Homemade for the holidays

Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2010

Southeast Alaskans are blessed with an abundance of evergreen surroundings, yet many of us still trot off to the stores to purchase overpriced holiday greenery for our homes and offices. Here's a quick, fun holiday craft project that will only require a trip to the backyard.

Libby Sterling / Juneau Empire
Libby Sterling / Juneau Empire

The final result of this project could be a wreath, garland or swag, depending on your decorative needs and creative desires.

If a wreath is your goal, a wire coat hanger makes for a perfect starting point. You may use just one hanger to create a miniature wreath, or combine two or more for something on a larger scale. As far as shapes go, round is not required; square, star, triangle, candy cane and heart shapes can be incorporated into wreath design.

Once you've got your wire skeleton, it's time to add the meat. Depending on the region you're in, you'll have a variety of trees to choose from for branches. For those in cedar territory, how I envy you - cedars have a unique smell and their branches are full and easy to work with. Those surrounded strictly by spruces can make lovely products, but I'd recommend working with gloves to minimize needle pricks. Spruce also has a tendency to contain large amounts of sticky pitch, which can make cleanup more work than the project itself. In the Juneau area, the Western Hemlock is the best choice for this project. Its feathery needles make for painless construction, and its branches are generally sapless. Snip several branches, making an effort to choose those with the most density of needles.

At this point, some wrapping wire comes in handy. I'd recommend approximately 20 gauge soft wire, but as long as it's malleable enough for your liking, anything will do. String or yarn will also work, but will require more tying off than wire. Take one long piece of wire and attach it to the skeleton. Start lining the base with chunks of greenery and tighten it all up with the wire as you go around.

After you get the base branches attached, you'll have plenty of time to cover exposed wire and balance the wreath's composition. Don't worry about making everything look perfect right away. Don't be afraid of a skinny wreath, or you can keep adding layers of branches until the wreath reaches your desired plumpness.

This is where you can inject a bit of your personality into your wreath. Garnishes can include forest-found objects like cones, twigs and berries, or manmade items like fishing lures, Christmas ornaments or contents from the family junk drawer. Anything goes. This is a pretty forgiving project for those with low creative confidence. As long as you're having fun, the project is a success.

As far as shelf life, these decorations will certainly hang around for at least a couple weeks before drying out completely. If hung outdoors, the cold air will preserve the greenery and keep the needles from falling from the branches for a bit longer than if kept inside. Either way, this project allows you to stretch your legs and your creative juices, and there's nothing better than that on this, the coldest and darkest week of the year.

• Contact Neighbors editor Libby Sterling at libby.sterling@juneauempire.com.

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