Flowers in the House at Gilflurt’s Guide to Life

Yesterday, I was honored to have an article posted at A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life, a blog published by Madame Gilflurt on all aspects of the long eighteenth century. If you have not paid this fascinating blog a visit, do take some time to browse around. But be prepared, there are so many interesting articles there, you will find it hard to click away.

My new article, Flowers in the House: A History, at Madame Gilflurt’s blog, is a brief history of how flowers were used in the home over time, with an emphasis on the eighteenth century and the Regency. Flower arrangements are included in my debut novel, Deflowering Daisy. One very large arrangement, in particular, is an important part of the developing relationship between Daisy and her hero. This new article provides more detail over a longer period of time with regard to the changes in how flowers were used in homes up to and including the Regency. I hope you will enjoy it.

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5 thoughts on “Flowers in the House at Gilflurt’s Guide to Life

  1. fascinating post! fancy Tallyrand being good for something… I suspect some of the silk flower makers effectively made redundant by this turned their attentions to silk flowers to trim bonnets and gowns. Do you happen to know how early flower irons were used? I know they were certainly in use in the early Victorian era and I wouldn’t mind betting they were used to shape cloth flowers before then, which is why I blogged about them http://sarahs-history-place.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/millinery-irons-aka-flower-irons.html but I have been unable to find when they were first used.

    • I am glad you enjoyed the post. It was a bear to research, but once I was able to dig into the details of the history of flower use it all came together. Like you, I was stunned to learn that Talleyrand could take credit for anything good, particularly something natural! 😉

      Details on the makers of silk flowers are scarce, but my sense in that you are right. As the market for silk flowers to be used in the home dwindled, the need for silk flowers for garment trimmings was increasing. So, they probably were able to stay in business, but primarily making smaller flowers which were appropriate for clothing and hats. They might even had done better, since there was a higher demand for silk flowers for garments across more classes than had been the demand for silk flowers for use in affluent homes.

      Thank you for the link to your wonderful post on flower irons!!! They are adorable, and now, I, too, want a set of my own. I have never heard of them before, but the irons in the pictures you posted in your blog look decidedly Victorian.

      They might have prototypes from earlier in the nineteenth century, but my sense is they would not have been widely used, for a couple of reasons. The first reason is cost. Milliners and seamstresses had a very thin profit margin, which means they would want to keep their investment in equipment and non-saleable items to a minimum. The second reason is speed, which in the end, also boils down to money. Hot iron has been used to shape fabrics for centuries. You are probably familiar with the gophering irons of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, which were used to shape the fashionable ruffs worn by the upper classes at that time. In the hands of an expert, a single gophering iron could be used to put ruffles of any depth into a ruff of any size.

      I suspect that the women who made silk flowers, either as their sole work, or as part of a job as a seamstress or milliner, were so experienced that they were able to make the flower shapes and sizes they needed with a single hot iron surface over which to shape each bit of cloth. It would be very inconvenient and time consuming for them to have to select and heat a specific iron for a certain shape. Not to mention very limiting, since they could only turn out flowers of the size and shape of the iron chosen.

      One of my hobbies is leather tooling, and I have a nice selection of tools to use when I am tooling a piece of leather for some project. However, I have a friend who was a professional leather tooler and he has significantly fewer tools in his kit that I do. For most of his work, which is gorgeous, he limits himself to three shaping tools and a skiving knife. He is so adept at working with leather that more tools would actually limit his creativity and slow him down while he seeks them out. I need more tools to help me achieve the look I want because I am so much less experienced and cannot get the leather to do what I want with fewer tools. It also takes me much longer to complete a piece than it does my friend.

      Therefore, I suspect that professional makers of silk flowers had one or two irons they kept hot and used them to shape the flowers they made. That makes sense to me because they were probably working quickly, since they were most likely paid by the piece. In addition, until well into the Victorian era, most clothing was custom-made and no customer would want a dress or hat with flowers that looked like those of someone else. But standardization was applied to the making of many things, including clothing, by the mid-nineteenth century. Multiple garments or hats were made in exactly the same style, with exactly the same trimmings. At that point, tools like those charming flower and leaf irons were probably very handy, enabling even someone with little experience to turn out flower after flower, all the same size and shape.

      Just my $0.02

      Regards,

      Kat

      • The pics I used are Victorian, I got permission to use some from an auction, because they were the only ones I could find. And I’m now thinking, yes, actually, I only generally use two chisels on my lathe… and a gophering iron could be used to put crimps into the bottom of petals quite readily actually, we have a couple of different sized ones in the local museum which I could picture using, And there were certainly plenty of different shaped irons for specialist use, and a blacksmith could make a small one without trouble.
        I may be one of a very few people who has actually used a flat, or sad iron… I have two, one solid and one with a brick to put in it.
        There’s a plot bunny hatching there of a young woman deprived of her livelihood by Tallyrand seeking a way to survive….

        • We had a couple of gophering irons in the collection of a historic house of which I used to be curator. One was just a cylinder of iron on a long iron rod with a wooden handle. The other was a bit more interesting, since the working part tapered to a point. I can see how such a form could not only be used to shape cloth flowers, but that point would have done nicely to put veins into leaves where needed.

          I have also used a flat iron, though only one of solid iron. It was many years ago, while we were spending the summer on my grandmother’s farm. She also still had a wood stove in the kitchen then, on which she heated the irons. She had a pair, so one could be heating while the other was in use. I was probably about ten, and had already been given the chore of ironing the family laundry at home. I liked using the flat irons, partly for the novelty of it, but also, they actually weighed less than the electric iron I was used to using. Plus, of course, I was working with Grandma, which I always enjoyed!

          Now, you can’t just blame Talleyrand for the dip in demand for silk flowers. Lots of upper-class sheep followed his lead to use more real flowers. And, from what I can tell, most of the women who made silk flowers for home decor worked in Paris. There were women who worked in Spitalfields who made silk flowers for garment embellishment who were not really affected by the trend set by Talleyrand.

          And silk flowers did not go out of fashion all at once. It seems to have been a slow decline. Many of the more traditional and old-fashioned, especially those who mistrusted “nature” did still use silk flowers. Although, I can see an erstwhile silk-flower maker in Paris in need of funds who might agree to help an English spy. Particularly if she has young siblings at home and the handsome Englishman is willing to provide her with funds.

          Regards,

          Kat

          • great plot development! or she decides to move to England and agrees – perhaps under some duress – to spy on the British, and a British counterintelligence agent [for want of a period name for it] turns her… actually it has moments that would work quite nicely in a Scarlet Pimpernel story… and I’ve written a few for Fanfiction…
            yay, I’m not the only person skilled with a flat iron! our local museum also has a crimping iron on a rocker which is quite an odd looking piece of kit. Helping grans, great aunts and so on really build up special childhood memories… though I prefer my travel iron! I have an old fashioned fire-heated soldering iron actually, which is very like a gophering iron, so I might have to play about with some silk petals and see what I can do with it by heating it in the oven of the aga to avoid soot. I don’t have an iron-heating oven like my great-aunt’s home, under the ‘copper’.
            Oowwww, I wanted to blame Tallyrand… he probably deserves it, mind you, most of the aristos almost asked for the Revolution so blaming them too is fair do’s.

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