labricoleuse: (mee)
Recall, if you will, the incredible acquisition of a large quantity of vintage esparterie by our department, in what i refer to as the Madame Sheeta Legacy.

Yesterday, I conducted the first workshop with Sheeta's esparterie, with our seven costume production graduate students, two continuing-education students enrolled in my millinery class, and two costume staff members of PlayMakers Repertory Company. I'll be writing up several posts concerning the topics we covered, but i'd like to start with a few photographs from the section of the workshop in which we explored techniques of forming esparterie in the hand.

Esparterie, for those unfamiliar with the word, is a generic term for a two-ply millinery material comprised of one layer of straw and one layer of lightweight fine-weave cotton, starched together. The esparterie we acquired from the estate of Madame Sheeta is vintage stock, produced in Europe in the early to mid-20th century, probably some time around 1940. In this esparterie, the straw layer is made from esparto, a grass which grows primarily in southern Spain and northern Africa. To my knowledge, this esparterie is no longer manufactured.

Esparterie is returning to the marketplace of millinery materials, largely driven by the Australian industry. Several Aussie vendors sell what is often called "nouveau esparterie," which is of Japanese manufacture. Japan has long produced a variety of esparterie in a tradition going back to the early 20th century, with the straw layer comprised of toyo straw (strands of twisted paper, woven into a cloth). I have three sheets of the mid-century vintage Japanese esparterie, and for the purposes of this workshop, i purchased a meter of the new stuff coming out of Australia as well, so that we might compare all three.

The burning question on my mind, prior to my acquisition of the esparto-composite stock from Madame Sheeta's atelier, was this:

How does/did European esparterie differ from Japanese esparterie?

After all, the surviving resources which mention the material were all written during or just after WW2, and I always wondered whether British milliners' disdain for the Japanese product was due to bigotry against the Japanese, as opposed to any appreciable difference in the product itself. Now, i know the answer! The toyo straw behaves differently than the esparto when forming the material. The toyo is a bit more "wiggly" and more inclined to droop, while the esparto retains more of a uniform surface topography across complex curves.

I hesitate to make a value judgement about it--i would not consider one type superior to the other. The case is simply that they behave slightly differently when worked with, and both types have their pros and cons and fiddly qualities. Here's a visual:




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Left: European esparterie, esparto layer facing up
Right: Japanese esparterie, toyo layer facing up
In one section of the workshop, we experimented with the processes of forming esparterie in the hand. This is kind of like free-form blocking of felt or sinamay, in that you activate the material (in this case by misting the straw side of the esparterie with water) and then just...fiddling around with it on a block.

Check out some of the structures the students produced!


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This little fascinatory thing was made by PlayMakers costume stock supervisor Alex Ruba. The discoloration on the top edges is from the age of the esparto.

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Fun bandeau-bow shape by second year grad student Robin Ankerich

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Sweet little perch shape by continuing education student Kim Fraser

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This creation is by PlayMakers wardrobe supervisor Ana Walton.
Those are foam curling rods for wig/hair styling supporting the flutes of the shape while it dries.

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Side view of Ana's piece which shows the curlers better.

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Back view, and more curler details.

Pretty excited about the way this first workshop went! Seems like everyone learned a lot, including me. I'll be posting more soon about the other parts of the workshop and what else we covered in terms of the use of this material.
labricoleuse: (frippery)
My millinery class recently presented their first round of projects, buckram hat shapes. Here is a selection of a few representative projects...




Clockwise from top left: 1920 buckram sun hat by second year grad Robin Ankerich
Top right: spiral straw on a buckram foundation trimmed in hand-dyed sinamay by continuing education milliner Kim Fraser
Bottom right: 1880s perch topper by second year grad Michelle Bentley
Bottom left: 1940s shape by first year grad Danielle Soldat



Left: pillbox by first year grad Danielle Soldat
Center: pillbox by second year grad Erin Torkelson
Right: pillbox by second year grad Michelle Bentley


Top: fascinator by first year grad Danielle Soldat
Bottom left: fascinator by second year grad Michelle Bentley
Bottom right: fascinator by second year grad Robin Ankerich



Origami crane fascinator by first year grad Samantha Reckford


Complex buckram shape in velvet by second year grad Erin Torkelson,
after the midcentury design below from the estate of renowned West End theatrical milliner Madame Sheeta



Great stuff, amirite? On to blocking projects next! Follow me on Instagram, too!
labricoleuse: (design)
After my prior post on resources for working with esparterie [1], some helpful milliners and scholars commented or PM’d me with two other titles of books which feature chapters or sections on the material.


