Artificial flowers are artificial plants reproduced from nature, the color, shape and texture of which can hardly be distinguished from their natural models in high-quality products today. Artificial flowers used for decorative purposes have been known since ancient times. There are artificial flowers made of plastics, paper, silk, wax, glass and other materials, as well as combinations of materials.
According to tradition, artificial flowers have been around for around 3000 years. The first written mention is derived from the Old Testament. In the first book of kings in the chapter "King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba " (10.1–13 EU ) it is mentioned that she used various, but not specified there, puzzles to check whether he was worthy of her. These puzzles were concretized in Christian legends of the Middle Ages. This is where artificial flowers come into play: A riddle addressed to Solomon is said to have been to find out which of twelve lilies are real and which are artificial. Since he could not tell the difference with the naked eye, King Solomon let bees into the room and observed which of the lilies they settle on. These were the real ones.
In ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, making wreaths was a recognized trade. In order for the wreaths to retain their natural appearance even when fresh flowers are in bloom, the wreath weavers also woven immortelles, wintergreens or wax flowers into them.
The Roman historian Pliny reports of precious wreaths with flowers made of papyrus bark and silk, imported from Egypt. They were also scented. The possession of silk flowers or artificial flowers, which were deceptively similar to natural flowers, may have long been restricted to the particularly wealthy section of the population. It can be assumed that with the fall of the Roman Empire, the art of making silk flowers and artificial flowers was almost forgotten.
Middle Ages, Renaissance
With the spread of Christianity and the associated veneration of Mary and the saints, the need arose in the monasteries and churches of Europe to decorate altars and images of saints with flowers as a symbol of special veneration and praise.
Initially south of the Alps, nuns tried to counteract the early wilting or the seasonal lack of natural flowers. Using means and techniques that were still imperfect at first, they cut flowers out of fabric. Church authorities soon issued regulations to improve the quality and style of artificial altar and processional decorations.
In the course of time, Italian nuns achieved mastery in making artificial flowers. They found imitators in the secular realm who made haberdashery from the waste of the northern Italian silk factories. They formed the most important European silk industry from the 14th to 17th centuries. The "Welschen flowers" were one of their most important export items until the 18th century.
The use of fine silk gauze, the unspun remains of the silk cocoons, refined methods of dyeing and continuously improved techniques of joining the petals together increased the quality and appearance.
Baroque, rococo, modern times
From northern Italy, the production of artificial flowers gradually found its way across the Alps: to Bohemia and Paris, which dominates fashion.
The more artificial flowers were able to establish themselves as jewelry and accessories for clothing and became an economic factor, the more production was transferred from the nuns to paid workers, the greater the pressure to rationalize production and better organize sales.
Children sorted and assembled the tiny flowers. Women processed and arranged larger blossoms and flowers as decorations for clothes, into bouquets, garlands and arrangements. Men punched flowers and leaves with punches, dyed and finished the fabrics, and wrapped wires with green paper for flower stems. Load carriers brought the stacked flat cardboard boxes to commercial customers.
Since only men were fully competent, they founded and directed the manufactories and factories or were publishers for the silk flowers that were created in homework.
Huguenots who had emigrated brought the art of flowermaking from France to Berlin around 1780 and founded a flower factory there . Their success led to the establishment of flower factories in other German states. In Saxony-Weimar z. B. Friedrich Justin Bertuch founded a factory for the production of paper flowers . Among the fifty workers was Christiane Vulpius , who later became Goethe's wife.
Perhaps that is why these verses about artificial flowers recited by gardeners have crept into Goethe's "Faust", Part II:
"Because we consider it meritorious, / entirely praiseworthy, / our flowers, shiny artificial, / continue to bloom all year round."
The products made from linen, paper and dyed wood shavings certainly did not always correspond to today's expectations. But the production of silk flowers was an easy and clean activity and therefore very popular with women.
When Saxony entered the German Customs Union in 1834, the artificial flowers previously imported from Bohemia were subject to considerable tariffs. Production facilities were set up in the Saxon town of Sebnitz and Neustadt to serve the Zollverein's market.
