WEDDING FLOWERS: STAGING

We now come to the week of the weedding, and the ‘staging’ of it, that term being used to describe the period during which the church is decorated with flowers and any special exhibitions are mounted. If the wedding is to be opened to the public, staging usually starts on Thursday evening and continues through Friday until about 4.00 pm. Now we come to the daily tasks of the week itself.

Monday

Organization of all mechanics, a vitally important task. The mechanics for garlands, flower balls, pillar tops, etc., should all be made and positioned.

All pedestals and containers provided by the church should be placed in position filled with chicken wire.

The secretary must give all the positions the numbers which will have been allocated to them on the artistic director’s plan.

Check that there are enough watering cans, small florist’s cans with long spouts, and atomizers.

Have ready stub wires, polythene bags, reel wire, string, stub scissors, wirecutters and spare dust sheets.

If possible, have available a large water butt or similar container for water.

Tuesday

In the evening:

Fill all containers — baby baths, buckets, etc — needed for soaking Oasis.

Fill the water butt so that the flower arrangers can easily fill containers from it. This should be inside the building.

Wednesday morning

Start soaking the Oasis.

Wednesday evening and Thursday

The secretary must be present throughout these two days of staging to check with each flower arranger her allotted space and to help generally. The artistic director will also be present to help and advise, and generally the chairman is also available for most of the time.

I have said earlier, but it is worth repeating here, that refreshments for helpers should be available during the staging day, and are much appreciated.

When staging is completed the church should be cleared ready to receive the public. It is important at this point to re-organize the flower pool into colours and to put it into a corner where it will not be seen by visitors. Any replenishments needed during the festival will come from the pool.

All vases and cones should be topped up and all arrangements sprayed, and when these jobs are completed there comes the magic moment when the organizers can stand back and see the results of their year’s work. Even if there have had to be compromises with the design, perhaps due to bad weather and a dearth of flowers, this is still a tremendously exciting time.

Preview

Some churches arrange a preview fo the wedding flowers as a form of publicity before the wedding is opened to the public. The preview takes place during the evening before opening day. Very often it takes the form of a wine and cheese party or a buffet supper. A number of well-known local people — such as the Lord Lieutenant, the Chairman of the County Council, mayors, leaders of district councils and so on — are invited and of course are not asked to pay for their tickets; but members of the general public are asked on the basis that they pay for admission. The refreshments are usually provided in a hall near the church, or in a large house if there is a kind friend of the church who will lend one for this purpose. The visitors arethen able to go round the church in a leisurely way admiring the exhibits in uncrowded conditions: indeed, if they are quite numerous, it may be better to arrange for them to go round at intervals in two or three separate parties.

A preview does, of course, mean a lot of extra work for those members of the festival committee concerned with catering, and also those dealing with publicity, who will be responsible for having tickets printed and for sending out invitations. It is, however, a good way of getting the festival off to a flying start.

PETAL COLLAGE

If the committee decides to have a special exhibit at the flower festival, one of the most dramatic which it can choose is a petal collage. This has its origins in the ancient custom of well-dressing, which is particularly associated with Derbyshire. It is recorded as early as 1350, then seems to have fallen into disuse, but was revived in 1615.

Griselda Blaikiston, who has been concerned with many flower festivals in the Winchester areas, hit upon the brilliant notion of expanding the original rather naïve idea of the well-dressing into a more sophisticated, carefully planned collage, composed primarily of petals but including other plant material. If the instructions are followed and some time and trouble is taken to organize the collage team, the making of the collage is not so difficult as it sounds.

There is, of course, work for one or two people before the festival, and teams are needed on the day, but the great advantage is that the workers can be of all ages. ‘Senior citizens’ are excellent, as are children of about 7-12 years old: and none of them need be flower arrangers, so that it is a lovely way of interesting the entire neighbourhood. The other great advantage is that the publicity team love it. The press nearly always features the collage several days in advance of the festival. I have no doubt that at those festivals at which I have worked and which have included a petal collage the number of visitors has been far greater than is normal.

The construction of the collage calls for various and considerable skills, enormous industry in assembling the petal material, disciplined teamwork in the face of a tight time schedule, patience and concentration by the team members, and constant overall artistic direction, not by the festival’s artistic director, but by someone who has the requisite knowledge and can give her whole time to the task of supervision on the day on which the picture is built up.

