I recently had the pleasure of working with Nicola Dale as part of her film, Close Readings. At the end of March, it was shown as part of See What I See, a collection of films by artists, curated by Nicola at Manchester Art Gallery.
My involvement came out of a chat about current projects over a cup of tea and a bourbon. Nicola was describing the performative walk she would be doing between The Portico and John Rylands libraries. She would be filmed walking across the city centre with a book on her head. My immediate question was, “How is it going to stay on?”
A few weeks later she asked me if I could come up with a millinery solution. I jumped at the chance of making something where function was so important. I instantly thought of rolls of fabric which I’ve seen women around the world use to balance water containers and baskets on their heads.
I set about making a prototype for Nicola to test. This worked so I created a donut of fabric from strips of white cotton – tightly bound and stitched together. During the make, I really liked the how the strip of fabric was falling and really liked its veil like appearance. There was something very Queen Victoria about it. The edges were left raw and started to fray which gave this a really interesting quality. The film also showed it moving beautifully in the wind. And it served its purpose – she was able to walk quite fast with confidence that the book she was carrying was not going to fall.
Nicola has described herself as and artist first, sculptor 2nd and performer 3rd. These are the elements of millinery that I am interested in and perhaps these worlds are not so far apart. Working with an artist who comes at it from a completely different perspective, forces me to continually, rethink the how and why of my own work. Its always exciting when that happens!
Find out more about Nicola Dale here: www.nicoladale.com
One of the most interesting things I did in 2017 was a project with Jane Wood, a textile technologist from Manchester Metropolitan University. Jane’s research concerns the development of sustainable bio-fabrics and I got the opportunity to experiment with sheets of vegetable leather she had grown in vats of kombucha tea.
It was so exciting to be working with a new material particularly because it is grown and therefore has a very low environmental impact in its manufacture. Not only is 100% bio-degradable but can also ‘come back to life’ if submerged back in the vat and fed!
I happily spent hours applying the principals of millinery; steaming, stretching and blocking to see how this wonder fabric behaved. Out of this a workshop session was born and we offered the general public the chance to have a go at Hat Works Museum as part of Manchester Science Festival. And the participants did not disappoint! They really embraced the element of play to explore exactly how this fabric could be manipulated and created some amazing sculptural headpieces and brooches.
The general feeling among the milliners who attended was that this fabric definitely has potential as an alternative to traditional millinery materials – I can’t wait to do more on this.
Follow Jane on Twitter: @fashfutures
I can honestly say that 2017 has been a complete whirlwind, and I have really missed taking time-out to reflect on what I’ve been doing.
Between organising the HATstock festival in Stockport, Wear A Hat Day, a studio move, developing workshops, delivering talks, joining a new crit group, working with bio-fabric, doing courses in flatlay and working with straw as well as meeting my friend Katie’s Alpacas – its been totally full-on!
Thanks to the fantastic Sara Auty of SAZmedia, I also fitted in a photoshoot too! The pic of me in the scarf half-hat / percher is one of hers!
I’ll be sharing what I’ve been up to over the next few weeks and revealing whats to come – no spoilers but I’m working on lots of exciting projects! In the mean-time, get a flavour of the great time we all had at HATstock here.
Pop in – Have a chat -Try on hats – Revamp your Hat – Make a Headband – Shop Local
Emma Fozard and I are throwing open the doors of Studio 5 as part of Open Studios at Marketplace on Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th December 11am – 5pm.
Bring along a hat that needs some TLC and we can have a go at giving it a new lease of life. Drop-in to make a fabric bow headband with Emma between 12noon – 2pm.
A selling exhibition of work made by makers at Marketplace in our gallery space on the ground floor will be open and the last Vintage Village of the year is also happening on Sunday so Stockport really is the place to be this weekend!
July saw the opening of Bramall Hall. The hall had been closed for over a year for major renovation and building works. As part of my day job, I worked on the project in the very early stages; packing objects, clearing attics and decorating the servants quarters. I also contributed to developing the shop in the renovated stable block – such a lovely space I couldn’t help but stick my oar in.
Life below stairs, parklife, the Arts & Crafts movement and country pursuits are some of the key stories that have guided the choice of products and the way they are displayed. I had the lovely job of choosing all the books and worked with visual merchandising wizard, Linda from design company, 442 to help set it all up before opening.
