A few years back, someone in my handspinning guild brought in a huge harvest of lavender flowers, to share with everyone at the meeting. I took home a handful, because they smelled so very lovely. And I got to thinking about how I might preserve the delicious fragrance of these flowers. A little sifting around in my memory of time spent in the South of France, followed by some internet wandering led me to try to make lavender wands. They're meant to perfume clothing, and to deter moths, but I found them so pretty that mine stayed on the mantlepiece since the time that I made them.
Lavender wands are incredibly easy to make.
You get some long-stemmed lavender, tie it in a bundle, bend the stems around the flowers to form a sort of a cage, and weave a ribbon through those stems. Simple.
But of course, nothing is really all that simple, so here are my observations on how to make lavender wands.
What You'll Need
Materials are basic: a bunch of lavender, three yards of thin ribbon (1/4 inch or 1/8 inch work well), scissors, and some patience.
Lavender is a widely-planted flower in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live. It thrives in our pseudo-Mediterranean climate. I have a small amount planted, but when I agreed to teach a class on making lavender wands, I realized that I needed more than my little garden could provide. I put out the word to co-workers who shared generously, and poached some from an abandoned furniture store in my neighborhood. (I harvested these flowers unrepentantly, after a session of volunteer gardening on one of the planted traffic islands nearby. Our next door neighbors organize these monthly cleanups, and drove away shouting "Thief! Thief!" from their car window.)
Since you'll be weaving, you'll want to select flowers growing on soft, pliable, downright droopy stems. I found that the full-blown flowers had stiff stems, but that the younger undeveloped blooms were ideal. It seems to me that these flowers might also shed less, which could be a good thing.
Do watch out for the bees who find lavender irresistible. Don't get so focused on harvesting that you accidentally maul an innocent honeybee. The bees need these flowers more than you do.
Some online sources discuss aging the cut flower to make them wilt, but I really don't know what that means. I kept my flowers in a large vase of water, wrapped in a damp tea towel. The floppy stems stayed floppy, and the stiff stems didn't seem to change much. You don't want your stems to dry out and become brittle.
Other than soft stems, the next thing you'll want are uniform sized flowerheads -- not too huge -- and long stems. There are a lot of varieties of lavender grown around here, and I think the classic long-stemmed lavendula angustifolia works best.
Tying it all Together
The weaving of the wands will be a plain over-under-over-under weave pattern. To make this work, you'll need an odd number of lavender flowerstems. (You can get really fancy, and do an over-two-under-two pattern, which would use a multiple that's double an odd number, like fourteen or eighteen.) I find that thirteen stems work pretty well. Less than that looks sparse; more gets out of control.
Measure out roughly three yards of ribbon. Fold it in half, and then fold that in half again. Pinch at the fold line, so that you have 1/4 of the ribbon on one side of your hand, and 3/4 of the length on the other. This point on the ribbon is where you'll tie the bundle of flowers together.
Line up the bottoms of your flowers, and tie a square knot just below the blooms. You want a snug knot, with enough wiggle-room to adjust any stray flowers. Tug down on your stems, to give one last evening-out to your flowers.
The next two steps are the hardest part of this process. If you can make it past these two parts, you're all set.
Hard Part, Number One: Gently, gently bend your stems at the base of your flowerheads, taking great care not to break your stems. This is why you spent time selecting floppy flowers. If your stems need a bit of help, gently, gently poke the underside of the part to be bent (the inside of the elbow, as it were) with your fingernail. Don't break the stem, just crease it a bit. If you snap a stem, don't panic. As long as you have a bit of slack in your ribbon-tie, you can feed another flower into the bundle. Make a sort of a cage around the flowers with your stems. Try to spread your stems around the bouquet of flowers evenly, avoiding a lot of criss-crossing if possible. Breathe. This is supposed to be fun. These are just flowers, after all.
Hard Part, Number Two: Leaving the short end of your ribbon inside of the bundle of flowers, fish out the long end, and start weaving. The first and second rows are going to have a High Suck Factor, but I promise that it gets easy, immediately after that. Pass your ribbon over the nearest stem. (I'm right-handed, and worked counter-clockwise. If you're left-handed, you might find it easier to work clockwise.) Now gently, gently coax the next lavender stem away from the bundle, lifting it just enough to slip your ribbon underneath. Go over the following stem, and under the one after that. Pay attention to how your stems are arrayed around the flower bundle, and don't let them get to jumbled. Pretty soon, you will have gone all the way around the bundle, and will be back where you started.
You're just about to start the Seriously Hard Part of Hard Part, Number Two. Do you see the first stem that crossed your ribbon over? Good. Gently, gently lift this stem, and slip your ribbon underneath. Now you have to find the stem that you went under on the last row. Since your ribbon wasn't holding it down, there is a very good chance that this stem has wandered off, and is not where you left it. That's okay. Find that stem, and pass your ribbon over it. Go under the next stem, which you would have gone over on the previous row. Find your next loose stem, pass the ribbon over it, and continue this pattern. This second row is the Sucky Row, but stay focused on your pattern, and work your way around.
And that's the worst of it. It's super-easy, from here on out. Under, over, under, over -- that's all there is to it.
Fine-Tuning and Trouble-Shooting
Hold your project in your non-dominant hand, and weave with your other hand. The flowers should be pointing up, and the stems and ribbons should be hanging down loosely. Hold your project like a baby bird: don't crush it, but don't let it escape, either.
You really want to let the ribbon do the work of the weaving, rather than bending the stems all over the place. Ribbon is flexible, while stems are prone to breaking. Weave firmly, but not so tightly that you're strangling your project. As you work, loop your ribbon over the thumb of your non-dominant hand, holding it out of the way, before you thread your ribbon under the next stem. Once you've got the ribbon snugged up to the previous row, slip your thumb out of the loop, and pull the ribbon through. One way to think about this is to let the stems dictate the tension of the weaving, and not let the ribbon pull too hard. You can definitely over-tighten.
Don't worry about perfection. Once you've woven a few rows, you can smoosh your newly formed lavender wand around a bit, coaxing it into shape. If you really need to, you can tighten or loosen your ribbon weaving, but be aware that too much tugging can damage the stems.
Don't start weaving too close to the top of the stems. Avoid crowding. Let a bit of stem poke out, at the very top. This keeps the ribbon from sliding all over the place.
From time to time, take a moment to unsnarl your stems and ribbons. Don't allow a gigantic frustrating tangle to form.
You may notice lavender flowers and leaves poking though your weaving. You can either ignore them, or gently coax them under your weaving ribbon. This is your choice, depending on how fastidious you need to be.
You can stop weaving in one of two places, either when you've reached the bottom of the now-encapsulated flowerheads, or when your two ribbons are about the same length. This is your choice.
Slip the dangling unused "short" ribbon through the stems of the bundle, in line with the "long" weaving ribbon. Are you still having fun, and do you want to be fancy? Great! Wrap your ribbon around the stems in a decorative pattern. Are you ready to be done with this? That's fine, too. Tie a firm knot and walk away.
Go wash your hands, and marvel at how green the soap suds are.
Look at your project with fresh eyes. Pretty stinkin' cool, huh?