As you watch the birds darting here and there, collecting materials for their spring nests, consider making some nests of your own. Fashioned from trees in your area, they will add a unique decoration to hold Easter eggs, votive candles, flowers and more.
To make a nest:
You need to gather a collection of fresh, flexible limbs. My favorites are weeping willow and birch. You can collect different colors to add interest to your nest design.
1. Collect several sizes: the thinner ones will coil more easily for a smaller circle. Long, thinning lengths (at least 18 to 24 inches) are easiest to work with.
2. Next, you'll need some containers to help you form the nests. Large yogurt- or cottage cheese-type containers work well. Ceramic bowls with sloping sides also produce lovely nest shapes. A popover or muffin pan works well for mini nests. You will need a second, slightly smaller container that fits just inside the first container. One container holds the coils; one presses on top and holds them in place while they dry.
3. Prepare the sticks by stripping off any leaves and laying them out by sizes. Trim off any thick, stiff ends that don't feel flexible enough to coil. Make bundles, staggering the large ends as you roll the coils in your hand. Place the coiled twigs inside a container. If the coils want to pop out, weigh them down with a second container (water or rocks in the top container will help).
Drying time: Nests can be dried in the air or in the oven. You may want to experiment with different types of twigs and drying methods. Drying time will vary with the size of the branches you choose. Thinner sticks will start to hold the nest shape in a week or two of natural air-drying.
If you use oven-friendly containers, like the muffin tins, thinner twigs can be dried quickly in the oven at 250 to 300 degrees for 30 minutes to an hour depending on the size of the twigs. When using the oven method, I add a tablespoon of water to the bottom of each container to create some steam. Once the twigs are hot, remove the pan from the oven and leave them coiled in the container until they are completely cold.
Finishing your nest: Display is the creative part of the process. See the illustrations for more ideas.
4. Once the nests hold the coiled shapes, different sizes can be stacked, and small coils can be placed inside larger ones to create a graduating center to the nest.
5. Fresh greens, eggs or other small treasures can be added to make a centerpiece while votive candles in glass can be placed inside for a dramatic evening look. I like to add strips of fabric, threads and other bits, plus an occasional fabric bird.
A collection of low, glass bowls would be beautiful. An inverted bowl or glass works well as a base, adding variety to the display heights.
6. Nests can be set into a forked branch and added to spring flower arrangements. Once the nests are attached to branches, they'll make charming stick ornaments in your flowerpots this summer.
7. Feathers can be tucked into a piece of fleece coiled around for a soft bed in the bottom of the nest. Lots of elements can be added by threading them into the nest coil. A dab of hot glue or other white glue can be used as needed. Beads can be threaded to the tips of stems or branches sticking out. Sticks of different lengths and colors can be woven in (like hair pins) to shape and stabilize the nest.
Be creative and have fun with the materials you combine. I always find that one idea leads to another. One can never have too many nests!
Diane Ericson's studio is in the Ashland Art Center, 357 Main St., Ashland. See her website at www.dianeericson.com.