Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Trove Pattern Project - 1949 Pixie Hat

The Trove Pattern Project is back with another review, this time a free pattern from the Australian Women's Weekly from 1949. It's a pixie hat, "as worn by Princess Margaret", and you can find the pattern here.

As you know, I developed an interest in Pixie hats last year, and my research back then turned up this pattern. I knew I wanted to make this one of the first patterns I tried out.

My review today is pretty short because, compared to the 1954 scarf hat, it has very few issues. I've only made up a quick version, so you won't be seeing any close ups of my long hand stitching and lack of lining.


  • The magazine version, and Princess Margaret's original inspiration, were both made of velvet, and I've done the same.
  • One key step in the process is stretching your fabric on the fold of the brim piece around the wired buckram brim foundation. So you will need something with stretch, or with a reasonable amount of give and cut on the bias. This is actually the secret to how my version ended up being a colour block hat - the first pants I cut up fabric I tried didn't have the required give.
  • They do suggest felt is possible, but I think you would end up with too much thickness at the brim when it is folded, unless you used a very thin felt.


  • The size worked for me as it was - my head size is 22.5 inches. It isn't even tight!
  • The pattern is hand drawn, and not close to symmetrical, even though the hat looks like it should be even. I don't know why this bugs me so much, but this is so often the case with these patterns and I don't know whether it is on purpose or not. I think in fact that is exactly why it bugs me. Anyway after drawing my own I folded it in half and evened it up.


  • The hat sewed up easily and the instructions covered the steps pretty well. You have to stretch the brim over its foundation, as I mentioned before, so the more stretch your fabric has, the less bunching you have at the join of crown and brim.
  • I did struggle with the joining the brim and crown and it didn't look like it would sit up properly, but once I put it on there was no problem.
  • I didn't bother with lining or the headsize ribbon, but the instructions for these seem ok.


  • The hat is designed to sit towards the back of the head, with the brim across the top.
  • In windy situations I'd recommend a hat pin or some other attachment, but for the purposes of wandering around and taking photos I found it stayed on fine with nothing.

Sorry about the blurry photos by the way. I failed at selfies again!

This hat falls into the category of "looks cute, but I wouldn't wear it." As I mentioned on instagram, I felt like a 1940s witch as soon as I put it on, and I can't really get past that. I love the shape of the brim framing my face, but the pointed crown is just a bit too much for me.

You could round off the crown, but then it wouldn't be a pixie hat, so why bother? I'd love to find a way to make it wearable, but I just don't know how to do it. Perhaps trims would help. I feel that a pixie style without the halo brim might actually work better for me.

Short of any inspiration in that direction, I'll be keeping this pattern for vintage Halloween looks or maybe a cute Christmas elf. Or scaled down for an adorable little girl's hat!

What do you think? Too witchy or just the right amount of pixie charm?

I've already started on the next pattern, and I have hopes for its wearability...if I can just work out the instructions.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

From Mistress to Millinery: Denisa, Lady Newborough

"I just love myself in black velvet and mink, and I know diamonds suit me..."

These are Denisa, Lady Newborough's first words about herself, in her memoir "Fire in my Blood". My first introduction to her, however, was through the stories of my husband's grandmother, Judy.

Judy was living in London in the 1950s, after leaving Hungary and before moving with her husband and young family to Australia. They lived in a boarding house with a number of other Hungarian expats, including a young woman who was a milliner.

This young woman got a job working for the milliner Lady Newborough, who was known for having been a nightclub dancer in Europe before somehow marrying Lord Tommy Newborough. She had long red nails and smoked her cigarettes in a long cigarette holder. Apparently this young milliner took offence to being hovered over by Lady Newborough while she worked, and suggested that perhaps her employer would make more money out on the street corner. Not surprisingly, she was fired. Not only that, but apparently she found herself unable to obtain employment in any other millinery houses in London.

Left: The Newcastle Sun 7 Oct 1954. Right: Brisbane Telegraph 28 Jun 1949.

I suppose it was before this incident, while the young woman was still employed, that Lady Newborough needed some renovations done and ended up hiring some more of the boarding house tenants, including one who was a plumber, and some others less qualified, including Judy's husband, to paint. Apparently she was very good to them, and got them whatever food they wanted for lunch. She also had a draw full of boxes of chocolates, which were gifts from her admirers. But since she wanted to keep her figure, she never ate them, and was happy for the men to take any they wanted.

