Wedding Carnations

By Hope Yancey

I’m a native North Carolinian, and Audrey lived in Duquesne, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, before relocating to North Carolina in the 1980s. I moved to the neighborhood in 2008. We had known each other a few years when she invited me to her house in 2011 to share wedding traditions important in her circle of family and friends during the 1950s and ’60s, an era before I was born.

I was reflecting recently on that discussion of changing social customs and a wedding craft Audrey taught me. It felt like a luxury to be able to spend an afternoon together talking about the past, in a conversation that bridged generations and regional roots. Thanks to Audrey, I can now take an ordinary box of tissues and turn them into carnations. The best part is no green thumb is necessary for these blooms.

No one seems to know how the practice of making carnations with Kleenex grew, but women gathered in advance of a wedding to create the flowers, typically constructed in pastel colors. The flowers sometimes complemented a bride’s wedding colors, depending on whether her colors coincided with any of the shades of tissues manufactured.

Other than an ample supply of tissues, the only essential materials were scissors and string.

Four of the two-ply tissues per flower produced the desired appearance. First, they were stacked neatly atop each other, and then folded accordion-style to achieve a pleated look. The flower-maker had a short length of string at the ready to tie around the middle of the stack.

Next, about an inch of the tissues would be cut away from each end.

Some people used nail polish to tint the edges of the flowers in a nod to the familiar dyed carnations florists sell. This step wasn’t always part of the technique, but was a matter of personal preference, Audrey said.

It took a deft touch, and a bit of patience, but when the delicate layers were carefully separated to avoid tearing – the trickiest part of the whole business – the ruffled edges that had been trimmed were opened to resemble the petals of a carnation.

The carnations were stored in paper bags prior to the wedding day, then brought out and hastily affixed to a bride and groom’s vehicle with tape while the happy couple was preoccupied with the wedding. Placement of the blossoms depended on the number of them. They could be scattered across the hood, roof and trunk as though they had sprouted there at random.

My friend and her husband drove away from their 1963 wedding in a Chevrolet Bel Air decked out with a display of soft pink, powder blue and pale yellow carnations. In fact, she participated in making the batch used.

Decorating with the carnations was an anticipated part of the celebration. If they weren’t there, Audrey might have feared “the marriage wasn’t going to take,” she said with a laugh. The ritual seems to have helped launch a long and loving union.

I didn’t know about this tradition at my own wedding 16 years ago, when I opted for roses; however, it’s never too late to take out a little insurance. I’m not superstitious, but maybe I’ll stockpile some Kleenex and get to work.

About this writer

  • Hope Yancey

    Hope Yancey

    Hope Yancey is a freelance writer and independent journalist in Charlotte, North Carolina. Personal essays are among her favorite pieces to write. Email Hope at hyanceywrites@gmail.com.

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2 Responses to “Wedding Carnations”

  1. Jennifer Bentley says:

    How cool. I think I may have made some of these before. I love your last sentences!

  2. Linda O'Connell says:

    I remember this tradition. Your story brought back good memories.

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