The Sewist

I sew, knit and crochet hats. (Not all at the same time. Whaddaya think I am - a machine?)

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Strawberry Fields Forever...

Would you wear strawberries on your head? Like this Bes-Ben hat above, for instance. Actually this hat isn't just berries, it's got some daisies mixed in there too, like something a four-year-old would pick on a mission from his mother: "Go pick some berries and flowers for mommy." But those florals could be fried eggs. I can't tell. I would wear a chapeau like this to a party or even a swanky bar, but wouldn't it be a hoot to wear it to a farmer's market or the grocery store? You'd have to do it when strawberries are in season (as they were a few weeks ago. I missed picking up a large, shrink-wrapped box for canning. Darn!) for maximum effect. You could tell the farmer, "My berries will last longer than yours." You can't go for the "mine are cheaper" gambit though. This antique topper isn't cheap. But quality over quantity works though. Every time. You could swap the cocktail hat for bushels and bushels of this red heart-shaped fruit, but would you want to? Not I. Or you could don this vintage beauty for your next visit to a restaurant that serves strawberry shortcake. Bring the doll with the same name and people will think you're really off the wall. But you know what? I don't need this hat. Duh. I already have a strawberry cocktail hat that I made myself. And I like it berry much. (Bad joke, but nearly not as the duds by the man with this orchestra. Great guy and trombonist, though). On second thought, could you own too many fruity hats? It would certainly keep admirers on their tippy-toes to see you wearing something ever so slightly different. Best part about this accessory? This produce wouldn't get moldy ever. Wow!

On another note, thanks all for voting in my poll. I thought I would be more clear about my mission on this planet when I read the results...but I'm confused. Y'all are evenly split about whether I should gab about millinery or sewing! I could go either way and at least half of you would be happy. And one more thing before I go: per one reader's request, I'll see what I can do about bumping up the font size. Or at least changing the color of the background. More likely I bruise the upper part of my body before I accomplish the latter or the former...

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

To Stitch or Pitch?

Should I write more about sewing and less about hats?
Write mostly about sewing with hats thrown in once in a while.
More about hats, and less about stitching!
None of the above.
Free polls from
That is the question. I'm writing lots about hats these days, but not getting a whole lot of responses. So I'm wondering if it's the topic. Not many people wear hats these days, perhaps it's far more interesting talk about lingerie, dresses, or even socks. People, particularly those who want to be well-covered, wear these items of apparel. But hats? Lots of folk could take or leave 'em. Most do the latter.
When I started this site, I thought I'd write lots about sewing, but I didn't want to get caught up in the technical how-tos because I figure that's for another site. I was eager to discuss more of the existential elements of stitching. Funnies stories, outright tales, and interesting adventures on way to finishing a particular project or abandoning it after birth...but not quite leaving it on the steps of a nearby church. My latest unfinished apparel is hanging out on the vintage French metal daybed in my office (that would be Vogue 7898). It's actually slumped on a pillow like a dead woman, her arms hanging over the headboard, awaiting resurrection. I forgot about a Vogue Fabrics plastic bag, filled with a half-done warm mohair knit sweater coat, forgotten when it got warm. Oops. There's also the Banana Republic bag with hat pattern pieces that have been sitting untended for at least 24 months, sitting on my bedroom rug.
But I digress. So when I started this weblog, I thought I would wax not so poetically about my passion for sewing, but that was hard in a way because it's not my only hobby. I crochet, knit, and I'm aching to try hairpin lace. Then I started writing about hats, because, well, they're a constant in my life. I've got hatboxes in my closet and I wear something on top of my noggin nearly every day, so that seemed like a natural. Super-easy to find something profound about five times a week. It seemed different that the umpteen sewing-related blogs out there. Plus I figured maybe guys might like the topic....I meet many who love to see women wearing chapeaux, and some even don fedora at times.
But my frequent hat posts haven't elicited much response. Do I smell? I promise I bath and wash my hair regularly. I can't have bad breath - I floss once and brush my teeth at least twice daily much to my periodontist's delight. I also wear Angel by Thierry Mugler. But if I stink, just let me know. I can take it. I wear deodorant also, Secret's Vanilla sparkle.
So post your thoughts if you're so inclined, vote in my poll if you care (or dare). And if you don't anything that's fine by me. I'm going to visit eBay this evening, probably check out the current listings for 1950s issues of Vogue Knitting, particularly those with knitted dresses. I don't know why, particularly since it's getting warm out there to elicit those 17-year locusts here in my neighborhood and I don't want to knit anything that has a finer gauge than my tights.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

A Hat to Forget your Troubles...

Some people go to bar to banish their concerns about work, families, health and finances. The problem with that approach is that you only add to your woes. You leave with a far emptier wallet, a throbbing headache, a stomache and ringing ears from the loud music. I much rather wear a pretty hat such as the one above when the my afflictions seem overwhelming that I fear my petite shoulders might crumble underneath the weight of the world (which seems to be incredibly staggering if you really think about it. Why would anyone even in their troubled minds take on that kind of staggering load? It would kill you in a a fraction of a nanosecond if it were physically possible). But back to hats: I love how I can escape in them. From the moment I don one, I'm in another world. Frustrations with my chronically trembling right eyelid? Forgotten, or at least hidden by the netting of my most beautiful hat. Late check? Oh yeah. It'll be in the mail tomorrow or the day after. Email ignored by best friend? It must have landed in her spam filter; I'll hear from her soon. So only does a spectacular topper make me look great, I end up thinking more optimistically. I don't know how it happens, but it just does.

