Paper flowers, handcrafted sneeze-free beauty

Malinda Swain has “a thing” about nature, snowy white paper, handmade or recycled anything — and the kind of solitude others dread.

She jokingly calls the hours, days and weeks spent alone in her suburban studio folding recycled copy paper into three-dimensional flowers “my solitary confinement.”

The studio is in a funky old carriage house overlooking the tennis court at her father and stepmother’s Haverford estate.

“It’s quite lovely to sit here and drink tea and listen to music and fold,” Swain, 32, an artist from Brisbane, Australia said.

Swain’s folding honors the traditions of origami, the ancient Japanese art; and kirigami, a paper-cutting variation. Beyond that, she says, “I make it up,” which seems to suit someone whose childhood ambition was to be a florist.

“Now I’m a paper florist,” said Swain, who also does photography, sculpture, drawing, and video work.

She sits cross-legged on the floor, folding and folding the crisp paper sheets, her slender fingers moving rhythmically and noiselessly. It’s a tactile meditation that’s at once riveting and calming — and, it turns out, fashionable.

In this craft-crazy DIY world, paper flowers are increasingly showing up at weddings and events. Driving the demand are bridal parties wanting unusual backdrops for photos and the public’s seemingly endless appetite for one-of-a-kind, handcrafted decorations, according to Rebecca Thuss, author with her husband Patrick Farrell of “Paper to Petal: 75 Whimsical Paper Flowers to Craft by Hand” (Potter Craft publishers, 2013).

Paper flowers are a centuries-old craft, their popularity fading and reviving over time, from Asia and Mexico, to colonial America and Victorian England, and again in the U.S. in the 1920s, ’50s, and ’70s.

Swain and her fiance, Darcey Clancy, 26, a carpenter and fellow Aussie, hope to buy land in the tropical rain forest of North Queensland, Australia, build a tree house, plant a garden and live off the grid. The plan lacks only a napping pod.

The wedding will be small. Guests will bring food. Swain will borrow a dress and carry a small bouquet — of paper flowers.


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