Friday, 30 March 2012

Biliana Borissova - Milliner in Spain

This is a very quick post, to share the work of a Spanish milliner I just found while looking for sinamay on Etsy.  I think her work is incredible, particularly some stuff that she's done with sinamay - fabulous, and not remotely twee (which is the problem I've been having - every time I look at it I see something resembling a cheap, high street, wedding hat).

Anyway, is where you'll find her work, and this is the hat that made me go 'wow'.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012


I've been doing a little reading today about chiaroscuro in the German films I've been watching.

Chiaroscuro is a term originally used in art - an Italian word that translates literally as 'light-dark'.  It's used to describe techniques and styles that show a definite contrast between light and dark.  A rough outline of it is available here

In cinema, it was used in early German expressionist cinema a lot (around the early 1920s).   This was not only for stylistic reasons - in a Germany that had been weakened by the loss of the First World War, and a Germany that had been largely broken up by the treaties that ended the war, there was not a huge amount of money around to fund lavish sets and backdrops.  Couple that with the fact that cinematic equipment and cameras, etc, were still quite cumbersome and difficult to move around, and it's easy to see why sets with painted details were common.

In the early films where chiaroscuro is used, you can often see shadows and details - or shafts of light, or buildings, painted onto walls and floors in 2d.  And lighting and shadow used lots, and to great effect, to create a mood or tone, as in Nosferatu, where the creature's shadow is used to create menace, even when you can't see him.

It helps that the dark-light style works very well in black and white - especially relatively early black and white, which has less variation to it than a modern black and white would (less shades of grey).

Later the chiaroscuro was taken up by film noir, and by films like Citizen Kane and  The Third Man, and even today in video games and anime.

The point of this reading is that I'm going to be taking my colours from the chiaroscuro.  I may not be able to use them with such dramatic effect as the early 20s German cinematographers, but I've decided to use black, white, and natural for my mini collection.

All I have to work out now is how - and I have a few ideas, but none of them are 100% solid yet.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Slight change of plan, and a new milliner

The change of plan is because I wasn't at college yesterday after all - I went to a 'web fuelled business' seminar, which was very interesting and informative (although they threw so much info at me my head was swimming by the end of it!).

So, anyway, my point being that I'll be playing with my sinamay bias brim over the weekend instead of doing it yesterday at college.

I did, however, stay in my sewing room late tonight (the husband being home late), and made another silk flower for practise.  This one in a wedgewood-ish blue silk dupion.

The new (to me, anyway) milliner is Laurence Leleux, a Belgian milliner now in Germany, who's doing some  very interesting things with sinamay.  She's actually doing some stuff that I find interesting generally, but I'm keeping a particular eye out for sinamay that I don't intensely dislike at the moment, for obvious reasons!!

Her website is here

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

German (Weimar) 1920s Cinema

I think that's what I've decided to use as my main inspiration for this project.

Obviously, all the other things I'm looking at will feed into it - in fact, anything I read, watch, listen to or see will feed into it unconsciously by default - I can't help that, it always does.

But I'll consciously be concentrating on Weimar Cinema.  So, I've been watching lots of depressing silent movies (it's astonishing how many of these films end with everyone either dead, or destitute!).

I started watching these, because Louise Brooks (my muse) stars in several.  This is the one I began by watching (warning - this is the full film, with English subtitle graphics, and if you plan to watch it, it's about two hours long).

Flowers and sinamay

As I predicted, I had no time to do college work last week (although offhand, 10 garments finished, so not like I was asleep!).

However, I've been doing some catching up today - watching films for research, and I made a silk flower.

I started the flower - cut it out - in class last week, but never got the chance to put it together, so the pieces sat in my sewing box until today.  Now I've finally made it up, and I'm very pleased with it.  Especially given it's a first attempt, and made with a melon baller and needle nosed pliers, instead of proper flower irons!

The very centre of the flower is black silk, covered with caviar beads (these went a little astray, as I wasn't neat enough with the glue), and three grey peacock coloured freshwater pearls, set onto wires.

And at the weekend, I spent the time that my stall was quiet playing with a bias strip of soft sinamay.  