Which brings me to the hat above, spotted in Intrigato Boutique in Ennis, Ireland. I walked past late in the day, shyly wondering whether to take a picture of the sisal straw hat in the window. Should I take the photo and not worry about the reaction of the store owner and passerby? Or forget about it?

Then the opportunity of a lifetime occurred. Or at least the chance of my earthly existence during the week of May 14, 2007. As I walked past the entryway, where the door was propped opened, a young woman was snapping a picture of a woman wearing the hat above on her cellphone.

I had to enter. "Ooh, can I take your picture too?" I said, the photo-happy tourist (at least I didn't have a pair of white sneakers, a baseball cap and a fanny belt that screamed American, thank goodness). A bit startled, the photo subject, proprietor Ann Garry-Quish, obliged.

It turns out this particular concoction was straight from Paris (how many times can you say that about an outfit or accessory? It sounds so glamourous. Far better than fresh from the Big Apple.) This particular headpiece was for the young lady's mom for her wedding! I thought what a stunning hat to wear to your daughter's Big Day. I'd only fear that such a chapeau might upstage the bride's ensemble. But I admire how this particular hat has what appears to be whisps of platinum hair extensions growing out of it. Jessica Simpson and her hair man Ken Paves must use this in their next clip-on Hair Do ad. And the frond of Sunshine yellow and lime green berries at the side? Makes me hungry. Or least wondering what they actually are.

I have the name of the Paris milliner in my handbag somewhere. Ann scribbled it down for me and when I unearth it from the pile of Adora calcium foils, dull pennies, knitting needle markers, and pens that Do Not Work When You Need Them that litter the bottom of my purse, I am committed to doing a Google Search because the next time I visit Paris (the city in France, not the town in Illinois) I'm visiting this shop. Because even if this hat (or a similar one) costs more Euros than I know how to count, I want to see where the magic happens in the City of Light, you know what I mean. A must-do up there figuratively with visiting the Eiffel Tower. Which brings me back to my original thought: what hats do you wear to forget your tribulations?

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

I Guess I'm a Pink Hatter...

First, a clarification: Kathie Lee Gifford doesn't kick up her heels in "Hats! The Musical." That was a bit of disappointment, to say the least since I would have liked to see Regis Philbin's former colleague hoofing it up on stage. Oh well, I'll live. I found the show enjoyable, although bit a little difficult to relate to. I'm not on "the other side of my life" as one character says. Nor am I "getting on with getting on." But I could relate to "The Older the Fiddle, the Sweeter the Tune" especially now that I have returned from the Emerald Isle, where fiddles are more common than rainbows. I also do talk to myself and fairies, just like Melissa Manchester's character. I don't really talk to imaginary creatures, unless you count the ghost who put on kettle on my stove for a cup of tea two days ago. Yes, a supernatural being poured water into my teakettle, turned on the gas on my range, and heated up water. I suppose I could have done this act, but I wasn't thinking tea the other morning. I was eagerly anticipating up tomato juice and my French Vanilla Cappucino Cooler, not green tea. I was momentarily shocked, and turned off the gas. A few minutes later, I reheated the water. A friendly European ghost had a great idea, so why not? But I digress.
My favorite character? Duchess, an African-American woman of a certain dotage. Played by Laura Walls, Duchess is saucy, bawdy Red Hat Society member with more curves than a road in Ireland's hilly Connemara region. She doesn't have hot flashes, she has power surges. And shopping is better than you-know-what because if you're not satisfied, you can always return your purchase for something better. Out of all the women on stage, she'd be the one I'd belly up to a bar with any day. But I don't think she'd go for a Guinness or a Murphy's. She strikes me as more of Shiraz or Carbernet girl. And you know she wears a hat to church every Sunday where she's belting out Gospel tunes in a choir. She's utterly appealing because she doesn't censor herself (I know I do), she's not afraid to may mistakes (I dwell on mine into infinity) and adores life (I'm inclined to qualify my earthly existence).
So while the hats on stage were a bit of disappointment (too department-store looking), what I cherish the most are the memories. I know I'll be thinking about Duchess all day today as I go to the farmers' market to buy some basil, arugula, and maybe organic carrots. I'll be pondering how I can be more like her. Unafraid to show off my fantastic gams, stunning earlobes (yes, really!), and beautiful brown hair.
Last but not least, I got favorable comments on my hand-sewn, haute couture strawberry cocktail hat, which was primarily red. But I had to tell audience members emphatically "I'm not a member of the Red Hat Society." I don't want anyone to even think I'm even remotely near 100 years of age yet. The flip side is that, of course, anyone who would assume I'm a member would like mutter, "Wow! She looks really good for her age!" Which naturally I do. Incidentally, if I did choose to join this group, I'd be a pink hatter since I'm quite a bit younger than the typical applicant.
In any event, I would recommend seeing this show, but I have to worn you: If you wear a chapeau, the announcer will tell you to remove it so you don't block anyone else's view. Well, I didn't take off my bitty topper because it certainly wasn't blocking anyone's way.
What have been your favorite plays or movies that have hats as a central theme?

