Christine de Beer - effortless floral craftsman
A Natural Selection
Any craftsman will beam with happiness when you compliment their tool bag. It’s our pride and joy! It often takes as long to build up our tool bags as what it takes to acquire our skills.
I love asking my design neighbors at shows about their tool bags. There is always an interesting story attached and the bag itself says a lot about the designer. Some designers carry many boxes, others only a carpenter’s belt. Some have a box that doubles as a chair or a stepladder while others have carts on wheels.
The contents are just as fascinating. Look past the commercially available items and you will find those trusted tools that were either made by the designer or modified in some way.
My own bag is tiny and filled with things that I either make to suit my design style or treasure. I am a disciplined packer. There is simply no space for rusty old or unused stuff. I even carry items in portion sizes and pack and repack some compartments depending on the project.
I travel extremely light!
The real value of a great tool bag is not measured in money. The worth lies in whether it suits the individual designer. Invest time and energy in developing your own tool bag and pack only equipment that works for you and represents what you stand for, as a designer.
Inside my tool bag:
My biggest design inspiration is always music. It is what I reach for first. When I am on location I use Sennheiser (PX200-11) fold-able, closed headphones that block out outside noise and respect my fellow designers so that they do not have to listen to my music. It also helps me to focus and concentrate. I usually have a play-list that suit my design to help me keep track of time.
Kershaw Military Knife
My knife is sharp, tough, rust proof, well balanced and a comfortable weight.
It's build to work hard and cut like a dream and is by far my favourite tool in my bag! I use it to cut flowers, whittle woody stems, pry things open with, remove bark, cut Oasis and even cut candle wax. In other words: Just perfect for Floral Art!
and if you look carefully you will see it's got my name on it...
Ribbons, Beads and Bells and other accessories
I pack only a length or two of the ribbon and have a small zip bag filled with tiny beads. I re-stock these as needed
Tutorial: Beaded wire
Tutorial: Hang a wreath on a door without knocking nails into the door face
Tutorial: Adding beads into a design
Oasis Floral Adhesive and Bamboo skewers
No tool bag is complete without this glue! It dries quickly and the tube will be ruined if you do not close it immediately after use. Squirt a drop and close the glue.
Then dip a wooden pick in the glue pool and apply to the plant material.
Tutorial: Autumn leaf Composite Flower
For an example Design using Oasis Floral Adhesive look at my The plastic inside of a roll of Florist tape becomes a Wrist Corsage
Tutorial: Love Bug
Japanese Florist Scissors
I mostly cut flower material with my knife but this is just gorgeous. And it’s sensational to cut with! Great for delicate work.
For examples of where I use my Japanese Scissors look at my Tutorials:Cut spiked flower stems and foliage into short sections and Tie an Iris leaf tassel
I use thick straws to support weaker stems or protect ribbon or wire from spoiling or rusting.
I also make test tubes from drinking straws. I prefer not to design flowers dry and include some sort of a water source even when I glue flowers into a fragile armature. I keep loads of these drinking straw “test tubes” in my bag. It’s particularly suitable for slow drinking flowers. One tiny straw tube will keep an orchid hydrated for days.
Fit a long thin plastic pipe over the nozzle of a syringe to create a flexible watering hose that can be used to fill or top up water tubes in even the most awkward spaces. It is also small and lightweight.
Tutorial: Syringe with tube I also have a picture of how to make a 2 litre version
Tutorial: Fast way to fill a lot of test tubes in awkward places
With a front pocket for my phone/music player
Utility knife and spare blades
It's great to have a knife that folds and is protected. I use it to cut leather, foam and precision work.
Super absorbent towel
Mops up spills and catches drops. Mine is from a hiking supply store and rolls up into a tiny pouch.
Tiny dust pan
Brooms are always in demand when it comes to clean up time after a long day of designing. I carry this tiny dust pan and brush with me so that I don't have to wait in line and can clean up in no time.
Inches on the one side and centimeters on the other. No need to convert anything when you are at an International show.
