Useful and Beautiful

I have long been in agreement with the famous William Morris quote:

‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.’ William Morris lecture ‘The Beauty of Life’, 1880

I love the fact that he doesn’t necessarily expect things to be both. He allows for ‘unnecessary’ beauty and personal taste and doesn’t say that everyone else should think something is beautiful – only that you should…

I recently saw this on the National Portrait Gallery website (where they are currently having a Morris Exhibition.)

‘Nothing which is made by man will be ugly, but will have its due form, and its due ornament, and will tell the tale of its making and the tale of its use’.  William Morris article ‘Art’, 1891

I assume, given that it is Morris writing, that he is referring to handmade objects. ( Although I question his assertion of man’s inability to make anything ugly, but once again I suppose he is allowing for personal taste).  I like the idea that an object shows the tale of its making and use.

As I have written here before I believe that making something slowly and by hand provides a wonderful contrast to the speed and machine led nature of modern life. It is the reason that I can be found escaping from the computer and stitching quietly and slowly during many of my lunch breaks.

I am currently re reading poet and novelist May Sarton’s ‘Journal of a Solitude’ first published in 1973 and came across this:

‘It is troubling how many people expect applause, recognition, when they have not even begun to learn an art or craft. Instant success is the order of the day; ‘I want it now!’ I wonder if this is not part of our corruption by machines. Machines do things very quickly and outside the natural rhythm of life….So the few things that we still do, such as cooking, knitting, gardening, anything at all that cannot be hurried, have a very particular value.’

Goodness knows what she would have thought of today’s world, but the quote seems even more pertinent now….

A Trilby for the Scotsman – part two

The ‘flare’ and the ‘cone’ which I had stiffened previously were dry by the time last week’s class came around so I was able to steam and block the pieces of the hat.  This happens in two parts – one block for the crown and one for the brim.  Both of the official trilby blocks were a bit small and so was the trilby brim block with the best shape so we improvised.

Crown being blocked (with brim waiting in the background.)

Crown being blocked (with brim waiting in the background.)

The crown is blocked on a standard crown block and Karen is going to show me how to put the traditional shape in by hand – which, given that I am unlikely to buy a trilby block any time soon, is probably much more useful knowledge than just using the trilby shaped crown block…

Brim blocked and pinned

Brim blocked and pinned

The brim is blocked onto a polystyrene copy of a 1950s Dior block once owned by Freddie Fox.  I attached a crown block with the right head circumference to the brim block with masking tape and pins, to provide a guide to stretch the inner side of the rim over.  Then I cut the middle out of the flare and stretched it over the crown block steaming it as I went – very glad I was using a polystyrene version as the original block must have weighed a ton and would have been hell to manipulate!  We then wrapped a cord around the middle and pinned it into the block securely.  Finally once it was stretched at the crown edge I steamed smoothed and stretched the brim over the block, pinning as I went.

And now I wait to see what happens in tomorrow’s class as it will have dried thoroughly and can be removed from the block to be cut to shape and stitched together.

A Trilby for the Scotsman – part 1

My attempt to make a handmade felt ‘cone’ and ‘flare’ in time for the second half of this term’s millinery course has been a non-starter.  Seems that it is difficult to think of anything much when the house is covered in scaffolding and you are waiting for your new roof to acquire tiles!!

The ghostly look of my studio under dustsheets (although now it has a skylight in the roof)

The ghostly look of my studio under dust sheets (although now it has a skylight in the roof where the square of masking tape is…)

I did get as far as contacting the lovely people at Baxter Hart and Abraham and ordering the commercial versions in ‘Loden’ which is a rather attractive shade of greeny, browny grey… However, owing to a lack of 1 litre bottles of water based hat stiffener in stock I only received my parcel on Wednesday morning, and had to apply this in the classroom that evening and leave them there to dry till next week.

Our next project is to make a brimmed hat and it occurred to me when I was looking at the selection of wooden crown and brim blocks that it would be a good idea to make a trilby for the Scotsman.  It’s not the sort of thing I have ever made before, but it seems appropriate to have a go at a classic hat design and it will be a challenge to make it to fit someone else.

I have told him that if he hates it or it turns out badly I won’t expect him to wear it!  I am hoping that his head size means I can use one of the really swish custom crown blocks with two dimples in the back as well as the crease on the top.  However I am assured by Karen that if not, she can show us the technique she learned at Freddy Fox for putting the shape into a Trilby even if you don’t have a specific trilby crown block.

Now I just have to be a good student and work hard between classes, so that I give myself enough time to make a second hat in handmade felt before the end of term.