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Madame Eva Ritcher's lovely author photo

The ABC of Millinery by Madame Eva Ritcher was published in 1950, and positions itself as an introductory handbook for “every woman” with an interest in learning millinery techniques. I absolutely adore the photography in this book—glamorous images of various hats created and modeled by the author, interspersed with detail shots of various techniques she describes in the book.

However, I’m not entirely convinced that Ritchie is using the word “sparterie” to describe the two-ply material composed of a layer of esparto and a layer of crinoline. Based on her description of it—a material sold in rolls, in both black and white—and the detail shots throughout the text, it appears that she’s using the term to refer to what I know as buckram: a single-ply woven material stiffened with starch. Nowhere does she mention the technique of skinned joins, nor does she discuss any precautions for avoiding damage to the esparto straw layer as in other references like the Denise Dreher book. And, in all of the detail shots, the material she’s using is clearly one-ply and looks to be standard buckram.

Ritcher's book has great illustrations and as a handbook for basic buckram structures, straw, and felt, it’s a solid resource with lovely period examples, but as an esparterie reference, it’s puzzling at best when taken alongside the other available information out there.



Hats on Heads: the Art of Creative Millinery by Mildred Anlezark was first published in 1965, but went through several reprinting in the 1990s. It’s clear that Anlezark is talking about a two-ply straw/cotton material in her book, because she gives an excellent descriptive definition of it in her “Materials” section, though she describes the straw layer as hemp instead of esparto, and cites it as coming from Hong Kong instead of Japan or Spain.

As the book contains no close-up photographs of the material Anzelark calls “willow,” I have no way to know whether the use of the word “hemp” is a misnomer (and thus what she’s talking about is similar to the vintage esparto-based willow I’ve acquired from the estate of Madame Sheeta), or if it’s a different esparterie substitute which is/was literally made from hemp instead of esparto grass.

Anlezark’s book has several sections which deal with using the material—Moulded Willow Brim, Willow Crown in Two Sections, Willow Breton, Willow Brims, Willow Pillbox, and Willow Whimsy. In none of them does she mention the skinned join technique, or any techniques which take advantage of the two-layer nature of the material such as the edge-wiring technique mentioned in the Denise Dreher text in which one cuts away some of the esparto layer but leaves the crinoline layer longer to encase the wire after attaching.

For the most part, Anlezark treats it like other one-ply foundation materials in terms of the methods described. The “Moulded Willow Brim” section is interesting for how it addresses creating a brim foundation with a rounded edge by folding the willow back on itself, but I’m not sold on her using the material in the most advantageous way to do this, because she doesn’t have you drop the wire inside the fold to obfuscate its presence when covering, and she doesn’t address techniques for grading the headsize opening when you’re working with four layers of material before you’ve even set your crown on.

There’s a lot of other information in this book on both structured and soft stitched hat styles in a range of materials, so it seems like a solid reference book in general, but IMO there are better references for working with esparterie/willow out there which cover a broader range of techniques specific to it as a medium.


Thank you so much to those who pointed me toward these and several prior-mentioned books: Dirk Seegmüller, Rachel Worboys, and [livejournal.com profile] leebee7.

I would love to hear from anyone else who knows of books in any language which feature information on working with this material. I feel certain there have to be some French resources i’ve yet to locate, and probably Spanish and Japanese as well. My goal is to wind up with a series of posts which are easily findable via online search-engines, evaluating and comparing primary source material on the subject of esparterie techniques.


[1] A.k.a. willow, spartre, sparterie, spatra, esparto-cloth…how many names does this stuff have? Geez. :)
labricoleuse: (mee)
Esparteríe has long been a research interest of mine, pretty much ever since i heard about its existence in my very first millinery class (1992), but actively since I took the position of crafts artisan at PlayMakers Repertory Company and discovered the four sheets of it in the stock here. Now that our graduate program at UNC-Chapel Hill is the proud owner of 77 more, thanks to what i’ve begun to think of as the Madame Sheeta Legacy, I set about collecting the extant documentation i know of for working with it. That’s the subject of today’s post.

First, let’s take a look at written references, millinery manuals which address techniques for working with esparterie/willow/spartre/etc. You can find the term popping up in many glossaries of millinery materials, but if a reference only mentions its existence and features no additional information on working with it, i’ve put it aside. We know it was once a commonly used and beloved millinery material, but what about the HOW of its use?