The file blunts edges, the tweezers holds tiny objects into place, the little scissors clip away tiny imperfections and the nail clipper strips wire faster than anything else. The pushers is ideal for helping a leaf into a weave or into a tight spot without piercing or bruising
Nail file Tutorial:Up-cycle the plastic inside of a roll of Florist tape to create a comfortable wrist Corsage bracelet
Finger nail cuticle pusher Tutorial:Looping the lily grass shape
Girly hair butterfly clips
Clip out the inside pins and you have the perfect little claws to keep stems in place while glue dries. Also ideal to hold orchid stems to a support wire. Of course it will also clip away that irritating strand of hair that keeps slipping into your eyes on a bad hair day.
I have sap green, natural green and brown clips that I use when I want to keep the clips in the design and be less visible.
And then I have these bright pink glittery clips for temporary use so that I don't forget to remove a clip by mistake.
See an example of a design where I used the clips to hold equisetum in place to create a dome One Singular Sensation
Tutorial: Butterfly hairclip claws to hold twigs in place while glue dries
Start with a few plasters and a few headache tablets. A good medical kit is probably the best way to make and keep friends at a show.
I also use the plasters to protect wire from getting pinched.
See my Tutorial: Prevent teeth marks on soft wire when you bend it with pliers
Neutrogena Norwegian Formula hand cream
This hand cream was formulated for Norwegian fisherman so it is designed to moisturize hands that are constantly in and out of water. And it really moisturizes hands without feeling greasy. It also has no fragrance and is neutral on all flowers
Green Velcro plant ties
Great for binding bunches or holding objects temporarily when you are hanging upside down and need an extra hand.
I have also used Velcro to hang a wreath.
Tutorial: Hang a wreath on a door without knocking nails into the door face
Great water source when you require a flexible “vase” for plant material in a design such as in a small gap in a log. Just ½ fill the bag with water; add the stem and zip closed around the stem. The bag will then fit any shape. Of course it also keep stuff dry and tiny items packed away neatly in your tool bag.
If you want to keep any left over Oasis floral foam for later use it is best not to let it dry out because it will not hydrate again so zip it up in a reusable bag to keep it moist.
The goal is to make our plant material look beautiful for as long as possible. There is quite a few “home remedies” that’s recommended as additives but I believe in the commercial variety. Follow the instructions to make sure you do not over or under feed the flowers.
Some metal containers cancel out the benefits of flower food when you add it to the water. See my Tutorial to line containers: Lining containers to make them waterproof
All purpose scissors and pliers
This is an ongoing frustration for me. I am bad at having scissors for each project so I end up cutting thin wire, paper, plastic, and putty with the same scissors and then complain wildly when it’s too blunt to neatly snip my delicate ribbon.
Pliers are a must in every tool bag. Wrap both the tips of your pliers with the smallest size plasters- pad side in, to cushion the impact on soft wires. Plasters are also the first item needed for a medical kit so I keep a few extra in my bag.
Heavy duty garden shears
Great to secure things fast. You can get cable ties in almost any colour. I have recently discovered cable ties that can be re-used. You can undo the tie and lock it again!
I keep my pins stuck in foam. This way it won't get stuck in me when I rummage through my bag to find something nor would it spill out of a box at the worst possible moment.
I use pins to keep things in place but it is also great for weaving.
See my Tutorial to make a Messy wire lace
Tutorial: Drying Mushrooms for Floral Art
If you pull out the pins slightly you can use the pin heads as a drying rack to place beads or tiny flowers on to keep them save while glue dries.
Tutorial: Foam pin holder drying rack
Marker and masking tape
You never know when you will need a black mark. It’s also great to mark your vases or supplies temporarily when you pool resources with other designers. Cut a small strip of masking tape, stick it on the item (somewhere it won't be seen) and write your name on it. It really cuts down on confusion when you are in a hurry to vacate a competition hall and have no time to figure out what goes where.
Masking tape is also a fantastic "placeholder". You can stick it on the floor or work area to make sure you are within the space you are allocated.
I absolutely adore these. They remind me of the body of a butterfly just ready for you to add the floral wings.
For an example of these glass test tubes used in a design look at Bubbly New Year’s Sparklers
I use ornamental wire, bale wire and engineering wire. I keep a length of brown and a length of green bind wire in my bag. Then I add other wire as I need them.
