Tuesday, April 20, 2021

helpful tips for nicely done ornament heads – you can do this – no really

Let's put our heads together! haha. Do you find that you are intimidated by the idea of making the tiny wood bead heads for some of my heirloom ornaments? This is the post for you. I'm going to break this process down to hopefully digestible little bites, and you will realize this is not a big deal at all. No lie. You can do it. *high fives* *down low* (whips hands away) *too slow!* 
OK, here we go:


My patterns usually call for 20 mm (3/4 inch) wood beads. It's important to get the correct size so that the heads look in proportion to the bodies, and so that the tiny hats/hair/noses/mustaches etc... all end up fitting the way they are designed to. 

There are tiny variances in sizes even if they are labeled 20 mm or 3/4 inch, but you don't want to stray too far in either direction. To test for yourself, cut a skinny strip of paper and mark 20 mm or .75 inch on it using a ruler and a fine point pen. Then feed the strip of paper through the bead hole and check. The bead should be fairly close to your measurement.

When buying, look for:

  • hardwood beads that have a nice, uniform, woody color and subtle graining
  • consistent size and roundness
  • drilled holes that are around 4 mm
Avoid purchasing beads that:

  • are very light colored, as they seem to be softer/more prone to bleeding, wonkier shaped, and there's not much contrast if your head will have white hair
  • have holes that are too large or too small (around 4 mm is good)
  • are not consistently round and look tall or squatty

Are you planning to add a different skin tone to your beads? 
I recommend painting the whole bead ahead of time (plus the smaller beads for hands if needed) with a good quality watercolor paint and a large-ish brush. Using semi-transparent mediums like watercolor will keep the nice, matte finish of the wood bead, and the color will have some depth.

In the photo above^ the top and righthand beads are painted with washes of watercolor. The bottom left is unpainted. If you find it hard to get uniform color using watercolor, try adding more than one coat of diluted color and using a larger brush.

Of course, you can also use acrylic paint if you prefer that, but be aware that it will add a slight sheen and the color will be more opaque/flat. I do love to use acrylic paint to fill in white hair, as shown on the Mrs Santa head in the photo above.

Confession: I could not find my good watercolor set to make these (I suspect the children). All I could find was the ancient, cheap tray of Crayola watercolors we picked up from Target when they were small. It took some mixing and experimentation to get the colors I wanted, but I'm just saying it's possible if that is all you have handy. The super cool thing is, I have noticed the watercolor wash seems to partially seal the wood so that it is way less prone to bleeding and it's easier to add the faces. Bonus! Note: It's important to let the bead dry completely before adding the features.


1) Good lighting and reading glasses: OK, some of you young thangs with sharp eyes may not need the glasses, but they are a must for me at this small scale. I have an OttLite directly over my work space and also a nice big window near my desk. This shot of my desk is at night, so you can see the OttLite still gives plenty of light, even without the window.

2) Pencil: One with a nice, fine point. Mechanical pencils have a consistently sharp tip.

3) A good eraser: I like white eraser pens rather than the old school pink eraser on the end of the pencil, which can leave marks/smears. These click-up type eraser pens do an excellent job of getting rid of stray pencil marks (after your head is dry) without leaving residue or smears.

4) Fine point pens: My instructions call for you to use either a good quality gel pen or a fine point permanent fabric marker to draw on the eyes, mouths, and hair outline. It's tempting to use that Sharpie marker or your kid's felt marker because they are at hand, but don't do it! Why? Because unfinished wood beads tend to bleed inks along the wood grain, and fabric markers and gel pens are great at minimizing this unattractive effect.

(I've also heard some folks get good results from Sakura Micron fine tip pens, so you are welcome to try that too! If you have extra beads on hand you can afford to test some different pens, but be sure they don't bleed and have permanent ink.)

Please note: If the unfinished wood makes you nervous or if you just can't seem to minimize the bleeding there are other options:
  • Don't use markers/pens. It's perfectly fine to use colored pencils to draw on the face. It's a softer look but more forgiving than the pens if you do not have a steady hand.
  • Or you can opt to seal the entire bead with a clear coating like matte Mod Podge before adding the face/hair. I don't prefer this because even the matte coating can be a bit shinier than I like, but it's a surefire way to avoid bleeding. If you do this, don't use a gel or fabric pen – use a permanent marker like a Micron or a Sharpie. 
  • Or you can opt for a Waldorf look by simply leaving the faces entirely blank, or with only some rosy cheeks and hair. I've seen lovely sets done this way.