The book i used as my guide back when i made the brim block from a portion of one of my sheets in 2010 was Denise Dreher’s From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking. This book is also the required textbook for the graduate level course i teach in theatrical millinery at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—it’s worth owning for many other reasons beyond its sections on esparterie, which she refers to exclusively by the term “willow.”

It’s clear that esparterie was already scarce when Dreher wrote her textbook, because she starts out advising milliners not to use it as a flat-pattern foundation material or as a blocking material, but to conserve it to use exclusively as a material shaped in the hand, free-form. She goes on to talk about the material’s properties and specific techniques for working with it—how to activate the willow with moisture/steam without damaging it, how to patch a damaged area, how to create a skinned join, how to wire an edge.

Specific instructional sections follow: Shaping the Sideband in Willow, Shaping the Tip in Willow, Shaping Narrow Brims in Willow, Shaping Wide Brims in Willow. She goes on to discuss both sizing and Spartalac as stabilizing products, though the information about Spartalac only serves to help a modern milliner conjecture as to what might serve as a good substitute, since that’s not a product one might run out and buy anymore.

All this information fills about five pages of her book (pages which are 8.5” x 11” in size and printed with two columns) and includes a few black-and-white photographs. Unfortunately, because the book is printed on essentially card stock, the quality of the images is not great. Nevertheless, if you have a sheet or few of esparterie and want to read up on it before working with it, Dreher’s book is a great reference.

Eve Borrett’s How to Make Hats is the second book i’ll mention. It features a 17-page chapter called “Tackling Esparterie and Shape Making.” Borrett essentially covers much of the same ground Denise Dreher does (and not as clearly), but i mention her book because it has an excellent hand-drawn diagram of a skinned join, which makes the process for it much clearer than simply relying on the description and fuzzed-out photography in the Dreher text.

A Textbook of Model Millinery by Ethel Langridge was a pearl of a find. It includes a ten-page chapter entitled “Esparterie Work, including Shape-Making,” full of detailed hand-drawn illustrations concerning a process called “taking the print” of a hat or a block. This involves using the esparterie (or as Langridge tends to call it, the spartre) to make a topographical copy of an existing hat or block, in order to create replicas of it or commission a wood block copy. The book includes a black-and-white photo printed on good-quality glossy paper depicting examples of these esparterie hat-prints. Langridge has stitched them in contrasting thread, as i have done in past posts, to better illustrate the type/size of stitches used in reinforcement sections. This is a technique i’m very excited to practice using the esparterie we acquired from Madame Sheeta’s estate, and be sure i’ll document it fully here.

In Studio Secrets: Millinery by Estelle Ramousse and Fabienne Gambrelle, there’s no specific technique documentation of esparterie work, but there are some beautiful, high-quality, full-color photographs of the surviving esparterie blocks in the studio of Madame Galanter, a Parisian milliner who’s been in business for decades.

There are also some photos of esparterie shapes in Paula Reed's biography Philip Treacy, which features text in both English and Italian. You can also see some of Treacy's esparterie block maquettes in two earlier blog posts of mine: Photoessay Part 1 of 2 - Philip Treacy's Hat Blocks, and Photoessay Part 2 of 2.

And, in L'arte di fare i cappelli by Anna Maria Nicolini there’s a chapter on esparterie work also written in both English and Italian. There’s not any new material there, but the bilingual nature of the book and its full-color photography make it worth a mention in this post as well. Milliners more comfortable with Italian than English would find it to be a good starting place for the basics, perhaps?

At one point, an Australian company called Ascot School of Millinery was offering a DVD of a master class in hand-formed esparterie, but they seem to have gone out of business or otherwise disappeared from the internet. All that remains is this preview video which has some spliced together fast-motion examples of the artisan working. If anyone reading has information on how to contact the folks at ASM to obtain a copy of the DVD in question, or owns a copy who might speak to its contents, please do drop a comment on this post!

Should you know of a reference book in any language which features well-documented instruction on working with esparterie/willow/spartre/espatra/etc., please do leave me a comment with the title and author name! I’d also love to see links to any other resources—photos, videos, etc. If you're hosting an upcoming workshop in working with esparterie (such as the one at Millinery Meetup 2016 with Jane Stoddart, please do also drop a comment!

Thanks to Dirk Seegmüller of Les Incroyables for his invaluable input in tracking down some of these sources.


