One of my favorite holiday decorations is this tree I made from vintage (and not so vintage) jewelry that I’ve collected over the years. I saw a tree 4 foot tall tree made of antique jewelry in an antique store in Baltimore. I couldn’t afford the price tag in the thousands, but resolved to make my own, smaller version. The project can be as simple or elaborate as you like. I hope it’ll be a favorite addition to your holiday decor as well.
Materials and Tools
The materials and tools you’ll need:
- Pliers – small needle nose and jewelry pliers work best, but you can use regular pliers too, if you don’t have jewelry pliers.
- Safety Glasses
- Glue: I used A6000 for its strong hold and that it didn’t spread and stain the fabric, it also dries clear. I’m a big fan of using whatever you have on hand, just make sure the glue will work for your surfaces and is strong enough to hold the weight of the pieces once you hang it.
- Popsicle sticks, toothpicks, or other utensils to spread the glue.
- Jewelry – lots of it. Comb your jewelry box for broken necklaces, mismatched earrings, and out of style items you no longer wear. I knew I wanted to do this project for quite a while, so I began collecting inexpensive jewelry at yard sales and thrift shops.
- Look for a variety of shapes and sizes. Brooches and pendants work best, but any piece with a flat back will work nicely. I used barrettes, bracelets, buttons, earrings, even shoe clips!
- When my friend told me that it was time to do this project, I still hadn’t collected have enough. So, I scoured the online auctions and bought a box of tangled jewelry. There are auctions that just sell it by the pound, but you have no idea what you are getting. I looked for auctions that showed pictures of the actual pile of jewelry that I was getting. We had a blast sorting it, there were a lot of cute surprises, and we’ve made several projects using this box of jewelry and still have plenty left.
- Frame – a shadow box frame or a regular frame with the glass removed. Keep an eye out for good deals on shadowbox frames at thrift stores year-round, they always come in handy for projects!
- Background –
- Fabric – I found a beautiful remnant of soft grey velvet that perfectly complemented my color scheme in the discount bin of a fabric store. The velvet I used was a very thin velvet. If you plan to use your frame’s original backing, make sure that it will still fit back into the frame with the fabric wrapped around it.
- Paper – You could also use scrapbook paper, wrapping paper, or wallpaper.
- Paint – or paint a piece of wood, or your frame’s backing in your desired color.
- Foamboard (optional) if you have pieces that you wish to keep intact, using a piece of foamboard for your backing will allow you to push pins into the backing and keep the jewelry intact.
- If using foamboard, you can use small display pins, U-pins or T-pins to attach your pieces so they can be removed and reused later.
- Duct tape or spray adhesive, you may need to bond your background fabric or paper, or tape down the edges of your fabric to your backing
Creating the Tree
Assembling the tree was fun and easy, but did take some time. I spent a good amount of the time making sure I had the arrangement the way I wanted, adding and removing pieces until I felt it was right. The most difficult part is knowing when to stop!
Prepare your backing: If you’re using a decorative paper you can start by using spray adhesive to affix it to the back board of your frame or a piece of foamboard cut to fit the frame. If using fabric, to cover the frame’s original backing, you may want to leave it loose to make it easier to pin pieces that you don’t want to damage to it. If you’re using foamboard go ahead and attach the fabric with spray adhesive or duct tape so it doesn’t slide around when you push the pins in.
Lay out your design: I laid out the biggest pieces first to get my general shape. I started with my larger pieces toward the bottom, and edged the bottom with a bracelet to form a straight line to anchor my tree. I interspersed smaller pieces in between. I also tried to be aware of spreading out the colors, textures and sparkles evenly. The teal wreath pin was the brightest piece, and although a little larger, I knew I wanted it to be a focal point near the top of the tree. Take a step back and squint at your layout, or photograph it, to see if the arrangement is pleasing to the eye. If anything isn’t working, don’t be afraid to move it, or take it out of the composition altogether.
Affix your pieces: There were a few pieces that held more value than the others. Those pieces I kept intact and pinned to the fabric, using their original backings or U-pins. For those pieces that were broken or “junk” jewelry, I just used the needle nose and jewelry pliers to cut them up, gently twist off the backings, or twist apart jump rings. Some of the pieces were delicate, so I recommend taking your time and going slowly, so as not to break off parts you want to keep. It’s also a good idea to wear safety glasses during this step as parts can go flying.
Once a piece was laying flat enough, I used a toothpick and popsicle stick to lightly spread the glue evenly on the back of the piece before placing it. As glue drips would’ve stained my fabric, I had to curb my natural tendency to just glob it on.
Fill in gaps between the big pieces with smaller pieces. I did not lay out all of the small filler pieces before I glued, that would have been pretty tedious and time consuming to try to pick them all up and get them glued back down in the right place (or to transfer if you’re laying out your design on a separate paper before starting). Once you’ve completed your placing all of your pieces, allow your glue to dry thoroughly before moving it or trying to fit it into the frame.
Frame it: If using fabric that has not been affixed to the back of the frame, firmly wrap the fabric around the back without pulling the design. Use duct tape to tape the edges down to the backing. Trim any excess fabric that bunches and prevents you from fitting the back fully into the frame. My fabric was a little bit thick, but it still allowed me to push the back into the frame and fit very snugly.
Finishing Touches and Tips:
I chose a color palette of blues and greens, and filled in with clear rhinestones and white to fit with my holiday decor. I recommend choosing a “theme” to give your design a more intentional, “put-together” feel. You could choose all rhinestones, or all enamel, all flowers, or snowflakes, or all Christmas jewelry with cute presents under the tree . . you get the idea. I’d love to see what you come up with!
Give consideration to which piece will be the top of your tree. I chose one that would look like a tree topper, but you could also choose a more “natural” look and bring your tree to a point at the top.
Overlap pieces to give more depth. This also allows you to hide areas where jewelry may be broken or missing some stones. You can also use beads or parts of other jewelry to fill in gaps and missing stones – or not. I left some of the settings open, allowing the shape and shine of the setting to become part of the design.
Decide whether your tree will be a simple rectangle with the base at the bottom of the frame or have a trunk. A trunk gives you room to add “presents” underneath or even a tree skirt.
I used two rhinestone bracelets to bracket the corners, I really like how they “frame” the design. To get the crisp, squared profile in the lower left corner I used the jewelry pliers to snip off one side of the bracelet and square it up against the center piece.
Add animals or birds – when I first started laying out my design the bird pin was in the center of the tree and, to me, he looked trapped. As I rearranged pieces, it felt more natural to let him spread his wings and fly. I’m glad I set him free! Imagine a deer next to the tree, a curled up sleeping cat, or a bunny sitting beneath it. There are so many cute animal pins that can add a touch of life to your vignette.