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.

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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.

Milliner or Hatter….I’m not quite sure

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.