www.silverhillcreative.com will be coming soon! Until then, please enjoy my blog or visit my Etsy shop.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Theatre Hats (aka Where I Disappeared To)

I've been slacking on the social media front lately. (Exception: My blog post "The C-Word" on the site Mr. X Stitch where I'm now a monthly guest blogger.)

So where the hell have I been? Where I usually am when I'm not working on hats: working on theatre. This time it was the musical Curtains, which is one part murder mystery, one part pastiche of Oklahoma! and overall a hilarious love letter to musical theatre. 

The show-within-a-show is a Western, which means cowboy hats. The theatre was a community theatre, which means hats that have been used and abused for who knows how many shows. Theatre is rough on hats! They're battered on stage and often stored in less-than-ideal, cramped conditions. One of our male leads had this hat:

Poor, beaten-up costume hat.

I couldn't let this pathetic thing appear on stage. There was no other hat he could use, since this was the only one that fit him. I wasn't the costumer; it wasn't technically my job. But this stained, misshapen cowboy hat was an affront to my senses as a milliner. So I took it home to fix it.

The hat in the show.

First, I tried to spot clean it ... and it developed weird peach blotches (I'm guessing from someone previously using bleach to try to clean it). There were also odd mint green blotches. Oops! That's what happens with an old hat of indeterminate fiber content (assuming wool, though), years of sweat, and previous cleaning attempts. But I was able to get the worst of the staining out.

Next, I added sizing to the the inside of the crown and portions of the brim. I don't have blocks for this shape/size, so I steamed it and reshaped it by hand. It looked much better.

Finally, I used dye lightly brushed on to even out the tone and cover the worst of the pale splotches. The overall effect was a mottled look, but it still looked pretty good.

I removed the narrow trim and replaced it with brown grosgrain and a small pheasant feather.

Sadly, I didn't get a really great photo of the hat in natural lighting. The "after" photo is an iPhone snapshot in the weird lighting of the greenroom — and after the hat had been battered about and sweated on for 12 rehearsals and shows.

When I brought the hat to the first dress rehearsal, no one could believe it was the same hat. That was my goal. I didn't get any pay or credit in the program for rehabilitating the cowboy hat, but it was worth it anyway. My work was pretty good for a crappy hat and the wrong blocks.

Oh, and I wore it in the show, too! My character stole it a few times in a dance and wore it for a few seconds. (Unfortunately, I had put it on backwards in this one instance that was photographed.)

"Thataway" from Curtains. (Photo by Adam Silverman Photography.)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Periscope! Lessons Learned

I have just recently discovered the world of Periscope. For those of you who don't know, it's a broadcasting app. "Scopes" can be watched live or replayed for 24 hours. 

Some people just talk to the camera. Some people might sing or play an instrument. And some are just plain boring.

What's neat about it is that people who are watching live can ask questions or post comments. You can also give hearts (both live and on replay) throughout the broadcast. (And unlike FB or Instagram, you can give more than one heart.)

I took the plunge the other day, choosing to broadcast my blocking of a hat. Here it is:

A couple things: If you notice me staring at the screen oddly, that's me reading comments that pop up on the screen (but they don't show up in this saved video). And I was trying to figure out whether it was better for sound to have the door closed (which was echoey) or leave it open and have the air conditioner noise.

I think I was too ambitious! It was difficult to keep talking and keep it entertaining while struggling with a stubborn felt. So I cut it short rather than keep fumbling publicly. It only took a short while to then get the actual felt blocked. 

So then I did this (much, much shorter) Periscope to redeem myself:

I think Periscope is an awesomely fun, interactive time. Even if you don't want to broadcast yourself, it's a fun place to watch, learn and more. I am @SilverhillHats on Periscope. If you follow my account, you can watch the next time I do a broadcast.

Friday, July 31, 2015

"Hat of the Week," Periscope, Procrastination and More

It's the hat of the week ... only not anymore. That's right, it sold! But I thought I'd at least talk about it briefly and oh, yeah, the previous week's hat of the week.

So this is why I didn't blog about last week's "Hat of the Week." I was on vacation in Maine. Every year for the past several years we have gone to Ogunquit and Portland. The ocean is the most beautiful, relaxing and inspiring sight to me. I wish I could afford a house on the coast. *sigh*

This was that week's Hat of the Week:

 1950s-inspired, vintage-style bridal cap
1950s-inspired, vintage-style bridal cap

Lots of beads! So many beads! I probably should have tracked how long it took me, but I didn't. But that's what I have Netflix for. It's a great way for me to stay entertained while doing detail work. And, of course, my favorite things to watch are period pieces: Downton Abbey, Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, etc.

It's ecru silk over a buckram base. Hundreds of seed beads, plus flower sequins, freshwater pearls and Swarovski crystals. It's still available in my Etsy shop (though no longer at the promotional price).

And this week's "Hat of the Week," which will be sent off to Canada.

So I'm going to talk about supplies again with this hat. I bought this ribbon ages ago. I made a large cockade from it (now sold). I almost used it several times on hats, but the project was never quite right. That happens to me a lot, especially with vintage ribbons. I buy supplies with no specific project in mind, and it might be a long time before I actually use them.

I got a whole spool of this ribbon. It's vintage. I'm not sure what the content is, but it's very soft and supple. Even with the soft drapiness, the bow was initially straight. I wanted it to be droopy, so I gave it a shot of steam.

The felt is unusual. I bought it from another milliner's "destashing" shop. It's much thicker than other fur felts. It's also pre-sized (pre-stiffened), especially at the bottom.

Oh, and I'll be using this same type of felt to block a cloche shape today on my first ever Periscope! Happening in about an hour from now (at 3 p.m. EDT). I'm @SilverhillHats on Periscope. Join me if you'd like to see a glimpse into how a hat is made.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

So Much To Do!

Creatives are messy people. It just happens. But I've gotten to my breaking point. Whew! And I'm trying to save money, so I don't want to buy a bunch of expensive storage containers to put my expanding collection of supplies in. That means I need to get down to the work of getting organized.

