A Holiday Ecology: Christmas Tree Ornaments from Recycled Trash

The holidays cost big bucks, bigger bucks than some of us out-of-work elves and cash-strapped consumers can afford.

But if you don’t have the cash  to pay for Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanzaa gifts this year, especially during these difficult financial times, you can make lovely gifts from what you might otherwise trash.  (Even this post has been recycled from one I did last summer.)

The Christmas tree ornaments below, for example, can be made from found fabric and repurposed paper—skirts to shirts, magazines to maps.

ornament made by mixing fabric and canned tomato labels

ornament made from fabric and recycled, 1949 edition of "The Seven Dwarfs"

ornament made from fabric scraps

paper version made from canned tomato labels

variation on the label ornament above (notice ingredient list)

This mixed fabric and paper ornament uses recycled New York Times.

Mixed fabric scraps and a street map of Lexington, Kentucky

Mixed fabric scraps and map of Africa

What you will need:

–found fabric (40 squares per ornament, 2 inches each) OR

–repurposed paper from books, maps, or newspapers (40 squares per ornament, 2 inches each)

–straight pins (approximately 200-210 per ornament)

–Styrofoam balls (2.5 inches each)

–ribbon (5/8 inch, ½ inch, and ¼ inch)




Follow these steps:

  1. Cut fabric and/or paper into 2 inch squares.  You will need 40 squares per ornament.

  1. Pierce center of first square with pin.

  1. Fold fabric/paper  as shown in photos below and attach to ball.

  1. Add fabric/paper squares until you have 4 in the first circle, 8 in the next, and 8 in the last.

secure with 4 pins across the bottom of the triangle

secure second folded triangle opposite the first

add the third triangle

add the fourth to complete the first set of triangles

add the first triangle of the next set between triangles of the first, inserting the top pin about 1/4 inch from the center

add the second opposite the first

attach the third triangle of the second set

add the fourth

the fifth

the sixth

eighth triangle finishes the second set

second triangle of third set

third triangle of third set and so on until third set is complete

  1. Repeat steps 2-4 on the opposite side of the ball, again adding 4 squares in the first circle, followed by 8 each in the following 2 circles, until fabric/paper squares nearly meet in the middle and you can see only a narrow band of Styrofoam circling the center of the ball.  (See images below.)

side one and side two meet in the middle

  1. Pin 8 inch strip of ribbon (5/8 inch wide) around the middle of the ball to cover pins.

secure one end of ribbon with two pins

where ends meet secure with two more pins

  1. Add optional ¼ ribbon over the 5/8 inch ribbon to create layered effect and pin in place.

secure quarter-inch ribbon on either end with pin

  1. Attach ribbon to form bow on top in desired pattern and color.  Secure with pins.  I usually use two colors, applied in opposite directions and crossed in the center.

attach first half of bow in the same direction as 5/8 inch ribbon

attach the second perpendicular to the first

  1. Secure loop for hanging with decorative beads and pin.

loop attached with pin

decorative bead finishes the top

  1. Pin optional decorative beads in the center of the smallest star on either side of ornament.

feed bead onto straight pin

finished ornament

(Note:  I would make a number of ornaments with fabric before proceeding to paper, which is more difficult to manage.)

Will you rethink your ethic of giving this Christmas?  Do you have a holiday ecology?

95 thoughts on “A Holiday Ecology: Christmas Tree Ornaments from Recycled Trash

  1. I just love how the paper graphics add to the design.
    I’ve told my peeps that I can’t do gifts this year. I finally gave up on that financial and emotional strain. It’s amazing how culture can bind us. What a relief!


  2. I always try to make the gifts I give — usually while teaching myself a new skill (last year stained glass ornaments, year before that handmade soap and crocheted wash cloths) So, I was so glad to see your original post in August. I have started making these as my gifts this year. (I was at a paper store for my day job so I did splurge and purchase some small sheets of handmade and fancy papers — I need to experiment mixing them with recycled items I find around the house). They are turning out really nice and are very fun to make. Thanks for posting!


