Sunday, 30 June 2013

Assorted workshops - my diary on them.

Another of my "catch-up" posts, put together from a pile of loose leaf notes and scribbled thoughts (I didn't date them all, so they're not going to be in strictly chronological order to when we actually did things).

While we were making the black hats, we were also covering workshops in class of various materials and techniques (at something of a pace, which was good - no space to get bored!).

In no particular order, the topics we covered were:
Foundation materials.
Wire and wiring.
Blocking with silk.
Working with leathers.

Foundation Materials

We covered all the basic foundation materials - buckram, dior net (aka Paris net / blocking net), sinamay (using it as an under-layer), etc, etc.  And in my own work at home, I've used linen buckram (very different from modern millinery buckram, but used in historical hats).  We also covered secondary blocking materials like tarletan, domet and icewool.

My thoughts on foundations... I like buckram (the proper millinery type).  Yes, it's messy, and the glue does go all over your hands, but I like the stiffness of the final hat.  Obviously, I'm talking about the pre-stiffened type here.
I like sinamay as a foundation, too - I used quite a bit of sinamay over summer as a foundation, while practising.  I didn't have any buckram at home, so used offcuts of sinamay instead, and it worked well as a base under silk and even under leather.
I'm not that keen on dior net, although I can see its usefulness if you're making a hat that doesn't need a massively stiff base, like a turban or similar.  I also think it could be good for trimmings, like making big silk bows, maybe, that still need to have some movement to them, but need more structure than a simple stiffening.
I like the linen buckram I've used at home, although it doesn't behave in the same way as cotton buckram, as it's basically a loose-ish weave canvas, so it's more a cut and sew thing than a blocking thing.  But it does work well for that.

Of the others, I really like the fusible domet - it gives a nice smooth finish.  The tarletan does likewise, although obviously it's for a different set of materials, and it doesn't iron on.  I really like the ice wool a lot too - it's much easier to apply, as it stretches massively in almost every direction.

Wires and wiring.

I've done some experimenting in general.  I found it really helpful to consider what shapes you could make with wire, and how you can support them.  I like the softer wire as much as the stiffer, although clearly you use it for different things.  I used soft wire in the brim of the straw cloche I made last year, precisely because I wanted to be able to shape the brim, and to allow it to be re-shapeable.

I don't think that the wire we use at college for headbands is quite heavy enough - it tends to bend a little when you put on the headband, and doesn't fully hold the shape you give it, meaning that the headpiece is not as secure as it could be.  I've used it as the base for a feather structure, and it works well for that.

I've been looking a gauges of wire (and I've talked to a friend who uses wire in her historical work (she makes hooks and eyes, among other things)), and I *think that the French covered wire from MacCulloch and Wallis is the one to go for - it's a little more expensive, but that's logical, as the wire is heavier, therefore there's obviously more metal in it.  Another one I plan to try is the covered wire from Farthingales in Canada.  Farthingales were my standard source for different weights of spiral steel boning for quite a few years, when it was next-to-impossible to get in the UK.

Blocking with silk.

I already had some experience of blocking with silk, because I lined the brim of the top hat I made last year with silk.  I just stretched that over the brim, and tacked it in place, and it worked well.  I also made a little button beret shape, over sinamay, for practise last year.

I like blocking with silk a lot - and I like the new materials we were shown, like the ice wool, and the domet, which covers the roughness of the blocking material, and the seams on the base.  I've also used quilt wadding - the American cotton stuff, which gives a nice finish that's somewhere in between the domet and the icewool.  Obviously, you would have to be careful with the weight of wadding that you used if it were a full hat, because the person wearing it may bake slightly (unless it were a winter hat, and that were the plan).

I've also had a go at the less 'smooth' blocking - the sort of pleated, bias work done by people like Rachel Trevor-Morgan, and Gina Foster, and although I haven't yet got a result with which I'm happy, I may use it in my final collection, and in future pieces.

