The History of Silk Flowers

Fabric flowers

Interested in a little background information? Here is a brief history of silk flowers for you...

There has always been interest in recreating the beauty of perishable flowers in a more permanent form. My own grandmother delighted in creating zinnias and roses from crepe paper more than 50 years ago. Proving everything old is new again, these surprisingly life-like blooms were featured on the cover of the Martha Stewart Weddings magazine in Spring 2001.

The advent of new polymers and urethanes in the 1960s led to the use of coloured thin foam sheets — certainly more fade-proof than the crepe paper, but perhaps not quite as attractive.

Then came the mass-produced plastic flowers — awful weren't they? It took quite some time for interest in artificial flowers to rise again following this low point in their history. However, recent advances in fabrics, finishes and manufacturing techniques have resulted in new products which far surpass any of their forebears.

'Silk' has now become a generic term. Most silk flowers are now made from cotton/polyester blend fabrics. These hold the colour dyes and retain the applied textures well. However, the quality available ranges greatly, from low-end flowers sold in discount and craft stores to the new generation blooms. The vast majority of the world's silk flowers are made in Asia, while a small tradition of exceptionally high quality handmade blooms remains in New York and Paris.

Painstaking attention to detail is taken to ensure botanically-correct designs. The design process now involves taking real flowers apart to closely examine their structure and observe the details of the stamens, leaves and calyx.

Fabric choices are based on how they take color and react to heat — the wide range of reactions is useful for creating different effects appropriate to different flowers. Special fabric finishes are often applied to give lifelike textures. For example, ironing the fabric used to make tulips, to replicate their characteristic shine. The fabric choice may also be directed by the actual texture of the flowers represented. Peachskin, a sueded fabric, is suitable for flowers such as magnolia with its velvety petals.

Faux berries – painted foam

Faux berries are often created from plastic foam painted with enamels for realistic depth of colour and shine (see right). Latex is being used to craft realistic calla, tiger and oriental lillies much more pliable and lifelike than the original plastic flowers. A foam-like polyurethane substance is being used to make tropical flowers — it's perfect for their chunky, modern look. A recent trend is roses made from organza, which gives the petals the translucent look of very full blown blooms. A look, incidentally, which would be impossible to use in perishable flowers, as they would be far too delicate to work with at this late stage in their life span.

Improvements in moulding techniques have been just as important to the faux flower renaissance. Many manufacturers use actual petals and leaves to create their prototypes, some create shape and texture from finely-detailed cut and creased tin foil. Then a plaster cast is taken to create the brass production moulds. These form and texturise the realistic petals and leaves.

Complex screen printing techniques are used to add colour, with quality flowers featuring subtle colour variations to enhance their natural appearance. One of the latest developments is the inclusion of deliberate 'faults' in the flower to create a natural realism. Missing petals and pale brown smudges on outer petals are a clever design device to trick observers that the flowers originated from the field and not the factory.

This article was reprinted with the permission of the kind folks at They create lovely wedding bouquets using silk flowers — of course! Thanks, mates!

So, there you have it — the history of silk flowers. They have come such a long way since grandmother's time. Modern day floral recreations truly are works of art — and science!

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