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Friday, May 25, 2007

The Musical

I've been wanting to see "Hats! The Musical" for a while if only for the chapeaux. It'll be like a big fashion show only with lots of you-know-what and music and dancing. I'm a sucker for musicals - I adored Bernadette Peters in Gypsy and I performed in several shows including one tribute to Broadway favorites Irving Berlin and Cole Porter while I was in high school. Then in college I purchased my first CD with Linda Ronstadt singing songs by both Berlin and Porter to the sounds of the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. I plastered a poster of Linda wearing a pouffy 50s iridescent strapless dress on my dorm room wall. When she came to Chicago, I convinced a friend to go. I still have that CD. I need to play "Someone to Watch Over Me," the ultimate rejection blues song. Then in the late 1990s I learned how to lindy hop to those same songs. I'll never get musicals out of my O negative blood.
So I know I'll enjoy hearing Melissa Manchester (remember her "You Should Hear How She Talks About You?" It's the one and same Melissa!) in the lead role. She plays a woman facing her 50th birthday. Can you guess how she copes? You got it.
However, I have a problem with the theme. I'm not anywhere near that milestone. I don't really want to hear about hot flashes, excess facial hair, and anything else a woman who's nearly a half-a-century-old faces. Complaining about life never does any good, although I'm all for wearing something fanciful on top of your head to make you feel better whether you're two or 102-years-old.
What if Red Hat Society members monopolize the audience? I can see them snubbing me already if I'm not wearing a red topper and a purple suit, their uniform. They'll poke their hat pins in my behind as I walk down the aisle. I'll yelp in so much pain that I'll be catapulted right onto the stage where I'll have to kick up my heels with Kathie Lee Gifford and her adorable young male back-up dancers. I'm certain I'll be up for the task since I know how to lindy-hop, salsa, foxtrot. If that fails, I can ask Kathie Lee about Regis Philbin, her former costar. Maybe he's worn a fedora or two?
After I return to my seat, exhilarated and embarrassed all at once, the Red Hat Society members might take pity on me. I can see them passing me a membership application as they leave. "Honey, your hat's cute," one woman with a particularly flamboyant hat, will say. "You're too young just yet, but you should really thinking about joining our group. You'd love it."
I'll give her a dirty look.
"Look lady, I wore a uniform in junior high and college," I'll tell her. "I had two years of a brown-and-white houndstooth print skirt with a darker than mud cardigan and polyester vest. Same skirt, every day. In high school? Four years in a poly cranberry plaid A-line skirt with a matching cardigan."
The lady will stare at me aghast, just shocked at my response. No woman has ever talked to her this way. Everyone loves the Red Hat Society.
"I was never so ready to get rid of that skirt at graduation," I'll continue. "My classmates autographed it. I kept it for a while then I tossed. I swore I would never wear a uniform again. Ever. Not even if you paid me to wear one in a Saturday Night Live sketch."
"I'm so sorry you had a bad experience. But we're just a bunch of old ladies having fun," she'll cackle.
"Lady, I know how to have fun. I think the strawberry-shaped cocktail hat on my head is proof enough. I don't need to wear some stupid red hat or stinking purple suit to feel validated. I am woman, hear me purr. Watch me dance better than Kathie Lee."
I'll take the application form and instantly turn it into a paper hat on the spot. At that precise moment, one of the back-up dancers, about age 32, will leap off the stage, flinging sweat everywhere as he jumps.
He'll land right next to me, looking at me with an adoring gaze. He'll stroke my arm suggestively, whispering sweet somethings in the ear on my better half. (Actually he'll say something like, "You can pay me cash in the alley or write a check to Escort Services." But those silly ladies won't need to know that.)
Kissing my new man on the cheek, and arching my brow, I'll coyly offer my latest concotion.
"Here's my application. Try that on for size."
However, I will quickly withdraw the hat, and smash it with the heel of my BCBG Girls wedgie, trying not to lose balance, of course. You can't trip or fall when you're making a statement. It loses its effectiveness.
Boy Toy will draw me near protectively, and I'll lean my head on his shoulder and we'll walk out of "Hats! The Musical" giving Melissa and her colleagues finally something to gab about. And you know what? I don't need to hear how she talks about me. Who cares? I've got my man and we're going to get a pint of Guinness or two or three.
(photo information: sisal hat, Intrigato Boutique, Ennis, Ireland)

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

What's That,
Auntie Mary Beth?