Last week at college we covered bias brims, and I used sinamay for mine, but (as per usual) got so frustrated with it that I tried to do something different with it, to make myself not hate it.  So I played with it, and folded it, and pleated it and moulded it, but no matter what I did with it, I still hated it.  

But this strip of soft sinamay at the weekend...  First I rolled the edges, and I think I've now got the hang of that, with the soft stuff at least.  Then I sat and played with it, just twisting it into shapes for a while, during the quiet bits.  I found a small button headpiece base that I was in the process of blocking in silk (still on the block, and in the bottom of my sewing box wrapped in muslin for some unknown reason(!?)).  So I started playing with the sinamay in conjunction with that.  And shock, horror, I found a shape in sinamay I don't hate and detest!

It's very far from perfect, and equally far from being a finished piece, but I don't loathe it.  I consider that a breakthrough!!

So I plan to take the sinamay 'thing' I did last week back to college tomorrow, and have another play with it if I have time.  Don't get me wrong, I don't think I'll ever love sinamay, or even like it that much, but I'm determined to find a way to work with it.

Friday, 9 March 2012

"Women of the Future" (c1900 style).

I have no idea how much, if anything I'm going to be able to add to this blog in the next week and a bit.  TORM (The Original Re-enactor's Market) is next week, and of course, orders come above all else, so I may have to defer posting till after that's done.

Anyway, before I go off to the land of being (metaphorically) chained to my sewing machine, and tangled up in my hand sewing threads, I thought I'd add these pictures (below).

A friend posted these to Facebook yesterday, and I thought they were really interesting, and fitted in with the background of the research I'm doing for this project.

This is a set of French cards, showing the photographer's idea of 'Women of the Future'.

Although clearly, I don't think that they were meant to be taken seriously as how women would look in the future - I think they were probably done as a semi-comical erotic idea of what women may be like in the future.  BUT, I think it's really interesting that the people behind them could contemplate (even if not seriously) the idea that women may one day work without horror - they could contemplate that women may one day wear trousers, or less enveloping clothing - or that women may smoke - but they could not envisage what really happened - that women cut their hair, and gave up (as other than a subcultural item) the corset.








Drummer boy??





Master at Arms




NB translations from the French for the captions are from Google translate, so may be slightly off - apologies if so.

Historical Research - The Background

I think I may have decided to pin down my inspiration in the 1920s, give or take a few years either way - the 20s has always been one of my favourite decades.

That said, my research is covering a wider time span - from roughly 1910 to roughly 1950.  It should really be 1908, to 1947-48, really though.  1908 because that's when Paul Poiret introduced his 'directoire' look, which was what started to take fashion away from the frou-frou of the 'belle-epoque', and into more modern styles, and 1947-48 because, of course, that was when Dior unveiled his 'new look', which had a similar effect.   It's a long period, but not too long, and fortunately, I enjoy the fashion and social history...

I think the best way to look at things will be to address the issues that affected fashion in turn, rather than to try to do it year by year, but first, some background...

In the time running up to the period I want to look at, Britain (and half the world) was in flux - it was also a very different world from that in which we live today.
 There was no public health care, education was undergoing massive reforms (with the introduction of LEAs), life expectancy was not brilliant - a baby boy born in 1901 could expect to live to 45, and a girl to 49 - around 63% of people died before they were 60 (now it's 12%) - and the infant mortality rate was around 14% (now it's under 1%).

The British Empire was still in full bloom - although its days were numbered, and rebellions and uprisings were becoming more and more common, as subjects in the assorted countries decided they wanted independance, and freedom from their foreign rulers (the one often cited as the first being the Indian Mutiny / Indian Rebellion of 1857 (in reality, of course, it was far from the first) ).
Britain was the wealthiest country in the world, thanks to her overseas territories, and the trade expansions (the driver behind the empire - largely thanks to the East India Company) and the British Empire was the largest in the world.  By the early 20s, the British Empire was the largest empire the world had ever seen, covering nearly a quarter of the world's land mass, and around one fifth of the world's population.  It was said that 'the sun never set' on the British Empire, because it would always be daylight somewhere in the empire.

The Boer War had ended, with huge losses to the British, there had been a revolution (albeit a failed one) in Russia, and social unrest was spreading - industrial action and labour movements were taking hold all over Europe and the US.

