Spun Cotton Boats: Handmade Cotton Batting Ornaments
These darling little boats were inspired by the sparkly Sebnitz ships of the late 19th century. The small German town of Sebnitz was known for its marvelous handcrafted Christmas ornaments which were typically an assemblage of scrap materials: cotton, tinsel, crinkle wire, Dresden trims, and foil bits. Located near the glass bead centers of Czechoslovakia, they also sometimes included silvered glass beads in their designs. In addition to boats and ships they produced cradles, umbrellas, hot air balloons, zeppelins, baskets, and other fanciful shapes.
For this variation, the boats are made of thin chipboard, or a reused cereal/food box, assembled with masking tape. Two layers of cotton quilt batting are torn to fit the shape, and are applied with glue and a cornstarch binding medium. The exact batting used can be found here. Then, the mast is made from wire, and the boat is decorated with crinkle wire rigging, metallic stars, and crepe paper sails.
These forms can be altered, scaled up or down, left simple, or loaded with sparkles. Feel free to get playful with the decorations. Add scrap pictures, beads, buttons, or any bits and pieces you have lying around.
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CLICK HERE to download your free printable templates.
- Templates for boat shapes, sails, and mast diagrams CLICK HERE to download. (Print at 100% for 8 1/2 x 11 paper)
- Thin chipboard, or reused food boxes
- 18 or 16 gauge aluminum wire
- 100% Cotton quilt batting
- Starch medium made from cornstarch and water (see below for mixing instructions)
- Low temp hot glue gun, glue sticks
- Masking tape
- Glue Stick
- Wax paper
- Metallic crepe paper or ivory crepe paper
- Trims: Foiled paper stars in Gold and Silver, Tiny Dresden stars in gold and silver
- Narrow German crinkle wire - one strand makes rigging for 2-3 boats
- Fine glass glitter
Step 1, Building the Boat:
Trace the templates for the boat's sides and base onto the chipboard or food box, and cut them out. Fold the boat sides in half, creating a crease at the center point. Tape the open sides together with a piece of masking tape, and trim off the excess. Gently open the boat shape, bending the sides outward slightly. Apply a piece of tape to the boat base shape with the sticky side extending around all sides. Line up the boat base with the opened boat shape, and secure it to the bottom of the boat by pressing the tape against the sides.
Step 2, Base Layer:
This first layer of cotton is glued to the chipboard shape, and then sealed with starch. Once dry, it is a smooth foundation for the next layer of cotton.
Tear a piece of cotton large enough to wrap around the boat. Adjust the length by tearing away small bits of cotton until it will wrap over the pointed ends of the boat about 1/4 inch. Then do the same with the sides. Remove bits of cotton until it will wrap over the sides of the boat without gathers or wrinkles. The cotton will stretch slightly. Spend some time making adjustments. When the cotton lays smoothly over the shape, remove it and apply a layer of glue with a glue stick. Stretch the cotton over the boat and press the edges to the inside.
Prepare starch medium: In a bowl, mix 1 Tbsp. cornstarch with 1 Tbsp. cold water to create a slurry. In a pot on the stovetop, bring 1 cup of water to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Add the starch slurry a spoonful at a time to the water, until all is dissolved. Simmer for 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Let cool.
Starting on the bottom of the boat, brush a layer of starch over the surface, continue to the sides, and then smooth down the inner edges.
Set the boat on a piece of wax paper, and let dry.
Step 3, Plush cotton layer:
Once the piece has dried fully, repeat the process with another piece of cotton. This time, apply it with starch instead of glue stick. This will keep the texture light and soft.
Step 4, Wire Mast:
Bend a piece of aluminum wire according to the shape on the template (short mast if you are doing paper sails.) Squeeze some hot glue into the bottom of the boat, insert the mast, and hold it in place until the glue sets.
Step 5, Sails (templates fit short mast):
Use the templates to cut out the sails from crepe paper. Use little dots of glue to seal the paper tabs around the mast. Stretch the crepe paper slightly to give the sails shape, and then tack the pointed corners to the top of the boat so they aren't flapping in the wind.
Fill the void in the boat with fluffy bits of cotton.
Step 6, Crinkle wire rigging:
Gently stretch out the crinkle wire to make a length twice the height of the boat. Bring the wire halfway through the loop at the top of the mast, and twist it against itself a few times to secure it. Stretch one end of the wire down against the side of the boat, apply a dot of glue, and then stick on a Dresden star to hold it in place. Snip the excess wire. Stretch the other side of the wire against the other side of the boat and secure it. Add as many wires as you like.
Step 7, Embellish:
Add stars, trims, beads, paper flags, or scrap components.
A colorful boat: After the final layer of cotton has dried, the boat can be painted. Thin craft paint with a little starch for a smooth surface. Using the tall mast template, decorate with multiple crinkle wires.
A wire-wrapped boat: After inserting the mast, wrap the boat vertically with crinkle wire. Press the wires down into the void of the boat, pressing the wires against the surface to enmesh them together.
A glittered boat: After inserting the mast, brush the entire boat with a thin, even coat of white glue (Elmer's Glue-All.) Sprinkle with fine silver glass glitter, shake of the excess, and hang the boat from the mast while it dries.
Products featured in this tutorial:
Tiny Dresden Stars
Foiled Paper Stars