Making Gypsy Flowers – An Exercise In Knife Skills

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

Paul Nicholls, a.k.a "Spoons", worked as a Course Assistant, then Aspirant Instructor during the UK summer course seasons from 2014 and 2017.

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13 Responses

  1. Stephen Walker
    | Reply

    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.

    • Paul
      | Reply

      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.

  2. Gwyn James
    | Reply

    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.

    • Paul
      | Reply

      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.

  3. Dave Howard
    | Reply

    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.

    • Paul
      | Reply

      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.

  4. Robin
    | Reply

    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.



  5. Bob
    | Reply

    An interesting post.

    Glad to see “Gypsy flowers “produced in the traditional way, with a hand knife rather than with the more usual drawknife on a shave horse.

    In the end, this is just a feather stick produced to a sufficiently high quality where it becomes saleable as an ornament.

  6. 21stCenturyGypsy
    | Reply

    ‘Cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that’s not their own.

    But that’s only the most basic definition.

    A deeper understanding of cultural appropriation also refers to a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.

    That’s why cultural appropriation is not the same as cultural exchange, when people share mutually with each other – because cultural exchange lacks that systemic power dynamic.

    It’s also not the same as assimilation, when marginalized people adopt elements of the dominant culture in order to survive conditions that make life more of a struggle if they don’t.’

    This is how we’ve made a living for centuries. We are still persecuted in the UK and I find it highly insulting you’d make money crafting our flowers rooted in our culture and encourage others to do so. People want to take the good aspects from our culture but they don’t want us in their towns or villages and still use racial slurs towards us.

    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply


      I read your comments with interest and I read the linked article in full.

      It might be worth reflecting on whether appropriating the doctrines of the radical left furthers your cause. I would argue it doesn’t, particularly when you arbitrarily lump people who are sympathetic to your lifestyle and culture in with oppressors simply because they are more interested in your culture than others who are less interested. You seem to be arguing for everyone to ignore you and your culture.

      Interest tends towards adoption. Is the Spanish guy who loves Japanese Budo and immerses his life into studying its techniques insulting Japanese culture? Or is he holding it up as something to be valued?

      To address your specific criticism, no-one here is making money from these carvings. It’s a suggested knifecraft exercise.



  7. Sally H
    | Reply

    I am in the central part of the United States and interested in creating various flowers in this manner. I have already used Maple (it does very well) I was just hoping that you might know of some other species that might work.

    • Paul Kirtley
      | Reply

      Hi Sally, willows will work well, as will basswoods/lindens.

      Let me know how you get on with these if you try them.

      Warm regards,


  8. Revid
    | Reply

    Hi Paul real nice work. You inspired me to try this and so I’ve tried a few but they don’t turn out nothing like yours. I’ve tried wet wood and dry but can’t get it to curl so I end up cutting some petals of as Iam working. I’ve tried alder, and hazelnut . Will keep trying different wood unless it’s something Iam doing wrong

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