Monday, December 22, 2008


No-Holds-Barred Wreath-Making
originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, December 6, 2008

Let’s be clear on one thing—you can make a wreath from virtually anything. If you noodle around on the Web you’ll find wreaths made from feathers, candy, Astroturf, buttons, cookie cutters, wine corks, shells, chilis, sheet music, aluminum cans, socks, playing cards, traffic signs, dried fruit, and even (taking “anything” to an regrettable extreme) diapers. As a natural-born hoarder, this no-holds-barred aspect of wreath-making got me thinking about my own personal stashes of stuff. Could beer-bottle caps make an attractive wreath? How about felted sweaters? Or that dried up artichoke flower I found in my vegetable garden yesterday?

Wreaths in history

Traditionally, a wreath is a decorative ring made of flowers, leaves and sometimes fruits that is displayed by hanging on a wall or door or in a window. Wreaths are commonly made from evergreens such as bay laurel, pine, cedar or holly. The early Greeks used small laurel wreaths as victory crowns in their ancient version of today’s Olympic Games. Like a wedding ring, circular wreaths can symbolize immortality or eternity. But, if you’re willing to forego the symbolism for artistry, wreaths can also be square, horseshoe-shaped or even star or heart-shaped.

Live or dried plant wreath

The base of any wreath—what gives the wreath its form and holds it all together—is typically made from a wire frame, grapevines, moss, foam or straw. But you might also be able to simply use cardboard or a coat hanger, depending on your design. For a wreath made from plant materials you may also need floral department supplies such as picks (use to strengthen a stem), pins (used with a foam or straw base), and floral wire or tape.

Natural materials include evergreens, flowers, berries, cones, fruit, nuts, seed heads, and pods. But don’t stop there. Walk around your neighborhood with a shopping bag and some pruning sheers and gather what looks useable. For a fragrant wreath, use pine needles, or rosemary, lavender, eucalyptus, or bay leaves. For a colorful wreath (don’t necessary limit yourself to red and green) consider dried flowers, dried pomegranates, dehydrated orange slices, rosehips, berries, dried corn or Chile peppers. For spots of interest add buckeyes, pinecones, wheat or straw, acorns, garlic bulbs, seeds, dried corns husks, or bark,

Without doing a lot of drying or shopping, I made a natural wreath from cedar cones, orange rosehips and rosemary attached to a grapevine base. I used a hot glue gun to attach the cones, and floral picks—which look like fat green toothpicks with a piece of thin wire attached to one end—for attaching the rosehips. The grapevine wreath I bought; the rosemary was from my own backyard; the cedar cones and rosehips I scavenged from the neighborhood.

Live succulent wreath

To make live succulent wreath you’ll need a green wire wreath frame, floral wire, peat moss, potting soil, rooting hormone and lots and lots of cuttings from succulents. Start by collecting a shopping bag full of succulent cuttings a day or two before assembling the wreath so they have some time to callous over. Pack the wreath first with a layer of wet peat moss, then soil, then more peat moss, and then wrap the whole thing with floral wire so it stays together. Poke holes in the moss with a screwdriver before inserting the cuttings dipped in rooting hormone. Soak the wreath occasionally to keep the succulents alive. If the cuttings eventually outgrow the wreath, plant the whole wreath in a pot or take more cuttings and start over.

Aluminum soda can wreath

There’s a book for sale online called “Crafting Aluminum Art” that has instructions for crafting several different wreaths using soda cans. Most of their wreaths use the unprinted silver side of the aluminum along with permanent marker. For my wreath, I looked for soda cans with red or green in the label so I could use the printed side of the can. Beside about 10 cans you’ll need a needle and thread, can opener, wire cutters, scissors, a permanent marker (optional), cardboard, stapler and tape. Cut a 10-inch round base from the cardboard, 1 ½ inches wide. Sew a soda can pull-tab to the top of the wreath for hanging.

Use the can opener to remove the top of the can. Cut through the rim with the wire cutters and then cut the top and bottom off the can with scissor. Cut the can from top to bottom so that you have one flat piece of aluminum about 4 by 8 inches. Cut four leaves from each sheet of aluminum and bend or score down the center and sides to make them look more leaf-like. Color with permanent marker if desired. Attach the leaves to the cardboard with staples, overlapping leaves as you go so that the staples and the cardboard don’t show. Cut thin strips of aluminum, then roll them around a chopstick to create streamers, which are then taped the cardboard at the bottom of the wreath.

Paper wreaths

I found a beautiful pastel wreath online made from reused paper rolled up into about 100 little cone shapes. The edge of each cone was scalloped and the paper came from intriguing sources such as vintage sheet music or second-hand books, or textbook pages dyed in Concord grape solution. For more color the artist added Starbuck’s brochures and Anthropologie catalog pages.

Also online, Paper Source offers two paper wreath kits—a poinsettia and a holly leaf—which could be done, but would take much longer to make without the kit. (The holly leaf wreath kit has 72 die-cut holly leaves.)

Wire wreath

I like the simplicity of the wire wreath and its flatness makes it much easier to store than other wreaths. I made two, one with red and silver wire and sequins, the other fashioned with plastic-coated wire, then wrapped in red wool yarn. These wreaths are smaller and look nice as a table centerpiece with a candle or flowers.

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