Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

Christmas wreaths: watch the wire, watch your fingers


My mother makes Christmas wreaths -- bushy, beautiful wreaths of balsam, pine, and cedar.

When she retired from Quebec's Bishop's University library several years ago, she cast about for a couple of months for retirement-like things to do, then bought a wreath-making machine and went into business.

From time to time, I try to help out. There's a real art to making a beautiful wreath but, unfortunately, I'm no artist.

Recently, I dropped by her garage. There was a wood fire in the stove and it smelled just wonderful in there from the fresh-cut boughs. I was issued my pruning shears and a spot at the big work table, took a quick refresher course, then was let loose on a large pile of evergreen "brush."

It takes two people trimming boughs to feed the person on the wreath-wrapping machine. The idea is to make little fan-shaped bundles of evergreen, then place them within easy reach of the machine operator. You'd think that was a pretty straightforward task.

But like any job, it has its challenges. First of all, who would have thought there was so much variation in the boughs of trees from the same species?

We were working with balsam fir. Some of the boughs had thin, lacy needles. Others were much thicker, curling around the ends of the twigs and making the little wreath bundles round and spongy. You end up throwing away far, far more greenery than you use as you look for nice bushy growth.

You clip yourself a little pile of bough-ends and then you start to assemble the bundles. Trying for a nice, symmetrical fan shape, you snip and trim.

Out of the corner of my eye, I see that my mother is spending more time waiting for me than wrapping. Skilled labor I am not.

The wreath-making machine takes wire from a spool and wraps it tightly around the twig-end of these little bundles onto a metal frame. These frames come in different shapes and sizes. Most of them are circular, ranging from eight to 36 inches in diameter.

The machine has a big fly-wheel thing that opens up to put the wreath frame in place. Then you just hold your little evergreen bundles in place, press your foot to the control pedal and the fly-wheel whirls around once, securing the balsam.

That's if you know what you're doing.

When I try it, I manage to wrap my fingers to the wreath frame several times. No damage done, but not much holiday appeal in balsam wreaths decorated with fingers either. In fact, my son Jacob (age 8) makes a much better looking wreath than mine just working by hand.

Now, I've heard stories of wreathmakers who claim they can produce a hundred wreaths a day using these machines -- and that's cutting their own brush. I'd be hard pressed to make five.

They make great holiday gifts, especially these generously bushy wreaths. And now that I've reminded myself what's involved in making one, they seem cheap at twice the price.

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