Designing a new hat

Black HatI 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!!


Buttons Toggles and Frogs


Embroidered buttons


Embroidered felt


Acorn toggles

Over the past couple of Saturdays I’ve been doing a short course at Morley College with the delightful name of ‘Buttons, Toggles and Frogs’.

In fact the course would have passed me by totally if I hadn’t noticed the lovely display case of samples in the foyer of the building I do my millinery course in.

It was taught by Debby Brown, with whom I did a year long Experimental Textile evening course about four years ago, so I knew it was likely to be good. Debby is a very experienced and inspiring teacher always providing loads of samples, materials and ideas to stimulate the imagination. My favourite sort of class – where I get lots of ideas and the chance to play, with some expert help on hand if I need it.

DSCF8413If I had tried to take in all the ideas that were on offer I could easily have gone into overload and so I went mostly with embroidered and painted/printed buttons – just one toggle to get the idea of it and no frogs at all! I also skipped on the buttonholes – which judging by the frustrated noises coming from the two students on my table was probably a wise move. (They were trying to use something called ‘gimp’ to strengthen a handmade button hole as in the picture above and I think it kept slipping.)

I started out with Tudor stuffed buttons which were made by gathering a small circle of fabric around a brass curtain ring, and stuffing it, then backstitching around the inside of the ring.  After that we were free to embroider what we liked – there are a couple of examples in the final photo of a sunflower and a strawberry (why I chose that horrible pink fabric as a base heaven only knows!!).  The final step was to make a loop on the back by reinforcing a loop of two or three strands of strong thread with buttonhole stitch.

DSCF8415On the second Saturday we used the heat press to print on fabric for covered buttons.  I’ve used this before and it always throws me that the lovely subtle colours in my paintings come out much more psychedelic when they are printed. Still an interesting idea though.

My final effort was a strawberry made around a template of pelmet vilene, once again stuffed with wadding.  I used a form of needlelace to make the leaves and was really pleased with the result.  I can see that if I ever get my act together to do another craft stall or put items on my Etsy site buttons will be making an appearance in some form.


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.

New Year’s Resolutions – the Library

Happy New 2015 and sorry I’ve been away so long. Blame it on end of year exhaustion, blame it on our new roof and windows, a cold over Christmas or a busy start to the year at work. Whatever caused it now it’s a new year.

I don’t really do New Year resolutions. I am always resolving to write blog posts more often, so there is nothing ‘new ’ about that. However, owing to finally having a new roof and windows, and the cost of the said roof and windows, and the desire to now make the inside of the house look as beautiful as the outside, we are trying to spend less money this year and make what we have left go further.

Packing up the first room to be decorated reminds me how many books we have in our house. There are shelves of them in every room apart from the bathroom, as well as shelves on both landings. (Both of us work for publishers, which doesn’t help.) But this year I have resolved to buy less books and CDs and DVDs and so I decided to rejoin the library.

As soon as I could read I went weekly with my Father to the Churchtown Library – now knocked down to make way for flats – and read my way through piles of books. When I moved to the area I now live in I went regularly to the Hanley Road Library – until it was knocked down to make way for flats. Islington did have other libraries, but they were much further away and gradually my membership lapsed.

I have always thought the fact that, as long as you can prove your address, you are allowed to walk away from a library with armfuls of books, CDs, DVDs etc. ABSOLUTELY FREE OF CHARGE!! is a sign of a civilised society and a wonderful thing… In fact it’s even better than buying them. You can try out a book just because you saw it sitting on the shelf next to that author you really like or it caught your eye as you walked past. If you hate it you can give it back and move on…and if you love it you can search the shelves and the library catalogue for more.

A little while ago I discovered when out walking that there is a branch of Haringey Libraries about ten minutes from my house. It is small but perfectly formed, and so for the sake of my purse and in support of our beleaguered public library system, I am once more the proud owner of a library card.   And guess what – while I was away libraries have got even better. I can now download eBooks and audiobooks to my iPad as well as all the other things it can provide…

Now I am keeping my fingers crossed that nobody decides to knock it down and build flats….!

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.