By Jessica Wilson
If you’re anything like me, a child of the ’80s, you may have been slightly obsessed with cartoons. When I was a tot, we didn’t have cable the way we do now. We had Select or ON television, and them channels only played a handful of movies over and over again. We didn’t have DVDs or VHS, though some of us had BETA. Because of this, way back in our day, we had to wait patiently for special days to see our very favorite cartoons and holiday specials. One of my most favorite specials was and still is How the Grinch Stole Christmas. It may have been the deep grumble of Karloff’s voice or the nonsensical Who song when they all join hands at the end, but the one thing that sticks in my mind the most is the christmas tree that the Grinch pops open and closed like an umbrella. How cool would a tree like that be? So, after many years of wishing I had a tree like that, I have finally figured out how to make one, and this one is full of all kinds of upcycled goodness.
Before I begin, don’t look ahead and balk at the many steps this entails. It doesn’t really. Think of it more as parts. Essentially, there are 3 parts to this project: disassemble your umbrella, prep the bags, and build the tree. The prep work takes the longest but all in all you should be able to hammer out this tree in 2 to 3 hours from start to finish. So what are you waiting for? Upcycle your broken umbrella and a dozen or so plastic bags into this nifty, swanky Christmas tree!
Old full-sized umbrella not a folding one
Pliers though you may not need them
White spray paint
12-20 plastic bags
Model magic or other clay
Piece of scrap wood at least 1″ thick and 8″ long
Step 1: Prep your umbrella. First thing you will need to do is remove the handle. Most handles are glued on and can be coaxed off easy-peasy. Now you need to remove the fabric. Most standard umbrellas will have their fabric held onto the tips with small plastic caps. Simply pull those off and snip the small batches of thread that anchor the fabric to the frame. If you don’t have an umbrella to repurpose, you can often find them at yard sales or thrift stores.
Step 2: All of your umbrella fabric should be hanging from the top of the umbrella. You need to remove the cap to pull the rest of the fabric off your frame. Some caps will be easier to remove than others. I was able to pull the tip off mine but then had to use needlenose pliers to pull out a pin that held the rest in place. Once you get all your fabric off you are left with your frame.
Step 3: Pop your umbrella open and pull down on the mechanism until you are happy with the “fullness” of your soon-to-be-tree. Place a mark at the top of arm base with a pen that will show on your umbrella. Rip off a length of duct tape about 3″ long. Carefully wrap it around the stem of the umbrella just above the mark you made. Test your umbrella to see if the tape is thick enough by opening and closing it. The tape should stop it from opening all the way. If not, add another layer of tape. When you pop it open you will begin to see the frame of your tree.
Step 4: Make your base. You can use anything that will hold your “tree” up without falling. An upside-down flowerpot may work, or a hunk of clay. I drilled a hole in a flat piece of wood about 4″×8″×1″. A base will come in handy when it’s time to build the tree.
Step 5: Take your frame outside and spray it one solid color. I used white to match the Target bags I used. If you plan on making a very full tree (using a LOT of bags) you can probably skip this step. I went for a sparser tree where the frame was semi-visible.
Step 6: While your frame is drying, prep your bags. I used Target bags, which are slightly larger than your average grocery sack. First you will need to remove the handles. Snip them off with your scissors.
Step 7: Next, cut down one side of a bag, and across the bottom. Flatten it out. It will look like a large rectangle. Cut that large rectangle in half.
Step 8: Grab one of the 2 pieces you just cut and place it in front of you horizontally so that the longer side runs side to side. Fold this in half, in half again, and again. With your scissors, cut your strip of bag into 10 pieces. Repeat with other side.
Step 9: Open up all those little squares to reveal long strips of bag. Stack them on top of each other and cut in half. Repeat with another 7 bags.
Step 10: Gather another handful of bags (about 4) and repeat Step 8, but this time your bags will run vertically so that the longer side runs top to bottom. Cut the bags into 8 pieces. Do not cut in half.
Step 11: It’s time to build your tree. I used chopsticks in the picture so that you could see the next 3 steps a bit more clearly. We are going to work in a circular pattern, tying on one row of foliage to each stem before moving on to the next row. Here we go. Take one strip of bag and tie it to your stem using a single knot. Repeat 3 more times so that you have 4 knots of bag hanging out.
Step 12: Push your knots together to create a train. Gather the bag tufts in one hand and gently pull down so that they form a tassel of sorts. Tie them in place using one more strip and a double knot. Pull gently. If you pull too hard, the bag will break. Can you see the tassel shape? Repeat on the nest stem to your right.
Step 13: Once each of your umbrella stems has a tassel on it you are ready to add a little more shape to your tree. Take one of your longer strips of bag from Step 10 and thread it under each tassel knot between 2 stems. Pull into a double knot to join the 2 stems together. Only pull close a tad bit tighter than the natural spacing of the umbrella. This is more to fill in the gap between each stem. Repeat all the way around.
Step 14: Now that you did one row all the way around, you are going to continue with this process until your tree is finished. I would pop in a favorite flick or some happy tunes and get into the zone of it all. Here’s what you have: 4 strips into 4 knots, kind of like the needles on a pine tree. One strip to tassel them up and then an anchor strip between each stem, 6 strips total for each section on each stem. As you move further and further down your tree, the gaps between the stems will be wider. You will need to tie your filler strips looser and looser.
Here’s the math for you: Umbrellas generally have 8 stems. For my tree, I used 1 bag per stem plus the extra pieces we cut in Step 10. For a fuller tree, you will need more bags from Step 10 to fill in the spaces. Also, some umbrellas may be bigger or smaller so adjustments will need to be made.
Step 15 (optional): If you want to fill in the gaps in your tree even more, you will need to connect the linking strips. Huh? That is, you will need to use a linking strip tied between 2 other linking strips, but you will do this vertically. It’s the same method as in Step 13 but you will be poking around between the stems. To jazz it up, you can use a different color of bag and violà! Instant ornaments.
Step 16: If you want your tree to travel, you will need to add some sort of decorative doodad on the tip of each stem. This will mostly keep your tufts and tassels from falling off your tree when it is closed. I used model magic and rolled it into 8 balls that I simply pushed onto each tip. They hardened by then next day.
Step 17: Decorate your tree! If you use lights, make sure they are LED lights. This is VERY IMPORTANT! LED lights do not get warm and will not burn or melt your tree. I added lights, an upcycled glittery star, and some glitter to the actual branches. You can’t really see the glitter in the picture but my tree is quite spangly, and even better, it collapses just like an umbrella, and I can take it anywhere with me! Bake some cookies, pop in the movie A Christmas Story and throw a recycled ornament party. Have fun!
About the Author:
Jessica Wilson is most happily known as ‘jek in the box’ and spends most of her time crafting it up and taking pictures. She can often be found standing on benches over on Flickr and creating all sorts of kiddie crafts on her blog scrumdilly-do! She lives a life of scrumdillydilly and loves to share.