By Sarah Wolfe
Glynis Abapo knew just what she wanted her dream wedding cake to be: simple. Three or four tiers. A rich, white confection with white peonies and peony petals cascading down the middle.
The problem? The handmade sugar flowers cost a fortune.
Abapo found her answer in plastic flowers — specifically, the quirky yet elegant creations crafted by Tennessee artist Lauren Karnitz from materials that most people throw away: milk jugs, detergent bottles, straws, wires, medicine bottles, even sucker wrappers.
The flowers were relatively affordable, says Abapo, 31, of Atlanta. And eco-friendly.
“And it was just beautiful and just what I wanted,” she says.
Karnitz, a 42-year-old oil painter, has been crafting roses, peonies, magnolias, sunflowers and other hybrid creations out of recycled materials for nearly two years. She stumbled into the wedding flower business as an experiment, but since working with Abapo, Karnitz has filled orders for cake flowers, bouquets, corsages and boutonnieres from about a dozen brides.
“‘Can I have that?’ is now my signature phrase,” Karnitz says, laughing. “Meaning, can I have that peculiar piece of plastic you are about to toss?”
Most of her clients are eco-conscious brides who like the idea of reusing materials for their flowers.
Other green-minded brides are making or buying alternative flowers made from fabric, paper, even old brooches. Martha Stewart magazine has a tutorial on making paper flowers, while websites like The Blue Petyl offer dozens of combinations of brooches, buttons, pearls and more, from about $100 to $500.
Bridal designer Princess Lasertron sells a felted flower kit for bridal bouquets for $140.
Like any other wedding florist, Karnitz consults with brides beforehand to get a feel for their wedding theme and size, and what they want.
Then she gets to work at her home in Knoxville using a trove of discarded junk. Slices of laundry detergent bottles become petals. Ribbon, electrical conduit and copper wire are transformed into stamens, pistils and stems.
“The blooms are all built petal by petal, working in the round, so all sides are considered,” Karnitz says. “Each petal provides a surface for the next, and so on and so on.”
Her collection of recycled refuse comes from friends, family and even complete strangers familiar with her craft.
“It’s funny. Every time I go somewhere I get handed bags of things,” Karnitz says. “Like garbage bags of milk jugs or, here’s some little wires and stuff.”
It takes up to two hours to make one corsage or boutonniere, depending on the difficulty. Providing flowers for a cake can take anywhere from 20 to 30 hours.
Costs vary. Boutonnieres and corsages average $45 each, while cake flowers run anywhere from $150 to $450 per cake depending on cake size and design complexity.
Karnitz doesn’t dye or paint her flowers but keeps the colors of the recycled materials. Many of her designs burst with color, like bright yellow peony cake flowers made from cream and yellow milk jugs, or an azure blue corsage constructed with blue twist ties and accented by a tiny yellow bumble bee.
“This is plastic as in, ‘Aha, that’s plastic!’, as opposed to looking like plastics or recycled art,” Karnitz says.
For fall weddings, she incorporates an earthier, more neutral palate for creations like “pencil bloom” boutonnieres, small round blooms made from pencil shavings and tiny cut-up black straws anchored by a swirl of red plastic from bottles in the middle.
Her Double Beige Bloom boutonniere — two small blossoms of light brown crinkled ribbon, straws and plastic bottle shreds — is tied together with a sheer, brown, taffeta ribbon.
“I know anyone can create flowers from plastic materials, but Lauren’s come from very good quality,” Abapo says. “They’re very unique and can catch anyone’s attention.”
One of the best things about recycled wedding flowers, according to Karnitz, is that they last much longer than real flowers and can be displayed for years afterward.
“You can have them forever,” she says, “this memento of your special day.”