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Meet the Yorkshire Artist and Florist Creating Authentic Paper Flowers

Meet the Yorkshire Artist and Florist Creating Authentic Paper Flowers Salty Lamb Photography
April 2024
Reading time 5 Minutes

Sophie Longhurst painstakingly cuts, colours and moulds paper to create flowers that are almost indistinguishable from the real thing

She tells Living North how she does it.

Sophie’s ability to recreate flowers is almost uncanny, so it should come as no surprise that she had plenty of experience with the real thing before her crafting came to the fore. She grew up in Runswick Bay and, although she was arty at school, started out by setting up a successful floristry business, Ginger & Flynn. It was only while she was at home, looking after her children, that she started challenging herself to recreate flowers in paper.

She soon discovered that creating paper flowers was a well-established craft with a long history, particularly in China where it is believed to have originated, and Sophie began buying books to help hone her work. When she posted her creations on Instagram the response was so positive that she was asked to write her own book.

Paper peony Roses in a jar Salty Lamb Photography
An Open Paper peony Rose
A Closed Paper peony Rose

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The book, Crafting Authentic Paper Flowers, guides readers through the process of making some of Sophie’s designs. ‘It’s for anyone that just wants to try,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad or how it turns out, it’s just the process. I’m quite high energy and I just need to be busy all the time so sitting and meditating probably isn’t my thing, but I could sit and make a paper flower. It’s a very mindful thing for me.’

Sophie’s process begins with documenting the anatomy of the flower she is trying to replicate in detail. From here, she begins to build a paper doppelgänger from the inside out. Listening her describe her process, I begin to realise quite how little of my biology GCSE I have retained. ‘You have all the different filaments inside with the pollen, so I’d start with the centre with those,’ she explains, ‘looking at the size, thickness, length, the colour of the pollen. Picking out any features that are specific to that flower. For example, a peony has seed pods in the middle that are quite prominent and they have the little stamen on the outside, and depending on age of the flower it can be yellow pollen or brown pollen.’

Sophie crafting paper flowers zach&grace

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She then has to pay careful attention to the shape of petals, and describes how their colour fades as they get older towards the outside of a flower. Care is even taken over the texture of the materials she uses for colour; pastel, for example, is perfect for creating the powdery velvet of a rose petal. Apparently there are people out there that do it much quicker, but Sophie’s work is about realism. ‘I try and make it so that you can’t tell,’ she says.

Sophie also emphasises that her flowers have been made with the the environment in mind. ‘I use non-toxic glue and paper, and I colour with natural pigments,’ she says. Describing the difference between her creations and more readily available plastic flowers, she says, ‘you see them everywhere and they’re in landfill and they wash up on the beaches, and mine would never do that, they would just degrade.’

Nowadays, commissions for Sophie’s paper flowers have overtaken her original floristry business. As you would expect, this process is far more time consuming than working with fresh flowers. ‘It can take weeks,’ Sophie confirms. ‘If someone commissions me to make a bouquet I need a couple of months’ notice. The diddly little flowers sometimes take way more time because you’re dealing with having to use tweezers and things on such a small scale. If things need colouring they take time to dry, it doesn’t always work out, and then you have to shape things.’ Then there are the delays created by the most obvious occupational hazard... ‘paper rips’.

bride holding paper flower bouquet zach&grace
Milk Chern with paper hydrangeas on top
potted paper flowers

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Despite this, her flowers are often chosen for their relative sturdiness, particularly in the case of couples who want to be able to keep their wedding bouquet exactly as it was on the day. ‘I like to create things that are probably incredibly delicate, like a peony for instance,’ Sophie explains. ‘Everyone wants a big peony in their bouquet  but they’ve got about a day or two days before they’ll smash or shatter, whereas I can make them look like they’re just about to shatter but they’re not going to.’ Customers also commission Sophie when they have their heart set on flowers that aren’t in season, or that aren’t grown in the UK. ‘I love making people’s wedding bouquets because it’s specific to them,’ she says. ‘No one else is ever gonna have that, and they can keep it forever.’

As well as weddings, Sophie has created paper flowers for some prestigious clients. At the 2022 Chelsea Flower Show, The Newt in Somerset, who are the headline sponsors of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, gave her an unusual commission for their display. Instead of working directly from life, Sophie was tasked with creating paper tulips inspired by Renaissance paintings. The result was a relatively simple but strikingly painterly arrangement of white tulips with bold gashes of crimson.

open white paper flower
Closed pink and red tulip
pink, white and yellow paper flower
Soft pink and cream Paper Chrysanthemum

When I speak to her, she is in the process of setting up an online shop of ready-made creations. The range will include flower crowns, bouquets and buttonholes comprised of white roses, as well as a less conventional, but incredibly ethereal, offering of brambles. ‘They’re so spiky, and they’re so delicate and you wouldn’t put them anywhere near a white dress or a white shirt,’ Sophie says. ‘I love the fact that I can make them look real but there’s just no way on earth you’d ever be able to make a crown from brambles in real life.’

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