Pressing flowers can be fun and easy to do. Best of all, it doesn't require any expensive or hard-to-find equipment. Traditional flower presses can be purchased at any craft store, but they are not necessary. All you need—besides the flowers—is pressure, absorbent paper, and warmth.
Gathering Flowers to Press
The ideal time to pick leaves and flowers for pressing is late afternoon on a dry summer day because this is when a plant's moisture content is at its lowest. (Incidentally, this is the worst time to pick flowers if you plan to display them in vases.)
The best plants for pressing are those that are already flat such as pansies, daisies, lily of the valley, buttercups, and violets. Other flowers that work well are bleeding hearts, geraniums, baby's breath, and bluebells.
However, you can press more than just flowers. Strawberry leaves, ivy, mint, lavender, and garden sage also work well. Feel free to experiment with other flowers and plants as well. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Choose flowers that are in full bloom. Snip each piece, leaving 1/2 inch of stem attached. As you pick, carefully spread the flowers out into a basket, making sure they don't touch.
Press the material immediately before they dry out.
Almost any flat, heavy object will work to provide the necessary pressure: phone books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and family bibles are some traditional examples. However, it is not advisable to put the flowers directly between the pages of the book because the flowers could stain the paper. Instead, place the plants between sheets of absorbent paper on a shelf and place the book on top. You might want to surround the flowers with sheets of cardboard. The cardboard will ensure that both the thick and thin parts of the flower are held firmly in place without smashing or bruising.
Although there is specially designed blotter paper that you can use. Blank newsprint or extra-thick paper towels work just as well. Blank newsprint can be purchased by the pad at art and office supply stores.
Making Your Own Press
If you plan to do a lot of pressing, you might want to consider making your own press. Simply cut two matching pieces of 1/2 inch thick plywood for the top and bottom of the press. The plywood should not be larger than 9 inches by 12 inches. Drill holes through the boards at the corner and insert long bolts that can be tightened with wing nuts. Fill the center with alternating pieces of absorbent paper and cardboard cut to fit the plywood, beginning and ending the stack with cardboard. If you don't want to drill holes, you can secure the ends with clamps.
For even better results, consider making padded boards. You will need two pieces of raw cardboard, or chipboard, fiberfill, and one piece of nylon tricot-knit fabric. Because fiberfill is made out of non-absorbent polyester, it allows the moisture to evaporate. The padding needs to be about 1 1/2 inches thick for larger flowers like roses, daisies, dahlias, delphiniums, or zinnias. For smaller or more delicate flowers like forget-me-nots, pansies, and violets, the padding only needs to be 1/2 inch thick.
To make the board, spray fabric glue over the surface of one of the pieces of cardboard and press the piece of fiberfill onto it. Then spray glue over the top of the fiberfill, lay the fabric on top, and press the fabric so that it sticks to the fiberfill. Only pad one piece of the cardboard, otherwise there will not be enough pressure to press the flower.
Flowers should be pressed according to their varieties. For example, all violets should be pressed between one set of pages and all pansies on another set of pages. Lay the plants leaving about 1/2 inch of space between them. Place at least two sheets of newsprint or paper towel between each layer. Never try to press more than three layers of plant material at one time. Big full flowers, such as roses and peonies, should be pressed individually. Roses can also be split down the middle before pressing. Start where the stem and flower meet and cut down through the stem. Then slice upward through the petals and press the two halves against each other.
If you want the flowers to retain good color and form, you will need consistent heat throughout the pressing process. Attics, trunks of cars, and garage shelves work in warm weather. If the weather is cold, preheat the oven to 100ºF. Turn off the oven and put the press inside. Repeat this process each day until the flowers are dry. You will want to place a sign on the oven to remind yourself that the flowers are inside.
Drying time will vary depending on the temperature, humidity, and type of flower. Small flowers may be dry within four to five days. Larger flowers could take as long as eight days. Dry flowers will be stiff and papery. Removing the flowers before until they are completely dry could cause them to shrink and pucker.
If flowers have become stuck to the paper, slip a thin knife under the flowers. Trying to pull them off could cause them to tear. Flattened polyester pads can be restored by using a little steam. Store flowers in a box between layers of tissue paper in a warm, dry spot until you are ready to use. Pressed flowers can be used to enhance writing paper, create greeting cards, decorate gift tags, and embellish photos.