Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Christmas hats, hair flowers, clips and combs

I haven't shared a lot in the way of small hair clips or flowers on the blog, and to be honest they are not exactly my main priority. But they are fun and I wear them occasionally myself, and make some for my bricks-and-mortar shops and markets (ok, market, singular).

This year I really wanted to make some Christmas items, and although I had a lot of grand ideas that will perhaps one day come to fruition, it was more realistic to make some smaller items. I had a lot of fun with these.

Since Christmas is approaching at a rapid pace, I wanted to get these done and into the shops by mid November. This rush meant, however, that I didn't yet have a model lined up, so for the first time I did a no-model photoshoot. As well as Edie and my other trusty mannequins, I relied on themed props.


It was heaps of fun! And I found a LOT of Christmas crap without having to actually get any boxes out of the shed. I'm a little surprised, but I shouldn't be. And also I'm a little proud.


Product photography advice seems generally to be geared towards smaller items. People are always telling you to build your own little light box and set up white background and use a bit of a table and props and I always think "Do you realise how big a hat with a pheasant feather is?" Nevertheless, the information was sitting around in my brain and I finally got to use it!


Although don't you hate it when you look at the photos afterwards and realise something wasn't sitting flat and it's that way in EVERY photo?

I still have a long way to go with photography and so much to learn, but I enjoy it immensely and love it when a photo turns out just right. I'd love to get from "not bad" to "actually quite good" one day.


This is actually an older piece, from my "make all the miniature top hats" phase, but I still really like it and thought that Christmas was a good time to list it!


I'm still hoping to squeeze in a modelling session but until then, these will have to do. For the ones that are listed on Etsy, the photos link to the listing. The others will probably be going into bricks-and-mortar shops soon.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Wearing History's Costume Design Challenge - Part One

This month I'm participating in Wearing History's Costume Design Challenge. Each day in November has a theme set by Lauren, and everyone sketches their interpretation in costume form and posts it to instagram. I'll admit I haven't been keeping every deadline, and that's even taking into account that I'm working on the US time zone, but I have mostly caught up now. The challenge is just over halfway through so I wanted to share my designs with you here on the blog too.

I apologise for the picture quality. Most were taken on my phone, and although you might think I could scan them in now for better images, that would imply that they don't have shopping lists and to-do lists all around them by now.

Femme Fatale 

I tried to move beyond the first ideas that came into my head and come up with something more unusual and hopefully interesting for each theme. My femme fatale became literally deadly as a skilled fencer. I love some of the crazy fencing outfits women wear in some vintage photos, so I took some inspiration from those and a bit of musketeer flair and went from there.

Gothic Thriller


I had a few ideas here, including a crazy headdress designed to look like a Gothic castle (perhaps someday...) and then I thought about the Landmark Trust's Gothic Temple and how I considered staying there on my last UK trip (again, perhaps someday - despite the steep stairs to the bathroom). So my Gothic nightgown and cap incorporates some of the architectural features of that gorgeous building.

She Travels By Train


I was recently reading some of my grandmother-in-laws record of her memories from Hungary during the war. Amongst these were some train trips using borrowed identity documents. I've pictured my girl as younger, and with a borrowed overcoat as well as borrowed papers.

On the Farm

One of my quicker sketches, and not the most inspired. I struggled to think out of the box for this one, so I just focused on the hat. I have some artificial wheat sheaves in my millinery stash, so I imagined a straw hat using those, with sunflowers, sweet peas and lavender, and gingham brim binding.

At the Ascot Races


Given this challenge fell around Melbourne Cup time, I went modern. I don't really do racing millinery, but I love the amazing creativity and artistry of those who do. As a starting point, I took my inspiration from a vintage Australian racing fashion image.

The Opera Singer


Since the opera followed the races, my thoughts turned to the Marx Brothers. Naturally. So I thought about the wonderful farewell song between the boat and the shore, and spun that story out. My opera singer is farewelling her love as she leaves for her new and brilliant career. Her dress and hat are decorated with forget-me-knots.



It almost isn't worth showing you this one but in the interest of completion, here it is. Plus I quite like these hats. My sister suggested the "ethical fashion revolution" when pressed for an idea, but I didn't know what to sketch for that. Then I thought about the materials I wish were available to me as a milliner - ethical options for faux fur, silk and feathers, and ethical wool felt that still blocks as smoothly as fur. A girl can dream.

The Factory Worker


Rhiannon also suggested Steampunk, which I used for the Factory Worker challenge. I combined the excessive patterns and trims of the Victorian era with a big draped apron full of pockets and tools, and a jaunty wind-powered light hat with dragon wings.