Tutorial: Wire hairpin needle for threading flowers
Tutorial: Moss Heart
Tutorial: Butterfly feeler hooks for swinging test tubes
I also make make my own decorative wires. It adds a custom made and hand crafted look to my work.
Paper covered Wire and Wired Monkey Vine a great and inexpensive tip is to Unravel wire from a copper pot scrubber see also Prevent teeth marks on soft wire when you bend it with pliers and Straightening wire and Spiral Wire Cages, Copper Wire Ring and Beaded wire
Makeup brush set
Great way to re-use old makeup brushes. Dust off pollen, clean glass and great to add fine dusting or sparkle to a design.
Tutorial: Sugar Frosted flowers, fruit or foliage
Oasis floral fix
Stickier than Putty, water proof and best of all green so it disappears when used in a design. A little goes a long way and you would need about a stamp size block in your bag.
I also use the floral fix to make it easier for me to weave my Palm leaf Hopper-flies (grasshoppers and butterflies)
Latex gloves and corsage magnets
The gloves are great for finger painting and spreading glue. Its also nice to have when you are working with sap that makes you itch or moss.
I use the magnets to move, position and keep items under water, add weight to floral accessories and every now and again I even make corsages with them.
Tutorial: Suspending and positioning a Phalaenopsis orchid under water
Tutorial: Making the waist corsage using the BoutStix Floral Magnets
Tutorial: BoutStix Floral Magnets as stabilizing weight for light accessories
Tutorial: Corsage Magnets
Tutorial: Use a BoutStix Floral Magnet to hang test tubes
It's all in there... Packed and ready to design!
And in the design room:
Huge working surface
Large, clean and comfortable working surface.
Wood glue. Spray adhesive and a hot glue gun (with ice water and a drip plate)
If I could have only 2 things to design with I would choose my knife and wood glue. With those two things you can create almost anything. As examples
Tutorial: Papier Mache
Tutorial:Paper covered Wire
Tutorial:Mud Pie baskets
Tutorial:Bark covered Wreath
Tutorial: Just Hatched Papier Mache Easter Eggs
When wet it is easy to see where you placed the glue but it dries clear and although it bonds permanently you can soak the glue in warm water to remove.
Hot glue gun
Every glue gun should be sold in kit form- gun, bowl of ice water and a dinner plate. The ice water is for an emergency to immediately cool down a burn and the plate is to rest under your gun to catch any stray drops.
I have used the hot glue drops to create a nest Tutorial: Hot Glue nest
You can also use the hot glue strands Tutorial:Spinning a Hot Glue Spider Web or silk for a Floral Cocoon includes a Tutorial on how to remove the hot glue strands.
3M Super 77 Spray glue
OASIS Floral Foam
Rainbow foam and powder, wet Oasis and dry Oasis
Tutorial: Oasis Receptacle
Tutorial: Soaking Floral Foam
Tutorial: Rainbow Oasis rocks!
Tutorial: Rainbow Oasis Hearts
Tutorial: Cut Rainbow Oasis shapes to make multi-coloured designs
Tutorial: Melt plastic Soda Bottles into the "water" shapes
Heavy duty protective gloves and a Kenzan
Heavy duty protective gloves and a Kenzan
A Kenzan is also known as a pin-holder or a needlepoint holder. It is a traditional mechanic used in Ikebana (Moribana). Used to support stems with its spiked metal teeth. Also used to comb or strip fibrous leaves into strips.
Tutorial: Ripping Flax
Vintage Glass Flower Frogs
Traditionally used to hold rose stems but it is also great to transport test tubes upright.
Lots and lots of buckets
Fresh clean water. Cold for bulb flowers and a bit warmer for all other flowers.
Pigments and Pattern Edged Scissors
Decorative edge paper Craft Scissors, Pastel Pencils, Aquarelle pencils, Water colour paint, Food colouring
Using water colour paint Tutorial: Paper flowers
Epoxy glue and tapes
Kyogi paper was historically used in Japan to wrap food - all natural, keeps the food from drying out, adds a subtle flavour and it can be composted to return to the crop-soil-cycle! It is pine (or cedar) wood that is shaved so thin it's almost transparent. It can be wrapped, rolled, cut, stained, torn and easily glued.
