Mar 4, 2011

Making Artificial Flowers, 1860s style

This morning I participated in Martha McCains artificial flower making class. What a challenge! I managed to get half a rose made and hope to finish off more in the class tomorrow. I've just started getting the hang of it. Alcuin (aged 9) is attending the workshops with me and today painted a few petals, tried to cut out some leaves and was successful doing the stamens. He is also enjoying the chance to take photos of me in progress.

May 1846

“The flowers which grace their native beds, A while put forth their blushing heads; But, ere the close of parting day, They wither, shrink, and die away; But these which mimic art hath made, Nor scorched by sun, nor killed by shade, Shall blush with less inconstant hue, Which art at pleasure can renew.” 

ARTIFICIAL flower-making, though so elegant and ornamental an employment, is one which has been, as yet, but little followed by the fair ladies of the United States, although in la belle France it has long been a favorite occupation, as much admired for its elegance as for its variety. What can be more interesting than imitating the beautiful blossoms that spring around us? We have but to cull a bud or a flower from the gay parterre, or gather one of the scented, bright-tinted ornaments of the meadow or the forest, and our model is ready for imitation. It requires but a few simple rules and instructions, and the growing interest in the art will soon enable the learner to become a proficient. The materials should all be kept ready prepared for use. They consist of white and colored cambrics, prepared thread stiffened and dyed green gauze, green raw silk, very fine yellow mohair, wires of different thicknesses, green and brown tissue paper, cotton wool, green cotton, gum water, flour, semolina, dyeing balls or saucers, vermilion, carmine, ultramarine, and indigo in powder. The requisite tools are a pair of pincers A; a lead weight to hold the reels of silk, B; half a dozen goeffoirs, or cupping instruments, C, of various sizes, from the dimensions of the head of a pin to that of a small apple; the veining tool, D; and a large cushion stuffed with bran: also a stretching frame for straining the cambrics. The muslin to be used is fine cambric, or clear Scotch cambric; let it be as fine and even as possible. Take about a yard square, dip it into soft cold water, squeeze it well, take some fresh warm starch made without blue, starch and clap it well; then stretch it on the large frame, so that it can dry without a crease quite even and stiff. This process is used instead of ironing, which would render one side of the cambric smooth and shining, and therefore unfit for dyeing. When perfectly dry, take it off the frame carefully, cut it in two, lay one half by, fold the other half into eight doubles, and pin them together. Of this cambric white flowers, and those which have shaded petals, are made. We will suppose that all the materials are prepared and ready for use upon the table, and we will begin by instructing the learner in the method to be pursued in the formation of a wild or briar rose, as single flowers are easier than double ones. Copy exactly the patterns f petals (1 and 2 given in fig. 2) in card-board; take the large petal, lay it crosswise upon the white cambric, (which we have before described as folded eight times,) and, with a pair of very sharp and pointed scissors, cut out the exact shape. Five of these petals are required for each flower, and three of the smaller ones, but a few extra large petals should be cut to form the buds. Having fixed upon as many as you wish, divide them into fours, holding each packet in the pincers, dip theta into soft water, and lay them on the edge of a white plate, the tails of the petals inclining towards the hollow of the plate. This is done to prevent too much color running into the edges.
Having placed them all side by side, press them with the finger to enable the water to saturate them well, or the dye will remain in dark spots instead of extending over every part. Dip your finger in water, then in the pink saucer, and having taken up some color, lay it upon the petals, pressing them well, that all the four may imbibe it equally. Proceed the same with all, then take each packet up with the pincers, reverse them on the plate, and proceed in the same manner to dye the other side. Leave them a few minutes, then take them up in the pincers, (still the four together,) rinse them well in soft water, then in water which has been made slightly acid with lemon juice, then in water again, and, lastly, lay them on a sheet of porous cap paper, or on white blotting paper.
