Crafting with T
The skilled gardener and ceramist Frances Palmer offers a primer on how to decorate a card with dried botanicals.
The ceramist Frances Palmer’s pressed-flower correspondence cards, featuring flora from her garden in Weston, Conn., including, clockwise from top left, leaves, fern fronds, roses, single-flowering anemones and double-flowering anemones.Credit…David Chow
- Nov. 24, 2020
Flower pressing began in the West in earnest during the late 1800s, after trade — and the exchange of ideas — opened with Japan. There, oshibana, the art of arranging flattened dried blooms into ornate compositions on paper, had been part of the culture for centuries. The technique then made its way, albeit in less elaborate form, to America and Britain, where people began pressing and even scrapbooking botanicals they’d collect at home or on holiday. Later, during World War I, the self-soothing craft evolved from a hobby into something more poignant: Soldiers picked wildflowers and weeds growing near the trenches in Europe and mailed them home inside letters as forget-me-nots to their lovers and families.
Image Josef Albers’s “Untitled (Leaf Study IV)” (circa 1940).Credit…Photo: Tim Nighswander/Art Resource, NY. © The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, 2020
As we face the challenges of our particular moment, the idea of sending a bit of one’s landscape — and love — to those we miss feels, once again, apt. With that in mind, for the second installment of our new DIY column, Crafting With T, we asked the skilled gardener, flower arranger and ceramist Frances Palmer to show us how to make a correspondence card decorated with pressed flora. (Her new book, “Life in the Studio,” out from Artisan Books, offers other life-enriching projects and lessons drawn from her 30-plus-year career.) Known for her elemental pottery that’s sometimes embellished with clay flowers, which she molds from plaster casts of dahlias, cosmos, zinnias and other blooms that grow in her garden in Weston, Conn., Palmer found inspiration for her card design concept in the German-born artist and educator Josef Albers’s 1940s leaf studies, in which he mounted dried leaves onto vividly colored paper. This relatively easy crafting project takes under an hour to complete (not including drying time) and is a wonderfully satisfying activity to do alone or with children. Whether you forage your own greens or pick a favorite bloom from your local flower shop (or deli), we hope that these cards will make you — and whomever you send them to — smile.
An assortment of pressed and dried botanicals, including fern fronds, leaves, dahlias, ginkgo leaves, anemones, nasturtium leaf and borage.Credit…David Chow
Blank acid-free, cold-press folding watercolor cards and envelopes in matching dimensions
Newspaper, to keep your workstation tidy
Microfleur flower press (the max option will work better for larger flowers) and microwave oven; alternatively, you can use a wooden flower press
Flat watercolor paintbrush
Round watercolor paintbrush
Mug or cup filled with water for your watercolors
Perfect Paper Adhesive matte glue
Two-inch paper clips
The ceramist Frances Palmer inside her studio in Weston, Conn.Credit…David Chow Palmer picks single- and double-flowering anemones from her garden.Credit…David Chow
1. Walk through a field or go to a flower shop and select the flora you’d like to use for your cards — ferns, leaves, anemones, roses, opened dahlias and borage all work well. You should choose a few stems for each card you plan to make.
2. If your flora is damp, gently place it on a towel to dry as much as possible. You don’t want too much time to elapse between the picking and the pressing, though, as the leaves will begin to curl and the flowers will wilt.
A view of Palmer arranging freshly picked blooms on her Microfleur press.Credit…David Chow Preparing the Microfleur for the microwave oven, she clamps down three sides to secure and flatten the blooms.Credit…David Chow
3. Next, dry and press the foliage. I experimented with placing mine in my old wooden flower press and inside a large heavy book, but had the best success with a Microfleur, which works to dry and press plants in a microwave oven. It dehydrates them quickly, in minutes instead of the weeks a traditional press usually takes, and retains color beautifully. (If a microwave isn’t an option for you, I’d recommend using a wooden flower press. Try the Gardener’s Press from the Kinsman Garden Company.)
Palmer peels back the Microfleur press lining slowly to assess the flowers’ dryness after they emerge from the microwave oven. Credit…David Chow Dried flora ready to be glued onto correspondence cards.Credit…David Chow
Follow the Microfleur manual’s instructions and place the flowers between the two liners, top with the wool pad and close the press. Place in the microwave for an initial 40 seconds. Unclasp the Microfleur, very slowly peeling back the top liner. If your botanicals have the consistency of tissue paper and feel dry, carefully pull and stretch the bottom liner to unstick them. If they still feel damp, place them back in the Microfleur and into the microwave for an additional 10 seconds, repeating this step until the desired dryness is achieved. Note that your specimens will continue to firm up after they are removed from the microwave and that too much time will burn the petals and leaves, although some browning can also be beautiful in its own way. Don’t get too worked up about achieving perfection.
Using a flat paintbrush, Palmer paints a card with three different shades of yellow to complement her botanicals.Credit…David Chow
4. Once you’ve assembled an arrangement of dried foliage, it’s time to paint your card. First, decide on a complementary color that will stand as the backdrop for your dried specimens. I mixed three different shades of yellow on one of my cards, and on another blended tones of green and blue. Saturate the flat paintbrush in water, then in paint, and apply the color, using long, wide strokes, so that it covers the surface of the card. Let the card dry completely.
5. Arrange your blooms as you’d like them to appear on the front of the card. I prefer to keep the design fairly simple, without overlap, as you want the card to fit into an envelope easily.
She affixes double-flowering anemones onto one of her cards with glue and a round paintbrush.Credit…David Chow
6. With the round paintbrush, lightly coat the back of each specimen with Perfect Paper Adhesive matte glue, which is nontoxic and safe for children. Affix your botanicals to your card in the desired position and coat the entire top side delicately with more of the glue. It’s quite sticky, so avoid touching it. Note that your brush must be cleaned immediately with warm water in order to prevent the glue from solidifying.
Paper clips hold greenery in place — and prevent the watercolor paper from buckling — while the cards dry.Credit…David Chow
7. If one of your specimens won’t stay put (the stems of my Japanese anemones didn’t), you can hold any pesky parts in place while the glue dries with large paper clips. It’s also a good idea to paper clip the bottom corners of the card shut to avoid the watercolor buckling the paper as it dries.
8. After leaving your cards to dry for a day, they may need extra flattening. I’d recommend placing them under a clean, heavy book for at least half a day before sending.
Show us what you’ve made! Tag @tmagazine and @FrancesPalmer in snaps of your finished product — and use the hashtag #CraftingWithT.