Here is my studio recently. Hat blocks strewn about. Veiling that I pulled out to test out using on a wedding hat — and decided not to use ... and then didn't put away. Yep that's me.

In the background you can see the mannequin head I use to shoot photos of my hats, the canvas I painted to avoid the ubiquitous solid-white background and the cheap white fabric I had used as a background before that.

Exciting for me, I bought some new vinyl backdrops online! That means I'll be able to ditch the stacked books that put the mannequin head high enough. (Otherwise, the line between the canvas and the surface of the table would be smack dab in the middle of the image.) And my photos will look more spiffy and professional over all. Now I just need to get the backdrops ready to hang, and the hangers set at the right height. ... Then the big task of re-shooting all of my hats, editing the photos, etc.!

Plus, I have a custom order for two custom hats. And general organization to do. And I want to make my blog nicer looking, improve my Instagram feed, and all these other things to help build my business. (Oh, and I'm in rehearsals for two shows right now: Chess and Curtains.)

This is an exciting time for my business. I have an interesting promotion planned for August that will be happening while I work on new photos. Stay tuned!

Friday, July 17, 2015

"Hat of the Week": Keeping it Simple

Brown Fur Felt Beret with Swarovski Crystals

Again my title refers to two things: the length of this entry, and the style of the hat.

This hat is another example of why cost of supplies is more important than time when I price a hat. In terms of style, this is pretty simple. It wasn't elaborate to construct. I have less expensive hats that took more time to make. But the materials on this hat are top-of-the-line, and that means more expensive. 

It features 27 scattered Swarovski crystals and 3 freshwater pearls. The body of the hat is long-nap fur felt, one of the more expensive styles of felt. (If you missed it, I have a blog post all about types of millinery felt.)

It's a little bit fancy, and a lot wearable. It can be dressed up or down. And what I love about this beret shape is that it can be worn in many different ways. It can be set to the back of the head like a pillbox. It can be worn straight on in a cap style. Or it can be worn at a more extreme angle toward one ear. The last way is how I wear my own beret of this shape. It's a very Kate Middleton style!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"Hat of the Week": You Can't Predict What People Will Like

Woven straw jute cloche with rosette.
This week's "Hat of the Week" post will be short and sweet. Some times I have lots of things to say about a particular creation; other times, not.

This hat is 35% off, only through July 13. No coupon code needed.

I like the hats I make. I wouldn't make them if they didn't please me aesthetically. But what surprises me is how sometimes the hats I'm not over the moon for are the ones other people like the best.

A while back, I had a hat in stock that I wasn't in love with. It had been in my shop for a while without attracting much attention. I was even thinking of removing the trim and re-doing the decoration. To my surprise, someone bought that very hat (over other hats in my shop I thought were nicer).

This one is another example. It was shown in the Milliners of Etsy fashion show, along with several others of my hats. I do really like this hat — but I thought some of the other hats I showed were better. This hat was the clear favorite among just about everyone (fellow milliners and non-milliners). Most people liked how the light filtered through the weave of the hat, something that's not apparent from the product photos. I was amazed by how many compliments I got. Differing opinions can be fun and surprising.

This is the only jute hat I've ever made. It's very rough feeling, so I lined it with China silk to make it comfortable to wear. You can visit the listing to see more photos, including the inside. It's a perfect hat for warm summer days.

Questions or comments on my hats, creative inspiration or millinery process are always welcome!

A model displays the hat in a fashion show.
(Photo by Ting Shen.)

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Elephant in the Room

I think a follow-up to my post "Not Everything Handmade Deserves a Gold Star" is in order.

I knew from the beginning it would be controversial, and that's why I wrote it. I chose certain language ("statistically speaking ... your items suck") to be deliberately incendiary. It's not that I'm really whiny or a bitch. I wanted specifically not to sugarcoat things in any way. My goal was to make people think by taking an overtly negative tone. I wanted to at last speak out and draw attention to the elephant in the room.

The goal of the piece was absolutely not to sell my work by trashing others' items. Resellers or sloppy crafters are not my competition! I have the greatest respect and admiration for my competitors. I interact with them on Facebook, Instagram, Etsy, etc. We cheer each other on; we admire each other's work.

I love the maker movement. But in all the praise for handmade, there's one question very few people are asking: Is it any good?

Someone said I'm too negative and needed to focus on positivity. ... And I don't disagree with her — but I think it makes what I wrote to be all the more relevant.

I love the maker movement. But in all the praise for handmade, there's one question very few people are asking (at least publicly): Is it any good?

Creatives love to receive compliments. And I think most of them like to give compliments. But it can be a bit like the boy who cried wolf. Do it too often and too indiscriminately, and people will start to tune you out.

It's the same reason Instagram marketing advice tells people to write something more individual and thoughtful than "Great pic!" If you compliment someone — "nice work" — and you give that same compliment to 30 other makers, none of them are going to feel flattered. When people compliment someone's work without truly caring about it, I just have to wonder why. I was asked "What's the point of your post?" And that is an excellent question and a very valid point. The answer to that is: What is the point of giving equal praise to everyone regardless of quality of work?

Lots of people complain about the entitlement attitudes we see a lot. I think it's more like American Idol auditions, when people say "But my boyfriend/voice teacher/grandma says I'm great!" Not everybody's work is great, and that's okay. I think it does a disservice to both buyers and sellers to pretend that everything "handmade" is equally great.

The ultimate goal of an artist — in my opinion — should be to grow and improve. You can find heaps of advice on marketing, improving your photos, working on SEO, etc. And do work on those things. But don't stop working on your craft.

I have a saying I like to use: Art is subjective ... except when it's not. Something can be (subjectively) pretty to look at but (objectively) poorly constructed. My first hats — which are in my personal collection, not in my shop — are nice to look at, and I'm still proud of them and still wear them. But I can also show you the flaws.

The overall look of this hat is good. But up close you can see an awkwardly constructed bow. The inside lacks a
head size ribbon, and has ugly visible stitches. In all three photos, you can see shadows of where the stitching that
holds down the folded edge is inelegant and poorly done. Those stitches should be invisible. 

