Sides: 18 cm sides, 85° angle
Front: 18 cm sides, 55° angle
Bottom (fabric base): 6.5 cm circle
Bottom (cardboard base): 3.5 cm circle

To Make the Owl:
• Draw pattern using the dimensions listed above, using a protractor for the angles. (The circles don’t have to be perfect.) Cut fabric and cardboard pieces.
• Lay the Back/Sides and Front pieces right sides together, matching one straight side. Pin if needed. Sew using ¼” seam allowance, stopping ¼” from the end, or narrowest point, of the “V”.
• Sew the other straight side in the same way, being careful to fold any material you’ve just sewn near the point out of the way. (When you try it, you’ll see what I mean.) The two stitching lines will meet to form the point of the beak.
• Trim the seam allowances across the top and sides of beak for easier turning. Turn owl right side out.
• Hand sew a loose running stitch around the bottom of the owl, using ¼” to ½” seam allowance. Leave thread ends untied.
• Fold the point of the beak over the belly about 1/3 to halfway down and place a pin along the fold line; this prevents the stuffing from entering the beak area.
• Stuff the body with polyfil until fairly firm; pull thread ends to gather fabric and tie off securely.
• Remove pin and tack the underside of the beak to the belly with a few stitches, or use embroidery floss to tack down and embellish the beak.
• Add eyes by sewing on buttons or gluing on felt circles, sequins or googly eyes.
• Sew a loose running stitch around the edge of the fabric circle using a ¼” to ½” seam allowance. Place cardboard disc inside and gather fabric around it; tie securely.
• Sew the circle to the underside of the owl, covering all raw gathering. Pull stitches snugly and try to hide them amongst the folds.
• Add any other embellishments, such as ear tufts, that you wish.

stuffed-fabric-owlsNow, wasn’t that a hoot?!

The Story Owl

The Story Owl


Nancy Barrett, my photographer sister, very kindly let me share her work for this post. She has photographed many species of owls (and just about every other bird species in Ontario, wild and captive), including these Eastern Screech Owls. This rescued pair is cared for at the Mountsberg Raptor Centre.

Owls appear frequently in mythology and folklore, carrying both good and bad meaning. In some cultures, they are keepers of sacred knowledge and symbols of wisdom, protection, healing and good luck. In others – probably because owls are nocturnal – they are associated with witchcraft and dark magick, carrying messages between sorcerers and the spirit world; an owl hanging around or hooting announces the presence of a shaman or witch. Some traditions – native North American, in particular – say that owls assist with divination and prophecy. These birds are even supposed to predict the weather: a screeching owl means foul weather is coming, and an owl heard during a storm predicts an abrupt change in conditions.

Owls have also long been omens of disaster and death. The Romans believed that if travellers dreamt about an owl, they would be robbed or shipwrecked. An owl was supposed to have foretold the death of Julius Caesar and other emperors. (The birds appear as doomsayers in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Macbeth, as well as works by Sir Walter Scott, Wordsworth and others.) It was believed that an owl flying past or calling at the window of a sick person predicted their imminent demise. An Appalachian superstition says that an owl flying by day brings bad news, and an owl calling at midnight foretells coming death. On Samhain night, when spirits roam the world, owls fly down to eat the souls of the dead.


Eastern Screech Owls can also be rufous. This little fellow hangs out with a grey buddy at a local cemetery!

I believe that owls are beautiful, wonderful beasts – and that imbues them with some kind of magick! I’m fortunate to have seen and heard many of the species occurring in southern Ontario, including Great Horned, Snowy, Barred, Eastern Screech, Boreal and Northern Saw-whet (our smallest, at 7” to 8” tall). I’m very certain I shall never see a wild Barn Owl, as they are incredibly rare and listed as endangered. And during a long-ago trip to England, I even heard a Tawny Owl outside our hotel! These birds are elegant, skillful hunters, and any encounter with one is very special.

I’ve had two such recent encounters, in fact, both whilst comfortably seated in my living room! Some of you may know that I started a new blog to showcase my writing a few weeks ago, and my first post was a ghost story. As I was putting the finishing touches on the post, I heard, through the slightly-ajar window next to me, an owl’s call in the night. I knew from its distinctive descending trill that it was an Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio), a species I’ve seen and heard several times before, but never outside the home we’ve occupied for 25 years. I listened to it “talking” (possibly calling to a partner) for several minutes, and even recorded it on my phone. I was mesmerized and felt so lucky to have heard from this captivating creature.

Over the next couple of weeks, I wrote another ghostly tale, finishing it just in time for Hallowe’en. I posted it a few minutes before midnight, and continued tweaking the post for another hour or so. It was in this quiet hour that – you guessed it – the wee screechie started calling again!

