MOTHER's Handwork column shows you how to make a holiday decoration for free by creating homemade wreaths from nature's leftovers.
Creating Homemade Wreaths for Holiday Decorations
One of the many side benefits of living close to the woods is that you can create a beautiful holiday season wreath from nature's residues—for free—while others are buying their wreaths for ten bucks a pop.
A wreath on the front door, as a table centerpiece, or over the mantle can be ornamented with cross or menorah to celebrate your choice of traditional religious festivals. On a more earthly plane, if decorated with a few dry seed heads, beanpods, and other garden residue it can express gratitude for the harvest season just past. To the druidic among us, the circle of greenery observes the ancient, mythic wellspring of all year end celebrations, the winter solstice—December 22 on the modern calendar—and the space-and-time portal between fall and winter. A wreath defies the darkness of this, the year's shortest day, when the sun is farthest from earth. Rather, its hoop of living boughs affirms the endless circle of life and celebrates the solstice as the first day of the sun's return journey, with its promise of spring and the earth's annual renewal.
To frame a wreath, collect supple willow whips, or better, vines of native fox grape or bittersweet in the North, kudzu or musk grape in the South. At home, weave your whips in bulky lifesaver shapes in sizes to fit the use. Weave loosely to provide niches to poke evergreen stems into. Notch outer edges of woody branches to keep them from breaking. Fasten joints and loose ends with some tight loops of soft florists wire from a craft shop or hardware store.
Trimming primly or leaving it wild and bushy as your nature directs, wire on overlapping sprigs from any evergreen tree or shrub that has lost a branch to wind or winter ice, or that can spare a few snippets of greenery from an off-growing limb. Lacking evergreens, dress your wreath in fronds of bracken—the common fern of woodland edges. Pampas grass heads will cover a wreath, as will sawgrass, sugar cane leaves, Spanish moss or palmetto fronds in the deep South.
Any wreath needs a touch of red or orange—sun color. Wire on a spectrum of maple leaves or other colorful foliage. A spray of locust or bittersweet berries can add a splash of orange-red. Holly combines red berries with shiny, deep-green leaves. But, even outdoor wreaths can find their way indoors, and many wild berries are toxic. A toddler or cat might swallow one, so rather than tempt fate we string cranberries on thread to decorate a wreath.
A meadow stroll can produce milkweed pods, dry and split-open to show their dusty silver interior. Pods of the coffee tree or Queen Anne's lace seed heads go well in a wreath. Add a few dry green beans, a small sunflower head de-seeded by the blue jays, a dried corn ear or some rattly gourds from the frost-killed garden.
Don't pass up the evergreens once the wreath is dressed. You'll find some cones on the ground (if the squirrels haven't first), and others high in the tree. A well-aimed rock or stick will dislodge a few to wire onto your wreath.
Holiday greeting cards, candles, and candy canes tuck nicely into indoor wreathes. A circle of lights makes a front door wreath a round-the-clock celebrant.
A red bow is essential on every wreath. But, most ribbon-fabric goes limp (and package-ribbon melts) if rained on. Our own foot-wide wreath-bow with two-foot-long tails is tied from three-inch wide tubes sewn from red satteen salvaged, Scarlett O'Hara-like, from old drapes. Inside is cotton batting around coat-hanger wire bent into a permanent bow shape.
Our favorite wreath-dressing is a string of antique sleigh bells on harness leather straps that tinkle out the season's greeting each time the door opens.
So, walk the woods or country roads, rummage through closets and barn, forage the garden and yard—visit a craft shop if you must—and make a wreath to eulogize your harvest-season past, celebrate the winter present and herald the spring to come.