How To: Homemade Christmas Orbs
If you walk up Rosecrest Ave (between Commonwealth Ave. and Russell Rd.) in the evening you will see something pretty amazing — 10 or so glowing Christmas orbs, each a different color, hanging high up in the trees like magical balls of holiday cheer. They are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
These are the work of Del Ray residents Hilary and Andy Schmidt who constructed the orbs out of chicken wire and Christmas lights (and a few other supplies). This past weekend, Hilary showed me and my neighbor Heather how to make them.
Hilary got the idea to make the orbs while living in North Carolina where there’s a tradition of entire neighborhoods decorating their trees with the hand-made balls. After moving to Del Ray three years ago, she decided to keep that tradition going — and it’s already spreading on her block.
Before we started with the demo, Hilary showed us a few of the orbs they were planning to add to their display that afternoon. As you can see, the orbs are basically just chicken wire formed into a sphere with lights wrapped around. Sounds easy enough right?
Step 1: Gather Supplies
- Chicken wire (hexagon shape recommended)
- Two 100-bulb strings of outdoor Christmas lights
- Wire cutters/scissors
- Cable ties
- Outdoor extension cords
- Duct tape
- Fishing line
- One tennis ball
For the chicken wire, the length should be 2 1/2 times the width. Our wire was 24 inches wide, so we measured about 54 inches in length. Hilary recommends wearing work gloves because the edges of the cut wire are sharp.
Step 2: Form the Balls
Secure the two cut sides together with cable ties to create a cylinder.
Then, start folding the ends in and secure sides together with ties. It doesn’t have to be a perfect sphere; however, the chicken wire is cooperative and it’s easy to bend and mold bumpy corners. Use enough ties so the orb holds its shape.
Step 3: Attach the Lights
You’ll need two strings of 100 lights (connected) for each orb. Tuck and secure the female end of the string of lights into the orb so it is hidden, then wrap the lights in different directions around the orb, securing the lights with ties every 12 inches or so. The male end of the string of lights (the part that will plug into the extension cord) should be secured with at least 4 ties so the extension cord doesn’t pull the lights off. Attach more cable ties as needed if there are loose looking strands — anything that hangs off could get caught in your tree and destabilize the orb.
Use scissors or wire cutters to cut the excess length off the cable ties.
Step 4: Install the Ball
This is the fun part. You may think you need to climb the tree to install the balls, but there is an easier (and safer) way! Attach a long spool of fishing line with duct tape to a tennis ball.
Throw the ball into the tree over the branch where you want to hang your orb. You want a stable branch that doesn’t have too many small branches. It took a few tries, but Heather found a suitable spot!
Next, take the tennis ball off the fishing line and attach the end of the extension cord to the line. Pull the fishing line the opposite way to pull the extension cord over the branch.
Once the extension cord comes down, take off the fishing line and plug your orb into the cord. Secure the extension cord to your orb with a few more cable ties for added stability.
Finally, pull on the opposite end of the cord to hoist your orb into the tree!
Andy attached the excess cord to the tree trunk, and plugged the cords for multiple orbs into a T-tap extension cord to minimize the number of cords going to the house. Then one main line goes up over the yard to the house.
Step 5: Adore Your Orbs
I took a few photos when I came back later in the evening to look at the glowing orbs, but if you are in the Del Ray area, I strongly recommend taking a look at these in person! From a distance they put off a magical glow.
Up close, you can see the detail. The photos don’t do them justice, they are absolutely magnificent in person.
If you’re confused by the steps needed to make the orbs, take a look at this website that shows how the orb tradition started in Greensboro, NC — there’s even a how-to video and illustrated instructions.
Heather and I took the orb we made back home (still have to find a tree to hang it) and can’t wait to make more! We hope Hilary will lead another group demo next year so the orb tradition will continue to grow in Del Ray as it has in similar communities in North Carolina.