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In early 1940s wartime Britain, every scrap of land went into food production and people's back gardens were largely cleared of flowering plants in order to grow vegetables. So vases of cut flowers were rare.
There were of course imitation flowers from before the war, made from wax or silk, but few families had ever had any and fewer still had kept them.
One solution was the live greenery of carrot top houseplants. For colour, though, it was gypsies who came to the rescue with their imitation chrysanthemums.
Gypsies were adapt at woodland crafts. They made all sorts of things from wood and plants that grew in the countryside, which were of course free for the taking. Their gypsy clothes pegs are well known, and were the only type of clothes peg that I remember from my 1940s childhood. Gypsies' abilities to produce imitation chrysanthemums is less well-known.
Gypsies made their chrysanthemums from wood shavings, dye and wooden sticks. To my young eyes, the results looked very effective.
The starting point was a stick of wood shaved into a cylinder about three inches long and half to three quarters of an inch wide. Then slivers were shaved off towards one end. The photo shows the idea.
The wood had to be fresh, so that the slivers would automatically curl as they were shaved off, and they had to be more or less the same width and length. Care had to be taken that they stopped just short of the base of the cylinder so keeping the end as a solid holding block. This was more easily said than done. The gypsies were craftsmen.
A hole was bored into the base to take the stick that would act as the stem.
Then the blocks of shavings had to be dyed. In the top photo, the imitation chrysanthemums are more brashly coloured than those that I knew as a child in wartime 1940s. (I took the photo at an event where enthusiasts were demonstrating old crafts.) The colours of the gypsies' chrysanthemums were much more natural-looking. Their dyes were probably plant based.
The gypsies would come round the streets, knocking on doors to sell their woodland crafts including their imitation chrysanthemums.
I was told that the gypsies were not averse to putting a foot in a door to prevent the housewife from shutting them out, but I don't remember this happening to my mother. I do remember though that the gypsies tried to sell sprigs of heather "for luck" and that women were afraid of them and tended to buy what they didn't want so that the gypsies would go away.
My mother always bought pegs and imitation chrysanthemums from the gypsies. I well remember vases of gypsy chrysanthemums around the house.