Note:Amy Ly (formerly Amy Kunkel-Patterson) of Gather Design Co. in Seattle created the unforgettable SUNFLOWER GOWN for American Flowers Week in 2017. She recently posted about how she produced this exquisite floral garment, along with her recipe and techniques. Here is an excerpt and link to her full post and the full gallery of Anna Peters’ beautiful images.
The Sunflower Gown
I am the kind of person who always says yes to an outlandish idea, even before I know how I might make it happen. This dress came from one of those conversations, that went something like this:
Amy: Oh, that’s exciting! What do you have in mind?
Debra: Well, I am wanting something really bold. I’d love to take what Susan McCleary did last year with botanical fashion and commission a designer to create something even bigger, like a whole dress made out of sunflowers. I want it to feel like classic Americana, but with a high end design.
Amy: Great, I’ll do it.
Debra: Wait, are you serious? Do you know how to create a dress out of flowers?
Amy: Not yet, but I will soon!
From this initial conversation in mid-August, we compared calendars and talked to the Seattle Wholesale Grower’s Market about when sunflowers would be at their peak, settling on a day in early September. Debra graciously let me choose the photographer for the project, and Anna Peters was the first person I called. I could tell she was skeptical when I explained the idea of a dress made out of sunflowers (I fear she was picturing something like this), but we’d worked together before and she trusted my idea and agreed.
“In Process” — Kelly Shore (left), preps her Alaska Peony model Ashley Johnson; Hedda Brorstrom (right) attends to a few details for the dahlia dress worn by model Sophia Lane
American Flowers Week began in 2015, and it has grown significantly in three short years to involve participation across all channels of domestic flowers — from seeds to bouquets to beautiful floral fashions.
Your involvement helped us generate more than 5 million impressions on social media (Instagram and Twitter) during this year’s campaign, a major leap from the 400,000 measured in 2015 and 1.2 million measured in 2016.
We’re making a difference in the relationship people have with their flowers — and that’s inspiring!
It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update here, but not because I have forgotten about American Flowers Week! The fact is, we’ve been hard at work developing next year’s amazing promotions, partnerships and platforms to elevate and expand this one-week celebration of domestic botanicals and you can be sure that plans are well underway for an incredible American Flowers Week 2018.
I’m excited to share some of the latest news with you!
Susan McLeary of Passionflower Events created our red-white-and-blue floral ‘fro for 2016, with graphic design from Jenny Diaz
As you know, for 2016, we commissioned Susan McLeary of Passionflower Eventsto design a beautiful red-white-and-blue floral ‘fro using all American-grown blooms.
A quartet of four other amazing floral fashions followed, and I’ve been remiss about posting those — so look for the back-story of our rose tutu, floral cape, woodland menswear vest and peony Geisha in the coming weeks. Those were created by Teresa Sabankaya of Bonny Doon Garden Co., Tara Folker of Splints & Daisies, Riz Reyes of RHR Horticulture and Arthur Williams of Babylon Floral Design.
From left: Ashley & Kelly during our prep time; Kelly’s tapestry of Scenic Place peony blooms; and floating peonies, on location at the Homer Marina
But for now, let’s jump ahead to 2018 . . . and our PEONY Look!
Slow Flowers‘ designers and flower farmers have already stepped up to help us capture two of next year’s five floral looks on film and while we can’t reveal the completed designs yet, we can credit the talented teams and give you a little behind-the-scenes taste of what to expect when promotions launch for American Flowers Week 2018.
Kelly and Beth partnered on numerous creative endeavors during a single week at the end of July 2017 . . . including the Field to Vase Dinner and a romantic styled shoot that Kelly designed, which was photographed in Scenic Place’s peony fields and published in the October issue of Florists’ Review (in the Slow Flowers Journal section).
But . . . thanks to Beth’s brainstorm and Kelly’s willingness to jump in and say “yes,” we also produced a thoroughly unique peony experience on the docks and shoreline of the fishing marina in Homer, Alaska. Beth wanted our American Flowers Week “look” to blend Homer’s two economic engines — commercial fishing and peony farming.
We were lucky for so many reasons, including:
The folks at Grunden’s donated a pair of white bib overalls and “Deck Boss” boots, the feminine version of the attire you’ll see worn by commercial fishing pro’s.
Our beautiful model jumped right in and said “yes” to everything we asked of her. Ashley Johnson, flower-farmer-in-training, spent this past summer as a WOOFER(that’s World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) at Scenic Place. We were super lucky that she agreed to be our model!
There were other helpers who made this shoot such a success: Lisa Thorne of Thorne & Thistle, a Slow Flowers member who traveled to Homer to volunteer for all of the Field to Vase activities; and Elizabeth Morphis, a Scenic Place Peonies team member who assisted with hair, makeup and design!
Enjoy a sneak peek of our visual story above — you’ve never before seen Alaska-grown peonies expressed in such a creative way that underscores the importance of season, place and beauty! The entire reveal will occur during American Flowers Week, June 28th through July 4th! I thank everyone who made this happen — they are my heroes!
From left: designer Heddah Brorstrom attaches more than 350 local dahlias to the “skirt”; a lovely detail of the floral artistry expressed in this project; and real-time photography.
Next up: Dreaming of DAHLIAS!
I’ve been wishing for a dahlia “look” for American Flowers Week for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that the renaissance of field-grown dahlias has been a game-changer for Slow Flowers members — farmers and designers alike. No other flower is so precious and coveted in summer and early autumn. No other flower is dependent on local sourcing, a boon for those who grow and design with them.
I asked Slow Flowers member Kate Rowe, co-owner with Omar Duran of Aztec Dahlias in Petaluma, California, if she would sponsor a photo shoot depicting dahlias in a floral fashion — and she said YES!
