An Upcycled Christmas

DIY Holiday Projects Range From Simple to More Complex

Agi Lurtz loves to create both decorative and functional items using finds from nature or upcycling products that would otherwise end up in the landfill. Here, she shows how to easily make your own flocked pinecones, a holiday-scented room freshener using pinecones as the base, and an Advent calendar.

Snow-tipped Pinecones

This is the easiest craft to do, with great results! 

You will need:

  • 1 dry, flat paint brush
  • Acrylic paint (most people use white; I used an eggshell color for a warmer feel)
  • Pinecones
  • Rubber or nitrile gloves


01 Don your rubber gloves and grab one pinecone.

02 Dip the dry brush into the paint, covering just the tip of the brush.

03 Holding the pinecone at a 45-degree angle and, starting at the top, run the brush from the tip down to the bottom of the cone. This should result in just a tiny bit of paint on nearly each scale and appear as if snow hit just the tips of each scale of the cone.

04 Allow to dry and repeat with other pinecones.

A mix of painted and unpainted pinecones look great in baskets or bowls. If you’d like, you can jazz it up with a stuffed animal, ribbon, ornaments or other items.

Holiday Pinecone Oil Fragrance

You will need:

  • Pinecones
  • Carrier oil, such as sweet almond oil
  • Your choice of fragrance or essential oils, such as orange oil, clove oil, vanilla oil
  • Small travel-size spray bottle


01 Into a small, travel-size spray bottle, add your own favorite essential oils to the carrier oil (almond oil) at a ratio of 10/1 (10 parts almond oil, 1 part essential oils). For the holidays,  consider cinnamon, cloves, orange and other earthy oils.

02 Place oil mixture inside spray bottle and prime the pump (this could take 10-12 tries before the oil starts to spray). 

03 Spritz pinecones with the oil and place into the black take-out bowl or whatever solid container you wish to use. The cones will soak in the oil and keep your home smelling wonderful for about a month. Re-spritz as needed to freshen up the scent. 

04 If desired, arrange three or more pinecones in the black Chinese takeout bowl and decorate with greenery, ribbon, twigs, or other items.

Advent Calendar for Adults

If you’ve seen Advent calendars filled with wines or beers, then you also probably noticed the price. Most run near $100 or more. However, you can make your own by following these easy steps. Estimated time of completion: one to two days.

You will need:

  • 24-compartment Crown Royal box
  • Black chalk paint
  • Wrapping paper or wallpaper
  • Box knife
  • Duct or packing tape
  • White Chalk
  • Wrapping paper (shredded)
  • Elastic by the yard, rubber bands, or some kind of closures.
  • Mini wines/spirits or other small gifts (to place inside box)


01 Find an empty Crown Royal box with 24 compartments (your nearby liquor store can probably help you out)

02 Paint or cover the box with wrapping or wallpaper. Agi used chalk paint, and hand decorated the box once it dried.

03 You can leave the box flaps attached, as the “doors” for all the outside edge compartments. Use a box cutter or Xacto knife to cut away the excess, which you will need for the remaining doors. Or, you can remove the flaps with a box knife and use duct tape or packing tape to attach the doors individually. Don’t worry too much about the tape, as the paint or covering should hide it well. Agi cut the duct tape to be the exact length of the height of the door and attached it much like a hinge; it then became a part of the overall design. You can also use the tape as a “hinge” from the inside of the compartment and attaching the door on the non-visible side of the door.

04 Find a way to fasten the doors to stay closed. Get creative! Options include screw-in hooks, paper brads or even a decorative bead or button. You can add rubber bands or, for a cleaner look, elastic thread. This becomes the loop to pull over your fastener of choice. A quick and easy solution involves using 1/8” or ¼” elastic by the yard. You will need to cut it into three identical pieces, which you can staple to the top edge of the backside of the box, then stretch to wrap over the top, down in front of the door edges, and under the bottom of the box. Then, simply tuck the doors under the elastic band to hold them shut. 

05 Decorate as you wish. With the black chalk paint, it was easy with white chalk to hand-letter each door with a number of the day to open. You can also glue on numbers if your hand-lettering skills are not what you wish they were. 

06 Use shredded wrapping paper to give it a nice little “nest” for each bottle. You can purchase mini wines and spirits from $1 up. If you don’t wish to do alcohol, consider small gifts such as cheese, chocolates, keepsakes, love notes and jewelry.

07 Personalize as desired. For example, for one couple Agi arranged the bottles according to their tastes, then asked that the wife open all the even-numbered days, the husband the odd-numbered days. (Side note: the couple liked the gift so much, they returned the box to Agi so she could use it again.) 

There are no rules, other than be patient, use your creativity and have a lot of fun.  

DIY Tomato Cage Holiday Tree

Amber Neel also loves to use items from nature as well as recycled items to create both decorative and functional works of art. Here, a tomato cage forms the basis of an easy-to-make Christmas tree.

01 Gather supplies! You can grab tomato cages no longer in use in the garden, plus a garland of your choice, a string of lights, and a star or other topper. Optional: wire cutters to remove tiers from the cages to make varying sizes of trees.

2| Turn tomato cage upside down. Pinch the three legs together and wrap the garland around the cage and secure.

3| String lights loosely around the garland. (Battery-operated lights work well for these!)

4| Hang or secure the star or tree topper. Repeat steps 1-4 for as many trees as you’d like. Enjoy!

Simple variations: Use lights without garland or use burlap, fabric or ribbon, wrapping paper, ornaments/bulbs, wire mesh or mesh tubing instead of garland.

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