These spiky, paper holiday ornaments seems to have originated in Poland, as the name, "Polish Porcupine Balls, " implies. They can be made by both adults, and children with fairly good small motor skills. Mine is plain white, but bright colors, or used wrapping paper, especially foil paper, make beautiful, shiny orbs.
The origin of this craft is lost in history, but it was revived in the early 20th century. According to the Polish-American Journal, a flood of cheap German ornaments in the mid-19th century resulted in an artistic rebellion. Maria Gerson-Dabrowska, an art and drama teacher, led the “rebellion.” She was the daughter of a painter, and wife of a novelist. In 1911 she led a public demonstration of the making of many traditional Polish ornaments. She wanted to preserve these folk techniques and create, in essence, a national Christmas Tree style. Her ideas were embraced by many Poles, and many of the historic peasant crafts were preserved.
There are many variations on this pattern, and I’ll note some of them where they differ from what I did. The basic plan is to make 10-16 flat stars with rolled points, and then to string them together, forcing them into a ball.
I made one of plain white computer paper. The stiffness made it fairly easy to roll the points, but also made it a little difficult to pull the layers into a ball shape. Foil paper is traditional, as is tissue paper. The tissue paper would definitely be difficult to work with in shaping the points.
My porcupine ball is made of circles, but you can actually just make it of squares, which would save a lot of cutting.
The finished ball will be approximately the diameter of the circles, so you could make a huge ball, but you would need more layers for the needed fullness. These directions will be for a ball just under 5 inches in diameter.
Paper- computer paper, foil-backed wrapping paper, newspaper comic sections, colored magazine pages, tissue paper- pretty much anything that isn’t overly stiff.
A wide rubber band- any color, as it will be hidden within the points
Heavy thread, string, or light yarn- to fasten the ball and create a hanging loop.
A circular template- I used a blank CD
Glue- I used Elmer’s Glue All
A fairly long needle (with eye large enough for the thread you use)
1. Cut the paper
Cut 10 (or more) circles or squares. Circles should be 4-5 inches in diameter for a reasonable size to hang on a tree. I cut a stack all at once. (photo 1)
Fold each one in half, and half again, then once more, making a cone shape. (photo 2) Open this back out and you will have divided the circle into eighths. Cut along each fold to about ½ inch from the center of the circle. If you are using a square, do the same thing, and you will end up with the kind of shape that could be folded into a pinwheel.
2. Create the points
Use the pencil point (or a sharpened stick, or a pen- anything pointed), and roll one division around it to create one point of the star. (photo 3) These don’t have to be perfectly symmetrical. It took me a few tries to get the roll to come to a nice point. I found that if I held the stick at a larger angle in relation to a diameter of the circle that I got a better point. Roll the point, add a dot of glue to the final flap, and hold in place for just a few seconds until it will stick by itself. I then set this layer aside to dry, and made point one on each layer, then did point two on all, etc. This allowed time for the points to dry, rather than trying to do all eight on one piece of paper in a row. If you are using a square, roll from the smaller to the larger side.
3. String the layers together
Thread the needle with about 18 inches of string or yarn. Cut a square of the rubber band, and thread it on the string, leaving a tail of about 6 inches. Then stack 5 of the stars all with the curled points up, and stick the needle through the center of the stack. (photo 4) Take the remaining 5 stars and stack with the points curled down, and stick the needle through the center of the stack. You now have all 10 stars strung together, with 5 facing one way and 5 the other. Add another piece of the rubber band to the stack.
Now make one stitch in the rubber, and return the string back through the hole. (photo 5) The stitch in the rubber band will ensure that the string can’t pull back through. (I used black for this one, just so you can see the stitch against the white paper.) When you get back to the first piece of rubber, make another hole in it and pull the string through. Compress the stack by pushing the layers together, and tie the two string ends together against the rubber, to hold it tightly.
4. Final steps
Tie the strings together farther away from the ball to make a hanging loop, and trim the ends. You can now spread/arrange the points of the star a bit to make it look more round. (photo 6)
My first try at this took me about two hours, while watching TV. I can believe that I might get the time down to just over an hour, but these Polish porcupine balls do take some time to make.
Update On Dec 11, 2010: I made one of these with foil paper today. I used 4.25 inch circles, which made the ball a better size to hang on a tree. The foil was a little harder to work with. I learned that the Elmer's glue isn't a good choice for foil, because it left a dull residue on the shiny surface. So I'll need to choose a different adhesive to make really nice foil porcupine balls. You can see the results at Polish Porcupine Ball- Revisited.