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DIY Upgrade For Your Christmas Tree!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

This year I got it into my head that I wanted a more natural looking, flocked Christmas tree. (Translation: fake snow on it. And maybe some pine cones.) Here's an example I found online:

This 7.5 foot tree costs over $400. Yee-OUCH.

So I started watching all the sales, and John and I hit every store we could think of, but all the artificial trees were either too tall (we like 6.5 foot trees), too expensive, or out of stock. Plus, the fake snow was always so flaky; bump it, and the powdery stuff goes everywhere!

Finally, I started thinking how we could reuse our burnt-out pre-lit tree from last year. It's a nice enough tree that we've had a few years, but half the light strands wired into it blew out, way beyond repair.

In the end, we went from this:
(minus the pine cones; I forgot to take a proper "before" pic)

To this!

Here's how we did it:

First, John spent a night painstakingly cutting off all of the pre-wired light strands. By the time he was done our living room carpet was littered with hundreds of plastic tie-clips - yikes!

Next I started researching fake snow kits. They exist, but start around $40 - too rich for my blood. Canned spray snow (which we dutifully purchased and tested) looks like chalky white spray paint; there's no texture or body to it, and it gets all over you if you brush up against it.

There are recipes online for mixing Elmer's glue with shaving cream, or Ivory soap flakes with glue, etc, but I didn't have those items on hand and I was convinced there had to be an easier way.

We finally decided to test slightly watered down lightweight drywall Spackle. (The lightweight part is very important - don't try this with heavy weight!)

Mixed up, it looks like this:

Using a stiff bristled chip brush, I did a test batch on a piece of garland:

Not bad! And once it dried it was nice and hard; no powdery residue, no shower of flakes.

Next John and I did some serious research into the flammability of this stuff - I don't want anyone burning their house down because of one of my tutorials! John even went so far as to take the garland outside and set it on fire. Which smelled so, so bad.

Bottom line: yes, it will burn (as will your artificial Christmas tree, if put in a direct flame) but no more so than anything else. Obviously it's not flame-retardant, but I'm comfortable saying your Christmas lights won't make the stuff ignite. (We also looked up the MSDS, the Material Safety Data Sheets, and found nothing to indicate any increased flammability. Expert opinions are still welcome, though!)

Now, before I could flock the tree I needed to attach my pine cones. Surprisingly, pine cones are really hard to find in stores! We found crushed potpourri-soaked ones, and a few small ones in floral sprigs, but that was it. Urg.

Finally we found an entire pine cone wreath at JoAnne's on sale down from $40 to $12. Even better, each of the 40+ pine cones already had a floral wire secured to the bottom. SOLD!

John disassembled the wreath and added more floral wire to each cone so I could attach them to the tree branches:



Then I attached them randomly around the tree:


Next came the fun part:

Painting the tree!

If you try this, don't be afraid to use a really heavy hand with your Spackle. The more clumpy it is, the better it looks! Concentrate the heavy clumps with a stippling motion on surface areas where snow would naturally fall, and then brush the branches around it to give them a lighter dusting of Spackle. If you're like me, you'll find yourself going back to add more and more with each pass as you see how nice it looks.

In fact, in the end I think our tree turned out WAY better than any flocked tree I've seen:

Also, to add a little sparkle, I stopped every five minutes or so and sprinkled white iridescent glitter all over the wet Spackle. It's a subtle glimmer - and ohmygosh so messy - but I think well worth it. Since the Spackle dries with a matte finish, the glitter adds a bit of shine.

To be honest, John and I were completely gobsmacked this came out as well as it did - and how easy it was to do! (Although I wouldn't let John do any of the painting. That was all me. :D)


And here she is again, in all her snowy glory:

I'm getting a total Narnia vibe. And I love it.

(Also notice Tonks down there rolling in all the excess glitter. Greeeeeaaat.)

I used two tiny batches of Spackle to do the entire 6.5 foot tree, and it took me maybe an hour. Since we already had the Spackle in the garage, the only expense was the $12 pine cones - and we got to salvage something destined for the trash! Now that's my kind of craft project.

This is only the beginning, though: this is going to be our steampunked Christmas tree, so we have much, MUCH more in store for it. And I am so excited. Stay tuned!

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* Want to see how my tree looks after being stored in the garage for a year? Updated pics here!

Posted by Jen at 3:33 PM Labels: , , ,

75 comments:

  1. Amazing...as always!

    I really love this, I might do this for my tree!

    Love your sight!

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  2. I think John has proven himself to be an expert at holiday decoration deconstruction, that I think he should Hire Himself Out at the end of the season and go in and take down people's decoration and put them away. I bet he could make a killing.

