I've always loved the little spun cotton toppers that were prevalent during the 1930's. I've collected them here and there over the years, but I can never bear to part with them. I'm sure this is a character flaw, but there you have it. The good news is that the supplies are more readily available these days, making it easy to create your own.
I had purchased the bunny and duck picks years ago, at Tinsel Trading, one of my all time favorite stores. I don't remember if they're vintage or vintage replica, but I love them just the same. This year, I decided to give them a friend and made a lamb.
Should you be inspired to make your own toppers, I've included resources and tips for you below:
Materials: The most specialized material that you'll need are the pressed (or spun) cotton balls. You can order them from at least two online sources, D. Blümchen and A Child's Dream Come True being the ones I'm most familiar with. The balls pictured here are 1-inch in diameter. (But don't overlook some of the other shapes available on D. Blümchen - a radish or lemon shape, mixed with a ball, could make a cute bird topper. You can also make mushrooms, carrots, etc.) The rest of the supplies can be picked up at your local craft store:
- acrylic paint (I also think you could use chalks instead of paint)
- small natural sponge
- thin (4mm) pipe cleaners (if you can't locate these, try Dick Blick online.
- crepe paper (I prefer to use thicker florist crepe paper, but experiment - try streamers or layer two sheets of thin crepe paper together.)
- thin sheets of patterned paper (you can use this to create hats, bow ties, collars, etc.)
- small round stenciling brush (this is good if you want to make round circles on cheeks, like I did with the lamb.)
- paper flowers - scalloped style (I buy mine in the scrapbook section. They make perfect ruffled collars.)
- round toothpicks
- quick-setting craft glue (I use Beacon 3-in-1 craft glue for this)
- scissors (LOVE Fiskars Micro-tip scissors for projects like this)
- extra fine-tipped permanent marker, such as india ink
- craft knife, such as X-acto (not pictured) This is helpful if you want to insert any of the embellishments into the head. For instance, the ears on the bunny were inserted into a small slit that had been cut in the head. You'd add a little glue and then insert them right into that shallow slit.
1. Painting: To paint these, I used a very tiny amount of acrylic craft paint (for the lamb, "Vintage White" and "Ballet Pink," both by Folk Art), applied with a slightly damp piece of natural sponge. I applied it in quick, pouncing motions (rather than strokes). You should use the paint so sparingly that the ball is almost dry by the time you finish painting it. If this sounds intimidating, don't worry. You'll pick it up quickly and it takes only a few seconds per ball. The idea is to lightly coat it and if there's some mottling involved, that will only add to its vintage style appeal. (As I noted in the supply list, I think that chalks would work on these as well, either to color the entire ball or to add color, such as pink cheeks.)
2. Embellishing: Vintage picks were usually decorated with humble craft items - a little crepe paper, chenille pipe cleaners, scraps of paper, sometimes a little floss for hair, and a black, fine-tipped pen to create the facial features. You could also consider tiny buttons, snippets of feathers, tiny pom-poms, etc.
3. Facial Features: Keep it simple and don't worry about your drawing abilities (I have none!). Vintage pieces were rarely ever perfect and clearly made by hand. It only adds to their charm. You can always practice sketching out some faces on a piece of scrap paper before beginning. Also, it will get easier as you get used to drawing on the cotton.
4. Make Templates: If you plan to make a bunch of these, make templates (for ears, hats, etc.) from card stock and then just hold it over the crepe paper to use as a guide. This will save you a lot of time in the future.
Steps for the lamb:
1. Paint the ball, if desired, using the technique described above.
2. Make the curls by wrapping a thin pipe cleaner (I used the entire stem) around a thin dowel or skewer, then hand form the loops into a rough oval shape. Glue that onto the top of the ball and hold with your fingers for a minute or two, until the glue sets.
3. Cut ears (like the ones pictured above) out of crepe paper and glue them to the sides of the head, pushing the straight edges of the crepe paper just under the curls on the head. This will eliminate any harsh lines.
4. Draw a simple face. After you've drawn the face, you can apply a pink circle of paint on each cheek.
5. Push a toothpick through a paper flower. Add a little glue to the end of the toothpick and a little inside the paper flower. Push them into the pre-drilled hole on the cotton ball until they're secure. Trim the point off the bottom end of the toothpick.
If anyone decides to make these, or any other designs, please send photos. I'd love to see what the crafting community comes up with, AND you'd be helping revive a lost art!