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Mini Hot Air Balloon Tutorial

Wednesday, December 21, 2011



As I mentioned in my steampunk tree post, these hot air balloon ornaments have been our most time-consuming Christmas project. Lots of trial and error, figuring things out as we went along, and, in the case of getting the baskets to hang straight, plenty of "colorful metaphors."

The good news is this isn't a holiday-specific craft: wouldn't they make an awesome mobile? Or hang one in the corner of your office for a little whimsy.

To start, you'll need a plastic ornament. The most realistic shape is a tear drop, but since I couldn't find one in plastic we went with round ones and this funky dealio:

At first I didn't think this shape would work, but after sticking a flag on top (which is actually the bottom) it's now my favorite. The flag is a scrap of raw silk folded over, glued, and decorated with a little gem and some glitter glue.

After your ornament, your next essential element is the basket. After hunting around online, I decided these tiny egg baskets made for dollhouses were just right:

Plus, I found them on ebay for only $7.50 for 10 baskets, with free shipping from Thailand. Not bad! (Here's a link if you want to buy from the same seller I did.)

Next, a little aging with watered down brown craft paint:

And then a heavier coat brushed on and wiped off a bit:

Keep the basket handles on for painting, but then clip them off when you're done.

Odds are your ornament will already be pretty as-is, but for a little extra bling you can swag some chain like so:

To do this, get out your trusty Dremel with snake attachment, insert your teensiest drill bit, and drill little pilot holes. Then tap in tiny nails, swag your chain over the nails, and add a drop of superglue to keep it all in place. (If your chain is larger, you can insert the nails through the links.)

Don't have a Dremel? No worries: many ornaments are thin enough that you can push a simple thumb tack through:

See that cord John's holding? That's a poor girl's flexible ruler: just tie a string around the ornament neck, mark your spot, and slide the string around to keep your distances consistent. Nifty, huh?

It's a great way to keep your circumference lines straight:



For plain ornaments like this one you'll want to paint on some designs, glue on some blingy stuff, dip it in glitter, etc. This was our first attempt, so mine's pretty simple:


I'm also happy to report this was the first project I've ever used glitter glue on, and man, is that stuff awesome. (The gold lines are liquid leaf paint.)

From the beginning I knew I wanted a balloon with a net over it, but drawing a net on a round ball is one of those things that sounds easy until you try it. Everything's going fine, and then, BAM! What do I do with the corners?!

To save you the same aggravation, here's the solution I came up with:


As you can see, I drew my grid work with chalk. Then, when I reached the corners, I carefully erased the two final intersecting grid lines and combined them into one. I added a few more lines on either side off that central branch, curving them slightly, so I ended up with four "stretched" corners.

I realize that sounds confusing, so I advise you to just check my pictures if/when you try this, and try to match them:

When I was happy with my lines, I painted over them with liquid leaf paint:

You could almost skip this step, though, because it turns out a nice thick line of glitter glue covers pretty well:

Plus, look how 3D it looks - like an actual net!

(Full disclosure: the glue deflates as it dries, so it's not nearly so puffy now.)



For the finishing touch I bent a little filigree piece to match the ball's curve, and glued red crystals scrounged from my broken jewelry stash into the middle. (Click any of these photos to enbiggen.)

Oh, and the eyelet on top is just a regular ol' eyelet screwed in and painted gold.

Now for the hard part: hanging your basket.

We discovered the hard way that nothing - but NOTHING - will stick to the sides of these lousy baskets. All our super glues were defeated, and hot glue is hard to jam in there. Eventually I cut a tiny circle of cardstock, glued/taped the strings to the underside of the circle, and then jammed it into the basket with a heavy dollop of white glue on the bottom.

Because the basket weighs nothing, your strings will want to bend and curl and kink. Not to worry: grab a heavy nut or two from your tool box, plop 'em in the basket, cover them with a scrap of black tissue paper, and it should weigh it down sufficiently.

To attach the other ends of the strings to your ornament, you can either glue them (and then cover the ends with a ribbon) or, as we did, tie the strings around your little nails.

Of course, you might be wondering how to tie all your strings perfectly level, so the basket hangs straight.

SO AM I.

(Remember those colorful metaphors?)

My only advice is a wing and a prayer and maybe a little booze.

