I’m taking part in the Alternative Clothes Show in Hornsey, London at the weekend- My first show for a while so I’m hard at work with felt and embroidery. In the spirit of the show I’ve been working on a range of necklaces using upcycled beads from the local charity shops and my own embroidered felt. I’ve also put the polystyrene hat blocks I carved last June in a course with Jane Smith to use making a couple of felt toques.
It’s now the final push to the line finishing the final pieces, and gathering supplies for dressing the stall (and my self as I agreed to model some handmade felt in their fashion show!)
And I was doing so well with posting regularly! Then six weeks of nothing…
So here are two and a half hats….the poor Scotsman’s trilby is still waiting for petersham and wire to correct its floppy brim, but I did finally finish the first blocked full size felt hat ie the red cloche with embroidered petal decoration, and the sinamay ‘mermaids hat’.
I have now started the final term at college – this term it is pattern cutting and fabric hats. We start by making a toile for a skullcap and a butcher boy cap in calico, and then on to making a fabric trilby. I am hoping that I will be allowed to use some thin leather from an old battered leather coat, but I fear that Karen will say it is too much for the sewing machine to cope with. Ah yes! The dreaded sewing machine. I’m not at all sure about this….
* I tip my hat to Stephen Sondheim for the title….
I am trying to decide what to do with the sinamay hat I blocked last week.
Our next project this term is to make a brimless blocked hat. I was late for class and ended up with a pointy block that looks like a helmet (as there are thirteen of us and a lot of blocks had already gone by the time I got there!) I actually quite like this block though. And I was amazed that all that tugging and pinning of a flat piece of damp sinamay could turn it into the shape you see in the first photo. It’s all to do with using the bias apparently. The sinamay is impregnated with a sort of glue stiffener a bit like PVA so you don’t need to stick the layers together and it holds its shape once it is dry.
This ’embryo’ hat has three layers – black top and inside and a middle layer of gold. I hope to cut the top black layer away to reveal some of the gold, and then edge the cut outs with rolled sinamay. So I used my photo (above) to try out designs in my lunchbreak (which is why it is done in marker pen and tippex!)
Number 1 was using the helmet idea (imagine that the tippex is actually gold). But to be honest I wasn’t keen so I tried a couple of slightly more feminine styles. I think that number 3 (front and back) looks the most stylish. But I am still wondering about the helmet one – after all if it looks like a helmet maybe it should be a helmet.
I could give it gold sinamay horns too!!
In my millinery class we have begun to work with Sinamay. Like me many of you probably don’t know what it is. According to a random search on the internet:
“It is woven from the processed stalks of the abaca tree, a banana palm native to the Philippines. Abaca fibre is three times stronger than cotton or silk, and a fabric made from 100% abaca can last for over 100 years. As a result, sinamay holds a very firm shape. Because it is a natural fibre, it holds colour beautifully.”
As I said to Karen our tutor, ‘I think I have a natural prejudice against the stuff as there seem to be so many dull hats made out of it.”
I can see that it has a lot of potential as a sinamay hat is usually made of at least three layers so there is potential to trap things between them. It also dyes very easily so I assume can be painted with fabric dyes….more possibilities. But as I wrestled last night to wire the edge of the decorative spiral which is our first project I wasn’t feeling very charitable. (And I am very glad that the appalling blanket stitch I was doing will be covered by a sinamay binding.)
But having said that I think it will look quite pretty in the end – particularly the delicate leaf pattern trapped between the layers which just about shows through on the photo.
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.)
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
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.
My Tri-corn is finally done, complete with embroidered felt feather (forgive the picture. I took it in a hurry first thing this morning.)
I finished sewing on the crown and added the hatband and feather at the October meeting of KnitSewManyThings. They are a knitting and sewing group that meet monthly in a Stoke Newington pub, and was founded by members of the Tower Theatre (which is how I found them.)
I have been a member of the Tower for a number of years although my involvement these days is mostly as an audience member, and when the Scotsman directs a show, a provider of:
- moral support,
- reading in and a listening ear at auditions
- sumptuous ‘get in’ lunches for cast and crew
In July there was an article in the Tower e newsletter and I went to the August Meet only to discover that they meet on a Wednesday – the same evening as the Millinery Class I had just signed up for… However I made it to the October meet as they had it late and so it coincided with my half term.
I miss the ‘sitting around a table working and chatting’ element of my embroidery class. (We don’t know each other well enough yet in Millinery to be idle chatters – plus we are constantly learning stuff.) I’m not convinced that a pub is the best of venues for craft – the lighting leaves a lot to be desired! It’s not too bad if you are knitting or crocheting, but threading a needle is a bit of a challenge!!
Very good beer though which is a nice extra…
I’ve started a Contemporary Millinery course at Morley College on Wednesday evenings, hoping to add finesse and finish to my hats. My felt making has definitely improved in technique over the past three or four years – but I thought it would be useful to learn some more about hat construction and finishing. I doubt I will ever be tempted into Couture levels of millinery. I’m more interested in the everyday hat, with a dose of historical and theatrical hat thrown in.
My tutor for the course is Karen Shannon – who has a background both in couture with Freddy Fox and Stephen Jones, and also for film and theatre.
I have singularly failed to take any photos in my first couple of classes. We are starting with felt which suits me although I have never worked with commercially made felt before. I guess the techniques will be translatable though once I’ve learned them – steaming, blocking, wiring a brim. We have each bought a ‘cone’ to make a small brimless blocked hat and a ‘flare’ to cut up and make a mini constructed hat (apparently you can’t buy commercial hat felt in flat pieces so you cut it up and steam it flat). Pictures soon when I remember to take my camera.
Karen currently has an exhibition at Craft Central in London for anyone who is interested. It runs till next weekend.