Life Without Balloons
Back when it was time for my first-born’s first birthday, I brought home a dozen helium balloons to decorate our house. I tied them to the front porch, to each chair around our table, and left the others floating freely around the house wherever the breeze took them.
When we started our citizen scientist work collecting and cataloging local plastic pollution on our beaches and higher up our watersheds, my kids and I decided together that we didn’t want any more balloons. We find balloons and their attendant ribbons during every one of our beach walks; they’re high on our usual suspects list. While latex balloons are theoretically biodegradable on land, under the right conditions, we don’t see them biodegrading very well in our saltwater marine environment. We know for certain that balloons pose various hazards to wildlife along the way, even if they do eventually break down into organic components, and the ribbon that’s tied to so many balloons isn’t remotely biodegradable – It looks just as fresh as ever after months of bobbing around our Puget Sound.
In short, balloons were out. We needed something different to bring festivity and joy to our parties.
Enter bunting, beautiful bunting.
We make ours from fabric remnants and bias tape, no sewing required if you use a bead of fabric glue down the center of the tape. For a couple of years, I made a new strip of bunting for each new birthday, with the birthday girl in charge of fabric selection, but now we have plenty to decorate the front porch, the dining room, the living room, and outside along our fence and favorite trees.
Easy No Sew Bunting Directions:
- Get yourself some fabric. We love to find sheets at a thrift store or garage sale, and our local fabric shop sells fat quarters meant for quilters; those are the perfect amount of fabric for bunting, too. We pick out 3-4 different fabrics for each bunting strip, each 3 yards long.
- Get yourself some extra wide double fold bias tape, one 3-yard piece per banner, or make your own.
- Get yourself some craft or fabric glue if you want to make this as a no-sew project. If you want to stitch this together, you’ll need whatever you’d like to use for that – I’m going to give no-sew directions, but feel free to upgrade to the stitched version for less waste and better durability.
- Make yourself a pattern. I drew a shape I liked, freehand, a basic semi-circle with the flat side running 9″ wide x 6.5″ tall. I used the back of some sort of food box and it’s still in great shape 12 banners later.This size works well with 3 yards of bias tape, leaving enough tape on the ends to attach string for hanging, or to pin into.
- Iron your fabrics then trace your pattern piece onto your fabric. Use pinking shears to cut the bunting flags out.
- Decide how you want to arrange your fabrics, then open up that bias tape and start to glue the fabric into place, one piece at a time. Set the straight edge of your fabric pieces even with the inside crease of the bias tape. Before you place the fabric onto the bias tape, put a thin bead of glue on the bottom of the tape, then add another thin bead on top of the fabric and fold the top of the bias tape down flat onto the fabric. Run your fingers over the freshly glued area, pressing gently to stick everything together, then move along to the next piece. It’s a good idea to lay the whole pattern out with the bias tape before you start the gluing, so you know how much bias tape to leave free at each end. As you glue, snug the fabric pieces up so their edges just touch, and set the whole thing where it can dry flat.
- Voila! You have fabric bunting that can be tied or pinned into place, indoors or out, good for years of festive decorating. True, the glue makes the bias tape a bit stiff, and it can’t be put through the wash; you can remedy both of those things by sewing everything together. But I’ve been able to decorate years of parties now without having to wash our glued-together bunting, and nothing has fallen apart when left out in the rain and damp overnight. Sometimes I do need to add a bit more glue to a panel or two, but that’s easy enough to do. Of course, the plastic bottle the glue comes in is wasteful, as is the fabric if you buy it new, but there are no balloons to find their way to the ocean and into some creature’s belly.
We like our bunting so much more than we ever liked balloons. Because fabric bunting lasts for years, ours has become part of our family iconography, specifically tied to our celebrations – Each strip of fabric has happy memories attached to it now, with more added each year.
For more ideas and inspiration to turn your parties less plastic, visit the Trash Backwards web app. We’ve collected our favorite practical and festive reduce, reuse, recycle, and rethink solutions in our Parties and Gifts section, and you can also search for solutions for any particular item you’d like to recycle or reuse.