One day, I'm certain in the far future, when they're able to build a hearing aid that can pick up the distinct chatter of one teenager on a bus and everyone owns a helicopter, I'm certain I'll sit by an environmentally-correct bonfire (a flickering image of a high-definition television set with a burnt wood smell emitting from a separate panel) and regale my 40+ nieces and nephews (I've already got 11) of days gone by. When nearly all telephones were black. And then tan. And you didn't own them. And a time when no one had a computer, but maybe an electric typewriter if you were lucky. And Americans went on two-week vacations without ever once contacting the office.
Then I'll educate them about lay-away. "What's that?" I can see my little niece, Jackie, now 6, saying as she wrinkles her nose. "Does that mean you get down on the ground like you're going asleep, away from home?"
"Not quite," I'll say, slapping my firm thighs toned by hours on the Power Plate. Who needs water aerobics when a machine can do all the work?
"Lay-away is when you put down a deposit on an item you want to buy, like a new bike. Then you pay off the rest a little bit each month."
"Wow," she responds, her eyes getting bigger than Frisbies. She's clearly intrigued.
"And you don't get the bike until it's all paid for."
"If it takes months to pay for it, then you can't ride it right it away!"
I nod, sage old European eagle owl that I am.
"You can't use a credit card to buy the bike?"
Then wildly waving my well-toned arms dotted with moles and a few dark spots, I regale Jackie with the story about how I bought a polyester (don't laugh) short-sleeved v-neck top with a matching pair of pants at Fashion Plus in the late 70s. I put down a deposit, and only reclaimed the outfit later when I paid it off in full. I can still remember the fabric of this ensemble: a textured off-white knit covered with tiny red, green, blues, and yellow flecks.
Then I tell her how I did the same many moons later (actually today) for dibs on a highly-sought after but gently used Viking Huskylock Serger at Vogue Fabrics. I used my Visa credit card to put down a 30 percent deposit. (My justification here, friends, is that I'm earning my United Frequent Flier miles, ok? I'm not advocating reliance on plastic.) The remainder is due by Christmas. No interest!
All this talk of deposits, balance due, and credit cards is lost on Jackie. She just wants to think and talk about are boys and maybe, just maybe, that really gorgeous guy on American Idol X.
Just as my dear niece gets up to walk away, I'll yell, "My point is that sometimes it's good to wait for stuff. If you get everything right away, you don't always appreciate it. I didn't get my serger for 6 months, but I always put aside money every month until I could finish paying for it. "
She begins skipping away. I know I've lost her now. Who cares about lay-away lectures when there are games to be played on the PC, which was purchased on credit?
"Don't forget about lay-away...your great-grandchildren are going to want to know about it!"

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

How About
Them Vikings?

I saw this vintage Singer Sewing Machine sign at a Westport, Ireland shop. In case you can't read it too well, it says, "Sewing Machine Orders Taken Here." It isn't readily apparent, but this advertisement must date back at least to the 1930s if the image on it (a woman with her hair up in a bun, wearing a Victorian shirtwaist, and a long skirt, hunched over a treadle sewing machine) and the font (it appears to be one popular during the Depression) are any indication. When I saw the metal shingle I had to wonder if this shop (Moran & Co.) still took in machines for repairs, since the wealth of wellies in the window just didn't make me want to dig up my grandma's Singer out of my storage unit more than 3,500 miles away.
So I went inside the pencil-thin doorway to ask the proprieter if he fixed up sewing machines. This 60ish gentleman, skinny enough to squeeze through his 4-feet wide entryway, said, "yes." Did a lot of women still sew today? Yes. In fact, he said "yes" to everything I asked. Could you fix up a Viking Husqvarna 730? You know the answer. I'd actually be leery of bringing my treasured baby to this store, never mind the logistics of transporting this object overseas. This shop was such a throwback to the Victorian era with its wavy glass 11-feet tall storefront windows, that I'd really would be amazed if this man would be up for the task of fixing a computerized machine. I think I'd be better off buying the boots or the pale pink Crocs on dispaly and sending my machine to Vogue Fabrics (not that it's broken, for heaven's sake). After I visited Moran & Co. I searched for a yarn shop to get help on my knitting. I found O'Brien (not a pub) which sells mostly home decor fabrics, curtains, some sewing utensils such as scissors and Gutterman's thread. There was even a corner for yarns, some acrylics and wool, but not nearly the plethora of fiber I'm used to seeing even in the tiniest American yarn shop.
The owner, with that ink black hair that so many Irish women seem to have, was able to help me a little. But she didn't have time to correct the more than 100 stitches on my knitting needles that needed some tender loving care (I'm making a skirt), so I was back to square 1: return to the good ole U.S.A. for assistance on this project, which seems to be taking far, far longer than I expected.
Upon my return, what do I get in my email box? Coupons from Jo-Ann Fabrics. I don't know if there's anything remotely like Jo-Ann in Europe, but after the two shops I saw in Ireland it really made me appreciate the abundance of fabric and patterns in Jo-Ann and Hancocks Fabrics. Now that's something I really could have said a prayer of thanks for at the Adoration Chapel my mother and I visited last night (!!) in Ennis. As it was, I just daydreamed about my next Guinness while my mom did the hard work. I think I she borrowed a rosary hanging on a pew to do her duty.
For those of you who've been to Europe, what do you think of knitting and fabric shops there?

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Knitting Shop
Is Closed!

