While Tasmania based artist Sandra Alcorn began her career as a designer in the fashion industry, she traded fabric for petals when she established Petal & Pins in 2012. As you’ll read in the interview, this change in her career was quite accidental, but I would definitely call it a happy accident. Sandra has created gorgeous floral couture using flowers from not only her own garden but from also from boutique Tasmanian farms.
In this interview Sandra shares about some of her favorite flowers to work with, her process for creating one of her pieces, an inside look at the collections available through Petal & Pins and more.
Before establishing Petal & Pins in 2012 you worked as a fashion designer. At what point during your fashion career did you decide that you wanted to combine your passions for flowers & design?
It was actually accidental! I love to step into my garden to pause for thought, feel the warmth of the sun, or pick a few flowers and it was in one of those moments that the two passions combined.
In the spring of 2011 I was working on a wedding dress and I saw the folds of silk echoed in the petals of the Aquilegia flowers and that’s when I made my first petite botanical dress…it became a daily ritual simply for my own enjoyment and then a project which involved photographing and blogging about my ephemeral Garden Fairy’s Wardrobe.
Encouraged by family and friends to publish them, in 2012 I launched the first collection of petal & pins greeting cards.
What was it like transitioning from the world of fashion design to creating flower couture?
My design thought process is very much the same, I’ve just swapped fabric for petals. Just like fabric they have different qualities like the way they drape that I need to take into account when designing with them.
The seasonal and ephemeral nature of working with flowers is an aspect I love because it encourages a more contemplative less rushed life.
Becoming part of the stationery world has been rewarding in ways I never imagined – there are a lot of small women led businesses and it’s a friendly, caring community that’s brought me some wonderful new friendships from around the world.
What are some of your favorite flowers to feature in your work?
Oh, this is one of the hardest questions I get asked because I LOVE all flowers – from tiny little ones like forget-me-nots to big bold peonies. But the ones that feature regularly in petal & pins collections are roses and winter hellebores.
I have a lot of Cécile Brünner rose bushes in my garden and it’s such a classic sweet and pretty rose that it’s inspired a whole collection called Love Letters.
Do you source all of your flowers from your personal garden, or do you also pick up flowers from local flower shops?
My garden is very much the source of inspiration and the flowers for my designing. I like that garden flowers are not always perfect – there is beauty in imperfection.
When I was approached by a saffron farmer about a collaboration, I loved the idea and started the Farmgate Project which has grown to include dress designs in culinary lavender, olive blossom and peonies from boutique Tasmanian farms.
Occasionally I get a special request for something that’s not found in my garden and I will put a call out to friends or a local florist. Flowers can be deeply symbolic for people and I’m honoured to be asked to create something with meaning for them.
Tell me about the process of creating one of your flower pieces.
I like to design in the morning, which is the best time for picking. It starts with a stroll around the garden to see what is flowering and inspires me or I might have an idea that’s been swirling around in my head for a few days. I have a lovely vintage wicker flower basket to gather up the day’s choices.
It’s quite meditative once I start putting a design together and so sometimes it’s just one design or it can be a series with the same flowers and foliage. I photograph the designs and when I’ve finished the petals get scattered back into the garden.
What is one of the most important things to remember when working with fresh flowers?
Some don’t like being picked and out of water for too long and will wilt, also the petals can bruise easily so I need to handle them delicately and work quickly. And some I just can’t bring myself to pull apart straightaway, so they’ll go in a vase to simply enjoy.
Do you plan out your design and color palette for your florals in advance, or just create in the moment?
Creating in the moment is how I first started, and it still brings me the most joy, so I try not to plan too much because I believe that’s when the magic happens, and I do my best work.
When did you come up with name for your signature range of greeting cards and art prints, Garden Fairy’s Wardrobe?
I called it my Garden Fairy’s Wardrobe right from the beginning before any idea of publishing my photographs. Our garden is a slightly overgrown and enchanting cottage garden that surrounds our circa 1920 house and it just seemed to sum up perfectly the stylishly whimsical dresses.
In addition to your Garden Fairy’s Wardrobe, you also have the Atelier Pétale, Love Letters, Scrapbook and Christmas Collections. What was one of your favorite collections to create?
I have a fondness for them all!
Atelier Pétale celebrates my love of vintage style featuring floral hats combined with fashion illustrations.
Love Letters started with a Valentine’s Day card and has grown to include a Butterfly, a Heart and a Princess Crown all fashioned from pretty pink Cécile Brünner roses.
My holly dresses from the Garden Fairy’s Wardrobe have become Christmas classics, people love the red carpet glamour of the designs and matching one up to a friend.
Tell me about one the pieces that you’re currently working on.
I’m currently working on something new – ‘Champagne Girl’ for the Love Letters collection, she’s inspired by drinks with the girls and a sense of joie de vivre. I’ve fashioned her out of a champagne cork and muselet and she’s as playful and whimsical as my Garden Fairy.
Keep up with Sandra and Petal & Pins through the following links…
All images in this post are via Sandra Alcorn of Petal & Pins