How to make your own Gasparilla wreath

MONICA HERNDON   |   Times Gasparilla wreaths for sale at South Tampa Trading Co. on January 12, 2018, in Tampa, Fla.
MONICA HERNDON | Times Gasparilla wreaths for sale at South Tampa Trading Co. on January 12, 2018, in Tampa, Fla.
Published Jan. 23, 2018

The denizens of South Tampa sometimes refer to this time of year as Christmas-arilla, extending the life of Christmas decorations. With just a slightly sinister twist, trimmings are repurposed for Gasparilla and the parade of pirates that will wash ashore on Saturday.

Across Tampa Bay, crafters are turning their creativity into Gasparilla goods.

With the hot trend of elaborate wreaths that fill up Pinterest pages, the South Tampa Trading Co., an eclectic gift, craft and costume shop on Dale Mabry, can easily sell a dozen Gasparilla wreaths a day at $175 to $400 a pop.

"Oh, they are flying out the door," said store owner Ann Bartlett, who has five different local artisans churning out wreaths for her store, selling close to 200 so far since November.

Bartlett has noticed people decorating Christmas trees with Gasparilla ornaments and pirate decor, leaving them up through February.

"That's something I'm going to be doing more in my store, next year — Gasparilla trees," Bartlett said.

Old City Calligraphy, a shop based in Tampa, added a line of hand-lettered Gasparilla square pillows ($36) and prints ($10) and a racerback tank top ($28). And Painting With a Twist locations in Brandon and South Tampa, where customers bring their own drinks and learn to paint a picture together, have been rolling out a Gasparilla painting the last few years to good results.

"We have done some every year, for adults as well as the kids and the parents actually seem to have a harder time than the kids sometimes," said Sara Jenkins, manager of the South Tampa location on MacDill Avenue. It's $35 for a two-hour class.

Bourbon and Boweties, the Brandon-based maker of signature gold wire bracelets, created this year's "signature bangle" for $34 at Unlike typically gaudy pirate jewelry, this slim elegant bracelet has three shiny gold oval coins with a Gasparilla pirate skull.

"Our stuff isn't over the top, so we stick with what we know," said Bethany Newsome, director of operations at Bourbon and Boweties.

But if you really want to make something yourself instead of buying Gasparilla goods, South Tampa resident and expert wreath maker Angelique Mathena, 35, walked us through the process of making an elaborate Gasparilla garland. Within 30 minutes, she took a reedy grapevine base and turned it Gasparilla, with a deep purple organza flourish, a skeleton-turned-pirate, a sword, multicolored ribbons, feather flourishes and a pirate flag.

It's hard to make one yourself for less than $40, Mathena said — expect to spend $75 or more in materials for the more elaborate ones.

Consider hosting a wreath-making party with friends and split the cost of supplies. Start with a base wreath with colorful fabric and some beads and add to it every year. Or buy an old wreath at a thrift store and give it a Gasparilla makeover.

"You can turn Halloween or even Christmas decorations into a Gasparilla piece," said Mathena, who once ran a business making Gasparilla wreaths for krewes and event planners that cost $170-$400 each.

She turned a Halloween skeleton into a pirate by adding an eye patch and a bandana. Multi-colored beaded Christmas garland added jewel tones, and netting from beach party decor and a toy sword from Party City added the right nautical effects. She uses big pieces of wired ribbon to make "messy bows" atop the wreath.

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"People get hung up on making it really neat and polished but I think this works better."

And you don't have to limit yourself to black, silver or red for a pirate theme.

"Tampa pirates are special because they are multicolored," Mathena said. "The Gasparilla pirate ship has lots of rainbow colors and the individual Gasparilla krewes are all bright and colorful."