It wasn't all bad though.   Unionisation was expanding rapidly in the industrialised towns (and gaining massive improvements in the conditions of ordinary people - paid holiday being just one example).  The crime rate was much lower than today.  Motor cars, aircraft, and cinema had arrived, although they were still novelties.

Women were pushing for freedom from the Victorian legal shackles that they were still largely in, and were beginning to fight to be treated as equals to men, rather than as children.  The Women's Social and Political Union, the suffragette organisation of Emmeline Pankhurst had been founded in 1903, because earlier campaigning for women's suffrage had failed for the entire previous century (Mary Wollstonecraft wrote her 'Vindication of the Rights of Woman' in 1792) .  In 1910, their campaigning was still peaceful, but that was about to change.

In art, changes were also happening - art nouveau and the arts and crafts movements were coming to their natural ends, to be supplanted by other artistic styles.

In fashion and clothing - there was corsetry - tighter and tighter lacing (girls started training at around 12 years), and 's-bend' corsetry that threw the wearer off balance.  It was designed to be healthier to wear, because it put less pressure on the stomach, due to a long rigid 'spoon' busk, but the unnatural posture it created (hips thrust far back) could cause spinal problems.  Women weren't unused to this type of health problem - there had been internal injuries caused by too-tight and ill fitting corsetry for decades (uterine prolapse being one of the scariest to contemplate - and it wasn't correctable - you just had to live with it).

The S-bend corset shape.

 A Gibson Girl

Other than that, there were layers and layers of petticoats, and skirts, and underwear.  It was not unusual for skirts of the well to do to contain 10 yards of fabric (and similar amounts in the petticoats). Women frequently suffered 'the vapours', but it probably had as much to do with over heating due to the layers, as tight corsetry.

Miss Carol McComas, an Edwardian actress, in the height of belle epoque fripperie, with oodles of lace trimmings.

A tea gown of c. 1900, dripping with beads, sequins, silver couched embroidery, turquoise stones, and lace.

Vera Britten, at school in 1911, described her uniform thus: "...woollen combinations, black cashmere stockings, 'liberty' bodice, dark stockinette knickers, flannel petticoat and often, in addition, a long sleeved, high-necked, knitted woollen 'spencer'.
"At school, on the top of this conglomoration of drapery, we wore green flannel blouses in the winter and white flannel blouses in the summer, with long navy blue skirts..."
"For cricket and tennis matches, even in the baking summer of 1911, we still wore the flowing skirts and high-necked blouses..."

Hats had to be worn out of doors.  To go hatless was a sign of someone 'no better than she ought to be'.

For poorer women, things were different, but not easier.  The long skirts and the necessity for the hat were the same.   Contemporary writings and photographs show that all but the very, very poorest women wore corsets.  For most poorer women, they'd be homemade, and badly fitting.  They'd probably also be remodelled and repaired as many times as possible (there is an extant Victorian piece in the Symmington Collection that shows evidence of many repairs).

It was no different for their other clothes.  Working class women were found to be the worst off in the family.  "The men go to work and must be supplied, the children must be decent at school, but the mother has no need to appear in the light of day.  If very badly equipped, she can shop in the evening in the walk, and no one will notice under her jacket and rather long skirt what she is wearing on her feet.  Most of them have a hat, a jacket and a 'best' skirt to wear in the street..."  These women did not have fashion.  They were lucky if they had more than one set of clothing and bedding (it was not uncommon for them to have only one of everything, meaning, of course, that they didn't have the spare set necessary to allow one to be worn and one washed).

A working class woman in a Glasgow slum, c.1910.
(Glasgow City Archives)

Trousers were out of the question for the 'respectable' woman.  Dress reformers, proponents of 'aesthetic' dress, and especially female cyclists were in favour of outfits involving trousers, but they never really caught on, mainly because they scandalised the males of the population (and those females who did not see the need for ease of movement).  Amelia Bloomer is credited with the introduction of bifurcated garments for women - she wore a knee length or so skirt over trousers - although she herself dropped the idea.  In reality, the outfit that she 'designed' was merely a civilian form of outfits that were actually being worn (and accepted being worn) by European 'vivandieres' during the French 2nd Empire.