ETA: Many thanks to milliner Rachael Worboys, who has drawn my attention to the book Hats on Heads: The Art of Creative Millinery, by Mildred Anlezark, with several sections on esparterie. This book was published in New South Wales, Australia, and i've requested it through Interlibrary Loan, so as soon as I receive that, i'll report back here my thoughts on how its contents compare to what i've already mentioned above!
labricoleuse: (frippery)
Back in 2010, i wrote a post in this blog about making a brim block out of esparterie, the rarest millinery material out there. At the time, i had four vintage-1950s sheets of it, which i had found in the bottom of a drawer upon beginning my job at PlayMakers Repertory Company and UNC-Chapel Hill. Because esparterie (aka willow, spartre, esparta, sparterie, espatra, etc.) is so rare, that comprised the one and only time i'd worked with it. I'd also provided a portion of a piece to one graduate student once who wanted to form a top-hat sideband with it as part of my millinery class.

Then, a couple weeks ago, thanks to that post, I was contacted by a woman whose dear friend had passed away; she'd been a milliner in the 1940s and 50s. Was i interested in acquiring 77 sheets of esparterie in nearly-new condition, salvaged from this milliner's studio?

After i stopped jumping up and down and freaking out, i composed a grateful reply and--to make a long story short--the deal was made. The willow arrived and this marks the first of several posts i'll be making regarding it and Madame Sheeta, the talented milliner whose legacy now includes the preservation of the art of esparterie in academic and theatrical millinery practice. I intend to document my own use of the material, that of my future students, any workshops i might conduct with it, and to write about this extraordinary woman herself, to whom I owe this amazing good fortune. (An interview with Madame Sheeta's friend and former millinery student is in the works.)

Before i proceed here, too, i should say that this esparterie is not for resale. It was provided to us as a tribute to Madame Sheeta, and is to be used for theatrical and educational purposes only. My millinery students will have the opportunity to work with it, and if we host any future workshops with it which might be open to more general enrollment, i will post about that here in[livejournal.com profile] labricoleuse first.

For now, though, I'm starting out by writing about the material from an investigative standpoint, to document techniques for others who might acquire or currently possess sheets of it on their own recognizance. Inevitably when i talk to fellow milliners about esparterie, there are a few folks who say they have a sheet (or five, or a dozen) but are waiting to use it, or afraid to use it because it's so rare. And friends, I HEAR YOU. Back when i made my block in 2010 with it, i was terrified. It was worse than cutting into a piece of $500/yd lace because of the rarity of the material. A mistake with esparterie isn't just costly, it might be irreparable. Now though, i have the luxury to experiment. I can practice with it. I can learn from the material, and i can document it here.

There aren't many sources of information on working with esparterie, but so far, the best one i've found is Denise Dreher's From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking. Dreher and others (Eva Borrett's How to Make Hats and Ethel Langridge's Textbook of Model Millinery) talk about the technique of the "skinned join," which i mentioned in passing back in 2010 and which is what i'm writing about today. These writers all suggest that you practice your skinned joins with scraps...but who has scraps of willow? [1]

Well, i can tell you that if you want to practice a skinned join but don't want to use your actual esparterie to do it, you can spray-starch a layer of lightweight buckram (the kind you get at JoAnn's or Hancock Fabrics) to a layer of raffia cloth or sinamay or toyo or similar straight-weave straw, then use that. It will give you a similar experience in the practicing, that you can then feel confident about when making a skinned join in actual willow.

Here's some visuals for what makes a skinned join:



I started with a 2.5" bias strip of esparterie, which i misted with an atomizer of water and wiped with a damp cloth on the esparto side, to moisten the material. Then i carefully separated the crinoline from the esparto on either side of my join, as above.



Here you see what's going to be my overlap for the skinned join. The crinoline layer is pulled back on each side, and i'm about to stab-stitch through the two layers of esparto, backstitching for strength. Once you do that...


...you smooth the crinoline layers back down over top of your stitching (here i did it in black thread so you could see it, because this is meant as a teaching tool). In this way, you wind up with a really smooth join.


A few more bonus images...


Box of esparterie when i first opened it.


These 30 coils of millinery wire were included in the box! What a wonderful acquisition.


Madame Sheeta in the 1940s, making a wire-frame headdress for the Sheffield Pageant.
Isn't she inspirationally fabulous?!


