I grew up on a 33-acre farm. I understand, this might not be everyone’s experience, but bear with me. One of the things about where I lived that was so lovely was that, due to my parent’s generosity, we hosted (and continue to host to this day) a yearly wreath-making party where we provided all the “greens” to make as many wreaths or swags as the party-goers would like. We use it as an excuse for an open-house kind of thing -- but since there’s an activity, it makes all kinds of people able to mingle and learn and do together. And really, as I tell everyone on the invitation, I can teach you how to make a wreath in a few easy steps.
I totally get it that most people don’t have their personal forest to trim to make a wreath, so I’ll explain the method as for making a swag, with variations to make the wreath as well. You can make these with trimmings from the bottom of your Christmas tree or a bunch of evergreen boughs from Trader Joe’s, a Christmas tree tent, or even your local craft store. At my parent’s farm, part of the charm is the rustic nature of what we create. I figure if I wanted perfect, I’d just buy one. So let’s give it a go.
It’s a handy little bit of forest-upkeep for us to go around the farm on a flatbed trailer and pick up the large, large branches cut from the trees of all different varieties. We then put them in giant piles according to type: Leland Cypress, Incense Cedar, good old Doug Fir, etc. To do this at home, on a table/carport/porch/driveway, set out your types of greenery according to type. This makes it easier to see and use.
Here’s the general supply list. Add whatever decorations your little heart desires. I am lusting after a mini-mirror ball for mine next year.
- Holiday wreath/swag supplies
- Green florist's wire, one paddle
- Wreath frame, if desired
- Wire snippers
- Tree snippers
- Artificial or real tree boughs, different sizes
- Assorted decorative items
- Hot glue
At this time, set out all the items you’d like to use. Part of the fun of our wreath-making party is that each guest brings something they have in abundance to share. Some people bring giant black plastic bags of sharp-bladed holly. I always dry the lavender I grow in pots and bring that. A friend sends plastic tubs full of the pinecones she picks up on her walks. My mother-in-law makes the most amazing bows and brings baskets full of them. This stone-soup-method makes it such a communal experience and helps us share ideas as well.
For making your own wreath/swag decoration, consider your space. If you want to make two swags, say, to decorate either side of your door, purchase longer items that will go vertically. If a wreath is your aim, get small decorations in odd numbers. You’ll want to balance out the baubles in groups of three or five, and include a bow at the top.
As far as a base goes, wire, grapevine, or foam rings are all acceptable for wreaths. Any hobby store can direct you there. My favorite, and the easiest for my skill level, is the green circle frames for a wreath. They will have a “spoon” effect, with one side of the frame scooped in slightly. The most important and indispensable wreath-making tools are a paddle of green florist’s wire and a pair of “snippers,” or small wood trimming shears. Scissors will do in a pinch, but they will get dull, be forewarned.
To start a swag, snip several pieces of greenery from one large bough, about twelve to fourteen inches long. Simply lay the largest piece flat and then layer other types of greenery on top of it, for a sandwich effect. With a swag, you are looking to get a diamond shape or a triangle shape. Start with the sturdiest type on the bottom and then layer more lacy delicate things, like Cedar or Ponderosa Pine, in the middle or on the sides of your triangle. Then you will be able to see them more clearly.
On the top of your sandwich, place the decorative items: a bunch of lavender, a sprig of holly, a branch with decorative seed pods, something like that. When it is to your liking, gather the bunch at the top of the triangle and secure with lots and lots of green florist’s wire. The beauty here is that the green doesn’t show, so it’s a DIY-er’s best friend. Bend wire into a loop and secure with more wire. Now you can hang your masterpiece. Cover all the wire with a piece of ribbon or burlap, and tie your best bow -- I wish I could give you a tutorial there, but I still have to have my mother-in-law tie mine, sorry.
To make a wreath, you’ll need pieces more in the 8- to 10-inch size. Start with the larger base materials, then layer about six pieces together to make the sandwich. Wrap once with wire and then wire to a wreath frame. If using the green wire kind, make sure the bundle is lying inside the “spoon” part. Repeat with many bunches, going in a clockwise direction and overlapping them until you meet the first bunch.
With either kind of decoration, once the general shape is defined, you can add more decorations. Just tuck some sprigs into a wired bunch or hot-glue a pinecone wherever you want. A person made the most wonderful pink-feather-decorated wreath last year, and this year she made a giant fluorescent Barbie-themed wreath. My favorite was the person who decorated with small velvet Elvis-es. My own wreaths tend to the traditional pine-cone-and-plaid bow type, but I throw in the occasional turquoise bows and ornaments, too.
Give it a try! Making a wreath or swag is fun, but more than that, it’s fun to have something you can display in your house that you made yourself. And if you made it out of artificial trees, you’ll have it more than one year.