 Mrs Bloomer's outfit

A French Cantiniere

Times were changing, though.  By 1900 'eccentrics' were tolerated in trousers (or, to be more accurate, breeches).  The Rational Dress Society  argued for them, and Vicountess Harberton campaigned for them for more than twenty years - and was happy to be seen in public in them.

Vicountess Harberton

The trouser issue was also different for some working women.  'Pit girls' in Wigan regularly wore full men's dress - rough trousers and shirts - for their own safety.  They were scorned at, derided, and denounced for being indecent, but they continued to dress in the way they thought best for their daily activities.

Wigan Pit Brow Girls

Hair for all women was LONG.  Women seldom cut their hair (there are examples of women having their hair cut to sell it, if it was good, or because they were ill, because the hair was thought to sap the strength of an invalid, but these are not the norm).  In the book, 'Anne of Green Gables', based by LM Montgomery on her Victorian / Edwardian childhood on Prince Edward Island, Anne is made fun of when she has to have her hair cut as the result of a failed dye experiment (her hair turned green).
Poorer women coiled their hair up in to tight buns to keep it out of the way - wealthier women had elaborate draped hair styles, often with extra padded rolls hidden under the hair to create the huge effect.  In consequence, fashionable hats were large.  Big brims, and oversized crowns were the fashionable look around 1910.

Hopefully, that covers the background enough to give the general idea.  If anybody reading this has any questions, or thinks I've missed something, feel free to leave a comment, or e-mail me.

Statistics taken from 'RESEARCH PAPER 99/111, 21 DECEMBER 1999, A Century of Change: Trends in UK Statistics Since 1900'.
Quotes from 'Through the Looking Glass: A History of Dress from 1860 to the Present Day'

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Feathers and more sinamay...

Today at college, we covered feathers - chicken, peacock, goose, ostrich, guinea fowl, pheasant, random feathers found in the garden..... using as they come (after cleaning), curling, twisting, burning (bleaching), dyeing...
And how to apply them to a hat shape.

In an effort to make myself learn more about sinamay, I decided to use that as the base for my hat shape, so I cut a couple of pieces of stiffer stuff, in white, and some of soft in a champagney / natural colour.  I started blocking it onto a shape that, admittedly, isn't an easy shape to work with anyway (sort of 40s and funnelly), but I got so irratated by the sinamay that I gave up, unpinned the whole thing, and went and got a much simpler block, and only used the top part.

I blocked, stiffened, and dried the pieces, and used a folded under edge (with the raw edges folded to the centre, between the layers).  Then I added a length of brim reed (the plastic sort, not actual reed), and stitched that in place on the machine.  That felt more 'right' to me - probably because it's what I'm used to - edges nicely hidden and sewn down.

I still think I need to get hold of some sinamay and have a freeform play with it, because I have an idea that by using sinamay in a combination of blocking and freeform pleating and sculpting, you could get some really interesting bold geometric shapes, that aren't at all twee.  Thinking specifically of shapes reminiscent of the Chrysler building, or Metropolis, etc, etc.  Need to try it out.

Anyway, I'm digressing again.  Once I had my shape, I added some feathers.  I used some shocking pink marabou - on reflection I don't like the marabou - has its place in historical stuff, but too fluffy to feel modern - feels far too 1980s, and not in a good way.  I liked the pink, though.
I also used white goose feathers.  These were lovely and soft, but quite translucent.  The pink was showing through them, even when I used a few layers, so I roughly cut a bias strip of the soft sinamay from the offcuts, frayed one long edge, and glued a double layer of it over the pink, to hide it.  Obviously, if I were making this into an actual hat, I'd sew that part, but it's just for an experiment-type sample, and I wanted to get it done before I left!!!  That worked, and I proceeded to glue the feathers to the shape, starting at the outer edge, and working towards the sinamay strip.

Once I'd attached those, there was a bit of a messy edge to the feathering, so I took a larger goose feather, and roughly curled it using some snips, then glued that over the join.  Again I'd take more care if doing it for an actual piece, naturally.

