Tuesday, May 3, 2011

How To-sday - Using a Plant Press

Writers in the Family

My husband is working on two books.  My Sister in Law crafts novels in her head.  I write articles on herbs and gardening and my Brother-in-Law was recently published in the Beacon, the magazine of the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association (http://www.gllka.com/)  In the Winter 2010/2011 issue his article “Return to Crisp Point” included reminiscences from his time in the U.S. Coast Guard maintaining this lighthouse.  The article will soon be the cover article in another lighthouse publication.  If you enjoy lighthouses, this publication is one I would recommend as it supports restoration and history preservation of lighthouses.  Subscriptions start at $35.00/yr.

This month I had an article on how to make paper sachet’s published in the Essential Herbal Magazine.  (If you love eclectic writings on all things herbal from cooking to medicine and everything in between, check out this link to subscribe to this wonderful bi-monthly – only $25.00/year)

I wrote the article during the time I was experimenting with How To-sday ideas.  It was my first exercise in photographing something as I made it.  I think I am getting better at it, but let me know if you think I should take the photographs differently.  This Tuesday I am going to show how to use a plant press.

Pressing Flowers

Today I thought I would examine making pressed flowers and leaves.  This time of year the pansies, violas, and perennial herbs are at the perfect age for pressing.  The most important tool to press herbs is the press itself.

You can buy a press at craft stores or make your own.  I have a purchased press that my mother bought me as well as several that my husband made for me out of plywood cut in 10 inch squares.  You need two squares of plywood with 4 carriage bolts (al least 4 incheas to 5 inches long) and 4 wing nuts.  You can use regular nuts, but I hate getting those off, wing nuts make me much happier.

In addition to the press parts you need:
  • acid-free tissue or blotting paper (water color paper works well)
  • absorbent paper (I just use newspaper)
  • cardboard
All should be cut between 8 and 9 inches square so they fit inside the edges of your press. 

You can also use a phone book, an old encyclopedia or dictionary, or just a pile of old paperbacks if making a press is not in your plan.

Harvest your flowers and leaves.  You must collect them fresh and press immediately.  I use my sharp gardening shears to cut the flowers and leaves, removing them from the plants, and then trimming the stems as short as possible so they do not add bulk to the press.  Good choices include Queen Anne's Lace, pansies, violas, pineapple sage, or herb leaves like basil, tarragon, lemon verbena, thyme, etc.

To press plants, you are going to create layers of cardboard and absorbent material with a sheet of tissue to lay the flowers on.

1.      On the base piece of plywood (with the bolts inserted into the corner holes), place several pieces of newspaper, then a sheet of cardboard, then a piece of tissue or blotter paper.
2.      Lay the flowers and leaves on the tissue or blotter paper.  Use tweezers to help position smaller items. 
3.      Layer tissue, newsprint, tissue, herbs/flowers, more tissue and another layer of newsprint then add a flat piece of cardboard and create more layers in the same way.  Continue layering in the same way, like making lasagna, until you have created 5 to 6 layers.  If using books, place flowers on tissue, top with another tissue layer and slip between the pages.  Leave 10 to 12 pages for space and add another layer to the book the same way.  Continue layering inside the book until it begins to bulge.

     4.    Once you have made a selection of layers that is about 3 inches to  
          4 inches high, cap the press with the second piece of plywood (fitting
          it down over the upright bolts), screwing it down hard.  If using a
          book, place weights or other heavy books on top of your press
     5.   Leave the items in the press for at least 2 weeks, longer if it is humid. 
    6.     When you remove your flowers and leaves they will be nicely flat and
         should retain their color.  Folds and curls happen.  You get better at
         stopping that with practice. 

Once you have flattened the plants, you do not need to leave them in the press.  I take them out of the press and store them in small Tupperware dishes so I can refill the press with a new set of whatever is then in season.

Here are a few examples of projects you can use your pressed flowers to create.

~ Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh

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