December is upon us, the spirit is in the air, and you have an itch to try the whole wreath-making thing again.
Except…you’ve never really nailed the art of wreath making.
‘Spindly’ and ‘amateurish’ are words that figure prominently in the memories you haven’t already blocked, followed by ‘lop-sided,’ and ‘award for participation.’
Perhaps you’d better just leave the artificial wreath where it is and bake a batch of cookies instead.
Relax. As Christmas projects go, making a natural wreath is a relatively easy one when you know a few insider tricks. Plus, there is no royal icing involved.
If that wasn’t enough of a draw, it’s a completely personal project made with natural materials. For that precise reason it will not – and cannot – look like anyone else’s.
Those who have stood in a flour-dusted kitchen staring at a magazine photo of perfectly iced cookies, only to produce a cooling rack of Island-of-Misfit-Toys know why that matters.
So forget the cookies. Let’s put our creative energies into making a one-of-a-kind wreath. Once you apply these three easy tricks, and see what a difference they make to constructing a sophisticated product, you may even make two.
Materials you’ll need to make your Christmas wreath:
Gloves – no matter how careful you are, evergreens find a way.
Lightweight green florist wire – Cheap and found in hand-held rolls or ‘paddles.’
Pruners – Sharp and agile. They can double for wire cutters if you are lazy and the wire is a light enough gauge.
Wreath frame – I often save these from the purchased cast-off wreaths of others, but they are fairly cheap. Some have brackets attached – which is handy.
Assorted greenery – Look for one main actor and two to three supporting roles. Use your strongest (and most abundant) greenery in the main role – such as spruce, fir or thuja – and use sprigs of pine, juniper, cedar, holly, boxwood, etc. to complete the picture.
Assorted luxury – Everything from pine cones to artichokes. Let your imagination run wild – raiding your fridge and cupboards just as much as your backyard. Tiny pomegranates, wrapped bundles of cinnamon sticks, clove-studded clementines, fertile fern fronds, holly berries and the seed heads of favorites such as teasel or grasses.
Assorted bling – Battery operated lights, jingle bells, ribbons, raffia, small ornaments and possibly a garland. Use moderation. (See Tip #2).
How to make a sophisticated Christmas wreath:
Begin by turning on Pandora, Spotify or the stereo to something festive. It’s a crucial first step that has the agreeable effect of getting you through the others. Christmas movies are also extremely motivating; but they have a way of drawing you towards the nearest comfortable chair and a large drink (as a friend found out to her cost the day she invited me to bake and played a holiday movie I’d never seen before).
Set out the materials you’ve gathered on a protected surface (sap is hell to shift), and regard your greenery. Stop yourself from dwelling on past attempts – This will be different.
Tip #1 – BUNCHES.
Instead of bending individual straight branches to try and make a full, circular, glorious wreath (which is impossible) you will be making little ‘bouquets’ in your hand with greenery, then wiring them to your wreath form, overlapping as you go.
Attach the end of your florist wire securely to any part of the wreath form and set aside.
Use your pruners to cut five or six ten-inch tip pieces from the assembled greenery and arrange them in one hand into something pleasing – making sure they are backed with one or two pieces of your main actor and fanned out a bit in your hand.
Take the little bunch, lie it against the wreath form and wire the ends (only) to the form, wrapping the wire around the form and bunch ends several times. Do not cut your wire.
Do this step again, and this time, overlap the display ends of the current bunch over the cut ends of the first one, making sure to overlap them generously. Whether you move clockwise or counterclockwise is completely up to you, but should be thought about when you attach your first bunch.
Continue this until you reach the beginning of the circle, and with your last spray of foliage, tuck the cut ends under the display ends of your first one, wiring tightly in place. Twist the wire to secure it and cut. Attach a wire loop to the back of the frame for hanging.
Hang your wreath up and look for rogue branches that need trimming or areas that could use extra foliage tucked or wired in to create a fairly symmetrical wreath. Don’t be too much of a perfectionist – a bit of messy bed head is endearing if the wreath is full enough.
If you’ve followed these instructions and been generous with your bouquets and spacing, the chances are you’re currently looking at a wreath ten times better than anything you’ve attempted before. And we’re not even done.
Time to add a bit of luxury.
Tip #2: MODERATION
Instead of emptying the contents of your craft box onto your wreath and then wondering what went horribly wrong, just pick a few items – whether natural or synthetic.
It is very easy to gild the lily in your enthusiasm. Before you know it your wreath can go from Kate Middleton-sophisticated to something Clark Griswold would have hanging on his door.
You’ve got a natural, gorgeous, virgin wreath in front of you. Perhaps it’s so gorgeous and so natural you actually don’t want to add anything at all (which is precisely what happened to my demonstration wreath). But most of the time a bit of luxury and bling can take it to a whole new level.
Think about the theme you are working towards. Natural? Exciting? Minimalist? Abundant? Pick out things that go together and that are in scale with the size of the wreath itself, and use an easy hand in applying them.
If you’ve been drinking alcohol during any part of the previous wreath assembly (no judgement here – this year it was Guava Mimosas for me), stop at once, have a cup of coffee, and apply your clearest head to the proceedings.
Tip #3: TRIANGLES
Instead of adding materials in circular, regular patterns which will create a round eyeball on your doorstep, think in terms of grouping, triangles, and odd numbers. Throw a bit of asymmetry in and you can call yourself Martha.
I like to talk a lot about grouping when discussing garden design, and for good reason. Objects grouped together create more impact than when they are separated and at regular intervals.
This is particularly true when they are highly visible. Red ornaments arranged around a circle will emphasize the eyeball effect, whereas teasel heads in the same circular pattern would tend to blend in.
But for even better placement, think in terms of irregular triangles superimposed on your circular wreath, and add objects at the apex of each angle.
If using several of the same object, use an odd numbered amount – 1, 3, 5, etc. I don’t know why this works so much better than the alternative (this is an area for mathematicians and neurologists to discuss), but it does.
And as for a bow? By all means, bow away. But resist the temptation to place it or other large objects on the absolute bottom of the wreath. Instead, place it slightly off-center and group it with a few smaller objects.
How long will this wreath take you? Once I had the materials sitting out, the actual construction took 30 minutes. I opted out of the luxury and bling steps this year because the contrasts in natural foliage were too interesting to tart up (Thank you variegated boxwood!). However I will be adding a string of battery operated copper lights to the wreath to help it stand out on my darkened front step.
Bunches. Triangles. Moderation. Good luck in your wreath making, and if you have a minute, shoot me an email of your results at firstname.lastname@example.org . Merry Christmas!
A version of this article was originally printed in The Frederick News Post and is re-posted here with kind permission.