That's it for now. As i said, this is to be the first in a series, with future installments to include using esparterie to do something called "taking a print," forming esparterie in the hand, and a biographical profile of the extraordinary Madame Sheeta.


[1] I realize there's "paper esparterie" coming out of Japan now, and i admit i haven't worked with it, so it may or may not compare to the old-style esparterie in which one layer is crinoline and the second is esparto grass.
labricoleuse: (frippery)
Today i've got a great new interview to share, with milliner Maria Curcic of Le Chapeau Rouge.



Photographer: Judy Bandsmer
Model: Emily Mann
Hat, hair, and makeup: Maria Curcic

Q. How long have you been designing hats, and how did you get started?

A. I have been in the arts since the early 80’s, with fashion shows, producing my own shows and so on. My life circled around hats, design, fashion, and architecture. My mother was a seamstress and made a lot of our clothes--she taught me how to sew and the basics of sewing. She always had me in hats at a young age, and I wore them often in our outings in Paris. I really believe growing up in Paris influenced how I saw women accessorize.


Q. You work with a wide range of materials--felt, feathers, fabrics, straw, etc. Do you have a favorite and why?

A. My favorite materials are silks, satins and felt mostly, but really, my work is about wearable art. My pieces tend to reflect my knowledge of materials to create wearable forms. My work is multi-dimensional, so [I appreciate] materials that can be applied to these methods of millinery.


Q. Who are your influences in hat design?

A. I really loved the work of Alexander McQueen, Philip Treacy and Louis Mariette to name a few. I love their whimsical styles and their dedicated life passion.


Q. Tell me about your store in Calgary, Le Chapeau Rouge, and how you shifted to wholesale.

A. I opened in 1994, knowing there was nothing like it at all in Calgary, or much in Canada [at all] for that matter. I was designing hats for a friend’s store in 1990, and she encouraged me to open my own store. I really wanted to push fashion-forward hats to women who wanted something that was not run-of-the-mill or mass-produced. Most of my clients wanted me to create something I would wear.

My store stocked many European designers such as Louise MacDonald and many others…I also carried a great line of men’s hats from Germany. Around that time, men were not even seen in hats other than baseball caps; the same went for women.

I had some great lines of my own which I produced for various retailers across Canada while running a store full time--thus began the wholesale aspect of my business.

Currently, I still sell wholesale (more of my unique art pieces) to boutiques as well as retail on eBay:
http://www.ebay.ca/usr/mariacurcic


I create custom designs with clients around the world. With easy access to the internet, these days it’s easy to sell abroad.


Q. Do you design seasonal style collections, or strictly one-of-a-kind pieces?

A. I design both seasonal and one-of-a-kind works.


Q. When it comes to designing, do you construct your hats based on concepts and drawings, or do you work sculpturally, letting the media determine the form?

A. A bit of both. I sometimes love to manipulate the materials, then I sketch out the idea and move forward with the concept. Sometimes it’s the other way around--I draw the hat, then look for the materials. Either way, both processes are rewarding!


Q. What's your favorite tool or piece of equipment in your millinery workroom?

A. My vintage blocks.


Q. What advice would you give readers considering a career in contemporary millinery?

A. Learn the basics of sewing, materials and how they work together. If you are serious about this trade, take a credited course in fashion/millinery design. Taking a few workshops here and there, that does not make you a milliner. Millinery takes time, creativity, and patience to master.

I studied Interior Design and majored in drawing in art school prior to millinery, so I am very familiar with various fibres, drafting, color theory and so on.


Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me about your work, Maria! You can keep up with Maria's millinery on her Facebook page and website, and she's also shared a link to a video as well:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Le-Chapeau-Rouge/237140949667615
https://vimeo.com/124983126
http://www.mariacurcic.com
labricoleuse: (shakespearean alan cumming)
The millinery trim giveaway has closed, and winners have been chosen by the magic randomizer! (By which i mean, the computerized randomizer.)

I have to admit, it has been so exciting this past week seeing all the new "likes" coming in from milliners and craftspeople whose work is new to me! So many interesting Etsy shops and blogs and retailers and designers and costume students and....i could just keep going.

But, without further ado, our four winners are:

  1. Kelly Formaldehyde of MsFormaldehyde

  2. Brenda Grantland of Hatatorium and the Hatatorium Emporium

  3. Dannielle Kukar of FeatherHeart

  4. Jordana Robinson of Mossbadger Fashion Design

Congratulations, y'all, and I will get these packed up and sent out, hopefully by the end of the week.

