Mastering the Art of Wreath Making at Monticello

Hannah BryanHoliday, Learning Opportunities2 Comments

For as long as I can remember, my mom has gone to Monticello to make a Christmas wreath for our home. It’s her chance to get out of the house, get creative and come up with something new. Wreath making is also the unofficial sign that Christmas is coming in our household.

I’ve always admired the wreaths she has come home with–they are always different in one way or another. Some years, the wreath is a traditional boxwood wreath, and others its a mix of greens from the grounds at Monticello. Some years there’s a color scheme and ornamentation around the whole piece, some years there’s a focal point on one corner of the wreath. Regardless, they come out beautiful, and it hangs proudly on our front door for all of December, and often longer.

This year, I was able to participate in the annual tradition and try my hand at my very first handmade wreath! I didn’t realize just how labor-intensive wreath making could be, and how HARD it could be get inspired. In this case it wasn’t a case of not having enough to work off, but more a problem of having too many ideas at once!

On a lovely fall day, we took a meandering drive through gorgeous Northern Virginia all the way down to Charlottesville, VA. The fall colors were pretty much kaput at this point, but there’s a certain kind of beauty of the bare mountainsides. They were our constant companion on the journey down and it was nice reminder that getting out of the city is not only pleasant but necessary.

A winding country road led us up a steep hill to Monticello. Their grounds are perfectly kept and there are a number of walking trails around the property that let you see the best of the space without a chance of getting lost. If you get there early like we did, you could visit any number of them before the class begins.

Some stats about the class:

  • When: late Nov – early Dec
  • Cost: $75/person
  • What: Produce a gratifying and tangible end product: a beautiful holiday wreath!
  • Time: 9am, 1pm or 2pm
  • When to register: Early birds get the worm–check out the registration dates around June.
  • Where to register: visit https://www.monticello.org/site/visit/tours/wreath-workshops

We walked into the cozy room where we’d be working and found a team of hardworking volunteers setting up for the 30-person class. There were greens everywhere you looked, and an endless buffet of fun and unique adornments on the table at the front of the space:

All the greens we got to pick from for wreath making at Monticello

Being the early birds we were, we had our pick of the spots and chose the table closest to the window. This is what each work station looked like:

Basic beginnings for wreath making at Monticello

Yup. That green circle is what would soon be my very first handmade wreath. All it would take to get there is… a ton of work. GULP.

Bare wreath form at Monticello

Started from the bottom, now we….gotta lotta work to do

Note
You will need to bring your own clippers to the class, they are NOT provided. Need a pair? Check out our YDF Tool Kits

After a cup of tea and a snickerdoodle (hey, it’s never too early for cookies, people), our instructor Lou kicked things off. She spoke about different methods for decorating: the whole wreath, one corner, four corners, etc. Then she touched on the process for getting your pretty additions ready to stick into the wreath form. Finally, we started in on how to actually make the wreath.

It involves bunches of boxwood (American or English), green wire, brute strength, a bit of guess work, and a lot of adjusting and re-doing. At least for me, it did. But, as you add your bunches of greens and yank them tight to the form, you can start to see the wreath coming together. It’s absurdly exciting to see the progress.

The calm before the storm of wreath making at Monticello

Getting bunches of greens together for wreath making at Monticello

I started in with the bunches and got about 1/3 done, when an instructor came by and made me start over because it was too thick. Mistakes happen, but the instructors are fantastic and will make sure you’re headed in the right direction and doing everything properly.

I’ve got to say, it’s an awesome feeling to see literal bunches of green stuff turn into a full, elegant, bright wreath. Honestly I’d hang it just as it was, without any other decoration. There’s something about a bare green wreath that screams luxury to me. Maybe I’m crazy. In any case, I got over leaving it bare when I visited the table stuffed full of options we had to add to the wreaths.

Once the wreath part was finished, the instructors helped me finish it off, find it’s natural “top”, and hang it on a wreath stand. At that point it’s like an artist standing in front of a bare canvas. Anything is possible, and you’ve sort of just got to dive in and try things out.

The "bare" stage of wreath making at Monticello

This is where I had the most difficulty. My eye was drawn to little red chile peppers, big blue-ish-grey thistle-y things (scientific, I know), purpley brain-looking flowers, okra pods, what looked like pineapple slices, and to be honest, just about every other thing on the table.

So, how do you narrow down your options? For me, it was a combination of frustration level (“Is it hard to stake? Is it prickly? How many do I have to stake before the wreath is full? Is it too fragile? Time to move on…”) and the look I was going for (big and bold with lots of texture, but not overwhelming).

Lessons learned:

  • I’m really bad at following my own advice and picked 3 different additions that were frustrating on almost every level–prickly, fragile AND hard to stake. *Face palm*
  • A wreath won’t really come together until the last second and you just have to wait till YOU love it, for it to be done.
  • Cursing under your breath when something isn’t sticking just like you want is perfectly acceptable. Cursing loudly is not.
  • Making a wreath is really fun and pushes creative boundaries. I want to do it again.

In the end, I went home with a wreath that I LOVE.

My first wreath made at Monticello

My final product from wreath making at Monticello

It’s colorful, it pops, it’s got a ton of texture, and I made it with my very own hands! Nothing feels better. $5 wreaths with a red bow are fantastic and classic, but now that I’ve tried it, I know I’ll always prefer the handmade, personalized, creative experience of creating you very own.

It was so cool to see just how different the wreaths all looked. The woman working next to me was doing a centerpiece for her table, and that required a whole new kind of decorating, but it turned out beautifully:

tabletop wreath making at monticello

If you’ve never tried to make a wreath before, that’s ok! There’s always a chance to try it out–and maybe this holiday season is the time! You never know what you can create, till you give it a go.

Hannah BryanMastering the Art of Wreath Making at Monticello
  • Kathy Edwards

    Your wreath is sensational, Hannah!! And I love all the bright colors and citrus in the centerpiece wreath!

    • jbryan

      Thanks Moon! 🙂 It was such a fun experience…can’t wait to make another!