V&A Dundee

Seasonal Staples: Tree decoration

'Tis the season to explore some of our favourite festive traditions through the lens of design. Tree ornaments are often mass-produced and conventional, so we challenged designer Chloe to design an elevated counterpoint to this, with hand-made and sustainability in mind.

Written by: Chloe Patience

For me, Christmas is very much a juxtaposition of excitement, traditions, music, food, gifts, family, colour and, of course, lots of sparkle. I love the way that old and new clash together to create something really magical for everyone to enjoy.

I prefer older decorations, especially the ones that have been passed down from previous generations. I particularly love the hand-made charms created by children and held onto by doting parents. Fortunately, due to my mum’s desire to upgrade her own collection, I have now inherited all of the decorations that I grew up with. I love looking through them every year and appreciating the detail and craftmanship that went into some of the pieces.

I am also becoming increasingly aware of unnecessary waste at this time of the year, so welcomed this challenge and started to think about how I can help to encourage people to get more resourceful and creative at this time of year and cut down on the huge amount of plastics and landfill items being bought.

In response to this I was keen to bring in some recycled festive elements and use them in a way that created an interesting texture and added depth to my design. I also wanted to accentuate the hand-crafted element and found that the muted tones of my recycled materials provided an effective contrast to the glossy sequins and beads. By mixing old with new, I was able to create an opulent Christmas design with a conscience.

A hand embroidered christmas tree decoration. it's mostly green with sequins and beads and recycled sparkly bits on it.
A hand embroidered christmas tree decoration. it's mostly pink with sequins and beads and recycled sparkly bits on it.
  • One of Chloe's beautiful decorations.

  • One of Chloe's beautiful decorations.

For my designs, I took inspiration from vintage baubles, particularly those from the 1950s and 1960s. Decorations back then were predominantly glass blown with circular indentations, resulting in amazing reflective shapes highlighted with drops of hand painted hues. I love the pops of strong, vivid colour and due to them being handmade, the way that each one was slightly different from the next.

I used hand-embroidered 3D beading and stitching, in combination with appliqued upcycled materials, to make my embroidered decorations. Their recycled elements include casings from chocolate coins and mince pies, and very old tinsel retrieved from the family attic. The fabrics were unwanted off-cuts destined for the bin, collected from my dressmaking friend Rowan Joy. The beads and sequins were from my own collection, many very old, having been unpicked off old designs and vintage garments, as well as from old jewellery given to me from my late granny.

This year, as you hang your decorations on the tree with care, spare a wee thought about how they are produced, cherished and even passed along to loved ones.

Share your favourite tree decorations, traditions and stories with us using #SeasonalStaples

Come along to ‘Festive Embroidery with Chloe Patience’ on Saturday 14 December to learn a mixture of techniques using embroidery threads and beading materials to create your own decorations. Find out more.