How to dye natural silk ribbons

Friends, giving you the run down on what I’ve learned to date about dying your own silk ribbons.

A few photos are posted at the bottom of this post and hopefully my rambling outline is helpful. But if in doubt, there is so much information about this online, that you can Google it and easily sort through more details.

Generally speaking, you really need to embrace the idea of going along for the ride. It basically all comes down to science but because we’re working with natural products, there is a lot left up to Mother Nature and how the chemical reactions all happen.

My biggest learning is to stay open to the colours not turning out at all like you imagined (and nothing like that of what results others post on Pinterest).

Even the pH of your tap water will impact the end colour so I certainly wouldn’t go into this hoping to make exact matches of specific colours.

I will say though, I haven’t yet made a colour that I don’t think we’ll use. Because we’re dealing with natural dyes from natural products, they seem to marry quite well with flowers. It’s a beautiful thing. A little bit magical.

If you are after a specific colour range, I would suggest Googling ‘Natural Dye + Your Colour’. People are always experimenting with everything – and I mean everything. Grass, flowers, bark, fruits, herbs, flowers, extracts and plants are all options. 

There really is no limit to what you could think about using but my current favourite is avocado skin or avocado pits. They are different shades of peachy / pink / blush.

I can guarantee you that your shade of blush will be different to what I create  – because the avocados you use will be different and your tap water is different. 

This really is play time. Stay open minded about what happens on the other side and don’t be shy about experimenting a lot.

What kind of silk do I buy?

Nature Silk Crepe de chine. You can get it on Amazon, Ebay and I’m sure other places. Yes, 99% of the time it’s going to come from China and that is what you want (that is where the world’s silk worms actually live).

You can buy it in different weights, referred to as momme: the lower the momme number (12), the thinner the silk; the higher the momme (40), the heavier it is. 

I started with 12 and I really like it – it’s lighter weight than the expensive stuff I’ve bought from well-known silk ribbon brands but hangs beautifully on our bouquets.

It’s about $30 for 1/4 metre but you get a load of ribbons from that one piece of fabric. You’re almost always paying close to $0 for your plant matter to dye with so it’s a low cost creative experiment really.

The process

Create your pot of dye first – every fruit, veg, herb, plant, extract etc. behaves slightly differently so the amount of time you boil and let your mixture stand is totally up to you.

I put the avocado skin in a pot of water and let is simmer for 3-5 minutes and let it sit in the water for another 20 minutes. None of these times are exact so just go with what feels right.

I cut up my ribbons before I put it in the dye, making ribbons about 2-3 cm wide.

Avoid attempting to cut strips of fabric and use the old sewing trick of making a small snip and then tearing it down the fabric. You get those beautifully frayed edges, super straight lines and a beautiful product in my opinion. Pull off any loose threads and you’ve got yourself your base ribbon.

After you’ve removed the skins / plants etc. from your dyed water, place the ribbons in. If the water has cooled down a lot, put it back on the heat for a few minutes to get it back to a simmer and then you can turn it off.

The longer you leave the ribbons in the water, the more colour the ribbons will have. 

Remember too, the ribbon colour in the pot will be different to what the ribbons look like when they’re dried (usually goes a touch lighter). Hang them to dry and you’re good to go.

We straighten ours with an old hair straightener on its lowest setting. 

Can I use a fabric other than silk?

You can but there is a whole other process involved when you use man-made materials.

Natural dying is easiest when you use natural fabrics (silk, linen etc.) and natural pigments from plants.

There is lots of opportunity to trial man-made fabrics but you need to add on a ‘mordant’ stage. I know nothing about that process so if you’re interested, Google it and you’ll find out more about it. 

Experimenting with Vinegar + Baking Soda

Making the world of natural dyes even funner, you can play around with changing the Ph balance of the water – more acidic by adding Vinegar and more alkaline by adding baking soda.

Again, dozens of people are posting about this online so if you’re curious about how baking soda or vinegar will affect the colour of a specific plant, Google it.

But this simple addition opens up a whole other spectrum of colours.

My biggest advice is to make sure you add in the baking soda / vinegar before you put in your ribbons – don’t try to add it in after you’ve put in your ribbons otherwise it leads to an uneven colouring.

I put it in after I’ve strained out the plant matter, but before I put in the ribbon.

How much do you put in? About a tea spoon. I’m far from precise with this one so it’s basically just a spoonful. Put it in and stir it around and you’ll see the colour change instantly.

how to prepare for busy flower seasons

Preparing for Hectic Weeks – My Tips

I know we’ve all been there – it’s 1am and the list of orders to be made doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter. The event day is looming and you’re exhausted, overwhelmed and not sure you’re going to get through this week. Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day, the middle of peak wedding season, as great as it is to be busy, it’s hugely stressful.