Of course, if you use *chain* you can count links and not worry about weighing the basket down - but then you have to figure out how to attach the chain to your basket. O rings are a bit big for such a tiny basket, but I decided to use them anyway on my latest prototype:



Overall this method is faster and easier, but you'll note I STILL can't get the rotten basket to hang straight. I counted links and everything! Honest! (True story: John's in the other room right now with a pair of pliers trying to "fix" whatever I did wrong here. Harrumph.)

This one started as a plain purple ornament, so I jazzed it up with some copper foil tape (the kind you use in stained glass) and bronze glitter glue:

While I was waiting for the glue to dry, my friend Missy remarked that she was surprised I hadn't used pennies in any of my ornaments yet. A-ha! PENNIES!

The one I used is from some friends who recently went to NYC, and eventually I'd like to fill all eight panels with national landmark pennies. They remind me of the decorative panels painted on carousels, and add a lot of detail. Trouble is, I don't have any more - all my smashed pennies are Disney ones. Heh. So, if you have an area landmark penny with a vertical design you wouldn't mind giving up, feel free to send it to me. You know, for the cause.

And now, my dear crafters, I will wrap up this monster post and wish you the very best of balloon luck. I hope you enjoyed, and as always, feel free to share suggestions for improvement or ask questions in the comments!


[Edit: Several people have asked where I found our plastic ornaments. The green I believe came from K-mart, and the others are from places like Hobby Lobby, dollar stores, and Big Lots. Cheaper stores are always better, since nicer places tend to only carry glass.]

Posted by Jen at 1:12 AM Labels: , ,

81 comments:

  1. Funky dealio = my favourite! So very cool. You have an unbelievable amount of persistence and patience with your crafting projects, I stand in awe :)

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  2. Oooh, Jen, these are GORGEOUS. I will definitely hit up the after-Christmas sales and get a bunch of ornaments to make these for next year! Thank you for this!

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  3. These are AMAZING. I would love to have a small collection of these to hang up all year round. Just hanging at different heights in a corner somewhere seems like it'd be really gorgeous.
    Where'd you find the plastic ornaments? Most that I've seen with any rich color seem to be glass, and that obviously is just asking for disaster.

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  4. This is so awesome I can hardly stand it. Love, Love, Love the smashed penny detail.

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  5. I'd send you a penny but all of mine are Disney, too. Land, not World. Oh, and I have a Snoopy one but that's not what you had in mind.

    Your brain is made differently from everybody else's that you can look at something and say I can make an object that didn't exist before. Love you guys for it.


    (P.S. Donated some of my dollars in thanks that I have never needed their services.)

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  6. Absolutely gorgeous! I wish I had the patience, creativity, time, and materials to make such beautiful and quirky items!

    I want to grow up to be just like you and John. :)

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  7. LOVE these so much, am now hunting for baskets locally so I can do it today!

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  8. Wow, I thought the net was actual net. That is AMAZING! And they look stonking. I'm very jealous of your skills :)

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  9. They are BEAUTIFUL. Also, I don't think it's such a big deal if they hang straight or not. Honestly, that last purple one whose basket is kind of tilted looks pretty cool - like it's actually moving, you know? Like the balloon is moving forward (or sideways or whatever) and the basket is trailing along behind...

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  10. The craft stores do have puffy paint sold just like glitter glue. They should be in the same isle too, you'll just have to check labels. Then your paint lines will stay all puffy.
    -I used to work at a craft store, and let me just say, a lot of my check went right back to them. :( On the plus side, I have lots of cool crafty stuff and fabric at home.

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  11. These are so incredible! Any tree would be lucky to hold one of these crafty balloons.

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  12. These are AMAZING. Beautiful. I want to make some.

    I was in the dollar store yesterday and I saw tiny wooden nutcrackers with hinged limbs. I thought that they would look really neat steampunkified into little mechanical dolls for your tree.

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  13. These are absolutely incredible. Stunning. I am constantly amazed and impressed with your talent and dedication to detail.

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  14. I wonder if a thimble would make a nice balloon basket? it might be easier to get straight and it is already weighted if you use the metal kind. Plus, if you find old ones or antique them, they will look more steam punk.

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  15. So COOL! Thanks for the trouble-shooting - I'll definitely be shopping for some pretty plastic ornaments when everything goes on sale next week!

