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Garland 101: Everything You Need To Know To Make Garland Look Great

Because I’ve had so many inquiries into how I get my garlands to look the way I do, I have decided to do a thorough tutorial on making the most of your fake plastic garland.  It is really hard to find “off the shelf” garland that is full and beautiful (without paying an arm and a leg) but I’m going to teach you how to get that look without the huge price tag. You are basically going to assemble your own, which also let you control exactly the look you get.

I admit, I’ve become a garland snob and it makes me cringe when I see a sad thin wispy garland adorning someone’s front door.  When you see pine garlands in magazines and in high end hotels, they are usually really full and often filled with lights, like this:
Outdoor christmas decor garland
But in reality, most people end up with something that looks more like this:  (which just pitiful)

That is a single pine garland that I bought at the craft store and hung up as-is.  It is just pathetic. You can take that same el-cheap-o unlit garland strand and turn it into something pretty nice, but you are going to need MORE of them.. a LOT more.  Comparing garlands
This is what one strand looks like:
Garland 1 strandNow look at what happens when I use two:
Garland evergreen two strandsIt already looks fuller and more robust.  (although I admit, it is still far from perfect!) We need more!
If you aren’t sure which type of garland I’m talking about, it usually comes folded up and in cardboard sleeve, and should cost less than $5 (I shoot to pay about $2 for an 8-9 foot length after christmas but even right now you can find them for $4/strand)

Once you have a whole bunch of them, the first thing you want to do is find the end of two garland strands and grab the metal wires that run though them:
Two ends of garlandTwist those wires together to keep the strands from pulling apart.
Wrapping garlands togetherNow lay the lengths of the garland side by side and twist the garlands around each other, going around and around (like the stripes on a candy cane):
Multiple garlands for fullness
Since I wasn’t thrilled with the look of two strands, I added a third. If the store has more than one color or needle type you should try to get a variety.  When you twist multiple strands together, they look more realistic if you mix and match. Here I’m adding one lighter green strand (left) to two of a darker color (right):
Making garland fullerThis is what three strands looks like:
Garland 2 strandsFor perspective, here was the entire garage door with two strands:
Garland two strandsAnd here is three:
Garland three strandsNow we are getting somewhere!

Next I add lights.  Again, these are just the cheap 100 light strings which are under $4.  I start at one end (this makes it easiest to connect garlands end-to-end for longer spaces):
How to string lights on garland
And wrap the lights around in a spiral (I try to go in the opposite direction than I wrapped the greens together, since that helps hold the strands together. Garland with lights
Here is the illuminated garland hung across the garaged door:
My perfect ratio for lights to garland is 150-200 lights per nine feet of garland (usually 1 1/2 to 2 strings per 1 length of garland).  If you wanted as many lights as shown in that first sample photo, I would double those numbers.   

At this point you could stop, add bows, maybe a few floral picks, and call it a day.  Often on my mantels, that is what I do.  Just wrap the (now fuller) garland with a ribbon and add some large bows at the swag attachment points. Depending on which ribbon you choose can get really different looks:

But if you want them to look more realistic (and aren’t worried about them dropping needles like their authentic counterparts do) you can keep going and guild the lily:

For the final touch, I added some real berries and tree trimmings to fill out my pine swags and make them more realistic.
Garland 3 strands plus lights
Here is a shot of what they look like up close.  It is pretty hard to tell where the real pine boughs start and where the fake ones begin:
Realistic evergreen garland
I have more details on exactly how I achieve this look on last year’s post: “Make your garland look realistic for free!"

The example in that post was the garland around my front door.  It was assembled and illuminated just like I explained above:

And here is this year’s garage door:Garland 3 strands
 I actually wasn’t going to add any garland this year (other than those white lights) until I decided to write this post.  That was clearly all the motivation I needed to get up and actually decorate.  To finish off the front of the house, I re-used my rustic pallet artwork from last year.
Garland with pallet signI think it looks pretty good.  Maybe not the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, but a whole lot closer to it than this: Garland one strand

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