Tuesday, 29 April 2014

From Switzerland's Countryside to.... the Kentucky Derby!

Picture: Karen Morris Millinery
As some of you may know, I have a weak spot for many things, and one of this spots is all about hats! In my shop on Etsy I have some high quality millinery materials available, mostly raffia braids that are produced in a manufactory nearby to where I'm living.

Straw hats used to be part of the traditional costumes that were worn by many people in the 19th century. There were different types, depending from the region, the social status of a person (and how rich they were, of course), the occupation, and if it was a holiday or just a working day... As a historian (yes, that's me, no joke) I can assure you that in those time by the type of costume a person was wearing you could tell pretty everything about her or his status.

A girl from the Wehntal, my "valley," in her costume with a typical straw hat with dried and artificial flowers, and the clothes were mainly made of linen and wool, or later cotton.
Another girl's costume from here, but for higher holidays (it was called "Sonntags-Tracht", which means "sunday's costume", and it was usually made of finer and more expensive fabrics such as silk for the apron and the black bonnet).
Switzerland was an agricultural country, it is still in some small parts, but straw was an affordable material and perfect for hats. Later, straw was replaced by raffia, which had different qualities and became very common for sunhats in the mid-century.

In some regions of my country there was a proper "hat industry" that produced the typical hats for a certain region. But as the rural occupation vanished, so did the costumes. And the hat makers.

My maternal grandmother and my mom as a child still wore costumes for special occasions, as they lived in the Bernese Oberland, a region that is still very rural and traditional.

To please my international reader's appetite for Swiss clichés: Sunday's costume, Canton Bern. The costume for adults was the same. The jewelry on the female's corset was made of filigree silver flowers. There were materials like velvet and silk, and the bonnet was made of velvet and horsehair lace.

But my paternal grandmother wouldn't even have thought about it, as she thought herself to be a modern (as modern as one could be back in the 40s and 50s) woman with "no dirts on her hands". And as fashion changed, and as traditions and farming vanished, hat makers and the whole millinery industry vanished as well. There are only a few manufacturers left, and even if there are still people wearing costumes and the appropriate hats, it's a very small percentage.

Sunday costume from the Canton Aargau, with a typical straw hat.
Women's costume from the Wehntal, Zurich, my region. It looks pretty much the same as a dirndl, a fitted bodice, a fuller skirt, an apron.

Hats were also worn this way. This is a beautiful example for a very thin straw trim used on this traditional accessory.

And in the nearby Black Forest (Germany), straw hats are bases for the amazing red pompons for this still very common costume.
But there is this manufactory left, and they produce the most beautiful materials, crinol (horsehair) and braided raffia and straw in amazing colours. I was very happy I found them, and as I planned to make some hats for my vintage outfits, I ordered some of those wonderful braids. However, I never came around to realise those plans, and so I put the braids in my shop. Especially, as I had to order the whole skein. What else can you do with so much yardage of raffia braid if you only need a 4 or 5 yards?

A nice customer who was attending a millinery course ordered some of the braids and made her first attempts with this wonderful material.

But the most amazing thing happened when a talented hat artist from the USA bought pretty much of my raffia braids. I asked her if she could show me one of the finished pieces once she used the braids, but I was not too hopeful, as I know too well how easily one can forget to get back to the seller. (Argh, I promised so many vintage fabric sellers to show them the pictures of my finished dresses...) I was hoping to get a link to her homepage, but the lady - Karen Morris - was so nice and wrote me such a kind message, including the pictures of her hat creation with "my" raffia braid.

Picture: Karen Morris Millinery

Picture: Karen Morris Millinery
The hat was a custom order for a lady who needed a hat for the Kentucky derby, and I feel very excited about the idea that something that came from my place will be at that special event. I grew up near the racecourse, and as a child I used to climb over the fences to see the horses. I hope the customer will feel as gorgeous as the hat looks like, it's an amazing piece of millinery art. I am happy I could contribute a tiny part to it. And I LOVE the red and pink combination!

Here are the links to Karen's Facebook page. I used her pictures with her friendly permission, thanks.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Pattern and Fabric Acquisitions

In Switzerland, spring has arrived with huge steps. Usually, we can expect our first roses to bloom at the end of May, but when I check the plants in our garden, I think we will have roses already in April. Nonetheless, my appetite for sewing is not very much "spring-like"... Even though I have lost 9 kilos (each child gave me some extra-pounds I never got rid of...), I still am rather undecided if I should wear bright colours or not.

However, when it comes to buying fabric for vintage sewing projects, we can't be too picky. I have unfortunately not such lucky hand for exceptional finds like Beccie from Sew Retro Rose (check out her blog, she IS talented and inspiring!), but I was very happy I found this lovely vintage fabric on ebay some days ago. (For once an extremely helpful seller that showed the fabric draped on a model, so you could see not only the dimensions of the print, but also how a finishes garment could look like. I wish all sellers would be so thoughtful.)

When it arrived last Saturday, I was positively surprised. I have been disappointed before when I bought vintage fabrics, but this one is really amazing. It's a rayon fabric from the 1940s in a silvery grey, imitating the structure of shantung silk.

It's rather wide for a vintage fabric, measuring 41 inches, and I have 3.5 yards of it. This would enable me to make a late 1940s dress with a fuller skirt, so this pattern came to my mind. I have a weak spot for asymmetrical dresses, and I think the pattern would pair lovely with the fabric. I love the loosely rendered flowers, the shimmering texture and the discreet grey colour. The fabric has a wonderful drape. I will have to check if it it's suitable for this pattern, but it will be definitely that kind of dress style for this fabric.

And I bought 3 vintage Scottie dog cabochons! I just love Scotties, if I could I probably would have such a dog. Whenever I find vintage jewelry or supplies featuring this cute guy, I can't resist. So I didn't  mind buying the whole lot of them. I will make a brooch for myself and sell the others in my shop. They are in mint condition, just as if they were made yesterday, and probably were produced in occupied Japan. Did I ever mention that I am fascinated by Japanese stuff? I love Kanzashi flowers, Japanese fabrics, gardens, etc. (No, I don't like sushi. I'm not particularly fond of fish, and I don't eat raw meat, so why on earth should I eat raw fish?)

This topic leads me to my next purchase and a possible project.

I bought this wonderful Japanese inspired cotton fabric with a lovely koi carp print, and when I bought it I knew it will be a 1940s dress. And I found a wonderful pattern for it! I'm not yet decided if I should chose the version with short or with long sleeves. But no matter which, I think the koi carps will look great with such a dress!

The only question is: which project should I make first?
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