Traditional crafts like embroidery and flower pressing are making a big comeback. Meet the makers putting a fresh spin on old classics
It’s quite therapeutic because you’re literally punching things,” laughs Joanne Mooney, explaining her love of punch needle embroidery. “You get out all that pent-up energy.”
Turns out, there really is only so much Netflix and doom-scrolling a person can take, and so there has been a huge rise in interest in home-based decor hobbies during our various lockdowns — from macramé and DIY pottery to embroidery and flower pressing.
DIY-ing your decor is nothing new; it’s one of the reasons sites like Pinterest and Etsy exist. But this past year, it’s become as much about the process as the finished product.
“You go into a different world when you’re making stuff,” says Joanne. “I find that especially during lockdown it was a form of escapism. And then of course you get to make some cool things for your house as well.”
An artist and maker, Joanne shares her projects on her Instagram account (@joannemooney_) and, during Covid-19, started selling punch needlecraft kits online, at tinythings.ie, in lieu of in-person workshops, as she found that, like her, people were looking for fun, low-key ways to get creative.
“At night when I’m on the couch, that’s when I kind switch off — I always have to have something in my hands,” she says. “I’ll be watching Netflix, having a glass of wine and punching for Ireland — that’s my ideal night.”
Following on from macramé, punch needle embroidery is having a huge renaissance and is flooding craft Instagram feeds (the hashtag #punchneedle currently features over 300,000 posts). Similar to traditional rug hooking, you use a hollow needle to literally poke yarn through woven fabric and form a continuous loop stitch.
Modern craft projects favour loose, abstract shapes and bold, fun, colourways. “It’s a really old-fashioned craft, but people are putting a whole new contemporary spin on it,” says Joanne.
She puts her punch needle creations on walls, cushions and even baskets. “I’m always thinking of stuff to make and share that’s a little bit quirky or a little bit funny.”
Stylist Ann Marie O’Leary launched The Flower Press Company (theflowerpresscompany.ie) last year and says flower pressing is a great way to more mindfully connect with nature.
“You suddenly start looking at everything as a possibility to press and bring home, so you have to be that bit more aware when you’re walking.”
While pressed flowers look pretty, one of Ann Marie’s favourite things to press is the humble fern, which loves our damp Irish weather. “I should really call it a botanical press,” she laughs. “I love greenery.”
As decorative motifs go, you might associate ferns with Victorian-era design — and for good reason, too. There was a huge craze for amateur botany and fern collecting in Britain in the mid 19th century, with ferns decorating everything from pottery and textiles to teapots and even gravestones. Such was the love of the pretty botanicals that in 1855, the term ‘pteridomania’, meaning ‘fern madness’ or ‘fern craze’, was coined.
Then, like now, the appeal lay as much in the art of seeking and collecting as in the displaying. “You become more immersed in nature and are maybe able to stop worrying for a while,” says Ann Marie.
Her wooden presses are hand-made in Co Kerry and feature solid brass fixtures; they are light enough to tote with you on a woodland walk but sturdy enough to be passed down. “I’ve always thought it would be lovely for families to go on walks together, pressing and writing down what they find,” says Ann Marie. “It’s a great way of spending time together and hopefully it can become a tradition that gets carried on.”
You can use pressed ferns and flowers to make an on-trend botanical gallery wall, or just add a single framed piece to an existing gallery wall for a hint of colour and texture.
Ann Marie is effusive about the design benefits of plants and pressed botanicals: “Every home is all straight lines until you bring in plants,” she says. “A home gets its curves, softness and texture from living things.”
The beauty of pressing or crafting is as much in the memory of the making as anything else — think of it as your personal souvenir from these strange and curious days.