The hat above was the second hat I ever made. I share the flaws openly because it is not for sale, and it's not good enough to sell. But I've learned since then. My craft has improved. I now know how to make my stitches invisible. I am better at constructing hats. Many wise people say it's a waste of time to compare yourselves to others. That's it's absolutely true. I am far, far from being the best hat-maker ever. And I'm also far from being the worst. I do good work. And I am constantly trying to improve. Some people probably don't like my work. That's okay. Other people praise my work maybe more than it deserves. I'm not out to best anyone; I'm out to better myself.

When I say "statistically speaking ... your items suck," it's not about promoting myself through disparaging others. I'm talking about the elephant in the room: the simple fact that not all handmade is good, whether that means it's poorly constructed or copies or lightly embellished resold items. (The word "statistically" is key there. I don't mean that your items in particular suck. I do mean that there are a lot of sad crafted items out there in the world.)

It is important to me that the handmade movement has a good reputation. (And in many circles it does not.) To me, that means praising other artists who are truly worthy of praise. And it also means not celebrating every item just because it's called "handmade."

One person sent me a message saying that it gives sellers false hope to encourage them to focus on SEO, product photos, tags, etc. "when everyone responding knows it is just tragic, fugly craft that no one is ever going to buy." Sometimes, sellers need to improve their products.

And sometimes, we need to talk about what handmade means to each of us.

I know of knitters who spin their own yarn. Their finished products are the ultimate in handmade. But I wouldn't say someone who knits with store-bought yarn has less of a right to the word handmade. That's totally handmade in my book. But what about someone who buys a mass-produced knit accessory and sews a button or bow on? I think Etsy calls that handmade; I'm not sure that I do.

Another person mentioned mugs, which I hadn't thought of. It's a perfect example. You can find artists who make their own pottery mugs, fire them in their own kiln, glaze them, etc. You can also find fine artists who have their original paintings printed onto mugs. And you can find "Sharpie mugs." I'd never heard of Sharpie mugs before. If you get a certain kind of Sharpie, you can draw on a blank mug and bake it to make it permanent. Obviously, even within this category, there is a huge range of quality: from painstakingly reproducing calligraphy to just scrawling on a mug in poor handwriting. A hastily scribbled Sharpie mug simply should not be called just as good as a hand-thrown, hand-glazed mug.

They're all handmade, but they're not all good. If that makes me negative to say so, then so be it. Personally, I think praising quality work — and refusing to praise low-quality work — actually is a positive thing.

But, hey, we're each entitled to our own opinions.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Not Everything Handmade Deserves a Gold Star

If you know Etsy sellers, you've probably heard them whine about views, search algorithms, SEO and  — the number one complaint — outside manufacturing. (Gasp!)

My complaint isn't Etsy, not really. It's that, if you're an Etsy seller, statistically speaking ... your items suck. Or they aren't truly handmade. Or both.

Yes, I said it. Some handmade items suck. And not in a funny Regretsy sort of way.

I feel like there's a huge pressure on creatives to treat one another as equals. On Etsy, it is outright forbidden to say anything negative about another seller. Period.

Sure, we don't want to have a petty insult fest. There's no point to saying "Your stuff sucks." It's just mean-spirited.

But while we avoid calling people out on the carpet, we also translate that into patting everybody on the back. "You made that? Good job!" On Instagram and Facebook and Etsy, there's a likes-for-likes trend.

"I liked your page. Please like mine back."


If I like your work, I will like your page (or follow your Instagram or favorite your Etsy shop). And, unless you are a personal friend, that is the only reason I will like your page. I don't really care about having followers whose only reason for following me is because they think they'll automatically get a return like/follow/favorite.

Here is one artisan I recently discovered and liked on FB, IG and Etsy:

Steampunk heart sculpture by Steelhip Design

That is beautiful work!

Contrast it with a lot of "steampunk" "handmade" items, which just make me yawn with how derivative they are. When steampunk started, artists disassembled old watches and machines and used the parts for unique creations. Now craft stores sell mass-produced gear-shaped pieces. Just hang those gears off a mass-produced chain or glue them onto a mass-produced hat and — voilĂ ! — a "handmade" accessory.

The handmade items I most admire are made with a combination of skill, time and creativity. And that's pretty rare to find.

I remember being in elementary school and somebody's mom doing the parents' career day thing. She made handmade cards and bookmarks. She bought stamps from the craft store and stamped three leaves down the center of card stock, cut it out, glued it to a larger piece of card stock, punched a hole in the top and put a ribbon through. And she sold these at craft fairs.

Handmade? Absolutely! But even my elementary-school self was cynical. Buying mass-produced stamps to make handmade bookmarks? Pfft! Anybody can do that! What that handmade artist showed our class years ago involved minimal time, minimal skill and minimal creativity.

There are a lot of handmade artists out there who are assemblers: merely stamping a notecard or hanging a pendant off a chain. Not much time, skill or creativity involved.

If you can't excel at all three, excel at one. I've thought all of the following about handmade items:

  • That probably didn't take much time, and the style is really easy-to-do, but — wow! — I would not have come up with that creative idea!
  • I can see how that was done and could probably duplicate it, but that artist put in a lot of time! I don't have the time to make something like that!
  • I could maybe come up with the design or idea to be like that artist, but I don't know how to actually make it.
"Into the Wind." Original painting by Sally Trace.

The gorgeous painting above involves time, skill and creativity. Just perfect! I used to do colorful abstract paintings myself, but my skill and creativity were not as good as hers.

As a hat-maker, I take great pride in my work. I block all of my hats by hand. (If it's a sewn hat, I draft my own pattern.) I like to think I am creative in my combinations of colors and materials. Handmade hats do require skill, and they require a lot of time.

So I am not a fan when someone says to me: "Oh, you make hats? So does [So-And-So]!" And then I look up [So-And-So], only to find that she takes mass produced hats and glues ribbons, feathers or flowers onto them. That is not handmade. It may count as hand-decorated or hand-altered. But [So-And-So] does not make hats.

