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How-to

Why Don’t You . . .? Cultivate Fabric Flowers

In 1958, Diana Vreeland arranged a “floral cap” out of silk flowers on model Louise Dahl-Wolfe's head for a Harper's Bazaar cover shoot. Today, you can learn to make your own fabric flowers, and maybe even make your own floral headpiece.

I’m drawn to a gigantic bloom as much as I’m drawn to six yards of a waxed print. You’ll often find me at my machine with a gardenia, à la Billie Holiday, pinned in my hair. Who am I kidding? You’ll often find me with a full garden on my noggin. The kick I get out of catching myself in the mirror when fitting (or answering the door, back in the days when we used to physically answer the door) is always a mood lifter.

In 1958, Diana Vreeland arranged a “floral cap” of silk flowers on model Ivy Nicholson for the Harper’s Bazaar April cover, photographed by Louise Dahl-Wolfe. Vreeland loved her florals in fashion. Her first “Why Don’t You . . .?” advice column asked:

Why don’t you . . . waft a big bouquet around like a fairy wand?

I answered, in my head: “. . . or sew up a mass of flowers and wear them like the most fantastic beat-the-winter-blues crown ever?”

And what is a better time to create a floral escape than the cold, indoor days of February? We all need a valentine—or 12.

Three hot pink fabric roses held in cupped hands

Something sewn, something burned

My floral crown incorporates a little stitching, a little fire, and a lot of dollar store realness. You don’t have to choose high-end supplies here. This is all about using what you have and having fun with it.

The sewn blossoms of this garden are “couture” Dior roses, with bits and bobs from dollar store blooms cut up and upcycled for stamens and leaves. You see why “couture” is in quotes. Fabric-wise, I used ridiculously inexpensive materials, at $1 to $3 a yard. A double layer of midweight, hot pink polyester organza, and lightweight blush pink tulle gave these flowers more depth, for less scratch. (You can check out the Threads tutorial by Susan Crane to sew these up properly, out of silk.)

But mostly, I played with fire.

Three multilayered pink fabric peonies held in cupped hands

Let’s talk about creating these peonies. I want to fill up the house with them. They are so easy and so satisfying to build.

Gather your supplies

 

Supplies for making fabric flowers laid out on a cutting mat

You’ll need:

  • Candle and matches (I prefer a tall or taper candle, as I like to have both hands free when I’m playing with fire.)
  • Circular paper templates of several sizes (from 1 inch to 8 inches in diameter)
  • Fabric, the synthetic and meltable type (think polyester)
  • Felt or non-fraying fabric scrap
  • Needle
  • Safety pins
  • Scissors
  • Thread
  • Tweezers

Oh, and be sure to have ventilation, as we’ll be burning some things. You don’t have a porch? Sit by a window. No window? Turn on the exhaust fan above your stove.

Sheer fabric cut into a circle, representing one fabric flower layer

Cut the petals

You can use your circular templates to cut the petals from your material. To be honest, I did away with the templates quickly, in favor of cutting free-form circles out of the fabric.

Like Dior, I was inspired by my mom, a master gardener. “Flowers are not perfect,” she told me, when I came home distraught that my fourth-grade art teacher had given me a bad mark because I’d painted the thorns and a marred petal of a rose in my still life. “The thorns are part of the rose,” she said. Since then, I always look for the “imperfections.”

I love yardage with giant, organic takes on blooms. Flowers that lack symmetry are the ones I find most beautiful.

For one peony, I cut three to four circles from each of about a dozen varying sizes. That’s about 40 to 50 petals. These fabric peonies are deeply layered when all is said and burned.

Sheer fabric circle folded in half

Take each circle, and fold it in half.

Sheef fabric circle folded twice to create a quarter circle

Then fold each again to create a quarter circle.

Scissors cutting into a sheer fabric circle that is folded into a quarter circle

Snip into the raw edge about every 1/2 inch or so.

Sheer fabric circle held over a lit candle with the help of tweezers

When singed, the edges will quickly curl into petal shapes.

Burn baby, burn

Run the edge of the polyester through, or close to, the flame. It’s good to do a burn test with a swatch of fabric to gauge how quickly your fabric will burn. For this poly organza, I barely had to kiss the flame.

You can do the larger circles by hand, but as you come to the smaller circles, use a pair of metal tweezers to protect your digits. Remember that the melted edge of the fabric will also be hot to the touch for a second or two, until it cools completely. That melted edge of fabric will adhere to any surface it touches when hot. Ask me how I know. Be sensible, my friends.

Assemble and sew

Next, pile up the singed fabric circles, starting with the largest and ending with the teeniest. Although I thought they looked terrific in one shade, I alternated hot pink and burgundy to add dimension.

Use a small safety pin to hold all layers together. The safety pin is better than a straight pin. Otherwise, you’ll eventually stick yourself turning these over. As we’ve already been dealing with an open flame, we’re trying to limit bodily harm as much as possible.

Using the pin as a guide, sew through all layers at the center.

Add another small circle of non-fraying fabric, whipstitched or slipstitched onto a few of the bottom layers, to give yourself a base. I used a bit of leopard print felted ribbon. Because: leopard print. The upper petals will hide these stitches. It’s simple to slide a bobby pin through a gap in the felt base, or use the base to attach your bloom wherever you like.

Imagine these covering a dress.

Then it’s dealer’s choice to pinch them (left) to create a stand-up shape, or to leave them flat (right). Just sew a few hand stitches through the base while pinched if you want them to stand up.

Let your imagination run wild(flower)

 

Fabric flowers resembling purple iris blooms held over a pink cutting mat

I was having such a grand time playing with fire that I stayed the course and burned these irises, also made with the same midweight poly in a purple hue. I cut large, free-form, oval petal shapes for them, singed the edges, and encased another “undone” flower head from my dollar store bouquet. Yes, I do have plenty of faux dollar store flowers on hand (and in hair) at all times.

Marcy Harriell wears her headpiece of colorful flowers

Of course, I had to try re-creating the Vreeland-directed Harper’s Bazaar cover shoot, with the help of a bold closed lip and a cat’s eye. And leopard print. Because, as I said, leopard print.

Marcy Harriell smiles as she wears a headpiece of flowers

But I prefer a smile.

Will I wear these to Valentine’s Day dinner at the kitchen table? Working on the laptop? Life in general? YES. Now that I have eleventy million of them, I’ll likely be wearing all of them at once. I’m used to a large crown, with or without floral assistance.

Why don’t you . . . try at least one? It will quickly take you to a dozen—in your hair, on your lapel, scattered on a dress. We will have a need for beautiful dresses again. Or we will just like a reminder that spring will come again.

Happy Valentine’s Day, sewing friends.

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  1. User avater
    BeckyF | | #1

    I would love to come and play in your sewing room!
    becky

  2. colormesewful | | #2

    I loved this article! Her writing is as clever, clear and enticing as the flowers themselves. I’d write a longer review but I’m off to the dollar store. Can’t wait to show off my beauties. Thanks so much for this very different inspiring piece.

  3. User avater
    marcyharriell | | #3

    Thank you so much! I hope you made that dollar store bouquet 💐

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