Jennifer Lolley uses her strength to pull grapevine from a tree bordering a clearing at the Kreher Preserve and Nature Center.
It eventually gives, allowing her to untangle its long rope from the forest. She carries it to an outdoor pavilion and soon after, begins to shape it into a wreath — eyeing it until she has the circle she wants, then whipping the vine around as she loops, wraps and twists it around itself to form a thin grapevine wreath.
Grapevines are the base of the holiday wreaths she makes each year. Lolley, outreach administrator at the preserve, used to host wreath-making workshops for eight years, but recently stopped doing them (though she hopes to start them again one day).
She laughs, explaining that for the weeks leading up to the workshops, she would be on a frenzied hunt, gathering materials in neighbors’ yards and behind local businesses. She knows where to get the best holly berries, the most fragrant pine.
“You have to be a squirrel for a little while, collecting stuff,” Lolley said. “And you try not to abuse a neighbor’s tree.”
Lolley says the art of wreath-making, especially out of natural materials you can find in your own backyard, brings her a special kind of joy, and she is always amazed at how different everyone’s wreaths come out, even when they work with the same materials.
She encourages community members to give it a go this holiday season and make their own. She recommends buying a grapevine wreath for your base — you don’t have to make your own — since the store-bought ones are so thick and sturdy. Plus, she recalls they typically go on sale in local craft stores before the holidays.
Here you’ll find Lolley’s tips and instructions for creating your own wreath at home.
What You’ll Need:
• Grapevine wreath
• Green floral wire
• Wire cutters, small clippers
• Greenery — This can include evergreen branches, holly branches, magnolia leaves, or any other greenery. Note, evergreen branches last longer, at least a month. Lolley recommends going to a Christmas tree farm and collecting the scrap branches there. She says they smell too good to pass up, and you can usually take them for free.
• Decoration — This can include anything you want to decorate your wreath, such as pine cones, glitter and sealant spray, bows, ornaments, poinsettias and other flowers (dried last longer), etc.
Making A Traditional Wreath
Step 1: Organize your materials. You can forget what you have if you leave everything in one pile. Lolley likes to spread everything out on a big table and put like materials in their own piles.
Step 2: Make your first layer. Select the flattest branches and begin by tucking the bottom of the first branch into a section of the grapevine wreath so that the branch goes along the base in one direction.
Continue tucking one branch at a time into the base, with each branch’s end tucking underneath the prior branch. Once you’ve circled around, the last branch on the first layer should cover the bottom of the first branch.
If any of your branches feel too long, simply trim them at the base before tucking them.
Step 3: Make a second layer. Next, you can use more of the same branches, if you want a thicker wreath, or you can begin to incorporate a layer of different greenery. Lolley likes to collect pine branches as well as juniper branches. She uses pine in her first layer and, this year, she collected juniper for a second layer.
Do your second layer as you did your first, tucking branches along the base until you’ve completed the circle.
You’ll find that some branches have a mind of their own. If you like the wild look, leave them. If you want your wreath to be more uniform, simply tuck free-flying sections into the greenery.
To Lolley, what gives a wreath its charm is its imperfection and its reflection of its maker.
“If it’s just too wild, you either cut if off or you tuck it in,” she said. “It just depends on what you’re looking for. If it’s not perfect, that’s what makes it even better.”
Two layers should just cover the grapevine base, but if you find some spots are still showing and you want to cover them up, continue to add branches until you are satisfied.
Step 4: Decorate your wreath. This step is where you can let your creativity kick in. You have your base, and now you can add pops of color, sparkle or more natural elements.
Before you decorate, hold your wreath up and choose which point will be its top and which its bottom. Then, go in whatever creative direction you desire — holly branches all over, pine cones in a cluster, a big red bow.
Lolley likes to add sparkle and shine to her decorative materials. She suggests getting glitter and sealant spray to add a shimmer to pine cones or leaves.
To attach pine cones, use green floral wire. Wrap the one end of the wire around the bottom of the pine cone tightly, so that it hides between the bristles. Twist the wire to secure, then twist the loose end around a branch on the wreath, wherever you’d like your pine cone to be. Adjust its location until you’re happy, then add more as you like.
The green floral wire can also be used to attach other objects, like ornaments, and can be used to create a hanger for the wreath.
Step 5: Wreath maintenance. Display your wreath over the holidays, replacing branches or decorations over time. Evergreen branches should last about a month, Lolley said.
Prior to making your wreath, evergreen branches can be placed in water to keep them alive longer.
When the season is over, dismantle your wreath and save the grapevine for next year. Or, begin again with a new wreath! After all, it will almost be Valentine’s Day.
Making A Spray Wreath
Another type of wreath that can be created is a spray wreath. This style leaves at least half of the grapevine wreath bare, with a splash of greenery on the side.
Step 1: Create a first layer. Much like making a traditional wreath, you'll want to create a base of greenery on one area of the wreath. You'll select your flattest materials, such as pine or magnolia leaves. In the wreath pictured to the left, Lolley chose magnolia leaves.
Two good branches will do, but you can create it as thick and full as you'd like with more. Take the first branch and tuck it into the grapevine wreath, with the leaves pointing up. Then, take your second branch, and go in the opposite direction. Tuck the base of the branch into the grapevine, with the leaves pointing down. This will create that spray effect.
Step 2: Select another type of greenery, if you'd like, such as evergreen branches. Repeat step one with these branches, with one or more going upwards, and the rest point down. Continue until you are satisfied with the look. Trim any branches that are too long.
Step. 3: Add decorative items, like pine cones, holly berries or other festive objects. Add glitter or spray paint the pine cones to add a pop of color. Get creative! If attaching pine cones, use floral wire as explained in Step 4 of the traditional wreath how-to.
When you are done, display your wreath proudly and take care of your grapevine base. If you do, you'll reuse it for years to come! ■