Eucalyptus-dyed hat by
Justine Gillingham Millinery

The two hats above are somewhat similar in terms of shape and color scheme. Both have a high level of time, skill and creativity involved. But no one would say they're derivative of each other.

Hand-printed top by iheartfink

Most handmade screen-printed items are hand-printed often from a computer-generated or mass-produced design onto a mass-produced t-shirt. Think of all the "Keep Calm" shirts you've seen. But defined as "handmade." Amidst all those screen-printed items, Kristen of Fink prints her own designs on fabric before using that fabric to create clothing of her own design. Truly handmade!

I could rant against crappy "handmade" even more, or praise quality makers even more. But I'll leave it here. I'm not going to post any of the numerous examples of bad handmade for a few reasons: (1) it's tacky to single out individual artists (2) how could I choose which of so many to feature? and (3) I'd rather devote photo space on my blog to artists I admire.

** My opinions are my own and do not represent the artists featured. I admire them for being some of the best of handmade, so I wanted to give a shoutout to them. **

Click through the photos/links to reach each item's listing and the artists' Etsy shops. You can also find out more:
Sally Trace Abstract Paintings at www.sallytrace.com.
Steelhip Design at www.steelhipdesign.com.
Justine Gillingham Millinery at www.facebook.com/JGmillinery.
I Heart Fink at iheartfink.com

And, of course, you can find Silverhill Creative right here, at the Silverhill Creative Millinery Facebook page or on the Silverhill Creative shop on Etsy.

I would like to qualify my remarks slightly. Part of the challenge of being a maker is finding an audience, finding customers. For example, there are thousands of jewelry sellers on Etsy. To stand out, regardless of how simple the jewelry is, requires time, creativity and skill. I applaud that.

Lots of Etsy sellers have debates about what constitutes "handmade." They will never all agree. And it doesn't matter anyway. If it fits Etsy's definition of handmade (or Amazon's when they launch), then it can be called handmade. Ultimately, there are different degrees of handmade.

And, to me, the implied message from the maker matters. If someone combines Thing A and Thing B — say a mass-produced pendant on a mass-produced chain — I have a very different reaction if that seller says (metaphorically) "Behold! I am an artiste! A creative genius!" than if that seller says, "I like this thing I put together, and I hope you like it, too." If that seller's customers like it, great! I, personally, won't be applauding the ingenuity.

In certain circles, Etsy has a reputation as being the home of cheesy crafters. And there is a lot of stuff that is hokey or amateurish. But there is also a lot that goes way beyond what most people think of when they think handmade.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

"Hat of the Week": Changing the Style

Brown tilt fedora

The title of this blog post actually refers to two things: First, the different ways this hat can be worn. And second, how dramatically the shape changed from what was blocked.

Felt hats are made by steaming felt and shaping it over a wooden form called a hat block. The hat block determines the shape and size. That means that ideally you need a different block for each size and shape you want to make. But blocks are very expensive, so it is possible to make some changes and play around with the finished shape.

A wooden upturn brim block and basic dome crown block.

I bought the hat block set above on eBay. It is a vintage set, and it was probably one of my earlier hat-block purchases. The crown is a basic dome shape. The crown then pushes down through the brim shape you see in the back, so the brim has a dramatic upturn. Very 1960s. And when I pulled the felt out of this blocked shape ... I did not like it. It was too intensely dramatic and too dated (but not in a popular vintage way).

Freshwater pearls and seed beads
on the bow.
As you can quite obviously see, the finished shape is completely different! This is one of the things that can make millinery work very fun and creative. I cut the brim down to almost nothing, leaving an upsweep at the front and right. Then I "bashed" the crown. "Bashing" is a term for creating a fedora shape crown by hand.

The brim edge is wired to hold its shape and bound with a matching grosgrain ribbon. It has a pinky mauve bow for feminine style. And beading! Freshwater pearls and seed beads.

The reason I call this hat a "tilt" fedora is because it's smaller than the average woman's head size. I designed it to be worn tilted to the left on head sizes 22.25" and larger. It is a very vintage style — but this time 1940s instead of 1960s. The crown is high, too, which makes it a dramatic style. It's not a hat for the shy hat-wearer! But if you have confidence, you can totally pull it off.

And what about ladies with head sizes of 22" or smaller? Then this hat can be worn just as a regular fedora, straight down on the head. If you're on the edge between sizes, you can choose to wear it down onto your head or higher, perched and tilted.

A girl with a small head size shows how the high
crown can be worn straight down on the head.
(Photo by Ting Shen.)

This hat is 35% off through July 6 only. No coupon code is needed.

I welcome questions about the processes I use to make my hats or about my creative inspirations.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"Hat of the Week": Vintage Treasure and Signature Style

Bottle green fedora with vintage silk faille ribbon.

This hat is a perfect example of why the cost of materials can be more relevant to the price of a hat than the exact amount of labor. This hat took no more effort than a wool hat with cotton/grosgrain petersham ribbon would have. It's all about the supplies.

The supplies ... Oh! These supplies!

They are what make this week's "Hat of the Week" truly special.

The felt is a flat fur felt hood. Nothing too noteworthy there. But the beautiful color — bottle green — isn't really available here in the U.S. There aren't very many millinery suppliers around. Three main ones in the U.S. that I know of, and a smattering of other sources. So for a felt this color, I had to order from Germany! And, yes, that means the cost of the felt was a lot higher than ones I buy domestically. I got only one felt in this color, so this is the one and only (for now) bottle green hat I've made.

This fedora also has semiprecious stones: a jade bead surrounded by green goldstone beads. (Beads and semiprecious stones are a frequent feature in my work.)

Silk ribbon from Columbia Ribbon Co. of Haledon, N.J.
 Columbia Ribbon hatband ribbon

The most rare and stunning part of this hat is the ribbon. I don't know the exact date of this ribbon. It is possibly as old as 1910s, and certainly pre-WWII. It comes from the Columbia Ribbon Company of Haledon, N.J., a silk mill that made hatband ribbons.

I wish they still made ribbons like this nowadays! Everything about it is gorgeous, including the copperplate etching label. My vintage-loving heart is swooning.

