Eco-friendly Party Decorations
May 13
This is repeat post, prompted by this info in an email from Salvage Works in North Portland: "Just in time for wedding season. Vintage Mason jars and antique medicine bottles make great vases for romantic flower bouquets. All clear jars are $3, all blue and purple jars are $10."

A friend recently asked for help with a specific party problem - decorating ideas. She needed to decorate for 8th grade graduation, and balloons / crepe paper were mentioned and then quickly abandoned as options. Balloons are hell on the environment and critters within, and crepe paper is a disposable. What to do? How 'bout some good-for-the-environment options for party decorations?

Well, I had no freakin' idea. I don't decorate for parties because it's a lot of work and I'm lazy. (Folks, in my opinion nothing beats hanging gas cans around the yard, per the pics - but I recognize this doesn't work for everyone.) Also, disposable stuff is not my thing. But a project was born and the searching began! As it turns out, non-disposable decorations look much better than the disposable stuff (of course), and have the benefit of being much more personal. You can create all sorts of wonderful garlands, table toppers, streamers, and more with materials that don't suck. For example, prospective brides: wouldn't it be fun to decorate your married-person patio or deck with your (re-used) wedding garlands? With a little planning, this is very doable.

With this cool idea in mind, we focused on garlands. My findings (see this Pinterest board) break down into two basic categories: garlands made from scrap and salvage plus string lights. Combining the two creates a really cool effect that can be used party after party after party. And who doesn't want that option?

Garlands can be made of fabric strips, vintage postcards, old slides, old photos, paint samples, a deck of cards, pine cones, doll clothes. All of these materials have their pluses. Fabric, for example, can be ripped into strips and tied together, eliminating the work of cutting and sewing. Vintage hankies can be tied or sewed together, and then washed when dirty or ready for storage. Pull these garlands out summer after summer, party after party. Old photos are great in an album, but if you string them into a garland, they become art and history and décor all strung together in one great strip. If you have old vacation slides sitting in the attic, have them transferred onto a DVD or e-file, then hole punch the slides and make a garland. How cool is that?!

Kites are an interesting addition to the mix. You can make a garland of small kites, or you can hang kites from the ceiling, from the trees, from the beams of your deck and let them flutter. You can keep them for re-use at the next party, or let your guests take them home as party favors. Kites can be made from fabric or paper or from newspaper. Keep the dowels and re-use them again and again. For the garland base, use twine, fishing line, fabric, or cord, but make sure it's re-usable and will stand up to rain. And of course, you can work a theme into these ideas. For a wedding, make the garlands of photos of the bride and groom throughout their lives. Make fabric garlands of ripped scrap material in the wedding colors. Options are endless!

White lights can be used for every occasion. A string of lights with hanging bulbs can be strung overhead and interspersed with garlands. Twinkle lights can be wrapped around trees or posts, or stung overhead and also braided with garlands.

Now, let's add branches and potted flowers to the mix, and you have a very eco-friendly party. If you use potted plants - large or small - you can plant them later or send them home with your guests. Keep them simple and cheap (geraniums! zinnias!) and use them in your summer beds as splashes of color post party. If you add home-made pinwheels to the pots, these could be party favors for your guests, too, or you could re-use them for another party.

Wrap lights around reachable tree branches and hang the branches with garlands. Cut branches can be used for dramatic centerpieces, for wall décor, to decorate railings. When you're done with them, they go in the compost pile. (Portlanders, check out the interesting branch mobiles in Café Castagna on Hawthorne for inspiration.)

A summer party, whether a wedding, a graduation, or a bacchanal, is one of life's best pleasures. Make things easier on yourself - and the environment - by investing the time and effort on re-usable items. If you have crafty friends, I bet they would come over and help you create for the price of dinner and cocktails. Just ask them! Now, get going, and check out this article for more info on balloons / wedding ideas, and plan your next party. Summer is here!


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