Making Gypsy Flowers – An Exercise In Knife Skills

by Paul Nicholls

gypsy flower displayed in log

Gypsy flowers - a traditional craft. Photo; Paul Nicholls

Gypsy Flowers - A Traditional Decorative Craft

"Gypsy Travellers were an essential part of the local agricultural workforce. Starting in late spring, the travellers moved throughout the summer and autumn from farm to farm as each crop needed harvesting. In winter, they earned money by making wooden clothes pegs, primrose baskets or decorative wooden flowers and selling them from door to door." - M J & B D Chappell. April 2003. The History of Gypsy Travellers in Britain. The RH7 History Group.

I began making Gypsy flowers a few years ago, displaying and selling them at regional fairs. These flowers are popular! I have also given away many as gifts over the years and they are a lovely thing to make and enjoy. Each one will be unique and therefore even more special. You can colour them or add drops of scented oil for variety.

Gypsy Flowers - Improve Your Knife Skills

As an exercise in improving knife skills, flower making tests and refines your knife control and carving accuracy. Concentration and close up work is required and it will certainly test the sharpness of your knife. It's a nice way to spend an evening whittling by the fire

This article illustrates and explains how I make Gypsy flowers.

selecting hazel for Gypsy flower carving

Finding and selecting the Hazel. Photo: Paul Nicholls

I find coppiced stools of Hazel are a good place to look as the sprouting shoots are generally straight and knot-free. You are looking for a dead piece, thumb thickness wide. You can use green wood but this doesn’t produce as nice a curl as dead does.

selecting hazel for Gypsy flower carving

Select a knot-free, straight section approx. 5-6 ins long, about thumb thickness in width. Photo; Paul Nicholls

Once you have selected your section, put a shallow point on the thicker end.

The wrong way to carve

The wrong way to carve. Photo: Paul Nicholls

the correct way to carve

Elbows on knees – the correct way to carve. Photo; Paul Nicholls

de bark the end of the section

The de-barked section. Photo; Paul Nicholls

On the slightly thicker end, carve a pencil shaped point. This will become the base of the flower. It is at this stage that if you want to put a hole in it to display it on a stick, it’s the best time. De-bark about 5 inches as smooth as you can. This will make the first lot of petals easier to carve.

starting to carve the petals

Starting the carving. Photo; Paul Nicholls

Starting at the opposite end to the point, with the knife tip raised up, carve down the wood as evenly as possible to create your first petal. With the knife tip up, this will create a curl off to the left hand side. Every time you carve a new petal, try to maintain the same knife angle as before.

the first petal

The first petal. Photo; Paul Nicholls

Finish the first petal just above the point on the stick. Try not to cut off the curl.

adding more petals

Adding more petals. Photo; Paul Nicholls

Rotate the stick a little to the left and start another petal. All the petals should begin at the same point. The finishing point for each petal should sit slightly to the right, directly under the petal above.

take your time carving the petals

Continue carving petals. Take your time! Photo; Paul Nicholls

keep the curls tidy

Keeping the curls tidy. Photo; Paul Nicholls

After a few rotations, you will find you need to push the petals out a little. To do this, when you get to the end of the cut, tilt the knife away from you to push the petals down. This will also help in stopping cutting off the petals already made and will make room for more.

carving the last few petals

The final few petals. Photo; Paul Nicholls

For the last lot of petals, I like to make some slightly shorter and more finely curled ones. I think this just adds to the overall appearance and shape of the flower. Keep making these final curls until the stick snaps off.

finishing a Gypsy flower

The finished flower. Photo; Paul Nicholls

underside of Gypsy flower showing display stick

The underside showing insertion of display stick. Photo; Paul Nicholls

I hope that some of you will give this a go? When you do, please take a photo and post a link to it in the comments section below, so that I can see your lovely works of art!

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Paul Nicholls, from Bedford, attended his first Bushcraft course in 2008, where he met Paul Kirtley, who was leading the course. The course had a huge impact on Paul and he spent the subsequent six years learning and practising more new skills. Now known as “Spoons” to his bushcraft friends, Paul has developed a particular love of carving. After helping with Frontier Bushcraft informally in 2013, he was invited to join Frontier’s instructional team in 2014.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Stephen Walker

Hi Paul
I saw a few of these years ago and you, unfortunately 😉 have enthused me to have a go.
Tidy f’sticking there, and a lovely finish.
I like the idea of some scented oil to complete the effect.
Thanks,
Stephen

Reply

Paul

Hi steve
Great to hear that I’ve enthused you to have a go at making some. A few drops of lavender oil is what I’ve scented them with before. It would lovely to see some pictures of the ones you make.

Reply

Gwyn James

Just looking at the cutting position. If it helps I teach my scouts the Golden Triangle which is from the belly button to both knees. nothing must enter it, knife work or backpacking stoves. Often leads too some conjecture.

Reply

Paul

Hi Gwyn
We always teach safe cutting/carving techniques on all our courses,elbows on knees is one of them. You will find it hard then with this technique to cut your femoral arteries. Thank you for your comment.

Reply

Dave Howard

Hi Paul, thanks for sharing this amazing display of knife skill. What a lot of practice needed to become as good as this; feather sticks are one thing, to keep the cuts and curls this even the whole time is something else. Spoons, I salute you !!
All the best, Dave.

Reply

Paul

Hi Dave
Thank you for such kind comments. It’s just practice over the years to get my knife skills up. Having a super sharp knife is key as well to get the curls right. Hope you have a go at making some.
Spoons

Reply

Robin

Hi Spoons,

Very nice flower!

For many years I have practices knife skills making gypsy flowers from toothpicks, I have never made one that looks anywhere near as good as your one.

Once again you show your skills. Congratulations and I shall strive harder to do better with mine.

Regards

Robin

Reply

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