Since Cicely Mary Barker first created her flower fairies in 1923, fairy enthusiasts have been under a misconception. Because Barker drew her fairies in their work uniforms—for example, the Holly Fairy wearing holly leaves—people began to believe that these “uniforms” were the only thing these fairies wore day after day.
This belief has made the fairy faithful overlook a huge aspect of their favorite sprites’ culture—fairy haute couture, according to longtime enthusiast and fairy-garden manager Nancy Quinn-Simon. To correct this oversight, Quinn-Simon has created a line of fairy fashions so we humans can participate in this charming aspect of the pixies’ daily lives, and add to our gardens’ magical appeal.
A member of the Herb Society of America, author and 30-year elementary-school teacher, Quinn-Simon retired from teaching about five years ago. She and her husband operate Carlyle Farm, an educational herb farm in Massillon, Ohio. Soon after retiring, she learned about her first fairy garden when she volunteered to help maintain the Hoover Historical Herb Society garden in nearby Canton, Ohio, in addition to her own herb farm. “The first garden they assigned me was the fairy garden,” she says. A good friend mentored her, and introduced her to the many miniature plants that could make up a fairy garden. (For information on planting a fairy garden, please see “Gardening with Fairies,” March 2005.)
“A year or so later I got on the committee for the new children’s garden in our town, modeled after the children’s garden at Michigan State [University],” she says. “I wanted a fairy garden and asked to help plan and design that garden.”
Between the two fairy gardens, Quinn-Simon was becoming quite a fairy aficionado, but she didn’t start thinking about fairy fashions until one day—about two years later—when she was leading a group of children on a fairy garden tour. She was telling them about fairy lifestyles as they walked around searching for “evidence” of fairy activity, such as moisture canopies that are left after a fairy party. “We were looking for the fairies,” she says. “The kids start going around looking for moisture canopies, saying ‘Wow! There were a lot of parties here last night.’ They want to believe, they really do.”
It was during this particular tour that Quinn-Simon had an unusual thought. When explaining to the children how to attract fairies, she mentioned that a reflection pond or gazing ball is essential, because legends say that fairies are notoriously vain. She suddenly realized that it didn’t make sense that these vain fairies would wear their day-to-day work outfits to their many social events, such as the harvest ball.
To fill this void, Quinn-Simon and the children in her fairy garden workshops began creating fairy fashions out of pressed plant material. “I thought about their lifestyles, such as their famous moonlight swims, which inspired my swimwear collection. One collection led to another, and it just kept spiraling,” she says. She has now created a small book, The Paper Doll Book of Flower Faerie Fashions (Tri-Mark Print Services, 2004), with her own pressed-flower designs. In it, she includes a number of collections, including swimwear, outerwear, leisurewear, sweatshirts, dresses, evening gowns and sleepwear.
When creating one’s own fairy fashions, anything goes. “No plant material is off limits, so choices are phenomenal,” Quinn-Simon says in her book. “Flower fairy fashions are only restricted by the imaginations of the designers.”
Creating fairy fashions is simple, which is what makes this a perfect project to do with small children, Quinn-Simon says. Here are her easy instructions:
• First, go into the garden and collect small flowers and herbs that might have meaning to fairies, such as thyme and violas. Press them in acid-free paper, which is readily available from craft and scrap-booking stores, in a thick book, such as a dictionary or phone book until they are completely dry, about one week.
• From additional acid-free paper, cut out patterns of dresses, shirts, pants or other fashions, in fairy size, of course. (Most of Quinn-Simon’s dresses, for example, measure about 3 inches from top to bottom.)
• Once the botanicals are completely dry, arrange them to cover the front of the pattern.
• Attach them with acid-free glue (also available at craft stores). Once one side has dried, flip it over and repeat to cover the back side.
Quinn-Simon says that working with fairy fashions and fairy gardens is a wonderful project to light up children’s imaginations. “They’re absolutely captivated,” she says. “You can see it sparkling in their eyes.”
The children’s willing suspension of disbelief makes the project even more fun for adults. Quinn-Simon hosts children’s fairy workshops at her fairy gardens. She dresses in full fairy attire, tells the kids a fairy story, takes them on a fairy hunt and then helps them create their own small fairy garden. At the start of one of these workshops, a child raised his hand, looking deeply concerned about something. As Quinn-Simon approached, he motioned for her to come close so he could whisper something in her ear. “Your wings are crooked,” he whispered.
“He looked so serious,” Quinn-Simon says. “I told him, ‘Alex, can I let you in on a secret? I’m not a real fairy. I wasn’t born with these wings. Can that be our secret?’” He nodded in solemn consent. Later, as the children were working on their fairy gardens in groups, Alex began waving his hand wildly for assistance, saying, “Fake fairy, fake fairy, I need help!”
Quinn-Simon says the most important thing is letting the children know that there is no right or wrong in this project. “I’ve gone into schools and done this with second and third graders,” she says. “Even little boys are totally enthralled with this. One was making a football uniform. The important thing is to take it out of the realm of dolls and get them to start thinking of little people.”
Jessica Kellner is coordinating editor for The Herb Companion.
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