A couple of years ago– I think it was the year I started Autumn Anthology– I really wanted a fall tree, but it was hard to find one in stores. Since then, I’ve seen a few good ones for sale, and so making one from scratch is kindof for the die-hard DIY-ers. For that reason, I’m going to make this more about the leaf ornaments, but if you have any questions about how I made my tree, feel free to ask them in the comments.
One thing I haven’t found (to my satisfaction) in stores is a collection of gorgeous, high-key, colored leaf ornaments– in a gradient! I decided (of course) to make my own.
The scope of this project can be scaled depending on how much you’d like to do by hand and on the availability of materials.
The bright colors of polymer clay lend themselves to stunning, warm gradients of leaves, and this process is simple enough that it is fairly easy to make a lot of them at once. It is also possible (and would be also be fun) to explore sculpting each leaf by hand. This cookie-cutter approach lends itself to creation en masse, and you can fill a tree with leaves in just an afternoon or an evening.
For this project, I purchased Sculpey clay (but other brands probably work well), and made fall-leaf cut-outs using cookie cutters. It is important to keep kitchen tools that you use with clay separate from those you use for food preparation– I would recommend buying a separate set of cookie cutters for use with polymer clay only. The same is true for the cookie sheet you use to do the baking. Erring on the side of caution, I would also not advise baking them in your usual oven (I bought a little toaster oven with temperature controls from a thrift store just to use for baking clay).
You will need:
- A tree structure, either pre-made or built by hand– I built mine by cutting lengths of willow with branch cutters and assembling the tree with wire and hot glue
- Sculpey or other polymer clay in various colors
- A designated set of cookie cutters for use with clay
- A designated cookie sheet for baking polymer, and an oven designated for this use
- A toothpick, paperclip or other small tool to make a hole in for the fastener
- Fasteners of your choice– ornament hooks, paperclips, colored thread, embroidery floss, or fishing line all work well. This project would also be interesting paired with magnets or other kinds of adhesives.
Roll the clay to an even thickness of your choice. I used a votive candle holder as a “rolling pin.” (At the risk of sounding like a broken record, use a rolling pin that is not the one you use for food). I also mixed some in-between colors using two or more different colors of clay. It helps to warm the clay in your hands if it is too stiff.
One thing to think about is adding a hole through the stem of the leaf to allow for a fastener– I used a toothpick to made the hole before baking the leaves. The leaves may then be moved onto a baking sheet and baked according to the package directions.
Here are fall leaves fresh out of the oven! A clear line is tied on each one at the stem.
The finished leaves hanging on my tree: