I've been making bottle brush trees for my houses for a few months now. It took me a while to get the hang of it. My first trees were definitely on the wonky side at the beginning, but they continue to improve. If your first trees are too lopsided or uneven, you can just toss them as the cost is minimal, but you can cover them with glitter and snowtex and paint and beads to compensate.
I decided to do a tutorial on how I make the trees.
There are a number of tutorials on the web, some free and some for a nominal fee. I did purchase one such tutorial just to get some additional advice, but I had already read that author's free version long before. I make mine using a slightly different method because this is what I've found to be the easiest way for me to make the trees. This is a photo heavy blog post, but I think that helps. I'd do a video if I had 3 hands, but that is not the case. I'll figure out how to a video sometime in the future.
First the supplies:
Sisal rope from the hardware store
Floral tape to wrap trunk
Drill (though there are other ways to twist the wire)
Cup hook to be used as the drill bit
Needlenose pliers or hemostats to hold the wire when twisting
Wire cutters (not shown)
Comb (not shown - I use a pet comb to comb the coarse sisal fibers into submission)
Cut the rope in about 3 inch segments. You don't have to be precise because you're going to cut a lot of it off when you shape the tree.
Untwist the rope segments. You can tell pretty quickly which way the segments are twisted together. Just go the opposite way and the segments separate easily.
Untwist the small segments to get 6 thinner pieces from each piece of rope.
Finally, you separate the individual fibers just by pulling and untwisting a little bit to straighten them out. Some of the fibers have some pretty gnarly tangles, just pull those off so you don't incorporate them into your tree.
Line up a pile of your fibers. How much to use? You're going to have to eyeball this one your own. I make the pile thick enough so I don't really see through the pile. That is probably 2-3 segments of rope all together.
Cut the wire at least twice as long as the height of your tree. I like really long trunks because I want the tree to be tall and not obscure the details of my little house. You can always cut off the extra wire if you make it too tall.
Straighten the wire by pulling on it and fold it over to make the trunk.
Place fibers between the 2 sides of the wire. This is one of the harder things to do because it keeps slipping off. That's why you cut the rope much longer than you need so you have some margin of error in terms of centering the fibers.
Make a loop at the closed end of the wire so you can attach it to the drill. You can also insert a pencil or dowel here and twist without the drill if you want. That's the method that Martha Stewart uses in her bottle brush tree tutorial.
Place loop over the cup hook that is inserted in the drill. I use pliers to hold the open end of the wire tight, but you could use hemostats, or even a clamp to hold the wire. Whatever you use it might be secure, otherwise, the fibers fall out and fly all over your house when you start the drill. You also have to apply some counter traction (pull, in other words) to keep the wire straight.
I have found that it helps to hold the wire at the base of the tree so most of the twisting happens where the fibers are. After the tree is twisted enough I move my pliers further down the wire to twist the trunk of the tree.
Run the drill slowly for control. You don't want to break the wire. It looks ugly at first.
Here's the tree after the comb out. Be sure to straighten the trunk before you do the cutting. You can see that my tree is curved. This is 22 gauge floral wire. I probably should have used a stiffer wire.
Cut the fibers into a tree shape.
Ta-dah! An almost finished tree. When I dye it with fabric dye, some of the fibers loosen up and straighten out more so you have to do more trimming at that time. One nice thing about using the trees for little glitter houses is that you can coat them with glue and glitter and snowtex and paint to cover up your mistakes or bald spots. You can also glue on beads, birds, stars, etc.
Here are some references for making bottle brush trees if you want to look into some slightly different methods.
Pink House Pages - the first bottle brush tree set of instructions that I found
Fynes Designs Bottle Brush Trees - she makes them out of twine and yarn as well
Just Something I Made - Cathe Holden makes the most beautiful trees and displays them in wonderful vignettes.
More later on dyeing and decorating the tree.
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