The shop is doing well and its not surprising – where else can you a 4ft ostrich feather duster, a handmade flatcap and a bag of premium duck food!
A selection of my limited edition ‘Made in Stockport’ tweedy wool, silk / linen scarves are also available for a bargain at £25.00 while stocks last!
So following on from my post earlier this week, I wanted to mention the first ‘Hat Share’ hosted by Hat Works Museum of Hatting that took place last Saturday. This was a celebration of the achievements of all the people who have undertaken a millinery course at the museum in the last year. It was a great way to finish off the ‘school’ year and say thanks to our tutors Lorna Young, Marie Thornton and Sue Carter who have given so much of their creative energy to the programme since it began 2 years ago.
Over 90 people have undertaken a course at the museum in that time – myself included. They offer a mixture of evening classes and weekend courses as well as Open Blocking where you can use the hat blocks and work room for the day. You can read a great write of of the Open Blocking sessions here by Sohpie of Imogen’s Imagination. The event also launched the new programme starting in September which has been inspired by style icons.
Everyone was invited to bring along a selection of hats they have made using their new found skills and an impromptu exhibition was created. It was fantastic to see how everyone is developing their own style and experimenting with the techniques they have learned at the museum.
It was great talking hats over a glass of fizz! Hopefully this will be an annual event!
The last 2 weeks have been a total roller coaster, full of millinery milestones! I exhibited in my first selling show as part of the Sale Arts Trail. My stand was in the bar area of the quirky Masonic Hall venue. It was great to exhibit alongside embroidery artist Julia Jowett, textile designer Annabel Perrin and jeweller Jo Lavelle. I couldn’t have asked for better company!
Encouraged by Julia and Jo, I got my hat steamer out and did an impromptu blocking demonstration. People enjoyed seeing the process and it helped to illustrate the amount of work that goes into making a hat.
Hats really only come alive when someone tries them on and although I do like trying my hats on in my studio, it just can’t beat the feeling of fitting a hat on a customer and seeing the effect. They hold themselves differently, adopting the posture of an elegant figure from a fashion illustration of yesteryear. The head tilts and the pout comes out as they look in the mirror to see a person transformed looking back. Watching this happen again and again as the weekend progressed was a total thrill. So thank-you to all the people who came, tried on and purchased hats – it was lovely spending time with you.
Watch out for Part 2 of Sharing Success in a few days!
I’m on the count down to my first selling show at Sale Arts Trail on the 9th and 10th July. This is a fantastic event where artists / makers throw open their studio doors; shops and cafes come alive with pop-shops, installations and activities. I did the trail as a visitor last year and really enjoyed talking to exhibitors and seeing the wealth of talent converge at Sale.
This year the event includes a market style event in the Masonic Hall, Tatton Road, Sale, M33 7EE. That’s where you’ll find me showing my latest collection of hats, ‘Blackberries and Brambles’.
So back to stitching in linings, labels and doing making all the finishing touches!
Minikin Paint a Pot Sale
Bianco – Pizza & Coffee Sale
Fresh Filling Sale
Bean & Brush Family Art Café Sale
Serendipitea and Coffee Shop Sale
Fred Aldous Manchester
Zion Arts Centre, Hulme
MCDC – Manchester Craft & Design Centre Studio 6, 9, 22 & 25
Art with a Heart Altrincham
County Galleries, Altrincham Market
The Make It Shop Bignoticeboard Chorlton
Arison Gallery Chorlton
Part of my love of hat-making is born out of a fascination for hat blocks. These sculptural forms are used to transform materials into 3D wearables. It is this transformation process that is currently fueling the technical development work I’ve been doing over the past few months. I am using techniques unique to the art of millinery, to explore the properties of fabric. Stiffening, stretching, steaming, pinning and building layers to construct a stable foundation and a wearable hat. Its all basic stuff but I am realising the value of really testing what a material can do – its essential to the skills arsenal of the milliner.
Many of the tools of this trade are no longer being made and indeed the knowledge of how to use them is a scarce and precious thing. I use a mixture of old tools, specialist materials and everyday objects to make hats. My favourite tool this month has to be my mini iron – I already had some old irons but they are a little too heavy and have to be used with a cloth over the handle to prevent serious burns! My new little gem is small, lightweight, heats up really quickly and is perfect for curving petersham, making bias binding and getting great shape when blocking. What a find!