I enjoyed this story, but not having heard of Lady Newborough, I didn't think too much more of it. That was until I was re-watching some British Pathe videos from the 1950s, and realised I had heard of her! In fact, one of my favourite videos, of hat fashions at the zoo in 1952, displays her hats. She even appears in one or two! Here are the British Pathe videos of her work.

Left: Examiner (Launceston) 7 Nov 1953. Right: The Mail (Adelaide) 23 Apr 1949.

So after that discovery, I set about researching her some more, which led me to her book. I had to have it. It is about her pre-millinery and pre-marriage life, and it's a wild ride. I don't know whether to believe half of it, and she name-drops constantly, although apart from Hitler and Mussolini, not names I know. (She isn't a fan of either man, by the way.)

The book is entertaining and written with a funny, descriptive style, without any unnecessary filler. It's a bit like reading a rambling but fascinating series of anecdotes from your grandmother - if your grandmother led an extremely colourful life.

Denisa was unquestionably a firecracker, and lived a life full of adventure, and empty of shame. She had her boundaries, and never crossed them, but danced wildly right up to them without regret.

This quote goes a way to explain Denisa's ruthlessness in reaction to her employee's insinuation. (Although she was arrested in the 1960s for allowing her Mayfair premises to be used for prostitution. It didn't stick, so who knows.) In general, I feel that the qualities she claims in her own writing are also present in Judy's stories: friendliness, openness and material generosity, many admirers, and a fiery temper when crossed.

Left: The Age (Melbourne) 14 Jan 1950. Top Right: Townsville Daily Bulletin 20 Mar 1948. Bottom Right: Brisbane Telegraph 18 May 1949.

She only refers to her later occupation a couple of times in the book, and only when it relates to her current anecdote.

"One of the accomplishments they taught us little Continentals was the "art of chic", which means needlework plus a little something else. I was glad of it years later when I opened my hat shop in Mayfair, and I was glad of it then, for I worked some wonderful transformations on that one cut-down evening gown of my mother's."

Northern Star (Lismore) 1 Oct 1953

I had to look up the names she drops in this one, but evidently she enjoyed custom from many actresses.

"When I started in business he sent me customers like Eileen Herlie, Judy Campbell, Edana Romney and Glynis Johns; he commissioned hats that were worn in films and publicized in the press and paid handsomely...and nearly ruined my business because people began to think the only hats I could make were crazy picture-in-the-paper ones."

In fact, that's Eileen Herlie in the striped hat, scarf and umbrella combo earlier.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I can piece together various bits and pieces, although like her own book, I don't know what to believe. Jewels don't lie, I suppose, so the pieces from her personal collection that were auctioned last year, are something we can take at face value. This is my favourite, and really I'm glad I didn't know this auction existed! Not that I could have afforded the £13,000 aquamarine necklace.

The newspapers reported on her divorce case from Tommy Newborough, and also on her beginnings in the millinery business, as required to pay her bridge debts, and is described as "one of the most beautiful of the pre-war socialites" in another article about her turning a hat-making hobby into a business.

The Daily News (Perth) 9 Nov 1949

Thanks to Trove I've been able to find the images of her hats that appear in this post - some outlandish, many more understated and elegant. What I haven't managed to find are any of her surviving hats anywhere, but perhaps one day.

Researching this fascinating lady of hats has been a fun journey. What do you think of her work and her attitude? (And her taste in jewellery!)

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

My take on a 1940s "Small Chic Beret"

The internet abounds with ridiculously gorgeous images of vintage hats. I could spend hours drooling over them (and sometimes do) and dreaming of being able to make something so beautiful. Generally when I see a fabulous vintage hat, I add it to my mental "I want to make this" list. Hats rarely make the transition from this list into reality, but here is one that did.

This design was inspired by the so-called "Small Chic Beret" illustration from McCalls Needlework magazine (Winter 1942-1943) which was scanned and shared by Brittany over at Vavoom Vintage last year.

One of the reasons that this hat was made, unlike so many others, was that as soon as I saw the illustration, I thought of this wool fabric I had bought from the Trefriw Woollen Mills on my last trip to Wales. (Newsletter subscribers saw a preview of this in the very first email!)

