Mollie Makes meets The Cobra Lily

Kate Alacorn picture by Grace Kim

Paper artist Kate Alcorn reveals how she makes her stunning bouquets of paper flowers and her top tips for making your own.

Seattle-based paper artist Kate Alcorn makes some of the most realistic and gorgeous paper flowers we have ever seen. From wedding bouquets to quirky paper mushrooms, Kate’s crepe paper creations have not only us swooning, but have been featured by The House That Lars Built and Design*Sponge.

Working from her home in Seattle, Kate runs flower making workshops as well as constantly creating new blooms to add to her repertoire. We caught up with Kate to find out how she creates new designs and her top tips to make paper flowers of your own…

The Cobra Lily Bouquet of paper flowers

Hi Kate, so why paper flowers?

It’s so wide open in terms of materials, technique, and subject matter.  I love that, under the heading ‘paper plant life’, I get to make everything from roses to lichen to cacti—all of which are completely different crafting experiences.  I also just really enjoy having flowers around and being able to arrange and rearrange them.  I’ve also experimented with making paper fish, corals, birds, and snakes, and I hope to do more of that next year.

What’s your design process?

I usually start by trying to find a model and, if I can’t, I’ll start compiling photos on Pinterest. Then I try to break the flower down into smaller tasks—figure out the centre, what kind of colouring the petals need and so on. I usually don’t make several full drafts of a flower, but rather drafts of the component parts. I find it satisfying to tweak and rework the patterns and improve them over time as I learn new techniques. I also make time to just mess around with crepe paper and try new things, often with no particular design in mind. I’ve got a big plastic tub in the top of my closet where I toss experiments I think are interesting. I dig through there sometimes looking for ideas to develop.

Paper lilies by The Cobra LilyPetals by The Cobra Lily

Where do you go for inspiration?

I love the Bellevue Botanical Garden, the Volunteer Park Conservatory, and the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Seattle.  We’re also very spoiled in this area for wonderful nurseries, florists, and flower markets.

Your flowers are stunning, but which is your favourite to create?

I especially enjoy colouring and crinkling Icelandic poppy petals—I never know exactly how the colour and texture is going to turn out on the finished flower.  I like the suspense!

What’s the first thing you ever made?

The first thing I can remember making – and, really, I just helped design it – was a grey corduroy skirt when I was four. My mom made it from a section of a leg of my dad’s torn trousers. She took me to the fabric store and we chose red rickrack and she let me pick two iron-on patches – picked a turtle and an alligator! I was really proud of and impressed by my mom’s sewing skills and general cleverness.

Cacti by The Cobra LilyFlower stamens by The Cobra Lily

You work from home, do you have a dedicated space for making?

I’ve got a small table near a window in my son’s room that I use for photos because it’s the most reliable natural light at home. I work at the dining table, the kitchen counter, the couch, in bed, in the parked car while my daughter naps in her car seat, at the park while she and my son play – you name it! I’m always packing up supplies to take out in case I have a few minutes to cut petals.

Depending on what I have going on, I might be focusing on shooting a tutorial, finishing a commission, or developing a class. Today I’m finishing the prep work for a tiger lily workshop that I’m teaching tomorrow , so I’ll spend the afternoon making up kits of supplies for everyone. Hopefully, I’ll also find time to work on a peony design I’ve been tinkering with too.

What’s been your proudest project?

I made a mushroom using honeycomb paper that I thought was pretty clever. Everything about that one was tricky to figure out, so it was satisfying to have it all come together.

 … and what’s been your biggest craft fail?

I helped my younger sister make a squid costume for Halloween when she was in sixth grade and I was in high school.  I thought it looked pretty good, but when she came home she told me people had been asking her all day if she was dressed as a condom. Oops!

What are your top tips for running a craft business?

Be realistic about the prices you need to charge to pay yourself a reasonable wage. Take care of yourself so you have the stamina to run your business. Starting a craft business isn’t the only way to have an artistic outlet, to treat your work seriously, or to connect with others who love crafting. Sometimes the purest expression of devotion to your craft can be deciding not to turn it into a business.

Paper flower Posy by The Cobra Lily

Who would be your dream collaboration be with?

It would be to make a headdress for the harpist Joanna Newsom to wear on an album cover. Something weird and pretty with foxgloves, mushrooms, and carnivorous plants maybe?  We’ll see what Joanna wants!

Kate’s top three crafting tips for creating paper flowers

  1. Whenever possible, have a live flower or plant you can tear up.  It helps to be able to trace petals to create templates and to see how the flower comes together
  2. When you’re developing a new flower, cut test petals in different weights of crepe paper so you can compare texture and body.  Save these test petals for future reference
  3. Try using less glue than you think you need.

Paper flowers by The Cobra LilyTo keep up with Kate’s makes visit her website or follow her on Instagram