Wreaths are full of symbolism. The holiday wreaths we know today are offspring of Christian Advent wreaths, symbolizing strength and endurance through the harsh winter, which could be why they’ve become some beloved by us Northerners. It’s not just holiday décor, but a badge of honor! Making your own is not only much cheaper than the store bought, it’s also a wonderful chance to be a nature artist, crafting flora bounty into a show piece, and can be done in an afternoon.
Autumn is an opportune time to gather nature’s cast offs to build your own wreaths. Two products will help you preserve your findings – liquid glycerin and foliage sealer.
Preserving leaves. Liquid glycerin, available at most pharmacies and at online craft retailers, will preserve a leaf’s color and texture and when paired with foliage sealer, will make it nearly permanent. Cut branches with 5-7 leaves while they still possess fall color, hammer the cut end to facilitate water intake and place in a bucket of water for 24 hours to fully hydrate. In a separate bucket mix a liquid glycerin/water solution of 1 part glycerin to 2 parts water. Add a few drops of liquid soap or detergent to help distribute the glycerin and stir. Recut and rehammer the branch ends and place in the glycerin solution for at least one and up to four weeks. Don’t crowd the leaves. A deep shallow container, like a roasting pan, works well to spread the leaves out, allowing air to circulate around them. Monitor water intake (you are replacing the water in the leaves with glycerin) and add glycerin mixture if necessary. After a week or so you will notice a change in the feel of the leaves – almost like thin rubber – and you may see beads of glycerin at the tips.
Foliage sealer. Foliage sealer, also known as cut foliage anti-desiccant, is available at many craft stores and at online craft retailers. It’s an easy-to-use product that you simply spray according to directions onto cut evergreens and basically any foliage to hold in moisture and extend its fresh appearance. It also adds a shiny coat. Its fumes are quite strong – I recommend spraying it outdoors and also leaving anything you spray it with outdoors or in a well-ventilated room for two days. It’s easiest to build a wreath and then spray it with sealer.
Wreath making materials
Leaves, evergreen sprigs, branches, crabapples and roses hips. The really fun part of DIY wreath making is gathering the goods. Take yourself on a walk through the garden and woods and gather anything that catches your eye. A variety of evergreens and leaves makes for a richly textured wreath. Lotion your hands really well before gathering and working with evergreens to help make the sap easy to wash off. Design note: Staying within a similar color palette (cool blues and greens or hot reds and oranges) makes for a more harmonious looking wreath.
Wreath form and wire. I find a wire wreath form to be the sturdiest and most unobtrusive base, but you can also use grapevine, straw or even Styrofoam. An 18” form will result in wreath to fit most doors. 22-gauge florist’s wire is easy to maneuver and strong enough to hold even sturdy evergreens. Have a wire cutter or needle-dosed pliers and pruner on hand.
Wreath building tips
Constructing a wreath requires patience; go slow and enjoy the process of blending textures and colors. I find it easiest to assemble small bundles of three little branches of leaves or evergreen stems, then placing them on the form, wrapping them in place with a few loops of wire and then placing the next bundle to hide the stems and wire of the previous bundle and wrapping that piece into place. You can cut a new piece of wire for each bundle if you find that easiest or my preferred way is to keep one continuous piece of wire going throughout the wreath. Work in a continuous direction around the form. Don’t to be too concerned with tidiness of shape as you go, but come back and shape your wreath with a pruner at the end. Overall, wreathmaking is a forgiving activity and in the end, a casual look is quite attractive. As you go, you will find your own techniques and shortcuts.
Autumn wreath. Tiny birch branches were wired to the back. A mix of pin oak leaves (some preserved with glycerin, some not) and preserved red leaf maple were then attached with a continuous line of wire. Stems of crabapples preserved with glycerin and rose hips were wired into place and loops of yellow twigged dogwood and lichen covered bark shards were wired to the form to mimic a ribbon.
Winter wreath. A mixture of white pine, Scotch pine with cones, Norway spruce, red cedar with berries, and boxwood were wired with a continuous line of wire. Small pieces of birch were wired on the frame, on top of the greens, to create a box effect.