While the original would have been a flat pattern hat to be sewn from fabric, mine has the fabric draped over a blocked wool felt button shape. The other main difference is of course the feather, which here is made from wool felt again. I played around with some alternate angles for the hat, but in the end decided that McCalls knew what they were doing, and kept to this orientation.

There's that Selling Millinery supplement again! And my new-to-me Dobbs hat box, which was a Christmas or Birthday present from my mum.

Speaking of both the Trefriw Woollen Mills and my mum - big news! My family and I will be going to Wales again this year to visit! (My mum. But also hopefully the Mill.) We're a bit anxious about Teacup's first international flight and potential jet lag, but also very excited about the holiday and all the exciting things we will get to do. The trip should be a mix of adventurous activities for my husband, quiet wandering around nice villages and sitting in cafes and parks for me and Teacup, and toddler-friendly activities for all of us. Teacup and I will be staying on an extra week with my mum, when we'll get to do the things we love, like Woollen Mills and historic houses and shopping.

If you have any suggestions for great things to do in North Wales or the surrounding area, I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

"Selling Millinery" August 12, 1942

Even now, when hats are not the necessary addition to an outfit that they once were, hat styles go in and out of fashion. Back in 1942, the change was more rapid and the options for hats - the style, the materials, the trims - were more numerous.

Having trawled through so many issues of the Australian Women's Weekly, I suppose I assumed (if I thought about it at all) that magazines and their brief fashion reports were the place to go to keep up with the changing fashions. For most women, it probably was.

Until I saw this newspaper section (and more like it) for sale on Instagram (via adelinesattic), it hadn't occurred to me that there might be a trade publication to distribute this knowledge directly to the sales girls who would have been working in so many hat shops and department stores, and needing to seem up-to-date on all the latest modes.

I bought two sections on millinery, one on gloves (for my sister as a Christmas present) and one on Christmas selling. So far I have only read this one, here and there as I eat my breakfast and my husband laughs at me.

Reading this was a really fascinating way to get a thorough look at the fashions of the times, not just in images but in detailed descriptions of the styles, materials, colours and trims, along with when and where they might be worn and with what. Add to that some entertaining ads and commentary along the way, and you've got a good read, in my opinion!

Here are some of the exciting new features on the season's hats. Brilliant colours includes such combinations as green and orange, which I think I personally could live without. This hat is one example of such, and I think I'm happier enjoying it in black and white. (I'm sure some of you could make green and orange work, and good for you, but I'm not in that camp!)

The war is frequently mentioned, not just in relation to "priority-free trims" and so on, but also in discussing the needs of your customer.

"These "after five" hats will achieve the purpose for which they were created. They will lift the spirits of the wearer and of those who see her, for a few precious hours, into a mood of gaiety and relaxation not to be forgotten by the men when they return to duty."

They also influence the styles in fashion, with patriotic loyalties leading to style being influenced by "our Allies in the present conflict", leading to Chinese and Russian styles, for example, and peasant motifs from Norway and France, and military colours are also popular.

The section on Customer Types is fabulous, with not only figure and face shapes, but also a "general style type" based on her personality and lifestyle. Which of these do you think you are? I can't decide, or perhaps I'm just in denial.

Following this are thorough pages on felt, woven and knitted materials and those "Priority-free Trimmings", though in general the season is apparently bringing fewer trims as the style lines of the hat take centre stage.

As is often commented on by those who sew their own vintage reproduction garments, the range of fabric types available to us is so reduced from what it was in previous decades, with many materials described that you would be unlikely to find anywhere today, and certainly not easily.

I'm torn on this turban. It's kind of stunning, but it also makes me think she has put a bowl on her head and then wrapped it up.

I think my life has been missing matching accessories for my hats. Another 2016 goal!

Thank goodness. Apparently the obsession with elaborate hairstyles led to small hats and snoods, which then degenerated into nothing more than bows attached to clips! But remember...

"Fashion leaders always turn there backs on a fashion before the point of saturation is reached. And when little bows and wisps of flowers are seen perched on the heads of women and girls of all ages and interests, you may be sure that bareheadedness is on its way out. This epidemic which has swept the country has affected not only juniors and girls of college age, but their mothers as well...Outdoor living, casual clothes, slacks suits all had their effect on the acceptance of this fad."

For shame, women of America!!

I, of course, love little frippery things as much as large hats, but I feel the writers of the above were due to be disappointed in the 50s and 60s as heads were adorned with whimsies and things like the Butterfly Cap.  And even more so if they saw in the later decades.

