Friday, December 28, 2012

Christmas Chain

I loved making paper chains when I was a kid. I think all kids do. 

First, it's easy to do. There's no real skill involved (though you do learn an essential life lesson in glue control). 

Second, there's something magical about transforming flat, static strips of paper into a dimensional, dynamic chain that curves and drapes with ease and grace. (And when you think about it, that's really important. For little kids, paper chains are proof positive they have power to make a bit of magic!) 

And then, of course, there's the pay off. Paper chains are festive and bright, and you can't help but smile when you see one.

In my mind, the innocent weave of a paper chain is an essential symbol of the holiday season so I wanted to create an homage to this treasured kindergarten craft. But the problem with paper chains is the paper. It's simply too fragile for a 16 foot Christmas tree in one of the busiest restaurants in all of Hoboken. 

I started thinking about what else I could use to make the links for our Christmas Chain and it didn't take long before I found my inspiration -- right in the trash! Empty wrapping paper rolls sliced into links would make a great base for the chain. I'd paint the links and string them together. Maybe even add a bit of glitter. Done!

But as I started fiddling with this idea, I realized the cardboard didn't feel finished enough for this project. It's really hard (at least for me) to get a super-smooth edge, and the more I hacked away at it with scissors, the more crinkled the cardboard became and the whole thing started to look ratty. 

Undeterred, I decided the next thing to do would be to wrap the links in something. Wrapping paper was the logical choice, but that led me right back the durability issue. So I fished out some old remnants of Christmas fabric and tried that. And sure enough, after a couple of attempts and one or two ouchies from the hot glue gun, I had a satisfactory solution (at least to my satisfaction).

So in case you love paper chains as much as I do, here's what I did.

Ho Ho Hoboken, everyone!

Elf in Charge of Making Ornaments

Christmas Chain
Medium: Cardboard & No-Sew Fabric

o   Cardboard Tube (wrapping paper roll, paper towel roll, or whatever is handy)
o   Fabric Scraps (again, whatever's handy in as many or few styles as you like)
o   Ribbons & Trims (optional)

o  Scissors
o  Hot Glue & Glue Gun


1. PREPARE THE LINKS. Cut the tube lengthwise down the center of the tube to open it up. Then cut 3/4" strips to create the base for the links. They'll be a little curved which is great because they'll bend easily back into a tube shape when you need them to.

2. PREPARE THE FABRIC. Measure the cardboard strips you've cut, then add an inch on all four sides to determine the size of the fabric rectangle you'll need. For example, I used a 1 1/2" tube which created a cardboard strip 5" long x 3/4" wide. I then cut my fabric to 7" x 2 3/4".

3. CALCULATING HOW MANY LINKS YOU'LL NEED. For my project, I made up a few links and put them together then measured it. It turns out, nine links = about 1 foot of chain. I want my chain to be about 5 feet long, so I calculated 9 x 5 = 45 links.

4. WRAP THE BASE. Just like a Christmas present, wrap the cardboard links with your fabric, securing it in place with hot glue. Now, here's where I need to say do as I say, not as I did. BE SURE TO PUT YOUR HOT GLUE GUN ON LOW. The glue seeps through the fabric and let me tell you, OUCH! (Note: hot glue guns are NOT for kids -- at least, not on this project.)

5. LINK THE LINKS. Now, just in case you don't remember the process, start by creating one link, gluing the two ends together. At this point, if you'd like, add some ribbon or trim. 

Then, thread the next strip through the link and glue it together. Note: I used a clip to hold the two ends together for a few minutes just to be sure the glue was set.

6. ADD RIBBONS & TRIMS. This might sound a bit funny, but if you want to add ribbons or trims to each link, you have to do it AFTER you've linked it to the chain so that you aren't dealing with mis-matched edges. I added bits of ribbon to each link, again using hot glue, attaching it a bit at a time.

This one takes a bit of time to get going, but once you've got your system down, the links come together quickly, just like when you were in kindergarten!

If you want to try this and have questions, please leave a comment here. And again, if you find an easier/better way, please do let me know!

Ho Ho Hoboken, everyone!

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