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From Germination to Growth – 2021 at Flora-L in Review

It has been two years since we founded Flora-L Design. 2020 felt like a year where lots of things were in a germination phase and needed to root to build a basis. Our website needed to be established, production to be lined up, processes to be thought through etc. By the end of 2020 these things had settled. In 2021, we focused on growing and expanding from the roots we laid the year before. Here I, Judith, take you through some events and activities that have happened on the scenes and also behind the scenes at Flora-L Design. Enjoy the read!

Inspired by the wood wide web – the Flora-L podcast connects plant enthusiasts around the world

One of our goals with Flora-L for 2021 was to connect to like-minded people to build our community and to reach people beyond our network of colleagues, family, and friends. From that desire and our fondness for listening to podcasts grew the idea to start the Flora and Friends podcast. Quite an undertaking, as it turned out! Starting and running a podcast involves finding content ideas, and for our format also interview guests and learning the technical aspects of recording and cutting the audio-files and uploading, publishing, and promoting the podcast. It was a steep lurning curve, and so much fun. With some help from Anika from Podcastwonder, we launched the podcast on February 21st and since then we’ve published new material 27 times.

Podcast cover
Cover picture of the Flora and Friends podcast

I really enjoy interviewing people and learning from them. It’s not just about learning new facts about plants, but also to get to know the people and their passion. We had scientists from academia, industry or state agencies, photographers, film-makers, free-time plant amateurs and historians as guests from Europe, South Afrika and Australia. The Flora and Friends podcast has today been downloaded over 1200 times.

The top three episodes (by number of downloads) were Fascinating lichens with Jonaolof Hermansson (Episode 23), Visiting the many habitats of Pelargonium (Episode 9) with Matija Strlic and the Mysterium of the flickering Nasturtium (episode 1) with Annika Windahl Pontén. Thank you so much to each of you who has tuned in to us and to all the wonderful guests who have taken time to share their knowledge and passion. The aim for next year is to reach even more people with the podcast and to connect the podcast content with our microscopy pattern release even more. You can explore all episodes on Youtube, Spotify, Apple Podcast, Google Podcast or Deezer or here through our website.

Colourplay – when a Flora-L collection comes to life

During 2021 we have launched two new collections and four new products. Our new products were our linen napkins matching our table runners, our paper notebooks and matching pencil cases and finally are double-sided linen placemats that you can match to kitchen or home textiles. The patterns in the spring/summer collection focussed on birch, dandelion, heather, twinflower, maple, dandelion and poppy and were chosen in bright and colourful designs, a sunny yellow, a grassy green, an intense violet and a warm pink.

You loved these microscopy patterns so much that we reused some in the fall/winter collection, which were heather, birch, poppy and maple. Inspired by the winter season, we matched it with pine and spruce. We decided for a colourscheme that was not typically Christmas so that you can use these items also outside of the holiday season. We got inspired by the green of the conifer trees, the golden winter sun and illuminations in town, and the greenish-purplish colours of the Northern lights that we so often see above Umeå. Did you have a favourite collection among those two?

Spring collection 2021 highlight - microscopy patterns from birch, linnea, poppy and dandelion
Winter collection 2021 highlights - microscopy pattern from heather, maple and poppy
A table with placemats in purple and white with purple pollen pattern
Double sided linen placemats with maple leaf and spruce pollen pattern were one of our new products in 2021
Backside of notebooks showing the microscopy pattern and the original microscopy image
On the backside of our notebooks we have included the original microscopy image and a short explanation

Whenever we launch a new collection, we have plenty of discussions about which microscopy patterns and how much of which product in which pattern. Sometimes this can end in decision fatigue, we through it all over and leave it sit for a week before returning to it with a fresh spirit. That usually helps to get it all settled before we launch the production. One to two months later the products arrive and need to be photographed and added to the web-shop with their appropriate description. Especially in the winter month the photographing is a challenge due to limited daylight. That’s an opportunity to take in 2022, to either find a studio place we can rent for this purpose or to get some light and background equipment that can be easily set up and taken down. Getting the colours right on the pictures is a challenge and so important so that you can really get a good impression of textures and shades. We also offer the option to receive fabric samples if you are in doubt. Just contact us.

Judith preparing a flatlay on the ground
Preparing a flatlay on the ground on a frosty day. You gotta be quick as long as there's light!
Flatlay in preparation
The kids love to help with picture taking. Here we are preparing a flatlay with birch materials.

