We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Papel de China: Making A Variety of Paper Flowers

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

   "The artist is a receptacle for the emotions that come from all over the place; from the sky, from the earth, from a scrap of paper, from a passing shape, from a spider's web."
                                                                                                                  ~Pablo Picasso

My sister Juliette makes paper flowers in preparation to decorate
the community altar in celebration of El 
Día de los Muertos.
   A couple of weeks ago I headed to the tiny town of Bisbee, where my sister Juliette lives, to capture photographs of women in the community making crepe paper flowers over the course of an afternoon. I look forward to these types of gatherings, when people who don't necessarily know each other, and who are intuitively following their curiosity, come together with the cooperative intention to create, experiment, and above all, have fun.
   This time of year, during the month of October, many arts and crafts projects are steeped in Mexican tradition, that directly connect to remembering and celebrating our ancestors. We anticipate taking part in private and community revelry associated with November 1st, the Latin American holy day of El Día  los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). It is the day when we look at Death in the proverbial eye and laugh. We remember our loved ones that have passed, and we share our stories to keep them part of our conversations—to keep their memories alive.
   In past years, to celebrate and remember, my daughter Maddie made sugar skulls for a school project, and then we hosted a sugar skull decorating party at our house. Last year we made Calacas-shaped cookies. We've assembled altars to remember our friends and family that have passed. As George Eliot wrote, "Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them." Setting aside time every year to remember our departed loved ones, ensures that they will not be forgotten from one generation to the next.
   My sisters and I and our collective families take part in community celebrations in Tucson and Petaluma, including the annual All Souls Procession and Candlelight Procession. And, everywhere we go during this time of year, we will surely see profusions of colorful paper flowers decorating everything from up-do's ( à la Frido Kahlo), to decorative arrangements on dining room tables, to mechanical floats at the Processions, to personal and community altars.

   While I am an admirer of paper flowers, those bright profusion of blooms that please the eye, I had only learned to make tissue paper poppies once upon a time, and a very long time ago it was. I have always been an ardent devotee of the big free form crepe flowers that Juliette learned to make from a friend after moving to Bisbee nearly 25 years ago.
   While I was excited to see Juliette in action, Juliette in turn was enthused to learn how to make paper roses from Maria, the President of the Bisbee Woman's Club. Maria shared with me that paper flowers are not only for celebrating El Día de los Muertos, but for all celebrations of life that call for flowers, including quinceañeras, weddings and funerals.
   If the paper flowers will be displayed in the outdoors, Maria informed me that each flower can be dipped in melted parafin wax and hung upside down until dry, which will add a layer of protection against the elements. This is typically done if the flowers will be displayed at a grave or for an outdoor event.
Vanessa is a quick study and learns how to make florets on her first attempt.
A floret is surrounded by yellow petals to dramatic effect.
   When we gathered at Central School on that Sunday afternoon, the intention was for the group to produce flowers to decorate a community altar for Central School Project's El Día De Los Muertos Event commencing with an "Art and Alters" Juried Exhibition on November 1st. The show runs through November 14, 2014. For more information leading up to the event, join El Día de los Muertos, Bisbee on Facebook.
   As I photographed the process of making crepe flowers, I noticed how quickly the ladies learned from each other and riffed on each other's ideas. Once you have the basics down, which hardly takes any time at all, an endless variety of flowers can be made. The creation of the flowers is neither tedious or boring because each flower is open to interpretation whether it is made from a pattern or is a free form cut from layered crepe paper. As the volunteers made an abundance of flowers, chatter and laughter filled the air. Clearly everyone was enjoying herself as the hours melted away in a flowing stream of creativity.

A floret is surrounded by multiple layers of free form petals (no template required).
For multiple layers of petals, begin with the shorter petals and end with longer petals.
Unfurl the cut crepe paper and use a glue stick (as shown) before twirling
onto the floret and floral wire.
Secure the petals on the floral wire with the aid of green floral tape.
   Juliette started the event by asking Maria to teach us how to make a rose. As Maria's hands deftly worked through the process of creating the rose, she shared with us memories of making paper flowers as a young girl working side-by-side with her mother and grandmother. Maria's storytelling reminded me that I need to take a break from my harried professional life and schedule more artists' dates with my family and friends. We always remember the times when we come together to create something special, whether it is paper flowers for a community event or a birthday cake for a loved one.