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  3. I LOVE it! You guys are so awesome. I was thinking of getting a artificial tree and yours is so pretty! Love the pine cones and "snow". I am sold, that's the kind of tree I want :-)

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  4. This turned out so well! Can't wait to see the next stages of your Christmas tree make over! :D

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  5. That is brilliant!!! I absolutely love it! I'm kicking myself for tossing out our old tree now. We already have the spackle and everything! Thanks for all the great tutorials!

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  6. That is BEAUTIFUL!!! I can't wait to see it in it's full steampunk glory.

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  7. OMG. Can you come decorate my house? Please?

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  8. Very cool! If I ever have the need to add snow to my green tree, I will definitely do it your way. =)

    Don't you just hate how hard it is to find Christmas trees in the size and price-range you want?! It took me years to find a "pencil" tree that wasn't bigger than 3 feet in diameter for our front window. And to make it even more difficult, I wanted a white one - with colored lights.

    My wonderful husband found one online last year, and it wasn't just white, it was an iridescent white! with colored lights! It was a little more than I really wanted to spend but at least it wasn't full price! And it is absolutely beautiful and sparkly! =)

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  9. Beautiful! And your description of doing it kept me chucking. Win-win!

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  10. I LOVE IT!! And I can't wait to see it finished!!!

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  11. You RAWK! Absolutely amazing.

    (If this posts twice, apologies. I got an error message the first time.)

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  12. OOooh preeeety. I kinda wanted one like that myself. But what we found that looked nice and in our size and price range was not one with pinecones and snow on it. Its a prelit... I wonder if I could carefully do this to it.

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  13. wow, that turned out fantastic! so creative. color me impressed.
    hope you share the decorated tree as well...

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  14. Holy crap! I would've paid $400 to just not have to do all that work! How do you crafty people do it? It came out beautifully!

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  15. Your tree looks great! I don't like artificial trees in general, but this is just beautiful!

    Next time you need something simple like pine cones - please post a request on your blog. I could have had my kids gather up an apple box worth (in great condition - my MIL took about that many home last time she visited) and ship it to you, for say an epbot pin or two :)

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  16. I hate to mention the "W" word, but Walmart here has bags of large cones, scented with cinnamon.

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  17. So pretty! We just bought a new tree this week that has white "cashmere" tips for snow and pinecones, is pre-lit, and has fold-up branches (7.5 ft on sale at Target for $110) but I haven't been in love with it because it's so skinny. Can't wait to see your finished project to help me get over my fat-tree mourning phase!

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  18. Kewl. I will steal this and use it someday.

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  19. Mine is a pre-lit tree as well so I'm not sure if I will do the 'snow' effect. But I love the random pine cones...I'll have to see if I can find any for the cheap.
    LOVE seeing your projects and can't wait to see the tree finished!

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  20. It's beautiful. And what good is glitter if you don't have a small creature to get into it and spread it all over your house.

    Jen your city totally needs one of these.
    http://www.edmonton.ca/for_residents/garbage_recycling/reuse-centre.aspx

    You should write you city government and tell them to get on it.

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  21. Not sure what you have planned for lights on your Steampunk tree, but I want to recommend YELLOW ones. (Though I haven't tested yellow LED lights) The yellow lights "read" as clear, but cast an old-fashioned candle-lit kind of glow on the tree and ornaments which seems like it would be as perfect for Steampunk as it has been for some Victorian trees I have done.

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  22. This was a great idea that turned out even better! My only question is, when it's time to fold up the tree and store it, is the spackle going to crumble off? Or is this a this-year-only tree?

    You never cease to amaze me, team Yates!

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  23. @ThatGirl - Already done. Hey, great minds think alike! :D

    @Jyl - I've already handled the tree a LOT to get the lights on, and nothing fell off! So I expect it will fold up like a champ, no problem.

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  24. Wonderful! Beautiful! I love it!
    (...but I can't believe you did this in your living room...)

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  25. You totally slay me! Researching the MSDS for your readers and setting a swag on fire, you have gone above and beyond with this tutorial. You're resourcefulness in recycling is amazing. I also love that you referenced Narnia and threw in the word "gobsmacked." This is why I read your blogs daily.:-)

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  26. I was thinking of using this for a wreath to put on our door (that maybe will be steampunk when you post the tree but I'm too lazy to do a whole tree, ya know?). Any way, do you think this would work for a wreath, being all perpendicular and stuff? Also, how about mixing sparkles into the snow? And finally, what about multi-colored sparkles? Thanks so much.

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  27. Agree with Amanda - Walmart has bags of decorative pine cones in their craft section.

