Pressing flowers – a quintessential Victorian pastime

Samantha PillingHistory, The Gardens

Flower Pressing

The Victorians loved flowers! Not only did fresh flowers adorn their homes, flowers were also depicted in paintings, carvings, embroidery and clothing.

Pressed flowers were a simple art form that can easily be traced back to ancient Egypt. In the 1500’s Oshibana (the art of pressing flowers in a way to create a whole picture) was meticulous and skilled – with the art becoming fashionable in Victorian England, once trade with the Japanese people increased.

Throughout the Victorian era pressed flowers were important. For the Victorian woman, it was an enjoyable pastime. Flowers were often combined with ribbons to create pretty pictures, whilst a flower was often slipped between the pages of a book, to preserve the memory of a special day.

Pressing flowers – an easy and enjoyable hobby

The ease through which one could press flowers also made this an enjoyable hobby. As long as the flower or leaf was dry, it could be preserved by pressing. All you needed was some paper, a heavy item to weight it down, and some patience – as the process could take a couple of weeks! You simply placed the flower between sheets of paper, weighted it down and left it to work its magic. Pressing between the pages of a book would help keep light out, the extra pieces of paper would soak up any remaining fluid, whilst the weight would help, not only flatten the flower or leaf but ensure the paper also remained flat too.

Once the flower had been left for a few weeks the result would be both delicate and beautiful. Pressing an item would sometimes cause the item to fade, however, it also could bring out the natural beauty of an object – with it getting brighter or more detailed in appearance. Pressed flowers were then arranged as a display on silk or lace, before being framed and placed behind glass.

A hobby of botanical importance

Pressed flowers also had an important part in botanical history. Botanical scrapbooks were kept by men and women alike. Samples of the plant were often collected by travellers and botanists and professional field presses were used for these events. This led the way to some important botanical finds that improved our view of nature and the botanical world at large.

Pressed FlowersA professional field press helped preserve the plants original colour and also provided a better end result. It consisted of blotting paper, two boards of wood and leather straps, for tightening. The end result would then be sown, glued or gummed into a scrapbook, along with a physical and taxonomic description, date and location.

Pressing flowers is a pastime that goes back hundreds of years. The Victorian especially loved flowers, and pressing them bought not only enjoyment but a historical record of many species of flower and plant seen as commonplace today. But far from being a pastime only enjoyed by the Victorians, pressing flowers is having a revival, as many modern women (and men!) enjoy the beauty and pleasure this simple pastime can bring.

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