    • I’m sorry to say, I didn’t, Lisa. I just got too busy with my writing. In fact, I haven’t tried to sell any this year. My memoir has taken up all of my time. I’m so happy you mentioned the ornaments the other day, as it reminded me, this was a good time to revise and revisit this post. Thanks for that cue, my friend!


  3. I think these are awesome. I love making things and so does my youngest son. The fact that it will use up some of my stashed fabric is even more awesome! Guess what Grandma and Aunt Carrie are getting this Christmas, courtesy of my friend Kathy. 😉


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  5. My unintentional ecology this year was with strings of LED color lights, only parts of which didn’t light up. I had 3 strings in the recycle-lights bag and then the light(bulb) went off!

    I have stashed a string in a glass brick (vase) and a string in a silver bowl I really like but don’t leave out because I’d have to be polishing it all the dang time! One more string to go…. >:-D The dead lights don’t even show. Yaaaaaay!

    I usually give handmade gifts, too. Have many fewer recipients this year, so haven’t made anything yet. I love to make Thai peanut sauce and give that away!


      • Kathy, I may try to make your beautiful ornaments instead of anything else. I figure that when the recipient pulls out the ornament next year, it will still have that shiny-and-new cachet to it since it will have been stashed away all year!

        Peanut sauce is amazingly easy to make, especially if you’re willing to be brave and ignore any ingredients you don’t have. The important stuff is the peanut butter and the hot pepper!


      • Let me know if you decide to try them, and, if you do, if any issues arise.

        By the way, do you have a peanut sauce recipe that you use?

        My partner, when working on the 2004 tsunami response, had an apartment in Bangkok. It’s an amazing city. In fact, Sara is scheduled to take a cooking class this week or next on Thai street food–but unfortunately it’s here in Kentucky.


    • Okay, Mark, I left this comment on your blog, as well. However, try painting the egg carton for a jewelry box and cutting up the toilet paper rolls to make napkin rings. Any fool would love that, don’t you think? NOT!


    • Thanks so much for visiting, timethief. I’m thrilled you found the tutorial helpful. The ornaments are lots of fun to make and make great gifts. Happy Holidays to you, too. Hope you’ll come back again soon!


    • How great that you will try these. Will you let me know how they turn out? Thanks so much for reading. I see you so often commenting on other blogs, and I’m delighted to see you here, as well. Welcome. Hope you will come back again soon!


  6. I needed a break – and I was not disappointed. I LOVE THESE (and missed the first post)! You are a woman after my own heart. Using scraps of things pleases me to no end. I would say you have no idea, but you might. Also, I never have scrap fabric, but do right now and was wondering what on earth I could do with all this white and green… New goal to pursue in about a week. Hopefully I can upgrade to paper once I earn my stripes!

    I genuinely think those are the nicest home made Christmas decorations I’ve seen. I sincerely hope you get a chance to try selling these sometime. They. are. awesome.


  7. I’m impressed! This is so Martha Stewart. Last year my pal, Coco, got the ultimate almond cake recipe for my sister and I to bake for Xmas. We tried to bake that cake three times and somehow managed to screw it up repeatedly. My sister renamed it the “waste of money cake”. I just know that if Dovima and I tried to make these ornaments, we’d somehow find a way to blow up the house. Still, nice tutorial for people with hands that are not entirely made up of middle fingers.


    • Ha, ha–you’re right. It IS so Martha Stewart. Clearly, making these ornaments is not for everyone. You have to be able to tolerate tedium, I’m afraid. The fun thing about these, however, is that they can be personalized–a theater-themed ornament for Max, etc.

      Oh, well. Maybe in another life, for you. However, I’m sure it could turn into a great Lame Adventure!


  8. You already know how much I love these Kathy, but I’ll tell you again….I LOVE THEM! Gorgeous little ornaments made with love and attention, I love you for making them 🙂 ❤


  9. I remember seeing one of your other posts about these ornaments. They are SO beautiful! Thank you for including instructions. While I don’t think I’ll get around to trying this project before Christmas, I may give it a try in the future!


