Natural decorations

Crafty touches transform bark and straw into holiday ornaments


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Allison Taylor sews the edges of a birch bark canoe at the Eagle River Nature Center’s Christmas ornament craft class Dec. 1.

CINTHIA RITCHIE

A piece of straw. A hunk of bark. A few straggly pine cones.

It doesn’t sound very festive, does it?

Yet according to Ute Olsson, chief naturalist at the Eagle River Nature Center, outdoor castoffs can be fashioned into cheery and professional looking holiday ornaments.

And you don’t have to be craft savvy to figure it out, either.

Olsson hosted a Dec. 1 class in birch bark canoe, spruce cones, straw and dried fruit ornament making.

The class utilized natural, everyday items such as dried apples and lemons, cinnamon sticks and dried berries. Coupled with sturdy needles and cheery red string, participants threaded long garlands to hang in the windows as sun catchers.

Drab spruce and pine cones were transformed into sparkling Christmas tree ornaments with the addition of a few dabs of white paint plus generous splashes of glitter.

Olsson recommended spray painting cones with gold or silver paint for added dimension.

“You can even paint walnuts and other nuts,” she said, holding up a gold-covered walnut that looked oddly merry.

Down the table, Stacy Flagg worked on an intricately-shaped straw ornament with a sturdy form of wheat straw imported from Poland. Flagg carefully weaved and tied strands together to the shape a 10-point star. It wasn’t as easy as it looked, she admitted.

The most popular craft was the birch bark canoes.

Bark was prepped in a bucket of water for about a half hour, until softened. Class participants then chose a piece of bark and peeled it down to desired thickness.

“It will want to curl,” Olsson warned.

To counter this, class members were advised to curl the bark in the opposite direction, to force it flat.

Bark was then cut to the shape of a pattern and carefully sewn together.

Properly designed canoe ornaments have the ability to float.

“I remember when my kids were young, they’d try them out in the bathtub,” Olsson said.

Newlyweds Sterling and Allison Taylor worked on canoes at the far end of the craft table. They worked quietly and carefully, leaning toward each other as they cut out the pattern and forced the needle through the tough bark. The couple, new to Alaska, drove up the AlCan from East Texas in August.

“It’s cold up here,” Allison said.

“But it’s very pretty,” Sterling added. “There’s a lot to see and do.”

They took the class so that they could begin making holiday ornaments, and memories, for their first Christmas.

“It’s something we can talk about and show our grandkids,” Allison said.

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