Feather Class with Ian Bennett

Feather Dyeing, Cutting and making a Feather Mount. The thing with these classes are that in many cases I have the general idea of how to do these things, but it is the little tips and tricks of people who are experts that you pick up by taking a class or working with them in person that makes a huge difference. It is also great to learn different techniques. So learning how to dye and cut feathers from two different expert milliners is not a waste of time, in my opinion.

class feather dye results
Results of feather dyeing in class

I took a great three evening feather cutting, dyeing and feather mounting class at Kensington and Chelsea College, here in London with milliner Ian Bennett.  Ian gave out some lovely pages of notes that included his sketches, which were very helpful. I must admit to sketch envy. I would love to sketch well. You can get a glimpse of an Ian sketch in the corner of the image above from the results of my in-class dyeing.

Acid dyes are best for protein based fibers such as silk, wool and feathers. I experimented using some Jacquard dye I had from a previous silk dyeing project. The dyes were already in liquid form and I diluted them more, so my colours were not as bright as some, however I did like the softness of the muted colours.

I got a tripped up with the 24 hour time the night of my first class.  I saw 18:30 on my calendar, and later remembered 8:30, rather than 6:30.  I was embarrassingly late. I got the notes, but it just is not the same as being there.  Ugh!

A few highlights

Sharp, long blade scissors, lightly pinch the spine, support the blade.

How to cut a feather
How to cut a feather
feather dyeing at home
Feather dyeing at home

Nugget 1 – The ability to dye feathers (and other stuff) is one of the key elements to making unique one of a kind hat or head piece. Being unique helps enable you to charge couture prices for your creations.
Here is my dyeing station at home, aka the kitchen counter. I started with yellow, added a little blue, then added a lot of blue.

Do not boil the feathers, actively dry feathers, especially ostrich so the will return to being fluffy and not look bedraggled.

Nugget 2 – Feathers have personalities. This may seem obvious, but I grasped it on a different level after this class. You can trim them and change their appearance, but consider the “feeling” you want when making a feather mount.  Some feathers are spiky like Biots and others have a “sharpness” like Turkey feathers. On the softer side, with a swaying movement are Coque feathers while a full ostrich feather offers a soft roundness. What about eye catching drama from Lady Amherst and Peacock feathers? Use them to create a tone and establish balance.

my first feather mount
Feather mount made in class

A feather mount is a collection of feathers that are combined onto a wire, so they can be placed on your hat as a single unit. Mine feather mount included goose, biot, hackle and a little bit of ostrich.

Nugget 3 – When making a hat, if you handle it too much it can look tired before you are even finished. By creating feather mounts you can conserve the amount of manipulation you need to do to the hat.

I have put my dyed feathers to use for my daughters school play. I am making 6 head pieces (aka fascinators) for the girls.

dyed feather fascinator
Dyed feather head piece in progress
dyed feather head pieces
Dyed feather head pieces – Pink, Green & Yellow

Petershams
at Elephant and Castle

Hurray a new millinery supply place in town that is close to me. This could be dangerous.

Back in October, I rode my bike over on a Tuesday and was greeted by the owner Michelle.  Petershams.com has been around awhile online, but has just opened a physical shop at  The Art Works Elephant which is around the corner from the Elephant and Castle tube station in London at Elephant Road & Walworth Road. Look for the orange door inside the courtyard.

Petershams at Art Works Elephant
Petershams look for the orange door

Petershams has a lovely selection of sinamay and feathers.

Sinamay feathers petershams
Sinamy and feathers

Shelves of basic hat bodies, combs, headbands, veiling, etc.

Supplies Petershams
Miscellaneous Millinery Supplies

And a few skeins of strip straw. This red was so amazingly vibrant. I was very tempted, but I already had a table full of feathers, sinamay, and tubular crin.

strip straw Petershams
A few skeins of strip straw

Let us not forget the petersham ribbon.