Eastern-Screech-Owl-greyWell, I was bowled over, and, I have to say, just a little freaked out. Some people might say that the “coincidence” was interesting at most, but nothing other than normal. I don’t agree! The same owl (it had to be), calling for the first time as I worked on my first ghost story, then calling again as I worked on the second – at Hallowe’en, of all times – was so serendipitous that I’m still wondering at it!

Owls are non-migratory, so I’m hoping that this little owl will hang around; I know from the frequent presence of hawks that our suburban neighbourhood, with its trees, fields and even a golf course, will support birds of prey. My sister, whose gorgeous photos you see here, tells me to listen in late winter to early spring for the screech owl’s mating calls. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a pair set up their love-nest nearby?

Could this bird be some kind of totem, or spirit animal? I have decided to call this midnight visitor my Story Owl. I’m currently working on my third ghost story … what do you think will happen when it goes online???

If you would like to see more of Nancy’s nature photography, please visit her here.

Stay tuned for more owls of a different kind, coming soon!

Happy Hallowe’en!

halloween-drilled-pumpkinsAnd a blessed Samhain to all!

I’ve been wanting to try making drilled jack-o’-lanterns instead of carved ones for a couple of years now, and here they are!

I cleaned out the pumpkins first. Then, using an electric hand drill, I added geometric/floral designs using three different bit sizes (1/4” – the largest one I have – 13/64” and 5/32”). I just went by eye, not bothering to draw on a pattern first; the veins of the pumpkins help with spacing, etc.

drilled-halloween-pumpkinsAfter drilling, I had to go back and remove the “strings”, or shreds, that the drill produced on the inside, and then use a wooden chopstick to clear out debris from each hole. (The chopstick helps enlarge the holes a little, too.) The entire process was pretty time-consuming, but I like the results!

These pumpkins each have two LED tealights inside.

drilled-jack-o-lanternsI hope that tonight, when the veil between worlds is thin and our ancestors are close, the ghosties and ghoulies you encounter are of the nicest kind. May you treat and be treated well this All Hallows’ Eve!

• • • • • • )O( • • • • • • •

You are invited to join me in my parlour at Flagstones & Fog for a spooky new ghost story! – gillyflower

Mirror Magick

Mirror Magick

No one looks in a mirror to see a mirror. – Marty Rubin

creepy-old-mirrorMirror of the Soul
Mirrors have always held mystery, especially the dim looking glasses of yore. And humans have always been Narcissists; we love to gaze endlessly at ourselves! But before the concepts of light and reflection were understood scientifically, people thought mirrors possessed supernatural powers. In particular, they were supposed to be the repositories of the “shadow” soul, showing people’s true natures in the reflection. This is probably where the idea that vampires and demons – and sometimes witches – being soulless, would cast no reflection and could therefore be “caught out”. It was also believed that mirrors, sometimes just a still pond or bowl of water, could show people their fates. If the water moved and distorted the image, it meant their soul was broken, and they would see their own death!

In some traditions, mirrors were covered at night whilst the household slept, as it was believed dreaming souls wandered and could get caught inside the glass. Perhaps that’s why there’s another superstition that says mirrors are two-way portals. Your soul can go in … and other things can come out when the conditions are right. (Cue lightning, thunder and a sudden power cut.) Being in a pitch-black room with a spooky mirror can certainly be very unsettling!

I busted a mirror and got seven years bad luck, but my lawyer thinks he can get me five.
– Steven Wright

Broken Mirrors
The superstition of a broken mirror bringing seven years’ bad luck may originate with the Romans, who believed that it took seven years for a soul to regenerate. Mirrors also were once very expensive; spinning the bad luck story may have been a way for owners to protect their precious investments from careless servants!

An ancient Chinese belief is that mirrors, especially brass ones, deter evil spirits that are afraid of their own reflections. If the mirror is broken, the protection is lost.

But if you broke a mirror, it wasn’t a complete tragedy. If you immediately ground the broken shards into powder, it meant the mirror could no longer reflect anything, so ill luck could be averted. Another “remedy” was to bury a bag containing the broken pieces deep in the ground, thus mitigating the effects of such a long stretch of misfortune. In America, broken mirrors were immersed in a south-flowing river for seven hours to wash the bad luck away.

If a mirror fell on its own and smashed, however, there was no recourse: it was a sign that you would lose a good friend, or that someone in the house would soon die.

Conversely, a mirror that falls to the ground and does not break will bring good fortune!

