Ready-to-hat: more from the shows!

It’s cold here in London town (you might have heard, a new ice age apparently!) and also one of the busiest times of the year, what with all our work deadlines, millinery and non, and the big C fast approaching. So, what is one to do but turn to all the stunning Fashion Week pictures, for both distraction and winter chic inspiration.

This (rather chilly) milliner’s fingers have been avoiding the frost by working on a million projects at once, a few of which you are about to see and other, more exciting ones, in the pipeline. In the meantime, here are a few items that would easily make it to the top of my Christmas wish list (if I wasn’t already working out how to make them myself!)

Carolina Herrera A/W '10, Ready to wear (thank you Style.com)

First up, and in keeping with this seasons red/camel colour trend, here is an elegant piece from Carolina Herrera. With the right outfit, this hat will rock.

Next, unashamed favouritism goes to my design crush, Christian Dior, for the following three stunners. I am a particular fan of the alternative flatcap and love this brown suede baggy version – genius if you have big hair, and the texture and folds make it look divine to wear. The manly flat top hat is fierce.

Christian Dior A/W '10, Ready to Wear (thank you Style.com)

Flowers soften the mean freezing cold, and the following selections are perfect to cheer up a winter outfit if you aren’t a fan of woolly pompom alternatives.

Christian Dior A/W '10, Ready to Wear (thank you Style.com)

Dolce and Gabbana have come up several versions of this glorious blossom hat. Another favourite, Charles Anastase is renowned for his fairytale creations, and this headpiece would look beautiful indoors and out.

Dolce & Gabbana A/W '10, Ready to Wear

 

Charles Anastase A/W '10, Ready to Wear

In honour of the spectacularly cold weather battering dear Blighty this week, here are some delightful options from John Galiano, who really knows how to steal the show from any old ice age…

And just so that we don’t leave this post with the idea of Ugg boots as hats, here are a few actually useful items from Vivienne Westwood, Karl Lagerfeld and Prada. Loving the beaten fedora and winter headbands. Keep warm peeps! xx

Vivienne Westwood A/W '10, Ready to Wear

Karl Lagerfeld A/W '10, Ready to Wear

Prada A/W '10, Ready to Wear

 

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The First Hat, Vol III

Well, here it is! The final installment of First Hat.

It was a long time coming, but the next session was so exciting.

I hadn’t finished the brim (I forgot the invisible slip stitch half way through, drama. In case you forget, here’s the link). Once the brim was finished – this took a while due to having to check that the fold of the brim was of even width all the way round every few seconds for couture perfection reasons – it was time to block the crown.

Fabric stiffener for cheap thrills

Blocking the crown was slightly different. Firstly, I cut out a piece of very starchy crown fabric and completely drenched it in water (which made it into a sort of gooey cloth). This was then placed on the block and the crown section of the capeline (the bit I cut out in my previous session) slid on top; I blocked both to form as smooth a shape as possible. Once it was dry (had to use a hair dryer!) I got to do my favourite part which is dab the whole crown with fabric stiffener. The smell is divine. It was upon declaring this that I was told a very funny anecdote about Vivienne Westwood participating in a class where they used such strong chemical stiffener that the whole floor of the building they were in (somewhere in Germany) had to be evacuated for health and safety reasons. Not me though, I love the stuff.

The next stage was, perhaps one of the trickiest. We had two things to do: firstly, place the brim over the crown and angle it correctly (the Guru had to do a lot of this as I could not be trusted) and, secondly, to trim the side of the crown that shows underneath the hat and drape silk over it to make it look nice. Both of these steps are easier said than done!

Draping silk chiffon to cover underside of crown

I took great care to bring a nice piece of navy silk chiffon with me for the underside of the crown; however, once this was cut on the bias for draping, it emerged that I had nowhere near enough. A significant amount of Guru expertise was used to drape not one, but three pieces of bias silk chiffon in place without it showing. Although difficult, this was one of my favourite parts of making First Hat. Silk draping is such an elegant art and the Guru and I had a long conversation about the technique and its hero Madame Gres. A simple version of what I was doing can be described as follows: pin the length of silk along the area you want to cover. Create folds that look natural, and continually pin into place (pin underneath the fold), aiming for there not to be a

First Hat on stretcher, final stages

beginning nor an end to the folds. Once you are happy that the folds look completely uncontrived, sew invisible stitches from pin to pin. Make sure the underside of the hat also looks tidy. And, unlike me, do try and use one large piece of bias silk instead of several small ones, as this makes things considerably easier!