Well, I hope you've enjoyed these snippets and insights into selling millinery. If you like, I'll catch up with the other two sections in later posts.

To all those who sell hats, remember, "You sell more by being gracious", "You sell more by being enthusiastic", and "It is better to lose a sale than sell the wrong hat, because the customer's friends will criticize it, and she will not admit it was her choice".

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

The Sisterhood of the Hat - Seanna

Can you believe it has been over a year since Adelaide started travelling the world?

At the end of last year she stopped off to stay and get to know the lovely and friendly Seanna and feature on her blog, Seanna Approved.

Jump on over to Seanna's blog post to see more of her gorgeous images in the hat and say Hi!

Adelaide has moved briefly up to Canada and you should be seeing more of her shortly.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

"Squirrel and Oak" Whimsy Design for December

Back in August, when I made the Scottie Dog whimsy, I asked for suggestions of other animals that would be cute on the veil of a design. Kate-Em suggested squirrels, paired with acorns, and I just loved the idea. I had been contemplating acorns on a whimsy for a while, and squirrels were the perfect complement as well as being an animal I love.

There are just a few squirrels running around the bottom of the veil, and one sitting at the top near the cluster of leaves and acorns.

My acorns were inspired by some amazing ones my sister made in an embroidery class. I was going to show you a picture of this inspiration, except that it would look like one of those "Saw it on Pinterest. Nailed it." memes and my pride is too sensitive. Still, I think my method was likely quicker, and it was fun to make. Anything that involves blocking felt over beads has got to be good. It felt like I was making the world's tiniest hats.

 It has ended up very autumnal, which I like, even it is currently Autumn in zero places in the world.

My lovely friend Ruanne, who you have seen model for me many times in the past, came up to the mountains with her family for a picnic in the park combined with a modelling session. I'm sure I've said it before, but I have the best friends!

Now I've done something tricky with this whimsy, which I've been planning to do for a while, but I hadn't quite worked out how to make it work. While whimsies are fun and very glamorous, they aren't necessarily something for everyday. So I made this one a bit more versatile.

Ta-da! The top part is a clip that can be removed and worn separately, for when a veil is just too much. Or you aren't in the mood for squirrels? Is that possible?

We also shot some other pieces, including the Christmas mistletoe whimsy, which I had only briefly shown you along with the Mistletoe Brooch tutorial.

It matches so beautifully with this blouse, which Ruanne made herself (from the Sencha by Collette Patterns, I believe).

Working out what type of hat wearer she is. We decided on "The Sophisticated Young Married or Businesswoman".

All of which brings us to the conclusion of the Bring Back the Whimsy series!

Bumblebees, Whimsy Tutorial, Choc Chip, Autumn Leaves, Leopard Print is a Neutral, Strawberry Blossoms, Ladybugs, Scottie, Bridal Whimsy, Candy Corn, Mistletoe, Squirrel and Oak.

Looking at them all together makes me feel pretty pleased with myself! I had such a great time exploring fun novelty themes, trying out new trim ideas and techniques, getting reacquainted with fimo, cutting shapes out of felt, working out how to make bees, and playing with veiling. I'm looking forward to bringing some of these themes and techniques into future hats and hair accessories too.

Thank you all for joining me on my year of whimsies. I hope you had fun and maybe even made yourself a whimsy following the tutorial.

Do you have a favourite from the series? I would have a hard time picking one myself!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Wearing History's Costume Design Challenge - Part Two

Today I'm presenting part two of my illustrations for the Wearing History Costume Design Challenge. You can find part one here if you missed it. For the second half of the month, I put a more consistent effort into my sketches, although sometimes that meant getting behind and then catching up. Some costumes are (I feel) a more unusual take on the theme, with others they are more obvious and less creative. I had fun doing the sketches either way.

I found that for some eras I knew the fashions better and was able to play around with them more, while others I was in less familiar waters and my designs are more straightforward. I have decided I much prefer the sketches where I went to the effort of finding a photo with a more interesting pose to start from, rather than a straight-on view. And, as you can see, I took the time to colour most of them, and in general I like that much better too.

So here we go!

