Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady, shares the best ways to preserve a wedding bouquet of flowers
Patricia in Illinois asks “How do you preserve flowers? I have my Mother’s wedding flowers and they are falling apart.”
Many of us have the original flowers that were part of our ancestor’s wedding, funeral, high school graduation or some other life milestone. Patricia has her Mother’s wedding flowers that she would like to preserve. Fresh cut flowers, bouquets and boutonnieres deteriorate immediately upon them being cut from their bushes. Florists use methods to try to prolong the life of fresh cut flowers but inevitably they will die and start to deteriorate.
Robert Lee LeMaster & Marjorie Ann Bartram Wedding, 1962, Melissa Barker Family Photos
Patricia would like to preserve her Mother’s wedding flowers, and as she has stated, they are falling apart. It is important to first gather all the flowers and greenery together to the best of your ability. If the flowers are in a bouquet or some sort of arrangement, I would suggest that you keep that arrangement as original as possible. This means keeping all the ribbons, clips and bows intact just as they are. One of the most important parts of preservation is doing our best to keep things in their original form, just as they were when they were first produced. So, for these wedding flowers I would like to see Patricia keep them in their original state.
Before we handle such delicate items, it is important that our hands be clean and free of any lotions or hand creams. The chemicals in these lotions can adversely affect the flowers. There is no need to wear gloves, in fact, it is preferred that gloves NOT be used in this instance. The reason? When gloves are worn, they remove the textile sensation you need to feel the items you are working with in this situation. It is vital that we be able to feel the flowers and know how we handle them so we do not cause any damage.
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons
The archival materials Patricia will need for this project are archival tissue paper and an archival box. You can purchase these items at any online archival store (see list below). If the flowers are real, use unbuffered tissue paper. If the flowers are artificial, you can use buffered archival tissue paper. If you do not know the difference, see my previous column here. It is important to make sure you have a large enough box so that the flowers do not bend or get crushed in any way. Give the flowers plenty of room in the archival box.
Line the archival box with the archival tissue paper. Be sure to use enough of the tissue paper to give enough cushion for the flowers to lay on. The flowers, especially if they are already falling apart as Patricia describes, need to have a lot of support in the box so when they are stored, they will not get damaged. Once the flowers are laid in the tissue lined box, place archival tissue paper on top of the flowers and cover completely. Be sure not to press down as to crush the flowers, gently lay the archival tissue paper on top of the flowers.
Courtesy Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences
Before placing the lid on the box, sit down and write up the entire story of the flowers. In Patricia’s case, these were her Mother’s wedding flowers. So, write up as much as you know about the wedding, maybe even include any copies of newspaper wedding announcements, a copy of the marriage license and even a photo of the happy couple if you have one. Be sure that the copies are all made on archival copy paper and place the records that document these flowers on the top of the tissue paper and then place the lid on the box.
Most importantly, store the preserved flowers in a cool, dark and dry place. Hot temperatures and humidity will make the flowers extremely brittle and they will literally deteriorate in the box and will turn to dust. The cooler the storage area is, the better it is for the flowers.
Patricia has a wonderful family artifact in her Mother’s wedding flowers. They tell the story of her Mother’s wedding and genealogy is about the stories of our ancestors. That is how we connect to our ancestors and why we should be preserving these artifacts and the family stories that go with them.
Online Archival Supply Stores
- Gaylord Archival
- Hollinger Metal Edge
- University Products
- Light Impressions
- Archival Methods
- Print File Archival Storage
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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