Introduction: Wine Cork Wreath – Almost Zero Cost
Whether you want to make a feature on a dining room wall, a different sort of wreath to hang on your front door at Christmas, or something to welcome guests appropriately to a drinks party, a wine cork wreath is a fun thing to make. This wreath will cost next to nothing, just a length of cheap pipe insulation and a few glue sticks.
It's easy to add some holly or other festive greenery temporarily, to zhuzh it up a bit, if you wish.
You will need (for a 35cm / 14” diameter wreath):
- About 180-200 used wine corks
- 90cm (36") of 15mm (5/8") polyethylene foam pipe insulation (85p for a metre length from Screwfix)
- A sharp knife
- A marker pen
- A short length of gaffer tape
- 2 removable cable ties, or strong rubber bands, or some string
- A glue gun and several glue sticks (I used five 7mm / approx ¼” ones)
- A strap or belt that’s about 1m (40”) long
Step 1: A Note on Materials
The 15mm pipe insulation I used for the base of the wreath is Screwfix’s “economy” version which has a wall thickness of only 13mm (½"), giving an outside diameter of about 42-43mm. (“15mm” pipe insulation is suitable for insulating pipework with a 15mm internal diameter, so the hole down the centre of the insulation is actually larger than 15mm.) This is a good size for a wreath, and – importantly – it can be bent into a ring without kinking. You may not be successful if you use a thicker type. Being rot-proof and non-hydroscopic, the polyethylene foam makes an ideal base for a wreath, indoors or out - it's waterproof and durable enough to survive outside for weeks at a time. It’s very lightweight too and is soft and springy enough not to damage the wall or door it’s hung on, even if it blows about in the wind.
You’ll need at least 180-200 wine corks for this project, so start collecting as soon as you decide you’re going to make it. Ask all your wine-drinking friends (especially anyone who’s a member of a wine club and could ask their fellow members to help), and anyone you know in the drinks or hospitality trade. If you can find 10 people who each consume two bottles of wine (with corks) a week, it’s going to take forever, but if each of those 10 can be persuaded to ask a few of their friends as well then you’ll soon have all you need. It’s also worth taking a shoe box labelled "CORKS" in to any restaurants or wine bars near you and chatting up the staff to see if they’ll put the box behind the bar and throw all the corks in for you to collect once a week.
Step 2: Starting the Wreath Base
Cut the pipe insulation down to 90cm (35”) long, unless you want a really big wreath and have sufficient corks. Then split it along its length by running your thumb along the split line from one end to the other. It should come apart quite easily. Tuck one of the split edges inside the other one along the full length – doing so makes the cross section less circular but also makes the foam less likely to kink when you bend it into a circle, because the inside of the ring can then slide over the outside at the split to take a shorter path.
Start to form the insulation into a ring by bending it gently with the overlapping split towards the inside of the ring. I used a 4-legged stool with splayed legs to help me do this, moving the ring up the legs as I gradually reduced the radius of the curve. Having the curve supported by the legs at four points meant that it couldn’t kink. Take it slowly, and once you have it so that the gap between the ends is only 25-50mm (1-2”) you can get a belt or strap around it to hold it like that, still supported by the stool legs or whatever suitably-sized circular former you can find.
At this point, leave the almost-closed ring for a while so that it gets used to its new shape. You can fill the time by moving on to the next step.
Step 3: Preparing to Close the Ring
Examine the cut ends of the ring of insulation and you’ll see that the outside edge of the cut has, as expected, slid over the inside with the result that the ends are no longer even. Make a mark on the inside edge of each end where it is level with the outside, to indicate how much of the inside is protruding and needs to be removed.
Now examine the gap down the middle of the insulation to see what shape it has become. Choose one of the longer corks and whittle it down to match the dimensions of the gap. Slip it in place, first into one end of the insulation, then the other, to check it fits. The aim is to get a fairly tight fit so that the cork will support the ring at the join without distorting it. When it’s the right size, hold the trimmed cork in place in one end of the ring with a cable tie, rubber band or string while you mark its mid point all the way round so that you know how far to push it into each end when the time comes to glue it in place.
