Sunday, November 7, 2010

Redux: Aunt Tess' Swags

[Editor's note: This post first appeared at A Catskill Christmas in November 2007 and is repeated here for the 2010 Christmas season]

I've made these as 9 foot long garlands in the past but since I plan on having a gilded walnut garland on the tree this year, I wanted something small but still with the same look and feel of the larger garlands.

I named these Aunt Tess' Swags mostly due to the use of orange slices. My great-grandmother, Therese McGinnes Austin, would often tell us that one of the prized items to receive in a Christmas stocking at the turn of the 20th century (she was born in 1894) was an orange. Growing up in New York City, I imagine being able to eat an orange in the dead of winter was quite a treat. Also Grandma, as I called her, was a savvy woman who knew quite a bit about herbs and spices. So these are a tribute to her.

Most of the ingredients are ordered over the Internet from San Francisco Herb Company. Also feel free to add and remove other items - I've made these with large dried rose heads, small dried artichokes, and hazelnuts.


24 gauge florist wire (paddle wire), green
Wire cutters or scissors
Dried orange slices
Cinnamon sticks, 6 inch length
Bay leaves or salal (lemon) leaves
Nutmeg, whole
Walnuts, plain or gilded
1/2 inch satin ribbon


1. You will need to prep some of your materials by drilling holes into them with a small drill bit: walnuts, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg. (I recommend drilling the walnuts before you paint them - this way if they crack, you can throw it away or toss it to the squirrels)

2. Determine how long you want each swag to be, I usually make mine 8 - 10 inches. Add an extra 3 inches to the desired length - you will need this to make loops on each end.

3. Measure your wire length and cut with wire cutters or scissors. Make as many wires as you need.

4. Make a small 1/2 inch loop at one end and twist the wire around - this will be your "knot."

5. Determine a sequence of materials - I usually have a walnut at each end, bay leaves, nutmeg, bay leaves, cinnamon, bay leaves, orange slice, bay leaves etc.

6. You can make each ornament exactly alike or feel free to vary them. I find it helps to sort out the bay leaves or lemon leaves first so I have many that are not broken and about the same size.

7. Once you feel you have enough on the wire, create a larger loop (about 1 inch), wrap the wire and try to tuck it into the last item (that's why I start and end with walnuts).

8. Finish with tied ribbon on each end or on just one end.

Storage: Especially with the dried orange slices, you need to guard against infestation. Wrap in acid-free tissue and place cedar chips or moth balls in the box.

© 2010, copyright Thomas MacEntee

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