I've shown many photos of my mantel over the last few years. But that's because it's usually where I begin to make seasonal shifts in my home. It's an easy focal point and it changes every year, all year, even though I reuse many of the same items. Before I had fireplace mantels, I used console tables or the top of a sideboard or dresser. It doesn't really matter what you use. I just find it helpful to start in one area. Sometimes that's the end of the story. Other times I slowly build out and around that vignette.
At any rate, I started this seasonal process over the weekend and enjoyed the element of surprise. I'm never quite sure how these little arrangements will work or what new creative processes I'll discover along the way, but that's most of the fun for me anyway.
This is what I started with - the photos that inspired me:
I was completely taken with these pressed botanicals and how they appeared almost white against their black background. So I originally thought I'd do a small arrangement of these, painting my pressed foliage with a shimmery spray paint, since I wasn't going to be able to achieve that almost bleached look overnight. And since it was for Halloween, I wasn't taking it too seriously anyway. (Country Living Magazine)
'Dreaming of Flying Watch' by Anne Arden McDonald is so delicate and ephemeral, moody and dreamy. I appreciate all of the various textures at play here, too - something I wanted to explore for myself.
My decorating began with the lanterns. Normally, the filmier aspects of cheesecloth are played up for Halloween. But I love the textural element of it as well, so I wanted to see if I could use it in a more tailored fashion. To do that, I backed cheesecloth with fusible web, which left me with a piece of cheesecloth that had some structure to it (and wouldn't fray or wrap), but was still translucent. I used it to line the panes and give the lanterns a diffused quality.
The botanicals (weeds from my courtyard) ended up making their way off of the lanterns and into a framed display, which I then used as my foundation for the rest of the setup.
I really thought I'd end up with pearl finished botanicals on a chalky black background, but I happened to put them aside for a moment, resting on one of the cheesecloth covered panes for the lantern. And then I changed my mind about the black and white botanicals, which changed everything else I had in mind, too.
For the lanterns -
Measure the panes of glass in your lantern and create a paper template; check for fit. Iron cheesecloth to lightweight fusible web following manufacturers directions. Trace around the paper template on the paper side of the fusible web and cut out. Peel paper backing off. Lightly spray the back side of the fusible web backed cheesecloth with spray adhesive (repositionable adhesive if you want a temporary display). Place in the glass pane of the lantern and smooth out with your fingers. Use the tip of an X-acto knife to push the edges of the cheesecloth between the glass and the frame of the lantern (or just trim any excess cloth, if necessary. Repeat for all panes.
For the frame -
Cut a piece of fusible web that's the size of the pane of glass in your frame and iron it onto cheesecloth, following manufacturers directions. Trim excess cheesecloth, then carefully peel the paper backing off. Lightly spray the back side of the fusible web backed cheesecloth with repositionable adhesive and adhere it to the front of the glass pane, smoothing out any wrinkles with your fingers.
Tip: If you want to have a colored background behind your cheesecloth, cut a piece of paper or fabric the same size as your pane of glass and adhere it to the back side of the glass with 1/8 or 1/4-inch double-sided tape. I just wanted to warm up the color of the cheesecloth a bit, without adding a lot of color. I used a piece of unbleached parchment paper (the lantern doesn't have any backing).
For the botanicals -
Gather greenery (I prefer weeds because they tend to grow tall and wild, with a certain gracefulness after pressing) and press between the pages of heavy books for a few days. When they're pressed, lightly spray the front with a shimmery spray paint. Before they dry, lift them with a pair of tweezers (so that they don't stick to the surface you painted them on) and put them on waxed paper to completely dry before handling. When they're dry, arrange them on the cheesecloth covered frame and add a tiny bit of quick-setting gel glue to various parts of the plant, such as thicker stem areas or larger leaf areas. Cheesecloth has natural grab, so you don't need to cover the entire plant with adhesive. Embellish with butterflies or moths, gluing them down (I used butterflies made from vellum - which I will give a tutorial for in a few days).
I first discovered these bleached oak leaves a few years ago and fell in love with them for Halloween. They come a bit mangled and you have to sort through them, but they have a waxy finish that makes it easy to flatten them for easier handling. I pull the best ones from the branches, stack them up (flattening them out with my hand), then put them under a book for a couple of hours before handling. If you're in a hurry, you can iron them between two layers of parchment paper, on medium heat. (Note: They do have a chemical smell when you first remove them from their bag, but that disappears within a day or two.)
For the Garland -
I used a quick-setting gel glue and glued the leaves together at the stem in bunches of three, then glued one bunch to the next, overlapping them slightly (I made 3 strips - one for each side and one for the top). Then I taped a piece of string to the back of each strip and hung them on my mirror, taping the ends of the string to the top.
For the Pumpkins -
I wanted to add a subtle shimmer to the pumpkins, but I still wanted the texture of the pumpkin to show through, so I needed translucency instead of the opacity that spray paint would give. I could have used a spray on pearl glaze, but I used luster dust instead, an edible shimmery dust that's used in cake decorating. I simply mixed a bit of the powder with a little water and brushed it on (almost like using watercolors). That's all I did for the white pumpkin, but the water beaded up a bit on the green gourd. To fix it, I just rubbed it in with my hands and it worked just fine. I love how they catch the light, but still have a natural look.
These European drip candles are the most expensive item in my display (including the mirror, which I picked up for $15 at a thrift store and spray painted), coming in at $20 for a pair of tapers. But their detailing can't be beat. The candlesticks are thrift store finds, brass sticks that I sprayed with a glossy black spray paint.
The texture and color of reindeer moss is one of my favorite things to use for fall decorating. But don't buy the small, expensive packs at craft stores. Get more for your money by buying it in bulk, in a range of colors from bleached to bright chartreuse.
When you don't have room to spread out, you can dedicate a small tabletop space to a seasonal display, focusing on just a few elements. If you look for items that can overlap (like the bowl breaking the edge of the frame), you need even less space.
Lanterns from TJ Maxx
Cheesecloth is available at some groceries and multiple online sources, including Amazon. Look for "ultra-fine" cheesecloth to get the tightest weave.
Fusible web is available at Jo-Ann and other sewing and craft stores (I like Therm O Web brand)
Elmer’s Spray Adhesive available at Michaels, Jo-Ann, and other craft stores
Unbleached parchment is usually found at better grocery stores such as Whole Foods
Metallic spray paint available at craft stores
Frame from Michaels
Beacon 3-in-1 quick-setting gel adhesive available at Michaels, Jo-Ann, and other craft stores
Luster dust available from baking supply stores such as NY Cake and Baking (I used "Avocado" and "Antique Silk") and in the cake decorating aisle at stores such as Michaels
European Hand Dripped Candles from Knorr Beeswax