5) Broad tip fabric marker: In some cases, it's helpful to have a broad tip fabric marker to fill in the hair after you get the outline done with the fine point pen. It's just quicker than coloring with the fine tip. On heads with white hair, you can use an opaque white paint pen to fill in, or brush on white acrylic paint.

6) Good quality colored pencils and a Q-Tip to blend: to add details like rosy cheeks, red noses, and ghostly hollowed cheeks. I remember I had a rolled paper blending pencil shaped thingy a hundred years ago from my college charcoal drawing classes that would probably work great for the cheek blending instead of using a Q-Tip, but I can't find it in my stuff. (Yes, I do still have my art supplies from college, don't you?) But Q-Tips do the job and everyone has 'em.

7) Tacky Glue and a toothpick: On some heads you need to glue on tiny noses, ears or mustaches. Tacky Glue does the job nicely because you need to use so little to make a bond. The toothpick comes in handy to place teeny tiny amounts of glue just where you need it.

8) Folded chenille stem, pipe cleaner, or skinny dowel: Use these to hold the bead more easily while you work with it, and when you're finished you can just prop the stem in a thread spool or handy cup to let the head dry.

9) Extra beads: Understand that you may need a few extra beads if something goes awry. What you don't need is the added pressure of nailing this in one try. (Shall I show you my impressive reject pile of heads?) If you don't like your first face, most times you can attempt another face on the opposite side of the bead, provided the first face will be covered by hair or a hat.

10) And finally, CONFIDENCE. Have a close look at some of my photos in this post. You'll notice my faces are, in fact, not perfect. They are a bit flawed, but hopefully still charming. (Kind of like me.) In short, you got this. Tackle this part of the ornament project in the same methodical way you do the embroidery and sewing portions – it's no different. Just follow the step by step instructions and you can have a winsome little face you are delighted with. Really.


I'm going to show you how to do a basic face here, but please follow the specific instructions included in my patterns for your ornament. There are variations with each pattern.

1) Look at your bead. Is there a larger hole on one end? That's the neck. (If the holes are the same size, no worries, use either.) Skewer the bead on a folded chenille stem. Like my fuzzy green one? It's been around. 

Just a note here: I've noticed some of the wood beads I've bought lately have holes that are on the small side (less than 4 mm). If you do too, just keep that in mind when you cut your felt body out and maybe trim a tiny bit off the width of your neck to accomodate. You can also trim the fuzz on the pipe cleaner neckbone to reduce bulk and make it easier to slide on the head later. What if you've already sewn the neck? If the fit is too snug, my favorite trick is to wrap the neck tightly with matching sewing thread. It really helps to get it in the bead hole when it's a bit too tight. Remember to twist the head on and not shove.

2) Turn the bead so the stripey end grain will be the face. (This side tends to bleed less, unless your bead is painted, in which case you can use any side you like.) If there are obvious flaws or burn marks on the bead, you'll want to turn that toward the back or choose a different bead. Find the halfway point and mark it lightly with a pencil if you need to. Folks tend to place the eyes too high, and that will help. The eyes should go at the halfway point, where the bead is the widest.

3) With your pencil, lightly mark two eyes and a mouth. As a general rule, my eye dots are about 3/8 inch (9 mm) apart from center to center, with some small variations. Place the mouth about halfway between the eyes and the neck, centered between the eyes. Err on the small side for the mouth. It's cuter. The eyes and mouth will visually form a squatty triangle. (If you like a more kawaii look for your faces, place the mouth a little higher and closer to the eyes, but keep it just as small or smaller. It will increase the cute factor, and conversely, placing the mouth lower will decrease the cute factor.

Not quite happy with your sketched face? Simply erase and make adjustments. Do this before you move on.

4) Now to dot your eyes. haha. Use a permanent fabric marker or gel pen to color two dots for eyes over your pencil marks. The larger the dots, the cuter the look. I keep the dots about 2 mm, give or take. Experiment to find the size you like. Remember: you can always make them larger but you can't make them smaller, so be conservative.

