Homestead Gifts: Handmade Holiday Evergreen Kissing Ball

Evergreen Christmas Kissing Ball 2
I love a gift straight from the heart- and this Kissing Ball is just that. I grew up on a Christmas tree farm; the trees were planted when I was about four years old, and for many years- from middle school to college, every holiday season I stood out in the cold Wisconsin weather and sold Christmas trees to happy families. They’d bring their dogs, they’d have snowball fights, fathers would show their sons how to fell a tree, and when they were done they would drink hot chocolate in our garage. A unique experience for me, I’d say.

In addition to their Christmas tree, we hoped our customers would also take home a piece of hand-made greenery… maybe a wreath or a Kissing Ball!

I can hear you now… What’s a Kissing Ball? 

Traditionally it was twine and evergreen branches wound together to form a ramshackle ball. There are different variations of the Kissing Ball’s history, but today it is regarded in the same light as mistletoe.

Really, I just think they’re beautiful and unique.

Growing up on the tree farm, the rule (set by my generous parents) was that whatever greenery I made and sold, I got to keep 100% of the profit. As a college student, this was a pretty good deal, especially when I could get $35-$50 per Kissing Ball.

Not to toot my own horn, but I am regarded as the best Kissing Ball maker of the family. That’s right, you are learning to make a Kissing Ball from a should-be-certified greenery expert, a tree farm born-and-raised Kissing Ball extraordinaire. Toot toot.

I think anyone can make one of these- an you should! They are THE BEST GIFTS… unique, from the heart, handmade, can be personalized, plus they should actually cost you very little (which is my favorite part).

So, let’s get to it!

Kissing Ball Materials

For the bulk of it, I use Frasier, Spruce, or Balsam… whatever type of Fir trees you have in your area should work (about 80%). I also like to throw in a little White Pine or Cedar for variety (about 20%).

How many will you need?
Um… a full wheel-barrow load should make two Kissing Balls. Picture the size you want your finished ball to be and then imagine your pile of branches squished together in a ball shape. I always get more than I think I will need.

We use a simple bow saw to cut some of the bottom branches from the trees. I cut them off larger than I need and trim them down and break them into smaller branches once we get back to the house.

Ribbon & Rope
The ribbon is for making the bow- use whatever style you like. I find that people tend to prefer classic red, plus red just looks so Christmassy with the greenery. I think part of the charm of a Kissing Ball is its outdoor rustic-ness… so I try not to use too cutesy ribbon, like with snowmen or peppermints on it. Stick to plains… silver, gold, red, purple velour even.

If you aren’t experienced with bow-making, make sure to get ribbon that has wired edges; soooo much easier.

I like a nice 3″ wide ribbon. You can get away with 2″ or 4″ depending on the size of the finished Kissing Ball though. Depending on your bow style, you will need 8-12′ of ribbon for each one.

The rope should be natural colored, like jute, and above all: sturdy. The finished Kissing Ball weighs at least five pounds, which  is the reason that trying to use ribbon for hanging it won’t work. I like to cut a nice 3′ length of rope for hanging.

Wire & Tools
The center of the Kissing Ball is made of green-coated chicken wire fencing, probably available at your local hardware or farm store, or may be purchased online. The important factors are that it is green and the holes are 1/2″, not 1″. You need a 9-12″ square for each Kissing Ball.

If you choose to embellish your Kissing Ball with pinecones, you will also need thin green spooled wire, and, well… pinecones.

A wire cutter or tin snips to cut the green chicken wire is also necessary.

Assemble the Kissing Ball

It is so much easier to prep all the branches and sort them by size before you start assembling. I like to make two piles: big and small. The “big” ones are usually 14-16″ long, and the small are 10-12″.
branches, sizes and sorting
Look at the bottom of the branch pieces. If there are any small one to three inch branch shoots coming off, rip them off. They won’t contribute the the bulk of the Kissing Ball, and they will only take up precious space in the middle.

