he forest green of the balsam and the cheery brightness of the red bows adorning the wreaths on your neighbors’ doors add instant charm to the neighborhood. It is the Christmas season and fresh, handmade balsam fir wreaths are a real Maine tradition. Enjoy the seasonal scent every time you open your door. I know I breathe in deeply whenever I come home. The smell is amazing.

Recently, I had the fun of discovery in learning to make my own wreath in order to give you a firsthand account of wreath-making, thanks to the wonderful folks at St. Philip’s Church in Auburn, especially Dick Dubois and a group of wreath-making volunteers. I worked with them as they prepared for their annual Christmas fair, held last month. When I joined them, I was the 33rd volunteer to work on the project. The people had a lot of fun while hard at work.

The sense of camaraderie and lots of hands did, indeed, lighten the load. Eight of us worked on this particular day: We had a clipper, three wreath workers, three decorators and one cemetery box designer. Everyone pitched in on the overall needs but some worked mostly in their areas of expertise.

Dubois told me that their holiday-fair group makes wreaths differently than is done in most places because they use a method easier on the hands than the traditional wire-wrapping. Dubois noted that the group uses balsam, pine, juniper and cedar. The wreaths we made can be expected to last until March or April.

Dubois estimates that four hours of labor go into each wreath. That takes into consideration all the hands that go into making a wreath: from the person who gathers the greens, the “tipper” who cuts off the tips of branches, to the one who prepares and wraps the cardboard, the person who ties the bows, the clipper, the assembler and the decorator. I asked the group at large how long they spend putting a wreath together. Answers varied from 30 minutes to an hour; I needed an hour and a half.

Wreaths can be made by pruning trees, which actually makes the trees healthier and encourages new growth, but make sure you have permission if you do this in someone else’s woods. You also can get greens from trimmings cut from your own Christmas tree when cutting a fresh tree

Happy wreath-making!

By Edith Churchill

Special to the Sun Journal

Making a balsam fir wreath

Make it a family activity to make a wreath! You can use the traditional method of making bunches of greens, wiring them together and attaching them to a wire frame. I found easy directions online at two sites: www.balsambuddies.com without moss and www.creativehomemaking.com with moss.

Or you can try your hand at a “Not the Usual Wreath,” the way I learned at St. Philip’s Church in Auburn. Or wait until their next annual Christmas Fair, in November 2005, and buy one made by their talented volunteers. My beautiful wreath measures 22 inches in diameter.

Not the Usual Wreath

Supplies you will need:

• An 18-inch cardboard ring

• Twine

• Evergreens, such as balsam, pine, juniper, and cedar

• Decorations such as a pretty bow, wire-tied pine cones

• Pruning shears

Start by winding the twine around the cardboard at intervals about every 1½- to 2-inches apart. Tie off with a loop for hanging.

Clip the balsam into lengths approximately 8-inches long. Longer pieces can be divided, most easily at the ‘Y’ part of the branch.

Tuck stems through two sections of twine, add another balsam and push the bunch toward the center to make a nice full section. Make sure sections are placed as they grow, with the shiny side up. Lay the next green on top of the last and tuck under two sections of twine again. Continue all the way around lifting the bottom layers as you get near the beginning.

Turn the wreath over and repeat. Now check to see if you can add any greens anywhere, tuck in extra branches as needed, along the center or outer edge.

Look for and loosen the hanging loop. Decorate your wreath! Do you want the bow on top or bottom? Weave the wires to fasten the bow and the pine-cone bundles through the greens and twist off in the back, forming another loop for hanging if desired.

You can insert optional greens around the bow and cones, and here and there as you like.

Hang it and enjoy!

Edith Churchill is a freelance writer living in Auburn who frequently takes day trips with her family.

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