The mirror crack’d from side to side;
“The curse is come upon me,” cried the Lady of Shalott.
– Alfred, Lord Tennyson

candle-reflected-in-old-mirrorDeath and Mirrors
In Tennyson’s poem The Lady of Shalott, the Lady can only see the world outside her tower reflected in a mirror; when she looks directly at brave and handsome Lancelot in the glass, it breaks – and the Lady is doomed to die.

When family members died (misadventure by mirror or not), it was common practice to temporarily paint the frame black; the paint would be removed when the mourning period was over. In Jewish tradition, mirrors are covered whilst the family is sitting Shivah, the seven-day mourning period. Another custom was to cover mirrors with black cloth to prevent the departed’s soul from getting trapped inside. It was also thought that seeing your reflection in a mirror belonging to the deceased meant you would soon die, too. And in Eastern Europe, a mirror is buried with the dead to prevent the spirit from wandering and to keep evil ones from rising up again.

The mirror reflects all objects without being sullied. – Confucius

Destiny’s Reflection
Catoptromancy (also enoptromancy) is the practice of divination using mirrors, and it’s been around for a long time. The ancient Greeks predicted the future by lowering a mirror by thread until it touched the surface of a bowl of water. Whilst praying to a deity, they’d interpret what they saw in the reflections. Using a mirror as a means to remotely view a place or person, or to communicate, is called scrying. A dark basin of water, a reflective black stone such as obsidian or a dark, hazy mirror are all common scrying tools.

Other practices were employed to predict one’s fate. To find out who their future husbands would be, girls ate an apple (a love symbol) in front of a mirror, then brushed their hair. As they did so, the face of their beloved was supposed to appear over their shoulder. Actors, on the other hand, believe it’s bad luck to look at their reflection over another person’s shoulder. And you should never look into a mirror by candlelight; the dim light might reveal the shadowy face of the dead, or whatever other entity is sharing your home!

antique-silver-mirror-broochHarnessing Mirror Power
• A relaxing meditation technique involves sitting in front of a mirror and gazing steadily into your own eyes.
• If a couple sees each other in a mirror when they first meet, they will have a long and happy marriage.
• Newlyweds should stand together in front of a mirror soon after the wedding in order to unite their souls in the spirit world.
• Mirrors should never be hung so low that the tallest person in the household can’t see his or her head; it’s believed this will cause headaches.
• Following feng shui, prevent evil and negativity from entering your house by hanging a mirror on the wall opposite the front door.

It’s considered good fortune if you scare yourself with your own reflection.
I do that in the mirror every morning. Why, then, am I not the luckiest girl in the world?
– gillyflower


crystal-ball-photography-spring-treesThe prompt for this month’s Photographic Monthly Meet-Up from Wild Daffodil is Tree. This is my interpretation: a springtime forest and a patch of autumn woods as seen through a crystal photographic sphere.

I purchased this glass ball to try refraction photography. It’s an 80 mm crystal-clear globe, a gadget that promises to be super fun to play with. I’ve only used it a few times so far whilst on walks in the woods, so my images have all been treescapes. The list of possible subjects is endless: landscapes, beaches and waves, buildings and cityscapes, flowers, insects, pets, etc. The tiny bubble-encapsulated microcosm set against a blurred or bokehed background is what makes this type of photography most artful, and I’ve only used it in the most conventional sense so far, so I can’t wait to really get stuck in!

crystal-ball-photography-autumn-woodsAnd now, some physics. You’ll notice that the images within the sphere are upside down. Here’s my rather simple understanding of Index of Refraction. (With apologies to physicists everywhere.) A material’s refractive index is a number which describes the ways light travels through that material, or medium. When light enters a medium with a different index of refraction, such as water or glass, it changes speed. And, depending on the angle of the light source relative to the surface of the medium, the light rays may also change direction. An inverted image is only created when the medium is a converging lens (thicker in the middle than at the edges), such as our sphere. Hey, presto! Isn’t that just a little bit magickal?!

Photographers using a globe like this have some choices to make: keep the refracted image inverted in the final photo, or flip it so the image appears right side up. This affects the way you compose the photo. I think I prefer the inverted ones; keeps it more interesting, no?

Word is you need a zoom or macro lens for this technique. I’ve no doubt they yield awesome results, but I don’t have one, so I just used my smartphone. Photography sites offer tips and tricks for using these spheres, and I still have a lot of experimenting to do, but I was pleased with these early results.

I do love trees, and they’re one of my favourite subjects to photograph. I’m on the lookout for a lone specimen with an interesting shape or lovely gnarled branches for my next global adventure!

Next month’s prompt is Patina.