Posted on June 12, 2014
Flower preservation, specifically flower pressing, is a practice dating back many centuries, even to ancient Egypt where, in the tombs of royalty, ritually significant pressed flowers and foliage have been found placed with the dead. Ancient Japanese civilization called this art oshibana, and even samurai warriors painstakingly created entire scenes using leaves and petals. The art of flower pressing gained its most popular following during the 19th century, directly on the heels of a Victorian botany craze. Being an accessible activity for both the poor and the elite, as well as women and children, Victorians took a lot of pleasure in seeking out and collecting specimens for pressing and display.
Flower pressing is back in vogue again, and just as during the reign of Queen Victoria, it’s a craft in which anyone can participate. The thing about pressing flowers is that with basically zero tools, you can create incredibly delicate and elegant works of art that you can use for décor in your own home or for thoughtful homemade gifts for your loved ones (because, in our experience, no matter how old you get, Mom will never get tired of you making her stuff for her birthday). Best Case Scenario: you put in virtually no work whatsoever, and everyone is super impressed and excited by what appears to have required one hundred years and a doctorate to create. And once you have all of these perfectly preserved flowers, you can use them for just about everything—the sky is the limit, really.
What Flowers are Good for Pressin’?
You can press all kinds of leaves and flowers, but some can be trickier than others. Special care must be taken with certain plants, like roses, since they can lose their color very quickly, and succulents, because, well, they just won’t dry out and die. So, as you start out, stick with plants that won’t give you too much trouble in the color retention and dehydration department. You’ll want to select flowers that will keep their color during the drying process or will deepen or become more vibrant as a result of the process. Pansies are a very popular choice for pressing for this reason—they come many varieties, and pressing produces very deep and rich color with all of the details, like those little black whiskers, remaining intact. Pansies are also great for pressing since the petals aren’t very thick, which means the drying will happen more quickly, and the flower is relatively flat already, so what you see is what you’re going to get in terms of shape.
You might want to consider trying to press flowers that are imbued with a special significance. Pressing is a great way to hang on to flowers from weddings, graduations, funerals, vacations, places you or a loved one used to live, and other locations and events that represent an important time, place, or person. These flowers can make a powerful gift for someone you love (save some flowers from a wedding you’ve attended, press them, create a piece of artwork with them, and present them as a gift to the couple on their first anniversary). Just make sure you test a couple flowers first to make sure they press the way you’d like.
Okay, Ready to Press, Now!
Most people are familiar with the old book press method. This is something anyone can do to press flowers, and it doesn’t require too much thought at all. In a nutshell, you find the biggest, heaviest, most boring book you own, open it up, place your flowers in between the pages, close up the book, and then stack the second, third, and fourth biggest, heaviest, most boring books you own on top of it. After a couple of weeks, you can retrieve your flowers, and they should be fully dehydrated and flattened. A few notes about this method, though. First, you should probably not use a book that you’d actually like to read, as the moisture from the flowers may cause colors to bleed all over the pages. Second, don’t use a book that has glossy pages—you want the paper to be absorbent and wick moisture away from the plant. You can purchase absorbent sheets specifically made for flower pressing to put in between the book pages, or you can just use newspaper. Third, this method takes time, and the longer something takes to dry out, the more the color will bleed from the flower, making color retention somewhat difficult. If you put the book in an area that gets pretty warm, you will speed up the process, and you will be able to keep some of that color. If it’s summer, a good idea might be to stick it out on a sunny deck or porch, or you can store it in the attic.
If you’d like to get serious about pressing flowers, it’s probably better if you buy yourself a flower press. Flower presses are pretty inexpensive, with most ranging between $20-$30. They typically consist of two wooden boards with straps or bolts and wing nuts holding them together. In between the boards, there is usually a soft or absorbent material that will protect your flowers from being crushed by the boards and will wick moisture. Most people use layers of absorbent flower pressing paper and cardboard. Tightening the strap or wing nuts on the press squeezes the boards together and creates the pressure needed for pressing. Using this method allows for a little bit more air circulation to your flowers and a whole lot of pressure, so it will press them quicker than a book. It is recommended that you also keep the press in a warm location for the duration to prevent color loss. Some heat their ovens to around 100 degrees, turn them off, and place their presses inside. If you choose to do that, be sure the oven is on a very low setting, and that you’ve turned it off before putting your press inside.
A newer flower press exists that uses heat to take your wait time down to minutes instead of days, making problems with color loss disappear. Microwave presses are heat safe (for a microwave), and use the intense penetrating heat of your microwave to bake the moisture out of your flowers. They work the same as a traditional press, but they are made out of materials like plastic or terracotta. Again, you sandwich your flowers in between absorbent sheets and cushioning, but once your press is closed up and tightened, you stick it in the microwave for a few minutes, and voila! Instant pressed flowers in full vibrant color. These presses can be a little more expensive than the traditional, but not by very much. It’s a great option if you are trying to turn out large numbers of pressed flowers for gifts at Christmas.
What you can also do (if you want to be fancy about it) is build your own flower press. This is for the more experienced at pressing and certainly the more experienced at woodworking. Some professional pressers like to make their own customized presses so that they can press their flowers exactly the way they like. There are a lot of tutorials available, so if you’d like to try it out, ask an expert (when it comes to carpentry, it’s definitely not us).
What Do I Do With All These Flowers?
Uh, everything. Pressed flowers can be used to decorate lots of things. Traditionally, they are used in handmade greeting cards, bookmarks, framed artwork (remember oshibana?), jewelry-making, and paper-making. A lot of people use pressed flowers in decoupage, which is the art of layering small bits of paper or other materials on a surface and applying a varnish or resin to seal it and create a new finish on the object. This is done a lot with ornamental boxes and furniture.
There are a billion how-tos available online for any of these projects, so we’ll leave it to you to check them out. But, in researching this topic, we came across a few particularly creative ways to use pressed flowers:
Pressed Flower Pops – FP Brigette at Free People offers this tutorial on how to use your pressed edible flowers to make lollipops. These would make amazing gifts for Easter, Valentine’s Day, or Mother’s Day, though, how the recipient could even dream of eating them, we don’t even know—this candy is way too gorgeous for consumption.
Flower Candles – Do you love those pressed flower column candles you sometimes see in boutiques and craft stores, but don’t want to spend a whole bunch of money for them? Check out this short Expert Village video on YouTube for an explanation of how you can make your own. It is actually very simple to create your own high end looking candle art using very plain and inexpensive candles. Of course, if you’re especially creative, you could make your very own candles for a product that is handmade from top to bottom.
Floral Manicure – This walkthrough at love Maegen explains how you can use your small pressed flowers to accent your nails.
Floral Cell Phone Case – Oh, my goodness, look at these cases! Clare McGibbon at The Etsy Blog tells you all about how she created the best iPhone cover ever using pressed flowers and epoxy resin. Oh, and glitter. Can’t forget about the glitter.
Plaster Impressions – Margot Guralnick at Gardenista discusses the work of artist Rachel Dein, who specializes in making delicate and beautiful plaster castings of heirlooms and family treasures, and amazing flower arrangements. This isn’t really pressed flower art, but it is a very cool way to preserve and display your flowers nonetheless. If you’d like to see more art from Dein, visit her website, Tactile Studio.
See what else you can come up with, and be sure to share your ideas and projects with us!