A Royal Wedding


This isn't really a new design, but a sketch of my great-grandmother's bridesmaids dress from the 1920s. The bride's dress was a similar style, and I find it one of the more interesting and unusual dress designs so I wanted to highlight it. I added some oak and roses and fleur-de-lys as things I (and the helpful internet) defined as feeling rather "royal".

The Chorus Girl


The day before this challenge I went to the zoo, and wanted to use that as inspiration. I love the golden pheasants, so I combined their colours and patterns with some design elements from this family photo of Mabel (some kind of great aunt?) performing at Drury Lane.



So the story here is that when I was pregnant, we spent a lot of time discussing names. Sometimes a name would suggest a particular personality or future occupation that we would joke about. Most significant of these was "Kit Kovari: Girl Detective." And here she is.

Tea Dance at the Palm Court


I didn't know what that meant at first, but Lauren explained that the grand old hotels would have afternoon tea dances. Now I don't know much about dancing but I do know my afternoon tea. I'm a bit of a high tea connoisseur, in fact. So my design is a modern vintage-style novelty dress with a three-tiered dessert skirt, and a tea-themed whimsy on top. If you can't see the detail, that's sandwiches on the bottom, scones in the middle, and miscellaneous desserts (mostly small fruit tarts) on the top. Yum!

The Collector


My collector is a bird watcher, collecting the names of birds in her book, ticking each one off a great long list of birds. With giant bird buttons and bird fabric on the cuffs of her trousers.



I struggled to think what design elements I could really add to underwear. I could sketch it, but I didn't feel I could really design it. So I wanted to come up with an actual costume, something arty from a ballet or opera or who-knows-what (you certainly can't dance in this, or even walk really) with underwear as its basis. Then during an early-morning feed I was thinking about moths, and this came to me. So there it is.

Before this challenge, I'd actually been sketching a little each day, over a toddler-paced breakfast, to work on my drawing skills, particularly at drawing people and faces. So the challenge fit right in with my goals, and although it is taking more time than those quick morning sessions, I feel like it is a great exercise in creativity and in developing my artistic style and skills again. I've experimented with faces, no faces, drawing on croquis or freehand, pencil sketches and coloured images, different papers and all sorts of things! I'm really enjoying it.

I'll be back after November ends with Part Two!

Friday, 13 November 2015

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Hat - Jessica

Adelaide has been visiting Chicago, and fabulous fashion blogger Jessica of Zella Maybe.

It can be hard when styling something that has been seen multiple times before, and find a way to put your unique spin on it. Jessica decided on some literal spin and turned the hat around. I would never have thought of that, and now you get to see all the detail at the back, and the figure-eight bandeau sits across the front. Adelaide turns out to be an even more versatile hat than I ever imagined.

Jump over to Jessica's blog to see the rest of the photos and leave her a comment! And I'd also love to know what you think, and whether you've ever tried wearing a hat a different way to change it up?

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Christmas Felt Mistletoe Brooch (or Hat Pin) Tutorial

If you follow me on instagram, you might have seen the teaser for my next design in the "Bring Back the Whimsy" series. The whimsy is finished, but I haven't done a proper photoshoot with it yet. So here is the whimsy, but today I'm actually focusing on something else.

Christmas mistletoe whimsy veil hat

I was really enjoying playing with felt mistletoe, so I decided to also make a brooch version that could also be worn as seasonal trim on a hat. And why not make a tutorial for it?

Mistletoe Brooch or hat Pin Tutorial by Tanith Rowan

So let's get into it. You will need:

  • Green felt, approx. 10m by 10cm, can be in smaller scraps (I used 100% wool, 1mm thick)
  • White felt, a small scrap of a few square cm (I used some hand-felted wool from a friend, about 1-2mm thick but varied)
  • Red ribbon, approx. 15cm long (mine is gold-edged, 1cm wide, some kind of cheap craft ribbon from my stash)
  • Matching threads
  • Needle
  • Brooch clasp
  • Sharp scissors

Skills required

  • Hand stitching. You don't need any particular "stitch", you are just going back and forth through the materials to hold them in place, but you need to be able to thread a needle and tie a knot in the end and so on. (Having said all that, you can just use glue if you like!
  • Um...that's it!
Mistletoe Brooch or hat Pin Tutorial by Tanith Rowan

(Let me explain right here about my background colour. I wanted a solid background but not white, so that the white felt would show up. I used this fuchsia pink felt, but its colour showed up totally differently in different photos! Oops!)