Petershams
A variety of petersham ribbon

The shop is small and does not have every size of every colour, of every item, but it probably does have something that will work. And if you are in need of ideas, she has a box of vintage hats under the cutting table that are good fun to look at and try on. I thought these two were fun. The red straw with strawberries and the little beehive of tiny blue tubular crin.

red vintage hat petershams
tiny tublecrin vintage hat petershams vintage hats under the cutting table

Michelle is also from California. How many people do you think are from California, living in London and making hats? More than two?

Michelle Petershams
Here is Michelle Osborne the owner of Petershams.com

And if all of this is not enough, Michelle has a new puppy, that can be found in the back workroom. I am sorry that I didn’t get a photo of puppy cuteness.

2015 Kensington & Chelsea College – Next Generation of Milliners

Kensington & Chelsea College (KCC) Milliners Graduate Collections are Diverse and Interesting. Take a look at select pieces of each of their collections.

Emily Dobson - KCC2015 (1)
Emily Dobson
Amy May Morris - KCC2015 (1)
Amy May Morris
Rosaleen Mac Cullogh - KCC2015
Rosaleen Mac Cullogh

Tis the season for graduations. As I am still rejoicing in my son’s graduation from University in May in California, I have an eye toward the graduation collections of the fashion and design schools in London.

Until last year I didn’t even know that going to see the collections of graduating students was even something to be done.  However after attending the Kensington and Chelsea College Graduate Collection for the Millinery department. I am hooked. The collections are strikingly full of imagination and craftsmanship.

Congratulation to Lily Pouzet, Jodie Whitelock, Lottie Fenby, Emily Dobson, Emily Adams, Sylvia Jardim, Rosaleen Mac Cullagh, Amelia Locke, Hannah Wyatt, Natasha Bicknell, Amy May Morris, Maryam Davas, Daphne Ferdinandus.

Each collection of five pieces had at least one piece to which I was drawn. I found pieces intriguing for a variety of reasons: the materials used, the immense imagination, the creative construction, breath taking beauty, and emotional impact.

Lily Pouzet - KCC2015
Lily Pouzet – I love the stiffened lace and the lift of the sheer black. It looks light and dramatic.
Jodie Whitelock - KCC2015 -1
Jodie Whitelock – The clear acrylic was flawless and the “spun sugar” effect was clever.
Lottie Fenby - KCC2015 (1)
Lottie Fenby – Great use of acrylic with crystals for emphasis.
Lottie Fenby - KCC2015 (2)
Lottie Fenby – amazing beads, stones and fringe details.
Emily Dobson - KCC2015
Emily Dobson – My photography skills let this one down. The copper on the leather was lovely and the crystal encrusted leaf, very nice.
Emily Adams - KCC2015
Emily Adams – Its the laser cut wood that got me on this one.
Sylvia Jardim - KCC2015
Sylvia Jardim – Most likely to wear, lovely colors and good fabric textures.
Rosaleen Mac Cullagh - KCC2015 (1)
Rosaleen Mac Cullagh – Snakes shaped out of feathers! Awesome.
Amelia Locke - KCC2015 (1)
Amelia Locke – Veiling, lace and a twist – great for a wedding. There is an essence about it that feels familiar to me.
Hannah Wyatt - KCC2015
Hannah Wyatt – Hand dyed silk with the coordinating needle work. A love use of mixed media and craftsmanship.
Natasha Bicknell - KCC2015
Natasha Bicknell – Structurally interesting wire frame combined with fascinating materials.
Amy May Morris - KCC2015
Amy May Morris – Some times over the top beads is just right.
Maryan Davas - KCC2015 (1)
Mayan Davas – Intense w/ wire and leather
Maryan Davas - KCC2015
Maryan Davas – How did she make the face within the fibrous material?
Daphne Ferdinandus - KCC2015
Daphne Ferdinandus – One side is feathers, the other is flowers and the metal swirl to for a lovely bit of smooth textural tension.
Daphne Ferdinandus - KCC2015 (1)
Daphne Ferdinandus – How did she make those little cubes? The geometric with the organic waves – lovely.

