This blog is updated in 2020
Alliums have always seemed a little bit magical to me. In a garden, the long, smooth stems blend in with the other greenery, and the big globes of tiny periwinkle flowers almost seem to float in mid-air. I imagine them growing in a fairytale garden, alongside foxgloves and moon flowers.
When I set out to design a paper version, I wanted to capture that enchanted, ethereal quality. I chose a very lightweight crepe for the petals, and constructed it so that each floret radiates out from a central ball on a long wire. This design gives each petal room to stand out from its little floret, uncompressed by the florets around it. I also scaled it up to be about the size of a large cantaloupe. The end result is a big, magical globe of delicate blue flowers that is almost a bouquet in its own right.
I wanted the flower to feel free-spirited, so I cut my petals freehand, which creates little variations between florets. Once you’ve cut several sets of petals, you’ll probably find that you don’t need the template anymore, either.
This allium isn’t especially difficult to make, but producing enough florets to complete the globe is a big undertaking. I suggest making them a few at a time over a couple of weeks while watching Netflix. You can insert them into the center ball as you go — it’s the safest place for them, and it’s motivating to watch your flower fill out.
If you run out of steam before finishing, don’t despair! My assistant Emma and I noticed that a partially covered flower looks a lot like a dandelion that’s been blown and wished on.
Photography by Desiree Swanson
Styling assistance by Emma Swanson
- allium templates here
- Aleene’s Original Tacky Glue
- fine crepe in “French Violet” from Rose Mille
- heavy crepe in “Eggplant” and fine crepe in “Olive Green” from Castle in the Air
- 18 inch lengths of 18 and 20 gauge stem wire
- paper scissors
- wire snips
- small awl
- 0ptional: millinery stamens that coordinate with your paper color (Rose Mille or 32° North for similar)
- 0ne 1.5” polystyrene ball (I buy mine at Michaels)
- one 18″ length of vinyl tubing 3/8” outer diameter, ¼” inner diameter. (Home Depot and Lowe’s both carry it in the plumbing department)
A note about crepe paper grain:
The grain of the crepe paper runs parallel to the roll or fold. Crepe paper stretches horizontally, but not vertically, so you will almost always cut petals with the grain, placing the template so that the tiny wrinkles in the paper run up and down the template, not across. Cutting with the grain means that you cut in the same direction the crinkles are running; cutting across the grain means that you cut perpendicular to these crinkles.
For the stem:
Cut a 15” length of tubing at a very sharp angle. This pointy end will be the top of your stem, and you’ll insert the point into the polystyrene ball to help anchor the stem. Cut three of the 18 gauge wires so that they’re 16” long. Insert the wires into the length of tubing to hold your stem fairly straight while you wrap it.
Cut a long ¼” wide strip of the olive fine crepe across the grain. Dot glue at 1 cm intervals along the strip. Just below the top edge of your tubing, below the sharp angle you cut, begin wrapping the strip around the tubing, holding it at about a 45-degree angle to the tubing, so that it spirals down as you wrap. For a smooth finish, hold the paper taught and slightly stretch it as you wrap.
If you need to add strips, just glue the end of one strip in place, and begin wrapping the next strip about ½” above where the previous one ends.
For the flower center:
Using template A, cut a small oval from the purple heavy crepe. Dot one side of the oval with glue, and then place it on the polystyrene ball. Stretch the oval around the ball, and hold it in place a few seconds to allow the glue to set.
On the opposite end of the polystyrene ball from the center of the oval you just applied, pierce the ball with your awl. Use your awl to widen the top of this hole by holding it at a 45-degree angle to the surface of the ball and moving it all the way around the stem hole.
Cut one template B from the purple heavy crepe. Make sure the grain runs up and down the template. (The top edge should be zigzagged.)
Dot glue all over the purple crepe, including the points. Place the polystyrene ball about 2” from the bottom of the purple crepe piece. The points and the end of the ball covered by the purple oval should face up. Wrap the crepe around the ball, stretching it so that it molds to the ball.
Press and smooth the points down against the top of the ball. If there are any slight gaps between the smoothed down points, they will be camouflaged by your purple oval, and no white should show through.
Inserting the stem:
Pull the three 18 gauge wires out about four inches from the pointy end of the wrapped tubing. Insert these wires about 1” into the hole in your polystyrene ball. Slide the pointy end of your tubing up the wires, and pierce the hole with the pointy tip. You don’t need to insert the tubing very far; it just helps to have the tip anchored in the ball.
