Kissing Ball Christmas Ornament Tutorial

  • 01 of 10

    How to Make a Kissing Ball the Natural Way

    Picture of Christmas kissing ball, completed.
    David Beaulieu

    Making a kissing ball is a fun, easy project that yields a beautiful ornament when you're done. Hang your gorgeous globe outside to spruce up a porch, patio, deck, etc. in celebration of a winter holiday. This ten-page tutorial with pictures shows you how to make a kissing ball, step by step.

    Some folks decorate kissing balls with ribbons, Christmas ornaments, and other store-bought supplies; I show an example in this kissing ball picture. This project, however, involves making a kissing ball using natural materials, where possible.

    The concept of a "natural kissing ball" has its limitations, though. At the very heart of the project, literally, is a styrofoam globe. You will be inserting natural materials into this globe -- in some cases, to be sure, by means of thoroughly unnatural florist's supplies: wire and plant stakes. Another concession to modernity is the use of gold spray paint, to make some of the kissing ball's decorations pop a bit more.

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  • 02 of 10

    Making Kissing Balls: Supplies

    Supplies needed for making kissing balls.
    Supplies needed to create a kissing ball. David Beaulieu

    You'll be obtaining your materials for making kissing balls from 3 places: from nature, from a hardware store and from a crafts store. You'll probably have some of these supplies on hand, already.

    You can harvest the following materials from nature:

    • A variety of evergreen branches
    • A variety of cones from evergreen trees
    • Branches of winterberry
    • A pod from a locust tree

    You'll need to buy a styrofoam globe from a crafts store for this project. If you can't find green styrofoam, white will do, but spray it green as you don't want white patches poking out from behind your evergreen branches.

    Alternatively, you could try to find a globe of oasis -- the spongy material florists use as a base when designing fresh floral arrangements. The advantage in taking this approach is simple: the evergreens will hold up longer because they'll have constant access to water. But the downside is twofold:

    1. Oasis globes are more difficult to find
    2. Styrofoam is a tougher substance: it doesn't take oasis long to break up when you start jamming evergreen branches into it

    In the picture on this page, you'll see other non-natural supplies necessary for making kissing balls; they are as follows:

    • Top row: wire cutter and bypass pruners
    • Middle row: coat hanger and gold spray paint
    • Bottom row: florist's wire and plant stakes

    You'll read about these materials and supplies for making kissing balls in greater detail on the following pages.

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  • 03 of 10

    Wiring Cones for a Kissing Ball

    Wiring pinecones means slipping wire over the scales to attach a cone to a stick.
    Florist's wire slipped over a spruce cone's scales and pulled tight provides a way to attach the spruce cone to a stick. David Beaulieu

    "How do you attach pine cones to a kissing ball?" perhaps you've wondered. Well, before composing your natural kissing ball, you'll need to complete some preparatory tasks, among which is wiring cones to sticks (i.e., the "plant stakes" mentioned in the supply list on the prior page).

    Cut a length of florist's wire (6 to 8 inches, depending upon the size of the cone) and slip it into the grooves under your cone's scales (as shown in the picture), down near the cone's stem end. The wire should encircle the cone. Then pull the wire tight and twist it on itself.

    On the next page, you'll learn what to do with a wired cone....

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  • 04 of 10

    Kissing Ball Pinecones on Stakes

    The wired pine cone is attached to a plant stake.
    The wired pine cone is attached to a plant stake. David Beaulieu

    Wiring the cone (prior page) provides a way to attach the cone to a plant stake (see picture). The plant stake can then be stuck into the kissing ball's styrofoam globe, after the pine and other evergreen branches have been inserted.

    Incidentally, the same method can be used to include cones in flower arrangements, whether with fresh flowers, artificial, or dried. For instance, in the fall, try setting some cones aside. Then, in late winter, cut some stalks of ornamental grass. With these complementary ingredients ready to go, harvest the first pussy willows you see and create some dried flower arrangements. Add artificial flowers as desired for more color.

    As you experiment with using cones in kissing balls, you'll find that particular types of cones have their good and bad points. For instance, the pine cones from eastern white pine are often very pitchy, making them messy to work with. On the other hand, their pitch is often quite visible, appearing as a white "frosting" on the pine cones. This is a rather nice ornamental look, precluding your having to buy a can of the artificial snow some craftspeople use to achieve this appearance.

