Thursday, January 31, 2008

Creating Martha Stewart's Harvest Centerpiece

Someone getting married next fall sent us a link to an article on Martha Stewart's site about making a "Harvest Centerpiece," which is a sheaf of multiple grains. Here's the picture from the article:

We decided to see how easy it was to make following Martha's instructions and using some of our items - Golden Wheat, Avena (aka Oats), and Rice. One item mentioned in the article what was of particular interest was the floral tape - we'd never used it, but it seemed pretty useful. We've tried making mixed sheafs in the past, with lousy results - the materials got all mixed together and it just looked like a boring, homogenous mess. The floral tape would keep this from happening.

After returning from Jamali Garden with my floral tape and some wide satiny ribbon, I got to work. I started by trying to figure out how the heck to use that tape - it only sticks to itself when stretched. First I tried cutting it into lengths - that didn't really work because it was tough to stretch the last bit, leaving a dangling piece that would cause the whole thing to unravel. After a bit more trial and error, I found that what seemed to work best was to leave the tape on the roll, then turn the bundle, keeping a good amount of tension on the tape - once you have enough around the bundle, give it a yank to break the tape, and you're all set.

Once I got the tape working, I started bundling the ingredients - Rice, Golden Wheat and Avena - into bundles of 15 or so stems as directed by the instructions. It was a rather tedious task and took quite some time. Once done with that, I started to assemble my sheaf. A little bit of this, a little bit of that, on-and-on until I realize I fussed away a good half hour just arranging all my little bundles. The person who sent us the link wanted 15 or so centerpieces, and at this rate, it would take a whole weekend to make them, and furthermore, it would be impossible to keep the centerpieces looking consistent. With this in mind, I took apart all the little bundles, and went back to the drawing board. It was clear that the fewer bundles would be much easier to work with. In 30 minutes or so I put together these two centerpieces:

Now, the ingredients and instructions for our Rachel Ray-ed version of Martha Stewart's Harvest Centerpiece recipe...

Time: 30-4o Minutes
Yield: 2 Centerpieces
Floral Tape;
Pruning Shears;
Satiny Ribbon or some other material for the finishing touch.


1. Split the bundles of Rice and Avena into quarters. To line up the heads of the grains, turn them upside down, corral the heads with one hand, hold the stems with the other, and drop lightly - repeat. Wrap with floral tape. 
2. Grab one of the entire bundles of wheat;
3. Add one of your sub-bundles of Rice, then Avena, then Rice, then Avena (every 90 degrees around your bundle of wheat).
4. Take the sheaf in your hand - top hand just below the heads, and twist your hands in opposite directions - this will get the sheaf to splay outwards. Twirl the sheaf a bit, and once you have everything adjusted the way you want it, slide the floral tape on the little bundles down and away from the twist a bit.
5. Once you are mostly satisfied with the sheaf, wrap at the twist with your floral tape - the more the merrier - you want it to be tight and secure.
6. Cut off the floral tape on your four sub-bundles - this will allow the materials to mix together a little bit, and will allow the bases of the stems to spread out. This is why floral tape is great - it doesn't stick to anything but itself.
7. Grab the bottom of the sheaf, and holding the stems together, cut them straight across with your pruning shears. In Martha Stewart's instructions, they tell you to cut inwards - this is unnecessary (see Number 8).
8. Lift your bundle up a little bit off the table, and drop - repeat as necessary - what you are doing is leveling out the bottom of the stems to get it to stand straight.
9. If you are having trouble getting it to stand up, you probably need to move the tape closer to the heads to allow the bottom to spread out more - simply slide the floral tape upwards. 
8. Once you're happy with the look of the sheath, dress it up with your ribbon. Don't do what I first did and get stingy with it - you'll probably need 3-4 feet. You'll want a few wraps around your floral tape to conceal it (don't bother trying to find the shade that matches your ribbon as Martha suggests - you won't find it), and plenty left over for a nice droopy bow.

Repeat for the second centerpiece.

You should budget about $25 for each centerpiece - $21 for the grains, and an additional few dollars for the tape and ribbon. 

Here's a close-up of one of the centerpieces:
The Wheat provides the core of the sheaf, the Avena adds another color and texture, but the star really is the Rice with its nice, droopy heads.


yasmin said...

What a great breakdown of the Martha Stewart instructions - thank you!!! I worked with wheat for the first time for an event this past November (it's great for a client that wants something earth friendly). And one thing I would encourage everyone to note - 1)it takes longer than you think especially if you have small hands and 2)consider wearing long sleeves while arranging (I must have had an allergic reaction to the wheat and by the end broke out in a rash on both arms).

Justin said...

Those are both great points - thanks! The size of these bundles were limited to what I could comfortably get my oversized hands around - trying to make a similarly sized bundle with smaller hands could slow things down a bit. While I had no problem with the chaff - the tiny little bits of stalk, etc. (perhaps from all my summers throwing hay bales), I know a lot of people are really sensitive to it so long sleeves would definitely be a good precaution.

Kathryn said...

Hi Justin-
This is beautiful and exactly what I want for my table centerpieces for my November 09 wedding. Do any of the materials go bad after a certain amount of time? I would love to order them now, since the wheat is currently on sale and I can get started with assembly, but I don't want them to "die" before my wedding, which is 8 months away.
Thanks!! Katie

Justin said...

Hi Katie - Congratulations on the wedding! I'd wait until the fall to round up the supplies. The risk with grains (the wheat in particular, which has fully matured seeds) is that if a moth finds them while they're being stored they could get eaten up. With that caveat, I checked on one of the harvest centerpieces I made for this post over a year ago (it ended up displayed at my aunt's house) and it's still looking great! - Justin

Laura Tyson said...

Beautiful. I love it when someone simplifies Martha. They make it sound easier than it is to do her stuff. I learned that once when I tried to make a truffles box out of solid white chocolate...They should note that you need to be a sous chef to do something like that.