BetsyBlueDragon -- Sustainable Art: feel the URGE! Upcycle, Recycle, Glean, Enjoy!


Glean: using natural materials to make crowns, headdresses and sculptures.

Natural materials include pine needles, autumn leaves, dried daylily stems, dried flowers, pine cones (whole or dismantled into "petals"), twigs, seeds, nuts, and seashells. Tools/supplies used include glue gun, scissors, pliers, brushes, ModgePodge, spray varnish, acrylic paints, pasteboard (e.g. cracker/cereal boxes), corrugated cardboard, florist wire, brown craft paper, beads, sewing pins, corsage pins.

Mixed Media Creations
Tree Dryad Dryad Tree Key Dried Lavendar Crown Fall themed Daylily Crown Monarch of the Pines Monarch of the Pines Monarch of the Pines Monarch of the Pines mini Mammoth

Leaf crownsUsing Fallen Leaves: I've tried several methods with differing results. Best results are to first press the gathered leaves -- either between pages of a book, or between layers of newspaper (with some weight on top). Note that the leaves will become quite brittle (and therefore fragile) when dried, but sealing them will restore some flexibility. Seal the leaves, either by spraying with clear varnish or by brushing with ModgePodge. You have to do both sides and wait for them to dry. If using spray varnish, go outside or use a well-ventilated area; avoid days that are very cold (can cause varnish to dry cloudy instead of clear) or very damp or humid (surface may stay tacky or gummy).

Suppose you are impatient and try spraying freshly collected leaves? Leaves will often curl or crinkle into awkward shapes as they dry. Take heart, you can still flatten them by ironing between sheets of newsprint. That will remove some of the varnish, but you can reapply either sealant after your item is constructed. For leaf crowns, I generally build on a base made from a saltine box (one side, split longways is just right for making a circlet). I use hot glue for expediency, but I'm sure other glues -- like Elmer's or rubber cement -- would also work. Be sure to paint or cover the base before you start attaching the leaves. You can get lovely glowing effects when lighter colored leaves extend above the backing. Experiment with mixing different colors and shapes.

pine needle mohawkUsing Pine Needles: I tried this material on a whim, not sure how to use pine needles in the way I wanted. I was quite surprised when my efforts to create a Mohawk wig worked quite well. For the piece pictured, I cut a strip of brown craft paper and pinned it to the head form. I found I could take a small bunch of pine needles, tap to level the stem ends and apply a blob of hot glue. You will have to hold the needles against the surface until it cools enough to hold them upright.

There are several alternative methods. You can fold the paper strip longways and glue needles in the trough, but then it forms a straight horizontal line, unlike the curve you can get by forming the backing initially. If you prefer to use Elmer's glue, a fast assembly method is to cut a narrow strip of corrugated cardboard and insert the needles into the corrugation holes, then squirt glue in. This takes longer to dry, but these strips can be curled or scrolled on a flat surface.

Shoulder Pauldron using pine cone petalsUsing Pine Cone "Petals": Using whole pine cones is not so great a challenge, but if you want to use the individual "petals" you have to strip them off the core--harder than you'd think, depending on the cone. The easiest way I've found is using needlenose pliers to grab the petal where it attaches and twist. If you don't wear gloves your hands may get sticky with pine tar.

Dried Daylily stemsUsing Dried Daylily Stems: These gleaned materials are sturdy and range from 2-5 feet in length. The stems are hollow and the lower third is often mottled with black spots. Some species have wispy, curved ends, while others have stubby branches. The hollow stems make it simple to add beaded decorations. The stems can be left natural (but I recommend sealing them with ModgePodge or varnish) or spray painted various colors--remember to do this BEFORE adding embellishments.

beading detailLarger beads may be threaded over the stems, smaller beads can be threaded onto straight pins and locked with a dab of glue.


contact: Betsy A. Riley,