Tips & Ideas: Reinvent, Repurpose, Recycle
1o clever ideas for decking the halls, stuffing the stockings, and presenting the feast, all with finds from your attic, neighborhood salvage store, or even your backyard garden
10 clever ideas for decking the halls, stuffing the stockings, and presenting the feast, all with finds from your attic, neighborhood salvage store, or even your backyard garden
Ever intrigued by the City Greenhouse’s horticultural ingenuity, we asked them what they do for the holidays. We were thrilled, to say the least, when they offered up these enchanting ornaments, filled with offerings from the natural world such as grasses, nandina and pyracantha berries, asparagus fern, and flowers.
Easy Terrarium Ornaments
As long as you have a backyard or neighboring garden to explore, all you need to buy is sphagnum moss, a spool of ribbon, and a set of clear craft ornaments in glass or plastic. When you set to work designing your ornaments, keep in mind that a bit of color will help them stand out against the greenery of garlands and tree limbs (try pansies or snapdragons). For gift-giving, succulents and mosses are great additions, as they will actually grow roots; removed from the ornament with tweezers, they can then be potted in soil. Tip: Condensation develops inside the ornaments when they’re moved from one temperature to another (from indoors to out, for example). However, the moisture should evaporate within a day’s time.
- Glass or plastic craft ornaments
- Sphagnum moss (available at garden centers)
- Various plant material
- Long handled tweezers (for guiding the plant material into place)
- Eye dropper (for moistening moss)
- Decorative ribbon
Gather all materials before beginning. Fill the bottom of the ball with sphagnum moss, moistening it with a few drops of water. Add moss until you’ve achieved desired fullness. Use tweezers to arrange plant material in the ball. Tie ribbon to the ball and hang on your tree or give to your favorite gardener.
It’s always fun to get mail—especially when it’s marking your place at the holiday table. Vintage postcards make an easy, craft-free alternative to the traditional placecard. Write guests’ names on the back, then tuck into placecard holders so that the illustrated side faces the center of the table, allowing everyone to enjoy the scenery.
You can easily round up old cards from local antique malls. For a unified look, choose a theme and find cards that fit. We collected scenes from the Lowcountry, like this mid-century rendering of an old oak tree at Magnolia Gardens.
Muffin Tin Serving Tray
Tired of searching for one last ramekin to serve the capers in, we finally found asolution in our own kitchen cabinets. As it turns out, a well-cleaned muffin tin can easily be turned into a serving station for pickles, mustard, preserves, and more.
Pick up a pack of wooden spoons (available at World Market), decorate each with fabric or ribbon, then label with the name of the condiment. Place on the buffet or pass to guests at yourseated dinner.
Make-Ahead Hostess Gifts
What to get for the person who has everything (or the hostess who you hardly know)? Well, wine, of course. Easy to give and always fun to receive, it’s the go-to gift year-round. For the holidays, dress it up with leftover gift wrap, recycled grocery bags, or extra craft paper.
We suggest you buy as many bottles as you think you’ll need throughout the busy social season and wrap them ahead of time. While various materials will do the trick, we like craft paper for its easy-to-fold texture and neutral color that works with most any adornment. Add ribbon, decorative paper, and name tags, or try stenciling on designs.
- Paper grocery bags or craft paper
- Ribbon, name tags, and other adornments
- Hole punch and scalloped scissors, if desired
- Craft glue
Cut a piece of paper so that it is 1½-2 feet long and 10 to 12 inches wide (size depends on the bottle and method of wrapping). Lay paper flat on the table and stand the wine bottle in its center. Gather paper up around the bottle. Tape one edge to the bottle to keep it from slipping as you work. To fit paper to the bottle, tuck one corner of paper under the edge of another, repeating with all loose edges (except the paper that extends above the bottle’s mouth) until wrapping lies smoothly against the bottle. Now you’re ready to fold the top of the package closed. There are various ways to do this, but the methods for the bottles pictured (from left to right) are as follows: 1. Bring both sides of paper together over the top of bottle. Fold the paper over bottle and cut so that the folded part is about 1½ inches long. Scalloped scissors create a decorative edge. With a hole punch, make two holes in the top of the paper. Weave ribbon through the holes and tie in a knot or bow. 2. Use both hands to push in opposite sides of the paper so that they meet in the middle, forming the shape of a bow. Punch two holes at the center of paper and tie a ribbon through them. 3. Gather paper just over the top of the bottle. Tie a ribbon tightly around its center. 4. Fold paper over the top of bottle and cut so that folded part is about three inches long. Tie a ribbon under the crease. Use tape to adhere bottom of fold to the side of the bottle. Finish by adding adornments. For example, we used craft glue to add a band of decorative paper around one bottle. Use ribbon to tie on name tags.
