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Artist preserves treasured flowers to create keepsakes

From bridal bouquets to tributes to lost loved ones, Sal Sanji preserves sentimental flowers so they can be treasured forever.

Sal Sanji encapsulates flowers in resin to create keepsakes
Sal Sanji encapsulates flowers in resin to create keepsakes

After drying blooms, she encapsulates them in resin to create keepsakes such as ornaments, paperweights and jewellery.

Sal, who lives in Wellington, was inspired to start crafting the mementoes after experimenting with her own wedding flowers.

"I had an artificial bouquet because the thought of spending hundreds of pounds on flowers for them to be used for a day and then wilt and die just felt a waste to me.

"I thought there had to be more that could be done with the flowers to keep them alive for longer so I started practising with my own bouquet.

"I spent a year trying different techniques and ideas with different flowers and learning all about exothermic reactions - I nearly burnt our house down at one point. When I felt I was ready I set up my business, Sals Forever Flowers, in January 2020.

"We work with a lot of couples and newly-weds and also work with grieving families to create something they can treasure forever," she tells Weekend.

The venture has been a family affair as Sal's husband Adam, daughter Kal and son Yusuf, all play a role in the day to day running of the business.

As soon as Sal receives flowers from a customer, she immediately starts the drying process which involves immersing them in silica gel sand inside an airtight container to remove moisture and preserve their natural colour and structure.

The first step is to dry the flowers which preserves their colour and shape

"With wedding flowers, I ask for them to be sent to me the next day. With funeral flowers I realised it's always bit sensitive so I just ask that they send them to me as soon as they can and I'll do my best with what they send.

"If the flowers get too wet, they will start to rot. Usually a family member will return the next day to collect some flowers or an arrangement," she explains.

"The flowers are always handled with the utmost care and treasured as if they were my own. I always keep customers up to date on how I am progressing on their order."

Each flower takes a different amount of time to dry and the process can take anywhere between a few days to a few weeks. If they are left in the silica too long, the petals will become brittle and they are at risk of crumbling.

Next, Sal arranges the flowers in a silicone mould, which vary depending on the particular keepsake she is making for the customer.

Sal pours resin into a mould

"This is the creative part. Every resin artist will do it differently. Some will pack in the flowers but I prefer a more minimalist look," she explains.

"During the drying process, the colour. shade and colour can change a bit but once they go into the resin, this is how they will stay and they will last forever."

Once Sal is happy with the design, the next step is to mix deep pour epoxy resin with a hardening agent and then start pouring it into the mould in layers.

She has to take care not to pour in too much at once because during the mixing process an exothermic reaction occurs, which makes the crystal clear mixture heat up. If it gets too hot, it can bake the flowers and change their colour and appearance.

Once all of the layers have been added, the resin is left to cure in the workshop, which is kept at a balmy 28c to aid the drying process, for around 72 hours.

Sal makes a wide range of keepsakes such as ornaments, paperweights and jewellery

Most flowers can be preserved in this way apart from anthuriums and succulents. "Anthuriums have a waxy coating which prevents them from drying out. Succulents shrivel up when they are dried and do not keep their colour or form," explains Sal.

Once the resin has been removed from the mould, it will be sanded and polished by Adam to remove any air bubbles or rough edges and to ensure it has a shiny finish.

"It's always a bit of a surprise when it comes out of the mould. I never know exactly how it will look and every one will be different.

"A lot of people don't know that flowers can be preserved in this way. I would never have had an artificial bouquet if I had known I could do this," says Sal, who also preserves whole bouquets in 3D flower boxes as well as individual flowers.

Since starting her business, Sal, who previously ran an online gift shop, has won many awards including the title of Most Trusted Wedding Flower Preservation Specialists UK at the Lux 2022 Global Wedding Awards, which she describes as a "huge achievement".

She was also named Best Newcomer at the The Wedding Industry Awards and County Winner at the Matrimony Awards.

"I get such as boost when I get a review and people send me photos of their flowers in their house. I enjoy being creative and making something special for people that they will be able to treasure for a long time," says Sal.

*See salsforeverflowers.com

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