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

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.