    Remember that you also have the option of spray-painting the cones (gold, for instance) to jazz them up some.

    On the next page we'll move on to a decorative element for the kissing ball that does not require wiring....

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  • 05 of 10

    Red Berries for Kissing Balls

    Cut winterberry branches to insert red berries into the Christmas kissing ball.
    Have some winterberry branches cut and ready to insert into the Christmas kissing ball. David Beaulieu

    Besides pinecones, natural materials to use when making kissing balls include red berries. You may be able to find "winterberry" (see picture) locally. You could also use an evergreen holly, if you have a big enough shrub and if you're willing to trim large branches off it (smaller branches will get lost in the mass of evergreen branches you'll be using to compose the bulk of the kissing ball).

    So far, you've read about pinecones and red berries but, by all means, be creative with your use of natural materials. The materials Mother Nature makes available to you will depend on your locale. On the next page, you'll learn about one more example of a natural material that's wonderful in kissing balls....

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  • 06 of 10

    Locust Pods as Decorations for Kissing Balls

    Use locust pods as decorations. Insert florist's wire through one end for use in craft projects.
    Insert florist's wire through one end of the locust tree pod. David Beaulieu

    Locust trees produce long, flattish locust pods that can be used as "ribbon substitutes."

    But how do you attach a locust pod to a kissing ball? Like pine cones, it has to be attached to florist's wire, which is then twisted around a plant stake. The only difference is that, unlike cones, locust pods have no scales. So, as shown in the picture, you can poke wire (a 6-inch length is sufficient) right through one end of the locust pod. After threading half the wire through, twist it onto itself and then onto a plant stake.

    On the next page, you'll see how much the locust pod (spray-painted gold) resembles a gold ribbon in the finished kissing ball....

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  • 07 of 10

    Pods as Natural Ribbons and How to Hang a Kissing Ball

    The locust pod, spray-painted gold, hangs from the kissing ball like a ribbon.
    The locust pod, spray-painted gold, hangs from the kissing ball like a ribbon. David Beaulieu

    Why buy ribbon for kissing balls when you can use a free natural product, in lieu of ribbon? The locust pod in the picture, sprayed gold, would otherwise have been raked up and disposed of in fall.

    Now that you've created your all-nature kissing ball, how do you hang it? Or more specifically: what hardware, inserted as an "anchor" in the styrofoam, will support the weight of the completed kissing ball when you hang it up?

    Screw eyes may be sufficient for lighter kissing balls (e.g., artificial Christmas kissing balls), but not for the kissing ball in this project, which measures about 15 inches across (from the tips of the branches on one side to the corresponding tips on the other side). Fortunately, the "hardware" needed to hang my kissing ball was an item that probably most of you already have on hand: a wire coat hanger.

    You'll have to straighten the coat hanger some before you can use it. I won't need the whole length of it, so you can simply cut off the "hook" part, rather than trying to unravel it. Once you have a straight piece that's about 2 feet long, insert it into the top of your styrofoam globe. Boring right through the center of the styrofoam, push it all the way out the bottom side. When you have several inches of coat-hanger wire hanging out of the bottom side, bend the tip into a hook.

    Now pull up on the wire from the top side, so that the hook digs into the bottom of the styrofoam. Then simply form a loop at the top, twisting the wire on itself. And presto! you have something by which to hang your kissing ball.

    On the next page, we hang up the styrofoam and start inserting the kissing ball's main ingredient: evergreen branches....

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  • 08 of 10

    Evergreen Branches for Designing Kissing Balls

    Picture of spruce branch prepared in designing a Christmas kissing ball.
    Picture of red spruce branch prepared for insertion into a Christmas kissing ball. David Beaulieu

    As with evergreen cones, so with evergreen branches: some types may suit your purposes better than others for designing a kissing ball.

    The branches of eastern white pine trees, for example, are not only pitchy but also soft. The branches of many other evergreens are more rigid, making them easier to insert into the styrofoam. Experiment with the evergreens, if any, in your area.

    Cut my evergreen branches so that the average is about 10 inches long. Three inches of that length will be inserted in the styrofoam. Don't attempt to design an even globe shape with your evergreens: it's perfectly fine to layer them (i.e., stagger the lengths). Indeed, the shorter branches are especially helpful at the end of the designing process, when you're trying to fill in spaces to conceal patches of styrofoam still showing.