With the advent of mechanical looms, many of the existing hand weaving mills in the Sebnitz area had to close. The female workers who were freed quickly learned how to make flowers and did part of the production process as homework. After all, around 75% of German artificial flowers were produced in this Saxon region.
The leap onto the world market succeeded in the war years 1870–1871, when the French companies in besieged Paris could no longer deliver. The steady growth continued until the end of the Great Depression in 1928. After that, the need for artificial flowers fell sharply: hat shapes and dresses became simpler and dispensed with these trimmings. In the time of National Socialism, racial policy forced the breakdown of business relationships with the predominant part of sales representatives, wholesalers and department store owners. They were Jews.
After the Second World War
In 1953, over 100 companies in the Sebnitz-Neustadt area were brought together in the VEB Kunstblume. During the GDR era, flower production was geared towards the procurement of foreign currency. The products were therefore heavily subsidized and were sold abroad at 25% of the calculated price. Although production was carried out for the European market, the general lack of foreign currency and the systemic restrictions of the socialist planned economy did not allow the purchase of high-quality basic materials or adaptation to changing fashion. After the reunification the economic basis for the silk flower industry in Sebnitz ceased to exist.
Manufacturers in the Far East, on the other hand, have been able to produce more cheaply since the 1970s and quickly adapt to changing fashions. Today they rule the market.
The aim of the manufacture of silk and artificial flowers has been the manufacture of products that are as natural as possible since the 18th century at the latest. Diderot and d'Alembert described the production of silk flowers in words and pictures as early as the 18th century in their Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire raisonnée des sciences, des arts et des métiers .
The original work steps - punching, dyeing, shaping, finishing, assembling and garnishing - have not fundamentally changed to this day. However, the individual production steps were continuously refined, rationalized and considerably improved through the use of special machines and devices. This has led to a constant improvement in quality and appearance.
Pure silk flowers are nowadays only produced by a few small and specialized companies because of the costly and laborious handicraft and are correspondingly expensive.
Today artificial flowers are mainly made from polyester and paper. A polyester fabric often replaces the original silk. Nevertheless, the traditional term “silk flowers” is also used for these products in everyday language.
Polyester and paper
The polyester fabric is first soaked in gelatine to stiffen it. Then it is cut or punched into leaf shapes and flowers. Then the leaf and flower veins are printed on. They get their shape with appropriately designed heated presses. The next step is to assemble the flowers from the inside out. Finally, the flower is placed on a stem made of appropriately colored material and provided with a thin metal rod for stabilization. Attaching the leaves completes the production process. Products made in this way can be so close to nature in terms of shape, color and texture that they can sometimes only be distinguished from natural flowers and plants with Solomonic wisdom.
Artificial flowers made from soap are less common. They are either carved out of a block of soap and are therefore rarely identical. Or, in another manufacturing process, oil-free soap is ground into a powder and mixed with water. This paste is pressed into a model. Leaf and flower textures are pressed on in complex and expensive operations or applied with a roller.
Wax flowers have a porcelain-like appearance and are therefore also called porcelain flowers. They are made from fresh cut flowers held in shape with wire and dipped in liquid paraffin or wax. This coating preserves the flowers. The wax layer, which is thinner than the paraffin coating, makes the flowers appear lighter, more pastel-like.
Wax flowers were widespread as fashion articles and fashion applications until around 1960, made from strips of paper preformed with wire or wood and dipped in wax. The cooled wax layer was usually painted and additionally garnished.
A third method is to use modeling wax, material for stamens and wire. A pearl is pulled onto the wire, which will later become the flower stem, and fixed by twisting the wire. Alternatively, artificial stamens are twisted together with myth wire and attached to the wire. The petals cut from the modeling wax are pressed against the pearl or the stamens and brought into the desired shape. Finally, the wire is wrapped in colored paper.
Clay and paper mache
In artificial flowers made from clay, the clay is ground and mixed with water and paint. In a similar way, artificial flowers are made from paper mache. Even if these floristic decorations are less realistic than silk and artificial flowers made of polyester and paper, well-crafted and stylistically well-made specimens can be used excellently for home decoration.
