I'm packing it up this weekend to send to a bookbinding competition, so I took some pictures before it goes. The insides are a journal through pressed flowers, & occasional leaves, mostly from my garden. Color swatches on the left show the original color(s) for when the flower eventually fades. It's been interesting to see what happens to them in the press, actually—most flowers keep their color or get pale/turn brown right away, but occasionally, like a delphinium I took out today, the color is deeper and nicer than in real life.
F I N I S H E D. A labor of love is still a labor. And when your covering material is so pricey, you don't exactly breathe easily while it's tight in the press, and you have no idea if it's going to work. But it did!
I only just made the connection but I had a flower press when I was a kid, a simple one with a wooden top and bottom, connected with four bolts & wingnuts in the corners, with cardboard and papers between. The lid had pressed flowers embedded in varnish—now this book reminds me of that.
I suspect that the color in the flowers will not last forever, but hopefully longer than it would if they were exposed freely to the air and in direct sunlight. The purple in the anemone on the front board immediately turned a little brown in places just in the covering, though the one on the back hasn't. A little color leached out of one of the crocuses onto the paper behind it—I was expecting more of that, actually, since so much color comes off onto the blotters in the initial pressing.
The boards and endpapers have relaxed a lot since the casing in was finished, but not entirely yet, so forgive them that for now, & sniff at it later if they haven't gone down!
Some last photos from making it:
About the skin, because I anticipate questions: a technique for making transparent vellum was patented by Edwards of Halifax in 1785, though others had done it before in other ways. Halifax apparently soaked the skin in potassium carbonate (pearl ash), then dried it under tension/pressure. We learn to be careful of too much pressure on damp vellum, as well as heat, because of the risk of making it transparent. Well, when I tried the Halifax method, I got that skin wet, wet and warm, wet and hot, pressed tight, stretched tight, rubbed, rubbed harder, all to no avail. It was just as opaque as the day it was made, and no worse for wear either. Plan B was to make inset panels in a full vellum binding, for a snake's head fritillary on one side and the poppy used here on the other, but in the end I was set on my original idea, so I shelled out for a full transparent skin from Cowley. It was worth it.
Aside from a few spots where it is still opaque, this vellum is completely transparent. I could see the scratches in my cutting mat through it. I could see my fingerprints through it. Just a little on the yellow side, so I used a bright white paper to cover the case—the result is a slight creamy color that works well with the flowers. I decided to include the little bit shown above right, where the veins weren't completely drained. A reminder that the skin on the book used to be the skin on an animal.
Handmade flax & abaca paper: Chris Petrone, Women's Studio Workshop (US)
Marbled paper: Kate Bret, Payhembury (UK)
Normal vellum for sewing supports: Pergamena (US)
Transparent vellum for covering, alum taw for endbands: Cowley (UK)
Vellum over boards instructions: Peter Verheyen, Philobiblon
Pressed flowers: mostly from my roof & window boxes
It's been colorful on my desk the last few days: all the flowers came out of blotters livened up the paper-covered case I made for the book. Even normal vellum is a little transparent, and must be backed with paper—this skin is so transparent you can read writing on the back of a piece of paper through it. And so the case had to be covered in paper first, to make it all white, then the flowers were pasted to that, then the vellum pasted on top. A ton of pressure in the press first, to sink the flowers into the boards, then I pasted them into their shallow beds. In the end I thought it would be best not to lay flowers over the joints, although it looked really satisfying, because I doubt they'll stand up to the stress of folding as the book opens.
I think the pale blue iris is the best; it grows no taller than the stem it has here, and is the first to come out. All the veins in the petals and stem came out in such detail. The big poppy on the front board is another favorite—poppies already look like tissue paper when they're alive, and it retained all of that character pressed. Also present (amongst some long-forgotten ones): crocus, primrose, winter aconite, anemone, nasturtium, nigella, forget-me-not, viola, ceropegia woodii, campanula, passion flower, lewisia, heuchera, osteospermum, bleeding heart.
Some small pictures, to tide over until I get the "real" ones off the camera:
I've been going through the bible for a more thorough condition report, and have found loads of pressed flowers and leaves in the gutters. A bible is great for pressing, of course, usually being the biggest and heaviest book around, so it's not uncommon but nicely timely. The last one is my favorite.
My herbarium is coming along between treatment proposals and lecture writing: I chose really beautiful handmade paper made by Chris Petrone of the Womens' Studio Workshop, with nonpareil marbled endpapers from Payhembury. I dyed Pergamena vellum green for the tapes. I've worked on a few green vellum account bindings and the color is really satisfying. And then I took a last look at the deckle edges—lovely but uneven & difficult to turn—and plowed them right off. I found immense satisfaction in putting the trimmings in my vermicomposting bin, though! The worms will eat them, which enrich the soil, which will grow new plants, which will become pressed specimens for the herbarium. It's too perfect.
I wasn't sure what to do with the head edge, and colored it yellow with gamboge first, but on second thought rubbed some Prussian blue in and made them the same green as the vellum supports. More or less exactly the same green. That was pretty satisfying, and with a little wax & burnishing they're super shiny. Endbands are green, blue-green, & a pale blue over alum taw & vellum cores. I made the vellum long to lace it into the case with the sewing support slips.
The next step is done, making the case Bradel-style, to be covered in white vellum. I was planning on making it go transparent by soaking it in potassium carbonate & pressing hard, à la Edwards of Halifax, but no matter how I've tried to do it, I haven't managed to affect any change in the skin. Plan B has just come to me in writing this, though, so stay tuned for covering & lacing in.
Now, if only the sun would stay out a little longer, & get my plants growing faster...
One of the last things I did when I worked at Columbia was mounting sheets from an herbarium. I love these old specimens, taped flat to support sheets, especially when labels are handwritten. I didn't know until recently that herbaria are still made, although it makes sense to preserve primary source material for future research.
I've been pressing flowers and foliage in my book press for months now, between blotter and Bondina (nonwoven polyester), under whatever conservation or binding work is in there. And recently I thought about a ream of nice paper I have, and my pile of pressed plant bits from my rooftop garden & window boxes, and decided I should make my own herbarium.
It's kind of amazing which plants keep their color—canary creeper leaves still look beautiful with mottled yellow & green; heuchera kept the rainbow of autumn colors. The bright purple campanula flowers have almost no color left. The fluorescent magenta delosperma flower turned sort of faded orange. And the red poppy, the reddest red there is, is still a rich color but more of a crimson. I think the poppy is my favorite whisper-thin specimen so far, but there are always new ones waiting in the press: