Claussen’s rings in holiday season with style

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Verna Thomas tacks down the tails of a wreath

Employee and expert-decorator Verna Thomas tacks down the tails of a wreath at Claussen’s in Colchester.

The crafters at Claussen’s Greenhouse in Colchester are certifiable connoisseurs of Christmas décor. It’s bound to happen, the staff said, with an annual production rate of nearly 1,000 wreaths, 100 kissing balls and lofty lengths of deep green garland. Each is made from Vermont-grown pine and sport a unique set of decorations.

Through the years, Claussen’s has seen styles come and go and perfected its own process along the way. Silver seems to be on trend this year. Last year, Vermont-inspired plaid was all the rage. And some looks, like red velvet and snowflake print, always hold a top spot in the popularity contest.

But employee Verna Thomas said she sometimes likes to make a challenge for herself, attempting to incorporate the unique (read: gaudy) ribbons the shop once relegated to the Goodwill donation box.

Sure enough, tucked between the line-up of classic maroon and snowy white offerings displayed on the shop’s exterior wall, a golden leopard-print wreath hung proudly. Rumor had it a camouflage design was hidden somewhere inside, too.

“I tend to get a little crazy,” Thomas said. “You’ve got to have fun!”

Thomas and coworker Cindy Nemeth labored with a flourish in a makeshift workshop just off the main entrance on Friday, encircled by stacks of pine boughs and colorful spools of ribbon. Their quick work caught the eye of almost every passing customer heading to the poinsettia-filled greenhouse.

On a whim, one shopper stopped to work with Nemeth on some custom designed wreaths, pining (ha!) over the width of the material for the bright red bows. With each passing minute, it seemed, her stack of items to purchase grew higher.

Reporter Michaela Halnon's finished product.

Reporter Michaela Halnon’s finished product.

The Claussen’s ladies were generous enough to let me try my hand at wreath making after a quick demonstration that morning, exercising considerable patience as I fumbled through the steps they’ve long since mastered.

Thomas said more and more folks are taking the do-it-yourself approach to Christmas decorations — perhaps associated with the popularity of sites like Pinterest — but often find the craft deceptively challenging.

In fact, it’s the first step of wreath design that usually stops the DIY-ers in their tracks, Thomas said: constructing the perfect bow. A few tricks, like wire-lined ribbon, make the undertaking a bit more manageable, but a healthy dose of practice is the key ingredient.

Together, we constructed a modest-sized bow to complement my relatively small wreath in a checked buffalo plaid material. Thomas likes to tack down the tails of the ribbon with craft wire, limiting the effect of a strong wind gust, and usually cuts the ends in a chevron style.

“I live in a very windy area” Thomas said as she worked. “There’s nothing worse than having your bow blow over the pretty stuff!”

She also makes sure to fluff up the wreaths with gusto along the way, the voluminous branches hiding any trace of the behind-the-scenes wiring work — “Just like your hair,” she joked.

I folded and cut my first tail perfectly under Thomas’ watchful eye, but as she turned her back, I inadvertently flipped the scissors the wrong way and ended up with a pointed arrow instead (an easy fix, luckily).

Nemeth giggled as I later hemmed and hawed over the dozen-or-so accessory bins for ages. I eventually settled on frosted pinecones and traditional red berries but cast a forlorn look toward the miniature silver baubles and glittery branches as I walked back to my station.

The wreath came together quickly from there, the add-ons easily attached with a little twist of wire or slim wooden dowel.

I beamed with pride as the wreath’s pine smell flooded my car later that morning — and barely even minded when I discovered my sap-covered hands were stuck to the steering wheel.