    I have to admit I was expecting you to say you added weight to your basket with a penny. Of course, nuts and washers work too. =)

    I wonder if real net would work - I might have to try that. And I might have to sacrifice one or two of my plastic IKEA ornaments because they are ribbed (which would be really great for a balloon).

    Did you say where you bought your ornaments?

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  16. So cool! I'm sure they're more of a labor of love, but I bet a lot of people would pay money for those. Very creative and wonderful :)

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  17. I have just bought a gold stripy bauble with the intention of making one of these as they are so cute. Wish me luck!

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  18. I think this is my absolute favoritist craft tutorial EVER. I'm blown away by how fantastic these look, and I totally want to make some to hang in my cubicle at work.. These are just.. amazing. Thank you so much for sharing!! I'm seeing clearance ornament shopping in my near future!

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  19. etsy has some smashed pennies, and there are sites that sell the machines or just custom pennies. You could get an epbot penny smasher!

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  20. So awesome and creative. THANK YOU for sharing this!

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  21. I never do ANY crafting, but I want to try this so badly! I have some time off over the holidays so I may give it a go. Yours are SO so cute, I'm inspired!

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  22. I haven't tried these yet, but would it be possible to tie your string, chain, hopes and dreams, ect. to the basket first, then attach to the balloon? In addition, if you attach the "north" and "south" ropes first, get them even, it should make the "east" and "west" part a little easier to even out. Just a thought.

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  23. that is brilliant! Am going to steal it for next year's office christmas prezzies =oD

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  24. If you don't like the look of the o rings, try looking in the jewellery/craft section for jump rings- they come in various sizes and finishes.

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  25. These are very pretty! I admire your creativity and persistence. Beautiful!

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  26. So so so SO pretty! Love the red one with the gold netting the best. This is one of those fiddly crafts that I don't know that I'd ever do but I love looking at your results!

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  27. You could try squeezing in a penny or two into the basket or some other small metal that will add weight and keep it taught.

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  28. About getting the baskets to hang straight... have you tried putting a weight in the basket? It should pull the ropes nice and taut... or is it taught? It's not a word I use much... ^-^;;

    In any case, these ornaments are LOVELY. I may just go home and make a bunch, myself!

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  29. Oh my! These are wonderful!
    And you're absolutely right, these would be great for hanging year round!
    Now... where to find large plastic balls...
    Or.. maybe if I can't find Christmas balls (I've never come across larger plastic Christmas balls... Weird Dutch people ;-)!) I could try it with styrofoam balls... I know I can get those in all sorts of sizes..
    Hmm....
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful inspiration!
    Sarah (the Dutch one)

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  30. These are GORGEOUS! I'd wanna leave them hanging up all year long. They're just beautiful! Great job, you two!

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  31. Here is a link to another tutorial with an interesting alternative for the basket and wires.
    http://www.thecheesethief.com/2011/12/how-to-make-hot-air-balloon-ornament.html

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  32. I'm wondering if thin gold wire would work instead of string/chain for supporting the basket....then you could work the wires through the weave in the basket and it would be slightly adjustable for lenght (pulling a little out/pushing in to get the basket straight). Then you'd eliminate the kinky string problem, too-though the baskets would loose any movement they might have...

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  33. OKAY! OKAY! I'm SORRY! My only excuse is that being finally unemployed has brought out my inner shut-in, and I'm enjoying the hell outta not ever needing to leave the house. (:
    I need to shop tomorrow, so I'll stop at the PO too and mail off those pennies... (:

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  34. I'm thinking of a green balloon...with Omaha State Fair on it. This craft made me gasp out loud. Love love love it!
    Not The Original Suzanne

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  35. Jen, an easy way to fix your deflated glitter glue is to add another layer, or add a layer of glittery fabric paint (puffy paint). It's a pain to do twice, but that's always the method I use to get a smoother look with fabric paint and keep it puffed up.

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  36. While I love steampunk, it isn't an obsessing like it is with you. Yet, I still find your blog so much fun and your projects amazing. Maybe it is the fact you and hubby craft together- my husband doesn't even want to think about making something with me. Maybe it is your talent? your aesthetic? I don't really know but you have me wanting to make a gaggle of hot air balloons. I love how you talk about the entire process rather than pretend it was all so easy. I must admit I am not so good about doing prototypes. IF my one attempt doesn't work I usually bag it all which isn't exactly a good work ethic is it? I love your tree and all your ornaments you made into steampunk - so fun to watch.

