1902 Encyclopedia > Artificial Flowers

Artificial Flowers

ARTIFICIAL FLOWERS. There are few branches of ornamental work used in the decoration of ladies' apparel which have more increased in importance than that of artificial flower making, in which, both in France and in England, large numbers of workpeople are engaged. Not only has the trade itself greatly extended within the last few years, but the improvement in the manufacture is very marked, and the bouquets and wreaths used in the trimming of dresses may be almost said to rival nature, so truly and delicately are the individual flowers manipulated. Artificial flower making is almcst entirely done by hand, giving occupation principally to young womeu and children, the majority of whom work at home or in small shops. The numbers employed at the time of the census of 1871 were returned as 4886, of whom 1740 were under twenty years of age. In France the numbers are much larger, for ten years ago it was estimated that there were at least 2000 shops where artificial flowers were made, and it is probable that now these have been increased to 3000. It is not entirely a woman's work, however, for men are em-ployed, particularly in Paris, in cutting out the material for the flowers by a stamp machine, in which 16 or 20 folds are operated upon at once, the folds being coloured green, blue, crimson, according to the flower which is to be imitated. Each piece is taken up separately by a girl armed with a pair of pincers, who, with one dexterous movement, moulds it, as it were, roughly into the shape of the flower, and then passes it on to another who gives a more precise form to the petal. A third girl attaches each petal to a very fine wire, thread having been previously twisted round this wire to form the stalk ; while the remaining operations consist in goffering the petals and leaves to give them a curl, and finally gumming or waxing them over, or dusting them with fine powdered glass or potato flour to represent the bloom. The rapidity and accuracy with which these various processes are completed are very remarkable. A new style of artificial flower has lately come into vogue, in France more especially, made by the " enamel process," in which a young girl sits by a jet of flame, holding in her hand a stick of prepared glass. A momentary application to the flame makes the end of the stick red hot, and while it is still in a pasty state, the operator pulls out a short length, and immediately rolls it up into the form of the petal or leaf, and passes it on to the painter for the proper colouring. The remaining processes are similar to those of the ordinary artificial flowers. These enamel flowers, though wondrously true and pretty, are more suited for room decoration than for dress. While apparently a light and pleasant work, artificial flower making is not one of the healthiest of our trades, partly for the reason that it is so often carried on in small household shops, where ventilation is of the scantiest. It has, however, been much improved in this respect, since it has come under the supervision of the Factory Acts. There is always a certain amount of dust and colouring matter flying about the room, which is more or less injurious, though the use of Scheele's green and sulphate of copper (verdigris blue) is almost discontinued, and with it a train of symp-toms that usually accompany arsenical poisoning. Weak eyes are a common source of complaint, especially the form called asthenopia, which is particularly induced when white flowers are made by gas light. In the manufacture of the flowers, the net cost is about three-fifths of the whole for material, and the remaining two-fifths for the labour. In France the earnings of the men who cut the folds are from 4 to 5 francs per day, of the workwomen from 1\ to 2>\, according to ability. In England a skilful flower worker will earn from 20s. to 25s. per week, though there is a drawback in its being a season trade, which is very brisk about the spring and fall of the year, and as inactive during the other times. Besides the very large number of artificial flowers made in England, the following table shows how great is the importation, principally from France:—

1866 £293,306 1870 £266,502 1874 £447,351
1867 304,440 1871 367,186 1875 510,800
1868 341,176 1872 411,540 1876 496,987
1869 365,407 1873 449,320 1878 544,625

Belgium and Holland likewise supply Great Britain but to a much smaller extent.

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