Next it was time to measure my head for fit. I was so excited, as the hat was looking near finished. My happiness was short-lived however when, upon measuring my head, the Guru declared it to be slightly larger than average. I HAVE THICK HAIR I said icily, but enough on that. We measured my average-sized head and cut a hatband (or puggaree! but better known as petersham) to the right length. My love for the Guru was restored when she told me all about the signature petersham colours the couture houses use, petersham being the ribbons on the inside of the hat crown that make it more comfortable to wear. Apparently, each house has it’s own signature colour; as my hat was Dior-inspired, I used theirs which is rich brown.

If you look closely, you can see the evil fabric stiffener on the brim...

Once the hat band was cut and sewn into a circle using a simple stitch, I pinned the band to the inside of the hat, ensuring that the ‘hem’ of the band was at the back and that all the fabric and lining was tidy. It was then all sewn together. To iron out any wrinkles, I used a very thick piece of sinamay to place between the hat and an iron. Using the lowest heat possible, I ironed all parts of the hat very gently using my hand as a base (careful when doing this, it can get hot quickly!) to make the hat absolutely perfect. A moment of panic ensued when I got a bit too liberal with the finishing layer of fabric stiffener – you are only supposed to feather dust the finished hat with it but I, high on the chemical fumes, put so much on the poor hat started to look a bit gooey. I nearly burst into tears I was so distraught, but a bit of last minute dabbing saved the day.

So proud of my beautiful First Hat. Here it is on one of its first outings (on my friend Jess’ head, which is decidedly smaller and makes it look a lot better, sigh … )

Ta da! First Hat

The Guru and I were very pleased with the result. As is typical of me, I couldn’t wait to start making the next one. The Guru advised that fabric hats are a good learning curve for couture skills, so that will be my next project with her. But in the break between Guru classes (she has a lot of hats to make!) I decided to something a bit more fanciful. Tune in next time for the (shorter) saga of the First Cloche with the Doyenne of all that is Millinery, Rose Cory.

x

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Pret-a-hat for winter

As promised, some beautiful hat trends in the shops to keep yourself a-head in winter millinery fashion (see what I did there? Terrible, I know).

Although we most often think of headwear in the context of pretty hats and fascinators for weddings and race days in the hotter months, hats are just as relevant if not more so in winter. Take a look at these everyday beauties.

La Cerise Sur Le Chapeau

Eugenia Kim

We’ll start with hats. This season’s take on the fedora goes back to its thirties origins. I particularly like this one by Eugenia Kim, brilliant for day and that bit of gold really helps warm things up.

A lighter weekend version is this beauty from La Cerise Sur Le Chapeau. These guys are particularly amazing as they provide a customize your own hat service, so maybe get it to complement the trusty winter coat? For those into a more fashion vibe, my absolute favourite is as follows, from American Brenda Lynn:

Brenday Lynn, Autumn Winter 2010

Another must-have in winter (and summer and any time really) is the trilby. What a versatile bit of millinery that, you can basically make a trilby to suit any occasion. I can’t wait for First Hat to be finished so that I can embark on a First Trilby project, soooo exciting! Here is one by Anthony Peto with a bit of leopard print to make it more exciting.

Continuing in the thirties theme is unlikely source Stella McCartney with her stunning cloche.

And let’s not forget the best of hair pieces for Autumn/Winter, the added benefit being that these can be work ALL THE TIME, indoors and out, day and night, casual and smart, etc etc etc! LOVE. But you’ll have to wait for the next post.

x

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The First Hat, Vol II

Previously, on the First Hat, you were treated to this blossoming beauty:

The First Hat, Vol I

Oh, the excitement – I was about to see my hat taking form, and could hardly wait till the next session. Would I get to design a trim? Would I be putting it together and trying it on?

Sadly not. After escaping several potential scooter accidents (far too excited to concentrate on driving), I rushed into the studio and was somewhat deflated at the sight of a nowhere near couture-like hat on my work bench. There was a smooth looking brim, but that was about it.