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  37. Awesome! Thanks for sharing... I'm totally going to make some of these to just hang around the lounge ceiling (not even just for Xmas).

    I wonder if that ebay seller has been flooded with orders :D

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  38. Very Purdy. Also, I can tell that you don't have children. -Kristina

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  39. Do you think, for the net on top of the balloon, do you think you could paint the lines in puff paint, let it dry and then do the glitter glue on top of it for a 3D effect? Just asking. Thanks for the craft share. LOVE THESE!

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  40. You are a GENIUS! (John, too.) These are beautiful. Ever think of holding workshops? They could be sort of "Iron Chef" style - everybody bring some crafting gear and... GO!

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  41. I'm wanting to make a steam-punky hot air balloon/dirigible mobile for over the baby's crib. I fear, however, that my pregnancy/grad thesis brain isn't up to the amazing levels of patience you've shown here. But, oh, so pretty!

    (Also, I'm going to assume that my WV of "condm" has NOTHING to do with my state of knocked-uppedness.)

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  42. love the teeny tiny baskets.

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  43. The elongated green ornament could be turned on its side, and made into a dirigible!

    I really wish I had your fine motor skills!

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  44. So cool and beautiful! I would love to make a mobile for my daughter's room.

    BTW, do you use a light box for your photos. And, if so, did you make it yourself? I really should make one for my blog photos, but need a well-written tutorial for a not super expensive one!

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  45. These are super creative!!!! xoxo

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  46. This is really cool idea! I love mini hot air balloons and this tutorial is the best so far I've ever seen. Thanks for sharing.

    Tip for those who don't have Dremel. If you get large sewing needle and warm it on candle flame it should go through the plastic rather easily.

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  47. I loovvveee your balloon ornaments! Maybe I'll give it a try after the after-Christmas sales on ornaments.

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  48. With the round baskets, you could use only three strings: a three-legged stool doesn't wobble.

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  49. Would you be interested in a penny from the Drive Thru Tree in Northern CA?

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  50. I'm half way through my attempt to make a couple of these and I want to cry....my deepest respect to you for getting yours looking so amazing!

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  51. When will you have a contest to have a craft day at your house???? These are awesome!!!

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  52. omg this is awesome so gonna be doing this to pimp up my bedroom lolz

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  53. I absolutely love love love these and will be making them next year! Thank you for sharing!

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  54. My grandma crocheted a net and basket cover (with a 2 liter bottle lid for the actual basket) for the hot air balloons she made for me and my sister when we were little. Then she put a little craft store teddy bear in the basket as the weight. :)

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  55. I love this Jen! You do such amazing things! My only thought was that you could run your strings through the holes of your ornament and then you can just pull the basket straight. You know, take off the gold hangy thing so you can reach in with tweezers and thread the string through. Then glue each end to the basket on opposite sides and it should be adjustable. Just a thought. Good luck!

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  56. Hubby went on his day after Christmas decoration spending frenzy. I asked him to get me some plastic ornaments so I could try this. He came home with 6 boxes all different colors and sizes. I know what I'm doing this January! Thanks for the wonderful idea.

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  57. These are gorgeous! Have you tried using beading wire to connect the baskets to the "balloons"? You could attach it to your nails and just wrap it into the weave of the basket like you did with the O rings. You probably wouldn't have to weigh the basket down. You could probably get with using either a stiff gold colored wire or a flexible gold colored beading wire coating in clear nylon (it look like normal gold wire but it super flexible).

    Thanks for all the awesome tutorials! I'm excited to make these!

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  58. Oh dear, you said mobile. Now my head is filled with a pretty little white and bronze/gold/brass mobile with these and gears that just has to be made for the baby on the way.

    Those are fantastic! Thank you for the tute!

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  59. These are amazing!

    I used to love watching balloon races as a child; the field that they started from was near a house where we lived for a time so a great flock of balloons used to go overhead. I have a big sack of Christmas ornaments in my house left by the last occupant, along with an all white living room with a ridiculously high ceiling, so now I'm thinking: clear cord to hang my own fleet of balloons, all at different heights, near the ceiling, as if they're just taking off. Fabulous. Thanks so much for the inspiration!

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  60. These are GLORIOUS. My oldest sister would be in love with them...she actually made me a stuffed hot air balloon when I was in college.

