That group of flowers known to botanists as the "Composite" family - daisy, sunflower, chrysanthemum, etc. - is not suitable for pressing, and roses and pinks seldom look well when dried. Flowers about to fall must not be used - the best specimens are those which have just fully opened from the bud, and have all the sheen and early bloom upon their petals. Very succulent plants - tulips, marsh marigolds, and iris - need a great deal more care and considerably more time between the blotting-paper sheets.
If expense does not matter, an excellent outfit for pressing flowers can be bought from a good naturalist, but most botanists prefer their home-made arrangement. A "vascu-lum" or botanical case for carrying collected flowers (costing from 2s. to 5s. 6d.) is well worth buying. as the cool metal preserves the flowers well if one is carrying them all day, but a flat biscuit tin will answer the same purpose, though not so convenient to carry.
A d'oyley ornamented with pressed flowers, between two circles of fine net or muslin, is a dainty adjunct to the table
In plucking flowers, of course, one has to remember that it is not the bloom alone that is wanted. Except for scientific botany, the root is not necessary, and, indeed, in the case of uncommon flowers, great care should be taken not to disturb the root, so that the flower may be preserved for others enjoyment. "Pluck the flower as low down as possible" is always a good rule to remember - "plucking," in this case, meaning cutting with scissors or a small knife. The case should never be crowded so full as to need pressure, but it is wise to fill up any empty spaces with grass or moss to prevent shaking and to keep the plants moist.
A screw press can be bought, with botanical drying paper, from 6s. 6d., but a box that is filled with earth, and which has handles attached to the side, is an excellent substitute. The weight of the box should be increased to about 120 pounds by the addition of a number of bricks or large stones. The flowers should be carefully taken out of the case, superfluous leaves and stalks cut off, and then each laid gently on a sheet of blotting-paper. Botanical blotting-paper costs about is. 2d. a quire, but ordinary blotting-paper is almost as absorbent. Petals and leaves should be spread out to the best advantage, with a view to their future use. Three sheets of blotting-paper must be placed on a thick, flat block of wood, and then the flower laid in a double sheet. A piece of cardboard must separate the next three sheets, and the next flower, and so on upwards, until the box of earth is placed on the topmost sheet. In this way a good many specimens can be dried at once.
Twelve hours afterwards is the crucial moment for arranging the plants, as they are then in the most pliable condition. When this has been done, the blotting-paper must be covered over in such a way that each separate part of the plant gets an equal pressure.
Every day the blotting-paper must be changed and dried, and those flowers which are thoroughly pressed taken out and mounted. Some flowers will only take six or seven days to become thoroughly preserved, while others will want at least three weeks beneath the box of earth. Until the flowers are required, it is best to mount them on paper - any stiff kind is suitable, but proper mounting paper may be bought (is. 3d. to 2s. a quire).
There is no need at all to gum the entire surface of the plant to the paper as is so often done. Little strips of sticking-paper placed at intervals are quite sufficient to keep the plant in place and have the extra advantage of allowing the flower to be easily moved when wanted.
Of course, it is best that the flowers which are going to be used for d'oyleys, table-centres, screens, and so on, should not be mounted at all. The fresher the flowers are for such purposes, the more successful the result.
D'oyleys made with pressed flowers give a very dainty appearance to a toilet table, and very many pretty ideas can be carried out in connection with them. The flowers used for the d'oyleys may be repeated in the chintz hangings and draperies of the room, or a girl with a flower name can have her room decorated throughout with her name flower, real ones being placed in the toilet-table mats and in the cushions. A charming scheme of decoration would be to have pansies pressed in the toilet-mats, and a design of pansies - purple and yellow and white - patterned on the window curtains, bedspread, and so on.
Once the flowers are properly pressed, the making of the d'oyleys is a very simple matter. Squares or rounds or oblongs of white net or muslin, the finer the better, can be cut the required size, and the pressed plants and leaves arranged in a pattern upon them. Then the backs of these should be lightly dabbed with good gum, and quickly pressed on one of the pieces of net. When the plants are quite dry, a second piece of net must be placed on the top, and the two pieces lightly tacked round the edge. Lace or embroidery gathered over the tacking can be finished off with a piece of silk braid, the colour depending upon that of the pressed flowers. For instance, buttercups look well when surrounded by gold cord, and rose-pink campions become even more effective when bordered with the same shade of silk braid.
Mats made in this way can be used with uncommon and beautiful effect on the dinner-table. Ferns - maidenhair, asparagus, bracken, hart's tongue - can be pressed and used in the same way as flowers, making a delightful contrast to the living blossoms in the vases, and showing up very effectively against a damask cloth.
More ambitious work is the making of table-centres, cushion-covers, screens, lampshades, and so on. A transfer pattern can be ironed off on to the net, and the pressed flowers placed upon it - if there is any difficulty in arranging the designs. But unless the transfer pattern chosen is exactly the same size as the flowers and leaves, it is more hindrance than help. For table-centres and cushion-covers, the flowers can be gummed upon net, and a background of silk or satin laid the other side. If the gumming is very carefully done, there is no reason why it should show on the surface of the net.
A fire-screen made with pressed flowers needs a little more time spent upon it, but otherwise is no more difficult. Large flowers, sunflowers, marigolds, lupins, red peonies, and the deep-coloured wild flowers all look very effective if arranged in a natural manner with their foliage. They can be mounted first on a fine piece of net, and then placed between two sheets of glass. But this part of the work requires a skilled hand, and it is better when the flowers are thoroughly dried and mounted, to send the work to some furniture-maker, and show him how you want the screen finished. Or, if glass is not liked, the flowers may be mounted on net, and covered with it in the same way as the d'oyleys, and then stretched between the framework of a screen.
There is no reason why pressed flowers used in any of these ways should not keep beautiful for years, but, of course, everything depends on the initial process of pressing and on the artistic sense of the worker. A crude combination of colours spells failure, no matter how skilful and neat its manipulation, and an harmonious arrangement will go far to atone for a few technical errors.
A lampshade of Australian tinted and green ferns.
mounted on fine transparent silk, and protected with tulle