DIY: Geeky Costume Jewelry Trees

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SteampunkTree
Costume jewelry trees were once a popular way to upcycle unwanted trinkets. Bring back this holiday tradition in new ways, such as a steampunk gear tree. Image: Lisa Tate

When I was a little girl, my grandma had little framed vintage “costume jewelry Christmas tree” she hung in the front room every holiday season.

It was sparkly and gaudy, but I loved looking at it each year and always finding something new.

I don’t see these trees as often as I used to, but I remember them in others’ homes, sold in craft fairs and antique shops. These were really popular in the 1970s when I was kid, and they were a wonderful way to upcycle old costume jewelry. I’ve even seen some made for other times of year, such as summer or Halloween.

The idea was simple. Gather vintage costume jewelry pieces laying unused in a draw, or haunt the pawnshops and flea market for unusual finds. Even “modern dime store” cheap jewelry was used.

Find a nice solid piece of canvas or cardboard, cover it with scrap paper or cloth (I used to see velvet used plenty), and arrange the jewelry in the shape of a tree. Once you get the shape you want, glue each piece with strong jewelry glue. Finally, place a frame around it. If my grandmother’s friends were any indication, the more elaborate the better.

SteampunkTree
Old collector vintage jewelry trees found on Pinterest.

I was thinking of it the other day and contemplating making one of my own. I realized, however, since I don’t have an abundance of costume jewelry on hand, I would try to make a couple of more geeky and pop culture designs using the same method.

I discovered there are plenty of little trinkets besides costume jewelry that would make a wonderful “Costume Jewelry Tree” sans the costume jewelry. Based on what I have at my own home, here are some fun ideas:

ring and toy tree
Plastic party rings and old toys. Images: Lisa Tate

Souvenir badges and pins. Use comic con buttons and little push pins or key chains from tourist stops for a collection of memories from favorite places visited or events you’ve attended.

Building Bricks. Excess Legos, Mega Blocks or some other left over parts from building sets can be gathered to make fun pixel-like tree. If you don’t want to use your Legos, party stores have bags of “generic” building bricks with their party favors.

Plastic rings or cupcake toppers. We have jars of these my kids have gotten from parties but don’t want to throw away. This may not be fancy, costume jewelry, but it certainly is colorful.

Gears, nuts, screws, keys, and tiny hardware. Make a vintage gear tree for car lovers, or add some old clock faces for a Steampunk tree.

Little plastic toys. Little toys picked up as carnival prizes, as well as vending machine finds can include little parachute men, tiny shaped erasers, toy soldiers, discarded action figure weapons and other little items can be gathered together to make a toy-centric tree. “Vintage” toys such as marbles, small rubber balls, jacks, puzzle pieces will give it a retro look.

lego and pins
Images: Lisa Tate

I don’t know where my grandmother’s tree is now, but I still remember it well. In some way, it might have helped give me my desire to upcycle items rather than just throw them away or hoard them in draw.

The idea of the Vintage Costume Tree may be a throwback to idea, but it’s was a upcycling and repurposing before those words were even a part of modern makers’ vocabulary. If you can gather things together, you can make these trees.

For those who want to find a way to clean out their drawers or collect and display favorite memories, this tree craft is definitely an idea worth recycling in itself.

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