Salvaged Gift Boxes
Feeling less than inspired by our same old stash of gift bags, wrapping papers, and bows, we set out in search of packaging with a little more soul. We headed to Hungryneck Antique Mall, where we found a set of Wear-Ever Jack-Frosters, the pre-Tupperware solution to storing leftovers. With the addition of a colorful ribbon, the tin boxes are perfect for holding scarves, sweaters, and more. You can follow suit by scouring your own favorite antiques and second-hand stores (and don’t forget about the treasures your own attic might hold). We bet that an hour of searching will net all kinds of containers worth repurposing into uncommon packages. Consider too that in today’s green-minded world, everyone loves gift wrapping they can reuse (and we’re not talking Mom’s ironed tissue paper).
Pretty Oyster Ornaments
In the Lowcountry, oyster roasts rank right up there with Christmas and Hanukkah in terms of favorite winter traditions. And though you may not notice it when they’re fresh from the steamer, the shells are totally, well…ornament-worthy. Save a barrel from an at-home celebration or ask a local restaurant if you can have their discards. Looking for a kid-friendly Christmas project? Adding a little sparkle (by way of white glitter) to clean oyster shells is a perfect craft table project for little ones.
We scooped up buckets of sun-whitened shells from behind a local restaurant (ask permission before following suit), but you can also save the shuckings from your own roast and clean them by hand. To do so, first select the most attractive shells from your collection, then use a steel brush to scrub off dirt or other ocean debris. Soak them in a mild solution of bleach and water for about 30 minutes, rinse well, and lay them in the sun to dry.
Once clean, drill a hole at the hinge end of the shell. Make sure you drill before adding any decorations, as a few shells will likely break. Adorn with white glitter, if desired. Finally, tie a loop of twine or ribbon through the hole and hang on your tree.
Contain-Yourself Sweets Containers
While you’re rounding up creative packaging options, don’t forget about your baked goods. You can wrap a whole batch with items found around the house, at an antiques mall, or even at the hardware store. Recycled tin cans dressed in ribbon make rustic display of tall and skinny biscotti, while vintage JELL-O molds hold mini meringues, and a round basket is the perfect fit for a stack of chocolate chip cookies. The only trick is making sure you pick the right kind of container for the right kind of sweet. For example, larger cookies wouldn’t pile as nicely as the small wedding cookies did in the larger tin (which, believe it or not, we picked up at Lowe’s). Personalize your home-baked gift by adding ribbon and name tags.
Christmas party hosts need not have a menorah tucked away in the party closet to offer a nod to Hanukkah revelers. Instead, create the essence of this religious symbol with candlesticks pulled from around the house. Organized in the shape of a menorah, they’re a reminder of the season and the celebration.
Mint Julep Herb Bouquets
In Southern homes, mint julep cups are as common as champagne glasses, and just as underutilized. Why not pull out your collection and press them into service as vases for arrangements of winter herbs? The pint-sized bouquets are perfect for dressing up powder rooms, side tables, and other small corners before guests arrive. We used rosemary and oregano for their pretty greenery and lovely scent, but mint or lavender would work just as well. For extra adornment, pin a brooch to a length of ribbon and tie it around the cup. Antique buttons and star anise also make nice additions.
With the Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka craze sweeping the Lowcountry, why not gift some liquor infusions of your own?
- 1-3 lemons
- 1/2-1 cup of mint
- 1 liter medium-grade vodka
The amount of each ingredient you need will depend on the size of your container and how strongly flavored you want your vodka to be—keep this in mind as you decide how much of each ingredient to use. Wash lemons and slice thinly. Insert in bottle. Wash mint leaves and add to bottle. Fill container with vodka, seal it, and store out of direct sunlight.
Because lemon and mint have strong flavors, they should take only three to four days to infuse. Taste daily until drink reaches preferred intensity. Using a coffee filter or cheesecloth, strain out the fruit and herbs as you pour vodka into a different container. Wash out bottle and pour infused vodka back in. If you’re giving as a gift and want to leave the fruit and herbs in for decorative purposes, simply include a card with instructions for removing.
We loved the idea of infused spirits so much that we decided to play with scented sugars too.
For the vanilla sugar:
- 1-2 whole vanilla beans (depending on how strong you’d like flavor to be)
- 2 cups white granulated sugar
- 1 airtight container
For the orange sugar:
- Zest of 1 orange
- 2 cups white granulated sugar
- 1 airtight container
For the vanilla sugar:
Pour sugar into the container. Slice vanilla beans lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and mix these into the sugar. Add beans to the sugar. Follow instructions below.
For the orange sugar:
Remove zest (outer peel) from orange with a citrus peeler. You can also use a paring knife or vegetable peeler and then scrape as much of the white pith off the zest as possible. Allow zest to dry for 24 hours. Pour sugar into the jar. Add zest. Follow instructions below.
Begin infusion process for both kinds of sugar by shutting the container tightly and storing it out of direct sunlight for one to two weeks. Taste and stir it every two or three days. This will distribute the flavor and prevent sugar from clumping as it absorbs moisture from the beans. It is not necessary to remove beans from sugar before consuming. The flavored sugar is good as long as its scent is still aromatic and its flavor true.