Pressed Flowers | History and Tutorial

Humans have long had a fascination with collecting and preserving flowers, a practice believed to date back to ancient civilizations. In the 16th century, Japanese artists began the practice of Oshibana, in which they would create large pictures using pressed flowers as their medium. As trade with Japan increased in the mid-1800s, citizens of the western countries became fascinated with the use of pressed flowers as an art form. By the late 1800s, flower pressing had taken hold as a favorite pastime in England and the United States.

There were many reasons that an individual might collect flowers during this time, from the sentimental (preserving a flower given as a gift from a loved one) to the scientific (keeping a botanical scrapbook to aid in identifying native blooms). Regardless of the reason, the practice of pressing flowers was highly regarded as a creative pastime, and many would take pains to ensure that their work was beautifully displayed. Flowers of the time were often found framed behind glass in elaborate arrangements, sometimes with pieces of ribbon to complement the blooms, or meticulously organized in scrapbooks with their taxonomical description written next to them.

Fortunately, many examples of this old-fashioned pastime still exist today, thanks in large part to the original artists’ efforts to preserve the specimens. For example, the Western Reserve Historical Society has in its collection a floral bouquet from the grave of Abraham Lincoln, preserved by the wife of a Tiffin, Ohio judge in 1865. As can be seen in the photo, the flowers have remained remarkably intact in the 155 years since their pressing.

Perhaps the most appealing part of this pastime was its accessibility. Although some used tools such as the field press (a small device designed to clamp the specimens tightly between two boards), sophisticated equipment was not required to get a satisfying end result. In fact, the only items needed to take up this new hobby were a large book, a few flowers, and a bit of patience.

The same goes today as it did over 100 years ago. For those in search of a new hobby, flower pressing is easy to begin and can be done using items that most have on hand at home. Whether you want to preserve a few blooms or start your own botanical scrapbook, follow the instructions below to get started on your own flower pressing project.


Materials Needed:

For pressing:

–     Botanical materials (flowers, leaves, grasses, etc.)

–     Large book

For arranging:

–     Base: large blank journal or scrapbook, notecards, canvas, etc.

–     White school glue, diluted

 (1 drop water to quarter-sized drop of glue.)

–     Paintbrush

1)     Collecting | When it comes to collecting materials to press, the options are limitless. Flowers are, of course, a popular option, but leaves, herbs, and grasses also make for very interesting artwork. When choosing flowers, look for those that have recently bloomed and are fresh but not overly damp. Note: Be prepared to press your materials shortly after collecting them. Flowers tend to wilt quickly once they are picked, so the sooner you can get them pressed, the better!

2)     Pressing | Next, press your materials by placing them between the pages of a large book. (Botanical materials tend to leave imprints behind as they dry, so it’s best to use a book you don’t mind getting a bit stained. You can also protect your pages with wax paper, baking parchment, or coffee filters.) Be sure to lay the leaves and petals as flat as possible before closing the pages. To aid in the pressing process, you can place a large object on top of the book to weigh it down.

Typically, it takes about a week for most plants to fully dry. To determine if your items are ready, carefully pick them up. If they remove easily from the page and feel stiff and crisp, it’s time to take them out. If they still feel pliable or seem to stick to the page, it is likely that they still have moisture in the petals and should be left a bit longer.

3)     Arranging | How you present your pressed flowers is entirely up to you. Some popular options include affixing the plants to a notecard, using them to make a design on a piece of canvas, or cataloging them in a scrapbook. Some even make jewelry out of pressed flowers by suspending them in resin and attaching the piece to a necklace chain or ring base.

Regardless of your medium, you will likely need to paste your flowers to the base of your choosing. To do this, mix a drop of water with a quarter-sized dollop of white school glue. The result should be a paste that is slightly diluted but still sticky. Using a small paintbrush, apply the paste to your base in a thin layer. (Less is more!) Then, gently place your flowers on the paste in the design of your choosing. Note: It is generally helpful to plot out your design before pasting it down, especially if your design is particularly elaborate.

Allow the paste to fully dry (approximately 15 minutes). Then, you are ready to display your finished product!