Thank you so much to all of you who entered, and I hope you hang around as part of the La Bricoleuse readership! Plus, I had such a fantastic response to this that I've got THREE more awesome giveaway ideas percolating, details TBA once i get this one all packed up and shipped out!
labricoleuse: (top hats!)
First up, a reminder that there are two more days to enter the giveaway for millinery trims! February 2nd is the last day you can enter, and i'll announce winners ASAP. But for now, hats and more hats...

So, per my post the other day about the donation of hatboxes and hats that our loan supervisor brought by my office, here are a few images of the hats that were in those fantastic packages!

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Glamorous flat felt 1940s hat by Vogue Hats--this is the one that was in that black floral box.

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Side view of same. The trim is a metallic-beaded cord and a seed-bead shield/crest.
The hat is made from three pieces of flat felt seamed and tucked to create this shape.



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Mink tilt "golf cap"


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Glamorous mink earflap toque. Everyone wants this one in this current weather!


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Ivory melusine cloche with wide wool felt band and tortoiseshell buckle.
labricoleuse: (top hats!)
One of the perks of working for the Costume Production MFA program here is the access to the Costar Archive. Not only do we have access to a wide range of surviving antique garments and accessories in the collection, but we also sometimes luck out and get to see something when it arrives in a donation.

Just yesterday, our head of loans and acquisitions, Sam-Kate Toney, dropped by my office with an armload of hatboxes...



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Three lovely boxes for womens hats...

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...and these two fantastic-shaped boxes of mens hats!

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This tiny but lovely Stetson was inside that octagonal one, and here's a close-up of its hat-securer!
This cord and button remains looped around the crown until a windy day springs up, at which point the wearer unloops the cord and fastens the button through his lapel, securing his hat to his person by the little "leash" in case it's blown off his head!

Tomorrow, we'll take a look into those three lovely ladies...
labricoleuse: (top hats!)
The semester has ended and my millinery students presented their final projects last week. Fun stuff, including sinamay, goddesses of doom, and roadkill. (Really!)


Read more... )
labricoleuse: (frippery)
My millinery class has presented a couple of projects since i last shared photos, so this'll be a mishmash of excellent zaniness. They do a project involving wire-frame structures, and they do a project in which they create a hat/headdress with a historical or fantastical hairstyle for inspiration (basically, solving hair design issues with hatmaking techniques). So, here we go:


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PRC Costume Technician Sam Kate Toney made this fantastic drag-inspired wig from foam and silk flowers.
And then i wore it to a Halloween party thrown by photographer Ryan A. S. Jones of Rytography,
which is why Sam got this fab "stage shot" of her project!
Photo credit: Rytography


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Undergraduate senior Alex Ruba made this Ariel-inspired mermaid wig from synthetic dreadlocks,
a buckram cap, and a bunch of actual tidewrack/seashells.


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Another view of Alex's wig


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First-year grad Max Alenson Hilsabeck created this Medusa-inspired wig/headdress from tubular horsehair and rubber snakes, mounted on a Fosshape cap.

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First-year grad Emily Plonski created this bugle-beaded headdress inspired by the hairstyle of Josephine Baker.

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Side view of Emily's piece.

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Rear view of Emily's piece. I love how the bugle beads make this shine like actual marcelled hair!

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Second-year grad Katie Keener created this wire-frame reproduction of a 1910s lace-brim summer hat.
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First-year grad Max Alenson Hilsabeck created this wire-frame tiara-inspired ballet headpiece.

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Side view of Max's piece.


Great work, ladies!
labricoleuse: (frippery)
Back in April, i got an email from the Costume Director for the Carolina Ballet asking whether i'd be interested in doing the headpieces for a new construction of costumes for the Balanchine ballet Rubies, which they will be producing in their coming season. At the time, she was writing a proposal for funds to make the costumes rather than rent them from an existing company, so it was more of a hypothetical question than a done deal. But, i was definitely interested, so i responded with a bid and waited to hear.

The big ballet companies like NYCB have in-house costume shops, make all their costumes, and keep them in stock for ongoing reuse and also as an income stream, renting whole ballets to other companies with fewer resources. This sort of thing is easier in ballet than in theatre because the range of body types and sizes in ballet is much more limited than in theatre--tall or short, they're all really athletic, the women are all small-busted, etc., by virtue of the physical training they have done their whole lives long. Point being, if a ballet company owns a set of costumes for a popular ballet, they can make money off them for years to come, even if they don't stage it themselves all that often, which i gather was part of the point in finding the funding for making Rubies. And, the Carolina Ballet's costume shop is usually on hiatus in the summers, so this would give their staff more months of employment as well.

