Not Martha

Illusion Christmas Tree

Our Christmas tree this year is an illusion. Well, sort of. It’s created from twinkle lights reflected in a large mirror. The tree is meant to be mostly viewed at night when it is lit up. After all it’s the time of year when by the time we’re home it’s always dark and, let’s face it, we could use some cheer.

When we bought our house it came with a large mirror that we placed at one side of our dining room where it reflects the view all the way down a hall to our back door. It’s in the corner that would make the most sense to set a Christmas tree so I decided to use the mirror instead of obstructing it. I was also still thinking about floating Christmas trees; my previous ornament tree was fun but I missed the twinkly lights. So a floating, lighted, reflected light tree it was. It’s got the added benefit of taking up very little space so we didn’t have to move a pair of chairs out of the way.

Here is another view showing how the tiers of the tree appear to float (if you look really hard you can see me holding the camera):

To assemble the tree I used dowel rods and some metal wreath forms which I took apart. After it’s all together the frame that is assembled is surprisingly sturdy and lightweight but it likely won’t hold a traditional strand of Christmas lights, I went with those micro LED lights on the delicate copper wires. I secretly was looking for an excuse to buy those mini lights because they are awfully charming.

MATERIALS

  • two strands of 20-foot long micro LED lights on thin wire
  • three 1/4 inch dowel rods in the 48 inch length (found at hardware stores)
  • six tiny screw eyes, brass if you can find them
  • gold twist ties
  • 6″ box wreath form, I found these at Jo-ann
  • 12″ box wreath form
  • 18″ box wreath form
  • 24″ box wreath form
  • heavy duty wire cutter
  • needle nose pliers
  • regular pliers (your wire cutter tool might do double duty as this)
  • black duct tape
  • black electrical tape
  • safety glasses (non-negotiable)
  • work gloves
  • paper or markable surface large enough to cover a work surface or area on the floor that is at least 48″ x 24″
  • gold paint and brush (optional)
  • thin gold tinsel (optional but nice to have)
  • required: a mirror that is at least 48″ tall and 24″ wide

Note on the lights: The micro LED lights shown here were bought at Restoration Hardware and you can also find them over at Amazon in both warm and cool variations.

First we need to create a template to work off of. I used some wide butcher paper that was secured to the top of our ancient Ikea desktop that we use as a dining room table but paper or cardboard spread out on a floor would work as well. Mark a center line that is 48″ long. At the bottom mark a perpendicular base line that is 24″ wide (centered so there is 12″ on either side of our center line). Draw two diagonal lines from the top point down to each end of the base line. Along the center line mark 6″ increments, then draw lines out to meet the diagonals.

Cut one of the dowels down to 24″. I simply used the wire cutter. Well… it wasn’t actually simple. First I attempted to use a little motorized cutting tool that we have but the dowel was so flexible and difficult enough to hold in place (even with two people involved in the fiasco) that I tried the wire cutter before attempting to find a safe way to hold the dowel in place.

Mark 6″ increments down the two longest dowels, you can line them up along your center line to mark them quickly. (I marked all three dowels by mistake and then took the one only picture of them. Oops.)

Wrap some black duct tape firmly around the ends of all three of our dowels and insert the screw eyes.

Use the twist ties to attach the three dowels together in a triangle shape. It will match our template, or close enough. Set aside the dowels for the moment.

Next we’re going to disassemble our wreath forms. On box wreath forms like this the two inner rings are welded into place but the outer rings can be popped out if you bend the securing wires. Do this for all four wreath forms.

(I’m going to mention this again: I found these wreath forms at a Jo-ann store. As I type this I cannot say for certain that wreath forms found elsewhere will be able to be disassembled this way but the ones I spotted at Michaels seemed to be the same way. I will happily do more research and report back.)

This will leave us with eight wire rings ranging from 3″ to 24″ in diameter.

Mark the rings so that they are perfect halves. Leave the seam in the rings at the center top, it’s a weak spot that we’ll be cutting out in the next step. Your half ring markings can be temporary. I used tape here but you can use a little spot of paint.

Note on safety: Use your safety glasses and gloves during all the parts where you’re handling the wires from here on out, the ends are very sharp and likely to jump (or swing or even thwang) around as you wrestle them into place and you have such pretty eyes oh my gosh protect them. I thought I was all safetied up until I dropped one cut ring on my foot and it drew blood near my ankle. Respect the sharp wire! And maybe wear tall boots as well.

Cut the wires four inches up from our marked points. Before you cut anything double check to make sure that the seam in the rings is inside of the part that we’re clipping off. The smallest ring (not shown above) will probably just be needed to be cut at the seam.