The base

The first person whom the committee will need to find is a competent, albeit amateur, carpenter, because the collage has as its base a bed of damp potter’s clay about one inch deep contained within a wooden frame. Because the damp clay is very heavy, and the completed picture will have to be moved from a horizontal to a vertical position, the frame must be strong and rigid. The exact size of the collage is a matter for the committee to decide, but it must be large enough to form a striking exhibit and therefore cannot well be less tham 4ft high and 2ft 6in wide. In a cathedral or large church it may be possible to be more enterprinsing and have, not a single picture, but a triptych, as we did at the St Albans Abbey Flower Festival in 1977.

The first step is to make a wooden frame of the required size. To this is fixed a piece of plasterboard or similar material. This must be strong, yet sufficiently thin for it to be possible to hammer one-inch nails, through it, set all over it and about one inch apart from one another, so protruding that when the frame is turned onto its back one is faced with a bed of nails. When the bed of nails has been formed, the back of the frame is further strengthened with cross-battens. The frame is now ready to receive the clay.

It will be necessary to work out the quantity of potter’s clay required for the particular frame which has been constructed. Many art colleges will lend clay. The purpose of the nails is to hold the clay in place, but the tips of the nails must be just covered. It is essential to have clay in reserve and not to run short.

The clay is mixed with water so as to give it the consistency of sticky, but not too liquid, mud, akin to plasticene. It is essential at all stages of the making of the picture to keep the clay thoroughly damp with a florist’s spray, remembering that the petals have to adhere to it. During the making of the picture it may be found necessary to add clay at the edges, so throughout the process a pail of soft clay must be immediately to hand.

The clay, mixed to the right consistency, is poured onto the bed of nails so as just to cover them. Before starting this operation the frame must be placed on a strong and steady trestle or similar table as near as possible to the place where the collage is to be displayed. This is important, because, as I have said, the clay is very heavy; so when complete the collage, itself fragile, is difficult to move, and the shorter the distance which it has to be moved the better. At least three people will be needed.

It is also vital that the working table is absolutely level, and that when the clay is poured into the frame a completely flat surface is achieved. When the frame has been filled with clay, work on the building up of the picture can begin.

Making the picture

Obviously the committee will decide at an early stage what is to be the subject of the collage. It will usually be a subject associated with the building or the place. When in our village, Flamstead, we had a flower festival in 1973, an attractive stained glass window was chosen as a subject . At St Albans Abbey the triptych portrayed the saint’s martyrdom.

Whatever subject is chosen, an artist must prepare in the appropriate colours the design which is to be copied in petals. Both colouring and design must be clear and simple. During the making of the collage the design – generally called the ‘cartoon’ – must be affixed (probably with adhesive tape) to a wall or large blackboard – remember that the cartoon will be the same size as the collage – so that those working on the collage can easily see and follow it.

The designer of the cartoon must be a competent, but need not be a very experienced, artist. The cartoon for the collage at Flamstead was drawn by an ‘A’ level art student and her college of art was most helpful in every way. They in fact lent us the clay.

The cartoon is traced onto greaseproof paper. Having regard to its size, it is easier from the point of view of transferring it to the clay (the next step) to trace it in two pieces, but they must join exactly.

Assuming that the festival is to open on Thursday evening, and that the collage must be finished by then, the outline of the picture must be put onto the clay on Wednesday. The tracing is laid on the bed of clay and the outlines of the picture are transferred to it by prick marks, made with a toothpick or similar small sharp instrument through the tracing. The marks must be sufficiently close together to preserve the outlines accurately. Bootlace seaweed is then pressed into the outlines so that it is level with the surface of the clay. If the tracing is done in two halves, prick out the first half, take off the tracing, and apply the seaweed. Then repeat the- process with the other half. A bucketful of seaweed is needed, and one requires both the very fine and the thicker variety, as it will be desirable to make some outlines thicker than others.

Skilful use can be made of ‘hooks’ etc in the weed in delineating the outline. Remember that every part of the picture must be carefully outlined. The weed must be kept damp before use. The kind needed can be found in Cornwall and on the west coast of Scotland at low tide. Provided that it is kept damp, it can if need be collected some time before the festival. It is much the best material for outlines but, if it is quite impossible to procure it, black wool can be used instead.

