If you are like me, then growing up we called those long, fuzzy wires “pipe cleaners”, but you won’t find pipe cleaners sold in crafts stores. They are there, they’re just called “chenille stems”. If you’re curious to the difference and history, Wikipedia has a great article about pipe cleaners and chenille stems.
Whatever you call them, they can be incredibly handy in crafts, gift wrapping, and party decorations!
Chenille stems come in a variety of colors, materials, thickness, and length. (Watch out for the metallic ones; they shed a lot.) As mentioned before, they are readily available in crafts stores and online. Some grocery stores and drugstores even sell them in their art / school supplies section, so finding them shouldn’t be a problem.
Like any craft supply, the first thing you should do is determine how you are going to use them. This will dictate what type of chenille stems to buy. The shorter and thinner ones are best for making gift tags, small jewelry like rings and bracelets, and small art projects (insects, card-making, etc.). The larger and thicker ones are good for wrapping around small gifts, large jewelry like necklaces and tiaras, and large art projects (picture frames, details on medium+ canvases, etc.).
TIP: While you can cut chenille stems with regular scissors, this tends to wear the scissors down quickly and may cause unnecessary stress on your hands. If you plan on cutting a LOT of chenille stems, I recommend using wire cutters, which can also be found in most craft stores. They cost more than scissors, but they tend to have stronger blades and require less muscle when you squeeze. Your hands and your scissors will thank you for it!
Looking for ideas on how to best use your chenille stems? Here you go!
Chenille stems are great for attaching tags to gifts or just adding a little fun to your bow! Because their core is a moldable wire, you can wrap it around any ribbons or handles already on the gift, or just tape it on if there isn’t anything else. Once attached (wrap it around the object and twist like a twist-tie) you can have fun shaping the ends. A popular look is to wrap the ends around a pen to give it a springy curl, but you can also shape them into simple bows, lightening bolts, waves, etc. If the wrapping paper or bag has a design element that you can mimic, even better.
As most teachers can tell you, there are a lot of great crafts and activities that use chenille stems. Why not incorporate these into a party? The great thing about having people create items at parties is that they make the perfect favor and memento for the guest to take home. With chenille stems you can make insects, tiaras, word signs (add a bead for the dot in the letter “i”) either solo or mounted on canvas, shapes for the season (a heart for Valentine’s, an egg for Easter, etc.), or costume accessories. Just do an internet search on “chenille stem activities” or “chenille stem crafts” and you will find hundreds of ideas.
Chenille stems can be used in party decorations if you are making your own – a great way to cut costs. I have used them as the stems of paper flowers, which then become great favors as the guests can wrap the stem around their fingers and hands as jewelry or stick them in their hair for a lovely hair accessory. Chenille stems in different colors can be wrapped around the stems of wine glasses to help signify the owner, similar to the way in which wine charms work. The longer chenille stems are helpful for framing signs and even hanging the signs to existing fixtures.
NOTE: Chenille stems are not food-safe and can be flammable. Please keep them away from food, drinks (ex: use them on glass stems but not around glass rims), and hot surfaces!
If you need anything light-weight that can hold its shape, then chenille stems may be the ticket. You can use them to make funny glasses or attach them to headbands for insect antennae, devil horns, or bunny ears. As mentioned in the section on decorations above, they can be shaped into jewelry , lapel pins, or corsages. I once even saw an entire bouquet made of chenille stems, fabric scraps, and buttons.
Now that you have some ideas, welcome to the wonderful versatility and fun of chenille stems!