Gather the crepe “skirt” beneath the ball tightly around the stem and scrunch it to allow the glue to set around the stem. Dot a long ¼” strip of olive fine crepe with glue and cover this purple crepe skirt by wrapping the stem beneath the bottom of the covered polystyrene ball, until you meet up with the section of the stem already wrapped in olive crepe.
Snip your 20 gauge wire into 3.75” lengths. Cut a 1″ tall strip of the heavy purple crepe and stretch it all the way out as shown above. Cut this strip into sections that are wider than your template C. You can use the template C to cut this little fringe piece, or just freehand a similarly sized rectangle with three or four irregular points along the top edge. Dot glue along the bottom three quarters of this little piece. If you’re using double-headed millinery stamens, fold two of these stamens in half and place them on top of the jagged purple rectangle to make a little cluster of four stamens. Place the stamens on top of the little purple piece, so that the folded point on the stamens lies slightly below the middle of the rectangle. Place your short wire on top of the stamens, so that the tip of the wire lies slightly above the middle of the rectangle.
Wrap the rest of the rectangle loosely around your wire and scrunch the bottom to set the glue.
For the petals:
Cut a 2.25” x 3.75” rectangle of French violet fine crepe. The longer edge should run across the grain. Accordion or fan fold the strip (fold over, under, over, under) so that you have five layers of paper. Use the box around template D as a guide for how widely to space the folds (about ¾”). The fold lines should run with the grain and need to line up fairly precisely.
You should have a little folded packet of fine crepe about the size of the box around template D on the template sheet. Place template D on the packet, aligning the bottom of the template with the bottom edge of the packet.
The bottom right and left edges of the template D are marked with a dotted line that indicates that this section should not be cut, but rather aligned with the fold lines on your petal packet. Leaving this section intact on both sides will ensure that you have a continuous strip of petals.
In the photo, I’ve opened up my packet of petals to show what a continuous strip will look like, but you won’t actually open your packet yet. First, gently twist the bottom of the unopened petal packet. This will create evenly spaced crinkles that will make it easier to gather the bottom of the petal strip.
Untwist and open the petal packet. Make sure that each petal is facing the same direction and that none are twisted. Lay them side by side, very close together but not overlapping, across your forefinger, and then lay down your thumb to hold them in place. Pinch the width of the bottom of the petal strip to gather it. Dot glue on this pinched section and place your floret centers so that the top of the glue line is just above the bottom of the little piece of heavy crepe you wrapped around the tip of the wire.
Loosely wrap the gathered petal strip around the stamen wire. Adjust until the petals seem evenly spaced around the wire, and then scrunch the glued section of the strip around the stem.
Cut a ¼” wide by 4” long strip of purple heavy crepe across the grain, and dot it with glue. Beginning just under the petals, wrap the wire to about half an inch from the end of the wire, leaving a section exposed to help pierce the ball.
Push the petals back so that they lie perpendicular to the floret wire.
You’ll need between 80 and 100 florets depending on how densely you pack them into your allium.
Inserting the florets:
Beginning at the very top of the flower center, use your awl to pierce a hole in the covered polystyrene ball.
For extra security, you can dip the exposed wire on the end of your floret in glue before inserting it. (I usually don’t do this because it makes it hard to reposition the florets without tearing the paper covering the ball, but if your florets are falling out of the ball, then it’s probably worth it.)
Add a little circle of florets all around this first floret, spacing your holes about 1/8” apart. I don’t worry about being too precise with my hole spacing and just eyeball it, making sure that, overall, the florets look evenly distributed. Continue working downward, adding florets around the ball toward the stem.
The trickiest part of this project is adding the final florets around the base of the ball where you’ve inserted the stem, because you can’t push against the top of the flower to hold it in place while you insert the wires in the bottom. Instead, you can hold the stem firmly to anchor the ball while you insert the last florets up around the bottom of the ball.
About Kate: Kate Alarcón makes paper plant life and teaches workshops in the Seattle area. You can see her most recent work on Instagram @cobralilyshop.
About Desiree: Desiree Swanson is a natural light photographer in the greater Seattle area. She is passionate about babies, fiber crafts and photographing all the pretty things. You can find her on Instagram @desireeswanson