What's not so gorgeous is the yellowing paper. The paper separating layers of vintage ribbon looks charming and seems like it would protect the ribbon. But the acids from the paper can cause vintage ribbons to deteriorate, sadly. Fortunately, the amount of ribbon I used on this hat was in excellent condition. I will be removing the rest of the ribbon from the roll for its safety (and also so I can see how much is left).

It is silk faille in a perfect color match (just a shade darker) to the felt. You might not be able to see in the photos, but it has a beautiful fine ribbed texture (i.e. faille) with a satin border. Vintage ribbons of this type typically cost $12-$30 per yard!

My original plan for this hat — and the reason I got this specific color of felt — was to make a hat for myself. The ultimate "me" hat.

... And then, when I was finished, I discovered rather than keep it for myself, what I really wanted was to share it with the world. So, I added it to my shop.

I have a lot of thoughts on signature style, which could take up a full blog post. Some milliners have a very distinct signature style; some don't.

I don't have a signature style per se. But, if I do have anything close to a signature style, this is it. Vintage trims, semiprecious stones, beaded embellishments and ribbon cockades are some of my favorite elements to work with. The felt was blocked on wood hat blocks — but additional shaping of the brim and crown was done by hand.

This hat is 25% off through June 29. No coupon code needed.

Questions about my supplies or process are welcome.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"Hat of the Week": Excited by "Boring" Hats

 Navy 1920s-style Cloche
Navy 1920s-style Cloche
It's Royal Ascot time. While the eyes of the hat-loving world are on amazing, often gravity-defying millinery creations, I'm thinking about ... the exact opposite.

As much as I love fancy hats, my heart truly belongs to casual hats. I'm a vintage gal at heart. It used to be that women wore hats every day, not just for weddings, races and fancy events. There's a charm to everyday hats. A lived-in feel that makes the hat part of the wearer, not just a decoration on top.

This past weekend was the 10th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party in New York. (I've never been, and I so want to go sometime!) Most people who go dress up in their 1920s best — from authentic vintage to reproductions to costumes.

Evening ensembles with beaded dresses, metallic shoes, dark makeup and fancy headpieces are the most spectacular to look at. But would a 1920s woman, even the most modern flapper wear an evening outfit to a daytime picnic? Probably not. But I think a well-done historically accurate outfit can be just as exciting.

When most people think of flapper fashions, they most often picture what you get if you Google "flapper costume": fringed dresses and a sequined headband with a feather stuck in it. Sad. Flapper fashions were so much more than that. Some of them were comparatively plain, but still fashionable. (And let's not forget that not every woman — not even every stylish young woman — was a flapper.)

There's something about everyday hats that jazzes me up. (Pun intended.) When I saw the most recent Great Gatsby movie, my favorite hat was a barely glimpsed pink cloche on an extra. It was slightly battered looking. It wasn't slick and overly perfect. As a result, it looked like a real hat a woman from that era would wear. It didn't look like a costume.

This week's "Hat of the Week" is inspired by the real fashions of the 1920s. It's not 100% historically accurate. It's not based on a specific extant cloche. The trim is vintage, but I'd guess it's from the 1970s. This navy cloche, though, is 100% historically inspired. It's designed to be an everyday hat. And it pairs as well with jeans and a t-shirt as it does with a 1920s-style day dress.

A model shows off the navy "everyday" cloche.
Photo by Ting Shen
This hat is 30% off through June 22. No coupon code needed.

As always, I welcome any questions about my millinery process or inspirations.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

"Hat of the Week": Beading ... and My Dirty Little Secret

Beaded Bridal Headpiece with Veil
It's wedding season. (As someone who got married in gray November, I think every season can be wedding season. But June is a more popular month.) So it seems fitting that a bridal piece be this week's "Hat of the Week."

25% off. No coupon code needed. And back to regular price on Monday.

Best of all, it's ready to ship! So if you're a procrastinator or just planning a wedding in a short time, it's the perfect headpiece. And, hey, weddings are expensive. This hat — even at full price — is not.

This is a silk/cotton fabric with metallic threads on a buckram base. Also has a nylon veil and elastic to hold it in place.

But really, this hat is all about the beads. If you've seen some of my other hats, you might know I have a weakness for beads and beading. I have amassed a collection of many different beads. Sadly, my favorite bead store recently closed. This piece has several styles of beads: freshwater pearls; white, cream and iridescent seed beads; iridescent bugle beads, and vintage micro beads. All were sewn on by hand, a process that took many hours.

 And here's my dirty little secret: I don't charge for my time. Well, not exactly. I do charge for my time somewhat, but I base my prices more on the cost of materials.

It's part of my philosophy of pricing. I do what I think is fair — for me and for customers. I think nicer, higher quality materials should cost more. A simple silk tulle veil should cost more than an elaborately constructed nylon or polyester one. (Personally, I would never pay $100 for a polyester shirt, no matter the brand. But I would perhaps be willing to pay that amount for a silk shirt.) I don't think customers should have to pay more if a material misbehaved or I had to unpick some stitches.

So that's my dirty little secret. Also, I really like beading, so it's not as much "work" as certain other millinery tasks.

I'm newer to bridal millinery than I am to other aspects of hat-making. I never was the wedding-dreams, "bridezilla" type. That's probably why I didn't gravitate toward making bridal headpieces at first. But since I've done it, I can't wait to do more.

In my opinion, bridal work is the ultimate creative challenge as a milliner. It can be simple or elaborate. Usually, it's monochromatic, which forces more thoughtful decisions about texture and proportion. There are so many amazing places bridal hats can go. Check out my Bridal Hats board on Pinterest for some examples of what other milliners are doing with shades of white.

The veil drops to about cheekbone level.
As always, I welcome any questions you might have!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How to Wear a Hat

"I love hats, but I don't look good in them."
"I wish hats would come back in style."
"I just don't have any place to wear a hat."
"Everybody stares at me. I stand out."
"Hats don't fit my lifestyle."
"I can't find a hat that fits my weird head/face."