    In the picture here, you'll see how to prepare an evergreen branch for insertion. Notice that the tip, at one end, is bare of needles? These should be stripped off. Why? Because the styrofoam quickly becomes jam-packed with material, as you insert more and more evergreen branches. Removing some needles mitigates this problem somewhat. Besides, a branch thus streamlined will go in easier.

    How do you strip off the needles? One method is to insert the bottom part of the evergreen branch between pruner blades, then slide the branch back and forth at an angle perpendicular to the blades. In this way you can essentially "shave" the bottoms of the evergreen branches, using the pruner blades as "razors."

    On the next page you'll find more tips on designing kissing balls with evergreen branches....

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  • 09 of 10

    Evergreens in Kissing Ball Design

    Photo: inserting an evergreen branch into the styrofoam ball to begin the Christmas kissing ball.
    Photo: inserting an evergreen branch into the styrofoam ball to begin the Christmas kissing ball. David Beaulieu

    Strike a balance in your kissing ball design between variety and uniformity. You don't want a hodgepodge of too many different kinds of evergreens and too many different kinds of decorations. On the other hand, using just one kind of evergreen and/or one kind of decoration can result in a look that's too boring.

    In the picture, you see a yew branch inserted into the styrofoam. You can also use spruce and two kinds of pine. Other kinds of evergreens to consider are:

    Euonymus and laurel, unlike the other kinds of evergreens, are broadleaf plants. Use the Emerald 'n' Gold type if you wish to inject a golden element into your masterpiece. Sprigs of the Emerald Gaiety kind, meanwhile, will brighten the ensemble, as the leaves are edged in white.

    As you're completing your kissing ball design, resist the temptation to trim the tips of your evergreens excessively, in hopes of obtaining an even look. Excessive trimming will engender a look that's too contrived. If left untrimmed, the tips of the evergreens will lend a softer, more natural appearance to the kissing ball.

    Another caveat of kissing ball design: try not to go overboard in pulling out branches you've already inserted, so as to rearrange them. You can get away with a bit of this, but you'll eventually make too many holes in your styrofoam, thereby compromising its integrity.

    One more caveat of kissing ball design: don't start by inserting a bunch of evergreens on just one side of the styrofoam before moving over to another. You'll gain a better sense of how the design is shaping up if you distribute your branches "across the globe" (one here, one there), then come back and fill in later.

    Insert evergreens until the styrofoam is reasonably well hidden, all around. Then insert the pinecones, which you've already prepared (see Pages 3 and 4), and the winterberry. As a last touch, you may choose to insert the locust pod as a "ribbon."

    On the next page, we conclude with a look at how best to display kissing balls outside....

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  • 10 of 10

    Displaying Kissing Balls on Shepherd's Hooks

    Picture of Christmas kissing ball display, hanging from shepherd's hook.
    Picture of Christmas kissing ball hanging from shepherd's hook. David Beaulieu

    You've completed your kissing ball; now how do you display it so as to show it off to its best advantage?

    You can display your kissing ball outside to spruce up a porch, patio, deck, etc. If you use one of these areas regularly as an entrance to your house, it would be a good choice as a location for displaying your kissing ball, if your goal is to be able to appreciate it as often as possible, yourself.

    There are, however, other considerations. For instance, do you want passersby to be able to view the kissing ball display properly? If so, it might make sense to locate the display closer to the street. "But what would I hang the kissing ball from out there?" perhaps you ask. Well, fortunately, shepherd's hooks or "shepherd hooks" (misspelled variously as "shepherds hooks," "shephard's hooks", or "shepard's hooks") make kissing balls portable.

    But it wouldn't be design-smart to set up a lonely shepherd's hook somewhere out on the lawn. Your kissing ball display needs something else to complement it: a backdrop. And not just any backdrop. Always assess whether or not the backdrop serves to set off the display optimally.

    Take a look at the picture on this page, for instance. The large clump of ornamental grass provides the perfect backdrop for my kissing ball. Light in color, the ornamental grass stalks, and plumes set off the kissing ball, which is composed of darker colors. Finally, a backdrop of natural materials fits in perfectly with the "back to nature" kissing ball theme.