Also, if a branch piece has two small branches coming out directly across from each other at the bottom, you will need to remove one of them or it likely won’t fit well through the wire.

Set the branches on a tarp or large towel on the floor, if doing this inside. They are fresh and will give off sap. Also, if you are making more than one of these, or are sensitive to sap, consider wearing rubber gloves (doctor style, not doing the dishes style). Your hands will be covered in sap.
sap hands large

Make the Wire Center
Cut an approximately 10″ square of the green chicken wire. Take two opposite corners and bend them together. Use the wire ends that are sticking out to kind of “twist tie” the corners together. Sometimes I will cut one of the wire circles open to make an extra long wire to secure the corners together. Alternately, you can use green spooled wire to help you with this.

Take the remaining two corners across from each other and bend them up to meet in the middle as well. Again, twist-tie them together in the same was as the first two corners. You should have a sort-of square shaped wire ball.

Secure the Rope
Don’t forget this step now or you’ll be sorry. This is a good opportunity to secure the wire together a little more, by threading the rope through two side of the wire and then tying it in a double knot.
making wire cage and tying rope

Start Stuffing
Now the fun part. I start at the top, using the “big” branches first, and stick them into the wire. The branches should go in, through the wire cage and just about to the other side. They should feel secure, in that if you turned them upside down they wouldn’t easily fall out. Work around the wire ball and try to stick in a branch about every 2-3″ for starters.

Try to stuff them in so that they all stick out about the same length.

I just hold the ball in my left hand and stuff branches in with my right hand.

Keep Stuffing
Really, just keep stuffing. When you’ve made it all the way around the ball, go around and start filling in the places with the biggest holes. When it has taken shape and it doesn’t look like there are that many holes, switch to the accent branches- for me, the White Pine. Evenly space a handful of these, whatever you think looks good, and then move on to the “small” branches. The goal with small branches is to fill in any small holes, provide bulk, and cover up any remaining visible wire.

It helps to hang the Kissing Ball up periodically, or have someone hold it by the rope so you can get a look from farther away. I always spot holes from farther away that I didn’t see while I was holding it in my hand.
kissing ball start to end
You are done when it looks full and… well, good. If it doesn’t, keep stuffing.

When I am done, I go around it with a scissors and trim any crazy-sticking-out branches… usually just a couple.

Adding Pinecones
If using pine cones, add them now. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. I like to use the long skinny pinecones for Kissing Balls. You will need six pinecones for three groups of two. Cut a foot-length of green wire and wrap the middle of the wire around the bottom of the pinecone, just inside the first set ridges. Then take a second pinecone, get it as close to the first one that you can and wrap the wire a couple time around that one.

Reach into the Kissing Ball as far as you can and twist the two ends of the wire securely around and closely to one of the branches.

Repeat with the remaining pinecones.

Place the pinecones at the equator level of the Kissing Ball, and space them evenly apart from each other around the ball.

Adding Ribbon
You will likely need between six and nine feet of ribbon per Kissing Ball.

Start by cutting two lengths of ribbon that will drape from one side of the ball to the other, each usually around two feet long.  Find the center of the ribbon and cut a small slit in it. With the pretty side up, thread the first ribbon through the hanging rope. The second ribbon will be secured the same way, but should be going the opposite direction of the first.

Cut the ends of the ribbon at a slight diagonal.
ribbon dangles
Next, make the bow. This could be a whole other blog post in itself. If you end up making more than a few of these a year, you really should invest in a Bowdabra. Yes, they really are like bow-making magic. Or, follow these instructions. I like to do at least five loops in the bow. It really doesn’t have to be perfect, but just look generally like a bow.

Use a piece of green spooled wire, a kitchen twist tie, or a piece of string to secure the bow to the top of the Kissing Ball, right around where the rope comes out.

That’s it- you’re done! Now, go out and hang this beauty on your porch, in your house… or get ready to give a thoughtful and one-of-a-kind gift to someone special; and be prepared for them to request one every year!
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