How to Make the Perfect Hostess Gift

comments (5) December 8th, 2008     

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Jeff_Rudell Jeffery Rudell, contributor
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For the perfect gift to a host or hostess on your list, forget fancy wine stores or fattening boxes of chocolate. Instead, raid your pantry for a container of bay leaves and whip up a perfect seasonal wreath.
Imperfection is the perfect prescription. Oddly shaped leaves, irregular color, and the occasional blemish all combine to make your finished piece both one-of-a-kind and breathtakingly beautiful.
A small wreath form and a hot-glue gun are all I needed to create this seasonal decoration from a box of seasoning.
For the perfect gift to a host or hostess on your list, forget fancy wine stores or fattening boxes of chocolate. Instead, raid your pantry for a container of bay leaves and whip up a perfect seasonal wreath.

For the perfect gift to a host or hostess on your list, forget fancy wine stores or fattening boxes of chocolate. Instead, raid your pantry for a container of bay leaves and whip up a perfect seasonal wreath.

Photo: Jeff Rudell
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A Note to Readers: This week on we are featuring "Guy Gifts": items suitable for giving to the gentleman in your life, or suitable for said gentleman to actually make. Being a gentleman myself, I felt particularly well-suited to the task of coming up with something both hale and hearty for readers to make for their men. However, part of what comes with being the aforementioned man is that I, like many men, suffer from "big ideas,"  little time, overconfidence, and usually inadequate resources (in this case, the resource "time"). As you may have guessed by now, my big manly-man project went belly-up sometime late Sunday evening and I found myself unable to facilitate a recovery in time for my Monday morning deadline for posting on the CraftStylish site.

So, to all of my men readers out there who were expecting some cool project (to make or recieve) I want to say, "Hold your horses, I'm working on it and I'll have it for you in a week." For my women readers (many of whom are no doubt rolling their eyes right about now and wearing a knowing smirk of recognition on their faces), I want to fess up and humbly say, "It's true, I overscheduled, procrastinated, didn't think things through completely, messed up, refused to acknowledge my mistake, pig-headedly plowed forward even though I was only making things worse, and finally, gave up and admitted defeat when it was too late to do anything about it." I do this sort of thing sometimes (perhaps it's a guy thing, although I suspect not exclusively so). All I can do is beg your understanding, invite you to have a good laugh on me, and assure you that next week's project will be finished long before next Monday's deadline. That being said, I humbly offer not a particularly guy-centric gift, but one I actually DID make for a man; a friend of mine, a great cook, and a wonderful host.

This being the holiday season, I have been enjoying-almost daily-the kind hospitality of my neighbors for the last few weeks. Between the dinner parties and cocktail parties and tree-trimming parties and wine tastings, I've hardly had to lift a finger in my own kitchen. While I am grateful to have had the respite from my own kitchen, it has meant that I've found myself needing something lovely to bring along to events or send along afterwards as an appropriate token of thanks. Arriving at a party with a bottle of wine or fine Port is my fallback position, but wine and Port can be expensive and more often I'm finding my hosts are either very particular in their tastes (thus, the expensive part) or nondrinkers altogether.

So, if you are a budget-conscious crafter like I am who wants beautiful on a budget, you do what I did: You head off to your local big-box-bulk-buying emporium and walk the aisles looking for cool materials with which to make something. I found my answer in, of all places, the baking aisle, in the form of a large plastic container of dried bay leaves. I know that bay leaves may not be the first thing to come to mind when trying to make a host(ess) gift, but I beg your patience while I explain.

A) They come in the most beautiful shades of gray/greens-something far more nuanced and sophisticated than one is likely to find available in paper at even the high-end craft stores.

B) They have a wonderful matte finsh, unlike shiny floral sprays available from a florist.

C) They are ridiculously inexpensive. (I bought two large containers-each nine inches tall but only weighing two ounces-for only a few dollars.)

D) And they read "nostalgic" and "antique."

This last point speaks to one of my pet peeves; that so many store-bought holiday decorations have the high-gloss sheen of plastic (regardless of what they might actually be made of) and in some rooms (say, a formal dining room or a master bedroom) can look, at best, out of place, and at worst, a little tacky. Bay leaves, however, look elegant, textural, and festive, and they do it while having that look of a slightly faded memory about them. Add a simple bow and your creation will be complete. One word of caution, however; bay leaves are brittle, so your wreath must be handled with care. Then again, if you're armed with a hot-glue gun, a broken leaf can easily be swapped out with a replacement and so, if carefully packaged, these wreaths will likely last for years. (I'm considering keeping mine up long past Chirstmas by simply repurposing it with a fresh ribbon for each new holiday that comes along).

A simple 9-inch-diameter Styrofoam ring (1-1/2 inches across the ring, 1/2 inch deep; flat-faced, not curved) and some bay leaves are all you need to create the perfect hostess gift for the holidays.


Because they are brittle, some of your leaves will be broken and cracked and their color will be mottled. Remove the most severely damaged pieces, but take advantage of the other imperfections. They'll look beautiful in the finished piece.


Hot-glue leaves around the outside rim of your form. I placed some leaves face up and others face down: You want texture, not consistency. A slight angle helps add interest. Repeat, in the same direction, on the inner edge of your form.


Around the center of your form, glue a row of leaves-alternately slanted left and right (see photo, far left) in a herringbone pattern. Overlap each leaf so that its stem is hidden (see photo, near left).


When gluing leaves down, I intentionally did not press them flat but instead let them stick up off the surface of the form a little, creating wonderful shadows and textural depth.


The finished piece is a pleasure to look at. Placed in the center of a table it would make a perfect surround to a large pillar candle. (Note: if the edge of the wreath form is visible when displayed on a flat surface, simply wrap it with a piece of 1/2-inch ribbon and pin it in place.)


Adorned with a sweet pink and brown ribbon and hung on a sage-colored wall, this looks like a family heirloom passed down from your grandmother's grandmother.

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Comments (5)

AWilcox writes: Mister Rudell, this is one of the most unique and special Wreaths I have ever seen, HOW CREATIVE and beautiful, you have outdone yourself, keep up the AMAZING work!! I look forward to seeing all your projects every Monday!! Thanks for keeping the light of inspiration burning at all time, this is so beautiful.
Posted: 3:18 pm on December 15th
MichaelaMurphy writes: Hey J,
Two things: first I LOVE hearing about the mistakes and craft disasters of others-- it helps me to bear my own.
AND, while I can't help but sit here imagining what your 'belly-up' project was like, I am even more fascinated that you had a plan 'B' project as beautiful as this waiting in the wings. The fall and rise of a crafter in one fell post!
Posted: 5:43 pm on December 8th
5andDime writes:

Great idea. Here, fyi, is a display of paper art pieces being auctioned off for holiday charity.
Posted: 2:47 pm on December 8th
wildenfunky writes: Hi there Jeffery, this is really lovely. I can purchase this lovely leaf from a terrific Indian shop, by the bag full, but as you said there are a lot of broken about if we make a cardboard base instead of the styrofoam one.....I will attempt and then post......I'm waiting for Tuesday for the nativity scene...creche...sp.....cresh....sorry!!! :)
Posted: 10:40 am on December 8th
Orna writes: Hello Jeffrey,
Your work and ideas are spectacular. I truly can't get enough. Therefore I have a request; please please please give us a Hanukkah (or any other Jewish themed) craft project.
Nothing I've seen or done myself quite compares to your talent.
Posted: 9:37 am on December 8th
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