Remy doesn't like wearing hats.
But he's a dog. What's your excuse?
Other fashion experts and milliners have talked about this before. Here's my take. Here's how to wear a hat:

Decide You Want to Wear a Hat

The key word here is you. Don't worry about what other people are doing. Don't worry that you think hats aren't "in." First of all, they're more in than you think. If every person who says, "I wish hats would come back" actually wore a hat — guess what? — hats would officially be back. People aren't used to seeing hats everywhere, but they still like them. Second of all, unless you're in middle school, what other people think of your hat shouldn't be a concern. When I was in sixth grade, I thought if only I wore the right clothes, I would be popular. It didn't happen. Nobody's going to like you or dislike you because you wear a hat. And if they do, that says far more about them than it does about you.

If you want to wear a hat ... wear a hat! It's a simple as that.

Wear Red Lipstick, Part I (aka Don't Let the Hat Wear You)

Before I was a milliner, I worked as a makeup artist. The first time I ever wore a bright red lipstick, I was taken aback. Who was that person in the mirror? It was strange and uncomfortable ... at first. After about half an hour, I grew to love it! When I had women wanting to try red lipstick, they'd be nervous at first. I told them they just needed a little time to get used to it. Once they did, they could wear that bold lipstick with confidence.

And the same thing is true of hats. If you walk down the street ashamed of your fashion choices and feel insecure, if you think "Oh, everybody's staring at me because I'm wearing a hat!" then it isn't going to go well. "Why is she wearing a hat?" people might think, not because hats are odd but because you show your discomfort.

On the flip side, if you walk down the street pleased with your headwear and think "Heck yeah! I'm rocking this hat!" then you will feel great. You might get loads of compliments. ... And I guarantee you that at least one person will be thinking, "She can really pull off wearing a hat! I wish I could do that."

If you need to, wear a hat around your house to get used to it. Take lots of looks at your self in the mirror. Let wearing a hat feel cool and exciting, not embarrassing. And when you take it out in public, the #1 rule is this: You wear the hat. Don't let the hat wear you.

Wear Red Lipstick, Part II (aka When Style Does Matter)

emerald green '40s halo hat
You might want to pull out the
red lipstick and vintage hairstyle
for this 1940s-style hat.
If you grab a certain style of hat and just plop it onto your head, you might look kind of silly. Some kinds of hats require a certain type of outfit and/or hairstyle and/or makeup. Perching hats (such as the "doll hats" or "toy hats" of the 1940s) might look ridiculous with long, loose unstyled hair and jeans and a t-shirt. A pillbox stuck onto the back of your head will seem silly and out of place with no thought about makeup or clothes or hairstyle. Some hats require you to pay attention to the rest of your style. I advise starting with the hat and then figuring out the hair, makeup and outfit to match. And maybe wear that bold red lipstick for a truly vintage look.

But, the good news is there are plenty of modern "beginner" hat styles. Everyday, casual styles. Or, as I like to call them: jeans-and-a-t-shirt hats

Anybody who thinks they don't have a place to wear a hat is just plain wrong. Sure, you might not have an event that requires a wide-brimmed Kentucky Derby-style hat. Not everybody has a place to wear a sequined cocktail hat. But there are absolutely hats you can wear as easily as a ball cap.

The first hats I wore were probably newsboys and flat caps. From there, it wasn't much of a leap to wear fedoras/trilbies and cloches. A simple cloche or jaunty fedora can easily be worn with jeans and a t-shirt. 

You Can Be a "Hat Person"

"I don't look good in hats." "I'm just not a hat person." "I can't find a hat that looks good on me." "Hats always look silly on me." Milliners hear these all the time. 

And, sorry, but you're wrong.

"Saying you don't look good in hats is like saying you don't look good in shoes." I don't know who first said that. Sometimes it's expanded to include "You just haven't found the right hat yet."

An everyday fedora can go with
everything, even jeans and a t-shirt.
Another observation I love came from a fellow milliner. What would you do if you lived in the 1940s? You would find a hat that suited you because everyone wore hats. Period.

Obviously, not every hat is going to look good on every person. One of my favorite hat styles is the '40s style fedora that is a bit smaller than head-size, so it perches on top of the head. One of my favorite people is a woman who is 6' tall and has a 24.5" head size. If she wore this style of hat, it would probably look like she just has a too-small hat, rather than looking like the style. If you have a long, thin face, a high-crowned, wide-brim hat might not be the best match for you.

So experiment. See what you like. See what looks good. And milliners are not just hat makers. We're also hat stylists. I can help match you up with the best style for you. I can make a custom hat to suit your style. If you have an extra large or extra small head size, I can make a hat to your measurements. And if I'm not the right milliner to make the bespoke hat, I will refer you to another milliner who is.

* ~ * ~ *

As always, questions are welcome.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

"Hat of the Week": Vintage Trims and Liars on eBay

Olive Straw Cloche
This week's "Hat of the Week" is an olive toyo straw cloche. As usual, the sale is until next Monday with no coupon code needed. Not as usual, this hat is the biggest discount I've yet offered: 40%. But it will go back to full price as of Monday.

And this week I want to talk about supplies, supplies-hoarding and vintage trims.

What's "new" on this hat? The body (made of toyo straw), the head size ribbon, the brand label and thread. Everything else, all of the trims are vintage.

I started buying and collecting vintage trims only about 3 years ago, and I have learned a lot in the process.

Vintage supplies come in two main forms. New old stock — also called NOS or deadstock — is old/vintage/antique but has never been used (therefore "new"). Reclaimed or rescued vintage components were used for another project, perhaps a dress or a hat, and later removed.

You would assume that NOS is in better condition than reclaimed. That's not always the case. "New" vintage materials can have damage from moths, dust, mold, etc. They can have foxing (the brown spots you see on old paper). Ribbons on the roll used to be sold with paper in between each layer. That might seem like a good thing, but the acid from the paper can cause the ribbon to weaken or deteriorate. That's especially important to know for listings where the ribbon hasn't been unrolled to check its condition or verify yardage.

