Pressing flowers is a Victorian practice used both as an outdoorsy pastime and a method of recording natural history. It also might be the perfect craft for the current moment, combining time spent outdoors with a little bit of patience and seemingly infinite creative variations.
“The timing is conducive to specifically Mainers because spring is around the corner,” said Lynette Breton, an artist based in Harpswell.
Plus, it is a craft that does not require many materials or skills to master.
“It doesn’t take much to enjoy it,” Breton said. “It doesn’t cost that much. Nature and flowers are so beautiful on their own, you don’t really have to do anything to enhance that. You simply press things to hold a moment in time.”
Here’s how to get started.
Step 1: Picking flowers
The first step, of course, is to pick your flowers. If you aren’t using flowers from your own garden, make sure you have permission to remove them.
“Be mindful of private property,” said Larry Cassis, co-owner of Rainbow’s End Flower Farm and Coastal Maine Flower Art. “If flowers are growing in somebody’s garden, don’t walk in and pick them.”
Look in the grassy strips on the side of the road or between the sidewalk and the street. While national and state parks are a no-go, Breton also said that land trusts may be more lenient about removing vegetation. The key is to ask, and to be mindful about the amount that you pick.
“You don’t want to overdo it,” she explained. “You always want to leave behind something.”
Flowers should be as dry as possible, so timing matters. Pick in the middle of the day, after the morning dew has evaporated. Also avoid picking flowers after a rainstorm.
Flowers with flat blooms, like violets, daisies and various wildflowers, will be easiest to press. You also don’t have to limit yourself to petaled plants: leaves and ferns make beautiful pressed material as well.
“Buttercups, pansies and ferns are best to press,” said Lorraine Coffey, an artist based in Appleton and owner of Maine’s Natural Inspirations. “The ferns are just starting to pop out and that will be really fun for the next few weeks.”
Beginners should avoid thick flowers like orchids or roses. If you simply can’t resist, try splitting them down the middle with scissors or a knife, or separating the bloom before pressing.
“If it has a lot of bulk, disassemble it, press it flat and reassemble it,” Breton said. “The things that are hard that I wouldn’t even attempt are things like sunflowers. Peonies you can press, but [not on] your first attempt.”
Breton also warned that white plants do not press well; they turn “brownish.”
Step 2: Pressing
There are many different methods for pressing, most of which are accessible to beginners.
The first is to physically press the flowers with heavy objects, either between the pages of a book or in a flower press. You can purchase a press from a woodworker, like Breton, but you can also make a DIY flower press using wingnuts and plywood boards.
The advantage of a press is that it helps preserve the color.
“To keep the color and integrity of the plant, you want to evacuate the water as quickly as you can,” Breton said. “To do that in a book, [you’d] have to really pay attention to it whereas with something like the press it’s very easy.”
Place each flower separately between two pieces of parchment paper, blotter paper or paper towels without an embossed design. Then, buffer both sides with corrugated cardboard for ventilation.
“The material you put in the middle is really important,” Breton said. “[I recommend] two layers of cardboard.”
Place the sandwiched flower in the middle of a heavy hardcover book or your flower press and top with heavy objects. Or, skip the press, and stack heavy material right on top of the cardboard.
“You could just have the layering stuff and put it on something flat and weight it,” Breton said. “It could be a rock, it could be bricks, anything to flatten it.”
After a week, check to see if the flowers are flat and dry to the touch. If they show any sign of moisture, place them back in the book between fresh pieces of paper and check them again in a few days. If they are completely dry, remove with tweezers.
Some pressers prefer using a microwave to evacuate water from the plant. The quick evacuation of water from the petals preserves the color of the plant better.
“The colors stay a lot better and you can use [the flowers] immediately,” Coffey said. “It’s instant gratification.”
Cassis recommended using a Microfleur microwave press, but you can also make a DIY microwave flower press at home. To do so, Coffey said to sandwich your flower sample between two pieces of parchment paper, blotter paper or patternless paper towel, two pieces of cardboard and two tiles with a gloss finish.
Microwave the whole apparatus in 30 second bursts until the flower is completely dry.
“I give it either 30 seconds or one minute and take it apart and wipe moisture off [of the tiles],” Coffey said. “A lot of it is trial and error.”
Step 3: Storing
Until you are ready to use or display your pressed flowers, store them in a dry location out of the air and sunlight. Breton said that she makes wax paper envelopes for each of her pressed flowers and puts them in plastic containers, like Tupperware.
“Everything has to be airtight,” she said. “Some things attract bugs.”
For extra security, Cassis recommended vacuum sealing the finished flowers between paper towels using a FoodSaver.
Step 4: Displaying
You can keep a collection of pressed flower samples like an amateur natural historian — or, you can use them in crafts. One popular pressed flower craft is greeting cards. Cassis said to let your creativity run wild with the design, but choose glue carefully. He recommended an acrylic glue called Perfect Paper Adhesive.
“The glue makes the biggest difference in the cards,” he explained. “Mod Podge would work, but I would not use any type of Elmer’s glue.”
To add flowers onto a greeting card, Cassis said to first paint the back with glue, place the flower on the card and then cover it in another layer of glue to seal.
Breton also had a trick for preserving flowers on cards: cover them in Protecto film.
“It keeps the stuff really close to the paper and, when you send it, you don’t have to worry about it flaking off,” she said.
Coffey said that when she started, she would glue dried flowers onto painted rocks. Now, she also makes bookmarks by running pressed flowers through a laminator, and preserves pressed flowers in resin for jewelry.
Or, you can frame them, either by mounting them on a canvas with glue or in a shadowbox. Just know that over time with exposure to light, the colors might fade.
“[Plants] lift our spirits,” Breton said. “That’s why I think pressing is so important. You can do things with your plants all year long.”