By now the insulation should be reasonably happy in its new curved shape, so release the strap and trim the ends where you’ve marked them to make them flat again, so that they will go together without leaving a gap. To do so you’ll need to hold one end at a time in its curved shape with one hand, so that the mark you made on the inside lines up with the outside of the split, and then cut off the excess foam with the other hand. It doesn’t matter if it’s not completely accurate, you’ll be covering the join with gaffer tape.
Using the stool legs or other former for support, check that the cut ends will now go together. Then do the same again, gently, without the former. Use the belt to hold the ring closed while you get everything ready for the next stage.
Step 4: Closing the Ring
It’s useful to have a helper for this step, two pairs of hands are better than one.
Slip a removable cable tie (or a rubber band, or a piece of string) around one end of the ring and tighten it until it just touches the foam. If necessary, arrange the overlap in the split to make it the same as the rest of the ring. Apply hot melt glue liberally to half of the shaped cork, insert it into one end of the ring and tighten the cable tie to hold everything in place while the glue sets. Then do the same with the other end, but also apply a little glue to the cut face of the foam before you push it over the already-stuck end of the cork and press the two ends of the ring together. Don’t go mad with hot glue on the ring ends, it will just melt the foam if you do.
Leave the ring with the strap around it until the glue sets. If there are gaps in the join, or the glue doesn’t appear to have held, you can apply a little more.
Remove the strap and whatever you used to hold the ends of the ring together while the glue set - you'll need to cut off rubber bands if you used them. Wrap gaffer tape around the join to support it. Don’t pull the tape too tight or it will make this area noticeably thinner than the rest of the ring.
Step 5: Applying the Base Layer of Corks
Start by sorting your corks into 3 groups: unattractive ones (eg composite corks and synthetic corks from cheaper bottles of wine, ones without any writing on them, ones that have been unduly damaged by the corkscrew); attractive ones (quality corks, especially those with interesting writing or simple pictures on them, and corks with a red wine stain or sparkly tartrate crystals on one end); and mushroom-shaped corks from bottles of sparkling wine.
Lay the foam wreath base down on the table with the overlapped edge showing around the outside of the ring. Put a loose cable tie or a loop of string around it, somewhere not too close to the taped join. Cut off the surplus from the tie and turn its join to the underside of the ring - this tie will be used to hang the finished wreath.
Taking a cork from the unattractive pile, run a line of hot melt glue down it and stick it onto the little shelf formed by the foam overlap, with its inner edge resting against the curve. Continue adding the less attractive corks around the outside with the end of each touching the previous one. When you get back to the beginning, cut the final cork to the length needed to fill the gap.
Next apply a ring of corks in a similar way around the inside of the wreath. You’ll have used about 35 corks in total so far.
Then work around the wreath again, applying the more attractive corks randomly onto the base, between the inner and outer cork rings and overlapping them. Decide how each cork will best fit first, noting which parts of it will touch the base and other corks, and apply glue to just those parts. Aim never to have two adjacent corks parallel to each other.
At the end of this stage the foam ring should be more or less covered, but there will be gaps where it is still visible. You’ll have used another 75 or so corks.
Step 6: The Top Layer of Corks
Before adding the top layer, work around the wreath giving each cork a little tug to check that it’s securely attached. Use more glue to fix any wobbly ones.
Then, using the remains of the more attractive corks together with the sparkling wine corks, go around the ring filling in the gaps. To make the wreath look random, you’ll need to cover some of the corks in the inner and outer rings too. Keep looking at the wreath from all angles to see where another cork is needed. The mushroom-shaped sparkling wine corks and corks with a red end will draw the eye, so make sure that they are evenly distributed. Don’t bother gluing corks onto the back where they won’t be seen.
If you have plenty of corks you can just keep adding them on top of other corks to make the wreath bigger, or until you get the effect you like.
When you’re satisfied that the wreath has enough corks, pull away any strings of dried glue that you can see and cut off any excessive blobs with a sharp knife.
Step 7: Finishing Touches
If this is a seasonal wreath, you can add ribbons, greenery from the garden, artificial berries, bells or other adornments. You may find you don't need to tie these finishing touches on - just tuck them between the corks to hold them in place - but natural jute garden twine blends in well with the cork.
For a wine-related wreath, you could stick on a few of the metal caps that come on the top of sparkling wine corks if you feel it needs further embellishment.
All that’s required then is to attach a hanging loop to the cable tie on the back.
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