When all the packets are thus cleansed from the brown tint of the dye, they will appear of a delicate pink. They will then, to enable them to dry quickly and thoroughly, require to have the petals separated from each other, and laid upon fresh paper. It adds to their beauty to tinge the tails with yellow, but it must be done carefully, as only the points should be tinted.  The best way to accomplish it is, when the petals are spread out on a paper and half dry; lay a few drops of turmeric on a plate, add two or three drops of water, and one or two of lemon-juice; to dissipate the brown tinge, raise the edge of the plate, and in the thickest part of the liquid dip a small camel's-hair brush; with this just touch the tails of the petals, and leave them to dry.
The next process is to prepare the stalk and stamens ready to receive the petals. This is the most difficult part of flower-making, and requires great nicety and skill. Cut off a piece of fine wire, about five inches long, take it between the first finger and thumb of your left hand, lay the end of the silk that is on the reel B, (Fig. I,) under the wire near the end, holding it with the right hand, then roll the silk and wire between the left hand finger and thumb, so as to cover the wire neatly and closely. Take a skein of green cotton, place one end under the lead weight, to steady it, fasten the other to the end of the wire by wrapping the silk tightly round it, then, by turning back a bit of the wire over it, and wrapping the silk several times round it, you give firmness to the stalk, and prevent its slipping out of the silk. Cut the green cotton off near the wire, put the rest of the skein by, and place the yellow mohair under the weight, and fasten several threads of it all round the cotton, as in No. 3, Fig. 2. This is done by twisting the green silk firmly, as mentioned above. The mohair, which is intended to imitate the filaments, is left about half an inch long, and the threads are separated, and slightly bent with the pincers, to prevent their looking stiff and straight. Dip the tips of the threads into some white paste, then into the yellow semolina, to make the pollen of the stamens, and stick the end of the wire into a cup of sand, to hold it upright till quite dry. Having prepared all the middles for your roses in the same manner, you must proceed to cup the large petals preparatory to their being fastened on to the stalk. Take them up with the pincers, and place them together by fours, between two sheets of cap paper, which have been sprinkled with water: this will damp them slightly, and the cupping iron will have more effect. Take an iron like that figured at C, Fig. 1, but of a size that nearly covers the petals; heat it at the fire, taking great care that it does not become red-hot; take out the petals by fours, and lay them on the cushion; when the iron is as hot as usual for smoothing linen, wipe it clean, and, holding it quite straight, with the ball downwards, press it into the centre of the petals, turning it gently round and round so as to give them a hollow cupped shape. As you do each packet lay it on the table, and heat the iron when it becomes too cool, which is easily known by the petals not taking a good shape. When all are done, take the pincers, and, holding the petals in your left hand, slightly turn back the edges all round, by pressing them lightly between the pincers and the thumb of your right hand; this must be done delicately, so as not to injure the cupping of the centre of the petal. The tails, or yellow ends, are then to be bent back by the same process, and the petals separated from each other very carefully, and laid upon the table. The smaller ones, (No. 2,) which have been dyed like the others, but not cupped, are then taken up by threes, held in the left hand, and, grasping the extreme edges firmly with the pincers, which, on being pushed forwards, crinkle or crimp up the cambric into small plaits, being like the inside petals of a rose. Take your cup of paste, stir it well, and do not let it be too thin; dip the pointed end of the pincers into it, take up a little, and place it on the end of each of the three small crimped petals; take up the middle of the flower which you prepared before, raise one of the petals in the pincers, and insert the end with the paste among the filaments of mohair; then put in the other two in the same manner. As soon as they begin to stick fast, place some paste on the tails of the five large petals; hold the middle of the flower with the three petals just pasted, downwards, or they will fall off; then place the five large petals round the whole.
If the flower is intended to be quite closed, paste the edges of the leaves slightly together, then hang the blossom with the head downwards till quite dry. Take five of the green calyces, (Fig 3, No. 5,) which must be cupped with a small heated iron, and pasted round the corolla; this done, the cup (No. 4) is put on, by passing the stalk through the aperture; lay some paste on the edge to make it adhere to the calyx. When dry, take up a little cotton wool, pull it out till quite thin, then wrap it round the wire to thicken the stalk; cut some of the green paper into narrow strips, take up one and twist it neatly and tightly over the cotton as to form a compact stalk, fastening the end of the paper with paste.

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