    One idea about evening the hanging strings...did you try using only two strings folded in half rather than four? If you're putting them under cardstock, the folds would be under the cardstock and the ends attached to the ornament...hope that makes sense. Then you'd only be adjusting two lengths rather than four. Adjusting opposing sides would just be a matter of sliding. You could also string some seed beads (sitting under the cardstock) and then break them off to lengthen the sides bit by bit to even things up. This is all theory of course. ;)

    By the way, your "cord ruler" trick is pretty much how temari dividing lines are marked. =)

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  61. So cool! I dragged the munchkins out to get ornaments at the after Christmas sale so we could start making these as gifts for next year. Of course, I might have to hang a few in my house too.

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  62. AWESOME!!! My daughter loves hot air baloons and I was going to try to make some for her bedroom, this will be so perfect. thanks for doing the tutorial!!

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  63. I cannot express how excited I am about this project and how annoyed I am at myself for not finding it until January! I'm going on a hunt for the dregs for Christmas ornament sales tomorrow!

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  64. Relevant: http://www.modcloth.com/shop/toys-novelties/haute-air-balloon-ornament

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  65. side note for anyone who finds this post right now at hobby lobby in the easter section for about 2 dollars they have tiny little baskets with color on them..i figure a coat of paint will take care of the bright colors and they are cheap!

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  66. To straighten the basket, this might work:

    Secure the basket to a work area with a thumbtack so it is stable. Then, use a thick straw (like from McDonald's) and place inside the ball. Cut the straw to the correct length, and place over the thumbtack. Now that the balloon is at the right hight, secure the string or chain. Once finished, just cut the straw to remove and remove the thumbtack. Never tried it, but that's how I would try to solve it.

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  67. Great post...love it.
    Thanks for sharing!

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  68. Love these!!!! I've been trying to do something like this with fabric. You gave me some great ideas and thanks for the link for the baskets

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  69. Just a friendly suggestion that I read in my many journeys through craft pages(sorry don't remember link)but, to "weather" or stain the wicker baskets you can also use strong tea to dip them in. Just keep dipping and drying.

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  70. This is ridiculously cute! When I saw balloon, I thought "oh no" (I have an irrational fear of balloons...) But these are way better, I love it!

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  71. I think it could be easier to get the basket straight it you switch the order you attach the ends of the string. Try leaving the strings extra long and securing them to the "balloon" first. Then you could cut them all to the same length or possibly tie them gently together at the bottom. Then glue them inside your basket. You'd be doing all the leveling at one place, at the basket, instead of the four attachment points on the balloon. Very cute idea.

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  72. Today commences my attempt at creating my own version of these adorable little balloon! I got mini ornaments shaped like a drum for the basket though, and 5 inch ornaments for the envelope. I can't wait to give them to my family this Christmas!

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  73. This is a fabulous idea!! We (my homolifebuddy/bestfriend/roommate) are always on the lookout for unique, non-traditional holiday ornamets. We are crafty ladies so I think we could pull this off. and the next time I am up a Coit Tower (San Francisco) I will make sure to get you a penny!

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  74. to get the baskets to hang strait you have to properly center your hanging hook i can see from your photos that the top of the ornament and where you put your hanging hook are not perfectly in line with each other. once the ornament is hanging strait the basket will as well.

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  75. you're amazing. this is amazing. I am making a hundred of these tomorrow.

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  76. Thanks,
    You have such a great talent and your designs are just wonderful!

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  77. I absolutely love these! We are getting married in a castle and I was trying to come up with a different theme other than the same ol thing everyone has done forever...princess, medieval, fairytale, etc...so we decided on vintage steampunk and this would be a great way to decorate without breaking the bank! Thanks so much, cant wait to start!

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  78. These are so beautiful, you should really consider making and selling them. I would buy them, for sure.

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  79. I'm wishing it was cooler and that I could start decorating for Christmas, so I've been stalking various craft projects. I love these balloons and I had a potentially crazy (and difficult) idea: make them with an Edison bulb instead of an ornament! You couldn't light it because glue/paint would get too hot, and they're glass so that would add to the level of difficulty, but it would be such an awesome mini-steampunk hot air balloon! I may have to try...though I anticipate lots of broken bulbs!

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  80. I'm going to send you a S%&# ton of smashed pennies.

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