I feel a tad bit sad that I'm leaving the G Hotel, but even more terrified to get behind the wheel (you drive on the right side of the car, and the opposite side of the road) to explore Ireland's Connemara region.But one thing I want to do before I left town was to hit up this knitting shop before my mother and I head off into the countryside. However, it's closed on Sundays. Isn't that a shame? If there's anything I'd like to buy before I leave Ireland is some yarn. I want some kind of reminder of the thousands of sheep I've been seeing in the countryside. Of course, I could get up-close-and-personal photo with the same but it wouldn't be the same. Even snipping a little bit off the creature's coat wouldn't be the same. No, this Yank would like some hanks, thanks! I'm just going to have to keep my brown eyes peeled for other stores while I'm driving. No, actually I think I will be keeping my eye on the road, making sure I'm on the correct side of the road. My mother will keep in me in check too. Any ideas on what other shops to explore on our way back to Shannon Airport?

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Saturday, May 19, 2007

I Despise
Being Predictable

Ever since I was 5-years-old, I just decided I didn't want to be predictable. At that tender age, I insisted on wearing a cardigan sweater backwards over a mossy-green corduroy jumper. (I started a trend that would only become popular a couple of decades later. Illinoisans are slow that way.) Even now, I still feel rebellious. I don't want to be pegged. Ever since I wore cocktail hat Thursday night to the opening dinner for the writers' conference here I'm attending here in Galway, Ireland, other people have been asking if I'll wear this particular chapeau again. I've been toying with the idea. Do I wear it again or do I do the oh-so boring bareheaded look? Or do I become hat lady just because I wear the same topper twice? I'm seriously thinking of not wearing my silk shantung masterpiece. Simply because I don't want to be expected to don it again. I'm stubborn: You can lead me to drink water but you can't force to imbibe (particularly here in Galway where doing just that could lead to a serious case of food poisoning. Yes, the water's contaminated with salmonella at the moment. I've already accidentally doused my toothbrush twice with the local water. Thank goodness, I haven't gotten sick yet.). Quite honestly, I'd be more likely to show off my stitched hat a second time if people didn't say anything. Don't get me wrong: I loved being snowed with compliments the night I wore my cocktail hat, but having folk asking me since if I'm going to wear it again has been just too much. Besides, the point of wearing my millinery masterpiece was to pay homage to Philip Treacy. We were eating in the dining room he designed in the g hotel. It was so appropriate then to wear a hat! Tonight we're going to Ashford Castle, which Treacy as far as I know didn't design.Castles are fun, but they don't call for something quite so special. I daresay I'll disappoint a few scribes, but I think I want to be more anonymous this evening. Has there ever been a time when you have friends, family insist that you wear that fedora, picture hat, etc. that makes you so great, but you just didn't feel like it?

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Camilla's Hat
Or Not?
Well, it turns out the hat came first, according to g hotel sales and marketing director, Michelle Quinn. And everyone, and I mean everyone, recognizes it as the Duchess of Cornwall's wedding chapeau, even her ex-husband. He apparently walked into the g (the affectionate moniker for the g hotel) and instantly thought of his former spouse's most famous hat to date when he saw this mirror. I think it's interesting that so many people have had the same reaction when they see this particular furnishing, but I think they're looking for any kind of millinery connection from the moment they walk into the door because Philip Treacy designed the place.
Mirror aside, my cocktail hat, made from a remnant of 1950s rose-imprinted silk shantung and Russian veiling, must have been the hit of last evening's dinner. I looked like a member of the staff in my concoction, Quinn told me. I felt incredibly self-conscious when I first walked into the cocktail hour wearing my creation, but after a while I forgot I even had it on. It certainly helped me stand out in a crowd of dozens of writers all vying for the attention of editors from the likes of magazines such as National Geographic Traveler, Saveur, Body & Soul, Via, AARP, the Magazine and other publications. Even if the editors don't remember my name, they'll certainly remember the hat. I can even sign myself as the "the woman in the hat" when I send them emails in the future. So as a savvy journalist marketing my name and image, my fashion statement was brilliant. I actually regret not bringing more hats (I knew that was going to happen). Now, everyone is expecting me to wear a hat again tonight. Do I wear the same topper? Dare to go bareheaded? Whip up a hat using the red roses in the tiny glass vases on the dinner table? What I wouldn't give now to have my little strawberry-shaped cocktail hat that I sewed with me this evening! What would you do if you were in my platform shoes? Wear the same headpiece again at an offsite dinner hosted by Dublin city? So many choices...I think I nee to take a nap and sleep on it. I could wear my shamrock green shaggy suede floppy hat, but that might be a little casual for tonight's festivities. The suede hat is something to wear outside during the daytime, but not while I'm knocking back pink martinis at the Hotel Meyrick in Galway.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Millinery Madness
Galway, Ireland
From the moment I walked into the G Hotel, I felt instantly like I was in my closet without all the tripping around and swearing that accompanies any trip into that room in my own home. A foray into my own wardrobe is a bit of an adventure: hatboxes, purses, and shoes fall upon me when I open the door.
So how does the G Hotel, designed by milliner Philip Treacy, resemble my closet? Well, for starters it's an instantly recognizable space. There are pictures of hats everywhere. By the reception desk, there's a black-and-photograph of a male model wearing this whimsical tall ship hat. When I saw that, I knew I was at my destination. Before I forget, there's also exactly four fabulous fuschia umbrellas parked in a rack by the entryway. They're intended for the impromptu rainfalls that this area is famous for, but I like to think they're the perfect cover for any of Mr. Treacy's chapeaux.
There's even a round mirror, surrounded with a fan of feathers that I swear looks Camilla Parker-Bowles' wedding hat. I have to wonder what came first: Camilla's topper or the mirror? Or did the mirror inspire Prince Charles' second wife's bridal headpiece? I suppose only a look at the timeline for the wedding and the hotel's design would tell me more. Or interviewing Mr. Millinery himself.
I couldn't help but think what the late Isabella Blow, an avid, avid fan of Mr. Treacy, would have thought of the G. I can picture her entering this place with great fanfare, an outrageous cocktail hat on her head. I never met the woman, but I was so saddened to heart about her recent tragic demise at such a young age. But I do think she lived adventurously during all the nanoseconds she spent on this planet. What's more, she inspired others (at least me, anyway) to be more bold, and not to worry about what others might think, and dare to be the Center of Attention, as she did. That hat you saw atop my suitcase? It's now on the coverlet of my massive bed, awaiting to be worn to dinner tonight. Other writers here may or may not appreciate the Millinery Genius behind this grand hotel, but I do, and I want to pay tribute to it, hopefully with another Guinness in my hand. (I had one at lunchtime - a bit of a disappointment as I heard that that brew was better here than in the States. My tastebuds beg to differ.)
I'm going to do my utter best to upload photos later today or tomorrow. Until then feel free to share what you know about Galway, Philip Treacy or Isabella Blow.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Luggage? Check.
Cocktail hat? Double check.

