Sunday, 27 August 2017

The 'chocolate box' hat

It’s taken a long time, but well over a year since I started it (May 2016 to be precise), I’ve finally finished another hat.

This one was made on a weekend course on making silk headpieces, at Hat Works. Silk on its own isn’t stiff enough for hatmaking, so these were made on a buckram base. As ever, the tutors Sue and Marie brought examples to inspire us, both in buckram and silk.

Buckram bases,

- and silk hats

We actually worked on two hats over the weekend, but the other one is a long way from complete, so will, eventually, get its own post.

For this hat I chose a simple heart-shaped percher block.

I forgot my ruler, so had to use a pen for scale!

Because it was impossible to shape the woven buckram over this block without wrinkles, the top and sides were made separately. Unfortunately there are no ‘in progress’ photographs: wet buckram is horribly sticky, and anyone handling wet buckram soon becomes horribly sticky as well, so there was no way I was going to pick up a camera while doing this.

Shaped buckram pieces drying in the sun

Once dry, the excess was cut off both blocked pieces, leaving a reasonable overlap on the top section and the tiniest of overlaps on the side piece. These were stitched together, and brim wire sewn round the bottom edge. Then to stop the texture of the buckram from showing through the silk, the wire was covered with a bias strip of tarlatan and the top was covered with a piece of ice wool - a loosely-knitted, fluffy fabric.

The buckram base, top view and underside

Tarlatan edge and ice wool top

Base completed, it was on to the silk. For this I decided to use a technique I’d seen in The Art of Manipulating Fabric by Colette Wolff. This involved sewing narrow tucks on the right side of the silk . . .

Hand-sewn pleats

. . . and adding gathering stitches on the wrong side.

Gathering stitches, positions alternating between rows

The gathering stitches were pulled up, and the tucks sewn together on the right side, to give an effect somewhere between pleating and smocking.

The end result

I had measured the hat before I started, to make sure that the completed panel would be the right size for it. Some of the excess silk was tucked under the pleated sections at each end, but some I had to pleat along the sides, as I wanted to keep it as a single piece of silk.

The covered hat

The resulting little compartments, the richness of the silk, and the shape of the hat all combined to remind me of old-fashioned chocolate boxes; the sort made out of pasteboard and covered with satin, with chocolates in individual paper cases rather than moulded plastic trays. This sort of thing.


So taking this as my inspiration I decided to bead the hat as though only a handful of chocolates were uneaten, with a few beady crumbs left in the folds of the silk in a couple of the other sections.

The 'chocolates' and the 'crumbs'

The lining was made from a curious silk remnant I found in MacCulloch & Wallis last year. As the pattern is printed on the bias, I think that it might have been intended for ties.

The lining fabric - the orange and purple go well with the hat silk

The lining was made from a bias strip sewn into a tube and gathered along one long edge, then sewn onto a central patch. Because the lining would not be the same depth all round, I decided to cut it with the stripes radiating rather than forming circles.

The completed lining

I actually cheated a bit (sorry, Sue and Marie!) and secured the lining in place with a couple of long threads I’d sewn onto the underside of the buckram base before I attached the silk outer layer. Once in place the lining was cut to shape, the raw edge turned under, and slip-stitched in place.

Sewn into the hat

And this is the finished hat. Well, almost finished: it still needs elastic, so for the photos it was worn I little more on top of the head than I'd like.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Anna Sui at the Fashion and Textile Museum

As well as Balenciaga, my recent London trip involved going to lots of other exhibitions; A Handful of Dust at the Whitechapel Gallery, Chris Ofili at the National Gallery (thanks to Sue Carter for telling me about that one) and, erm, one on plywood (I know, I know, please don’t judge me!). But the only other one I’m going to post about is The World of Anna Sui at the Fashion and Textile Museum.

At the entrance

“The World of” is an appropriate title, because what really came across was the designer’s overall vision; an aesthetic which carried across all of the work on display, regardless of which collection it came from. The main hall was set out in the style of an Anna Sui boutique; black lacquered furniture, Tiffany-style lamps, Art Nouveau swirls, and mannequins with papier maché heads. There was even a fake palm tree from a catwalk show!

Boots and accessories in a lacquer cabinet

Lots of purple, red and black

The palm tree

The clothes were arranged into “Anna’s Archetypes”; characters or eras which represented the themes which have been present throughout her career.

'Punk', with 'Grunge' just visible on the left, and 'Mod' on the right

I loved the flowery headdress in 'Nomad'

'Retro', with a mostly 1940s look

Needless to say, I particularly like 'Retro', especially the hats!

Three different looks with straw, flowers and veiling


James Coviello designs all Anna Sui's hats

Suit in 'Androgyny'

I really liked this embroidered dress from the 'Mod' archetype, I was just sorry that so little of it was visible. My first embroidery project in primary school sewing was a design (and colours) very similar to this!

Embroidered shift dress

The upstairs display was more about accessories, and the design process.

Lion and Butterfly caps

A long display showed the mood boards which Sui creates for each group within a collection, alongside a completed outfit.

Mood boards

Two boards, with inspirations and fabric samples

With the exception of one case, the exhibits in the Balenciaga exhibition were almost all plain, and let the cut and the drape make the impact. Here however it was far more about embellished details. As ever with the Fashion and Textile Museum, the lack of glass meant that you could really get a good look at (and good photographs of) the pieces on display.