I loved seeing these amazing pieces, and have posted about them in the order that I saw them at the exhibit. Thank you milliners.

I did have two general observations. The first is that those who exhibited a collection with dark fabrics were far more visible against the white mannequin head and white background, than the light colored collections. As you can see from the images for the collections at the top of this post. Second, collections that had some small and some large pieces were more appealing to me when looking at them as a group. I’ve just remembered a lesson I learned from taking pictures of last years graduating collections. Taking a picture of the whole collection does not work for looking back to remember what you liked about the individual pieces, as the details are lost.

I wish all these milliners, good luck in their careers.

And remember…. interesting people wear hats.

 

Alexander McQueen at V&A – Not to be missed!

The Alexander McQueen exhibit Savage Beauty at the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) is spectacular.
alexander-mcqueen-feather-dress

I have been to several exhibits at the V&A over the last few years. David Bowie was good, Horst was a pleasant surprise, the Italian exhibit was a disappointment. But the Alexander McQueen exhibit is not to be missed. It has been so popular that my husband and I got tickets for, get this, 8:45 AM on a Sunday morning. I was great. There were people there but it wasn’t crowded.

tailored coat

It starts with his craftsmanship in tailoring, then takes you right into some really dramatic pieces, each room a new visceral experience.

I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.

And many of his designs are very powerful.
Antlers
I am not much for birds. Don’t get me wrong I like birds, but I don’t really think about them much. Since starting in millinery, I think about them a lot more, particularly their feathers. McQueen’s use of feathers is astounding.
feather coat

Gothic Mind

“I don’t see it as aggressive – I see it as romantic, dealing with a dark side of a personality.”

Not long after moving to London, my daughter and I were getting on the tube, and there was a man in front of us with the most amazing shoes. To my daughter’s embarrassment, I asked him about his shoes, he said they were Alexander McQueen. That was the first time I remember connecting that name with a piece of clothing. They looked something like this.

AMcQ shoe

Things start to connect. Alexander McQueen’s graduation collection was bought by Isabella Blow. Phillip Treacy made lots of hats and head pieces for Isabella Blow and for Alexander McQueen. I don’t know the order of things, but it is cool when things start connecting. I’d heard of the Phillip Treacy butterfly headdress, but I hadn’t known it was made for Alexander McQueen.
Butterflies

Whether you are into fashion or not, this exhibit has something for everyone. Just to give you an idea of the breadth of experience. My husband who is in the Technology field and a friend’s husband who is a taxi driver, both enjoyed it.

I hate to over sell the exhibit and have you be disappointed, but there were times that I was nearly in tears at the extent of his creativity and mastery. The time, the materials, the craftsmanship, sigh. However with that said many of the things on exhibit are definitely wearable art / performance wear.

bumster

In the 1990’s McQueen’s trousers often were very, very low in the back and seemed to just cling to the buttocks, known as Bumsters.  Wasn’t this about the time when this low back tattoos became popular. We used to call them whale tale tattoos. I wonder if those two things are related.

many of the images were from the V&A website, shoe image from sneakerfreaker.com,

Field Trip to Luton – HA2

HA2 Field Trip to Luton

It was autumn 2013 and I was surprised with an invite to join Edwina Ibbotson and another apprentice, Mee on a field trip up to Luton to visit three millinery suppliers. Boon & Lane the block makers, Baxter, Hart & Abraham suppliers of felt, straw, and petersham, and Randall Ribbons suppliers of feathers, flowers, an endless array of sinamay colors and much more.

Mee, Me and Edwina
Mee, Me and Edwina

We drove to Luton in Edwina’s light blue vintage Mercedes. That is an experience unto itself. It takes me about 10 minutes to figure out how to do the old seat belts. It is an odd hook and magnet device.  The journey to Luton is about 40 miles through London and takes over an hour and 45 minutes, but we arrive mid morning at our first destination, Boon & Lane.