I use three types: thick, thin and shiny
I keep a supply of Birch wood coffee stir sticks, cocktail sticks and chop sticks and pop sticks to mix and spread glue and paint with, splinter for spacers, shave for wood curls or glue into an instant structure
Flexible and thin. Great to add movement to a design
Design example: Veiled Sunshine:50th Anniversary of the South African Orchid Society at the Cape Town Convention Centre.
Rolls of Newsprint paper
I enjoy using newsprint paper because it is less "pristine" than cartridge paper and looks great combined with plant material. It is also inexpensive, super absorbent and easy to recycle into papier mache
I use it to make a soft bed to drill holes on, press pins into the foam to weave wire lace, blocks of Styrofoam can be used to make hot glue spider webs, press into paint to make a stamp. perfect to create a pin board, great as spacers and when I have used it so often that it falls apart I crumble it to make a floating snow. You can also use the crumbled polystyrene as stuffing (that is water repelling and floats) for shapes.
It is not easy to find a place that can recycle Polystyrene mostly because it is almost impossible to re-make it into high quality polystyrene. But it is really easy to find uses for the sheets you receive as packaging. Don't trash it. Re-purpose it!
Tutorial: Messy wire lace
Tutorial: Birch wood coffee stir sticks fan
I use large Catering trays to transport my cut flowers (when they are already placed in test tubes) in. Crumple tissue or newsprint paper inside to make a soft bed to rest the flowers on. The clear lid makes is easy to see what is inside the tray. Easy to stack and convenient to carry.
The bottom is also a great drip tray to catch glue.
Flip the lid upside down and it makes a great bath for dyes and soaking items
It is also a great temporary Greenhouse to propagate plants in, grow moss or use as a terrarium.
Gift wrap and tissue paper
Wire the pick to a test tube to give it a long and sharp stem to insert in a design. Gather ripped flax (or grass) and tie with the wire to create a single bundle on a stick. To stabilize a thick log or candle in a design wire 3 wood pick legs. Hammer or press the wood pick into fruit to stand, hang or press into foam. Weave the wire through pine cones or seed pods to create a stem.
Do not remove the elastic band from around the bundle when you receive your new pack of picks. Removing the elastic band makes the bundle fall apart leaving your wires in a terrible tangle! Just wiggle a wire loose and pull out a pick from the wire side up and out.
I buy small pots of water based paint from hobby and model aircraft shops. The colours are unbelievably realistic and natural looking. Because it is water based I can thin the paint to make a stain.
Candles and candle wax
I use the wax as sealant, to create heavy structures, floating snow flakes and a anti-bacterial layer for fruit.
Great to work on to protect surfaces in your design room or on location. The plastic catches drips and plant material making it fast and easy to just gather and clean. Also use the plastic sheets to line containers.
Super Sticky Post-it Notes
Scotch-Blue Painter's Tape is great to temporarily tape something to something else and remove it without ripping into the surface.
Industrial Tack gun, Electric drill and drill bits, Screwdriver, Wood saw, axe, hammer, nails and other very manly “garage” bits and pieces.
I always feel more than a bit offended when people ask me who made my stands. I think it’s important to learn how to use the tools of your trade. I can weld- no, I would not pass any exam nor would I be able to use the right terms and my rods get stuck more often than not (making that awful sound), but I am not building a ship so for the purpose of floral art- I would say yes, I can weld.
Tutorial: Birch wood coffee stir sticks fan
Heavy cardboard is the ideal building material. It is easier to cut than wood and faster to glue than any other medium. When I am in need of a quick structure I often up-cycle cardboard into whatever I need. It is not a permanent solution and would never be as durable as wood, but with a big enough box, a hot glue gun, some wood glue and paint you can make an instant prop for almost any occasion.
I “process” boxes into workable shapes. I find that I can never have enough disks, but strips and tray size squares are also handy.
Tutorial: Paper log stack
Tutorial: Paper Foundation for Kyogi paper wood curls
Tutorial: The Floral Hourglass Wax Foundation
Design example: Baby Stroller Gift Hamper
Design example: Vanilla
Design example: Cardboard Cup Cake Tower