Ever wanted to try your hand at the couture flower-making techniques displayed by the legendary French ateliers, Lemarie or Guillet? London’s Atelier Millinery gives the curious a rare opportunity to try their hand at silk flower-making and it is not only great fun but a very rewarding experience. Learning these skills also gives one a renewed respect for the professional artisan. My flower occupied three-and-a-half hours of fun, relaxed work. Producing these under pressure and to exacting standards and standardisation must be intensely hard and frustrating work. ‘Chapeau’ indeed to those artisans. There’s nothing like going along to one of these workshops and trying your hand but here’s a small taster of what we did.
We were using silk dupion which possesses a lovely shimmer that changes with the light source. It is flimsy material so it needed stiffening in order to hold a shape. After pressing the silk we folded it in half, sandwiching a sheet of ‘bondaweb’ in the centre then pressed it again. Take care not to iron direct onto the bondaweb – it will disintegrate and make a sticky mess of your iron.
We prepared the stem, threading a pearl onto a length of covered wire and then twisting the two ends together.
Next we cut-out the pattern and, as with dress-making, we laid out our silk and positioned the paper pattern shapes on top, then traced around them with tailor’s chalk before cutting them out.
The petals need shaping to look more natural so we returned to the iron, and after pressing the petal to heat it, gently rolled it and curved it into a ‘lip’ to emulate a real petal. This is quite absorbing work and it is quite possible to feel oneself getting a tiny bit obsessive about the petal-ness of the petals.
Now they were ready for threading onto the stem. We made small holes in each piece where the centre of the flower would be and then, one by one, in the order shown on the patter pieces, threaded each onto the stem, sewing each one into place with a few stitches. The great thing about this stitching is that it need not be perfect – the stitches are hidden within the flower so will never be seen.
The final piece was applied with a tiny touch from the glue gun and we were finished. I may not be ready to join the ranks of petits mains at Lemarie, but it was a highly rewarding way to spend a Saturday, learning a skill I can apply not only to millinery, but jewellery, homewares and even gift-wrapping (it is perfectly possible to make these flowers out of fairly stiff paper). If you find yourself in London, I highly recommend an Atelier Millinery course. Perhaps you might even discover the latent talent to join the ranks of the couture artisan?