How to Make a Rope Holiday Wreath

by: EJ on 12/12/2014

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One of my favorite holiday decorations is a wreath for the front door. I have been making them from natural materials for years, starting with wild grape vine when I lived in Ontario and moving onto ivy and blackberry vines here in B.C. In today's guest post, Sharon Kallis, author of Common Threads: Weaving Community through Collaborative Eco-Art, shares her instructions for creating a wreath from flat, flexible leaves like bulrush, cattail or flag iris.

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There is a wide variety of meaning attached to the wreath, but for me it symbolizes the full circle, or the wheel of the seasons we mark at Winter Solstice. The sun is returning and our days once more are getting longer. So imagine the wreath as a roller coaster- we have climbed the ‘hill’ to the top where we are hovering, about to pick up momentum again as we roll forward towards Spring and growth and bounty. Wreaths feel like the perfect symbol for the seasonal cycle, and in the depths of winter when we really need it, the wreath can be a subtle reminder that Spring is just a short ride ahead.

It makes sense that when we want a wreath on our door or table, we would use what we have in our gardens to decorate seasonally- just as the carved pumpkin is the icon of October, what might you have around you to work with now?  Find plants like cattail, bulrush or flag Iris that have died back, but might still stick out of the snow or be accessible in low lying wet areas or side ditches. Harvest selectively, be a slow-moving, grazing animal and gather as you walk so you don’t pick an area completely.

Take a strand of your test material; can you wind it around your fingers a few times without it fraying or breaking? Then try working with it! Start with approximately 10 leaves.

Here are my instructions for making rope or cordage:

Step 1 - Making a bundle to work with. If your plants have a different structure at the tip end from root end, flip some upside down so the ends are more equalized in thickness and material quality. You can make rope of any size but start with a bundle that has a <I>bunched diameter<i> between 1-2 cm (1/4 - 3/4 inch) across. Fold in half.

Step 2 Position 1

Step 2, Position #1

Step 2 - Pinch your left thumb on the fold edge as shown. Hold your materials so you can see there is a top bundle of plants and a bottom bundle of plants, it is important that these are of equal thickness. With your right hand pinch the top bundle. Your thumb tip should be up close to your left thumb, and the nail bed is facing down. This is Position #1.

Step 3 Position 2

Step 3, Position #2

Step 3 - With your left thumb still pinching the corner, turn your right hand 90o away from you so the thumbnail is now facing upwards. This is Position #2. Don’t turn too much here! Many people starting out want to do a full circle but the movement is subtle.

 

Step 4 Position 3

Step 4, Position #3

Step 4 - Keep your hands in position; maintain the pinch with your right thumb and index and use the other fingers on your right hand to grab hold of the lower plant bundle. This is Position #3. See how my index finger in the middle becomes a part of pinching that lower plant bundle; my middle finger is holding it tight on the outside bottom.

Position 4

Position #4

Turn your right hand toward you 90o while holding the top and bottom bundle. This should put your thumbnail turned down at the very bottom. This is Position #4.

 

 

Step 5

Step 5

Step 5 - At this point, if you release both hands you should see that the top bundle was given a twist backwards, and was then brought forward to become the bottom bundle. This backward twist on the top and forward movement to the bottom is the trick!

Put your left thumb over that newly made twist point and continually repeat Positions #1 through #4. Every time your right hand makes a backward twist of the top bundle and forward to bottom position motion, release your left thumb and move it alongside the work. The closer your thumbs are in contact with each other for Position #1, the tighter your rope cordage will be.

Step 6

Step 6

Step 6- To form a circle bring one bundle through the top initial loop where your thumb first pinched. To finish, bring each bundle separately through a space between the fibers a few twists along from that first loop. When finishing a circle, I take one bundle to one side and the other bundle to the other side to balance the weight of the material.

Step 7

Step 7

Step 7 - Use a chopstick, needle or your finger as an awl to open up the center space between the twisted fibers a few twists up from the end. Insert one of the bundle lengths through this space. If the bundles are still long and unwieldy for this, you can trim - but leave yourself about 20 cm (8 inches) to work with. Pull tight, and repeat again using the awl a few twists further up the rope. Wait to trim excess ends until the cordage is dry; materials shrink as they dry so close clipping when still wet can result in slips and lost twist.

Bonus Step

Bonus Step

Bonus Step! If you want a thicker rope and got this easily enough, try and make 4 ply.  Make twice the length of rope and fold in half- repeat these instructions with hands reversed so pinch with your right hand and twist the fibres with your left. Your twist now goes the opposite way and balances out the energy in the rope.

 

Rebecca Graham, my friend and weaving mate joined me to play around making our samples for an upcoming wreath workshop. We used our fingers or a chopstick to open up the twist and insert various dried clippings as ornamentation. Different ornamental grasses, dried lavender buds, yarrow and other seed pods are shown because that was what we had available in abundance, look to what lies in your local environment and bring some indoors as a friendly reminder that Spring is just over  the crest of the hill.

 

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