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How Christmas decorations are made

At “Yolochka” factory in Klin

My cat once knocked over our Christmas tree, causing a few of my favourite decorations to break, the rest were saved by the tree’s “paws”. Meanwhile, the cat’s paws were rushing him to another room where the fluffy troublemaker hid under the bed to escape his inevitable punishment. Laughing, I stood the tree back up and collected all the colourful pieces. So many years have passed, and Christmas tree ornaments are still so easily broken. I wondered how they are actually made, so the next day I called “Yolochka" (The Little Christmas Tree), a Christmas tree decoration factory in Klin, and asked them to show me around. Also, I was planning to buy some new tree decorations.

How is a Christmas tree decoration creating?

It sounds quite easy to create a design for a Christmas tree ornament. All one has to do is draw a sketch, sculpt the shape, blow it and paint it. However, it is much more complicated. Not every idea can be made into a glass form. That is why every new toy at the oldest Christmas tree decoration factory in Russia is created by two people — the lead artist and the lead technologist. Initially, the artist comes up with an idea and sketches it. Then the future ornament is sculpted out of plasticine. 

Christmas glass decorations in Russia

At this point the size of the ornament, its height and width, as well as its story are taken into consideration. Then the ornament is sculpted with gypsum and only after that can it be blown out of glass. The shapes for the decorations are crafted by a specialist. The artist paints his “Christmas tree child” himself in three options and then presents the final version to the factory arts council. The council memders debate over the future toys. There are also members of the finance department among the participants, who often bring the carried-away artists down to earth, taking the cost into account. The marketing department joins in as well, determining if the product is interesting for the customers. Guessing what they wish for is the hardest task. After the creation is approved at the factory, it has to undergo two more trials: The artist council of Moscow and then the Federal one. It is up to them whether the ornament is going to appear on the market or not. If the creation is approved, it is given a code and its technical characteristics are recorded. Only after that can the decoration be produced.

How are the ornaments hand-blown?

How are the ornaments hand-blown in Russia?

Every ball, every shape at the factory is blown by a real person, not a machine. That is quite rare in the 21st century. Every glass blower is given a certain set of activities. Some blow spheres, some are responsible for shapes. In fact, there are blowers who are better at creating rabbits, or mushrooms. Speaking about squirrels, snowflakes, huts — the glass blowers create thousands of these each month. There is a common joke at the factory, that if someone is missing at the workplace, the rabbits will disappear as well. The reason for such a narrow specialisation on “teddy bears and huts” is obvious as the techniques are radically different from each other and re-qualifying means acquiring all the skills from scratch, getting a hand in. In this case, a mouth.

Blower on Factory “Yolochka

It is dark in the glass blowing section — so that both the fire and the object are more visible, headphones are used as noise reduction. All the workers listen to music or podcasts while working. The daily plan for each glass blower depends on the production orders, their size and the factory plans. On average, about 240 spheres are blown per shift, and those are just the ones that will have passed the quality control and were not broken during the process.

Process of blow glass spheres

The number of large spheres or complicated shapes with a multiple-stage blowing system produced per day is much smaller. It all depends on the complexity. It is a difficult job to blow a large sphere. Try blowing a flawless bubble, without any dents or stretches. Measure the air volume and the force of your exhalation. Now imagine you are working with hot glass. I was watching one of the ladies at work, blowing the large spheres; during this time none of the balls exploded or crashed, not even the slightest glass clinking sound.

Process of blowing in factory Blowers on Factory “Yolochka

  • Orange-fact
    The most complicated ornament to make is a samovar with handles and cups, the famous “Tea party” set. This item is blown in multiple stages, element by element, the handles and the nozzles are attached later. It is a very accurate and complex job. The top is also difficult to make — it should be placed within one axis and must not bend over.

Job of blower on factory

What if it breaks?

Christmas decorations

It will, for sure. The glass and the ornaments can break at every step. Anything can happen since it is all handmade. It is totally normal that the glass crashes, so this cost is included into the production expenses. The glass itself is a complex material. There is internal stress inside the sphere, and if you don’t notice it and don’t take it to the furnace one more time after blowing, it will probably explode just like a bubble. The inspectors check all the Christmas decorations for micro-cracks at every production step. Anything that seems doubtful is considered defective. The checks are mostly done visually but the flaws are sometimes inspected using a special device, especially for those ornaments that are about to be painted in a very artistic way. 

Russian style of glass Christmas decorations

  • Orange-fact
    Many outdated technologies aren’t used anymore. For example, spheres with phosphoric enamel that glow in the dark aren’t produced anymore. Some of the complicated methods such as retracting the glass have been forgotten as well. A lot of amusing devices used for creating bizarre shapes are also long lost now.

​How are the decorations painted?

Christmassy silver glitter of Decorations

Most of the ornaments, called blanks at this stage, are coated with an extra thin aluminium layer. This is how they get their Christmassy silver glitter. Moreover, this coating contributes to a smoother paint application, allowing it to last longer and not spread about. The process is called metallisation. The items are placed on frames with thin foil strips between them. The frames are put in a machine that creates a vacuum. Magic happens inside of that huge metal cabinet. Wolfram evaporators, those incandescent spirals in light bulbs, turn the foil into a cloud of aluminium dust, which is used to coat the decorations.