Working with leathers.

I've done some leather blocking before, for my summer collection last year.  I'd done that with no training, basically (other than the experience I have of using leather more generally).  I hadn't blocked it before.  when we actually did the blocking workshop, we were given a selection of different types of leather, from the nice stretchy, soft, fine stuff, which is the best to use for blocking, because of the stretch, right up to a much heavier leather, that Sharon had brought in as an example of being not the best leather to use for blocking.  we were allowed to use whichever we wanted to, to practise with, and I decided to use the heavier piece to experiment with, because I'd already used softer leather, and wanted to try something new.  I think using a heavier leather, (provided there's still some flexibility, and the piece isn't going to be so big that the weight of the headpiece / hat will be in the realms of a medieval helmet (i.e. neck-straining)), can be quite an interesting way to go (much as I love smooth, butter-soft gloving leathers).  The piece clearly has to be quite simple, and not have too complex a shape, or any intricacy, but I rather like breaking the rules :)
I also like the fact that you're legitimately allowed to use glue (because there is no way to conceal the stitching with leather, unless it's very thick and you can do a skin stitch or butt stitch).


I'm in the middle of publishing a load of 'proper' college related posts, but came across this via a friend...  And how incredibly cool does this Installation in Dusseldorf, by Tom├ís Saraceno look? - I want to go to Germany to play on it now.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Studio shoot

A few weeks ago, a classmate and I did a photo shoot in one of the college studios.

Jessie Leong and Lauren Danks took the pictures (they're incredible individually, but they work fantastically as a team), and Jack Tyson, a make-up artist based in Leeds, did the make-up.  Rebecca (or Beckiii) May is the model.
(The pictures by Jessie are watermarked, and the unwatermarked ones are by Lauren.)

Here are some of the final results (NB - not all of them are of my final collection, as I didn't have all the hats ready in time, but they're all stunning photos):

In the meantime....

I'm finishing up my coursework, (for which I thankfully got an extension, due to the poo-head client of mine who decided not to pay me a substantial amount of money (and yes, it still wrankles, as is probably evident!)), so there'll be lots of posts going live in the next couple of days that are currently in 'draft' mode, as I add the last bits to them.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share my bit in the local paper, the Pontefract and Castleford Express.

We had to write press releases for college, and I thought, 'well, since I've gone to the bother of writing it, I may as well e-mail it to anybody and everybody (relevant) whose e-mail address I can find.  Obviously, journalists get tons of these things, and I was sending it completely  unsolicited, and out of the blue, so I was all prepared to be ignored by everybody.  I wasn't prepared when the nice lady from the local paper actually e-mailed me in reply, saying she wanted to put something in the paper about me.

Anyway, I did an interview over the phone, and a nice photographer came round and took some pictures of me and some hats, in my workroom, and then in the back garden.

And they printed the one in the garden!!  On page two!!  As picture of the week!!  (I'd expected to be buried away on page 37, just underneath news about the local school fete.)

Anyway, this is the photo I took of the photo, just to prove it really happened  :o)

Friday, 7 June 2013

Lookee what I just found...

Taken by Jack Tyson (, the make-up artist at our recent shoot - the first little leather and feather headpiece is mine.  The veiled pillbox is by my classmate, Rosie.

Very exciting  :)

Thursday, 6 June 2013

My evaluation of our 'Wetherby' brief.

The 'Wetherby brief' was basically to turn up with hats to Wetherby Ladies Evening, with hats for a static exhibition table, and a fashion show.  (The 'James Brindley' was, strictly speaking, part of the whole Wetherby 'thing, but I've written it up separately.)

Due to the fact that I was making a dress and coat for a friend getting married (with lots of problems in the process - not constructionally, but in other ways), I didn't have too much time to spend on the planning, so I decided to try to keep things simple.  Some of my hats weren't done either, and were still under construction, so I ended up using older things from previous briefs (although I did try to choose pieces that fitted with the work I'm currently doing - I think the fact I seem, apparently unconsciously, to stick to the same sort of colour palette helped a lot with making it look a little more cohesive than would otherwise be the case with pieces from drastically different source material).