In the past five years of running our business, I’ve learned a few tricks to get through these periods. When you’re in the middle of it, you wish you had done just a little bit more to get organised. So here are my top tips:

  1. Get Organised – There are so many details that go into planning an event or sorting through Mother’s Day weekend. I’d suggest you get as much of the non-perishable stuff sorted today as you can. Get your ribbons together, your candles sorted, you cards written. The more you can get done now, the less you need to do on the big day.
  2. Food Prep – How you fuel your body is so incredibly important and when you’re tired and low on energy, you’re body is going to be crazy sugar. Stay one step ahead and get your food sorted for the whole week. Even if it’s soup six nights of the week, who cares? Take-away from the chicken shop? Fabulous. Only in the past few weeks have I become a true food planner but I cannot begin to tell you how helpful this has become. If I know I have dinner sorted before the day even begins, that’s one less decision I need to make today and I can focus on getting through the never-ending list of to-dos.
  3. Prioritise Sleep – I am a person who needs a lot of sleep. I have been ever since I was a little babe. In my 20s, I tried to get by with a little bit less but as I get older, I realise I function best on 7-8 hours every night. Now, I know when we’re in the midst of those hectic weeks, sleep is sometimes the first thing to suffer. But for me, I do everything I can to try to get to bed at a decent hour and sleep (or at least be in bed) for seven hours. If you want to learn more about the importance of sleep, Arianna Huffington is a great place to start.
  4. Make time for yourself – I know, it seems counter-intuitive to make yourself a priority when you think you should be spending another 30 minutes chipping away at the orders, but you’re in this for the long haul. It’s is impossible to build yourself up for a successful flower business if you aren’t finding ways to recharge your batteries, reinvigorate your soul and stepping away from the crazy. For me, it’s sometimes as simple as watering the plants, taking the dog for a slightly longer walk or having a bath with a good book. When I make enough time, my ideal recharge is a few hours at the local movie theatre. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as feel it is something that allows you to step away from the nuttiness of the everyday and reconnect with yourself.
  5. Learn to say No or at least ‘Not Right Now’ – Believe me when I tell you, this is a forever lesson to be learning. I am the first to jump at new opportunities and every day I feel like I come up with some new idea for the business. But when you’re in the midst of the crazy, it’s not the time to start something new. And when those new opportunities come from partners, customers or clients we sometimes put even more pressure on ourselves to immediately jump on the idea. Guys, it’s more than OK in these windows of extreme business it’s totally OK to tell them “Yes I am super keen on working with you but this week is just really full on for me.” Even a simple auto-reply on your email is a great place to start. Acknowledge their email and tell them it’s unlikely you’ll be able to respond in the next 7-10 days (make the window longer than you think, give yourself a little extra time to respond). And even ask them to follow up with you 10 days later – it’s OK to put the responsibility on to them.
  6. Ask for help. Now this is something I am horrible at. I’m incredibly stubborn and always want to be self-sufficient. I’m like a little kid that wants to prove to the world that I can be a super hero, I can do it all on my own. But I know it’s physically not possible. I just can’t. And these days, sleep is such a priority for me that I constantly have to remind myself, if I can get one more pair of hands to help me with this, I can be done sooner and that always means being in bed even earlier. And that to me is the best option. For you, it might be being at home with the kids, playing with your dog or watching another episode of the latest Netflix show. Whatever it is, ask yourself, if I could pay another person $25 – $30 an hour to help, what could that get me? It’s not an easy adjustment to make, but over time I feel like this has made a dramatic impact on our ability to run a more sustainable business.

At the end of the day, when I’m in the middle of the stress, I live by the adage ‘this too shall pass’. And inevitably, it always does. And every time out, I’m always glad I’ve done as much as I can to prepare.

5 things florists need to know before they begin

Top five things I wish I knew when we first started our business

When we started our flower business, I am actually glad we didn’t really know what we were getting into. I know, it sounds a little odd, but if someone had sat me down and said “here is everything you’ll need to know to set up a successful flower business” it would have been so incredibly overwhelming.

It’s been four and a half years and there is so much I want to share. Today, I’m inspired to reflect on my most important observations.