We agreed together that Hedda Brorstrom, a farmer-florist who owns Full Bloom Farm in nearby Sebastopol, California, would be THE person to design the look.
Yet the larger backdrop for our October 16th photo shoot, captured by Becca Henry at Aztec Dahlias’ farm, was less than ideal.
Everyone in Sonoma County has been coping with the onslaught of horrendous wildfires — in fact, every person involved in this photo shoot has a connection with a loved one who has lost everything to the fires. Working conditions for flower farmers in Sonoma County have been highly risky due to the poor air quality and intense heat. We weren’t really sure that the schedule would work out due to all these external (negative) conditions.
But . . . the dahlia dream team pulled it off — and I’m so impressed with their talents! The entire look, worn so elegantly by model Sophia Lane, was achieved due to the “village” of talents. THANK YOU to everyone involved!
Our anticipation for American Flowers Week 2018 continues and I’m eager to involve more Slow Flowers members in the campaign! The Peony and Dahlia fashions will be published in the Slow Flowers Journal section of Florists’ Reviewmagazine in our June 2018 issue — that’s the big “reveal” of all this gorgeous American-grown creativity! And stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes news to come . . .
[Note: this is an expanded bonus interview conducted for Florists’ Review June 2017]
Amy Kunkel-Patterson of Seattle’s Gather Design Co. once tried to convince a bridal studio to let her sew flowers onto a wedding gown for a styled shoot. They didn’t go for it, so faced with designing a gown out of classic American sunflowers, she jumped at the chance.
“I’ve been wanting to build a dress out of flowers, but there wasn’t a wedding gown designer around who would let me sew flowers on a very expensive dress,” she says.
Amy is the first to admit that working with sunflowers wouldn’t have been her first choice. “Most designers, especially designers who do weddings, would probably have the response I had: ‘Oh. Sunflowers. A big yellow thing with a dark center. Who wants that for their wedding?'”
Ever the researcher, Amy began to discuss her floral options with the staff and farmers of the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market. “They showed me all the options. Beyond yellow, there are varieties in the brown palette, and ones where the petals start a little bit yellow in the center and then fade to mostly brown. And then, they offered me a bunch of the burgundy and plum sunflowers. I’ll admit, I didn’t know there were plum-colored sunflowers before I did this project.”
The elevated palette allowed her to incorporate other seasonal field flowers, such as wine-colored amaranth and ‘Sahara Mix’ rudbeckia, which echoes the sunflower shape but on a softer, smaller scale.
When I saw the different shades and variations of the sunflowers, it was an ‘a-ha’ moment for me. And I knew this didn’t have to be just a solid yellow sunflower gown, but one with yellow fading into other colors to create something very elegant.
Having learned to sew and build things as a kid, the idea of working with unconventional tools wasn’t daunting. It’s these skills that have served Amy well as a wedding designer working on large-scale installations.
With the idea of a dress design in her mind’s eye, and with a willing model, flower farmer Kelly Uhlig of Sonshine Flower Farm in Langley, Wash., Amy began to fit a two-piece garment that would serve as the basis for her gown. “I actually started with a dress that I bought at Goodwill and cut down to make a bodice with a plunging neckline and a really open back. The skirt is a flat king bed sheet draped over two types of chicken wire and a bit of tulle, with a belt that fastens on the inside of the skirt so you don’t see it as it cinches around her waist.”
Amy jokes that at times she felt more like a builder than a floral designer because of the amount of metal involved, including a section of 1/2-inch grid hardware cloth. “The entire gown weighed about 65 pounds,” she points out.
The skirt’s wire foundation was necessary because of the heavy flower heads, more than 500 altogether. “I didn’t want the train to collapse so I had to create a physical structure to hold it out.”
Because of the sheer quantity of flower heads, Amy’s original idea of sewing each botanical piece to the fabric base wasn’t practical. “It would have taken far too long and the flowers would have wilted by the time I finished,” she says. Tubes and tubes of cold Oasis glue did the job, however — at least one-half gallon of glue by Amy’s estimate. “I didn’t start attaching the flowers until late afternoon the day before our photo shoot. Then I attached the rest of the sunflowers, the amaranth and rudbeckia on the day of the shoot. I’m so glad that my friend Erin Shackelford of Camas Design volunteered to wrap the little grass pieces into tassels to edge the hem of the skirt.”
Other finishing details include single threads of burgundy amaranth that drape beautifully over the model’s waist and hips, speckled turkey feathers collected from a local farm and a charming hair piece that echoes the botanicals use for the dress. “I’m just thrilled with how it turned out,” Amy says.
Seattle Wholesale Growers Market, the innovative farmer-to-florist wholesale cooperative based in Seattle, has stepped up its support for American Flowers Week 2017, today announcing its sponsorship of one of five Floral Style Fashion shoots.
SWGMC is excited about the opportunity to support and sponsor American Flowers Week. This creative campaign encourages consumers to think about where their cut flowers are grown, and brings about more awareness of the importance of our domestic flower farms, and the challenges they face.
— Molly Sadowsky, Market Manager
We’ve assembled a talented “dream team” behind the Prairie-inspired floral look, which will be depicted in a pastoral setting that reflects American floral agriculture at its best!
Inspiration board featuring NW-grown flowers from Jello Mold Farm, Everyday Flowers, Sonshine Farm and Rain Drop Farm.
We can’t wait to share this imagery with you! But it will be embargoed until American Flowers Week 2017 — June 28-July 4, 2017.
Get in touch if you’d like to learn more about our Floral Style Fashions — we’re producing 5 in all so there’s still time to become a sponsor! I’m at debra (at) slowflowers (dot) com (firstname.lastname@example.org).