We Tried Making Uncommon Paper Flowers At Home
Whimsical blooms from artist Kate Alarcón’s new book get the DIY treatment.
By Carly Scholl
In the October issue, we highlighted a book on our “From Our Library to Yours” page called “Uncommon Paper Flowers” by Kate Alarcón. It features spectacular photography and step-by-step instructions for creating your very own crepe paper flowers in a variety of unique species—from cacti to mushrooms.
The second I cracked open the book to take a look for editorial consideration, I knew a new creative endeavor was staring me in the face. Alarcón’s spikey agave and blushing Itoh peonies looked so lifelike but also retained a sense of craft about them. While I adore fresh flowers, I’ve always hated the waning days of a bouquet when wilted brown petals and clouds of pollen rain down from my centerpiece in a show of defeat and decay. The idea of having everlasting flora blooming throughout my house was a temptation I couldn’t resist. I dove headfirst into the world of uncommon paper flowers.
In Alarcón’s book, she gives extensive tips on what kind of crepe paper to buy: No, those rolls of streamers from the party supply store won’t do. Her favorites are bolts of richly hued crepe ranging from extra fine to heavy, made by the German company Werola. These, as it turns out, are actually quite impossible to find at Valley craft or art stores. But thanks to Amazon and fellow paper flower entrepreneur Lia Griffith, I bought several multi-packs containing a delicious assortment of colored crepe, along with 18-gauge green fabric-wrapped floral wires for the stems, tiny wire cutters, craft scissors and good old fashioned Elmer’s glue.
Additionally, there is a section in the book that describes some of Alarcón’s other preferred materials, such as wooden beads, millenary buds, alcohol-based dyes, markers, spray paints and dowels, most of which can be found at craft stores or, again, through trusty Amazon.
When I begin a new project, I don’t stop until it’s finished. For the first few nights after my supplies came, I cleared my schedule, laid everything out on my dining table and, using Alarcón’s templates and instructions, set to work on a lush hot-pink peony. I traced and snipped and wrapped and rolled and fringed and glued until my fingers stuck to everything in sight. I cut rows and rows of delicate petals and gently stretched them into little cups. I glued them one by one to the stem in a happy ring of frilliness until they fully encircled the nectarine-hued pollen fringe at the center of my flower.
A full evening and the complete first season of Amazon’s “Fleabag” later, I had a perfectly adequate peony in my hands. Not the ombre’d, black-spotted Itoh peony Alarcón presented in her book—I was too impatient to individually spray-paint each paper sheet and wait for them to dry—but an iteration of one of my favorite fuchsia stunners I always buy in dozens come peony season.
I was hooked.
Over the next couple nights, I crafted a quirky colony of bleeding mycena mushrooms, their pinkish caps set rakishly atop eggplant-purple stems, poking out of a pot of moss that once held a sadly deceased houseplant.
I made a second peony, this time in a coral-pink that could’ve used some of the careful and masterful painted details that Alarcón gives to most of her flowers, but that I’m usually too hasty or lazy to bother with. I eventually took a trip to an art store to buy a couple Pan Palettes—the highly pigmented pastels Alarcón recommends, and attempted a magenta ombre on my coral peony’s petals. It turned out…fine. Practice certainly makes perfect when it comes to these posies.
The next project I tackled was the elegant night-blooming cereus, a magnificent white flower that blossoms only once a year for a single night from the ceroid cactus native to the Sonoran Desert. Rows of creamy, pointed petals radiate in a starburst formation from a center stuffed with stamens, and the purplish stem emerges from long, dark green leaves. It’s a beauty to behold, and I wanted to capture its joy forever in paper form.
It took me two nights to finish my two night-blooming cereus flowers, but I was pretty proud of the end result. The slender white petals formed cheerful blossoms that look elegant and artful swooping down over the edge of a vase—exactly the kind of unexpected floral arrangement I was after.
Grow As You Go
Like most crafts requiring dexterous handiwork, these paper flowers take a bit of getting used to. I thought I’d never get the hang of cutting teeny tiny templates out of crinkled crepe paper, or figure out how to glue petals without also gluing my fingers—but I quickly caught on to the techniques and seemed to improve my form with every leaf and stamen.
The more time you invest in each single blossom, the more pleased you will be with the result. Alarcón’s creations are painstakingly painted, frilled, dyed and speckled, and they’re all the more spectacular for the effort. While I don’t quite have the talent or time to achieve her level of paper mastery, the fun of watching a delicate stem bloom in your hands is worth the detailed work.