A beaming Dawn Ahner is in her element standing in front of a bare 7 1/2-foot Christmas tree.
Surrounding her are about 15 guests attending her third annual tree-trimming workshop.
“People always ask questions about how to decorate, how to build a tree,” said Dawn. “It goes beyond ornaments.”
The owner of Ahner Florist in downtown Lebanon (as well as the big greenhouse and retail operation in New Baden) has gathered baskets of ornaments and decorations for her project tree, which is slim and a perfect fit for its future location — the smallish pantry just off the main floor of her shop. It’s where she displays a variety of gourmet foods the business sells.
▪ Dawn has a first big rule, no matter what you decorate your tree with: “Don’t hop around. Do the lights first around the whole tree, then the ribbon, then the ornaments,” she said.
Don’t hop around. Do the lights first around the whole tree, then the ribbon, then the ornaments.
Dawn Ahner on first rule of tree decorating
▪ Her second big rule: If you are worried about evenly dispersing decorations throughout the tree, divide it in half or quarters in your mind, examining each portion as you go and adjusting for balance.
▪ Before you start: If you’re using an artificial tree, work on arranging the branches in a natural way, curving and bending but not having them stick straight out, she said.
▪ Lights come first. Dawn is very particular: “Start at the base of your tree and work up, tucking in and out branch by branch, making sure the wire is closest to the trunk. Make it snug,” she said. Lights should not be seen on the outer edges of the branches.
A quick estimate as to how many lights you’ll need: 100 to 150 bulbs per foot of tree.
100 to 150 Number of light bulbs needed per foot of tree
▪ Want some extra depth to your tree? Next add extra stems or greenery, such as those with pine cones on them. Dawn also used “snow”-covered berry sprays and faux white hydrangeas.
“Blend it in and take your time,” she said as she worked.
During the workshop, Dawn did the unusual and added a giant silver fork and spoon, crossed at the top of the tree. Perfect for her pantry theme, she said.
▪ Next comes garland or ribbons. She first used 10 yards of 4-inch wired green ribbon, then followed it with a loosely layered a 2.5-inch sheer ribbon over it.
“You have to work with the branches and bellow and fluff the ribbon out,” she said.
For contrast in the horizontal garland, she followed with a narrow silver-beaded wired ribbon, trailing it along and into the branches.
This base of lights and garland/ribbon is laid down as a backdrop so you can showcase the best part of the decorations: the ornaments.
▪ Size matters when it comes to ornaments, Dawn said, noting that heavier ornaments should be worked in to the bottom half of the tree. It’s all about balance and weight.
For example, Dawn added oversized gold stars to the lower half of the tree but put pheasant feathers at the top.
▪ Have a variety. “You need small, medium and large,” she said, with the smaller ornaments, such as faux pears and tiny winter-sparkling houses and churches filling in where gaps in branches occur.
Perspective helps, she said, standing back and examining her work regularly.
▪ Standouts need special placement. Look for a few front-and-center gaps in the branches to put ornaments that hold special meaning to you and your family. Dawn placed a favorite silver teapot on the lower front part of the tree where it could easily be seen and supported. A tiny pitcher she brought back from Poland found an eye-level branch as its home.
Finally, she added another color to the tree: blue-and-white vintage china plates. On the back of the plates, she adhered removable plastic hooks, then wired them to the tree.
“It’s a very elegant look,” she noted. “This would be great for a dining room.”
Her guidelines are pretty universal, no matter what kind of tree you build.
“You have to make it like you like it so it’s special for you and your family.”