Friday, July 08, 2011

Why Hats?

I was at Papworth for my annual review recently and I saw the new social worker. He is a very nice chap and we got chatting about what I do outside of CF! I was sitting making some more ribbon roses for anther hat I have in mind, so it was a pretty obvious topic but I've often been asked how I got into hat making and it got me thinking. It certainly was not planned in detail from a young age. I've always loved making things ever since I was a small child. At primary school I was always volunteering to make things for plays or projects- often to the teachers dread! I don't think as a youngster my actual skills anywhere near matched the crazy ideas that were in my head but I was incredibly keen... I loved the way you could change things like fabric and paper into totally new objects and shapes, how they became something new.

I've also always loved sewing and making things from fabric and sequins and anything shiny- definite magpie complex that is still with me. My mum often made me clothes and her mum made practically all her clothes for years. In fact, I wore some of the evening gowns that Nanna made for my Mum at May Balls when I was at Cambridge, luckily for me we were the same size when each of us was aged twenty. I also get my hoarding gene from both these ladies, my Nan especially would keep tiny off cuts of fabric for donkeys years just in case she ever needed them! When she had to move into a residential home Mum and I found bags and bags of offcuts from clothes she made for my mum when Mum was a young woman.

Yes, that's me on the right!
My love of sewing and glitz made costumes an obvious choice during my uni days. I had tried being on stage and actually was in the chorus as a fairy for a production of Iolanthe at Cambridge Arts Theatre- which was fantastic fun, but incredibly knackering. I did not have the lungs to manage that much singing, but I loved the theatre and still wanted to be involved. I volunteered to do the costumes for a production of the Mikado at the Minack theatre in Cornwall and have never looked back. I did quite a few hats during the various productions I was involved with, including a two foot tall twisted top hat for the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland.

A suitably Mad Hatter!
However, I didn't really know what I was doing, I just made it up as I went along from various crafty techniques I had learnt at school, and from Mum and Nan. The Mad Hatter hat for example, was made using willow wands, wire, sticky tape and hope! When I went to RADA I got to do some proper buckram and wire hat making for my ladies project, a reproduction of a masque costume worn by Lady Henrietta Howard. It was brilliant learning to finally make hats properly and not just bodge it as I had been doing and I still loved transforming flat fabric into a three dimensional shape.  

Me, in my Ladieswear Project.
I carried on with costumes including the odd hat, but as my health deteriorated, I had to stop making Costumes and working shows, I simply do not have the strength or stamina anymore. Bridal and evening wear was the direction I choose to move towards, as I have always made my own evening gowns, but the hats came along when I got fed up of the hats I could afford to buy for various weddings.The ones I could afford were just not dramatic or glitzy enough! So I started by making historical shapes in miniature using the wire and buckram method, I had learnt at RADA and it was just like being back at school again. I am just so happy when I am working with gorgeous fabrics and feathers and sparkly things and making a total mess with glues and stiffeners. I'm indulging my inner child! 
The first hat I made to wear to a wedding.

 As I got more daring and experimental with the wire and buckram creations I bought more and more books about hats, and downloaded everything I could find to feed my hatting addiction It soon became clear that I needed to give blocking a go. I'd always been a bit put off from this technique of hat making, because hat blocks are expensive things and I did not want to shell out £100 or more to find I was not going to get any use out of the block. Thankfully, I found the marvellous block makers Guy Morse Brown, who do an introductory block, pins and book set for a very reasonable price so I decided to try it out. On receiving the block my inner hatter was ecstatic to find that not only was blocking something that I could learn (with a bit of practice and swearing) but that hat blocks really are gorgeous tactile objects in themselves. So when my friends asked what I wanted for my 30th birthday I asked for another hat block and bless them, they bought me five mini fascinators blocks that are just fabulous. Now I must admit to being rather obsessed with hats, I can't help it! Not only is making them incredible fun and interesting, but the finished product is so beautiful (I hope!) and gives such pleasure to the people I make for -I just wish I had discovered this wonderful art earlier and that my Nanna could have seen some of the things I've made, I like to think she would have been proud of me.

1 comment:

Gemma said...

I love your hats, you are so good and creative! xx