Cut out your mistletoe leaves. Here is a picture of mine. I cut freehand based on looking up images of mistletoe. I had to make sure I searched for real mistletoe, since a lot of results were clip art and illustrations, and a lot were also actually holly!

Mistletoe Brooch or hat Pin Tutorial by Tanith Rowan

But if you aren't confident at that, fear not! I turned mine into a pattern for you. Literally. I turned that image into a pattern rather than drawing one. I'm not sure if that's lazy or efficient. Print this out at approximately one quarter of an A4 page. Cut each shape out. I recommend tracing around with an erasable pen as the easiest way, then cutting out. This also allows you to get an efficient layout on your felt.

Mistletoe Brooch or hat Pin Tutorial by Tanith Rowan

Thread your needle with green thread and knot the end.

That big piece is your base. Layer the others on top and sew them on, using a couple of stitches through the top of each one. Add the bigger pieces first, then the smaller ones on top.

Mistletoe Brooch or hat Pin Tutorial by Tanith Rowan

Cut out 8 small circles from the white felt. If they don't look round enough, rub them around between your fingers a bit as well. Place them on your mistletoe in pair, with each pair located at the top of a pair of leaves. Thread your needle with white thread and knot the end.

Mistletoe Brooch or hat Pin Tutorial by Tanith Rowan

Stitch the berries on using the white thread and a stitch or two per berry. Start and finish the thread again for each pair so you don't have a long stitch between them at the back.

Take your ribbon and cut into a longer and shorter length (about 10cm and 5cm). Cut the longer piece on an angle at each end. Thread your needle with red thread and knot the end.

Mistletoe Brooch or hat Pin Tutorial by Tanith Rowan

Fold the longer piece into two loops and two ends, the loops and ends of the bow.

Stitch these folds in place with a few stitches.

Take the shorter piece and wrap it around the centre of your bow, and stitch that in place at the back of the bow.

Stitch the bow to the top of your bunch of mistletoe.

Mistletoe Brooch or hat Pin Tutorial by Tanith Rowan

Turn your brooch over. Thread your needle again (I used green but it doesn't really matter for this part) and get your brooch clasp. Sew the clasp on to the upper central part of your felt.

Mistletoe Brooch or hat Pin Tutorial by Tanith Rowan

Clip your brooch on! Wear it as a brooch or trim a hat with it. Or a bag! Or...whatever!

Mistletoe Brooch or hat Pin Tutorial by Tanith Rowan

Suggested variations:

  • Use small white beads instead of felt for the berries
  • Add a tiny bell! I collect the ones from Lindt bunnies and so on, so I have them on hand for crafts
  • Use an alligator clip instead and pin straight into your hair
  • Make a cute felt bow instead using thin red felt
  • Change it up completely by cutting holly leaves instead and making red berries

While we are talking about Christmas, I want to also mention that Jessica has announced the second Vintage Secret Santa and you can sign up now! I had a lot of fun last year, both preparing presents for my gift recipient and receiving an exciting parcel on Christmas Eve from Norway. I'm so excited about it again. 


I know that some people like Christmas preparations to wait until closer to the day itself, but I'm not one of them. There have been a lot of Christmas songs playing around here, and it honestly has put me in the best mood! (And it inspires my Christmas creating too)

I hope you enjoyed the tutorial and I look forward to showing you the whimsy in action soon. If you use this tutorial, I'd love to see what you make :)

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Black Cats and Bats and Spiders: Vintage-Inspired Halloween Style

Halloween is almost upon us, and it is time for some elegantly seasonal vintage style, with the photos from my collaboration project. I'm so excited!

My co-designer in this Halloween collaboration was Casey, who blogs at Noir Girl and you may also know from her delightful vintage outfits on instagram.

When Casey and I teamed up, we decided our goal was to make some elegant and stylish vintage-inspired outfits with subtle Halloween themes. After getting some basics in place, we went away to independently sketch outfit ideas drawing inspiration from the 1920s to the 1950s. I already shared on instagam and the email newsletter some of the designs that didn't make it, but we ended up deciding on one each from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s to make.

This first is 1950s inspired and a spider web theme. Ever since I saw the photos of Nora in the hat I made for her, where the decoration showed up in silhouette through the hat brim, I had been wanting to make another hat that made use of that idea. My aim with this hat was for the spider web detail and the spiders to be barely visible from above, then appear when the light shone behind.

By making the shapes from white felt, and covering the top with organza, they stay nicely hidden at first.