I'm about ready to embark on my overseas adventures The luggage bulges, the healthy sign of More Than Enough Stuff, don't you think? Even my chapeau of choice, a cocktail hat I made, travels well. I'll wrap it in plastic, and park it next to the Lancome UV Expert 20 Sunscreen (also covered with cellophane) inside the suitcase. No hatbox, at least not this time. But I love to daydream about seeing a hatbox spin on the airport luggage carousel. I'm most certain no one would steal that. It wouldn't even need distinctive tags. But what a way to travel. I'd stack my case full of different hats for each day.
In any event, I wanted to wear at least one dressy hat because I'll be staying at the G Hotel designed by milliner Philip Treacy! I cannot wait to see what distinctive couture details he's lavished on this most exquisite hotel. I'll post some pictures, hopefully while I'm there. I've got the little digi camera, and with a little Irish luck, I'll be uploading photograph after photograph of Mr. Treacy's whimsical designs.
I'm waiting for my brother to arrive shortly. He will whisk my mother and I off to the subway which we'll take to O'Hare. I've done all my usual pre-trip preparations: my visit to Vogue went well, but I didn't pick up the eyelet, which to my dissapointment is partially polyester. I cannot dye what Father Nature hasn't made. But I did manage to pet some super-soft microfiber knits in the Silk Room before I left...which oddly enough was the fabric of choice for some designer tops at Brasilian Soul, a nearby boutique. I already have some of this lux fabric in my possession, but I plan to purchase upon my return.
I feel somewhat anxious leaving my stuff. Do you feel like that when you go out of town? Here I am, not just leaving Chicago, but the country! I'm hoping that I'll get tremendous insights about my life, my hopes and dreams, even my hobbies while I'm away from abode. I'm most certain I'll be getting sewing/knitting/crochet ideas while I'm on the road. This is something I cannot turn off ever. Even when I'm standing in line at the grocery store, I'll be admiring the blouse on the woman in front of me, thinking about how I recreate it on my Viking Husqvarna 730. What's more, it's simply impossible for me to buy a piece of apparel from Marshalls or Nordstroms! I usually talk myself out of buying anything. I reason, "I can make that for a lot less than a million dollars!" (Clothes don't usually cost that much, but you get the idea. ) How much more creative are you when you're away from home?

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Monday, May 14, 2007


Anytime I get ready for a trip, I somehow gravitate to the fabric store. I can't really explain it. There's just this instinctive need to acquire more textiles before I vacate the premises for a while. It's not like I'm going to be sewing while I'm away. Perhaps I'm prepping my home for my eventual return to the sewing machine, lining my nest if you will for when I must come back to Chicago. I went to Jo-Ann Fabrics on Saturday to take advantage of the $3.99 Vogue Patterns sale (I finally managed to get the above set of hat instructions on sale. Hurrah!). Even at Jo-Ann's, I was buying a concentric-patterned chartreuse, turquoise and brown fleece for inexpensive airplane blankets. Now that I'm leaving tomorrow night and I'm packing I have this incredible urge to go to Vogue Fabrics. I nearly went there tonight but I decided I needed to go to the grocery store instead. Even so, I'm already making plans to go there tomorrow before I dash off to the airport in the afternoon. I'm thinking of getting this Italian eyelet that I swear I've been seeing everywhere. If I don't do it before I take to the skies, this particular cotton might be gone when I return, and I know I will be devastated beyond imagination if that turns out to be the case. (Actually, I'll be kicking myself, but I seem to be end up with sore buttocks when I do that. Kicking yourself is a little difficult if you think about it. I'm certain I'll fall on the floor multiple times trying.) So on My To-Do List, somewhere after copying my passport is...going to Vogue. It'll be a mad dash, I swear. No lingering around the remmant tables. I know exactly what I'm doing. In fact, you could likely blindfold me and I'll be able to pick out the fabric. It's the second row of shelves, third one up as you enter the Silk Room. (Isn't that a lovely name for a particular place in a shop? But I have to tell you there's a lot of more than just silks in this department). I'll grab the bolt, head to the cash register. I know how much yardage I'm getting. Credit card? Here you go, Gabby, Kate or whoever else is manning the cutting table. Sign receipt. I'll be out of the store faster than Spiderman with Mary Jane in tow. Except you'll see me running down Main Street with eyelet in hand, moving so fast, some people might think I'm a ghost from the one of the sunken ships off of Lake Michigan. I might get arrested, not for indecent exposure, but scarying the living daylights out of the local residents. Then I won't be able to board my plane with my mother (!!!) to go to Galway, Ireland where I'll be attending this conference. where I'm certain I'll be daydreaming during one of the lectures about the next pattern I'll tackle when I'm back in the Midwest. How often do you think about sewing when you're doing something work-related?

