The other day at the beach we found some beautiful bits of seaweed floating in the water. We decided to collect some for pressing and started the process right there on shore. Seaweed has been pressed for both scientific study and artful display since the 17th century and reached a high in popularity during the Victorian era. So, this activity not only has the potential to bring some beauty to your home, it can also be a way to delve into history!
Considering some pressed specimens are over 100 years old, they are a wonderful resource for scientists, and they have used old specimens of pressed seaweed to examine DNA and study how marine environments have changed over time. For our purposes, we simply wanted to make some nature art, and take a closer look at the amazing specimens we found.
What you need:
– seaweed specimens (if a trip to the shore is not in the works, simply purchase dried seaweed at the store and soak it before pressing)
– a shallow tray filled with about an inch or so of water (a cookie sheet works great).
– heavy paper (watercolor paper holds up well)
– cheesecloth, muslin or wax paper to cover the pages
– newsprint or other “blotting” paper for soaking up water and dividing specimens
– corrugated cardboard
– a press or weights to put pressure on the specimens
What to do:
Gather your specimens and clean them making sure they are free of other creatures, sand, etc… If you are going to bring the specimens home to press later place them in a container with sea water. Press them as soon as possible, but if you need to wait a day or so the best advice is to keep them in their container of seawater and place them in the refrigerator.
Place your paper in the tray of water.
Add your seaweed specimens, arranging them so they are fanned out for display. Some of the more delicate specimens will cling together. You can use your fingers, or a paintbrush to gently tease them out.
Gently lift the paper up out of the water at an angle to let the water drain off without disturbing the seaweed too much.
After removing it from the water you can gently push the seaweed into position (depending on the type of seaweed). Some seaweeds are easier to move around than others.
When working with many different specimens the water can get filled with debris, especially when working alongside little eager fingers that may not be as particular about cleaning specimens. If this happens simply change out the water before moving on to the next specimen (or leave it as part of the process and the fun)!
notice all of the debris from other specimens
When working with more delicate specimens and if you simply want to examine them, you can just set them out to dry at this stage. They will naturally stick to the paper!
We even did some of these right at the beach with a bug box filled with sea water and pages we had ripped out of our nature journal. Then laid them out on rocks to dry. They were not super clean, but they turned out really fun and it was a great way to examine them while at the beach!
If you would like to actually press your specimens, go on to the next steps.
Cover your specimens with the cheesecloth or nylon so the seaweed does not stick to the blotting papers.
Place the specimen sheet on blotting paper and cover that with more paper, followed by cardboard, and your next specimens to make a seaweed sandwich.
Using your press or heavy weights, press them for a few days, checking on the thicker, wetter ones to change out damp papers to prevent mold.
We also read the recommendation to place the seaweed sandwich in front of a fan to increase air flower and speed up drying time, but this is not required.
We are in the pressing phase right now. I will keep you posted about how they come out!
What should you do with them once they are pressed?
I made up Pressed Seaweed Labels in small and large sizes to help you catalog and share more information about your specimen. (The larger ones might be easier for some writers to fill out and can be placed on the back of a specimen.)
After they are pressed they can be displayed in frames, or make cards or other crafts.
These pressed pieces would also be fantastic to use for plant scanned gift wrap!
I also made a Pressed Seaweed Pinterest board for inspiration and ideas.
What is seaweed? is a great resource to learn more about seaweed.
Preserving the Forest of the Sea has a wonderful video about how pressed seaweed is helping scientist learn more about our changing world. (It shows lots of beautiful specimens for inspiration!)
The Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections has a very detailed PDF about preservation of seaweed!
If you REALLY want to get serious, the cryptogamic botany company has a wonderful Guide to Pressing Seaweed which can be purchased or viewed online here.
Be sure to let us know if you try it!
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