My two display heads are currently in use in our set-up in Fenwick department store, in York, so they weren't an option, and due to the serious cash flow problem caused by my non paying client(s), I had no money to buy more heads, or proper stands, so I had to make something up.  I was a bit stumped, as my budget was basically '£0'.  I thought about using candlesticks, or toilet roll stands (the chrome ones), or kitchen roll stands.... but couldn't find anything I really liked (and again, came up against the '£0' budget thing).

I hunted about on the internet, and came across some things that I liked - there was this (pic below) candle holder, although it was no longer in stock, so even if I'd had the money I wouldn't have been able to buy any.  I had an idea that I could recreate it (or make something similar) in a white, or a clear acrylic, (although again, no money, no time, etc).
It's now part of my plan going forward that at some point I will make some stands like this from acrylic rods, for future displays, because I really like the idea - I can also create different heights of stand that way, some tall table top, some short, some floor standing, etc, etc, by using different thickness of rod.  I like the way that they manage to be both clean and modern, but still a bit more interesting than your basic commercial stands.

Anyway, obviously that wasn't a go-er, so I went back to the drawing board, and started hunting about for more ideas...  For some reason I searched for pictures of Headonism (the exhibition at Somerset House as part of London Fashion Week).  And I found this picture of Aurora Ozma (and another similar pic of William Chambers' display):

Obviously, I couldn't buy or make the tripods with heads that are in the picture, but it did give me the idea to use tripods.  I had a bit of a hunt about, and found a bundle of garden canes (bamboo ones) that we had in the garage (left over from the veg patch last year), and decided to used those, combined with some soft muslin at the top, to sit the hats on, and some brightly coloured ribbon from my trimmings boxes.  Originally I planned to paint them grey or white to use at the show, but then I realised that they would work better with the wooden book rest I already had (and planned to use with a book of pictures), if I kept them their natural woody colour.  For ease of transportation on the day (on the train), I kept them apart, and put them together when I got there (using masking tape, needle and thread for the muslin, and ribbon to hide the tape and edges).  I rather liked the effect - again, more interesting than the usual commercial retail stands.  I may use it again, and by not cutting down the canes, I could do floor standing ones.  The only hitch with them is that they're a touch unstable - you'd have to be very careful if they were in a high-traffic environment, as I don't think they'd take being bumped into.

Onto the show itself - the fashion shows went smoothly enough, and I don't think there's a lot I'd do differently with regard to that part - I was happy with the music that I put together (four tracks in total, two spliced together for each show (youtube link to my final list here, if anybody's interested!)).  I'd asked lots of friends for suggestions, and my original 'longlist' contained everything from the Bangles (Manic Monday) and Taylor Dane (Tell it to My Heart), to The Ramones (Blitzkreig bop) and The Hellfreaks (Boogie Man).  My shortlist of ten is here

I think the only thing I'd do differently on that part is not go out front to watch for the last show.  Despite getting the agreement of the models, and assurances that they knew how to wear the hats, having done one show and tried them on before that...  the truth is that not all of them did.  It would have been better to be backstage and make sure it was right.

We should also have been more careful about the clothing on the models.  We'd asked them all to take a black dress and a neutral one, and one of them wore a black racer-back dress, with a nude coloured bra, which was clearly visible from the ground - one lady commented on it to me (not entirely unkindly) that 'that bra doesn't do her any favours, does it, poor girl'.   We should have tried to find a way round that, but I think we were just all a bit too busy till it was too late.

