Sunday, March 1, 2009

Damaged Bead Flowers - Not a Lost Cause

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I have just finished renovating, restoring, and resurrecting four dilapidated vintage bead flower arrangements. As with many other things we encounter in life, what looked like a fairly simple fix expanded into a very large project.

The flowers had many problems. They had been made around the 1960's, so were made with all-steel wires. This in itself might not have been a disadvantage, except that unfortunately the arrangements had been immersed in water for cleaning several times over the years. As a result, all the wires had rusted and many had turned black. The rusty water had flowed down over the stems and had badly stained the silk floss wrapping. Finally, the arrangements had been left or stored somewhere that was terribly dusty, so the thick, clumpy dust on them was really more like crust. Also they had become badly crushed.

What made the whole thing so disappointing is that at least two of these poor arrangements had come from Bonwit Teller. This high-end department store in New York City had had a gift shop for a number of years, and the bead flowers from this shop were of the finest quality and were very highly regarded. One of the "founding mothers" of French bead flower making in America, Virginia Nathanson, had taught herself the craft by buying an arrangement from this shop, taking it home and completely taking it apart in order to learn the techniques.

I felt I really had to restore these four pieces to their original state, as best I could. Here's a thumbnail of my fixes:

Dismantle all the arrangments; uncouple sprays of flowers. In some cases, remove leaves from their flowers and unstem the flowers.
Clean with plain baby wipes, rolling the rows between my fingers.
Remove all thick, rusted lacing wires.
Re-lace with new colormatched 32-gauge wires. In this process I invented a new lacing method so as to hide the lacing on flowers whose inner and outer surfaces would be equally visible.
Cover rusted top basic wires with whitish nail polish.
Where necessary, reattach petals to flowers and flower heads to stems.
Where necessary, add new leaves where old ones were unsalvageable.
Re-wrap stems with floss.
Reassemble sprays.
Clean containers.
Replace styrofoam or old clay with new clay and fresh moss.
Re-pot, rearrange and photograph refreshed arrangements.

If you have or if you come across old and sad-looking bead flower arrangements, don't write it off right away. It may be salvageable!

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