Making Flora-L visible – exposing at our first markets

In the summer when events were happening again, we were delighted to participate in our first market. That was at Formstråket, the 30km artist market route, through Västerbotten in Northern Sweden. It took me two large suitcases to transport all the things that I wanted to take to the market from Uppsala to Umeå on the train. Cornelia Lohf, who was also exposing at Formstråket was so nice to pick me up so that we could go to Mona Prestele’s lovely café in Hörnsjö, 45min outside of Umeå in the countryside. Mona’s place is such a delight to be at. As a professional landscape architect and with her years of experience in the café and baking business, she’s fused her skills to create a sweet and salty paradise in the Northern Swedish countryside. I love how she uses the Flora-L cushion cushions to decorate in a colourful way. Mysigt (cosy) like we say in Sweden.

Judith standing by the market stall
Our very first market ever at Formstråket in Hörnsjö, Västerbotten
Cushion covers at a garden café
Colourful Flora-L cushion cover bouquet at Prestele's trädgårdscafé
Linnea, poppy, aspen and Arabidopsis microscopy pattern cushion covers at Prestele's Trädgårdscafé

I was also delighted to get to know Cornelia Lohf, who had the stall close by at the market, and to hear about her forest bathing excursions she offers. Later during the fall, she was my guest on the Flora and Friends podcast. If you are also curious about forest bathing and that may be exactly the thing for you to add to your wish list for 2022, read my blogpost about the interview or listen to the episode (blogpost in English, podcast in Swedish).

Forest bathing podcast title
Cover picture of the podcast episode with Cornelia

Breaking news – Flora-L on the newspaper frontpage

As I mentioned above, one of our aims for this year was to reach a wider audience of plant lovers that are seeking for original textiles or gift-ideas. We were delighted that UppsalaTidningen featured us on their front page in May and that really gave a ripple effect. Since then, we’ve got many orders from local people and when I was standing at the Botans Dag market in the botanical garden, at Hotel Botanika, SLU Ultuna or Hubben for their respective Christmas markets many of our visitors recognized me and our concept from this newspaper article. That was lots of fun. That also tells us that we should aim for being visible in home or garden magazines to reach even more of you. That is one of our aims for 2022. We hear so often that you love our concept, our microscopy patterns, and the whole idea behind Flora-L. That is so amazing and makes us think that we have the absolute best customers and community that we can think of.

Market stall with hanging aprons and a table with textiles
The Flora-L stall at the Christmas market at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala

MeMadeMay – a reminder of our textile and sewing passion

We all engaged into MeMadeMay by Sozoblog and showed some of our passed and ongoing sewing projects, our favourite tools and shared how we learned to sew in our freetime. This was lots of fun and a good reminder of the passion around which we started Flora-L Design. On one side it’s the fascination for microscopy and the love of plants and biology, and on the other side it’s the creative drive to sew and craft. Melissa and I did a first Insta-live in May where we talked about our sewing passion and what we learned. This was first scary but then much easier than expected. We enjoyed interacting with those who connected at the same time. It’s a great format for being able to interact more directly than through our posts or the podcast. That’s something we could revive more often in 2022.

Creative minds unite – collaboration of Flora-L and Pattern by Malena

Does it sometimes happen to you that you suddenly have an idea? And then realize it’s not the best time for it? That happened to us this summer and let to our collaboration with sewing pattern designer Malena. I know Malena from our time at eXpression Umeå, where Flora-L Design was brought onto the road in 2019 through wonderful support and coaching. Malena and her friend and photographer Malena had launched a lovely sewing pattern for the Hummingbird tunica and trousers set. I realized that this would be such a perfect way to collaborate and match the sewing pattern with our microscopy pattern linen. But summer was already at the doorstep, and we knew that with fabric test-printing and production, we would only be able to launch the fabric in collab with the pattern by Malena in August. We knew it wasn’t ideal, but hey, when are things ideal? So instead of waiting we just tried. We sew some sets and photographer Malena took beautiful pictures of those with our kids on the beach close to Umeå. Keep your eyes open because this will certainly come back in 2022, but then earlier so you have the time to sew for your kids before the warmth of summer is here.

Children at the beach dressed with tunic and trousers sewn in Flora-L linen fabrics.
Hummingbird tunic and trousers in Linnea and poppy pattern. Picture credit Malena Björndahl "Malenami"
Judith, Malena H and Malena B at the beach
Creative women at the beach - fltr Judith, Malena the pattern design and Malena the photographer

Flora-L goes Histo-Pop-Art – a firework of colour

Another collaboration we initiated this year was with Anne Kerber, who is the inventor of HistoPopArt. She works at a technician in a Dermatologist Clinique in Germany and has a passion for bright PopArt colours and photography. She uses all kind of microscopy images from plants to animals and transforms them into bright designs usually then printed on framed wall-art. Patterns are nothing that she has worked with so far. Anne experimented with some of our microscopy patterns and the results were bright and beautiful! She did some test-prints on framed artwork, and we experimented with test-prints on a new type of environmentally friendly fabric, being knitted Tencel. Such a soft and drapey material, will be perfect for those of you who like our microscopy patterns on clothing. After some experimenting and lots of ideas, we need to sit down and see where to progress from here. Our goal will be to release products from this collaboration during 2022.

