Natural Decorations for Fall and Winter the Frugal Way

by Louise Wulf

I read your article in Dollar Stretcher and was wondering if you had some ideas for decorating for Halloween and Thanksgiving and Christmas parties on a shoestring budget. Any information or ideas would be appreciated.

Thanks for writing. You don't say if this is for kids or adults, home or hall, inside or out, so I'll keep it general. I really believe in using Mother Nature for seasonal decorations. It's frugal, it lifts our spirits, it usually smells good, it gets the maker outside and it often teaches us something about our world. This is more of a challenge in areas that lack four seasons. but if we look hard, we'll find usable materials. Adapt these starter ideas to what your landscape offers.

Choosing a theme helps. For example, Halloween ghosts can be made in any scale and hung from branches or the ceiling. Make small ones from 4 facial tissues: Lay one tissue down on the square and a 2nd one over it diamond-wise. Wad up the remaining 2 for a head, place the wad in the center of the first 2 tissues and tie a string or bit of yarn around the neck. Make big black eyes with a felt pen. Tie the ghosts to a tree branch, either suspended from the ceiling for a mobile or stuck in a flower pot or coffee can covered in foil for a table piece. Fill the pot or can with rocks so it will be heavy enough to hold the branch. Big ghosts can be made from sheets. Use wadded up newspaper or as cheap a vinyl ball as you can find for a head. Place these in ceiling corners, suspending the head and tacking two ends of the sheet to opposite walls, to make the ghost "fly". Add cardboard or foam board tombstones to walls.

Witches can be made along the same lines, adding yarn hair or a wig and a hat to a full size one. There are inexpensive witch hats with attached wigs that are perfect for this sort of critter. Use the widest, cheapest black fabric you can find or dye a sheet for the body. For small witches you can put on branches as with the ghosts, use yarn tassel dolls with a black felt hat.

Remember that any arrangement that works on dining tables, can be adapted for mantels, end and coffee tables. If you're decorating a hall, use a large scale: big branches of fall leaves or evergreens in a corner or two helps fill the space and creates atmosphere.. Fall in easy for corners: use a few bails of hay, a cornshock and large pumpkins. For winter, use evergreen trees decorated with raffia bows, springs of berries, pine cones and whatever else you spot that will give color and variety.

Check our the fall leaves in your area. Gather the most beautiful branches and preserve them for gorgeous arrangements. First, place the branches in buckets of warm water for several hours. Cull out the imperfect leaves. Mix two parts water with one part glycerin (available in your pharmacy, usually a small brown bottle in the first aid section and very inexpensive) in a saucepan. Bring the solution to a boil, then simmer it about 10 min. Allow to cool. Use a sharp knife or clippers, cut each branch at a sharp angle and lightly hammer each end, so that the branch will take up the glycerin solution. Put the container in a cool, dark place until all the mixture is absorbed (7 - 10 days or so) and there are beads of glycerin on the leaves. Wipe each leaf with a damp paper towel and then gently dry them off. Arrange the branches in large, heavy vases and they'll last several years.

Coffee cans wrapped in foil wrapping paper are great containers to use on the floor or long tables. Put some small rocks in the bottom for weight. For jars, bottles and vases that don't match, use seasonal colors/prints of fabric and tie with an elegant ribbon. Put a big, fat rubber band or scrunchie on one wrist. Then place the container in the center of a fabric square or scarf. Gather the ends of the fabric up at the top edge of the container and stretch the rubber band off your wrist and around the can, at the top, to hold the gathers in place. Now, fold any raw or too long edges down under the rubber band, toward the container so they don't show. A scrunchie in the right color/texture/print can stand alone. Cover your rubber bands with a bow. I like wired ribbon 'cause I'm not very handy, and it stays where I put it! Raffia is great, too, and gives a different look.

Fill baskets and/or large glass bowls (huge snifters or fishbowls, for example) with fall fruits, vegetables, acorns, tiny pumpkins, etc. interspersed with seasonal flower blossoms. If you're using glass, wash the fruit and vegetables thoroughly, then fill the container almost to the top with water for more interest. Choose containers and contents in scale with your table(s).

Add a hodgepodge of candle holders and candles. Use what you find around the house, at thrift shops and garage sales. You're aiming for a variety of heights and sizes. Keep them all in the same "family" in feel. Many kitchen containers, (catsup, wine, mayo bottles, etc.) washed out and de-labeled, are very usable and lend themselves to making lamps. Add nylon wicks and wick holders (from a candle store) and fill the bottles to various heights with lamp oil (from Wal-Mart, K-Mart and the like). Lamp oil comes in different colors and scents, so you have lots of choices. Use lots of candles or lamps- cheap atmosphere and color. Scent, too, if you choose and it's appropriate.

At Christmas, use red and green apples, oranges, tangerines, lemons, etc. and add holly, evergreen sprigs and such. Again, wash the fruit so the water doesn't turn brown. Or fill the glass containers with Christmas tree balls sprinkled with artificial snow flakes that sparkles. Or tuck clusters of evergreen among the balls and put them in glass or baskets. This is a good way to recycle balls that are broken at the top, chipped or discolored on one side. Watch garage and thrift sales for these misfits and get a real bargain.

"Snake" a runner down the middle of the table with leafy branches, pinecones, pumpkins (whatever sizes are most suitable!), squashes, persimmons, pomegranates, nuts, etc. You can add a fabric runner under your arrangement or just take several yards of a seasonally appropriate fabric (a gold brocade, a brown tapestry, a dark red or green satin for fall) and "rumple" it casually down the center of the table, folding the raw edges under as you go. You don't want it flat and smooth; you want depth and drama. Place your natural materials in the folds of the fabric.

This clean, effective, fast, cheap and so simple table centerpiece is appropriate for fall and Christmas. Cut evergreen branches (I like to use pine 'cause it's so bushy you don't need much and smells so good) Lay them down in the middle of the table, hiding the ends underneath other branches as you go. Add tapers in low candlesticks- generously! The holders won't show, so you can use metal jar lids and use a bit of the candle wax to hold the candle. You can embellish this arrangement with Christmas tree balls, pinecones, red bows, "snow" sprinkles, etc. but I love it just as is.

Keep your eye open for fall and winter materials as you travel around. Watch the sales and buy early for the best prices. The closer to the holiday, the more you'll pay. As you garage sale, thrift shop and consignment store browse, keep your needs in mind. Think "what else could this be used for'?

Have fun!

Louise is a regular contributor to The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a suggestion for an article please email her at

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