Wearable art from gorgeous flowers

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Orchids are addictive. And nowhere is that more apparent than at the orchid show. The Orchid Society of Western Pennsylvania will be hosting its annual show: "Orchids, The Gems of the Plant World," today and Sunday at Phipps Garden Center in Shadyside.

As always there is no charge to get in, and there's lots to see and buy, even some non-living flowers. Kelly Sobczak of Bridgeville, owner of Global Girl Gifts, a sidewalk vendor in the Strip District, branched out and opened Stem, a business her sister, Allison Sobczak, describes as "offering a wide variety of unique, floral-themed items, all handmade, that are offered wholesale to botanical gardens and also sold at orchid shows and festivals." Their booth is new to the show this year.

Allison, also of Bridgeville, will be on hand both days, selling merchandise including orchid necklaces, earrings and hair clips. The necklaces and earrings are actual orchids. Prices range from $20 to $36.

"We work with an orchid farm in Thailand where they carefully grow, dry and preserve orchids, which we then use to create necklaces and earrings," she says. "We work with a group of men in Kashmir who hand-paint orchids on papier-mache ornaments. In Thailand, we collaborate with a woman who makes orchid hair clips from clay. Often we adapt traditional crafts specifically for orchid lovers."

They also sell hand-painted orchid T-shirts and floral scarves.

Kelly, who travels extensively and is overseas now, tries to make sure the things she sells are both unique and fair-trade.

"Kelly works directly with the artisans 99 percent of the time, so she knows where it's coming from. She could tell you a story about every product that she has," says Allison.

As for the orchid merchandise, "We have found a market. There seems to be a love of orchids worldwide."

The sisters have done shows not only locally but also in South America and Asia. Allison recently returned from Florida, a hotbed of orchid growers and the site of multiple large shows. Also this year, they will be traveling to South Africa to attend the World Orchid Conference.

She hasn't tried to grow them herself since her first one died, but she appreciates those who do. "I think for a lot of people it's the science behind growing them. They are very unique flowers. Once they start growing orchids, they become addicted."

That certainly is true with the members of the local society.

The show, which always attracts large numbers of visitors, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the garden center, 1059 Shady Ave. (www.oswp.org). Free classes will be offered each day.

If you don't want to give the plants a try, orchid earrings might just be the ticket. They never need to be watered.

Post-Gazette garden editor Susan Banks: sbanks@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1516.

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