April Showers Flowers botanical couture

One woman’s flight of imagination began by searching the New Hampshire woods for design ingredients

            April Holmes is a small-scale grower, floral artist, and lifelong crafter who found herself in need of a creative distraction from chronic illness and pain. After designing smaller wearables, April was inspired to create a head-to-toe botanical ensemble for American Flowers Week. Her resulting design elevates saplings, peeled birch bark, and an abundance of faded leaves into a whimsical fantasy narrative.

in process April Showers botanical couture

            Owner of April Showers Flowers, April grows her flowers on a seven-acre farm in rural Candia, outside Manchester, New Hampshire, the state’s largest city. She supplies CSA subscribers through her “Blossoming Buds Flower Club,” and creates Mandala-styled floral art, which she photographs, prints on canvas, and sells through her Etsy shop. In 2021, April plans to open a flower shack in her community to sell arrangements and her artwork, as well as gifts and herbal body products.
            Growing flowers to sell as art is one thing, but April also “loves to push the boundaries of creativity when working with flora,” she says.

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            “I started with smaller pieces like flower crowns. Then, I slowly moved to more ideas and larger concepts finding inspiration from Susan McLeary and her book The Art of Wearable Flowers,” she says. Last winter, stuck at home in New England for months on end, April was pulled by the creative muse of nature. The inspiration for her evocative woodland couture came from the forest floor: large sheets of birch bark, the edges curling back to reveal a lighter contrast to the cinnamon-colored sections.

I’ve always been attracted to birch bark. You see it on the ground; you see it peels and curls in all different shades.”

april holmes, april showers flowers

               After trying a number of techniques to fashion a corset, the designer glued felt to the back of the birch panel so it wouldn’t scratch her model. Ever inventive, she used a heat gun to warm the material so the curled edge at the top of the corset would take shape.
            Enchanted by the shapes, faded colors, and translucence of birch and beech leaves, many still attached to the dormant trees in New England’s deciduous forest, April envisioned a flowing skirt. When she started working with the leaves, though, they quickly shattered. “I remembered seeing someone use glycerin and water to soften eucalyptus, so I tried boiling a batch of leaves in water and glycerin, and — success! — they became supple and soft.”

vertical of April Showers Flowers dress

            Once treated, the leaves were “a dream to work with,” April describes. “It made the whole process easier because I was able to chip away at the garment over a couple of months instead of working in a two-day window with fresh flowers.” Starting at the hem, she attached individual leaves, one at a time, row after row, overlapping layers of foliage to resemble oversized sequins of 1920s flapper dresses. Cold glue didn’t work as well as Fabri-Tac. “It’s clear, it holds quickly, and it stays a little bit pliable instead of getting hard like some glue,” she says.
            She collaborated with her frequent model, Winter Morrissey, who sewed a long, white slip dress as the base garment. Winter also stitched an overskirt to which the leaves were glued. The skirt wraps around the waist and ties in front, over the slip dress.

two views of april holmes botanical couture dress

            The incredible headpiece modeled by Winter coordinates perfectly with the all-organic vibe of a bark corset and floor-length leaf skirt. April had access to a neighboring property with thousands of birch saplings. “I harvested them to form the hair-like headpiece,” April explains. She crafted the headpiece from Warbla, a product used by cosplay artists to make armor and other contoured pieces. She attached to it a separate piece made from structural wire covered in air-dry clay into which she poked the saplings to create a hair-like mane. “Toward the top, where I wanted the ‘hair’ to fold over, I actually boiled the branches and then bent them and tied them for a few days to make the shape.”
            The entire look is a flight of one woman’s imagination — and it draws attention to the beauty of nature in an entirely new way. “There is so much beauty already here around us,” April says. “If you’re stuck at home, go outside and look for it. If you’re stuck in a city, go for a walk into nature. It’s so healing and even if you’re not physically healed, nature can heal emotionally.”

Creative Team:
Floral Palette:
 Foraged and gathered woodland elements from a forest in central New Hampshire
Designer: April Holmes, April Showers Flowers, aprilshowersflowersnh.com, @aprilshowers_flowers
Seamstress: Winter Morrissey, @bintterr
Model: Winter Morrissey
Hair/Makeup: Winter Morrissey
Photography: Jay Curtis, @jay.c.photo
Location: Candia, New Hampshire