Introduction: Cotton Ball Christmas Tree 2017

Backstory: I moved into my house just a few days before Christmas years ago. I didn't have any furniture, let alone a tree for Christmas. So I wrapped all our moving boxes and stacked them up in a pyramid... and that was our tree that year.

That sorta started a tradition. Each year since I've built our tree out of recycled or upcycled materials that I either salvage or already have on hand. I love the idea of giving stuff destined for the landfill some new life before sending them on their way.

2017's tree is made from cotton balls. I run a medical office and we had thousands of cotton balls left over. Believe it or not these things "expire" and were due to be discarded in 2018. So I brought them home for the tree. I used wood I had on hand left over from previous home project and kraft paper my kids have for art and play.

Really the only new material was some spray adhesive and a bag of red pom balls to make the embellishments.

Here's some links to previous trees.

Happy Holidays and don't forget to vote in the Handmade Gifts Contest

Step 1: Materials

  • Cotton balls (obvi!). I ended up using about 4 bags of 1,000 or so.
  • Kraft paper. The roll I have for my kids is 36" wide. You could also use cardboard, posterboard, newsprint, or even an old set of sheets (though your glue might have to change for fabric)
  • Rigid material for the frame. I had old 2x2's lying around from a furniture project. I used those. You could substitute PVC pipe, cardboard tubes, 2x4's, pallet wood, etc.
  • Fasteners. I used wood glue and 2" woodscrews for the frame.
  • Spray adhesive. I used 3M #77 for parts and then ran out. Used some remaining Loctite Light Duty for the rest. It worked, but I think the #77 is better because it is tacky right away and is not repositionable like the Loctite.
  • Any other decorations you want
    • I used some red pom balls from craft store to make some stars
    • My tree topper is from a previous tree.
    • I do not recommend lights on the tree. It is paper, cotton, and spray glue = fire waiting to happen.

Step 2: Make the Frame

  1. Since my kraft paper roll is 36" wide, my triangle base is 36" wide on a side. This makes it easier to paper the frame later. But you needn't be restricted. You can make it as wide as you want.
  2. I chose a triangular base because
    • I only had so much wood framing material available
    • This makes fewer panels to glue up with cotton balls later (tedium is not my friend).
  3. I cut the base angles at 60° and glued/screwed them, allowing the glue to dry
  4. I left the uprights at their full 8' lengths. You could go longer or shorter as you desire. For me 8' puts the tree topper square in the middle of my front window's arch and it looks good.
  5. I calculated the triangle's angles since I knew the lengths of the sides. I triangle with 3', 8', and 8' sides has base angles of about 80° and a peak angle of about 21°.
  6. I used a mitre saw to cut the uprights accordingly
  7. Then I glued and screwed the uprights to the base and then to one another at the top

Step 3: Check the Fit

I brought the frame inside to check that it fit in the window. I just needed to ensure it was tall enough to put the peak right in that arch above the window.

My plan to correct it if it was imperfect was to very lazily elevate the frame on a cardboard box or something else decorative.

Lazy me is lazy.

Step 4: Wrap That Rascal

  1. Since I'm using a roll of kraft paper the same width as the frame, this was fairly easy
  2. Roll out a length
  3. Lay the frame down on it
  4. Rough cut it
  5. Use some spray adhesive to adhere it to the base
  6. Use more to adhere the kraft paper to the uprights
  7. Try to keep it as taut and wrinkle-free as possible. This will help the tree keep its shape when you start gluing on the cotton balls
  8. Leave about 6"-8" at the top to twist into a spike if you plan to put a tree topper on

Step 5: Got a Few Hours?

  • Get a beer
  • Open beer
  • Begin drinking heavily
  • Grab your cotton balls and spray adhesive
  • Pick a spot and start gluing them on
  • Get another beer. Drink it.
  • I found it easier to spray on a "block" area of adhesive, and while it was still tacky, just pop on the cotton balls individually
    • I tried "sprinkling" on some cotton balls but it left big gaps that were hard to correct
    • I tried doing wads and handfuls but it looked clumpy. Not a bad effect actually, but not what I was looking for
  • For patterns like my red stars, I sprayed a narrow bead of adhesive on first in the shape of a star. Then I placed the red poms on.
  • Then I went back in and filled in and around the shape with white cotton balls
  • More beer to help with the tedium as necessary

Step 6: Or... Lay It Down

I eventally discovered, just 3 beers in, that it was far easier to lay it on a side to put the cotton balls on. Just keep on keeping on and you'll eventually cover the thing.

This is why I didn't want a square base. It would have been another full size panel to complete. I was worried I would run out of cotton balls, beer, or patience.

Not necessarily in that order.

Step 7: Finishing Touches

I brought it in side by leaving the top incomplete and clamping to one upright. If you had a helper here it would . be easier. I used my kids crafting table to stand up higher and complete gluing on cotton balls at the top and then embedding the cord for the tree topper star

Step 8: Moved Into Position

It was easy to slide into position since it was so lightweight.

I do recommend letting the finished tree off-gas in a garage or outdoors or at lease with fans to ventilate it. The spray adhesive is noxious.

All I need now is presents.

Homemade Gifts Contest 2017

Participated in the
Homemade Gifts Contest 2017