"When the flowers of our gardens are faded, their paper substitutes will be welcome again in our houses. The accomplished artist in paper flower making may go direct to Nature for inspiration ; but flowers cannot all be copied even by taking them to pieces. Certain flowers and parts of flowers are copied exactly; others are modified to render their construction practical and simple without being less beautiful. It is only by making a number from good models that sufficient skill and acquaintance with the effects to be produced will enable a lady to go to the garden for her models, just as an artist giving instruction in drawing teaches his pupils the rudiments of his art from paper copies, and does not take them to sketch from Nature till they can fairly represent a landscape on paper, and have mastered the rules of perspective."
Cassell's Household Guide, 1869
Paper roses are hot right now, constructed of all types of paper - even pages from books! But paper flowers are not a new concept, the were a popular pastime for Victorian ladies. While faux fabric flowers were frequently used as bonnet or dress trimmings, the paper variety were more frequently used as household adornments - to fill the fireplace in the summer, garlands for bridals or on the Christmas tree. One exception to the use of paper flowers on the person was for "Fancy Dress" parties or balls.
Fancy Dress parties were very popular during the mid-nineteenth century. There are dozens of period
accounts of these parties – large and small – where the guests wore costumes and enjoyed an evening of dinner, dancing and entertainment.
Primary sources indicate the depth, breadth and ingenuity of the costumes worn during the period.
Some of the popular costumes were based on:
• Historical characters - Come as a medieval knight, an Elizabethan lady, a Revolutionary War soldier.Historical characters - Come as a medieval knight, an Elizabethan lady, a Revolutionary War soldier.
• Fictional characters – From novels, plays, poetry, art, famous and infamous, e.g. Old Man Winter, Macbeth, the Lady of the Lake.
• Famous personages – Caesar, Cleopatra, Queen Victoria, Henry the Eighth, George Washington, politicians.
• A role or job – A chimney sweep, a cobbler, a basketmaker, a cook, a trapper, a seamstress, a teacher, an inventor or foreign visitor.
• Artifacts – Dress up as an object: a playing card, a barrel, a photograph.
• Allegorical – These can be the most interesting and can make the best use of an existing wardrobe. Themes
can include the four seasons, flowers, jewels, colors, fantasy roles, almost anything.
While the opportunity to relax social norms was part of the appeal of fancy dress, it was also considered somewhat dangerous. For this reason, fancy dress costumes never included masks or face coverings. Masking or masquerades allowed participants too much license and were thought to result in lewd behavior.
I'll be attending a fancy dress party soon and my chosen costume requires literally dozens of flowers, so I started exploring techniques for making paper flowers and actually tried out a couple.
The first was from The Girl's Own Toy-maker, and Book or Recreation circa 1860. The second was Helbronner's Manual of Paper Flower Making, With Complete Patterns and Instructions, circa 1858.
One involved tissue paper cut into scalloped strips, the other tissue paper cut into individual petals that have been crimped:
The tip of a piece of wire is covered in a scrap piece of tissue paper, both to disguise it and to provide a bit of base for the next step:
The strips or petals are next added, carefully pleated into place, so as to emulate an actual rose.
I probably only spent 15 minutes creating a rose using both techniques - and I don't think they look too bad!
Every reference I've found stresses the need to use the more expensive "French tissue paper". After further research, I believe the superiority of French tissue paper is due to it being made of flax, not paper pulp - and of course, not currently available. Sheets of crepe paper are a possible substitution, as it can be goffered and curled.
While I was pleased with my budding ability to make paper roses, I'm in the midst of many projects with tight time lines - so I purchased the roses for my costume.
Making paper flowers uses many of the same techniques as the "La Petite Fleuriste" fabric flowers I discussed previously. Ladies of the period could even purchase precut petals, as well as leaves, stamens, etc. Advertisements stated the availability of packages of supplies to make a large bouquet for $1 - just like Martha Stewart (except for the price!).
I can see myself needing to explore this technique further, some of the flowers described in the Helbronner book are just too interesting, but not right now - one more item on my ever growing "to do" list.