The Guru was quick to offer encouragement, insisting that today was one of very important skills learning. So we began. The brim now suitably stiff (remember, three parts to a hat brim, crown, trim – in that order) the next task would be to make sure it will keep its shape.

Use medium millinery wire

This is what millinery wire is for; it is sewn all around the outer edge of the brim so that the hat does not flow. First, the hat is removed from the block using pliers to pull out the blocking pins. The extra fabric from the brim is folded under, as evenly as possible. As we are employing couture methods, it is important to start learning to do every little bit as perfectly as possible – queue lots of undoing of folding by me. A link showing some of the techniques for folding and stitching can be found here.

Once we had a even fold all around the brim, I used a visible colour thread to sew a simple guide around the hat. Then came the painful bit (again, there is a lot of unexpected pain involved in this millinery business!). The wire for the brim needs to be straightened. After measuring how much you need, you have to cut the wire off the roll and then using really swift hand movements you tug at the length of the wire in order to remove all shape from it. This hurts. A lot.

Once you’ve recovered from this, you insert the wire between the perfectly neat fold of your brim. Remarkably, the wire is joined together (dont’ overlap too much) by, wait for it.. sellotape. Yes, this is actually acceptable in couture but you have to make it VERY neat.

The you must trim any excess material away as you see fit. You see, another rule is to never use any excess fabric – hats should be as light as possible. The brim is then stitched using an invisible stitch so that you aren’t able to tell it is hand-sewn from the outside. A video of the invisible stitch will come soon, but for now have a look at this, it follows a similar principle.

This took ages, so I had to take my hat home and hope to finish the brim in time to come back and start on the crown during the third and final volume of the First Hat. Here’s a sneak peek…

The First Hat, Vol II

Stay tuned! x

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Winter millinery, the couture way

Christian Dior, Couture A/W 2010

Ooooh, apologies for the lack in First Hat updates! I’ve been busy trying to find the perfect winter hat to actually wear, hoping to cheer myself up now that London is turning all cold and depressing.

And where else to turn for cold weather couture inspiration than the catwalk? It’s the natural habitat of all else fashion, and we’re often so distracted by the stunning clothes (or complete lack of them in some cases) that nobody notices what’s up top.

Here are some of the highlights from the Autumn/Winter 2010-11 shows. We will, of course, be focusing on couture for this post,and first up we have candy-wrapper chic by Christian Dior.

The veil effect of the effective flower ‘wrappers’ is genius, as is the undone updo hair that almost looks like it is the basis of the headgear itself.

 

 

 

 

 

The chic turban seen at Jean Paul Gaultier (as opposed to the one on the crazy lady stalking her old hang-outs on the King’s Road) is very much de riguer, particularly when teemed with interesting shoulders and tailored, 40s mid-length hemlines. Deep dark jewel colours are also a must, and red lipstick will seal that air of mystery into one glorious Avendonesque snapshot. Alors, some of my favourites, keep an eye out for the cornflower blue ensemble which has me weak at the knees:

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Come back in a few days for more winter millinery excitement, including ready-to-wear (yes! things we can actually buy, yay!) and, of course, the latest from the First Hat.

x

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The First Hat, volume I

The following will describe perhaps what has been one of my happiest days in London.

It was a very exciting Saturday morning when, as everyone else lay in the very rare London sunshine planning their next BBQ, I found myself donning a pretty dress and hopping on the scooter all the way to Bloomsbury to learn how to make a couture hat.

First Hat inspiration, Dior circa 1956

My new teacher had emailed a list of things I needed to get, and it turned out I had a choice between making a straw hat, a felt hat, or a fabric hat. I went for straw as I was inspired by the summery weather and bought a straw parisisal capeline in navy from McCullock & Wallis.

Now, I knew from my emails with the Guru that I would be blocking my hat – that was, after all, what I was there to learn. However, several shop assistants I spoke to seemed to think that that would be terribly hard to do as my first project, which was of course completely untrue.

Also, a note for when you are buying materials as a novice. I noticed a huge fold on the capeline, but as it was the last one in navy, I had to purchase it; I did ask if the fold would be a problem, and was told that no, blocking would take care of that. As it happens, it didn’t, so beware: massive folds or creases in less than top-quality straw permanently damage the fibres and even after blocking you will still have a faint line where the fold used to be.