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Making of
A Matador Hat

This is what you do when you don't have a Saturday night date. You make a hat for a friend who needs a topper for a her Second City sketch, which is titled, "Toro." Of course, you only unleash your Inner Creativity for a pal who's Special, because I had a magnificent headache. The last thing I wanted to do last night to was to be crafty and make a headpiece. But I'm Loyal to a Fault (I can't help it, I'm a Scorpio), so on an evening when I would rather foxtrotted with a super-cute boyfriend or at least snuggled up with the same to watch "Workout" re-runs on the tube, my ex-American Institute of Architects colleague Mary and I walked down three flights of stairs to my storage unit to excavate a hatblock. When I couldn't locate that (and I dug in my office, my bedroom, and elsewhere), we improvised. Actually we did what a lot of super-stylish ladies did back in the day when they wanted a hat but didn't own a hatblock: we used a wood salad bowl. Yes, the very object you use to eat your greens! I covered two wads of Crayola Model Magic Modeling Compound in foil, taped those two babies to the round vessel, covered that with wet black felt. Then I wrapped rubberbands around what looked two miniature Mickey Mouse ears. Voila! Matador hat nearly complete.
Since the felt wasn't 100 percent natural, I sprayed it with Sullivans Fabric Stabilizer to stiffen the fabric. My hope is that when the hat dries, it will hold its shape better than shellacked hair.
I also created another hat, same formula, instead I drenched the felt with Aleene's Fabric Stiffener. I'm eager to see which hat turns out better - the one with Alene's or the Sullivans' version?
Even with the neurons duking it out in my brain, this whole experiment got me thinking about how it's infinitely more gratifying to make something from scratch than to actually buy it. Sure Mary and I could have bought her costume prop at a store or even ordered it over the Internet. But now we not only have a hat for her skit, we have war stories and I have a stellar excuse to see Toro. I can pretend I'm costume designer extraordinaire Colleen Atwood (who actually started her career making hats) and pose with the actor who wears my black felt concoction. I can barely wait. Pictures will be in order, don't you think? When was the last time you made a hat on the fly without a pattern or block?

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Goodies in
My Mail Box

I swear this has been the best day in a looong while for getting goodies in the mailbox. For once, I don't have Important-looking but mysterious white envelopes (usually from mortgage or credit card companies), bills or even restaurant coupons wadded so tightly I have to pry out my mail, usually ripping the envelopes in the process.
What I got instead were two things. The swatches above from, which I got for FREE just for asking. Can you beat that with carrot stick? This little freebie is perfect because right now I'm on fabric diet. I'm trying very hard not to acquire new textiles because a) I'm participating in a SWAP and I want to use what I've already got in my bulging sack of fabrics b) if I'm going to buy fabric, I'll buy the best, nothing mediocre. It's kind of like having a hamburger. You can get your fix by going to McDonald's, which is everywhere and getting a cheeseburger. Or you can save your pennies, and go to Moody's Pub only here in Chicago for a really juicy, flavorful Moody Blue Cheeseburger. That's the way I feel about acquiring new cottons, knits, eyelets, wools, etc. Only the creme de la creme - but that will all probably go out my apartment window during my next visit to Vogue Fabrics.
In the meantime, free swatches gets me through lean times. I'll likely take this set of swatches with me on the train. I'll take it out, and pet each little bit, think about what I'd make with it if I could. Later, I'll set this out on my living room chair, and gaze it while I'm sitting on the couch, eating dinner on the run. And I'll ponder some more about What I Could Make if I Could.
Eventually, when I know the fabrics are gone for good, I'll toss the swatches. But only when I know that particular textile is gone from the planet we know as Earth. If I think it still exists somewhere, I can snip a corner of it and send it to my store of choice and see if they still have it! If they don't, no worries. It's all part of the thrill of the chase, the mother-of-a-story when I finally get my French-manicured hands on my heart's desire.
I already know that the Italian circle scallop eyelet in aqua is gone. So what? I know Vogue Fabrics in Evanston has the same fabric in white. I just might go buy a yard or two or three and dye it!
Oh yes, I forgot the second thing I received courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service. A DVD a friend wants me to review. It's a 90-minute Guide to a Beautiful Wedding Dance. I can't wait to see it. What new moves can I learn to practice on prospective, attractive male? We'll see.
What fun stuff is in your mailbox today? A coupon from Jo-Ann Fabrics? Movies from Netflix? A letter written by a friend? Do tell!

