Quick. Think of 10 ways to use a tree branch in your house. Go …
Designer Michele Beschen, host of PBS's B. Creative, teaches people how to grab what's around them and make useful stuff.
“It's all about celebrating an organic lifestyle and learning ways to live resourceful, self-sustaining, beautiful lives,” she said.
Besides her TV show, Beschen offers hands-on workshops for all ages at her studio in Van Meter, Iowa.
“Give me an example of how we can use nature more inside,” I say.
“Wow. Help me narrow it down. Pick one common natural material.”
“It's all in how you slice them,” she starts. “You can slice them lengthwise or into rounds. You can peel off the bark, or put them in a pencil sharpener.”
“Once you start playing and manipulating, let your imagination take over.”
Then she riffs on the many ways to use tree branches in DIY home projects. I catch these 10:
1. Take an interesting section, bore several same-size holes in it, and use it to hold candle votives.
2. Gather a bunch of branches and arrange them in a vase. Leave them natural, or paint or stain them. Add texture by wrapping them with wire, leather or fibers.
3. Cut a 4-inch-thick branch into discs to make coasters.
4. Cut a thinner branch into discs to make quarter-sized tags. Punch a hole in the top of each. Thread with twine, then tie the twine around jars to label contents (peach jam), or around gifts. Write on them with a wood-burning tool.
5. Hang a long, sturdy branch on the wall with extended brackets to make a place to hang coats or a quilt.
6. Get a decorative wood picture frame. Arrange branches across the back to fill the void and create free-form art.
7. Find a branch that has split into at least three more branches. Turn it multi-branch side down. Cut floor ends so they're even and the top edge of the main single branch so it's flat and table height. Attach a piece of finished wood on top to create a side table.
8. Stick smaller twigs in a pencil sharpener, cut them in two-to-three-inch lengths, string them onto some leather with beads, and make a necklace.
9. Line up, then bind same-sized twigs to form the floor of a tray. Stack and bind same-length twigs to create sides.
10. Now gather kindling scraps for the fire.
I don't know about you, but I need to branch out. And although I'm a long way away from leading Beschen's naturally creative and organic lifestyle, I'm inspired to look to nature more for free decor.
Here are ways Beschen suggests we fire up our naturally creative selves,
• Know it will go. “Nature goes with everything,” said Beschen. “Whether your home is contemporary or traditional, nature works. It doesn't just go in log cabins.”
• Shop the best store. Mother Nature's art shop is free, open 24-7, and the inventory is always changing.
• Shake it, wash it. I told Beschen about the time I hauled in a pile of Spanish moss, which literally grows on trees around here, and used it in a centerpiece on the dining room table. I discovered too late it was laced with chiggers, itty bitty red bugs who cause absurdly itchy bites. So you don't bring home more than you bargained for, give materials a good shake outside and wash them well.
• Learn by doing. You can't be creative without getting hands-on. Taking the first step leads to another.
• Embrace your inner artist. “I often hear people say, ‘I'm not creative,” she said, “But everyone is.”
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.