Best Dior book by far

Sooo, to the Guru’s studio for the First Lesson. I was in heaven upon walking in. Minimalist desks, lovely bits of fabric casually peeping out of glamorous hat boxes, and dozes of intriguing blocks and tools everywhere. But first, to identify the First Hat. What did I want to make, the Guru asked? No idea, I replied, and a discussion of designers and eras I liked ensued, aided strongly by amazingly expensive fashion books and stunning pictures. The Guru and I clicked, and very soon after I was donning an apron (standard millinery dress) and the First Hat was being born.

The first skill I learned was an introduction to blocking. Blocking is the process by which you shape the material used to make your hat. Experienced milliners will know how to design their own block according to the hat they want to make, but at a beginner’s level, I improvised with some of the shapes my Guru already had in house. I went for a wide brim, with rounded crown, with an inverted attachment and an improvised angle, ala 1950s New Look (see previous post and left).

Couture hats are made in two parts: brim and crown. I started with the brim, and to start blocking, I covered the brim block with plastic (we used dry cleaning bags); the plastic was attached by four pins in a cross pattern. Then I drenched the capeline in water and, finding the X-shaped seam in the crown, placed it correctly on the block. The Gury blocked four pins into the wood as guides for me to practice blocking on.

One of my first negative thoughts about millinery (the first of only two so far!), was that it was unexpectedly painful! Blocking a hat is basically stretching fabric over a piece of wood and pining it into perfect, smooth shape using your bare hands. Yes, shoving very hard needles into a block of wood just by the strength of your arms (mine are not that strong, so I was very worried my career as a milliner would be over before it even starte


First Hat, Volume I: Parisisal brim blocked

d). I soon got the hang of it though, as there is a special technique you use: with a thimble on your middle finger, pick up the pin upside down. Insert into wood using both your thumb, index inger and the side of your middle finger. No other way works as well, according to the Guru. Thus, the beginnings of the First Hat looked something like this (right).

After blocking all the way round the brim, I bunched up the crown fabric and blocked the top part of the brim that would later join the two parts of the hat together. Once blocked, the hat was left to dry over night, and that was my first lesson over with!

More on the First Hat coming soon, including how not to use fabric stiffener, some basic millinery sewing skills and much more! x

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Millinery guru wanted

So, being a nerd at heart, I started the hunt for a suitable teacher. To be a couture milliner it would be best to be taught by someone that specializes in couture millinery, or even better, an actual couture milliner, right?

To the internet for more hard-core researching. Who would a couture milliner be? Obviously, we have Philip Treacy, Stephen Jones, hat-maker to the Queen herself Rachel Trevor-Morgan and another favourite Louise Mariette, of most expensive hat fame.

By the way, my heart sank when I read that Lady Gaga was to APPLY for an apprenticeship with the legend that is Philip Treacy. I mean, if Lady GAGA is going to be a milliner, what hope for the rest of us? The lady clearly has flair and is her own advertiser, etc etc.

Anyway, I digress. I looked and looked and despite the fact that there is no set-in-stone method for training as a milliner I finally found the Guru. I think the main tip for anyone searching for a millinery teacher would be to just find a milliner willing to teach you, whose methods you respect and whose work you admire (find out who makes the hats of the designers you like; always a good start). You don’t have to have the same style, or aspire to work the way they do, just focus on whether or not they actually have the skills you would like to learn.

My Guru is exactly that; an example of what I’d like to learn. This lady, is cool (and happens to be from the same part of London as me, which somehow made it seem like it was meant to be). She has a purist couture background that I couldn’t resist, so I booked my class and thus found myself trying to pick a ‘fashion’ outfit on a Saturday morning before heading to her trendy studio space to learn how to make hats for a living.

The Guru in person was everything I thought she would be and more. Effortlessly glamorous with an own-brand headband in her hair and sleek Chanel glasses perched on her nose, she was elegant enough not to laugh when I showed her my attempt at a ‘couture’ flower, before sharing a few tips and chatting through the beginnings of millinery.

So, brace yourself for the saga of… The First Hat, parts I, II and III. Inspired by the above Dior 1950s New Look hat. But in navy, because that’s always better.

x

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