5) Use a permanent fabric marker or gel pen to draw on the mouth over your pencil mark. A fine point is essential here – it's very easy to make the mouth too large for the scale of the face. Think thin and small.  You can always dot on more if it's too small. Don't worry if you don't completely cover your pencil mark. You'll erase it later. DON'T erase until you are sure your head is dry.

6) Your pattern may call for adding rosy cheeks (or ghostly cheeks). Do not add cheeks until your face is dry. Here's how: Grab a good quality colored pencil. (No crayons or markers please.) Using a circular motion, lightly color a circle just under each eye and close to the mouth. Smaller circles = more kawaii. Larger circles = more vintage. Use a Q-tip or a folded cotton pipe cleaner in a circular motion to soften the edges of the circle, if you like. You can go back in and darken the center of the circle if you want a deeper color.

7) Add some hair. Sketch in the outline lightly first with pencil, then follow with a fine point fabric marker or gel pen to outline. Then fill in with either the fine point pen or the broad tip marker or paint pen you have handy. 

Note: The hairstyle can be as simple or fancy as you like. Start simple, and get fancy later when you gain some confidence. This sample hair above^ is more on the complex side. It's for Little Elves. Here's a simpler style for Mrs Claus

Really, the key to the hair is getting it fairly close to the eyes, so that the face of the bead looks smallish, cute, and surrounded by hair, and does not look like it's a tiny face island in the middle of a big blank wood ocean. Check my pattern directions for how much of the sides and back of the head you are supposed to color. It could be just a partial since a lot of them are wearing hats.

8) When your face/hair are totally completely and utterly dry, you can safely erase any stray pencil marks. Be aware the eraser will also unfortunately erase your rosy cheeks, so you may need to touch those up. Finished! Tada!

Still nervous? You can always simplify the faces if they seem too complex. For instance, the two Mrs. Santa heads on a pike above. The top one is a more complex one with fancier hair, and the bottom one is a simpler version with just dots. I think both faces are so cute! So you won't lose any style points for going simple. As a bonus, the dotted faces evoke a more vintage look, which I always love. 

So that is how it's done, lovely mmmakers. You have faced your fears. *wink* After following this tutorial you'll be ahead of the game. haha. OK sorry, I'm finally out of puns. There are a lot of variations in the faces and hair between my designs, but each of the patterns includes detailed step-by-step instructions for the faces. Use the tips you learned here to help you along. 

I hope this tutorial has been helpful! Happy mmmaking! 


  1. and keep practicing! I do three at a time, and pick the one I'm happiest with. Thanks for the tips! xx Liz

  2. This is SO helpful. You must have spent ages putting this tutorial together, I really appreciate this, and I know lots of others will too. Not least because you acknowledge that everybody makes little mistakes! Bless you for your thoughtfulness in giving us this!

  3. This is great 👍 I do mine in bulk and usually do the hair first. Will do it your way next time & see if that makes it easier. Thank you x

  4. Great tips and tricks!! Thanks so much!

  5. Wonderful tips thank you. In the past I’ve used adhesive vinyl to add features - punching, die cutting or free hand cutting out the tiny shapes and hair, and glueing them on. They’ve lasted well and are still going strong.

  6. This is so great! I love the detail and it's going to make my next faces look so much better! Thank you for taking the time to do it.

  7. Thanks ever so much for the detail in this tutorial. You are so good at explaining the intricate details. I must say I have quite a few "practice" heads with many faces on each one. These up close pictures and your suggestions will go a long way in my continued practice. Thanks so much.

  8. Thanks you so much for this very helpful tutorial! I am so happy with how my Mrs. Claus face turned out.

  9. Thank you for this! My perfectionist self has been worrying about getting the faces right!

  10. Thanks, it seems so simple the way you do it

  11. Just found you thru Pinterest. This is super helpful! Off to look around your site.

  12. Thank you for the tips on faces!

  13. I use some of my old blush for the cheeks.

  14. I use some of my old blush for the cheeks on my faces. I just dab a Q-tip on the blush and then dab on the face.

    1. Great idea to get a soft look! I worried about it rubbing off.

  15. Thank you so much! I was going to leave my angel faces plain but now I feel confident enough to put faces on them.

  16. So very kind of you x


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