    Also, I wanted to add that Mythbusters did a segment on setting your Christmas tree on fire. They added a Griswold-esque amount of lights to a dried out real tree and could not get the tree to start fire by the lights alone. It took sending a spark down the wire to get the tree to go down in flames.

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  28. Love the idea and the tutorial, but I most love the cat doing a half-roll at the bottom of the enlarged frame. My husband says I'm a cat magnet, so I guess this proves it.

    WV: Larch. Kinda ironic considering the topic!

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  29. The tree is lovely and you two are just fabulously creative and handy. I would have liked a picture of the sparkley kitty too though, just for fun.... Happy decorating!

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  30. It's pretty awesome when the homemade version looks better than the store bought one! Great job! "Looks great! A little full, lotta sap..."

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  31. Next time, ask early and I'll send you a buncha pine cones from the northwest. We just walk outside and grab 'em! ...and 'cause you were so nice to send me a button...

    -Tina Bobina

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  32. You are soooooo creative! It looks beautiful. I wonder if I can convince my sis she needs to do this to her tree...

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  33. Oooooooohhhh, great idea, Jen! My decor colors are white, green, turquoise and silver. This year I added my old cinnamon pine cones to the tree, that don't smell anymore. I was thinking how great some flocking would look on it. Hmmmmmm, now I need to check and see if the drywall spackle we have is heavy or light. Thanks!

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  34. I love this! I definitely pinned it (with cred to you, of course)on my Christmas pinboard!

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  35. I live in Washington, let me know if you ever need pinecones, I'll get you like a million for free, they're everywhere. You're tree does look really nice.

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  36. @ Harrison - I think it'd work beautifully for a wreath. It might help to hang the wreath while you paint it, tho, so you remember which way is up and have the "snow" coming from the right direction!

    Mixing sparkles or glitter in with the Spackle probably wouldn't work, since the Spackle is opaque. Sprinkling it on top seemed to work Ok, though - just be sure to have a big drop cloth down like I did!

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  37. See, I grew up in Michigan, and we went out and cut a tree every year. They never had snow on them in the house. So, I just don't get the idea that putting fake snow on a fake tree is supposed to make it look more realistic.

    Some of the artificial trees are amazingly lifelike. Unlike what I saw growing up. But... Snow. On the tree. In the house? umm..

    OK, if it makes you happy. You did a real nice job of putting it on!

    *scratches tilted head*

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  38. I just want to say that John is a KEEPER! I cannot imagine my husband being that patient and helpful with any idea I have. You two are a match made in heaven and congratulations on the bloggy empire you have created together! I'm sure that you fight and all, but I'll just pretend that your relationship is always stress free.

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  39. You guys are brilliant!!!!

    Maureen

    P.S. It was great to see you in Pittsburgh!!! (You tired of this P.S. yet?) LOL

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  40. I did it! and love it! This post was such perfect timing I had literally just gotten all the decorations out of storage sat down at my computer for a moment Saw you had a new post and since it was exactly the like what we wanted but could not afford when we went tree shopping two years ago and I had all the supplies on hand we went for it. Thanks for the great and timely post.

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  41. Jen, the tree is AMAZING!! And SO much better than any I've seen you could've bought. Kudos on the great re-do (and new, sparkly kitty to boot!)

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  42. Wow! That is without a doubt the best flocked tree I have ever seen! They always seemed to be *soaked* and *dripping* in flocking -- but yours is very natural looking. Excellent, you guys! Thanks for the step-by-step. Can't wait to see more!

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  43. How fun is that! I may have to do that with our current tree when we retire it. Last year one strand was busted, so we'll see how it fared this year.

    Cannot wait to see the steampunk tree!

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  44. Nice!

    It bothers the anal retentive in me that you have pine cones on a fir tree, but I'll get over it.

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  45. Nymphadora Tonks?

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  46. Great job! I agree with KtCaliista - ASK US. You will overwhemed with what we can send you! I live in CT with 2 Maine Coon Climbing cats, so real and wired to the bookcases is how we decorate.

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  47. So far this is a most excellant craft project. Anticipating that it only gets better.

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  48. This looks amazing! I've felt the same way about the "flocked" trees you can buy--look terrible, feel terrible, and cost way too much. This, however, is just awesome. Way to go! (and kudos for allowing YOURSELF to be in pictures these days!)

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  49. That's so funny - as I was reading your posts I was thinking "She should add glitter before the spackle dries!" and you certainly didn't disappoint.

    This looks so good - I can't wait to see what steampunk Christmasy decorations you and John think up!!

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  50. I love that you re-used an old tree!!

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  51. Let's see. If I put the tree on a turntable outdoors under a portable shower (have to re-wire the pump to get enough pressure -- I figure a couple of truck batteries ought to do it)...

