All wrapped up in wreaths

The garage of Kayla Carter's house in Morrisville, Vt., contains a mound of fragrant evergreen boughs. In the backyard, two plywood-and-sawhorse tables hold the basic materials Kayla and her mom use to make Christmas wreaths: metal hoops, cut-up evergreens, and thin green wire.

Kayla, who is 12, has been helping her mom make wreaths to sell since she was in kindergarten.

She starts with a 12-inch crimped wire frame (available at garden and craft stores). Then she bunches together four or five evergreen tips and attaches their stems to the frame by winding some wire around them.

She makes another bunch, lays that on top of the stems of the first bunch, and secures it to the frame. It doesn't look like much yet, but as Kayla adds evergreen bunches around the frame, a wreath begins to take shape.

"You have to make sure all the evergreens are right-side up," Kayla says, "and to fan them out a little to make the wreath look fuller."

Kayla uses balsam fir, one of the most fragrant evergreens. "I really like the smell of the greens," she says.

Balsam fir is a good choice for wreaths because its needles are soft and can last until spring if kept cool. If you pinch the tips of balsam fir, the fragrance smells richer.

Kayla's dad collects the greens for wreaths at a gravel pit and from roadsides when trees blow down. Some garden centers sell greens, but you also can get them from Christmas tree farms.

Kayla may not realize it, but she is carrying on a craft tradition that started thousands of years ago. Ancient Greeks and Romans made wreaths, but they wore them on their heads.

The Greeks made wreaths of olive or laurel leaves, and gave them as prizes at the original Olympics. That's where the expression "don't rest on your laurels" comes from. (It means, don't stop striving to do better.)

When Julius Caesar became emperor of the Roman Empire, his generals placed a laurel wreath on his head as a crown. In fact, our word "crown" comes from the Latin word "corona," which means "wreath" or "garland." Eventually this custom evolved into crowns of gold and jewels.

Today some people still wear wreaths or garlands on their heads. Flower girls at weddings, for example, often wear a garland of fresh flowers. But most wreaths are seasonal decorations for doors or walls.

You can use your imagination when making them. Some wreaths have frames made of grapevines, florist's foam, Styrofoam, or straw. Decorating materials can vary from dried flowers, grasses, and twigs to nuts, pine cones, and dried berries. A popcorn wreath (see story below) puts a fun twist on the tradition of using popcorn and cranberry chains to decorate a Christmas tree.

When Kayla's wreath is finished, she hangs it on a fence. She may sell it plain or decorate it later with pine cones and a bow.

Six simple steps to a perfect evergreen wreath

This wreath can hang indoors or out. Find a flat work space, and ask an adult to assist you. If you put down newspapers, they will catch any mess.

Materials:

12-inch diameter crimped wire frame or wire coat hanger

1 spool green floral wire - 23 or 24 gauge

Evergreen tips - enough to fill a large cardboard box

Hand pruners (for cutting evergreens)

Decorations (bow, pine cones, etc.)

1. Buy a crimped wire frame 12 inches in diameter from a floral shop, or bend a coat hanger into a circle.

2. Gather four or five evergreen tips (about 5 or 6 inches long) into a bunch. Make sure all the greens are right-side-up, with the darker color on top. Fan the tips out slightly.

3. Attach one end of the floral wire to the frame by winding it around the frame several times in the same spot. Lay the bunch of evergreens on top of the frame and wind the wire tightly around the woody stems several times, securing an inch or two of the stems.

4.Use floral wire to tie another bunch of evergreens to the frame so that the tops of the greens overlap the stems of the first bunch. Repeat around the frame until the greens almost touch where you started. For the last bunch, lightly lift the tops of the first bunch and stick the stems of the last bunch under them. Wire them tightly to the frame, ending up with plenty of extra loops of wire to keep it tight.

5. If you used a coat-hanger frame, go on to step 6. If not, turn the wreath over. Cut a piece of wire about 8 inches long and attach each end of it to the wire frame, a few inches apart, to form a loop for hanging the wreath.

6. Decorate the wreath by adding to the frame a bow, pine cones, and anything else you wish. You can buy some items specially designed to stick to the wreath, but you can also secure decorations with florist wire pushed through the wreath and twisted around itself in the back. It's ready to hang!

How to make a popcorn and cranberry wreath

This wreath is meant to hang indoors. It makes a fun project for two people to work on together. Use a flat work space such as a table, and ask an adult to help you. It's a good idea to spread newspapers to catch any mess.

Materials:

• 1 large batch unbuttered popcorn

• 1 bag fresh cranberries

• 1 piece corrugated cardboard, at least 12 by 12 inches

• 1 utility knife, for cutting cardboard (get help from an adult)

• 1 hammer and small nail

• 1 bottle (4 ounces) white all-purpose glue (clear-drying)

• 1 small paintbrush or artist's brush

• 1 long craft needle and thread

• 1 ribbon for bow (if desired)

1. Cut a circle of corrugated cardboard about 15 inches in diameter. Cut a hole about 12 inches in diameter in the center, forming a cardboard wreath frame about 3 inches wide. Make a tiny hole in the back of the frame for hanging.

2. Make a batch of plain, unbuttered popcorn. Fill a small dish with white, clear-drying glue. Mix in a little water. Using a small paintbrush, spread the glue on a few inches of the cardboard frame.

3. Stick pieces of popcorn on the glued area as close together as possible. Spread glue on another section and repeat, going around the frame and to the edges, one section at a time. (If you have a helper, you can each work on part of the frame at once.) Be sure not to cover the nail hole, which you'll need to hang your wreath.

4. If you'd like to give your wreath a fuller look, add another layer of popcorn. (Remember not to cover the nail hole.) Dip pieces of popcorn into glue and place them gently on top of the first layer.

5. Once the glue is thoroughly dry, make a string of cranberries using a craft needle and thread. (Ask an adult for help.) Drizzle glue onto area of the wreath where cranberries will go and lay them over the popcorn as shown in the above photo.

6. If you'd like, fasten a bow to the wreath. Hang by fitting the hole in the back to a small nail on an indoor wall.

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