Tools of my Trade

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!

The summer feels like a long time ago and yet I can still feel the benefit of my 2 week holiday on the North Antrim coast back in September. This is the home of giants, whiskey and the ubiquitous garlic chip. If you haven’t experienced these joys you don’t know what you’re missing!

A trip home is just not complete without a trip round the charity and vintage shops in Coleraine. I always find something amazing and this year was no exception. Hope and Gloria on Railway Road always comes up with the goods. This is an interesting vintage shop where you can get a cup of tea, a vintage outfit and take a sewing class. This time I found hidden treasure in the stacks of fabric – probably the contents of peoples’ sewing cupboards, full of half finished projects and some that were never started for one reason or another.

So what did I come home with? …….metres and metres of gold and red dupion silk! One piece was 4m long a total steal at £2.00 for the whole piece.

I also found a gem in the British Heart Foundation; a beautiful 50s yellow fur felt hat – in mint condition. After a bit of a steam, the original shape emerged – a kind of beret shape, quite a tricky shape to wear. I loved the colour, so I set about reblocking it – More about that in my next post.

So it it just goes to show that you can find amazing things in unexpected places.

Straw Cloche day at Atelier Millinery

What a busy week it has been! I went to London last Saturday for a 1 day straw cloche course at Atelier Millinery.  I set off from Stockport and 2.5 hours later I found myself in the beautiful Smiths Court – a quiet little oasis not far from the hustle and bustle of Regent St and Shaftesbury Avenue.

Our tutor for the day, Tina introduced us to our vintage straw cones which had been pre-stiffened and dyed to the colour of our choice in advance. It was a total joy to be gently smoothing and massaging the material instead of using the incredible force needed to block the wool cones I am used to.

It was a lovely day so once we had blocked our straw, we brought the table outside to do our stitching and to enjoy the sunshine.

I learned so many things on the day – the benefits of waxing your thread, not using more than an arms length of thread at a time, how to make a petersham trim and much much more. I am going to have to practice practice practice now so I don’t forget any of these great tips and techniques.  The day was very intense with so much to take in but thanks to Tina’s patience, I did get there and I am really happy with my hat. Here’s to an exciting new world of straw!