Three pictures with colourful microscopy printstanding on a wall
Testprints of patterns in histopopart colours on alubond. Picture credit: Anne Kerber
Knitted tencel with microscopy print pattern of leaf buds
Drapey fabric in red and pink shades with microscopy pattern of pennycress anthers and pollen in bright green
Knitted tencel with microscopy print pattern of pennycress anthers

Upcycled materials in our production – becoming even more sustainable

We were super happy to start producing a product that is practical, uses leftovers of fabrics from our other production and linen from recycled jeans. That product is our pencil case that we launched just before Christmas. When we started the production of our fall collection we had pencil cases on our list, but it seemed just not right to make the lining in linen, which is what we’ve chosen for our toiletry bags and that works very well. Quickly came the idea that denim would be great. Yet knowing that denim is not a very environmentally friendly material due to its production process, we looked for a way to use upcycled denim. That brought us to partner up with Kasam Textilstudio in Umeå. Kasam Textilstudio arose from “Sy Möjligheterna”, which stands for “sew possibilities”. The latter was initiated by the creative Ida Hillebjörk in Umeå. With Sy-Möjligheterna she wanted to give immigrants with sewing experience the possibility to integrate themselves into their new hometown, learn Swedish and contribute with their skills to the needs of Umeå for sewing services. What started as a project was then integrated into Röda Korset Umeå (Red Cross) under the name Kasam Textilstudio. We knew that Kasam Textilstudio already works with upcycling projects from denim from the Redcross and they showed to be the perfect partner for us. It feels great to be able to produce in Umeå, where Flora-L was founded and to support this great initiative for social entrepreneurship. Our pencil cases can now be found at Hemslöjden in Umeå in our popular birch design and in other designs also in our webshop.

Two women sitting at a table looking at a set of colourful pencil cases
Cornelia and Malin at Kasam Textilstudio show me the first testproduction of pencilcases
Five pencil cases photographed from above
Pencil cases in birch, linnea, maple and pine microscopy designs

Scary photoshooting – my encounter with Swedish wildlife

Talking about product photography, that is really an activity that both Delphine and I have had lots of fun with. Searching for good places and setting up everything these. I even took some products on summer vacation to my parents in low who have a very pretty garden to take the opportunity to take some pictures there. Before that however I was out in Uppsala searching for pretty spots outside. From a gravel path I was on I saw over a field a little hill with big trees that had been hit by lightnight and large stones. I thought that was perfect for taking some pictures but getting there was an adventure. It was July and I was in sandals and a skirt! Trying to make my way around the brambles and nettles I got rather further away form that little hill. I decided that I just needed to bite my teeth together and go through the brambles if I could at least avoid the nettles. After 15 minutes of fighting with my large blue bag (the ones from a popular Swedish interior store) filled with Flora-L cushions that would always get stuck in the brambles, I had finally approached one of the large stones. Suddenly I heard a sound right by my foot. When I looked down, I saw a snake disappearing under the stone. I guess you imagine that at that moment I regretted my choice of shoes, boots would have been more appropriate than sandals. I jumped onto the stones and from stone to stone trying not to touch the ground, just like my daughters do when they play the “the floor is made of lava” game. Well, the fear and stress were worth it, I think. I got really nice pictures and I took many…..trying to avoid thinking of the way back that would lead me by the stone with the snake again. It may be so that there are no dangerous snakes in Sweden, but honestly, I have never ever encountered a snake. And my knowledge of snakes is even worth than my knowledge of latin names of plants ;-

Cushion with a dandelion pattern in a dandelion field
It's fun to match the microscopy designs to the surrounding the products are taken in. This cushion features our dandelion leaf vein pattern.
Cushion pile on a stone in nature
Cushion pile with designs from (from bottom to top) heather, twinflower, maple and poppy
Cushions in an old tree stem that was split by lightning
The old tree stems that were split by lightning were a lovely setting for a cosy corner.

For our fall collection pictures I chose a safer place. Green Innovation Park Uppsala is a place for co-working and networking for young companies in the green sector. I had been there a few times for their networking breakfast to slowly settle into Uppsala and create some connections. I was delighted that I could decorate some of their cosy corners with our cushions to take some pictures. Even for us who create the microscopy patterns, pick the colours, and put together the collections, it’s always a delight to see how the products look like in a real environment. Digital mockups are great for a first glimpse, but they don’t replace the real-life experience.  