So, pictures of it - forgive the fact that on the pink side it's gone a bit Lady Di, c. 1982 - I think it may be unavoidable with marabou (except she'd be wearing blue, not pink).  I like the colour, not the fluffiness.

Actually, in the photos, the fluffiness isn't as bad as I remember it being.  I'd use more feathers if I were doing it for real  - make it a bit more luxurious (skimping is one of my biggest pet hates).

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Summer Millinery Research

As I said, I'm a few days behind with the writing up of my researches (I'm now onto the historical stuff, but work and all that...), but here I'm noting down the websites of other milliners that I've looked at.

I don't normally look at websites of other designers when I'm working - I usually prefer to absorb things sort of  by osmosis - magazines, TV, websites in general, etc, etc, but this time I thought it might be interesting to see what others are doing, and what their take on 'spring/summer' is.  Where previous years collections have been available to look at on websites, I have - I haven't restricted myself to only looking at this years collections.  As the designer Valentina said about designing - 'design for the century, forget the year'. Which I read as 'don't be a slave to the trend!'

My very first port of call was to Google 'millinery', 'summer millinery', and 'milliner'.   I should point out here and now that this post may be light on nice shiny bright photos, because I'd rather not commit any glaringly illegal copyright breaches.  So most of the images I'll be posting here will be very rough hand drawn sketches done by me, from the pictures on sites (all designs credited to the designer they're by, obviously).

In no particular order, I looked at the following milliners:

Gina Foster - things I liked a about her designs - she seems to have lots of beret shapes, in different materials, I really liked one (Orlov) that had feathers graduating in colour from white at the centre to darkish blue at the outer, and I love another (Premier) that has a button shape in a matt black material at the centre, and a big swoosh of black satin around it.  the ones I don't like so much have huge flowers on them.  Which is unusual, because I quite like flowers on hats - it may be their positioning, or that they're too much for the hats?  I like the use of the veiling on 'Millenium' - the way it covers a small area of the face, and lifts up to create a stiff drape at the top.

Rachel Trevor-Morgan
Lots of pillboxes and saucer / mini beret shapes - lots of feathers and silk (especially gathered or pleated taffeta) - lots of big, sideswept brims - blacks and purples alongside naturals and neutrals - lots of sinamays and straws, and yet more silks.  One with a pleated straw brim that I like lots.

Philip Treacy
(His ready to wear s/s 12.)
Sisal, buntal and straw in general - trilbies - wide brims, some angled, some not - sinamay, mostly blocked - pastels colours, greys, pinks - discs, large and small - hot pinks - petals and leafy shapes - deco shapes - black and white.

Stephen Jones
His S/S 2012 collection is entitled "Chinoiserie-on-Sea", inspired by Brighton and the Royal Pavilion.
He's used lots of straws, in many different colours, and lots of wired shapes.  He's not slavishly adhering to any trends, but kind of doing his own eccentric thing (which I really like).  There are shapes (very) reminiscent of Royal navy bicornes, shapes that remind me of China (hence the 'cinoiserie', I suppose!), and lots of slightly off-the-wall wired shapes.

Nigel Rayment
LOTS of sinamay - coloured, not natural - lots of broad brims, angled up - some discs at steep angles - flowers and feathers (loads) - lace discs with flowers - sinamay twists - one VERY big brim with crin and sinamay - quite a lot are a bit twee (I think, but I do have quite eccentric taste, I admit, and see my earlier post about my hatred of sinamay) - very Mother of Bride-y / middle aged / uber middle class.  But a lot of the hats are photographed on older models, so I'm guessing that's his market.  Definitely uninspiring though.

Pip Hackett
I don't really like Pip Hackett's work either, I'm afraid.  Very fussy and too much going on with most of the hats and headpieces, for me.  I think I prefer more simplicity.  Admittedly, it didn't help that the website is slow to load!!!
Anyway, there are lots of silks - flowers (especially lillies - I like the hats with lillies more than the ones with roses) - lots of feathers - button / saucer bases - big silk bows, etc.

William Chambers
straws and meshes - lots of veiling and lace over other materials (like straw) - lots of veiling full stop! - disc and beret shape bases - some wired shapes - flowers and feathers, but cleanly done, not fussy - drinking straws.  Veiling over straw cloche shapes.
I have to admit that William Chambers is probably my favourite milliner*. 

