Small handheld floral bouquets called nosegays, posies or tussie-mussies date back to medieval times, when women carried these fragrant bouquets as a way to help mask the stench of the streets. Nosegay quite literally means a gay nose. A posy is either a small bouquet or a gift of verse and the name tussie-mussie comes from a 15th-century rhyme in which tusse means a cluster of flowers and mussie the moss that wrapped the flower stems.
Throughout history, nosegays have mimicked fashion trends. In Elizabethan times, when women wore layered gowns with high lace collars, their nosegays were packed with dense bands of flowers and finished with stiff lace doilies. In 17th-century Versailles, when necklines plunged and fashions became softer, nosegays followed suit. Bouquets were adorned with silky ribbons, transforming them into the perfect accessory for an elegant courtier. They were often held in cone-shaped holders made of gold, silver or other precious materials such as ivory.
During the 19th century, posies or tussie-mussies were all the rage. Early in the century these bouquets were fairly uniform, with a large flower or cluster of flowers in the center, surrounded by concentric rings of smaller flowers, herbs and foliage. By mid century, the fashion in posies was more relaxed. Flowers were often clustered in blocks of color, providing an alternative to the standard circular configuration.
Color combinations also changed over time. In the 1850s and 1870s, color harmonies and subtle pastel blends were popular. During the 1860s, contrast was in favor, and complementary colors were placed next to each other—red with green, yellow with purple.
In the Victorian Age, the period from 1837 to 1901 named for the reign of Queen Victoria, nosegays were tightly packed with flowers, herbs, and foliage. A lacy doily or bouquet paper often surrounded the arrangement. The stems were wired to a slender twig for support and covered with damp moss. The bouquet was then placed in a posy holder or wrapped with ribbon and held in a handkerchief.
How to Make a Tussie-Mussie
As in every craft activity, there are many ways to make a small floral bouquet. Find the one that suits your style. Below are some basic guidelines to get you started.
If possible, condition your flowers for several hours or overnight. Cut one half inch off the stems on a diagonal to allow maximum water uptake. Place the flowers in tepid water with flower conditioner and set the container in a cool, shady spot in your home. This keeps the flowers fresh and firm.
Roses, carnations, lavender, button mums, small asters, globe amaranth, bachelor’s buttons, yarrow, baby’s breath, statice, rosemary, mint, basil, parsley, fennel, sage, ferns, dusty miller, tree leaves, scented geranium leaves, lamb’s ear leaves, ivy.
When you are ready to make your tussie-mussie, cut the flowers so that the stems are 4 to 6 inches long. Cut stems with a pair of pruners or sharp scissors. Remove all of the foliage. (It might be easier for you to arrange with longer stems and then cut the bouquet afterwards.)
- Take the largest flower and hold it in your left hand. Add a second layer of flowers or herbs, slowly rotating the bouquet as you go. Add a third layer by continuing to rotate the bundle, adding more flowers and herbs. For the final layer add some foliage. You will be adding the flowers in a circular motion creating a spiral.
- Secure the stems with a rubber band. Take the rubber band and slide it over 2 to 3 stems. Then coil the rubber band several times around the entire bundle of stems, sliding it over 2 to 3 more stems towards the end of the bunch. The rubber band will look as if you twisted a wire around the stems. You can also wrap the stems with floral wire or pipe cleaners.
- (Optional) Take a paper doily. Gently fold in half and make a straight 1 to 1½ inch cut through the center. Unfold, fold in half in the other direction, and make a similar cut. You will be making a small X cut in the center of the doily that you can slide the stems through. The measurement of the cut will depend on the diameter of your bundle of stems. Secure doily with florist pins.
- Cover the base of the stems with damp sphagnum moss or a damp paper towel. Wrap with either aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Camouflage the foil or plastic wrap with a ribbon or handkerchief.
If you are handy with floral arrangements, you can wrap the center stem with floral tape and secure the other stems with tape as you go. Remember to stretch the tape so that the tension is firm and even, and the bundle sticks together. The stems should be dry when you work with floral tape.
Wrap the stems with moss and plastic wrap. Cover plastic wrap with floral tape. Starting from the top of the stem, stretch the tape and wind down the stem diagonally, overlapping as you go. If this is too labor intensive, you can wrap the different layers of flowers rather than the individual stems with pipe cleaners or floral tape. The more stems you wrap individually, the sturdier the bouquet will be. Decorate with ribbon.