Hanging chair with Flora-L Design cushion covers
Hanging chair with poppy and heather microscopy pattern in the jungle room at Green Innovation Park
Sofa corner with Flora-L cushion covers in purple and golden shades
A cosy corner with cushions from our fall collection with poppy and maple patterns at Green Innovation Park.

The plant book club – cheers and jeers for popular plant science books

Melissa and I joined the plant book club earlier this year. With our friends Joram in Germany and Tegan in the UK from PlantsandPipettes and Ellen in the USA from the plant crimes podcast we read a popular plant science book every 1-2 month and meet for a recorded book club discussion. Except for Ellen who has a journalist background but has worked with science journalism, we others all have studied and worked in molecular plant biology. We enjoy reading popular science books about plants but sometimes we also have significant (constructive) criticism to express. Joining the plant book club has been a motivation to do more free time reading and to also learn in how many ways authors talk about plant science.

Right now, we have migrated into the world of fungi, and we are reading Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake. If you need a last-minute book-gift for a plant or fungus-loving friend, you may find some suggestion in our book reviews. We are looking forward to continuing meeting our plant book friends from around the world. We’re considering options to make the plant-book club more interactive for those who want to read along and express their opinion about the books we read. Personally, my favourite book was LabGirl by geochemist Hope Jahren. Crude and poetic at once, it gives insights into the hard and passionate life of a scientist as well as her fascination for the beauty of botany.

Picture of Joram, Melissa, Ellen, Judith and Tegan at one of the book club recordings
Picture of Joram, Melissa, Ellen, Judith and Tegan at one of the book club recordings
Judith petrified by the Plants that Kill book
The book title looked more dangerous than the book actually was
Melissa with the book we are currently reading: Entangled Life
Judith carrying a pile of popular plant science books
A selection of popular plant science books that we read this year. Many of them were part of the plant book club.

About fungi, roots and online dating – my first science stand-up comedy

For this year’s European Researcher’s Night, I signed up for a 7min science stand-up comedy sketch at Umeå’s new science activity museum Curiosum. I quite like to hold scientific presentations. The process of putting together a story of nicely illustrating it and pedagogically presenting it asks for lots of skills that come to me easily. But science stand up comedy, I realized a day before the show, is quite different. Whereas in scientific talks I can always let myself guide by the pictures I’ve assembled on the power-point behind me, for stand-up comedy it’s only you, the scene and a lonely microphone. Making science funny is one challenge but I think my biggest challenge was to remember the story I wanted to tell. Lucky I remembered the sketchnotes I had learned earlier that year for fun and I improvised in a moment of despair a paper with hand-drown pictures. That saved me and my show. I must say that it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed so much listening to my colleagues and see how their sketches had changed over our time of rehearsing. Would I do it again? Yes, now that I know that I can have pictures to follow on a paper at my feet, it’s almost like a scientific talk……almost. Just much more fun!

Judith at the science comedy standup show
Forskarfredag - European Researchers' Night Science stand-up Comedy at Curiosum. Picture credit: Gabby Beans
Judith with a paper with lots of sketchnotes on
Sketchnotes cheat sheet for the standup comedy

Your favourite microscopy patterns 2021

I want to finish this year in review with a selection of your favourite = our best-selling patterns this year. It’s so exciting to release a collection and to follow what you are buying from it. This gives us new input for improving our products and for composing collections that are even more popular. Every step for us is also a way to learn and improve. There is always something that can be done better or more effective. We are also very happy to let you know that the printing company that we partner up with for production in Lithuania has changed their inks which makes the colors a bit more intense, and they bleach less in the washing. But now let’s give the stage to your favorite patterns from 2021.     

2021 was also a year of challenges. For me personally it was a year of a very high teaching load at my  job at the university. In consequence, many of the Flora-L activities needed to move to weekends and evenings. Usually, I have 1 work-day per week for my Flora-L work, but that was not always possible in 2021. Melissa is doing a wonderful job with our social-media channels and writing up all the post and Delphine is usually the one behind the scenes for improving the pictures I take. I love to work together with them, to brainstorm ideas, make decisions, put together collections and just be a wonderful supportive team in all our common activities. It was also fun to record a podcast together to talk more about our shared passion for microscopy before the summer. Even though we are geographically far from each other (in Uppsala, Lund and Edmonton) and each of us has another job and their own family life to manage, it’s such a delight to see what we can do in a year of time to spread the microscopic beauty of plants and botanical facts in an artistic way.

Podcast cover for the final episode of 2021 with Judith, Delphine and Melissa

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