Susie Beech started her paper flower-making business A Petal Unfolds in 2013, while looking for a way to spend less time in front of the screen. She had graduated with a degree in Fine Art Printmaking from Brighton and was beginning a career in digital photography, but “I was getting restless,” she says. “I wanted to get back to making things with my hands, so I started trying out different crafts and came across paper flower-making. I was blown away – I’d never seen anything like it before.” She started by following online tutorials posted by a blogger in America and before long she was hooked. “There wasn’t a huge amount of instruction on how to make them back then, but I found an old booklet on paper flower -making from the 60s and I learnt a lot from that. Once you pick up a few techniques, you can start making new designs, in your own way.”
Her main material is crêpe paper, “because you can bend it and shape it. It’s got a stretch to it, so you can manipulate it really easily to get a natural, organic look.” The flowers are each built around a piece of floral wire, and the tiny stamens are the same as those used in sugarcraft. Everything is held together with a few dots of Aleene’s Tacky Glue – “legendary” among the paper flower-making community. “They’re stronger than they look,” she says. “People are a bit wary of touching them, but you can bend them and drop them and they’re fine – they’re tougher than real ones.”
Over the last five years, paper flower craft has been making a comeback. “There are more and more people doing it, and it’s become more and more realistic,” Susie says. “People are really pushing the limits of what you can achieve with crêpe paper: the flowers can look like real botanical pieces.” She began to connect with other ‘paper florists’ on Instagram and soon their work was picked up by the creative blog Design*Sponge. “We started gaining a following, and it really took off from there.”
People have bought the flowers for paper wedding anniversaries, and as gifts in hospital wards that don’t allow real flowers. “My very first sale was to a florist who needed daffodils, but they were out of season,” says Susie. Increasingly, her customers have been people wanting to learn the craft for themselves; most of her time now is spent running workshops in Brighton and in London, in which she teaches people how to make their first basic flower. This month she’s running a Paper Wild Rose workshop at One Girl Band in Vine Street (tickets £50).
“The best one I’ve made recently is a Columbine flower,” Susie says. “They’re pretty complicated – they’ve got this amazing tail on the back like something from another world. My favourites are always the latest ones I’ve made because they’re exciting and new.” But the customers’ favourites? “Always peonies. People go crazy for peonies.”