Artificial flowers made from plastic are mass-produced by injection molding. As a rule, their processing, texture and appearance do not reach the quality of artificial floristry made of polyester and paper. In hot countries they are often used as grave decorations.
A specialty are lifelike artificial flowers made of glass. One of the few large and outstanding collections is at Harvard University in the USA. It represents 837 species of flora occurring in the United States and was made between 1887 and 1936 by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka in Hosterwitz near Dresden. The glass flowers allow botany students to study plants and flowers regardless of the climate and season.
Contemporary decoration made of silk flowers and artificial flowers
Nowadays, high-quality silk flowers and artificial flowers can often only be distinguished from natural flowers after careful consideration, especially when they are combined with prepared natural flowers and grasses.
They can be used to create decorative flower arrangements that are adapted to the most varied of ambiences, in which blossoms, leaves and also fruits can be composed and arranged regardless of the seasonal occurrence in nature or the climatic zone. Modern materials and the perfect imitation of natural colors, shapes and surfaces are able to deceive even bees and butterflies in such a way that they only give up the search for nectar after a while. Artificial floristry requires little maintenance and has a long shelf life. It often pleases the eye for years - regardless of the season. That is why it is particularly suitable for modern apartments and for business premises from practices or law firms to restaurants or public spaces such as office buildings, train stations or shopping malls.
In Germany only a few, often smaller, companies use the artificial flowers, leaves and fruits produced by the industry to make flower arrangements for the whole year and especially for the Christmas season or Easter.
Even rarer are manufacturers who, by composing artificial flowers and leaves with carefully prepared natural flowers and grasses, produce floristic products that deceptively imitate nature and offer them directly to the end customer. Her bouquets, flower wreaths and flower arrangements are characterized by a special variety of leaf shapes and flowers. Christmas arrangements or Advent wreaths stand out from the usual through the use of different types of fir branches, ribbons or flowers.
An ethnobotanical specialist article in the online journal "Ethnobotany Research and Applications - A Journal of Plants, People and Applied Research" from April 1, 2007, in which artificial flowers and real biological organisms were examined in detail, received attention.
- Flowers, artificial . In: Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon . 6th edition. Volume 3, Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig / Vienna 1905, pp. 73–74 .
- Alfred Meiche : The beginnings of the artificial flower industry in Dresden, Leipzig, Berlin and Sebnitz. Meinhold, Dresden 1908. ( digitized version ).
- Tione Raht: The history of the silk flowers. Hanover 1981.
- Bruno Schier : The artificial flower from antiquity to the present. History and peculiarities of folk arts and crafts with a song by Josefa Elstner-Oertel. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1957.
- Manfred Schober : The Sebnitz artificial flower. Dresden 1994.
- Tione Raht: The history of the silk flowers. Hanover 1981, ISBN 3-7944-0113-1 .
- The Queen of Sheba and King Solomon , accessed December 2, 2009.
- floral decoration. In: Encyclopædia Britannica . Retrieved December 12, 2009 .
- Flowers, Artificial . In: Encyclopædia Britannica . 11th edition. tape 10 : Evangelical Church - Francis Joseph I . London 1910, p. 573 (English, full text [ Wikisource ]).
- Manfred Schober: The Sebnitzer artificial flower - the history of a craft under the sign of fashion. Dresden / Basel 1994, ISBN 3-364-00302-5 .
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: Faust, The tragedy II part. Verse 5096-5099.
- Encyclopédie, article Fleuriste artificiel , p. 6.866 f, University of Chicago, Projekt Encyclopédie, accessed on December 8, 2009.
- Wikipedia: wax flower (decoration)
- flowers . peppiclip.de; Retrieved December 12, 2009
- The Glass Flowers. Harvard Museum of Natural History, Glass Flower Collection.
- Nat Bletter, Kurt A. Reynertson, Julie Velasquez Runk: Artificae Plantae: The taxonomy, ecology, and ethnobotany of the Simulacraceae. In: Ethnobotany Research and Applications. 5, 2007, pp. 159-177 ( journals.sfu.ca ).