Here is how I made my Christmas tree ornament mobile, it was easier than it looks, promise.
- a 17″ steamer rack from a restaurant supply store
- about 5 feet of lightweight jack chain
- a small carabiner
- 100 basic ornament hooks
- one roll, 500 feet, monofilament jewelry string (not the stretchy sort)
- 200 jewelry crimp beads or tubes
- jewelry crimping tool
- 100 lanyard hooks
- 100 ornaments
Note: In the photo above I show earring wire instead of ornament hooks. I changed that later as I found ornament hooks made it far easier to move ornaments around after they’d been hung. Also, my supplies are based on a 4 foot tall mobile using almost 100 ornaments, you’ll need to adjust amounts if you make one larger or smaller.
Creating the Mobile Frame
Creating the frame for my ornament tree mobile turned out to be fairly simple. I used a lot of hooks to allow for easy adjustment and additions as the mobile was being assembled. I gathered materials from a restaurant supply store, a hardware store and the jewelry section of a craft store.
For the top of the mobile I needed something that would allow me to easily secure a lot of hanging points without them sliding around too much. The perfect thing turned out to be a 17-inch steamer rack bought for about $6 from a restaurant supply store (I found mine at Encore Restaurant Equipment in the SODO neighborhood of Seattle). The rack comes with folding feet attached that were easy to pop out with a little bending.
Turn the rack upside down and the spots where the legs were secured neatly become four hanging points.
I bought some inexpensive jack chain to use for hanging. You can open and close the links in the chain with needle nose pliers so there isn’t any need for heavy duty wire cutters. I separated four lengths of chain, attached them to the points using lanyard hooks found in the jewelry supply section of a craft store.
I joined the chains using another lanyard hook, and put that on a little carabiner which hung from the hook in the ceiling.
Notes: Why so many hooks and bits? Because it makes it is simple to adjust and shorten the chain and can later be disassembled and reassembled with very little effort and without needing tools. I kept the same thing in mind when creating the lines that the ornaments were suspended from. This added a bit of visual clutter but made the entire thing mobile easy to adjust and reuse in another year.
Suspending the Ornaments
I used jewelry monofilament secured with crimp tubes to hold the ornaments. I simply created loops at both ends. I made a bunch of different lengths (details on that below). I secured each line to points in the rack grid using lanyard hooks, and hung a basic wire ornament hook at the bottom ends. The lanyard hooks at the top are strong enough to hold heavier ornaments, and because they close they won’t fall off if the mobile is bumped. The basic ornament hooks allow one to easily move ornaments around from one spot to another. My tip to you: Keep the lines as separate as possible while you’re working with them. I spent more time untangling clear threads than doing anything else on this project. It was maddening. After I discovered just how maddening I started hanging them in groups by length from a curtain rod and weighing them down with an ornament to keep them separated, doing this made the hanging of the ornaments go quickly.
Notes: The use of ornament hooks allows for ornaments to easily be moved around. It does add visual clutter, though. If you want to create a mobile that would only be used once securing the monofilament line directly to the ornaments would look much tidier. I initially planned to use earring wire hooks that closed to hang the ornaments but quickly found that they were frustrating to fiddle with every time I wanted to move an ornament from one spot to another. They were prettier, though, and because those close as well would hold ornaments more securely if the mobile is moved around. (Which I don’t suggest as it tangles the lines horribly. So horribly.) Crimp tools come in three sizes Micro, Regular and Mighty (large). I used the regular size. I did try to use nylon sewing thread but found that the crimps didn’t secure it well enough. I did consider using nylon sewing thread with micro crimp beads and the micro crimping tool but think one would need a lot of patience and really great lighting to get all that done. The monofilament jewelry string is pretty stiff and easy to work with.
Determining Placement and Lengths
Figuring out where to put the hanging points on the rack involved a bit of math, most all of which I abandoned. I’ll do my best to describe what I did.
I decided to create rings on the rack, with the longer threads hanging on the outside rings to create the cone tree shape. Actually it creates tiers, think a tall skinny wedding cake. I figured that my ornaments were usually about 2 or 3 inches in diameter so I needed to space the rings a little more than 1 inch apart so that the ornaments would have room to hang without being crowded by the longer threads around them. I spaced the rings about 1.5 inches apart. This gave me a center point and 6 rings to work with, with the last ring being the outer edge of the rack, like so:
I determined I wanted my tree to be about four feet in total height from the top ornament to the bottom. I made the first ornament, the center point, hang 3.5 inches, and added length from there. For my needs, each set of string needed to be 1.75 inches longer than the last. Each ring on the hanging rack held for different lengths of string. I added 2 inches to the length of string I actually cut to allow for the loops.
To figure out how many ornaments per ring I, well, completely made it up. I decided the first ring should hold seven ornaments and went up by four from there. So the number of ornaments went: 1, 7, 11, 15, 19, 23, 27. I divided the four lengths of string between those, giving the longest length more ornaments to help the triangle effect. Whew. So I cut this many at these lengths for these rings:
- For the Center Point: 5.5″
- For Ring 1: one at 7.25″, one at 9.0″, two at 10.75″, three at 12.5″
- For Ring 2: two at 14.25″, two at 16.0″, three at 17.75″, four at 19.5″
- For Ring 3: three at 21.25″, three at 23.0″, four at 24.75″, five at 26.5″
- For Ring 4: four at 28.25″, four at 30.0″, five at 31.75″, six at 33.5″
- For Ring 5: five at 35.25″, five at 37.0″, six at 38.75″, seven at 40.5″
- For Ring 6: six at 42.25″, six at 44.0″, seven at 45.75″, eight at 47.5″
In order to make the measuring a cutting go as quickly as possible I taped a cloth measuring tape to a tabletop and marked each length with the number I needed to cut with sticky notes. So all it took was to stretch some string out and clip at the needed point. Keep these in groups at this point forward, it will make it far easier later. I looped and crimped the ends, then hung them in groups on a curtain rod weighted down by an ornament.
To figure out where my rings would fall on the rack I tied a cotton string to my center point and marked it at 1.5 inch intervals. Then I swung the string around and put as many hooks as I needed on each given ring. I usually put them on the X and Y axis first, then filled in the quadrants. It went faster than it sounds, promise. I spaced the hooks, aka the hanging points, like so:
Looking up at the mobile from below you can sort of see the rings emerging:
And after this I attached a hook into my ceiling and hung the rack. I found the best way to hang everything is to work from the center out, hang each set of lengths of monofilament string spacing it around it’s designated ring as evenly as possible, then hang ornaments before moving on to the next set of lengths of string. By weighing the strings down as you go along it will help them from getting tangled as you work. You can add or move string, and move ornaments around if needed. I didn’t worry too much about getting everything just perfect and I think it worked to my advantage, the slightly controlled randomness gives it a nicely organic look. At least I hope so.
If I were to do it again I would make my tree taller and more dramatic. I think I would try to squeeze in one more ring and stagger the ornaments with even more lengths of string, maybe in increments by the inch. As it was I found that there are lots of spots where two of the same length are side by side. If I had more money to devote I would buy glass ornaments that don’t have a metal cap, just a glass loop at the top, and would skip the ornament hooks to make it look tidier.
I’m growing more and more fond of the mobile with clear glass ornaments.
update: Here is a photo of the mobile taken apart and ready for storage, the ornament hooks in a bag and each set of lengths of string committed to it’s own numbered envelope. The envelopes were orphans from previous years of Christmas cards that I had saved (reuse!). I left the hanging hooks on the rack so when I return to put it up again next year it will be very quick and easy.