Are you and your customers ready for remarkable holiday wreaths? Laura Dowling, former chief floral designer at the White House, author and TED speaker, explains how in eight steps.
Laura is the author of Floral Diplomacy at the White House and A White House Christmas. Her third book, Wreaths, an exciting take on re-inventing the classic wreath with 78 inspiring designs, goes on sale later this month.
From that book, Laura shares with us 10 seasonal favorites including two how-to tutorials. And she offers her eight steps for making your own inspiring wreath designs.
“I think it’s time to reinvent the wreath as a decorative and symbolic element,” says Laura. “Make it striking again and elevate it from blasé to having je ne sais quoi and chic cachet.”
In Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, where Laura now lives, creative natural fruit and flower wreaths are a favorite long-time tradition during the holidays and throughout the year.
Whether creating customized fresh wreath designs for parties and special events or replicating the look with longer-lasting faux materials for the season, she offers here her trend-setting approach to re-creating wreaths in the historic Williamsburg style.
Fruitcake & Cranberry Lace Wreath
This winter fruit and berry wreath is a celebration of a classic holiday treat, the fruitcake. It features pomegranates, tangerines, dates and cranberries positioned atop a ribbon-covered base and encircled with a cranberry lattice border.
1 18-inch grapevine wreath
1 roll of 1 1⁄2-inch red ribbon
3 bags of clementines (approximately 30)
3 packages of fresh dates
4 bags of fresh cranberries
1 package of red pipe cleaners
Green trailing ivy
- Wrap the bark wire around the wreath to create a loop for hanging.
- Create a ribbon base layer using the ruched ribbon technique.
- Pierce the pomegranates with the straight wire, stringing two together.
- Lay the pomegranates across the wreath, wrap the wire ends to the back, twisting tightly to secure. Clip the excess wire.
- Working in rows, continue adding pomegranates in rows of two.
- Create garlands of clementines by stringing three together on a straight wire.
- Wrap the wire ends of this garland around the wreath and secure in back.
- Continue adding the clementine garlands until the entire wreath is covered.
- Using the straight wire, string four to five dates together to create a garland.
- Wrap the date garlands around the wreath, spacing them evenly among the clementines and pomegranates.
- Working on the outside edge of the wreath, criss-cross the pipe cleaners to create an overlapping pattern forming a trellis effect.
- Continue adding pipe cleaners, connecting the edges to create one border.
- With the bullion wire, string the cranberries together, creating a garland a few inches in length.
- Working in sections, wrap the cranberry garland around the pipe cleaner border, covering the entire surface.
“The secret of wreath-making is to create the design in levels and layers to achieve an intricate, polished and professional look.”
Wreaths of Williamsburg Style
In Colonial Williamsburg settlers used available natural materials for decorating their homes.
Ships from Jamaica delivered fresh fruits such as apples, oranges and pineapples. Flowers and vegetables were grown in their gardens. Grasses and flowers, collected from the fields, were dried for use in fall and winter designs when garden flowers were unavailable.
Today’s Williamsburg-style wreaths are still made from seasonal materials chosen in the garden, farmer’s markets or from the woods, creating a charm unique to the historic village.
Laura suggests these eight steps for planning and designing wreaths.
Laura Dowling’s eight wreath design steps
The planning process
- Determine the purpose and occasion for the wreath. In this case, a holiday design.
- Decide how long the wreath needs to last. Wreaths made of fresh materials typically meant to last only for a party or special event. They can be duplicated in faux materials for longer use.
- Identify the context or setting. Indoor or outdoor wreath? Formal or Informal setting? What size? Which floral mechanics are needed? How will you use color, form and texture to complement the setting or backdrop.
- Consider the time and effort required. Is making, displaying and disposing of the wreath worth your investment of time and materials?
“From an artistic angle, wreath design is like creating a masterpiece: mapping outlines and shapes, mixing colors and then painting an inspiring design.”
The design process
- Start with a base layer to provide structure and color.
- Follow with a layer of fruit, flowers or vegetables to create the body of the design.
- Add another level of smaller accents. Layer in dimension with flowing lines and escaping elements like plant tendrils or vine materials.
- Complete with a flourish of finishing touches. Add definition with a border of ivy, berries, ribbon or branches woven into garlands.
“In my White House work, I saw how the simple wreath form conveyed tradition, meaning and metaphor, representing so much more than a simple decorative placement.”
Pinecones & Red Berries Wreath
1 18-inch pinecone wreath
1 roll of copper/brown 1 1⁄2-inch ribbon
3 bags of cinnamon scented pinecones (or an equivalent amount from the woods)
3 pounds of cranberries
16 magnolia pods
- Wrap the burgundy ribbon around the wreath to create a loop for hanging.
- Craft a ribbon base layer using the ruched ribbon technique.
- Using the paddle wire, make garlands of pinecones by twisting the wire around the center, wiring four together, leaving two inches in between.
- Lay the pinecone garland across the wreath, wrapping the ends around and securing in the back. Cut the excess wire.
- Working in rows around the wreath, continue adding pinecones in this manner to cover the entire form.
- Create eight garlands of magnolia pods, wiring two together.
- Place the magnolia pod garlands over the top of the wreath, positioning the pods to fit in and around the pinecones. Twist the wire ends together in back.
- Using the bullion wire, create cranberry garlands (about 8 to 10-inches in length), leaving 6 to 8-inches of wire on each end.
- Wrap the cranberry garlands around the wreath like ribbons, creating a variety of patterns and lines. Secure the ends in back and cut the excess wire.
- Using the floral adhesive (cold glue), attach individual holly leaves to create a touch of green throughout the wreath.
Consider temperatures and tempted critters
If you live in an area with temperature extremes or active wildlife, Laura suggests you may want to stay away from delicate or fresh materials and instead use faux, dried and non-floral options for exterior wreaths. Or add hot sauce.
“After years of trials and tribulations—and more than a few humorous run-ins with neighborhood squirrels and birds—I’ve learned to take a pre-emptive proactive approach when placing wreaths outdoors,” she says. “A light spray of hot pepper sauce or acrylic floor wax will keep unwanted critters at bay while adding a protective sheen.”
A spark of inspiration
Are you looking for a spark of inspiration for your holiday designs this season?
“For me, creativity boils down to inspiration. That intangible spark that leads to new ideas, originality and innovation in design.”
Consider these and other inspiring how-to wreath designs, found in Wreaths, scheduled for release in late November. It is available now for pre-order on Amazon and in bookstores nationwide.
For more innovative wreath ideas visit our previous blog, “4 Tips from Laura Dowling for Gorgeous Garden-style Holiday Wreaths.”
How can you incorporate these creative wreath ideas, using either fresh or faux materials, in the holiday design collection you offer this season?