On the basis that the picture has been completely traced in outline in seaweed or wool on Wednesday, work on filling in the picture with petals must begin early on Thursday, not later than 10.00 am if the collage is 4ft x 2ft 6in and is to be finished by 6.00 pm. The work is carried out by teams of four people working in shifts, each team working for two hours at a stretch, with a new team waiting to take ever the moment a shift has finished. The ‘artists’ do not need to have any particular skill provided that they have good concentration and are neat-fingered. They have the cartoon in front of them to copy and the eagle-eyed collage director there to guide them when necessary.

It is essential that each person working on the picture should be provided with: A chair or stool

At least four plastic dishes in which to put petals

About four plastic or wooden cocktail sticks

A pair of nail scissors

A pair of eyebrow tweezers with square ends

It will also be necessary to have some small tables upon which to put the dishes of petals which are being used, and there must be a flower spray for moistening the clay if it shows signs of becoming too dry so that the petals do not adhere properly to it. There is bound to be a good deal of mess, so there should be dust sheets or newspaper to protect the floor. Each worker should also be provided with a pail of clean water and a towel so that she can wash her hands if necessary.

One of the principal skills in planning the collage is the selection of the petals, and the grading of them not only into colours but also into sizes, as the effect of shading can often be achieved by the careful arrangement of petals of the same type and colour of flower or foliage but graduated in size. So that the building up of the picture can continue without interruption the director must know precisely what she wants, and this will involve trying out arrangements of petals in advance, using for this purpose a small board covered with clay. The director will also have to estimate the quantities of different petals required. A great quantity of flowers in needed, especially for the background.

Suitable flowers

Provided that the surface is kept moist – but not too wet — by regular spraying with an atomizer, it is remarkable how long the collage will retain its freshness – even for ten days or more. To some extent, however, the time for which it lasts depends upon the flowers used. Dahlias, for example, arenot very satisfactory and should therefore be avoided.

If at first reading the instructions for making the collage sound too daunting, do think again! The task is not as complicated as it sounds and the project is a fascinating one which, as I have said, greatly increases the number of visitors to the festival. If you are in Derbyshire, find out from the local Tourist Board office when the well-dressings take place and see them if you can. While a petal collage is, as I have explained, a far more sophisticated thing, the well-dressings will help you enormously in visualizing the finished picture.

CHILDREN’S CORNER

Children are eager to help at flower festivals and they like to be responsible for some special feature. They enjoy bringing their proud relations to show them their own particular project. Amongst Sunday school children of reasonable age, Brownies and local schoolchildren, it is possible to find willing and very often original helpers. There are many sorts of decorations for children to do. The following are a few ideas.

Kneelers

In several churches where I have worked the children have made imitation ‘kneelers’ out of flowers. Each child or group of children was provided with a seed tray to be filled with either damp sand or Oasis, into which the children pushed the heads of flowers so as to form a design. Very often they made a background of flat leaves and then made the design on that. It is fascinating how talented small children can be, producing beautiful designs with no apparent help from grown-ups!

The ‘kneelcrs’ were placed together lengthwise on either side of the chancel so as make bright strips of colour leading up to the alter. In another church instead of ‘kneelers’ the same mechanics were used to make a ‘carpet’ in front of the altar. Another place where a carpet could be ‘laid’ would be the porch. Narrow strips on either side leading up to the door would be enchanting.

Fonts

Fonts are very often surrounded by steps. These can be decorated by children to give the effect of beds of flowers simply by putting on the steps tins containing Oasis and filling them with flowers.

Easter garden

At an Easter flower festival the obvious thing for children to make is an Easter garden .

Pew ends and garlands

Older children if they are well supervised can easily make garlands. Equally, if given a pattern, they can do ‘pew ends’. It would be very suitable if these could be incorporated in the children’s corner.

Petal collage Their nimble little fingers are ideal for the delicate work involved. Children aged from about 8-12 are perfect for this work, provided that they are prepared to do a two-hour stretch. My experience is that at first they think that this is too long, but the good ones become so entranced that at the end of that time they have to be prized out of their places.

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