This article is a supplement to our “Secret of Coconut” article, which describes various ways modern hobbyists have attempted to reproduce a certain kind of fuzzy-looking coating on vintage cardboard Christmas “putz” houses.
Note: These articles are based on notes from a number of putz house builders and restorers who’ve attempted to replicate the original finish to use on their own construction. We’re publishing them because the questions keep coming in. But we did want to point out that none of the people who contributed to the article (including me) have any intention whatsoever to make this stuff to sell commercially - there are a lot of easier ways to make a living, and there’s already a fellow - Pete Oehman, who makes a better product than I ever will. We’ve done our best to give you the information you need to “roll your own,” but if you’d rather finish that structure than learn a new skill, or if you need to match a difficult color, contact Pete through CardboardPutzHouses.com and tell him we sent you.
Most folks today are experimenting with straw that is rough cut, then chopped to size in some sort of blender or food processor or other kitchen device.
If you want the finished product to be white, or if you want to lighten it before you apply a pale color, you may bleach it after it’s been chopped and sifted enough to get a reasonable consistency of size.
Some folks have reported that their attempts to use bleach have dulled the shiny finish of the material. (Also be sure and test anything but straw bits ahead of time. Some materials, such as dried corn silk bits, dissolve in bleach.)
But we have a few contributors who’ve had luck with this. The same contributor who sent us the detailed dyeing notes sent us the following notes on bleaching the straw bits.
- Start by collecting those little soft plastic containers that you get sour cream, spreadable butter or cottage cheese in. I try to keep 2 or 3 fresh ones on hand.
- I also use a metal mesh, reusable coffee filter. These sometimes come with coffeemakers.
- Put on old clothes - the tiniest splash of straight bleach will put permanent white spots on many kinds of clothing.
- Rinse the chopped, sifted straw bits with hot water and wring it out so that there isn’t any standing water in the straw. The straw bits should be damp to the touch. Pre-rinsing helps them absorb the bleach quickly and evenly.
- Fill about half of a sour cream container with sifted, damp straw bits.
- Pour straight household bleach slowly until it’s about a 1/4 inch over top of straw. Some of the bits will float, but if you pour slowly, they will get wet as well.
- Put the lid on the container. This helps keep the chlorine in the solution rather than stinking up the house while the solution itself gets weaker.
- Let it sit for about 30 minutes. If you let it sit for much longer, it removes the shiny property from the straw.
- Put the metal coffee filter into the drain of your sink.
- Pour the contents of the container slowly into the filter, trying not to splash.
- Rinse with cold water for at least a minute. I think this step is important, because even a small percentage of bleach will continue to work on your material until it is dry. Rinse your hands as well, while you’re at it.
- Press all the rest of the water out of the mix. I use the backside of a spoon while it is still in the filter.
Other methods for pressing the water out of the mix have been tried as well - one is included in the page on drying.
Note: Do not attempt to dry white coconut on low settings in the oven or microwave. It must air dry or go on a low setting of a dehydrator (The kind you use for drying fruit, etc.)
You may find an entirely different method that works for you. Many hobbyists have. These pages are just to give you some ideas for things to try.
If you’re looking for one good proven method that will work for everybody, this may not be what you were looking for. But so far there’s not single “best practice” that works for everybody, regardless of their skills, interests, and resources.
In other words “Do try this at home.” And when you do, feel free to report your results on the Coconut page of our forums.
In the meantime, I look forward to hearing and seeing the results of your experiments, with this or any other aspects of putz collecting, displaying, restoring, or creating.