I grew up attending a large Episcopal Church in Southern Florida. Every year, the week before Palm Sunday would be all hands on deck to make enough palm crosses for the congregation. All that experience has come in handy, since I now seem to be the go-to person for teaching how to make palm crosses at my current church. For the benefit of my “students” (who would probably appreciate it if I didn’t get flustered and skip a step halfway through the process), I’m posting a step-by-step tutorial for making palm crosses.
This is VERY image-heavy, but I've found that the more detail I give when making these, the better. Kudos to my husband for taking the pictures (with my new camera, which we haven't quite figured out how to focus, apparently).
Step 1: Material
If your church doesn’t already have a supplier, just do a Google search for “Palm Fronds for Palm Sunday”. The fronds come pre-cut and bound into sections like the one pictured. They dry out fast, so keep them in the refrigerator (NOT the freezer). If they start to look dry, put a wrung-out damp paper towel in with the fronds. The same storage tips apply for your finished palm crosses.
Step 2: Preparing the Frond
As you can see in the picture, each frond has two sections, plus some stringy bits. To make for easier folding, pull the two sections apart and peel off any hanging pieces. You can also peel off any hard sections that look like they’d be difficult to fold. You can easily whittle your frond down to a pile of strings trying to get one that’s “perfect”, so just try for a “good enough” strip.
Step 3: Snip
Once you have a nice strip, cut off a little off the bottom at an angle (this will make the finished cross look tidier), and cut a bit off the top to make weaving easier.
Step 4: The First Fold
Your first bend will be towards you. The piece in the back will determine the length of the finished cross. Don’t crease the top; you just want a gentle bend here.
Step 5: To the RIGHT
Fold the front section to the right, making an angled crease at the point where you want the crossbar to be.
Step 6: To the LEFT
Take the section pointing to the right and bend it around the BACK of the cross so that it now points to the left.
Step 7: To the RIGHT Again
Take the section pointing to the left and bend it around the FRONT of the cross so that it now points to the right.
Step 8: Don't Bend, FLIP
Okay, here’s the step that usually messes everyone up the first few times. This time DON’T BEND. FLIP. You’re going to turn the cross around so that the section pointing to the right will now point to the left. You have to get the angled crease you made in step 5 so that it’s in the BACK of the cross. Otherwise it will get in the way later on.
Step 9: To the RIGHT, Yet Again
Take the section pointing to the left and bend it (yes, this time you're bending) around the FRONT of the cross so that it now points right.
Step 10: First Arm
Here’s where you start to make the arms of the cross. Make a bend in the section pointing to the right, and fold it (don’t crease) towards you, so that it now points left. The position of the bend will determine the length of the crossbar.
Step 11: Second Arm
Now make another bend towards you (again, no creasing), forming the left-hand section of the crossbar.
Step 12: Bend UP
At the center of the crossbars, make an angled crease so that the end of the frond now points UP.
Step 13: Thread Through
Take the tip of the frond and thread it behind the sections of the crossbar and the horizontal layers you made when wrapping the frond. You want the tip to slide down against the vertical part of the cross. (This is where step 8 is really important. If you haven’t done that, the tip won’t slide all the way through.)
Step 14: Pull Through
Pull the end snug, making sure to hold onto the center so the cross doesn’t come loose.
Step 15: Thread Again
Repeat step 13, again threading the tip of the frond behind the crossbars and right up against the vertical part of the cross.
Step 16: Finished!
Pull the end snug, and you’re done!
You can keep your cross after the service (I keep one in the glove compartment of my car. Not that I'm superstitious or anything), or you can leave it with the church. Leftover crosses are saved until the next year, when they’re burned to make the ashes for the Ash Wednesday service. The circle of life…of a palm cross, I guess.