ORONO, Maine — It was beginning to look and smell a lot like Christmas this week at the University of Maine’s Page Farm and Home Museum as one of the organization’s annual holiday wreath-making workshops got underway.
At long tables on the second floor of the museum’s 19th century post and beam barn, people picked up handfuls of fragrant fir boughs and learned how to turn them into festive homemade wreaths. The workshops, so popular they are never advertised, fill up fast, according to museum director Patricia Henner. Some folks come back year after year to make their wreaths under her watchful eye while others were brand-new to the art of twisting bundles of bough tips onto a wire wreath frame. But all seemed to share an appreciation for the event and its low-key start to the holiday season.
Laurie Bowen of Levant was a wreath-making novice, but she looked confident as she laid the boughs on the frame and used wire to pull them tightly against it.
“I’ve always wanted to make a wreath, and I just like doing anything for the holidays,” she said, taking a deep breath of the fir-scented air. “If anybody ever wanted to know what Maine smells like, here it is.”
Down the line, three generations of one family joked and talked while they worked on their wreaths. Joyce Murchie, her daughter Ann Thornton, both of Lincoln, and granddaughter Rebecca Levesque of Hermon are repeat customers at the workshop.
“It’s a nice little holiday tradition,” Thornton said. “We have fun every year.”
For Henner, who has been helping to run or running the workshops for more than two decades, making wreaths is part of what’s lovely about Christmas in the Pine Tree State. But it’s a tradition the Maine native did not participate in herself until she moved back home after spending years living out of state. She moved in late fall, at a time when her sister and brother-in-law were busy making wreaths for the town of Dover-Foxcroft. To help Henner out, they hired her to work for them.
“They showed me how to make wreaths, then three days later they let me go,” Henner laughed. “I was too slow.”
Fast-forward 25 years, and it’s clear she’s learned a few things along the way. Her fingers flew deftly around the wreath frame, flipping it back and forth as she added the boughs to make it double-sided and full. In between fir boughs, she adds other natural materials she has harvested from her yard, including pinecones, dried hydrangeas, fern seed pods, birch twigs and bright-red clusters of holly berries.
“I like wiring in the weird stuff,” Henner said. “I like going and gathering stuff, having a bit of me put in the wreaths.”
In general, she said, making wreaths is not a complicated process. For the workshops, the museum purchases bags of boughs from Sprague’s Nursery & Garden Center in Bangor, which also sells forms and other wreath-making supplies. The first step is twisting the form, or ring, onto the wire that she will use to wrap the boughs. Next, Henner makes a roughly 8-inch long bundle of bough tips in one hand.
“You don’t have to be precise,” she said. “It’s a natural, organic material. I hate perfect wreaths — they’re boring.”
She takes that bundle and uses the wire to wrap it three times onto the ring.
“Each time pull it tight,” she said.
Then she flips the ring over, makes another bundle of boughs and staggers it below the previously-wrapped bundle. This is what makes the wreath double-sided, she said, offering the good advice to always wrap the wire in the same direction so you don’t accidentally unwrap the wreath. Then she continued wrapping the bundles of boughs onto the ring until she formed a complete circle.
“We’ve never had a catastrophic failure,” Henner said about the wreath-making workshops. “They’re all unique and beautiful in their own way. Wreaths are very forgiving.”
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