I get asked this question so often when customers come into the shop and see a tribute, bouquet or other different flowery item that is waiting to go out on delivery - although more so with a sympathy tribute that is a break from the norm, than anything else.
"At the beginning" is my usual reply. But where is that beginning? How does the idea in someones head get transformed into a floral tribute? Slowly is the only answer to that.
I deliberated long and hard about this blog entry; whether I should or shouldn't do it - for more reasons than one that will come to light as I go along - but in the end I decided that I would write it and share with you all. Several florist friends have told me not to do this, as they've said I may be giving away ideas to people that didn't spend 2 days a week at college, the other 4 (often 5) days of the same week standing knee deep in stagnant water scrubbing vases (yes my first boss was very old school and I wasn't allowed to touch a flower - other than when I was conditioning them - until I had finished college and was a qualified florist). This took me 2 years of hard work and long hours (I received 1 weeks holiday in my first year - when I wasn't at college I had to go in to work - and 2 weeks in my 2nd year). This would NEVER be allowed in this day and age (although I still only have 1 week a year - but this time because it is my business and not because I am working for someone else). Those florist friends make a great point. Why should I have gone through all that hassle, long hours, and grief to just give away how I make something that someone else may copy? My response was that in 27 years of this job I have NEVER before been asked to make the item I am going to share with you, so I don't really feel as if I am giving anything away. I also think it would be nice for people to see that I don't just "get to play with flowers all day" as seems to be the general consensus. My job (a florists job) is actually a lot more technical than that and also a lot dirtier (but the compost, floor scrubbing and all the general dirty day to day bits - there is very little "playing" in this job - can wait for another blog).
So where to start? At the beginning, with the customer that asked me if I could make a set of Knuckle Dusters for the funeral of his friend. This in itself has caused discussion among other florists - some of whom have said they would have refused the order because of what it implies - but I judge NOBODY on anything and if someone trusts me to make something for them, then I'm going to make what they ask for.
Quoting for bespoke items is the hardest part of the whole order; how much to charge for making such an item? Thankfully years of practice come into play at this point and I am able to work out what I'm going to need and can price accordingly; there would be nothing worse than running out of flowers before all the oasis is covered (sadly I have seen many people do this where they are not experienced enough to take on such an item and they send a tribute off with huge gaps in; I've also seen people use chrysant that is so old it is falling apart as they use it or all brown on the edges). I also don't want to get left with a load of double chrysant that cannot be used (I chose yellow for this tribute as the gold spray paint will cover better, but yellow double is something that we are never asked for in our general floristry, so I didn't want to have too many stems left over). As it was I got it spot on and didn't have a single stem left (and not a gap, shattered flower or mouldy piece to be seen) The chrysant for this item came into me FRESH yesterday lunchtime; I then allowed it to drink for 24 hours before using it so that I know it won't wilt or shatter, and that the customer has got the best quality he can have - I know some shops that use up old flowers on their funeral work and this annoys me immensely as their customers have paid a lot of money and deserve to receive the best quality regardless of how long the flowers need to last; home workers, that buy the cheap stuff left over in the supermarkets for their funeral work should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
The next thing that needs to be done is to find an image (unless the customer has bought their own photo in) so that I have a guide to aide in the design. For the this tribute I chose these; I did however choose not to add the points as this was the only one I found that had them; the rest were just smooth edges.
A lot of the ones I came across had a cut out section under the finger holes, but the gentleman that placed the order wanted the name of the man that has passed away to be on them, so I chose a set that had a solid section under the holes. He also asked for them to be made in a gold colour.
Next I needed to get together the equipment for the design. The oasis design sheet is one of the best things that has ever been invented (in my opinion). It gives us the option to make practically anything ourselves - before this invention we would have to play with wire and moss, which could leave our arms and hands covered in scratches and gouges; the only danger we have now is oasis in our eyes (don't rub if you get any; bathe with warm water and blink lots) and the odd sliced finger from the knife; a small price to pay in comparison.
The sheet I bought was 24" x 24"; I needed it to be 24" x 18" as this was the size I had agreed with the customer, so a ruler and sharp knife took the excess off (this is then stored to be used at a later date). Once the sheet it cut to size it is down to my skills as an artist to copy the image I have onto the design sheet (sometimes the images are so small I have to squint to see the details - thankfully this item I was able to pull up to fit the computer screen without distortion - so it was a decent size for me to view) come into play.
Now this is where I came across a dilemma. Ideally I wanted to cut around the whole shape, and remove the finger holes completely; however, this then renders the base weaker than I would like, and although funeral directors try their best to be careful, they are nowhere near as concerned about the floral tributes as we are, so can be a bit heavy handed. As a result of knowing this I made the decision to only remove the outline; the finger holes I removed the oasis to create depth but left the base board in place.
Once a tribute is at this stage it is normal for us to then edge the whole design with ribbon, but as this was such a specific item I chose not to frill it up; I did still need to cover the boards base though - this part cannot be flowered as it is a hard resin of foam - so I used some shiny gold organza that I have; I folded it to get the right width and then pinned it on so that it only covered the base, leaving the oasis free for flower stems. The flower heads if placed correctly will then cover the gold ribbon.
So why use ribbon in the first place? Because it gives me piece of mind that I've covered the base in the event one of the edge flowers gets damaged when the funeral directors are moving it from the car to the cemetery/crematorium.
Next on the list is to water the oasis (carefully with a watering can) and then add the flowers. Now I know that as a rule knuckle dusters are flat, but because I had been asked to put the gentlemans name on the tribute, I did raise the flowers slightly in the section below the finger holes, just to ensure that his name is seen ok and not lost among the flowers.
Once the item is flowered and I am happy I've been able to keep to the shape that has been drawn out, then it is time to spray paint. Thank goodness we have an area out the back of the shop for this; and thank goodness for the invention of masks (this tribute actually took 2 cans of paint to ensure full coverage - without a mask I dread to think how many toxins and how much paint my lungs would have inhaled). The gold on yellow took fairly easily and covered really well; the worst is having to spray black, blue or red onto a white base. That can take 6 or 7 thick coats and still some white will show through as the flower petals open.
The only other thing left to do once it is sprayed, the name is on and a rose or 2 have been added, is to pop the card on and then remove the background from the photograph so that I can add it to the online photo albums we have.
Thankfully this was a fairly straight forward shape with just the single colour, but I am sure it gives you some idea of the amount of work that goes into making a bespoke tribute. To my florist friends I hope I haven't given away too many secrets?