Using Flowers in your dressmaking

posted in: Inspiration, SWAP | 9

I recently went to see the Botticelli exhibition.

The thing I loved the best was Flora. Her great beauty is enhanced by flowers that pick up the warm blonde of her hair, the light blue, white and almost black of her eyes, the rosy orange of her lips and deeper pink of her blushes. The very dark green/black motifs stop her looking sickly or too girlish. Her hair is threaded with flowers , and a little drown is piled on the top of her head. A wreath-collar-necklace made of the darkest evergreen leaves encircles her neck, and woven into the base are sprigs of wild flowers; their colours, a little stronger and deeper than those on her head. And under the collar is a silk or cotton dress, painted with flowers. Here the palette is more restricted – just reddish pinks, deep green and the natural-white ground. What skill Botticelli exhibits not just in terms of his painting technique and ability to capture beauty, but also in creating harmony between the human form and nature. The pink-blue-yellow, grounded with a judicious use of both softened black and white make the colour composition come alive.  This image has inspired dress designers, through the ages, to work flowers into clothes. At the V&A exhibition you can see how Schiaparelli did this in her 1938 Pagan collection.

Botticelli's Flora
Botticelli’s Flora

Chanel uses feathers and strong colours to create a beautiful floral dresses.

Chanel use of Flowers
Flowers at Chanel
Chanel floral motifs
Chanel catwalk with flowers

This lovely dress is by Marc Bohan from the 1960s. It looks like he has used millinery flowers on a creamy linen dress. It may include applique, embroidery or printing too. This dress is in the FIDM museum which looks like an amazing place to discover. Unfortunately its website search doesn’t work very well.



Here is a dress by Alexander McQueen that I saw last year at the V&A. This too was inspirational for me. He ensures that floral is not sweet, but edgy. Purple, brown and greenish flowers are often the plants which encourage insects that feed on dead things.

Alexander McQueen floral dress S/S 2007
Alexander McQueen floral dress S/S 2007

Below I have three images of the recurring attraction of floral embellishment of clothing. In the first I am a bridesmaid at my Uncle Raymond’s wedding. I am wearing a white velvet dress and a floral crown of blue and white flowers. In the second in about 1988 with my daughter Esme. We are both wearing vintage jumpers with embroidered flowers. These may appeal to Stephanie who is putting flowers on her SWAP jumper. In the third picture is my version, a little sweet pea blouse I made, paired rather inappropriately with my Iris printed, silk SWAP Biki of Milan skirt. But as Kim Hood says “More is more”. I liked the effect so much I really would like to make a dress or another blouse with applied flowers. Personally I like the artful randomness of these items rather than forcing flowers into a pattern.



9 Responses

  1. thedementedfairy

    Lovely- I absolutely LOVE the Bohan and McQueen looks, very different though they are. I think we’re both on a bit of an embellishment journey with this SWAP. Today I will be making shell-tucked ribbon trim. Probably!

  2. jay

    It must be something in the air. I spent a couple of hours last night looking up methods of making flowers, not, as yet, having a definite project in mind. Thanks Kate for your round up of links to great works using flowers.

  3. Stephanie

    Neat post and lovely photos, K. The one of you and Esme is beautiful and the fit of your SWAP outfit is terrific.

    Valentino have done quite a bit of Flora-inspired stuff, too, with the boots from last year coming to mind especially. My floral effort will be an extremely modest one although I would like to play with the idea in future. More than flowers exclusively I think what fascinates me is nature-influenced embellishments.

  4. ceci

    You were an adorably serious bridesmaid – your daughter looks so like you at that age! Thanks for sharing all these wonderful pictures…..


  5. Annieloveslinen

    You and DF embarking on an embellishment journey, sounds like we’re in for a treat.
    Clearly your preferences have always leaned toward florals and textural design and now you’re figuring out how to express that in your clothing. Exciting times.

  6. Sew2pro

    What an adorable little bridesmaid you made (I have photos of my daughter with the same hairstyle and a similar expression – we call it her Judy Dench phase!). Although I don’t wear flowers much, I use their colours as inspiration, especially with added contrast of green or blue of the sky. But recently I’ve noticed skirts made of netting, the hem of which is on fold with fabric flowers are caught within, lying loose. I’d like to copy that someday, if I found the right model.

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