Next we bend our cut wreath bits so that they can be secured to our frame. Using the larger pliers hold the wire at one of the marked points and use the needle nose pliers to carefully bend the wire 90 degrees down and flared slightly out, using the template as a guide for angles.

All of the wires should be bent to point downwards towards the bottom of our tree except for the largest one which will be placed right at the bottom. The largest one should be bent with the wires pointing upward and flared inward to match the angle of the tree.

Err slightly on the side of half circles that are too deep rather than too shallow. When viewed from straight on into the mirror the too shallow half circles will be more apparent in the end result.

You don’t have to get the wires bent perfectly right away, there will be time for some tweaking as we progress. But do continue to check against the template as you go along.

Next we’re going to attach the bent wires to our dowel triangle, working from the smallest to the largest. Line up the bent wire with the corresponding 6″ mark so that the wire ends sit on the inside of the triangle, pointing to the bottom of the tree.

Secure the wire to the dowel using black duct tape. Use more duct tape to cover the sharp ends of the wire while you work. The bottom layer will be secured with the wire ends pointing up towards the top of the tree. Now take a look and carefully bend any layers to be at a 90 degree angle to the dowels (so that they will eventually be parallel to the floor).

Use the electrical tape to cover the rest of the exposed dowels, including the bottom cross brace. You could use the duct tape here, I simply find the electrical tape less frustrating to work with. Black will show up less than silver or bare wood at night when it’s all lit up.

At this point we have a working frame. Yay us. It might look a bit wonky at this point but ignore that, nighttime and glowy lights will fix all.

Optional step: Paint the rings of our frame gold. This will make the tree look a little nicer during the day (but again, I created this to primarily be viewed lit up at night) and the gold frame might reflect a little bit more of the lights in the evenings. It will take a few layers of paint since nothing seems to want to stick to the coated wire so proceed with this step only if you have the time. And the paint.

Hang the frame on your mirror. I clamped a clothespin at the top of my mirror and used it as a hook. I used cotton kitchen string that was threaded through the two hook eyes to hang the frame. I should color that string black. Or maybe attach a temporary adhesive hook upside down on the backside of the mirror. (Honestly at night the clothespin blends nicely into the wall. But I suppose I could hide it better.)

Grab those gold twist ties and cut a handful of them in half using your wire cutter or just that notch in your kitchen scissors. Pull out your first strand of lights and attach them starting from the bottom. Starting at the bottom allows us two things. One: we can make sure that any switches on the power cord can be scooted around and hidden behind the mirror. Two: any excess inches of lights will end up at the top of the tree where we can loop them around each other and create a bright tree topper effect.

Instead of attaching the lights by screwing down the twist tie the way you might when closing a bag of bread I spiraled our half length ties around the wire. This gave me a little more horizontal support and hid the ties a bit better. I attached one strand of lights then went back and attached the second strand, this keeps the strands from becoming tangled with each other in the process. Also it will be easier to take them down.

Attach the lights in a snaking motion: across one half circle, up the edge of the frame, back across the next half circle, up the other side of the frame, and so on. When both strands of lights are in place cover the bits of light that travel up along the frame with more electrical tape so that when the lights are on all you see are a series of floating circles. Electrical tape will block out all light and, most importantly, can be removed cleanly later on.

If you’d like, and I recommend it, attach some thin tinsel to each of the tiers cutting it to length as you go along. I used a star tinsel that is on a flexible wire and simply wound it around each half circle.

Here is what the tree looks like during the day. The picture to the right shows how little space it takes up.

Here is how the wires and tinsel look when mixed together.

Overall I’m really happy with how this turned out, it’s surprisingly bright yet delicate when lit up at night and more charming and twinkly than I managed to capture in the photos, promise. I wish you could see it through the haze of my Christmas cheer and blurry contacts. It’s lovely.

I hope your Christmas is merry and bright!

· comments [7] · 12-12-2013 · categories:christmas ·

7 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Adrienne // Dec 12, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    neat idea!!! thanks for sharing! :)

  • 2 megan // Dec 12, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    Thanks Adrienne!

  • 3 Mommy G // Dec 13, 2013 at 4:55 am

    It looks so amazing, wish I was skilled enough to make it:)

    http://maybetodayistheday1.blogspot.com/

  • 4 k // Dec 13, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    You’re an actual genius!

  • 5 megan // Dec 13, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    k – You are too kind! I’m blushing.

  • 6 Talina // Dec 14, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    This is so beautiful!
    We finally got all our supplies to make the Christmas Tree Ornament Mobile, and since we’re expecting 12 inches of snow tomorrow it should be a good day to stay inside and work on it! But now I’d like to make one of these too…. need more supplies! and more wall space. Thank you for the inspiration!

  • 7 Susan in PDX // Dec 16, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    That is lovely, and super simple. I think using a mirror is mad-scientist level brilliant!

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