At the close of a bruising winter, find ephemeral beauty with these easy-to-make homemade ice suncatchers. These mini ice sculptures, which you can fill with berries, seeds, leaves, sliced fruit or even materials from the craft box, reflect the light, like momentary, sun-catching crystals. You can make them and freeze them outside, in suitably cold temperatures, but they can also be made in your freezer.
Ice suncatchers can be constructed in nearly any size or shape. An aluminum pie plate produces one large, round, flat ornament. A Bundt pan creates a wreath-shaped ornament, which can be hung from heavy outdoor branches. Silicone ice molds, available in different shapes and sizes, offer three-dimensional suncatchers. You can also use cookie cutters for diverse shapes (wrap the bottom of the cutter in plastic wrap so that the water stays in place as it’s freezing). For a family activity, use a muffin tin and make a six or 12 at a time; this way, each family member can design his or her own.
Collecting the materials to freeze in the suncatchers is part of the fun. Outside, look for natural materials, like pine needles, small sticks, acorns, pine cones, dried leaves and holly. Use the backyard or local park as your source, selecting items with ample color and texture.
Inside your home, thinly sliced citrus, fresh cranberries and even dehydrated apple or pear are worthy fridge and pantry substitutes. (But avoid foods like raisins, which are poisonous to dogs, and dried beans, which are poisonous to birds). If you prefer to use man-made materials, consider sequins, buttons, rhinestones, pieces of ribbon and even glitter. Be sure to place the finished suncatchers that contain nonnatural materials in places where you can easily collect the items when they melt.
For an ice sculpture that draws birds, use birdseed, which birds can find when the melt begins. If you plan to do this, however, you will want to make sure to purchase a type of seed that is appropriate for your region. The National Audubon Society has resources available online about native birds and purchasing birdseed (www.audubon.com).
Here’s how to make ice suncatchers at home.
Large pot filled with water
A six- or 12-muffin tin, Bundt pan, plastic Tupperware containers, an aluminum pie tin, cookie cutters or silicone ice molds
Butcher’s twine or colored string
Natural materials for filling, like acorns, winterberries, sliced citrus and pine needles
Man-made materials for filling, like sequins, buttons, glitter and rhinestones (optional)
Power drill with small drill bit (optional)
For the clearest ice suncatcher possible, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and then allow it to cool. Boiling water releases the trapped gasses, like nitrogen and oxygen, which cause cloudiness in ice.
Place your decorative items at the bottom of the container you plan to use, layering them on top of one another. If you plan to use fruit, make sure that the slice is lying flat so that the flesh — and not the peel — is visible. The bottom of the vessel will become the ornament’s front, so put the brightest and best items facedown at the bottom. Birdseed suncatchers should contain only birdseed and nothing else.
Ladle or pour cooled water into the containers until the items are just covered. It’s OK if a few items stick out from the water’s surface.
Place a looped piece of twine into the suncatcher so that it freezes into place. Position the string in the center of the mold and as far down into the water as you can. (If your suncatcher is flat, you can also add the string after it has frozen, by drilling a hole into the ornament with a power drill and a small bit. If you are using a Bundt pan, wait until the ornament has frozen and tie the string around the center to hang.)
Depending on the weather, you can either bring the composed suncatcher outside to set or place them in your freezer. (Remember, water freezes at 32 degrees). Deep suncatchers, made in containers like muffin tins, will take longer to set than shallow ones. The weather will affect the setting time, but you can expect that it will take three to four hours.
Once the suncatchers are frozen solid, like ice cubes, remove them from the mold either by pressing on one side of the ice or by dipping the bottom of the container in hot water. Do not try to pull the suncatcher out by its string, as the pressure is likely to dislodge the string from the ice.
Place the suncatchers in a visible spot so that you can enjoy watching them slowly disappear. A sunny spot is optimal if you want more reflection, but placing the finished ornaments in the shade will keep them intact longer. Completed suncatchers can last from a few hours to a few days, depending on the weather.