With the sun behind, they appear! I won't lie, I'm feeling pretty smug about how that turned out!

Casey's fitted black wiggle dress has just the most divine details on the bodice, and a sheer over-skirt representing the spider web.

Next up, a 1930s-inspired cat outfit. We went with a black-white-and-grey rather than a more traditional black cat, but it gave us more shades to play with in the outfit, and I'm happy that we did.

This has got to be the chic-est cat costume I've ever seen! If I do say so myself, since I sketched the original idea, but really it was Casey's amazing work that brought it to this fantastic conclusion. That little jacket is to die for!

The hat is inspired by a few different little round tilt hats that I've seen photos of, and I've been aching to make one for a while. Velvet cat ears on top add a little twist to the look, and a plaited fabric bandeau holds it in place comfortably.

I have saved my favourite until last. This design of Casey's caught my imagination from the very beginning, and although the outfit evolved through the design and making process, it remains my favourite. By a mile. And I really do like the other ones.

Our 1940s number takes a bat as it's theme, in a quite abstract way that is elegant but distinctly spooky. Maybe even villainous.

The forties halo hat is the basic style beginning for this hat, with the halo frame around the face developed with sculpted felt shapes reminiscent of the folds of the bat's wings.

Casey's super-elegant black suit pairs so perfectly with the hat, with it's stylish back buttons, perfect kick to the skirt, and subtle bat-wing sleeve detail.

Let's also take a moment to enjoy the photography and stunning autumnal backdrop, and how beautiful Casey looks modelling her own and my creations.

Thank you Casey for your amazing sewing, the fun and inspiration collaborative design process, and helping me make my Halloween hat dreams come true in a way I couldn't have achieved on my own.

Don't forget to hop on over to Casey's blog to see more photos and hear her side of the story.

I'd love to hear what you think! Would you wear a subtle vintage look as a Halloween costume alternative or even just out and about in October?

P.S. For the record, Teacup makes an adorable Evil Bat Queen, but I didn't get any photos of that, sadly.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The morality of vintage reproduction: where do you draw the line?

You see a beautiful vintage dress. Maybe it is in a museum, maybe on Pinterest, maybe in an Etsy shop or Ebay auction - but way outside your price range, or you miss out. But you want that dress. Exactly that dress.

You sew it yourself, or commission a seamstress to make it for you. Is this ok? What if you make the dress multiple times and sell it commercially? What if it wasn't 20th century vintage, but a Victorian ball gown from a museum, or a 16th century costume based on a painting? What if it was a modern designers work from a period movie? Where do you draw the line?

Ok, so this is something I have been thinking about on and off ever since I started selling my hats, and especially since I began to focus on vintage styles. And I don't yet have an answer to the many questions that roll through my head.

 What if it is just so generic that there is no real intellectual property there? I mean, how many ways are there to make a boater hat? What if I'm using a vintage block - I kind of have to make that exact shape, right? What if I'm basing it on an illustration, so the design is someone else's, but the hat never actually existed? What about taking a pattern from an existing hat? What about drafting my own pattern to achieve a certain shape? What about selling hats made from vintage patterns?

I know that I am definitely happy to take inspiration from vintage images and items and interpret them in my own way, or combine design elements from different places into my own design. (And if the inspiration is only general, I am ok with this for modern work too.) I am definitely happy to attempt a "vague reproduction" of a vintage item, in the knowledge that it will end up different anyway as the making process goes on. I can usually rely on nothing ever turning out exactly how I imagined it!

I also know that I am definitely not ok with exactly copying exactly a recent design, but I'm not sure how recent it has to be for me to not be ok with it. 70s? 80s? 90s? 2000s?

Legally, I don't think there is an issue, although intellectual property is a very confusing legal space, and my brief education on the matter related to engineering, not fashion. I want, however, to find my own comfortable moral position.

There are clearly a lot of factors in the spectrum of this morality, in my mind. How recent is the design? How special and unique is it? How directly am I drawing inspiration from it, or am I copying it outright?

I don't have an answer. I've just completed a custom order to reproduce a vintage hat as exactly as possible, and I have to say that I (mostly) loved the process, despite occasional frustrations. I liked the challenge of studying the photos, trying to work out what had been done and recreate it myself. I do have nagging doubts about it, but I want it to be ok.

Anyway, here it is, in all it's glory.

One way I am thinking of it is that while I would be upset and angry if someone copied my own designs now, I would be flattered if they did so in fifty years.

What are your personal feelings on the intellectual property of vintage designs?