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Have a hat and
doggie, will travel

This is a page from a vintage 1950s edition of Vogue Knitting. What strikes me about the photograph is how contemporary it looks. How many celebs do we see walking around with their Chihuahuas, big bags and oversized sunglasses? Too many. But not enough go the extra mile and wear a cute hat. I guess that would bring too much attention, but that's precisely what I adore about the model in the photograph above. She doesn't feel the need to hide behind glasses. She's relaxed, happy and looks like she's on vacation if the resort in the background is any indication. My goodness, the life! I wonder what's in her purse. Definitely not a laptop. Smart woman. Nor a Blackberry. Even more brilliant. That's how I like to travel, light and not too much information, preferably with a knitting project so I don't batty while I'm sitting hours on a plane. If you're wondering if I'm going away, I am. Next week. Overseas. I'll tell you more in a future post.
Anyhow, I'm vaguely envious that this woman can wear a hat with NO BRIM. Here I am, temporarily doomed to hats with brims for a while. At least as long as I am wearing Lustra bleaching ointment on my dermis. Yesterday, I was wearing my pink suede cap (a no-no, according to my doc) and feeling Very Nervous about walking about letting Ms. Sunshine kiss my sensitive skin. However, I was wearing tons of Very Good Sunblock, not only the Neutrogena variety mentioned previously but La Roche-Posay's Anthelios SX, a daily moisturizing cream with sunscreen and Mexoryl, which blocks UVB and UVA rays. I got my sample of this product from my physician's office, but you can find it at select CVS pharmacies. So far, I'm looking good with not one but two sunscreens on my face even though I didn't wear the prescribed broad-brimmed topper yesterday....What kind of hats are you going to wear to protect you from the sun?

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007


I'm off to the dermatologist later this morning to talk hyperpigmentation, prescriptions, and no doubts, HATS! It's been way too warm to wear my shaggy suede hat, so I've resorted to wearing a hot pink suede cap or my brown cotton Eugenia Kim hat with a funky assymtrical brim. The problem with the latter and the former is that the brims are not enough to cover my face. Yes, Ms. Sunshine can't keep away from my dermis even though I'm slathering on Neutrogena Age Shield (why does anyone's age needed be shielded, by the way?) Sunblock with an SPF of 45. I'm afraid I can't get rid of the brown patches on my face between putting on my Lustra bleach in the evening, my ineffective head covers and so-so sunblock during the day.
I'm certain the doc is going to recommend hats with ultra-wide brims, bigger than anything Scarlett O'Hara ever wore. But he might approve of the Eugenia Kim straw number above, which looks like it swallowed Donald Duck. On second thought, it also resembles a cross between a fedora and a baseball cap? It's got a sophisication that would wear well during those sweltering summer days downtown. But I really don't feel like spending $290 on it just now. How much time do you think it would take to make something like this?

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

Hats Galore!
(At least on the walls)

Do knitting and hats go together like ham and swiss cheese? I think so. I think so, particularly if you're sipping Blumer's Root beer and snacking on crispy pizza slices covered with sauteed onion strips and mozzarella cheese at Brasserie Jo's. If you printed this above photo in black and white, you'd think it was a World War II image. Only thing if it were really the 1940s, I'd be knitting socks for the boys fighting overseas. As it was, I was working on a knitted skirt for myself. Selfish I know. I'll getting around to learning how to make socks one day, I will.
Anyhow, I really wanted to wear one of my vintage hats to this monthly event. I knew I would be surrounded by other women with hats, even if they were only pictures on the wall. Can you identify the photographers of these exquisite photos? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Victoria Magazine
(and other
good stuff)

If you're one of those magazine junkies who have long mourned the demise of Victoria Magazine, well, here's some good news! Victoria Magazine returns to the newsstands in October!
For those of you not familiar with this classy publication, Victoria Magazine was the epitome of elegance. It had NO articles on sex. Virtually every outfit was tasteful but beautiful. Even my mother, who is known for ripping out what she considers racy newspaper ads, loved it! I do swear (although I doubt the editors would) there were hats in virtually every issue. It was like the Kentucky Derby 12 times a year! My friend, milliner Eia Radsavljevic, had her hats in Victoria when the Millinery Arts Alliance was at its peak. As a matter of fact, that's her work on my head in the picture above. I wore this navy straw-and-netting number downtown yesterday for an interview. My photographer said, "You know your hat is over one eye?" Precisely! Why do photogs see this as a flaw? The one documenting my brother's wedding made me push back the white straw br0ad-brimmed hat I was wearing so he could see my eyes. That photograph sits on my desk. Every time I look at it, I grimace because I despise how my hat looks like it's ready to fall off my noggin. Don't photographers like a little mystery in their work? I'd really love some feedback on this issue (tilted hats) so if there any shutterbugs out there I'd love to hear from you.
And the other news? Eia sent me an email alerting me to the School of the Art Institute's Fashion Department exhibit at Macy's State Street store beginning Thursday. Since Eia teaches at the School, there should be plenty of chapeau on display.

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