My Top Five Things I wish I Knew When we First Started Our Business

  1. Say Yes Until You Need To Say No – when we started, we took on every opportunity that came our way. Every wedding enquiry, every styled shoot, every flower order. It may sound completely absurd but by taking on every opportunity we quickly gained experience. I was able to play with so many different kinds of flowers and foliage, learning what varieties I am drawn to and which ones I’m not really a fan of. I was able to understand how certain flowers and foliages behave together and how to create a certain effect. It gave me the opportunity to explore and discover my own point of view on floristry and what my heart is drawn to.
  2. Understand Your Costs – I know, everyone hates talking about it but I’m not doing this as a hobby or to simply ‘play with flowers everyday’. Just like going to our old 9-5, this is a job. We need to pay for groceries, rent, and maybe a new pair of shoes every now and again. It’s important to build a sustainable business or it’ll be back to the old 9-5 and working for someone else. Understanding how and where you make money in floristry is incredibly complicated and every week I’m tempted to spend a little too much on beautiful product at the wholesalers. That’s why pricing for profit has been a game changer for us.
  3. There is no one ‘right’ way – when I finished my formal training and certification I thought I knew it all. But I quickly realised there are so many things we were not taught at flower school. How do you create a large-scale installation with impact, but without spending thousands on flowers? How do you transport finished bridal bouquets? How the heck do you price a chuppah design? With every challenge that came up, Sloan and I would talk it through and come up with what we thought was the best solution. And many of those things have stuck with us. Others have evolved into better, simpler solutions. The bottom line is that there truly is no one right way to do anything in floristry. Some approaches are better than others but be reassured that your solution may be perfectly fine.
  4.  Keep learning – I crave learning and enjoy discovering how other florists operate. I’ve invested a lot to attend workshops with other top floral designers, both here in Australia and overseas. It’s been absolutely worth the investment and hope I’m able to do this for many years to come. If I could do it all over again, I would have signed up to freelance with anyone who would have me. Being able to shadow others and learn the practical aspects of how they approach a job is invaluable. You’ll learn something every time out and working with people who are seasoned veterans in this business is a remarkable experience. And don’t just stick to the familiar names, be open to work with people who’s style may not immediately be appealing to you – you’ll learn just as much from them as you will from the florists who you do wish you could immediately emulate.
  5. You are you. Stay in your own lane –  I wish I could say this is something that I learned early and truly follow. But, like most people, it’s something I struggle with each and every day. It’s only been in the last few months that I have come to terms with, and started to enjoy, the fact that what I find appealing is different to what others find beautiful. Floristry is a creative endeavour. It is an art form and you are your own person with your own point of view. Cherish that. Find your own floral design “lane” and stay in it. Don’t simply try to copy someone else’s approach. But do spend time understanding their perspective and the elements of their designs you are attracted to. Adopt those pieces. Evolve your style but stay focused on you and what feels right to you.
  6. Product choice is everything – I know, I said top five, but I just can’t leave this one off the list. Beautiful designs come down to two things 1) understanding the mechanics of how to create a design and 2) selecting the right materials. One of my mentors told me that if you select beautiful flowers and throw them together you can never really go wrong. I whole-heartedly believe this to be true. Selecting the right ingredients is probably 80% of the job when it comes to creating a design. Spend time learning what flowers are in season when and which ones are your favourites. Create your own go-to flower combinations and understand the role of texture, colour and scale and you’ll be armed with the right tools to create beautiful designs.

xx

free guide to flowers

Seasonal Availability

Four years ago I really wish someone had a go-to planner for what flowers are in season when. Over the past few years, I have slowly captured a summary of some of my favourite blooms during each season and now we’ve taken that one step further.

We’ve created a simple seasonal planner outlining what feature flowers are available through the year.

You can download your copy here. 

Of course, this tool comes with two giant caveats:

(1) We are dealing with Mother Nature. We are all very aware of the impacts on weather changes and the roll-on effects that has on access to flowers. Be mindful we’ve done our best to try to capture an authentic view on when each flower is in season but of course this can be out by a few weeks in any given year.

(2) Import/Export policies are constantly evolving and boutique, domestic farmers are seeing the benefits of switching over to growing cut flowers. This means the availability in your state could be different to what we’ve outlined here. When planning for a wedding you can always look at the month leading up to and the month following the client’s wedding date to ensure nothing has been overlooked in your planning.

Two other pieces to note. (1) Growers and wholesalers might refer to flowers by slightly different names. Google is your friend. (2) We lean more towards premium flowers in our wedding designs so only a handful of low-cost flowers are listed on our favourites. We also don’t use tropical flowers much so we have not included these (but it’s safe to assume these are available almost 12 months of the year as most are imported from Asia).

Grab your copy of our guide here.

xx

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