On the actual whole day, I think I'd have liked to have change the layout of the tables.  I had a little round table, which was tricky, because I'd planned my layout based on a rectangular table, as we were told by the racecourse people.  As we weren't paying for it, I worked with what we had - and in these situations, I thankfully never plan *that* carefully, because I'm aware of how frequently things change on the day - I much prefer to turn up, see what I've got, and work with it.  If I had been paying, obviously, I'd have turned into one of those annoying 'but we agreed....' exhibitors / traders that cause headaches to the event organisers (in this instance the racecourse staff / manager).   :o)
No, but I think that with regard to the layout of the tables, they got it wrong to put one of the small round tables on the end, rather than one of the larger rectangular tables, because it looked, and felt, like an afterthought.  People tended not to get as far as me, because they didn't realise I was part of things (one or two people mentioned this, so I know it wasn't solely my paranoia).

Admittedly, my hats aren't very 'races'.  That is, they're not very ladies day races - most of the people who showed an interest in my stuff were either owners (of horses), or older ladies who reminded me a lot of my husband's relatives ('proper' racegoers, as he refers to them, if that makes sense - people who are there for the racing, not the bar and the night out).  Thinking of the future, I think I'd do it again, but I'd have to examine the cost vs. benefits carefully if undertaking it from a business point of view.

I think I'd also only go to another evening event there with a staff - obviously, I couldn't be on my table the whole time, and virtually every time I went back to my table I found some p****d person(s) using it as a depository for their drinks.  I'd only do it again with somebody with me who could growl at them when I wasn't there.

All in all, I think several of us would have been better off doing something else entirely - perhaps something in Leeds city centre, or at another type of event.   That's completely our own fault - we should have been talking about it and making the decision months earlier, but we weren't organised enough.

A number of people to whom I've mentioned the event didn't understand why we were there at all.  To quote one person 'why on earth would you go to an event to sell hats when they're already wearing their hats for the event...'.  While I can see that people who go to Wetherby may attend other functions where they may need hats, and they may go to other races and not want to wear the same hat more than once, that idea makes a lot of sense to me.  But more from the perspective that most people who go to the races are going to be in 'races' mode, (or at Wetherby, in 'night out, let's get plastered' mode), NOT 'shopping' mode.  The mindset of most people there will be entirely different.

In terms of PR for the event, I think we left that all a bit to the last minute too.  on reflection, we should have been thinking about it back in January or February, to maximise the possibility of getting some sort of coverage in magazines, and monthlies.  Leaving it till the last minute, as we all did, was a bit like shooting ourselves in the feet.  Admittedly, it's not as simple as sending out a press release and getting coverage, I know, but based on the 'shy bairns get nowt' principle, we should have been hitting with as wide a spread of bullets as we possibly could, contacting everybody under the sun that might (even with a sliver of a chance) have been interested, and we all drastically reduced the possible publicity by leaving things so late.

I'm not sure where that leaves me for summing up...  that I might do it again, if the conditions and the pricing were right?  That I think I'm better finding other venues to promote my work?  That my work appeals more to younger (and slightly edgier / more fashion focussed) people, and at the same time, older, more traditional people (a bizarre mix perhaps)?  That I need to be more organised about publicity and press?   That I need to treat events with hats in the same way I do my costuming events, and be sure to have a full staff?

Anyway, below are pictures of my hats in the fashion shows, and on my stand.

My metallic pink headpiece with hand dyed biot feathers, on Becki

My blue and neutral suede headpiece (not part of my final collection), on kelly

My big sinamay coolie - part of a previous collection - sitting a bit awkwardly, because the 'model' was drafted in when one of the booked models flaked on us (i.e. didn't show up), and she had her hair piled up at the back of her head, meaning that elastic fitting didn't quite work!!

My black leather beret with red organza flowers

My silk and wool tweed beret, with holographic flowers, on Louise

My red fur felt cloche, with cut-outs

My little round table

My little round table from the other side - the box at the base had nothing to do with me -  another hitch of being on the end of the row, by the door!!

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

My "evaluation" of our 'James Brindley' brief.

