Christmas Designs

Throwback: Swags of Lights

Jake Wandel from The Crossing in Columbia, MO brings us these advent catenaries. (Originally posted February 2014)

This design was again inspired by Pinterest. They originally planned to use large manilla rope but soon realized the cost was too much so they improvised by twisting erosion control netting and burlap to create thick, rope-like strands that were then draped at various heights to form catenary curves.

Jake tried to find the arc length of each catenary to calculate as best he could the amount of fabric he would need, but soon realized that he would need a much greater understanding of calculus to solve that problem. So he draped a couple of 50′ XLRs linked together and zip tied each increment so that he could lay out the XLRs in a straight line and measure it on the floor. Jake’s measurements turned out to be pretty accurate.

Then they complimented the brown, natural color with some neutral scrim draped more elegantly to fill in the gaps and add a lighter texture.

Inside the twisted burlap they wrapped LED light bulbs in pre-manufactured light strings. Buying the 100+ LED lights were definitely more expensive, but a non-negotiable requirement for their low operating temperature.

In order to get them to dim, they had to call ETC and adjust some settings on their dimmer rack. The adjusted settings did NOT affect the other fixtures in any way. Check out The Crossing’s Pinterest page for more design inspiration or previous designs.




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Wirey Frames Pile of Presents

11 responses to “Throwback: Swags of Lights”

  1. Jimmy says:

    Looks awesome.

  2. Ryan S says:

    Very nicely done. What was the approximate cost of the fabric, yarn, and lights for this look?

  3. Steven Hall says:

    Jake, you and your team did an outstanding job!!!! I look forward to trying to create at least a portion of this exquisite design! Truly magnificent! Keep up the visual awesomeness for Gods kingdom!

  4. James Galloway says:

    This looks great! I’d like to recreate it…can you give more details on how to make it and cost etc?

  5. Jake Wandel says:

    Ryan and James,

    Sorry for the late response. I’m working on developing a better system to keep track of the process of how these designs get made but most times its just a lot easier to create rather than to document, so the details of this one are a little fuzzy. I would encourage you guys to try and make it work however you think is best. You’ll find some obstacles along the way, but then the finished product will feel more satisfying knowing that you conquered the task, you know?

    Anyways…I started with an idea, then I tried to use SketchUp to visualize it. Either I’m just not proficient enough or something else, but that was a fail. Too many variables. Like I said in the post above, I originally wanted to use manilla rope to get the “swags” as Jonathan calls them, and then use light strings intermingled throughout. I quickly found out that rope is EXPENSIVE especially for the thickness I needed for it not to get swallowed by our stage. So, plan B was to use burlap, since it’s brown, organic, textured. Perfect. It also allowed me to wrap the light strings in the fabric. More perfect.

    Now I needed to know how much material to buy. I tried soooo hard to mathematically figure out the arc length of each curve between to points equidistant, blah…blah…blah. I even called a math professor from the local university and she told me to guess because it required a high-level degree in calculus. It forced me to use my brain in a less intellectual, but more practical way in order to solve the problem of how much fabric and how many light strings to buy.

    I ended up using two 50′ XLR cables hooked together and anchoring it to one of the end points, and at the other end point marking on the cable with zip ties where it would anchor at each vertical swag height. That allowed me to then stretch the zip-tied, zebra of a cable across the floor and measure with a tape-measure the length of each curve.

    I liberally calculated how much material I’d needed, ordered it and prayed it would be enough. Included in the materials was burlap, pre-manufactured light strings, dimmable LED light bulbs, erosion cloth, and scrim fabric (sorry Ryan, I can’t remember/don’t feel comfortable saying the exact amount spent, but with this much material you can imagine it wasn’t cheap…definitely one of our more expensive designs). I wrapped the strings in the burlap and tied them off every so often with twine to create the main swags, I twisted the erosion cloth like I was wringing out a wet towel to create more rope-like swags and then delicately draped/twisted the scrim fabric to soften the look. All of this combined, and we got the finished product.

    A few notes on the electrical part of it. USE LED. That’s essential. Low-operating temp and low wattage allowed us to connect all 10 or so 15-socket light strings together and not exceed the load for even one dimmer and we didn’t catch anything on fire. Also, as mentioned above, you may have to tweak some settings on your dimmer rack in order to the “dimmable” LEDs to actually dim. I just called ETC and they were tremendously helpful.

    Hope this long-winded explanation was helpful. Email me if you have any questions. Also, follow me on Twitter (@jakewandel) and Pinterest (/jakewandel) while you’re at it! It’s fun to see what other churches are doing and keep in touch in these ways.

  6. Amanda says:

    Jake! Hey it’s Amanda from CPC! I am working with Ryan to think more visually about worship, and we are looking ahead to Christmas, getting ideas. This design is breathtaking! I love the softness and impact of it!

  7. Tyler Herron says:

    Great design! Looking to do something similar for our stage this christmas.

    For anyone wondering how you might calculate these lengths in sketchup heres how:

    Create your design using the arc tool.
    Select the arc you want the length for
    Right click and chose entity info
    In the top right of the window that pops up there is a down arrow with a plus below it, click that.
    The length will be displayed in the box that appears.

    Hope this helps someone!
    -Tyler Herron

  8. Tamara Beliy says:

    Beautiful design! How did u attach the material on the sides for it to hang? I’m thinking of doing a full piece of material instead of strands and was wondering how to attach it. Thank you

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