Bias strips on net and fabric flowers decorate this 2012 silk crepe de chine dress

I loved the clothes, but I must confess that I just couldn’t get on with the papier maché heads. Blame it on my north-west roots, but for me they were just too reminiscent of Frank Sidebottom, something which did not help the overall look at all! (I appreciate that this is a reference which will mean nothing to anyone outside a 50-mile radius of Timperley - or indeed, many people within a 50-mile radius of Timperley.)

I, too, had my hands to my face at times!

This aside, I really enjoyed the exhibition. Before it, I knew nothing about Anna Sui apart from the name, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I'm very glad I went to find out.

The World of Anna Sui runs until 1 October 2017.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Balenciaga at the V&A

I've been down to London for a few days, and part of the reason for the trip was to visit the Balenciaga exhibition at the V&A. Most fashion exhibitions at the V&A do not allow photography, and at the recent underwear exhibition even sketching was forbidden, but this time both were permitted. I took a lot of photographs - at one point I honestly thought that my camera was going to overheat and die - but for the sake of everyone's sanity I have edited it down to a sensible number.

The ground floor of the exhibition was all about Balenciaga's own work. It began by looking at the elements of his Spanish heritage which influenced his designs; regional dress, flamenco and bullfighting.

A selection of Balenciaga dresses showing Spanish influences

Unlike most designers, Balenciaga started with a fabric and let its properties dictate the design of the garment. 'Gazar' silk, which is lightweight but stiff, was created in 1958 and became a favourite fabric of his.

Lantern-sleeve silk gazar dress, 1968

There was a whole display of black dresses, including the one which appears of the cover of the catalogue, but I failed to get a decent photograph of them.

'Envelope' dress, 1967, and others

Much easier to photograph were the three outfits which were displayed in detail. These consisted of the original garment(s) on a rotating mannequin, a toile, X-ray images showing details of the construction, and original sketches and photographs.

Silk evening dress and cape, 1967

This dress was displayed inside-out to show the construction details. The edges are bound with silk tulle, and even the zip tape is covered with velvet to make it more comfortable to wear!

Silk gaberdine evening dress, 1963

I can't imagine that this was comfortable to wear, though. The billowing skirt front was achieved by tying the hem around each leg above the knee; the ties are just visible on the toile.

Silk taffeta evening dress, 1964

Talking of toiles; I loved this one for a suit, with the pattern of the fabric drawn on.

Calico toile, 1969-72

Balenciaga was trained in both dressmaking and tailoring, and I imagine that both must have come into play when designing this coat. A piece of ribbon runs inside the sleeve, and holds the elegantly draped pleats in place.

Wool evening coat, 1950

This suit was displayed along with tailoring equipment.

Suit, and tools of the trade

Although Balenciaga was based in Paris, he also ran a Spanish couture house called Eisa (from his mother's maiden name). This produced selected items from the Paris collections, and canny international clients bought their Balenciaga designs there, at a fraction of the cost of the Paris equivalents!

Two Eisa dresses

The Paris premises included two millinery ateliers, and the exhibition included a display of Balenciaga hats. Sadly the lighting was too low for many of the photographs to come out well.

Sketchbook of hat designs, 1963-5

Balenciaga was strict about how his clothes should be worn; this pillbox hat for example was meant to be worn on the top of the head. Its owner, Gloria Guinness, clearly had other ideas.

Leather pillbox hat, 1962

The next case contained a number of amazingly embellished garments.

Embellishment with painting, feathers, embroidery and beads

The white and pink evening coat was made up first, and then beaded. The organza base was dip-dyed, to add to the colour gradation.

Lesage beading sample for the evening coat above right, 1967

This dress for the, ahem, remarkably-proportioned Viscountess Lambton was made differently. The eight panels which make up the dress were marked out on the fabric before the embroidery was done. This meant that no time was wasted embroidering fabric which wouldn't be used. If you look closely you can just see the horizontal bust darts in the centre two sections, but the embroidery is positioned so cleverly that they are almost invisible.

Wild silk cocktail dress with embroidery by Lesage, 1960-2

This dress of hand-painted silk was my favourite thing in the entire exhibition. I loved everything about it; the neckline, the bow, the positioning of the blue flowers on the bodice to be symmetrical but not rigidly so, the way that the yellow and pale blue flowers on the ends of the bow are matched on the respective sleeves. Sigh.

Painted silk dress, 1955-6

The upstairs section of the exhibition looked at Balenciaga's influence; both directly and as a design legacy.

Suits by Balenciaga, 1951 (left) and Gvasalia for Balenciaga, 2016 (right)

Emanuel Ungaro was apprenticed to Balenciaga, and later set up on his own.

Wool gabardine day dress, Ungaro, 1966

Hubert de Givenchy was mentored by Balenciaga, and when the latter closed his house in 1968, he referred most of his clients to his protégé.

Feathered evening dress, Givenchy, 1960

Oscar de la Renta worked briefly at Eisa.

Embroidered silk organza dress, Oscar de la Renta, 2015

Finally, a selection of pieces by designers with no direct link to Balenciaga showed how his ideas continue to influence fashion today.

Rei Kawakubo, Molly Goddard and Delpozo

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, runs until Sunday 18th February 2018.