Maria's captivating rose gives the newbies in the group something to aspire to.
Roses are made by using both a tear drop and heart shaped patterns.
Make several petals at once by tracing the pattern on to stacked layers of crepe paper.
The cut "petals" are curled along the top with the help of a pencil.
Then, using your fingers, pull gently to mold the crepe paper decoratively into a rounded shape.
Twist scrap pieces of crepe paper into an elongated shape, which will be the unfurled petals
in the middle of the rose. Secure with 18-gauge by 18-inch green floral wire.
Start shaping the roses by first adding the smaller tear-shaped petals,
and then followed by the larger heart-shaped petals.
Continue to use your fingers to shape the crepe paper as you add petals to the rose.
Twist the crepe paper onto the wire, as you work, to secure each petal.
To finish the rose, secure the crepe paper to the floral wire with green florest tape.
Maria prefers to thicken the stem by wrapping the wire first in green crepe paper and then securing with sticky green floral tape. Remember to keep all the scraps for making the center of the roses.
   While Maria continued to make gorgeous roses, and my sister Juliette created multi-colored chrysanthemum-inspired blooms, I saw Renata taking the basics of the free-form technique and pushing it into the land of exotica with tropical-inspired flower spikes.

Instead of using a floret, Renata shapes pipe brushes into stamen for a tropical-style flower.
Renata uses a glue stick on the petals to help hold the flower together and
then she finishes by using green floral tape for a professional look. 
The tropical flowers give a pleasing architectural dimension to the bouquet. 
   I will now take this opportunity for a "commercial break" to feature Renata's Dead Songbirds. She meticulously sews the birds by incorporating new and found objects, including fabrics, beads, metal and various embellishments. Through her meticulous handcraft, she is hoping to call attention to the high rates of death in the migratory bird populations. To learn more about the plight of birds, read this fact sheet issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Handmade dead birds with a heart by Renata González captured my fancy.
The birds will be available for purchase at El Día de los Muertos Art and 
Altarpiece Show Opening Celebration in Bisbee and at Pop-Cycle in Tucson.
   To add to the festive flair of the afternoon, my sister brought snacks for everyone to much on. Once you start eating locally-made spicy creamy goat cheese smeared on slices of wild yeast sourdough bread from Guadalupe Baking Company, it is hard to stop.

My sister Juliette keeps everything to make paper flowers stored neatly in an old suitcase.
   At the end of the day, when the fun is done, the clean-up begins. I agree with the observation of humorist Erma Bombeck, "My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance." On the happy side of chores, many hands make light work, and it didn't take long to do what we needed to do to put everything in order.
   Afterwards, Juliette and I had a quick and delicious dinner at High Desert Market before I headed back to Tucson. We ate on the quiet patio where we could feel the first touches of fall floating on the air. The on-going conversations that I have with my sisters keep me sane in a crazy world. On my way home, I felt refreshed and ready for a new work week ahead. Art and companionship do that for me. Add great food to the mix, and I'm about as happy as I can be.

It is critical to buy crepe paper and not tissue paper.
Tissue paper is flimsy, whereas crepe paper can be shaped, stretched and curled.
Papel de China: Making a Variety of Paper Flowers

List of Materials:
Crepe Paper in a variety of colors
18 Guage Wire
Pipe Cleaners in a variety of colors
Pinking Shears
wire cutter(s)
Glue stick(s)
Green Florist Tape
parafin, optional - visit the Bittersweet link below for more information on waxing the flowers for extended life

Additional Information:
History of crepe flowers, plus step-by-step instructions, including patterns... at Bittersweet
Super easy flowers, made fan style with tissue paper and ribbon, at Spanglish Baby
No crepe paper? No tissue paper? No problem! You just need construction paper and a stapler... at Latinaish

                      "Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life." ~Pablo Picasso

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