Learning to love Sinamay

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.)

DSCF8396But 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.

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.

The F Word…..

I learned this week in my millinery class that there is one word that is definitely not to be used there – ‘fascinator’ otherwise known by our tutor as ‘The F word’…. !!

The subject came up as we are all currently making small constructed hats – the exercise is being used to teach us basic skills like wiring a brim or edging with petersham ribbon, but in a way that takes less time than making a full size hat.

Brim wire being attached with blanket stitch

Brim wire being attached with blanket stitch

We held the wire in place with masking tape and used a version of buttonhole stitch with an extra twist round the needle to attach the wiring.

I’ve shaped mine into a tricorn brim, although it won’t strictly speaking be a tricorn as it will have the wrong sort of crown.

Beginnings of a Tricorn

Beginnings of a Tricorn

The wire needs to be shaped before the petersham is added to the edge so am just beginning to sew it on with a stab stitch hence all the pins.  (I was packing up when I took this photo which is why the spare petersham is sitting in the middle.)  I think it’s going to look cute.  Much better than any old bit of feather, ribbon and wire, otherwise known as a fascinator!

Brim ready to sew on the petersham

Brim prepared ready to sew on the petersham

Goodbye to East Finchley

On Thursday I went to the last Creative Embroidery evening class for this academic year. I won’t be going to the class in September as I’m signed up to do Contemporary Millinery at Morley College for at least the Autumn Term. With a full time job two evening classes a week is a step too far!

I shall miss it. I’ve learnt a lot, but really what I will miss most is sitting round a table with a group of women quietly stitching and listening to the highs and lows of other people’s lives – lives which are often very different from mine. There have been deaths and births, illness, holidays and work issues – and along the way a lot of very beautiful and skilled stitching has emerged.

I’ve included the two main pieces I’ve worked on over the last two years here as they never appeared in this blog in their finished state. Velvet stitch nearly killed me at one point…. 20140716-074145-27705321.jpg

 and I confirmed my love of the French knot with my tribute to Gustav Klimpt….


I can’t say definitely that I’ll be back next year as heading off into the depths of East Finchley every week isn’t my favourite thing in the world. But I may….

Colouring Glass

This weekend I went back for a second go at glass painting at the Rainbow Glass Studios in Stoke Newington. Last year I did a one day course which showed me basic painting techniques and silver staining – the mainstay of much of the glass painting of previous centuries. Apparently the name stained glass actually refers not to the joining together of pieces of coloured glass, but the silver stain which adds additional yellow and amber glazes to different colours of glass.

This time I was doing a two day course, and so Richard let us loose with the more modern coloured powders used today to literally colour plain or coloured glass once a trace outline has been painted.

We started off with a recap of the same techniques as last time and I produced a rather pretty owl – and even managed not to ‘metal’ my silver stained background.

However, I was also trying to complete two pieces of glass for the small windows in our landing at home – a T and a J for myself and the Scotsman. Mine had sunflowers – mostly because I like them and the Scotsman’s had thistles. I did the designs in a tearing hurry last week – mostly in my lunchbreaks – and would really have liked some time to tidy them up…nothing new there then.

I might have made it to the end of the two designs if I hadn’t realised part way through Sunday afternoon that I had put the J down upside down after its first visit to the kiln and had been gaily painting on the back of it since then!! Cue me wiping all the colour off and starting again…it would have worked after a fashion but wouldn’t have matched the T. I blame the people across the road who had a party on Saturday night and stopped me getting a full night’s sleep…!

Anyway I finished the T and partly painted the J – I go this evening to pick them up and see what they look like. In a similar way to ceramic glazes and transfer dyes you can’t judge the colour until it’s been fired.

DSCF7838 DSCF7839

Now I just have to wait for an opportunity to go back to the studios and finish off the J….

This is the end….

I am saying this very quietly so that my subconscious can’t hear.  I think I may have become a person who finishes creative projects…!  Sshhh….

For years I would get close to the end of a project, sometimes a gnat’s whisker away, and then for no apparent reason just stop.  My life was full of semi-finished projects (and books that I’d stopped reading a couple of pages from the end!)

However, on Thursday in the last embroidery class of the term I finished my Klimpt embroidery.

And then this weekend I not only finished the poppy book cover I started on the Scrumptious Stitch course, but I also attached it to a book…and started using the book to sketch ideas for my next project….

Sketchbook Front

Sketchbook Front

And the Sunday before that I finished the felted vessel I started on the Saturday in my ‘Felting Ideas and Techniques’ class at the City Lit with Heather Belcher.

Sketchbook Back

Sketchbook Back

This is getting to be a habit…!