    Seriously, the result is amazing -- unlike most flocked trees, it looks as authentic up close as it does from a distance.

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  52. This looks way better than any flocked tree I have ever seen! I am excited to follow your tutorial.

    And BTW--don't forget that famous quote "glitter is the herpes of the craft world--once you have it, you will NEVER get rid of it!"

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  53. Just curious: is there a reason you didn't just go to a park with a pine tree and pick up cones off the ground? Anything I should know about pinecone safety?

    Because I've been letting my kids pick one every time we go to the park and just leaving them in bunches around the house as free seasonal decorations (I check them for bugs first, of course)

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  54. My daughter and I thought to shake things up a bit this year and go with a pink tree. Yeah- we're gonna be THAT HOUSE. I can't wait.

    However, pink trees cost A LOT more than the "natural" tree we already have. (which, since we already have it, and have had it for years, is basically free)

    I was thinking spray paint and glitter. But now I'm pondering spackle, food coloring and glitter.

    Any thoughts?

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  55. This looks incredible! You could probably make a pretty penny off of other people now ;) I'd have you do it for my tree!

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  56. You guys are always so crafty! It must be so much fun to have a husband who likes to dive in on a project like this. :)

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  57. I have got to say, that looks fabulous! I work at a home improvement-y type place (that shall not be named,) and it looks a TON better than our high dollar ones.

    (Then again, I ended up with one of our really cheap black friday ones, and I'm thrilled with it, because it already had some pinecones and berries.)

    Can't wait to see the steampunkness! :D

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  58. I was reading this to my husband, and the first question he had about John burning the garland with the spackle-snow on it was "Did they burn garland WITHOUT the snow on it first?"

    He says that to properly test it, you would need a control burn (some garland without spackle on it) to see if it burns differently.

    I happen to love the tree, nice work :)

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  59. cant wait to see the finished tree!!

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  60. Great, Now I have to disassemble my tree and redo it. My husband is going to kill me

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  61. Oooooh! I can't wait to see what other neat things you do to this tree. I put lights on my tree today and, word to the wise, the LED "cool, white lights," are scary bright. Think UFO landing bright. I like them, but I always have to blink a few times after I turn them on.

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  62. STEAMPUNK CHRISTMAS TREE!?

    I can't wait.

    :D :D :D :D

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  63. I can't believe how amazing this turned out, I'm going to start looking for unwanted artificial trees on kijiji!

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  64. Ohmigosh, Jen, that is GORGEOUS! I love the way it came out. I'm half-tempted to buy a mini Christmas tree just to try it out..I wonder if mini pine cones are easier to find than the big ones.

    WV: onnom. So very close to omnom!

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  65. For anyone thinking about doing this, you can go down to your local state park in most areas and pick up pine cones along the hiking trail. I use pine cones in our fireplace and that is where I got them. (They are perfect for kindling! By the time they fall from the tree they are nice and dried out and burn for about 5 minutes which is plenty of time for your logs to catch.)

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  66. Jenn, your tree is beautiful! And I'm impressed that john helps so much! You guys rock!

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  67. I love this tutorial! Such a great idea!
    I usually don't like green fake trees (I have a mini-mini pink one and a table top white one) but my husband doesn't want a real tree.. But this looks so nice I might even go for a fake green tree! (unless I can convince my husband that a silver tree could "feel cozy" as well..)
    Thank you for sharing!
    Looking forward to seeing the tree all steampunkedup!

    Sarah (the Dutch one)

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  68. Just did this. It turned out fantastic. My side show children used all of my glitter so I had to get crafty. I used sea salt. It looks glorious! Thanks so much for the idea!

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  69. Lovely tutorial - that came out fantastic!

    I too removed the lights on a pre-lit tree but only because I didn't like the lights but loved the tree. It was a lot of cutting (it was really wrapped) and then I wrapped snubnosed led lights around each branch from the middle out and back in. It's really fully lit that way (great tip from my mom who is everything Christmas).

    Quick question - what is with the crown molding over by the dining room if I may ask? Mom (when I sent her the pic as she loves flocked trees too) noticed (as she admired your wall colors).

    wv - ingied
    Ah hope John didn't get ingied when testin the flahmability of that wreath.

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  70. Oh my! I LOVE this tree! I have an artificial tree which I hate, so I thought I might give your idea a try. It turned out beautifully!!! Thank you so much for the inspiration!

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  71. This is so pretty!!!!! I want to do this, but we always get a real tree. Do you think it could be done on real trees too? Amy

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  72. When I grow up, I want to be Jen.

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  73. We use the ivory soap and liquid starch for snow. Then add red berry picks. I love it!!!

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