Process of producing Christmas decorations in russia

The whole process takes about an hour. Then the decorations are transferred to the painting workshop. The balls are painted by hand as well - only manual labor is allowed at the factory. The process is quite simple — the item is held by its “tendril” and dipped in paint for a few seconds. Then it is placed in the dryer. Right after drying the specialists check if there are any smudges. If everything is fine, the ornaments are moved along to the next process, to the area where they will be artistically painted. 

Process of painting Christmas glass toys Process of painting Christmas decoration in Russia

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    The ornaments which are left transparent are called “offal”. Such items are painted as well but using mainly white paint. Such spheres are often filled with some fake snow or small pinecones. Transparent ornaments account for only 5% of the overall production. The majority of decorations undergo the metallisation process.


How are ornaments decorated?

They are hand-painted with acrylic paints and brushes. There are about 40 people working in the decorating section. As is usual in any female team, it is either completely quiet in the room and everyone is busy doing their jobs, or someone is chatting about kids and household chores while generously applying glitter to the toys. Decorating a sphere is different from painting a flat surface, it has a great number of nuances.

Hand-Painting process of Christmas glass decorations

The shapes should be drawn within the axis, so they don’t smudge across the sphere. The balls and the figures are decorated in several steps - while the paint is left to dry on one of the items, the artist will work on another one. There are loads of ornaments laying, hanging and standing around every artist. You won’t find two identical figures: the mice do resemble each other, but they are more like sisters; all the corn seems to be from one batch, however, every ear has a unique stroke mark. 

Christmas decoration  Russian artist paint Christmas decoration

The most complicated task in this department is decorating a sphere with a landscape. The artists paint Russian villages, churches, and flower patterns on a glass sphere with a diameter of 115 mm. It’s impossible to paint more than 5 of these with a good quality per shift. That explains their prices. A landscape sphere is expensive. Only the highest level professionals get to decorate figures for the collectable series such as “Four Seasons”, “The Turnip”, and “The Folks of the North”. The lead specialist decides who will paint “The Rat King” and who will be responsible for the simple patterns. After the ornaments are decorated they are transferred to the packaging department, where their “tendrils” are cut off, clips are attached to them and they are placed into beautiful boxes.

What kind of ornaments are the most popular?

Christmas decoration symbol of year from factory

Decorations with the new Chinese zodiac signs have reached a peak of popularity. The customers prefer figurines over balls. There is also high demand for retro ornaments - Puss in boots, bear on a tree, elephant on a ball – that are created from the original traditional shapes. Such ornaments are always the first ones to be sold out. “Yolochka” produces tens of thousands of zodiac decorations annually. While we are currently buying mice and rats of all breeds, the factory has already approved sketches of a bull long ago, and the production of zodiac signs for 2021 will start in January of 2020. 

“Yolochka” produces tens of thousands decorations annually

However, not all of the zodiac animals are popular. It turns out that snakes trigger a negative reaction among most customers. Those cute and smiley glass reptiles were purchased in smaller quantities than usual during the Year of the Snake. It was challenging during the Year of the Pig as well, as none of the customers wanted to “play dirty” with their gifts. 

  • Orange-fact
    The factory produces over 600 kinds of Christmas decorations. The assortment is increased by 10% every year. Moreover, limited collectable series such as “The space set” or “Circus” are released annually. There are thousands of shapes for Christmas toy blowing in the archives of “Yolochka”. All of them are archived and cataloged. Any retro ornament can be cast, blown and painted, but they are available only by special order.

Christmas Decoration of factory “Yolochka”

How to store the Christmas Ornaments?

Christmas decoration Bird

Ideally, every ornament has to be kept in an individual package, which is, obviously, rarely possible. So it is better to place them in small flat boxes and wrapped in paper. It is important to keep them in a dark place. If these rules are followed, the decorations will remain in perfect condition. The Christmas tree shouldn’t be exposed to bright light, in order to prevent the paint from losing its colour. In fact, blue shades are usually the first ones to lose their intensity, while the yellow and red ones last the longest.

Would you like to witness the process yourself?

how Christmas decorations are created

It is easy to find out how Christmas decorations are created. All you have to do is to book an excursion to the “Yolochka” factory in Vysokovsk, Klinsky district. The excursions are available in November and December. Booking is possible by phone (49624) 6-24-34 or via their website www.yolochka.ru 

how Christmas decorations are created in Russia

The excursion costs only 550 rubles per person. The visitors are usually combined into groups, but if there is no one else there on a particular day, individual tours are also possible. No one gets turned away. After the excursion you can also visit a small museum and stay for a sphere painting tutorial. The price is 270 rubles. Not only can you keep the sphere that you painted, but you will also receive one decorated by professionals as a gift. After visiting “Yolochka” head straight to the Christmas Ornament Museum “Klinskoe Podvorye (The Klin compound)” in Klin to learn about the history of Christmas decorations. Don’t forget to buy some new ornaments, you will find the largest selection and the lowest prices in the stores near “Yolochka” and at the museum.


To get to the “Yolochka” factory in Vysokovsk: 

The most convenient way is by car, it is about 80 km along the Leningradskoye Shosse (Highway). 

Special thanks to the Christmas decoration factory “Yolochka” and to Yan Shachikov, business manager, for organizing the report.
The “Four Seasons” project is supported by the Russian geographical society www.rgo.ru
A visit to the oldest Christmas tree decoration factory is recommended by the Russian geographical society. 

Additionally read about Russian artisan crafts here:
Gold Khokhloma:Travelling to Semyonov for 'curls' and 'row

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