Thursday, March 10, 2011

La Petite Fleuriste - Advanced Level

Last March, I was fortunate to be a student in a faux flower making class based on mid-19th century techniques, offered by Martha McCain. When I heard that an advanced class was available this year, I jumped at the opportunity.

This year, class was an all day event; we would be creating a poppy, a morning glory and a cornflower, expanding on the techniques we had learned previously.

We entered to find our supplies waiting for us:

Martha had prepared the starched silk in advance for us, but we would be creating our own stamens and centers this time.

As many parts needed time to dry between steps, we worked on all three blossoms throughout the day.

The first step was cutting all the various petals, corollas, etc from silk - basic botany knowledge is a definite plus when assembling flowers!

We started by creating stamens; repeatedly dipping waxed linen threads in colored gum arabic and allowing them to dry between dips.

The cornflower needed to goffered - shaped using a hot metal tool. The goffering tools are in a variety of sizes and shapes, each has it's own particular use.

The silk is dampened before goffering; it takes practice and deft hand to obtain the desired shape without scorching the fabric.

After goffering, each flower shape was tightly wrapped around the tip on awl and allowed to dry.

A teaching board, with the various stages of construction:

That little blue twist is what you end up with after twisting on the awl - it sure doesn't look very flower like at this point!

But after wiring the stamens together and carefully adding three "fluffed" little blue twists and binding it all together, here's the result:

We started by painting blue dye onto white silk for our morning glory blossom and bud - I should have left a bit more white showing - and allowing them to dry.

Creating the center was a multi-step process, involving wire, cotton, waxed thread, starch, glue, paint and gum arabic. It's time intensive, but provides great results.

The flower is glued along the center seam, goffered to shape and bound together. The little bud is formed from that square with a blob of blue dye in the center and amazingly enough, when twisted and assembled results in a very realistic bud.

My favorite is the poppy; shaping the petals takes an interesting technique - each petal is folded in half and twisted in a damp bandanna on a bias fold (thank you to all my hand models in the following shots!)

Here's what you end up with:

In the meantime, a poppy center needs to be formed, by creating a stuffed silk "lolly pop", embellished with just a bit of embroidery and 48 stamens:

After the petals have dried, they need to be colored:

The period references call for "china ink", but Martha was unable to find modern black ink that was colorfast, so black fabric markers were substituted.

Just a bit more assembling and voila - a poppy!

I can't say how much I enjoyed this class (okay, there were some frustrating moments when all the flower parts were NOT cooperating).

Martha and her husband invested countless hours in preparing materials, tools and supplies and I'm deeply appreciative of all their efforts.

I'm seriously considering prepping everything needed to present a flower-making sweatshop scenario to the public - but first I need to convince my friends that they really do want to be a wage slave for a weekend...and the wages would consist of flowers!


  1. This is a wonderful photo essay and I'm so grateful. During the class we're too busy to even think of taking photos. Yours are excellent. You did this with your "second best" camera? By the way, your poppy is terrific. I'll be so pleased if you decide to pursue this as a period impression.

  2. Very cool! Thanks for sharing!!

  3. If you did this as a demo what are you thinking of using for a heat source? I've been trying to figure out how I could do this but I doubt that making flowers while talking to the public and trying to manage a hearth at a constant temp is going to work. I'm thinking of goffering millions of petals before hand and just doing assmbly. I would work in your sweatshop but NY is a wee bit far away.