Three types of vintage trim.
This week's hat has three types of vintage trim, so I thought it would be a good week to talk about vintage supplies.

First up, the band: I'm pretty sure this trim was reclaimed, because it had stray threads along the edges that indicated it had been sewn onto something else. (I bought this from ShopOlga on Etsy.) It was a pretty short piece, just 25". Some of the pale parts were a little dingy, so I gave it a wash before using it. And there are a couple of flaws in the weave, which I think are due to weaving errors (though possibly age).

It's a fascinating geometric pattern. The seller listed it as 1920s to 1930s, which I have no reason to doubt.

So here's the first caveat about vintage or antique trims: Lots of sellers try to suck you in by labeling something as older than it is. Sometimes there are clues such as "antique-colored" or "vintage style." And sometimes they'll straight-up lie. That's why it's good to take advantage of buyer protection on eBay or Etsy.

Part of the reason I know this ribbon is genuine vintage is because it has a high metal content. That means the bronze threads are actually metal! Modern metallic ribbons are just metal-colored, not made with metal. And you can tell (same as with steel beads vs. glass beads) just by the feel. Real metal is heavy. 
My favorite part of this hat is the pompom. I bought this set of five NOS pompoms on Etsy a couple years ago. The one at top left had a couple of spots I wasn't able to get out, so I used that one on a personal hat. The others are just beautiful and fabulous and fun! They don't make supplies like this anymore. It is fluffy and soft.

Finally, the ribbon used to bind the brim and make a small bow under the pompom. On the positive side, it matches the metal trim perfectly, and the texture is a perfect complement to the paper straw. On the downside, here was an example of a seller being quite inaccurate in a description. I refuse to pass the deception along, so I don't call it silk, rayon, satin or millinery ribbon. It is genuinely vintage and came on the original roll. 

I bought this trim more than two years ago. If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't have purchased it. I have become much better at identifying ribbon styles and quality from listing photos rather than just believing the description. Or I might have returned it for being "not as described." It was labeled as: 160" NOS Antique Silk Satin Rayon Copper/Gold Millinery Ribbon Spool. It was 160" of NOS ribbon on a spool. The color wasn't copper, but it was what I was expecting from the photos. Antique? Maybe. More likely vintage. (Vintage items are 20 years old or older. Antique means at least 100 years old.)

I don't know whether the seller was just ignorant and using certain words because she thought they rightly applied or whether she intentionally lied to make her item sound better. (In any case, I am the one who made the choice not to return it, so I can't blame her totally.)

This is not a satin ribbon. Satin does not mean shiny fabric, contrary to what many people think. It is a certain type of weave. This ribbon is a twill weave. It is also not a millinery ribbon, and that's probably the most misleading part of the description. This was most likely originally used and sold as gift wrap ribbon or floral ribbon or for other disposable purposes. It feels thin and stiff and papery. It's a lovely brim binding on a straw hat. But it couldn't stand on its own as a trim around the crown.

I don't know what this ribbon is made out of. It might be rayon. It probably isn't silk. Oh, silk! I love real silk, but that's one of the number one things to watch out for in vintage trim auctions/sales. Sellers love to list things as silk, even if they're not silk. Sometimes they'll call an item "silk" in the title and then later just call it "silky." Sometimes they'll say "silk ... made of polyester," which is baffling to me. And then sometimes they'll just sell it as 100% silk, when it's not. (I bought a vintage silk dress on eBay and returned it when it turned out to be acetate.)

As with most of my trims, I bought this bronze ribbon without any specific project in mind. So the inaccuracy didn't derail any grand plans I had for it. And I ended up finding a perfect use for it: accenting the edge of this hat! Despite my grumbling about the inaccuracy of the description, I kept it and discovered a lovely way to use it.

Questions about vintage supplies or my process in making this hat are welcome!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Hat of the Week": Steel Beads!

Jazzy Gray Felt Fedora

Okay, technically it could more accurately be described as a trilby. But how many people know that word? Not many. It's a fedora to almost everybody. In fact, pork pies are even called fedoras by a lot of people. Well, I'll save the nit-picking for another post. I call this hat both a fedora and a trilby in my description. Anyhow, this hat is 30% off, with no coupon code needed until next Monday.

 I have kind of an obsession with beads. I have well over 100 different styles of beads in my supplies. Most of those are glass seed beads. Some are semiprecious stones. The beads on this hat are something special, though.

The gray beads every few columns are just size 15 (i.e. very small) seed beads. But the other beads are what are called steel cut beads or French steel beads. They are tiny. And, yes, they are made of metal rather than metallic colored glass.

You might see steel beads embroidered onto vintage clothing or shoes. But the most common way to find them is vintage purses. Steel-beaded purses were very popular — especially in the 1910s and 1920s.

Want to put together an authentic Flapper costume? Forget the sequined headband and red fringed dress. Get yourself a beaded purse!

For these beads, I had bought a panel from an old purse. Even the vintage purses that are whole tend to need some repair work. And sometimes they have only remnants. I took this picture of the piece I bought. Gorgeous! But you can see how it's falling apart. And the fuzzies along the top are disintegrating, decaying threads.

I used beads from this panel to decorate the side of this hat. Obviously, I have plenty more left for future projects.

The trim is vintage, too. (Or possibly antique. It's very old.) At first glance it appears black and gray. But it's actually dark navy blue and pale mint green. I think it's silk and cotton, but I'm not certain. It's in lovely condition for its age and just beautiful trim.

Despite all the vintage fanciness, this hat is one of the most casual and wearable ones I've ever made. It can be worn straight or tipped forward or to the back of the head, depending on the style. It looks smashing with jeans and a t-shirt.

If you are interested in steel beads, check out French Steel Bead Shop on Etsy for beads and vintage bead purses.

