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.

1 comment:

  1. Good Afternoon,

    I am very interested in potentially using your Black Forest Ladies photo for a Food Network show. It's quite urgent and would love to receive your approval.

    Thank you so much.


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