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Featured Shop: The Blaithin Blair Shop

Jul 11, 2016

by Valerie Rains

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

Rebekah McCune of the Blaithin Blair Shop has been involved with nearly every aspect of the flower business, from working as a forester and a fresh-flower farmer to dreaming up custom dried-flower bridal bouquets and assembling seasonal wreaths in her basement studio. She’s even managed to add landscaper to her list of roles, offering a free boxwood-thinning service to a few local clients in exchange for the armfuls of trimmings she collects and saves to weave into made-to-order home decor.

“My favorite part of my job is actually being outside, thinning the boxwood and making the bushes look nice,” Rebekah says. “I just really enjoy doing it — and I’ve even had people say to me, ‘Why don’t you just make that into a business?’ and offer to pay me for the service. I’m like, ‘No, I’ll just take the trimmings!’” The landscaping world’s loss is surely the wreath-lover’s gain.

Read on to get a peek into Rebekah’s process.
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How did you get started making boxwood wreaths and dried flower arrangements?

I have always loved the outdoors — I worked on a cattle farm when I was a teenager, and I did a lot of hiking and camping. Later I became a forester, and then I farmed for 5 years; it was during that time that I started making the fresh boxwood wreaths, which was mostly for the winter income, as you don’t get much income in the winter from farming.

I remember having this list of things that I wanted to try one day, and making a wreath was one of them. So when somebody offered to let me cut some boxwood from their bushes, I decided to try it, and used the trimmings to make a wreath. Then I made a few for our local farmers markets, and that took off fast; the next year, when somebody mentioned trying to sell them on Etsy, I went for it. Eventually, making wreaths took over, and farming was pushed aside.

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What’s your workspace like? What do you love most about it (or wish you could change)? What tools do you use?

I work in my basement, so it’s very utilitarian. All of the benches and tables and shelving were custom-made for me by my husband over time — adding a bench here and a shelf there, then more table space. I do almost all my work with just my bare hands or a few tools, pliers and things, and I have a clamp table and a foot-powered clamping machine, which I use for my boxwood and dried-flower wreaths.

I like working out of the basement because it has the flexibility of working from home — and my husband works from home, too, so we are able to do things together a lot. The thing I don’t love about it is that it needs more windows: When I’m spending a lot of time down in the basement, I do want to go outside for a while.

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What is your design process like?

I’m an improviser, I just dive in. I may start with a customer’s idea or my own idea of a color or a particular flower that I want to work with, and then I just pull out different elements and try them together, playing around until I find an arrangement that works. You can imagine how hard it is to keep my workshop organized when I’m pulling everything out like that.

How many types of flowers and plants do you generally keep on hand to work with?

I’m going to guess 100-150 different types. I get almost everything from a couple of farms in the Northwest — the air is much drier there, and they have good, even seasons for growing flowers. I really focus on quality, so there’ll be times when I may not even purchase a specific variety of dried flowers from a farm because their crop wasn’t very good that year. A lot of times I can find another farm that has the same variety in a better quality, but I really do try to work with the same farms consistently, and keep those good relationships.

The boxwood, though, is all local. I actually just trim boxwoods as a free service in my community and use the boxwood trimmings in my wreaths. I don’t know if you know a lot about boxwood, but it grows pretty fast and people are more than happy to let me come and trim their boxwoods for them.

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What’s your favorite kind of item to make?

It may seem kind of crazy, but I like to make boutonnieres. I like the way that working with only a couple different types of flowers limits you — and they end up always being so cute. I really enjoy making them. You can hardly go wrong.

What are some of the most popular items in your shop?

In terms of numbers, the most popular item is not one of my handmade things, it’s the Billy Balls: They just fly out of here like crazy. Of the handmade items, my most popular wedding bouquet has been the burgundy peony and sapphire bouquet, which was actually one of my earliest designs, and my fall harvest wreath has been a top seller among my dried flower wreaths; it was actually in Victoria magazine a couple of years ago. Of course, the boxwood wreaths are all I do from the first of November to end of December — they’re just nonstop.

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How do you find inspiration for your designs?

Often it’s about being inspired by a specific flower. I’ll see something and think, Wow, this would make a really pretty wreath. And I get excited when I have a customer who wants to work with something that’s a little different from what I’ve done before. I used to look at flowers all the time in people’s yards and think, I wonder how those would dry? It’s always exciting to get to try something new, and I enjoy searching for new design materials, finding new farms to work with, and helping the farms I work with think of new ideas for products.

Is there any way to guess what a flower will look like what it’s dried?

You kind of just have to dry it and see — there are some things that you would have no idea would dry well that do dry well. Peonies for example — that has become my focal flower and they’re in almost all of my wedding designs now, but that’s something that at one time I wouldn’t have guessed would dry well. Now that I’ve been working with it for years, it’s like, How could I ever not think it would dry well?

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What’s your best tip for storing and preserving your dried-flower designs?

Humidity and sunlight are dried flowers’ enemy: Both will fade the color out. For long-term storage, I would definitely go for a sealed plastic container — because insects will come after dried flowers, too — and keep it in a cool bedroom closet.

Can you recall a time in the life of your shop that felt like a real milestone or breakout moment?

Well, I am coming close to 10,000 sales pretty soon — I think within the next couple of months. And just last year I had a boxwood wreath go on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; that was pretty neat.

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All photos courtesy The Blaithin Blair Shop. 

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