But, nobody over there is a milliner, which is where i come in. Because clearly, they got the funding, because i'm writing this post about making their headpieces.

This collection consists of:

  • 12 corps de ballet headpieces, which are basically what we would call fascinators if they were for streetwear

  • 2 soloist tiaras

  • 2 principal ballerina crowns


One of my students and colleagues, rising third-year grad Candy McClernan, was in town for the summer and has a particular interest in millinery, so i enlisted her help in production, because assembly-line production of multiples is always quicker with more than one worker.

Here are some images and descriptions of how these got made.

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labricoleuse: (vintage hair)
So, I have written a few posts this summer about the collection of millinery designs i created for retailing at the pop-up boutique School for Style in Williamstown, MA (which now has a Facebook page)--fascinators and straw hats.

The fascinators have been selling really well, so I started thinking about what i might do if the pop-up continues into fall/winter, when felt comes into play. I thought i might give a stab at some felt flowers, make up some prototypes and see if that'd be a viable new style. I really love the felt dahlias that Lillibet's Millinery does, so that was my first style to try out and see if i could put my own spin on it.

There are, in fact, loads of tutorials out there on how to make felt dahlias for "craftsy" purposes, apparently often used as a corsage pin, so i started out by reading several of them and looking at the different variations in how people cut their petal shapes and how they pinched them to create dimension (the two links show two different methods).

I also knew that i was going to make one major change in the methods described in every tutorial i read--they all rely 100% on glue to assemble the flower, and i'm generally opposed to structural reliance on adhesives in fine millinery. I won't say there isn't a place for glues at all, but glue adds weight and clumsiness, and fine millinery is never weighty or clumsy, IMO. Hand-stitching gives the milliner much more control over accurate placement of an element, and is easily reversible or removable.

While it is probably fine to glue all the petals onto a base for a corsage one intends to wear once or twice pinned to a dress or bag, a hat is meant to be worn more often and more prominently--hi, it's on your HEAD--so i wanted to employ as much stitching as possible. I don't trust glue--if it's not heavy and gloppy, it often fails in the worst ways, and i don't want my name on a felt flower that sheds its petals one by one!

In making a style for retailing, i make it at least twice in order to get an accurate idea of the time spent to create it (the first time is always longer than every subsequent time, and you often refine the method between the first and second iteration) and the quantity of materials needed. I also had a friend who had expressed an interest in a felt dahlia fascinator, so i offered to make one of my prototypes according to her specs and if she liked how it turned out, she could buy it.

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labricoleuse: (frippery)
I recently came into possession of a fairly sizable collection of hat blocks from an estate sale. The blocks have an interesting story behind them, as well as being interesting in and of themselves.

The original description of the lot mentioned some blocks from Empire Hat Block Company, a blockmaker based in NYC in the early part of the 20th century. Being not only a maker of hats but also a scholar of hatmaking history, I have come across references to Empire in many sources and seen their surviving blocks in many a hatmaking workshop. I don't have exact dates for them, but I have seen their advertisements in old hatters' publications as early as 1914 and as late as 1967.

They started out just after the turn of the century in a space up on W 111th, but by the 20s they operated from a workshop facility on E 22nd large enough to take up two street numbers (312-314). The business seems to have been a partnership between two blockmakers, Joseph Buxbaum and Samuel Gussoff, though how many block-carvers they might have employed in their heyday, i don't know. They manufactured loads of styles for both men's and ladies' hats.

So, anyhow, when i read about an estate sale lot of hat blocks which included styles made by Empire, i knew that if nothing else, those blocks would probably be worth having. I had no clear idea how many blocks were in the lot, or really what they all looked like. There were some photos so i could tell there were brims and crowns, and I knew they ranged from 22 to 22 1/2 in size, and that was about what i knew when i bought them.

The box that came was enormous, so big it took two of us to carry it from the reception area to my car. I couldn't wait, i unpacked it right in the back of my car, and this is what i found inside:
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labricoleuse: (design)
I mentioned in my prior post that one of my projects this summer is to do a retail line of millinery for the new boutique The School for Style, which opens May 25th (Saturday!) and will feature a range of fashion and home goods made by independent artists. In addition to the fascinators, i'm also doing a couple of styles of full-size hats. Today's images are of a series of five visored cloches.

