As I mentioned in my steampunk tree post, these hot air balloon ornaments have been our most time-consuming Christmas project. Lots of trial and error, figuring things out as we went along, and, in the case of getting the baskets to hang straight, plenty of “colorful metaphors.”
The good news is this isn’t a holiday-specific craft: wouldn’t they make an awesome mobile? Or hang one in the corner of your office for a little whimsy.
To start, you’ll need a plastic ornament. The most realistic shape is a tear drop, but since I couldn’t find one in plastic we went with round ones and this funky dealio:
At first I didn’t think this shape would work, but after sticking a flag on top (which is actually the bottom) it’s now my favorite. The flag is a scrap of raw silk folded over, glued, and decorated with a little gem and some glitter glue.
After your ornament, your next essential element is the basket. After hunting around online, I decided these tiny egg baskets made for dollhouses were just right:
Plus, I found them on ebay for only $7.50 for 10 baskets, with free shipping from Thailand. Not bad! (Here’s a link if you want to buy from the same seller I did.)
Next, a little aging with watered down brown craft paint:And then a heavier coat brushed on and wiped off a bit:Keep the basket handles on for painting, but then clip them off when you’re done.
Odds are your ornament will already be pretty as-is, but for a little extra bling you can swag some chain like so:
To do this, get out your trusty Dremel with snake attachment, insert your teensiest drill bit, and drill little pilot holes. Then tap in tiny nails, swag your chain over the nails, and add a drop of superglue to keep it all in place. (If your chain is larger, you can insert the nails through the links.)
Don’t have a Dremel? No worries: many ornaments are thin enough that you can push a simple thumb tack through:
See that cord John’s holding? That’s a poor girl’s flexible ruler: just tie a string around the ornament neck, mark your spot, and slide the string around to keep your distances consistent. Nifty, huh?
It’s a great way to keep your circumference lines straight:
For plain ornaments like this one you’ll want to paint on some designs, glue on some blingy stuff, dip it in glitter, etc. This was our first attempt, so mine’s pretty simple:
I’m also happy to report this was the first project I’ve ever used glitter glue on, and man, is that stuff awesome. (The gold lines are liquid leaf paint.)
From the beginning I knew I wanted a balloon with a net over it, but drawing a net on a round ball is one of those things that sounds easy until you try it. Everything’s going fine, and then, BAM! What do I do with the corners?!
To save you the same aggravation, here’s the solution I came up with:
As you can see, I drew my grid work with chalk. Then, when I reached the corners, I carefully erased the two final intersecting grid lines and combined them into one. I added a few more lines on either side off that central branch, curving them slightly, so I ended up with four “stretched” corners.
I realize that sounds confusing, so I advise you to just check my pictures if/when you try this, and try to match them:When I was happy with my lines, I painted over them with liquid leaf paint:
You could almost skip this step, though, because it turns out a nice thick line of glitter glue covers pretty well:Plus, look how 3D it looks - like an actual net!(Full disclosure: the glue deflates as it dries, so it’s not nearly so puffy now.)
For the finishing touch I bent a little filigree piece to match the ball’s curve, and glued red crystals scrounged from my broken jewelry stash into the middle. (Click any of these photos to enbiggen.)
Oh, and the eyelet on top is just a regular ol’ eyelet screwed in and painted gold.
Now for the hard part: hanging your basket.
We discovered the hard way that nothing - but NOTHING - will stick to the sides of these lousy baskets. All our super glues were defeated, and hot glue is hard to jam in there. Eventually I cut a tiny circle of cardstock, glued/taped the strings to the underside of the circle, and then jammed it into the basket with a heavy dollop of white glue on the bottom.
Because the basket weighs nothing, your strings will want to bend and curl and kink. Not to worry: grab a heavy nut or two from your tool box, plop ‘em in the basket, cover them with a scrap of black tissue paper, and it should weigh it down sufficiently.
To attach the other ends of the strings to your ornament, you can either glue them (and then cover the ends with a ribbon) or, as we did, tie the strings around your little nails.
Of course, you might be wondering how to tie all your strings perfectly level, so the basket hangs straight.
SO AM I.
(Remember those colorful metaphors?)
My only advice is a wing and a prayer and maybe a little booze.
Of course, if you use *chain* you can count links and not worry about weighing the basket down - but then you have to figure out how to attach the chain to your basket. O rings are a bit big for such a tiny basket, but I decided to use them anyway on my latest prototype:
Overall this method is faster and easier, but you’ll note I STILL can’t get the rotten basket to hang straight. I counted links and everything! Honest! (True story: John’s in the other room right now with a pair of pliers trying to “fix” whatever I did wrong here. Harrumph.)
This one started as a plain purple ornament, so I jazzed it up with some copper foil tape (the kind you use in stained glass) and bronze glitter glue:
While I was waiting for the glue to dry, my friend Missy remarked that she was surprised I hadn’t used pennies in any of my ornaments yet. A-ha! PENNIES!
The one I used is from some friends who recently went to NYC, and eventually I’d like to fill all eight panels with national landmark pennies. They remind me of the decorative panels painted on carousels, and add a lot of detail. Trouble is, I don’t have any more - all my smashed pennies are Disney ones. Heh. So, if you have an area landmark penny with a vertical design you wouldn’t mind giving up, feel free to send it to me. You know, for the cause.
And now, my dear crafters, I will wrap up this monster post and wish you the very best of balloon luck. I hope you enjoyed, and as always, feel free to share suggestions for improvement or ask questions in the comments!