How to make a jeżyk (aka Polish porcupine ball)

The many stars of the jeżyk ornament

The many stars of the ornament

On Christmas night, my wife, mom and I spent some time making what Mamusia calls “jeżyk” — or what is known across the net as “Polish porcupine balls” (even though jeżyk translated to “hedgehog”) — the delicate Christmas tree ornaments that you can make from sheets of fancy tissue, wrapping or heavier paper.

Tissue or crepe paper is quite light and flimsy but offers a gauzy texture that is quite appealing next to Christmas tree lights. The downside is that its flimsiness makes it more difficult to work with. Wrapping paper tends to be vibrant in color, as is a magazine glossy page, and that adds sturdiness and, well, pizzaz.

I remember my mom, sisters and I making these when we were young, and we might have done one around Christmas last year. But this year, it took the three of us, with last-minute help from my mom’s husband, about two hours to make two ornaments.

Check out the slideshow below and then read on for rough instructions on how to make your own.

Once you have found the paper you want to use, fold the sheet (or sheets) of paper enough times so that you can set the round rim of a drinking glass on it. Then trace the circumference of the rim with pen or pencil. If you have more room for another circle, move the glass over and draw another circle, as many times as you can. Set aside the glass, and cut along the circle you’ve just drawn. If you can, you can cut more than sheet of paper at a time.

One jeżyk ball is comprised of about 30 of these circles, more or less, depending on the weight of the paper.

Take the circles and cut eight slices along the radius, so that you have eight equal-sized arcs along the circumference. But imagine leaving the size of a quarter in the center of the circle; don’t cut past that central space as you cut along the radius.

Now place the sharpened end of a pencil along the radial sides of the flaps you’ve just made, the point toward the circumference. Roll the edge of the flap along the cone of the pencil tip and, just before you reach the other side of the flap, dip a toothpick into some glue and apply it along the edge of that flap. Then finish wrapping it around the pencil tip, ensuring the cone is complete. You now have seven more flaps to go on this circle! Do this for all 30 or so circles.

(Variations on this that I’ve seen online include NOT using the sharpened tip of a pencil. Instead, you’d use the blunt end to make tubes. I haven’t tried this, but if you’re up for it, go ahead!)

Once you have enough circles with cones — which now look like eight-pointed stars — you can take a sewing needle with thread in one hand and begin to stack the stars onto it, piercing the stars in the middle. It would be a good idea to keep the stars “cones side up” as well as stagger the cones with each placement of a new star.

How you stitch these together I can’t say for certain. I watched Mamusia do this, but I haven’t done it. However, I’ve found online what seems to be great instructions on how to stitch together a porcupine ball — read it for full instructions as well as some history. The author offers an update on the Polish porcupine ball with more photos and brief insight.

Christmas 2010 has come and gone, but feel free to refer to this page for getting a head-start on next year’s festivities!

8 Comments

  1. Okay, I’m really, really glad to know this is a Christmas ornament. The first thing I thought of was an exotic food item. Looks like fun!

  2. Polish Christmas desserts can be similarly as exotic. But no porcupines are harmed in their creation. As far as I know.

  3. This was a great activity for my Foreign Language Club. I made dozens of these for fundraisers in college, but was very grateful to find your website to help me remember how to spell jezyk. It turns out that “hedgehog” is only a squiggle and a dot away from “tongue” in Polish. Great craft!

  4. Hi Stanley, just subscribed to your blog. I have to tell you, two things frighten me, no, scare me to death. Nuclear War and Arts and Crafts. Even so, I enjoyed this article, but will leave the work to others.

    • Thanks for subscribing! I can see why you place crafts in the same boat as nuclear war. One wrong move and everything could be ruined.

      • How true, I never saw the connect. Makes me wonder why I treat writing differently. Well, not always, sometimes it scares me too. The difference is I keep going back.

  5. Hi Stan,

    I recently discovered these and have now made a few. I find that zip strips are a great way to assemble them. Just thread a zip strip throught the ten pointy discs and then put another zip strip on the first, tighten it down and then snip off the ends of both. I also use thick cardboard “washers” at the ends for extra strength.

    Charlie

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