When i teach millinery class, i give the students a handout from a 1920s fashion magazine called "Five Ways to Trim the Same Hat," which shows exactly that: the same base shape with five drastically different kinds of trim on it. We talk about how when you look at a hat design, you look first at what the base shape is, then what the trim is on that shape. I've always loved this concept of millinery design and so i decided to run with this idea for these hats i'm sharing today, all of which have the exact same base shape--a spiral-stitched strip straw cloche-y visored cap.
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labricoleuse: (frippery)
This summer, one of my friends and favorite collaborators, Anne Kennedy, is opening a pop-up boutique in Williamstown, MA. Williamstown is not only Anne's home, but also home to the Williamstown Theatre Festival, where she frequently designs costumes. Anne's shop, The School for Style, opens May 25th and will feature a range of fashion and home goods made by independent artists.

When she asked me whether i'd be interested in creating a line of hat designs for the shop, i jumped at the chance! I've always had a vague interest in doing some retail millinery, but honestly, all i really want to do is make hats--i don't want to deal with everything else that goes along with launching a retail business or even an Etsy shop. But for Anne's shop? It sounded perfect! Come up with some cute hats, send them to her, and let her and her staff deal with actually selling them.

I can't make the hats at my studio at work--because the theatre is in residence on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill, we're prohibited from using university facilities for personal moneymaking ventures. Luckily, I've done enough contract millinery that i do have a room in my house set up as a millinery studio, for freelance work and such. This week has been about reminding myself all the things i know from reading historical millinery texts--"You don't need a hat steamer! Use your tea kettle."

In thinking about this retail line, I considered who the customers of this boutique were likely to be: fairly well-off summer vacationers there for the theatre festival, and students from Williams College. I knew i would need to come up with styles that would appeal to different age groups, styles one might wear to a night at the theatre as well as styles one might wear to a bar-b-que or a picnic.

My first batch wound up being a collection of fascinators aimed at theatregoers.

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labricoleuse: (frippery)
I have some exciting stuff in the works for the summer, one of which will be the launch of my very first retail millinery collection!

A good friend and colleague is opening a pop-up shop in a resort town this summer--a funky boutique of unique, one-of-a-kind or limited-edition handmade fashion and decor. She asked whether i'd be interested in doing some hats for her, and I said of course! People often ask why I don't make hats for retail and sell them on Etsy or open my own millinery boutique or something, and the answer is basically that i love making hats but i don't love everything else that goes along with retail. Dealing with customer service, returns and exchanges, keeping the books of a retail establishment, all the overhead that goes along with a physical shop (or all the correspondence turnaround that goes along with a web-store). I'm just not good at it.

But, my friend's pop-up is a perfect way for me to do a retail collection, since all i have to do is make the hats and send them to her, and she deals with everything else! Eventually i'm thinking if this goes well, i could do the same sort of collection for other retailers of that sort--short runs of half-dozens and so forth.

For this first run, i have a market research question that i'm hoping the La Bricoleuse readership is willing to help me with.

[Poll #1908304]

Thank you so much for the input, and once we're closer to the opening of the shop, i'll be sure to share the deets on what hats i'm making and where you can find them!
labricoleuse: (vintage hair)
A collaborative project on this show between myself and Candy McClernan was this fun pink feathered "bob" for the character of Rosie, one of the Kit Kat Girls, who is played by Maren Searle. These kinds of close-fitting hairstyle-esque hats were popular in the nightclubs of the time, and are made from hackle pads.

For this project, we didn't have a rendering to work from on the hat; instead we had a research image provided by designer Jen Caprio:
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labricoleuse: (vintage hair)
I've been so busy with the beginning of the semester and two repertory shows in production in the shop, that i have not posted anything in a while. I've got a bit of time today though to share this fun straw hat project I've been working on for Raisin in the Sun at Playmakers Repertory.

In the play, a little boy named Travis gives his mother a hat to garden in, and the hat is supposed to be inappropriate  in a sweetly awkward way, something a child would choose and think was fantastic, but not a hat an adult would buy for digging in the dirt. Our costume designer, Jan Chambers, found this antique hat that she loved:Read more... )
labricoleuse: (top hats!)
We're almost done with the semester and my millinery graduate students have presented a few more of their projects, including two more drawn bonnets. Check out these cool hats!

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