Edwina and the her vintage blue
Edwina and her vintage blue

 

Boon and Lane  are the block makers. This was an experience to remember. There were two men working in the block factory that was filled  with wood and sawdust on one half and different types of sand on the other. They make both wood and aluminium (also spelled aluminum in the USA, so the reason we pronounce this word differently is that it actually spelled differently in the UK vs US) blocks.  The aluminium blocks are used for more industrial use, where they are attached to a heating device and there is a top and bottom piece that clamps together to form the hat shape all at once.

Steve and sand
Steve Lane tamping sand for aluminum hat blocks.

 

Alan Davies and Steve Lane make everything.  When I was there, Alan was working on wood blocks while Steve handled the sand packing in preparation for the molten aluminium. They were welcoming and generous with their time. Explaining what they were doing, the stages of making a hat block and showing us the various pieces of equipment.

Alan and Edwina
Alan and Edwina discussing her custom shapes that have she has carved from polystyrene.

 

Stages of a block
Stages of block making from Right to Left

 

Thus far in my hat career, I’d done very little blocking, but I was completely seduced by being there. As you are sure to have guessed, today would be my first custom made block purchase. I choose a large downward flat 45 degree brim block and an oval head shaped flat topped crown block with slightly rounded edges, to contrast the domed oval crown block I had in my very limited collection. It took a couple of months for the blocks to be made. Shortly before Christmas, Edwina came back one day with her new blocks along with my freshly varnished crown and brim blocks. They were beautiful shiny golden yellow with my name and the year stamped into them. The excitement was only dimmed a bit as I tried to figure out how I was going to get this massive brim block home on my bike. Alas, I could only manage the crown block that day on the bike, I’d have to wait and bring it home on the bus a couple days later. The journey was made easier by using my very large linen furoshiki

Hat Block from Boon & Lane
Hat Block from Boon & Lane
hat blocks from BL
My first custom hat blocks.

 

 

Next stop –Baxter, Hart & Abraham, suppliers to the millinery trade. This place of tidy and well organized. The textile junkie in me thrilled to touch the various different felts. Wool felt, fur felt, and the really furry felts called Melusine. Then there was the colors. My shopping strategy goes, walking around and gather everything I want.  Then doing a mental subtotal of how much it will cost. Then feeling anxious about how much I have, then putting back some of my treasures, until I don’t feel the sense of financial panic. I bought several wool felts to practice on without too much financial impact, but my prize purchases were a yummy small (cone) cognac (gold) and a beautiful large (capeline) grey fur felt. It was glorious and I was so nervous at messing  up the fur felts. I envisioned a gray (grey) large brimmed hat with a fairly simple crown that I could wear all winter. However, it wasn’t going to be that winter that I’d get to wear it.

my treasures from BHA
My treasures from Baxter, Hart & Abraham – Felts, Petersham, and hat boxes.

 

Last stop- Randall Ribbons, the makers of all things feathers and flowers. They had a minimum order. Their website says a minimum order of £30.  I did not spend anything at Randall Ribbons.  I think I was a bit overwhelmed by this point.  I had placed a rather sizable order at the block makers, and purchased enough felt at the millinery suppliers to keep me busy for a while. And honestly I just could not envision how I would trim these new hats of mine. I would have bought a simple hat pin or something, but with a minimum order, I left with nothing. I cannot say the same for Edwina or Mee.

feather sample board at RR

Boxes of flowers at RR

Sinamay at RR

We only went to three places, but it was such a full day. Many thanks to Edwina for the tour of Luton and Mee for being a newbie like me. It was nice to be able to listen to someone else’s questions.

Since the field trip to Luton, I’ve heard the name mentioned several time in relation to the hat making and millinery industry.  In this country they have been making things for a very long time. Thankfully there are others who love doing to research and writing of the history and I get to read the fruits of their labour.  It was oddly relevant as I have just begun taking a strip straw class at Morley College with Jane Smith.

Stay tuned for future episodes about Luton History and my Strip Straw Saga.

HA Field Trip Luton map