In the country they say that cutting your own wood warms you twice -- once when you cut it and again when you burn it.
Making your own Christmas wreath is like that: You get two chances to stab your hands -- once when you pick greens and again when you wire them onto a wreath frame.
But fear of pricking shouldn't keep you from making a wreath -- at least once.It's a satisfying way to spend a couple of hours in front of a warm fire, and stabbed hands or not, it's practically guaranteed to awaken the "Christmas spirit."
Homemade wreaths also make good presents. A bought wreath can cost anywhere from $5 or $6, for the smallest and cheapest, to $40 and $50 for the more elaborate; you can make a $12 or $15 wreath for less than $2 and two hours' work.
While there's a variety of materials to use for the base -- grapevine, straw, rattan and Styrofoam -- the following instructions are for the simplest live green wreath built on a metal frame.
TOOLS YOU'LL NEED: * One small metal frame, available from craft stores, florists, nurseries or shops specializing in Christmas decorations; cost is less than $1. * Florist wire, thin green wire strands sold in a bunch and available at the same places; about 65 cents per bunch. * Small wirecutters. * Pruning shears. * Small pliers or needle-nose pliers. I like to make a green wreath out of found objects -- it keeps the cost down and challenges my imagination. For the "base" greens -- the foliage that fills out the wreath and provides the background for berries or ornaments -- you can use just about anything that still has some green to it. Evergreens don't like to be pruned just now. White pine looks particularly handsome, but it's all in my neighbor's yard. So I pruned our boxwood instead. I like a variety of textures in a larger wreath, but for the smaller one, I decided to stick to boxwood to keep it from looking too busy. For decoration, I picked some bittersweet along the back roads of the Virginia countryside. Bittersweet, a brilliant red berry surrounded by a deep yellow casing, which usually falls off when you pick it, is one of my favorite berry vines. It's easily recognizable in late fall when all the leaves fall off the trees. In the country, it often rises 20 or 30 feet up to the top of the trees it likes to hang on to. Often the prettiest berries are way out of reach. Pruning shears are a must to clip this tough and hardy vine. CAUTION: Bittersweet berries and most other berries found growing wild in the fall are poisonous. If you have a small, curious child or dumb dog, check with a county agent or some other expert before bringing berries home to decorate your wreath. Other possible natural decorations: dried weed seed pods, dried flowers or peppers from the garden, pine cones. You're limited only by your imagination. PUTTING IT TOGETHER: It's fairly obvious, once you have everything. Lay the metal frame down as though it were a tube cake pan, and build your wreath in order: outside edge, inside edge, center. Sprigs of greenery should be clipped so that they're no shorter than six inches and no longer than 10. Bend them to the shape of the frame and wire them on individually with cut lengths of the florist's wire. Fasten greens securely and densely. Once you've filled the frame with dense foliage -- it takes about an hour -- you're ready to attach the decorations. Wire each sprig of berries separately. If you're using dried flowers or seed pods, thrust the end of the wire gently through the base of the flower or seed pod, twist that end into a small loop to hold it in place and pull the wire back down so the loop fits snugly into the top of the flower or seed pod. If you're using pine cones, loop the wire among a few of the base cone flaps and twist the loop shut at the bottom of the cone. You won't be able to push wire through the cone itself. After berries or natural ornaments are wired, push wires through the green base and attach to the metal frame, as you did the greenery. If you've built a dense base, you can get away with not wiring berry sprigs. Just push stems into the greenery, making sure they hold and won't fall out if the wreath is going to hang on a door that will be opened and closed frequently.
A FEW TIPS: * To make your wreath last longer, soak greens in water overnight before using. * Don't collect dried seed pods after or during rain or snow. They'll be soggy and difficult to use. * When you think you've filled in your wreath with enough of a greenery base, add some more. The denser the wreath, the more attractive it will be and the more solid. * Fasten sprigs individually as often as possible. * Once the wreath is finished, check it carefully for loose foliage before you hang it.