As a self-diagnosed art-driven hoarder, I have a tendency to save (if not cherish) what others would discard as trash.
Corks fall into that category.
I had a difficult, ugly, heart-wrenching breakup with alcohol over four years ago (story for another time…and probably a different blog), however I held onto my therapy-worthy stash of corks. I knew there would be an artistic (sober?) breakthrough to use the last remaining tangible pieces of a secretive addiction to merlot, cabernet, and the occasional chardonnay. And the “project cork” epiphany did, indeed, come to me.
Last year, on our annual holiday trek to Kansas City to see the holiday Plaza lights, we happened upon a store that sold wine cork Christmas ornaments. Upon our return home, my secret cork stash in the basement soon found redemption as wreaths, frames, and cute little trees.
So I realize this will never be a Guggenheim exhibit, but these cork Christmas trees are pretty darn cute, I’ve used them for hostess gifts, package decorations, and little additions around my house during the holidays. It has greatly reduced my stash, for which my entire family is grateful. The original design I saw was more “3-D” and in-the-round, but these flat little trees are quick, easy to assemble, and do not require a significant amount of artistic skill.
It’s a great project to share with your kiddos as they can easily manage the painting part. There are so many variations of size, color, and “top” designs that can be made, so they are easy to personalize.
Here are a few tips before you start:
- If you don’t have a stash of corks, ask a restaurant or bar to save them for you. It’s amazing how many corks a fine-dining establishment acquires in just a few days!
- You can DOUBLE your corks by cutting them in half. I find the trees stand up easier and the corks fit together better when they are halved. Keep in mind, one end of the cork usually has a hole in it from the cork screw, but sometimes they are super small…..and seem to be self-healing. A drop of glue can eliminate the cork screw damage.
- I’ve used watercolor and acrylic paint. I prefer watercolor, but I don’t always have it on hand. Acrylics? I have a boatload. I just watered it down a LOT, so it’s not opaque on the cork end.
- Corks have quite a wide range in diameter. When you are lining them up to make a row for your tree, try to find corks of similar diameter to sit next to each other. You will find that using corks of similar size will make it much easier to place corks in the row above / below.
- I like to use a cork with an interesting design on the SIDE of it for the trunk. It’s also a good idea to use a larger cork for the trunk and cut it shorter than half of the cork length. Play around with it….and see what works for you.
- Many corks have the vintage year on them, so it’s nice to use one with a specific commemorative year for gifts (anniversary, birth, wedding, etc.)
Here are the steps to making your very own Wine Cork Christmas Tree:
Depending on the size of tree you want to make, gather the necessary corks and cut them in half. Discard any that didn’t survive the cutting, or that you find are too damaged to use. Try not to “saw” the corks with a blunt knife because it rips the cork. A very sharp blade works best.
*The CUT side of the cork end is often more interesting than the exposed end. I use them alternatively on my tree for color / texture interest.
For a smaller tree, expect to use at least 14 – 16 corks (cut in half to make 28 – 32 cork ends for your tree).
- Paint the ends of several corks with green, red, and gold “wash”. I like to use different shades of each color. If you happen to have corks from red wine, they are probably already “painted” with the wine, and the shades vary in beautiful hues. No need to paint those at all! I use about 1/2 color / painted corks, and leave the other 1/2 in their natural state.
Paint Corks in Hues of Red, Gold, and Green
Decide on how large you want to make the tree, and start gluing the first row together. I like to use a glue gun because it dries quickly and seems to hold the corks together very well. For your bottom row, it’s a good idea to use an ODD number of corks so there is a center cork in the row for adhering a half-cork “trunk” later.
Build your tree, placing corks in the crevices of the previous row. If possible, use the three points of contact shown in the picture for placing glue (black lines).
Build the tree into a shape that you like. Personally, I prefer to add a shorter row or two to the bottom of my tree so it’s not just a boring little wine-cork-triangle (clearly, a little boring). When you are finished, add the “trunk” to the bottom row. I like to carve out the top of the trunk (concave dip) for a more snug fit onto the trunk. It looks a bit more finished and doesn’t leave a gap between the tree and trunk.
Decorate and finish your tree for a personalized touch! I’ve used metal brads in the corks as “ornaments”, and I like to add a topper of ribbons, vintage buttons, or small rhinestones.
Have fun, be creative, and drink your wine!