So there's my round up of summer millinery - straws, sinamays, flowers, feathers, small hats, big hats.....

If nothing else, this exercise has firmed up in my mind some of the things I like and don't like about summer hats!  (Eg, I don't like the usual run-of-the-mill sinamay shapes that you see everywhere.)

*along with Behida Dolic, but she only really works in felt most of the time, so not suitable for this project.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

A Muse....

I'm behind with writing up much of my research - I'm doing the actual research and reading, just not finding time to put it on here - that may not change for a couple of weeks, due to the re-enactor's market (TORM), which is coming up, but I'll be able to catch up after its done (think huge craft / trade fair with a several thousand customers through the door!).

Anyway, in the meantime, I've been musing on a muse.   As part of the brief, we have to choose a muse, so I've been thinking about who to choose.  I've pinned it down to one of two silent film stars (if I turn out to be completely indecisive, I suppose I could always split the hats between them, or add another and do one each).

Anyway, the two I've pinned it down to are these:

Lillian Gish 

Louise Brooks

Obviously, they're very very different women.  Lillian Gish was an actress of the Edwardian age, who made most of her films before 1920, and who embodied the silent heroine in distress (although there was a lot more to her than that).  Louise Brooks was a strong independent woman who was very much of the 'flapper' age, who was daring and didn't mind shocking people.

Hats focussed around them would be very different!

I'm probably veering more towards Louise Brooks, but I'm not going to decide for a while yet.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Soft Sinamay (urgh)

Today at college, as well as our first 'contextual studies' lecture, we played with soft (i.e. unstiffened) sinamay.

 Sharon (Bainbridge - our tutor - who will be reading this at some point *wave*!) brought us a bag of unstiffened sinamay in natural, and assorted multi coloured pieces that she'd dyed.  We all had to take a piece, and then just play.

My first reaction to the sinamay - not good.  I really, really didn't like it.  I tried playing with it in one big piece at first, and I quite liked some of the shapes that I got when I pleated it back on itself - the edge was curving round - but I didn't like it enough to do anything with it.  After a while of that I decided to cut it up a bit, rather than trying to use it all at once.  So I cut, and started rolling the edges.  (For those unfamiliar with it, you roll the edges of soft sinamay with dampened fingers, and it holds.)

I tried to persevere with it, but (even with a break to make a petersham ribbon cockade), ended up in such a grump with it that, as I was packing up, I gathered up all my bits of sinamay, shoved them into my sewing tin, and squashed the lid down with absolutely no care or regard for what happened to the shapes I'd been working with.

I'm not sure why I had such a bad reaction to it.

It's quite similar to some of the stiffer loosely woven tailoring canvases that I've used - it behaves in the same sort of way - very stretchy on the bias, thanks in part to the loose weave, and virtually none at all on the straight or cross grain, so it can't just be that it's unfamiliar.

I think I pinned it down eventually, after long thought on the walk home, and I think it's that it felt messy to be working with.  Not messy in the sense that there were lots of bits flying off - messy in the sense of an untidy finish.  It felt untidy, and wrong, somehow to be rolling the edges not sewing them.  Also, I think I do have some prejudices against sinamay - in the same way that I hate other garments that you can find in badly made versions all over the high street.  I can't get over the fact that it feels twee.  And *very* middle aged.
And I think that part of it may be that I'm just not good enough with it - it's a new technique to me, so I think I need to get some at some point, and play with it till I can roll it and shape it to a standard where I'm happy with it, then see if I still feel the same.

Anyway, I carried on when I got home, so I now have a finished sample piece (apart from a head attachment).  I think it's a bit of a monstrosity as it is - too much going on, and would need lots of refinement to turn into a finished design - but this was about learning ways to work with it, not about getting a finished piece, as such.  It's late now, so I'll take pictures of the monstrous creation tomorrow!

So anyway, in conclusion, I don't think I hate the sinamay as much as I did.  I think it could be quite a nice thing to work with, for the right project, to make sinuous, organic shapes like leaves or petals - especially if you were able to create them free-form, without needing to be 100% sure what shapes you were going to end up with.