My eldest sister was flower-presser-in-chief when we were kids. I remember her having all the kit typically neatly and precisely arranged as she set about her task with a seriousness that Victorian ladies would have admired. For them flower pressing was a very popular hobby, even if not a new idea. Who knows really why it took off then, but I like to think it’s because their gentlemen callers were starting to channel their inner Mr Darcy and showering the ladies with ever-more romantic bouquets to cherish and preserve.
This is definitely not at all complicated to do, so if this section starts to read like it is then I think that is just because I have discovered quite a few different choices to make on how to achieve good results. Which I think is testament to this being a craft or hobby that has really stood the test of time and been passed down through the generations. Like all the best things, it has been changing, improving or just simply suiting a particular family’s circumstances as it goes through time.
It’s stating the blindingly obvious, but the main things to think about are i) what are you pressing? and ii) what are using as the press?
i) Use flowers in their absolute pinnacle of health and beauty. I know that might seem a shame if they are still going strong in their display, but for the pressing to work to its best it really is important. Your flowers need to be dry, so not picked on a rainy day if coming in from the garden; and before you get going, trim off any bulkiness around the head of the flower.
The choices then are whether to press the whole flower head as it is (with maybe a little bit of stem too?), or to carefully remove the petals and press them individually. Most flowers can be used in either way, although I think it must make sense that the ones with larger petals are better suited to petal pressing. Things like rose, tulips or lilies. A lady gave me a tip that for pressing daffodils which would be horribly bulky to do as a whole head, the thing to do is to cut the flower in half and then open it out before putting it into the press.
It is not only flowers, though, that can be pressed. Leaves and fresh herbs are very pressable too and I think are lovely. Pressed rosemary worked well for me. Throughout this I will be referring to flowers or petals, but that embraces leaves and herbs too.
ii) When I first started researching this I didn’t have a wooden flower press, so I dived straight in using some good old heavy books. In my excitement to try as many different ways and flowers as possible, I employed pretty much our entire stock of hefty books for the job. Maybe one day we’ll open up some obscure hefty reference book that’s not been needed for years and find in it some petals that were part of this book being written. I hope so, anyway.
You could put the flower just as it is in-between the book’s pages. If you do that, the book you choose needs to have paper that is a little absorbent. Anything glossy won’t work well at all. Many of the women I have spoken to about doing this when they were kids remembered pressing the petals in heavy family bibles, probably chosen not just for the weightiness but also because it’s the kind of book which tends to be kept and passed down. A sizeable book can be used to press more than one set of pages at once, but you should make sure there is a couple of centimetres of non-pressing-pages between each pressing. Close the book firmly and carefully, weight it down for extra pressing power, and in a month or so you should have beautiful pressed flowers.
The advantage for this method of pressing is that you need hardly anything in terms of kit – just flowers, a big book and a bit of time. The disadvantage is that the petals might pick up some of the ink form the book and you could find that your pressed petals bear a few words of King James’ best. Or – as happened for me – sticking to the pages. Prevent either problem by putting your flowers between pieces of blotting or other thick, non-glossy paper and then into the book.
My sister used a wooden flower press and the image of it is so clear in my mind even now that I can only think it must have been her pride and joy for a while. You should be able to buy one at a craft shop, gardening centre or even one of those slightly old-fashioned ‘proper’ toy shops. If not in reality, then definitely online. They are two squares of wood with wingnuts in the four corners which you screw down to create the press. The press might come with blotting paper but if not then you’ll need to get some and then cut it to the size of the press. And you’ll need some newspaper too.
The process is to create a sandwich of newspaper, blotting paper, flowers, blotting paper, newspaper starting from the wooden base of the press. On each layer the newspaper needs to be four or five sheets thick and you just keep building the sandwich as much as will fit into the press. Then place on the wooden top of the press and tighten the nuts as tight as you can. The flowers again need at least four weeks to do their stuff.
By which point you will be able to read here some ideas on what to do with them.