Costume School // Making Millinery Flowers, Part 2

31 Oct

Hi everyone! Hope your week has been just wonderful! Between two jobs and coursework, I hardly know where I’m at anymore… so I’m sorry if this entry is a little bit later than promised.

So here’s a lesson we learned while letting your gelatine/stiffener dipped flowers dry: don’t spread them out on paper, hang them up! If you put them on paper, they WILL stick. If you’re not around to turn them over every so often, you will end up with lots of paper residue stuck on your petals. Not cool. Luckily I did turn mine over before leaving for the weekend, so I had whole bunch of crispy, paper-y, stiffened petals to work with.


Our guest lecturer was Gwenda, a lady in her mid-80’s who was a millinery teacher to our current millinery teachers. She is a French Flower Expert. This is one of those rare skills from another era, where people really did get to perfect the art of making delicate little flowers, complete down to the stamens, from scraps of fabric and earn a living from it. She brought with her some flowers she had made, bunches of little stamens and buds, and a whole box full of french flower tools.

French Flower Tools, for all sorts of different petals.


Aren’t they just beautiful? Part of what I love about sewing and fabric craft is the vast array of tools and gadgets you can accessorise with!


Using a gas burner, you heat the copper heads of the tools until they are hot enough to sizzle when you touch them with a wet finger. Hold the silk petal on a thick sponge covered in cotton. Press the hot tool into the petal with quite a lot of force. In the case of the ball-ended tool push down and away from yourself to create the ‘cup’ of the petal. You can use the tool with two prongs to uncurl the petal gently to create a more realistic shape.


Olivia and Abi using the gas burner to heat tools and shape petals.


Once you have a whole set of shaped petals, you can make a flower centre and stamen.

Ready-made stamens


The flower centre was made of a tuft of cotton wool wound around a length of wire in a bud shape. Then, I covered this in a bit of stretchy fabric and sewed it in place. Ideally you can use a square of pantihose! You can colour or dye the resulting bud to match your flower petals. Nifty!

Frayed rope bits tied up and ready to be singed


For the stamens, we used – get this – nylon rope frayed open and melted with a match! Gwenda herself worked out that this was a really easy and cheap method to get realistic looking stamens. Of course you can buy beautiful ready-made stamens, but this was such a good trick, especially since so many of the supplies for crafts like these can get very expensive. Glue and stitch the rope stamens around your cotton-wool bud. Wind thread around the whole flower centre to hold everything in place.


To attach the petals, start with the smallest at the centre. Attack to your centre with a dab of glue, then wind thread around the stem a few times to hold in place. Add the other petals in the same way, wrapping with thread after each. Be careful not to ‘creep’ the petals down the wire stem too far – you want to keep everything compact. After you have attached the final petal, you can shape things a bit more with the tools. We ran out of time in our session, but Gwenda explained how you can make a thin bias tube to cover the wire stem as well.

Calico buds


How sweet are these buds? Gwenda made these from calico. They don’t have to be silk!



Here is my final flower – it could have used a few more petals, but has a certain blowsy quality I think! I really wish this were a whole semester subject. A taste is just not enough!

3 Responses to “Costume School // Making Millinery Flowers, Part 2”

  1. Rosy November 14, 2011 at 4:28 am #

    I just found your blog by chance and wanted to tell you how wonderful it! Your skills and has many beautiful job all presented here is so great …. Love your art!

  2. Opal Beisiegel February 25, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    Just found your sight tonight. I have a question, been actively looking for answer for 3years or more. Hoping you might have an answer. Question: in 1800’s how were stamens and or pips made. I have read they were individually made by hand with many variations but I would dearly love to know the basics of their composition, paints and if were made of heavy thread, paper or wires. I have been passionately making ribbon flowers now for 10 or more now years. Quickly my sources for stamens has totally dried up leaving me very frustrated. I do no buy from the internt.

    I dabble in many artistic endevors but trying to figure out how these seemingly little innocent stamens are made has eluded me. The more I have searched on the net I discover I know not their secrets.

    Please ease my misery if they have whispered in your ear their little secrets

    • whipstitchsewing March 9, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

      Hi Opal,
      yes it is hard to find these obscure materials these days isn’t it? We used some store-bought pips and stamens, and the others we made ourselves out of thread wrapped wire, cotton wool teased out and wrapped to form little buds and – melted polyester rope! That was the best trick – fray the end of some polyester rope, so you have all the separate threads. Then use a lighter to melt the ends just a bit so a little globe of melted plastic forms. Looks just like stamens, especially if you bundle them up! Hope that helps…

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