If you don’t have a good tree base to work with, check out my previous post on making a tree armature.
I came up with this method of making swappable tree branches while designing this site. For this site, I wanted the moving tree branches to change to fit each season – bare branches for winter, buds for spring, green leaves for summer, and orange-red leaves for autumn. And since part of the fun of decorating a town is seeing how it changes seasonally, I knew I needed a way to incorporate that idea for my miniature trees.
I started by using a method similar to my Shrubs & Plants: Part 2. I used wire to shape out a branch, and coiled it around my tree armature so it would be able to slide on and off – sort of like a cap.
I wrapped brown foil tape around the coil, wire, and even a little onto the tree armature for security. It took a couple wraps, but after this coil was securely covered, it became a custom-molded top for that part of the armature.
With my removable branch cap in place, I started adding bits of wire covered with floral tape to the main system. I do this by weaving a piece of floral tape around the two wires in a figure 8 pattern, then wrapping it around the base a few times until it feels secure.
I switched to green for some of the smaller ones, since I was doing this set for summer and knew I would have green leaves attached to it. I figured it would help the leaves blend together for a fuller look.
I kept going until I felt like the section was complete. At this point, I was able to shape the branches around the tree to mimic a more natural growing pattern. This tree was modeled after a giant, old maple tree in my yard.
Once I had this section of the branches in place, I started attaching paper leaves to the branches with floral tape. Plastic and fabric leaves would also work.
Floral tape has a little stickiness to it, so it was able to hold everything together without additional glue. If you are having trouble getting leaves to stick, pinch the tape to the leaf with your fingernails to get a good adhesion.
I removed the branch bunch from the armature to work on it, but I kept putting it back on to make sure the sections were looking full. When a branch bunch was complete, I would leave it on the armature so I could form the next branch bunch around it. Here you can see several branch bunches in progress: some are done, some have just the wire and no leaves, and some haven’t even been started yet.
Once all the branches are looking full, rotate the tree around a few times to make little tweaks. I take pictures of mine at all angles, so I had to make sure it looked consistent all the way around.
For now, I have made three different versions of swappable branches for each tree in my town. I have one for summer, one for fall, and one bare one for winter. I figured I could attach buds and flowers to the summer one for my spring look, and be able to use that set for both seasons.
Since I have several trees and several sets of branches, I painted the armature tips each a different color of the rainbow. Then, I painted the inside of each branch cap to match which part of the tree it fits. You can’t see the colors when the branch bunches are on, but it helps immensely when it is time to swap them all out.