A traditional buttonhole consisted of a single flower and a boutonniere was made up of a number of stems of small headed flowers such as a spray rose, heather or stephanotis. The Victorians and Edwardians loved a buttonhole as a fashion accessory and flowers weren’t restricted to roses or carnations. They might use exotic blooms such as gardenias or camellias. The flower was usually backed by a small spray of foliage or a leaf.
The rose has always been a favourite for use in a buttonhole. At the beginning of the 1950s the rose was taken over in popularity by the carnation, backed with a piece of fern.
The rose then came back into vogue. Often a single rose matching the colour of the bride’s bouquet was chosen for the groom to set him apart from the rest of the bridal party.
Wherever possible a wired buttonhole would have been worn through the buttonhole and not pinned onto the front of the lapel. For this reason the flower stem needed to be very fine. Flower heads of thicker stemmed blooms such as roses were mounted on taped wire to achieve a thinner stem.
How to wire a rose for a buttonhole
The initial flower selection is important. You’re looking for a fairly small, beautiful flower in perfect condition. The flower should have already had a good drink. Big, garden roses don’t work well in button holes as they are too chunky, round and blobby. You don’t want a rose which will stick out too much and flop due to the weight.
Try not to touch the ends of the petals as they bruise easily. You may need to remove the outer guard petals and any damaged petals that are visible.
Bunch several rose wires together. Fold them over the scissor blades at one end to create a small “U” shape in each wire. Snip off these folded ends to make staples. The length of wire you’re folding is approximately 1.5 cm long. With practise you will get 5 pins out of 1 length of wire, just enough for 1 rose. Cut the wires at an angle for ease of insertion. The angle makes them sharper to go into the rose. Press these staples into the sepals — the small green leaves immediately below the petals — so they are held in place. If a sepal breaks, cut it off and put at the back of a button-hole. Pinning the sepals stops the flower opening too much.
Support Mount the Stem
The goal of wiring a single, beautiful bloom is to be able gently manipulate the flower head and surrounding leaves into the perfect angle once the button hole has been attached to the jacket lapel. You wire a rose to both lighten and to manipulate the stem. You wire to lighten and to move. Make sure you cut the stems short enough for wiring. Too long a stem will make a button-hole heavy and the stem may snap. There’s then no point in wiring in the first place!
Trim the rose stem at an angle just below the seedbox. It is important the rose is cut at a steep angle. This will mean a smoother finish at the end. You don’t want a big ugly stem which suddenly gets thinner. You want to aim for a beautiful tapered stem. Push a 22 swg, 0.71 mm gauge stub wire up through the base of the stem and up into the calyx. (Internal Support Mount). I think of this as the `Ju Jung! Action’. The mount wire needs to be strong enough to support, but not overly heavy. The gauge will vary depending on how thick the stem. You may need a thicker 18 swg, 1.22 mm stub wire. Push up about half way through the head of the rose. Cut the wire – about 4.5cm – 6 cm stem length.
The cross wire makes sure the support mount stays in place and provides stability.
Use a thin rose wire to pierce the side of the stem. I used a 0.56 mm, 24 swg for my cross wires. Traditionally rose cross wire is 0.46mm, 26swg, however this is very fine and bends easily. Use the thinnest you can manage without bending excessively. Cut the wire to a nice sharp angle for ease of insertion. Push this wire halfway through the stem at a 90 degree angle to the stem, so you have an equal length of the wire at each side. Keep fingers close to the stem to avoid kinking the wire. Once the wire is through pull the wire from the other side, don’t push. Repeat with another rose-wire to form a cross through the calyx. Bend each side of the rose wire 90 degrees so the four lengths are parallel to the stem. Twist one of the rose wires around the rose stem, the support wire and the remaining length of rose wire in a double leg mount. Cut the cross wires shorter than the support wire.
Tape the Rose
Gutta Tape is the generic name for the tape used to cover wires and seal stem ends. It is also known as stem tape. It seals in moisture and covers the rough cut end. Taping the stem holds in moisture which allows plant material to stay fresh for longer.
Parafilm, plastic Gutta Tape, is not inheritantly sticky. It is activated by the warmth of your fingers. It is best to put it somewhere warm such as a pocket or down your top, if you have cold hands.
Once the rose is wired hold the calyx between your thumb and forefinger in your left hand. Starting at the top near the head of the rose, gently wrap the tape down the wire, turning the item as you go. Make sure you cover the holes where the rose wire entered the calyx. Stretch the tape as you bind down and carry on until the whole wire is covered. Twist the tape at the end to seal before cutting off. (Stretch, warm, twizzle as you go.) Make sure you cover the sharp point.
Preparing the leaves
Traditionally a rose bloom is always accompanied by it’s own foliage. Choose three clean, firm leaves – one a little larger than the others. The rose leaves need to be support wired by a method called stitching.
Stitching is used to support individual leaves and does exactly what it says! A length of fine wire is stitched through the front of the leaf about two thirds of the way up then brought down to form a loop. The ends are then twisted together around the stem of the leaf to create a false stem.
Hold the leaf with the underside uppermost. Using a good length of fine wire take a small stitch through the front of the leaf over the main vein about a third down from the tip.( The size of wire depend on the leaf thickness) Form a loop with the wire ends and twist them together at the base of the leaf to form a stem. If green wire is available, it should be used. This is the one occasion when bare wire is seen, as taped wire will not go into the flesh of a leaf. The wire stems are then taped.
Tape the largest leaf onto the rose stem so that the leaf forms a backing to the bloom. The largest leaf will provide a protective backing for the rose. Add the two smaller leaves to the front of the buttonhole so that their fronts face the bloom. Trim off the wires at an angle and bind with stem tape. The stem should be about 3.75 – 5 cm long. Gently bend the leaves down in front of the rose to form a return end and hide the support wire. Support wiring enables you to manipulate the rose leaves aesthetically.
The finished rose buttonhole should be sprayed and a dress pin attached to the stem.
A rose buttonhole appears to be a very simple, classic design. However I hope I’ve shown that there is a lot of skill and patience required to make one. In trials I have found that they are much longer lasting than the more modern gathered, tied boutonniere.