For the 'James Brindley' part of this brief, we were given a lot of silk pieces - ex-trade samples mainly (the returnable metre or half metre that is sent out for a client to check the colour and drape, etc).  Now, given we were given this fabric for free (approx two pieces each), it feels churlish to complain about it, but to be honest, it wasn't the best for millinery.  Or really any garment / clothing application, come to think of it.  The patterns were big and bold (for which read ginormous!), and the fabric (for the most part) stiff and taffeta-ish.    Of course, since James Brindley sell silk for interior design, (so for covering furniture, for curtains, for wall coverings, etc, etc), we should have expected this.  I'd looked them up in advance, and sort of did have an idea of the sort of stuff we might be getting.  Don't get me wrong, I'm sure that their fabrics are wonderful on sofas and in big drapey curtains, and indeed, some of the pictures on their website of the fabrics in use are simply stunning, but really, for hats?  Not the easiest proposition!

Anyway, the day came to dish out the silks, and we were each given two pieces, at random, in a sealed brown envelope.  I opened mine and found one piece of pink taffeta with giant embroidered flowers, and leaves printed with some sort of rubbery feeling... stuff...  Thankfully, I also struck almost lottery-level lucky, because my other piece was just under half a metre of pure wild silk matka, in a lovely pinky raspberry colour.

I decided to use the matka to create a hat using a technique that Sharon had shown us a few weeks earlier (that she'd learned while on a course with the eminent Rose Cory).  I had been doing something else the day Sharon demonstrated it to us in class, rather than working along, and I wanted to give it a try, because I liked the effect.
This involved making a base in foundation materials (canvas, although I used buckram, because it was what I had), and domet (though I used tarletan, as again, I had it (and the matka has enough texture to not need a perfectly smooth surface on the foundation layer)).  I then had to cut the matka into lots of bias strips, which are applied over the top of the foundation, anchored in place at the centre point (or whatever you decide will be the centre of the pleats), and then arranged.  I decided to use a flattened beret / cap shaped block to make it more interesting than your basic round beret (also I have that block at home - the only round beret shaped block I have at home is teeny).  I wanted to try curving the strips - I did so without adding any steam or anything, just by gently curving the fabric by hand and pinning in place.  I was also limited in how much of a curve I could create, due to the amount of the silk that I had - the greater the curve, the more strips I found I needed.
I'd like to try the technique again, perhaps using a dupion, or a satin, but steaming and setting the bias strips to a much more pronounced curve.  I'd also like to try it out on a beret block (a plain one).  In case you haven't spotted it yet, I **really** like this technique.  I think something about the mathematical nature of it, and the cleanness of it suits me.

Originally, my plan had been to use the 'leaf' shapes from the taffeta fabric to create a trimming.  I cut them out, and cut a backing layer for each from the plain parts of the silk, and it was my plan to bond them together, with a wire between the layers, to create a 3D trimming, coming out of the hat at the point at which the pleats meet.  Sharon suggested that it may be overkill, and she was right (it also wouldn't have been very 'me').  So I gave up on that, and went through my button and trimming boxes to find something to cover the apex of the pleats.  I found a pair of beautiful turquoisey blue Czech glass buttons, made in vintage moulds (what would have been 'Bohemian glass' years ago), and decided to use one of those.

I'm glad I decided to keep it simple, it was much more effective than if I'd tried to complicate it.  There is one 'pleat' that is slightly off - slightly wider than the others - but I decided that was acceptable for a first attempt (and so far nobody has said that they've noticed.  :)

And as for all those pieces I cut out - I think I'm going to use those to make *something* over summer, when I have time.

The 'James Brindley' hat (behind the scenes shot of photo shoot, taken by Jack Tyson, an incredible make-up artist )

On the catwalk at Wetherby Ladies Evening

Another shot of the pink hat - this one probably the most true to colour (based on my  monitor)

Final picture of the 'James Brindley', showing the texture of the silk, and the button.