Saturday, March 27, 2010

La Petite Fleuriste

I was very fortunate to be a participant in a faux flower making workshop taught by Martha McCain. We followed the techniques used during the mid-19th century; the flowers are perfect for millinery decoration or evening dress trimming.

We made three types of flowers, a daisy, a wild rose and a carnation.

As the workshop was only three hours long, we did not prep the fabric in class - Martha had starched the cotton and silk fabrics we used.

The first step was cutting out all parts, petals, corollas, leaves, calix and sepals. Yes, some knowledge of botany is useful when making faux flowers.

Starched, flat fabric does not make for very convincing flowers, it's necessary to goffer to give a more natural shape. Goffering involves using hot metal tools in a variety of shapes (ball, spade, curler) to shape the starched fabric. Heat plus starch can result in a real mess, it takes a certain touch to get it just right.

It's a little hard to see, but I have a goffered daisy corolla in the following photo:

Depending on the type of flower being made, the addition of color may be needed and this will need to be completed before goffering. The carnation was cut out of solid pink fabric, but the wild rose needed a more subtle coloration. To achieve this, the petals were dampened and carefully dipped in groups of several petals, which were than separated to dry. The yellow at the base of the petal was added with a brush. Just like goffering, this takes just the right touch to give a natural look.

Flowers, of course, require stamens. These are formed with cotton and/or linen thread. For the wild rose, starched linen thread has just the tips dipped in colored gum arabic.

Which once dried, is bound to wire and bunched cotton.

Gum arabic is used to bind all the pieces in place, a bit of drying time is required between layers, making a hanging rack very handy.

Here's my three flowers (I didn't quite finish my carnation):

It's easy to see why flower making was a traditional "sweatshop labor" product - it's a very time intensive process.

Would I ever produce flowers for sale?

No, as it's too time intensive a process and very few people would be willing to pay the price.

Would I ever make flowers "just because"?


Once the initial tools had been purchased, it would be low cost in terms of materials. It would be a great group activity, many flowers could be produced in a weekend, with everyone working factory style. So we'll see....maybe!

I'm so pleased I was able to take this workshop, I'll certainly have a greater appreciation for those dainty beauties trimming my bonnets.

Bravo, Martha!


  1. I agree, wasn't the workshop fun! I loved the flowers we made. I would love to do more, but getting the tools together may make it difficult.

  2. wow - i had no idea of all the painstaking work that went into this. thanks for the photos and info!

  3. beautiful! I agree - that's painstaking work!

  4. What a fabulous opportunity! htanks for sharing all of the steps with us. It is terrific to see how it is really done!!!