How to Press Flowers
Warning - flower pressing can become highly addictive and before long you'll find yourself driving down roads gazing at weeds growing at the roadside, friends and neighbours will only ask you round after dark so you can't plunder their garden …. Don't say you weren't warned!
There used to be quite a few types of flowers and foliage that couldn't be pressed successfully, but with developments over the last ten years in the world of flower pressing, almost no specimens escape the net! I will explain the three main methods of pressing flowers, I personally use a combination of all three, choosing a technique sometimes for its effectiveness, sometimes because of time constraints and often just for the fun of experimentation.
Whichever method of pressing you choose, the same tips apply to picking the flowers. Never bother to press flowers that are past their best, put half dead flowers into a press and you'll get squashed half dead flowers out afterwards - the presses are not magical resuscitation machines that rejuvenate a tatty bruised blossom into a thing of beauty. Pick the cream of the crop, perfect blooms in their prime, on a dry day and trim the backs of the flowers so that there are no unnecessarily bulky parts to get in the way of a smooth, flat finished specimen.
Traditional flower pressing
Pressing flowers between pages of heavy books has been a popular pastime for many hundreds of years. Sometimes antique family bibles still hide floral treasures that have been sitting between the pages since a mother kept a wildflower presented by a young child, or a young girl hid a flower from her beloved.
You can use telephone directories, or any books with absorbent pages - take care if you are thinking of use encyclopaedias, often the pages are much glossier and less absorbent. Make sure your intended victims (sorry specimens) are trimmed and are 100% clean and dry. Place the flowers between the pages and then add extra telephone directories on top to weight them down - leave to dry for maybe 4 weeks or so.
Now that is a very VERY basic, unrefined way to preserve flowers. I never put flowers straight into the pages of a book - partly to avoid any colour bleeding from the print and partly to speed absorption of moisture ….. I always make a simple folder from blotting/absorbent paper, place the flowers into that and then slip it between the pages. It is also very important to label your books with a date - it's so easy to forget when you put the flowers in - and then lose track of when they might be ready.
Traditional flower presses are easily available from most craft stores and consist of two pieces of wood with a screw at each corner. The press is filled with a sandwich of absorbent paper. I use newspaper and blotting paper - start with a wad of newspaper and then place a sheet of clean absorbent paper on top, lay out some flowers and cover with another sheet of absorbent paper. Then add another wad of newspaper, then absorbent paper and more flowers etc. You can often get at least 5-10 layers in a press quite successfully. Again, remember to label the press with a date and maybe its contents.
Microwave Flower Pressing
And then came the microwave …….. I'm a very impatient person and waiting 4 weeks or more to see how a specimen will turn out drives me crazy, so many years ago I experimented with my microwave. Microwave pressing is now a very popular industry standard for professional pressers and means that hundreds of varieties that elusively turned brown when pressed in books or traditional presses, now keep a stunningly wonderful subtlety of hue and are very easy to preserve. When I first played with this technique, I had no choice but to make my own press as there were no commercially available presses at that time. Nowadays however there are several microwave presses on the market and very good most of them are too.
I must admit to still falling back on my old homemade technique most of the time. Partly because it's a quicker solution than buying in, but more importantly, I can have loads sitting about at any time and having 40 or 50 commercially produced microwave presses simply wouldn't be a financial option. Here's the way I construct my basic press:
You will need: 2 pieces of hardboard or tough fibreboard about 8inches by 8 inches (20cm x 20cm), 5 or 6 rubber/elastic bands about ¼ inch (6mm) wide and 6 pieces of blotting/absorbent paper cut to 8 x 8 (20 x 20).
Lay a piece of hardboard down and cover with three sheets of blotting/absorbent paper. Place a layer of prepared flowers on the paper and cover with the other three sheets. Put the second piece of hardboard on top and fasten with the rubber/elastic bands with two or three along each side. Then place the package in a microwave on medium heat for a couple of minutes. Allow the contents to cool and then check to see if the flowers are dry - if not then replace n the microwave for a further minute and then leave to cool - check again. Keep repeating this until you are satisfied that the flowers are completely dry.
It takes a little experimentation to feel at home with your microwave and see what results you get - eventually after you have experimented for a while, you will know that your particular machine may work better on a higher temperature for a shorter time, or a lower temperature for several bursts - have a play … it's very worth while.