As always, I welcome comments and questions about vintage supplies or the process of making hats.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Hat of the Week": I Hate this Hat (but not really)

This week's "Hat of the Week." Mint parasisal straw cloche. 34% off. (I said before, I don't believe in tiny discounts.) No coupon code needed. And here's a bit about it.
Mint Parasisal Straw Cloche
Here's one of my dirty little secrets as a milliner: I don't love straw. I prefer the look of felt, and I much, much prefer working with felt. Felt is easier. It feels good to work with. Straw is tricky! Think of "Chinese" finger traps, how that weaving can cause the tube to change shape and get narrower or wider as it is pushed or pulled. That's what happens with parasisal woven straw at times. Or, if you're not careful, the weave can start to fray and unravel. So, I don't do as much work with straw.

This one, though, is a hat that I'm very happy to have made.

I used to hate pastels. Now, depending on the occasion, I can love them (... or not). But I think spring and summer call for light-colored hats. Mint green is much better for the season than black. But to keep it from being too cutesy and candy-colored, the band is a nice dark-colored contrast.

This is a vintage rayon ribbon I found on Etsy. I love it and wish I had a whole roll of the stuff! I have a weakness for vintage ribbons. Modern ribbons aren't nearly as nice. They tend to be cheap and stiff and made of polyester. Or, if they're quality rayon, silk, etc. they're very expensive.


The cloche shape here is a very 1920s style. I like to think it would be a perfect thing to wear to the Jazz Age Lawn Party.

As always, I'm happy to answer any questions about my process, etc.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"Hat of the Week": Experiment with Shapes

Wide Brim Asymmetrical Hat
This week's "Hat of the Week" is a huge 35% off (and with no coupon code needed): A wide-brim hat with an asymmetrical crown in khaki fur felt.

And here's a little about it ...

This is one of those hats that I consider an experiment in form and shape. Even with only a few crown shapes and a few brim shapes, they can be combined in dozens of different ways! Certain shapes I return to again and again. This hat, though, is currently the only time I've combined this particular crown with this brim.

The trim is vintage. I am kind of addicted to vintage trims and to geometric patterns, and this combines both, of course!

Part of the reason I chose this hat this week is because it's a perfect transitional hat between seasons. Here in Vermont, we had a few hot days, and then it turned cool and rainy. I love hats with this size of brim. It's wide enough to give your face some sun protection, but not so wide that it becomes a kite in the slightest breeze. And it can keep the rain off your face, too. I wouldn't recommend wearing it in a drenching downpour, but fur felt holds up pretty well to getting damp.

Another interesting thing about this hat is how it could fit different head sizes. For an average (small to medium) women's head size of 22"-22.5", it will fit fully down on the head in a modern style.

If you've ever looked at vintage photos from the 1930s and '40s, you might have noticed that women's hats often weren't worn down around their foreheads. Instead, they were made to be a bit smaller than head size, so they perched slightly. (Or, for the "toy hat" or "doll hat" style, they perched a lot!) So, for the gal with a 22.5"-24" head size, this hat could be worn in that vintage fashion.

That's all for this "Hat of the Week." But I am happy to answer any questions about this hat, how it was made, etc.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"Hat of the Week" Promotion and Blog Entry

I wanted to offer a sale on some of my hats, but I wanted to do something a little bit more fun and interesting than just discounting everything for a day or a week.

Starting now, there will be a different "Hat of the Week" each week. Every Monday, a new hat will be revealed, discounted between 25% and 50% for one week only. (I am not a fan of 5% or 10% off sales. That's not much in my opinion.) And no coupon code is needed.
Summer Seagrass Cloche
Pink Asymmetrical Cloche
For the first round of this special, I decided to take suggestions for what should be the first. I decided to pick two: the Summer Seagrass Cloche and the Pink Asymmetrical Cloche. And the first-round discount is 30% for each hat.

The other thing I'm going to do with the "Hat of the Week" is talk a little about it — the creative inspiration, the materials, the process, whatever. Good motivation for me to blog more.

Summer Seagrass Cloche

I call this the "perfect" cloche for summer, and it really is. Seagrass has an airy, open weave, so it's really lightweight. And I think seagrass is softer and less scratchy than many other types of straw.

This was blocked by hand over a basic cloche shape, but the front of the brim was turned up and shaped by hand.

Here's something you may not know if you don't make hats: The blocking/shaping — i.e. the majority of what makes a hat a hat — is often the quick and easy part! Other steps, such as binding the brim edge with ribbon, where every stitch is done by hand, is the long and tedious work. When I look at this hat, I remember when I was making it just in advance of a runway fashion show. It was almost done, so I thought it would be ready in time. Hardly! Those last steps take the longest. A big lesson for me as a milliner has been to know that things always take longer than expected.

The end result is worth it, I think. And the bow is probably the most perfectly constructed one I've yet made. The flower sequins and bright orange ribbon are my vision of summer.

Pink Asymmetrical Cloche

As an artist — and I know I'm not alone in this — I struggle with figuring out what my style, my vision and my point of view are. And is it even necessary to have a signature style? Well, that's some artistic angst for another post. 

 What I'm trying to say is that this hat is one of the closest to being a Silverhill Creative Millinery signature. It has an asymmetrical style. And it has a cockade. Both are themes you'll see a lot. Plus a bead accent. If I'm not doing full-on bead embroidery, I often like to use at least one bead. (Embroidery, vintage trims and swirls are also frequent components.)

In the description of this hat, I've noted that the ends of the ribbon have been intentionally left raw (unless the buyer prefers them sealed) so that they'll naturally fray over time to develop a vintage-y look.

That vintage aesthetic is the driving force behind my work as a milliner. I can admire the artistry and architectural feats behind crazy couture millinery. But the styles that really inspire me are simply the hats that women wore in their everyday lives 70, 80 or 90 years ago. The cloche is, of course, a classic 1920s shape. And ribbon cockades or rosettes have been used on hats for many years and through many styles.

For historical inspiration, I sometimes look to hat illustrations/ads or vintage hats on Pinterest.

This isn't meant to be a strict period reproduction. It is a "vintage inspired" style. And it's still an everyday style. No fancy outfit required. It can be worn with jeans. (Though it wouldn't say no to being paired with a 1920s-style dress.)

If you have any questions about the process or these "Hat(s) of the Week," just ask, and I'll be happy to answer.