    • I’m so pleased you like the ornaments. Yes, I have shared some of the ornaments I’ve made before–though not these exact ones, I don’t think. Glad also the tutorial seems to make sense. Maybe next year you can try some. Thanks for reading, Terri!


    • I don’t believe you could be THAT uncrafty, Emily. But then again, you have other gifts, like “borrowing” the bikes of others without realizing. These are truly special skills, my friend–far superior to mere crafting.


  10. These are beautiful, Kathy! If you check out the latest album of photos I posted on Facebook (Tree Decorating Party at the Market), you’ll see some neat recycled ornaments my friend, Scott, makes from newspapers.



    • Glad you like them, Wendy. I will definitely check out the ornaments on Facebook. I know how busy you have been with the new job, but, gosh, it’s great to hear from you and know you are doing well. Happy Holidays, my friend!


      • Hey Kathy!

        So, two years later and I’m trying to make some of these and I just have one issue … how on earth do you align the first set of squares on either side? I noticed with my first attempt that the pattern was off at the center so I tried to use a sewing tape measure to mark things on the second attempt … better but I’m still not happy.

        Any hints you can give me?

        Thanks! *hugs*


      • Oh, D–excellent question. I’ve never been good at it. I suppose there is some may to do it if you had geometry skills I, unfortunately lack. One thing I do, is once I finish one side, I fudge a bit on the other, so the sides line up. With each square you add, look to see that it’s aligned with the same row on the other side. I don’t know if I’m making sense. Hope you understand.

        Good luck with your ornaments! Great to hear from you!


      • Thanks Kathy!

        Yes, that makes sense … you must be pretty good at fudging because yours look way better than mine so far!

        Happy Holidays to you (and Sara and the doggies!) too!


  11. Once again, Kathy– I have to tell you how much I admire these ornaments! They are so intricate and lovely… I wouldn’t have the patience to make one myself, though! 🙂


  12. Kathy, I got all the supplies I needed (and once again regretted giving away at least 1/2 ton of sewing and crafting supplies when I moved 1300 miles into a smaller house). My ornament doesn’t have that same look of vintage materials, but it did turn out well. It is on it’s way to a friend from an internet group of women I’ve chatted with for several years. Each year we do an ornament exchange – and mine are always handmade. I used 2 different silky materials, which I won’t do again, they slide around too much while I’m trying to pin.
    I’ve already started saving labels (spinach – yes!!!) and have decided that I will make my squares just a bit bigger than 2 inches. Thanks so much for sharing this tutorial.


    • What great news! Yes, I hadn’t thought to mention that cotton works best for the fabric. Just be careful if you make the squarres bigger that you don’t have trouble where the two sides meet in the middle. If there is too much overlap, the ribbon you use to cover the pins can begin to look “lumpy.”

      Thanks so much for the letting me know how it’s going. I love this news!


      • Well, when I checked the package that the styrofoam balls came in, I had grabbed a package of 3 inch balls instead of 2 1/2 inch, so that explains why I had to “stretch” them a bit. 2 1/2 inch square work really well for the 3 inch balls, though. I’ll try to e-mail a pic tonight.


      • Yes, then you do, indeed, need to make your squares larger. I will be curious to see what size works. I bought a few really large balls to experiment with.

        I would love to see a photo. Hooray for you!


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  14. They are WONDERFUL! And I love that you can put different medias on them—how wonderful to incorporate things that mean something to that individual when you make them as gifts!!! I am definitely happy you pointed me to this since this was before I started following your blog!! I am going to “pin” this and come back to it when I have some time to play!!! Thanks–they are beautiful!


  15. these are beautiful! I have made similar ornaments using ribbons, but never branched out to fabric….. novel idea that I would love to incorporate… thank you for the inspiration!


    • Hooray–so glad you enjoyed the ornaments. They are fun to design. I love trying out new colors and materials. I need to get started on my holiday projects for this year. It’s getting to be that time again. Great to hear from you. Hope you’ll stop by again soon!


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