Romance on the Highlands

I was trying to think away from tartan on this one, but I also really wanted something I could imagine being worn out on the Scottish landscape. Once I could tear my brain away from older historical styles, I could see a hippie look with long flowing skirt and hair among the heather. I based my outfit on a long velvet skirt I have (and photographed with some floral headbands last year) but centred the design on Scottish flowers. Thistle was obvious, but I relied on the internet to give me some other suggestions. You can't really see them anyway, but there are Scottish bluebells and the hat features rowan leaves and berries.

On the Job

For some reason I thought of a young fashion designer in London in the 1960s, working with some friends in the little boutique they own and make the clothes for from their own designs. From there I naturally thought of my friend Nicole of Manic Pop (who I collaborated with last year and who made me a maternity dress). While she isn't pursuing fashion design currently, she has a distinctive style, and it was actually hard at first to try to work in her aesthetic without taking too much inspiration from her work. But she loves rainbows, and I love Yves-Saint-Laurent-style bubble hats and we both love the theme I chose for the dress. Bonus points if you can pick that!

Monaco Road Trip

I have tried to incorporate hats as much as possible in my sketches, and they have often driven the whole design. In this case, my first thought was of a scarf tied around the head, as is traditional for an open top car ride, I believe. From there I thought of where I could take that idea, and then (as I said on instagram) I was watching a Muppet Family Christmas, and then this happened. If you've seen it recently you may know, but maybe not. Anyway apparently Monaco doesn't get very cold, but there are cool winter days and it must get pretty breezy in those cars.

Music Hall Sweetheart

I've done some interesting research for this challenge. Music Hall was one I didn't know much about, and my internet wanderings led me to some male impersonators and so I went with that. This was a bit of a quick late night sketch!

Wild West Show

I thought of Jane Russell in The French Line. At the beginning of the movie she is in a practical western outfit of checked shirt and jeans, and later in the movie she does a dance number in a ridiculous sequinned number. I decided to go somewhere in between, with a shorter, sexier, dancier version of the first outfit, without getting all blinged up.

Venice Carnevale


My entire motivation here was to sketch one of the wonderfully outrageous medieval horned headdresses. Then my gold pen leaked over it. That's all there is to say really.

Vintage Reminisces of the Past

The 1920s loved their Egyptian revival, and that went from high fashion all the way to the elegant nude/semi-nude costumes. They are really so classy, in their own way. And a good excuse to really go all out on the head wear.

Her Dressing Gown

I wanted to go for something wintery, with a lush faux fur collar and a ridiculous turban, so that's what I did. I could handle lounging around in this during the cooler months.

A Transatlantic Voyage

This outfit was inspired by this image of a stunning coat from the 1920s, with an entire cruise ship pictured on the back. To change it up, I translated the ship image to the cloche hat, and kept just the waves on the lush velvet wrap coat.

At the Garden Party

Again my first thoughts were probably floaty chiffon 1930s dresses or all-white Edwardian numbers, so I kept on moving, and settled on some big bold sixties florals again. And the all-over floral hat options that go with it.

The Circus


I'm quite a Marx Brothers fan, but I had never seen "At The Circus" (although I have it on DVD, courtesy of my father-in-law). So I started to watch for inspiration, and it didn't need more than 5 minutes to find an inspirational and lust-worthy outfit, from which starting point I created this.

The Jane Austen Adaptation

Totally motivated by my fascination with this lamp-shade of a hat style. I picture it being worn by Caroline Bingley.

In Palm Springs

Another one that led me to the internet to find out more about Palm Springs. Their tourism website made it clear that Palm Springs is full of young people in bright bold prints. And I love bees. So there you have it.

The Poet


I felt I needed a character for this one. A real story. The first poet I thought of (perhaps oddly) was Augustus Fawnhope, a character from Georgette Heyer's "The Grand Sophy." He's a beautiful young man completely absorbed in his art and dreamily unaware of most that goes on around him. Since I hadn't done any male costumes, I thought that would be fun.

Fairy Tale Ending

I had a few ideas for this, but I couldn't get away from drawing a version of my own fairytale ending. There are of course many facets to that, this was an obvious choice. One day!

This was an epic challenge, that exhausted but also inspired me. It was the first daily Instagram challenge I've participated in, and I enjoyed it, but I would think very carefully before embarking on another one! Maybe a one-week challenge would be better. It would be fun to see some more happening in the vintage community.

Over to you! Any of these outfits take your fancy? And is there any kind of Instagram community challenge you wish existed for you to take part in?