Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Repurposing: Thrift Store hats--a tutorial

I love millinery.  Every gown needs a perfect hat to go with it.  While convenient, buying ready made hat blanks can be costly if you wish to have a large hat collection.  Repurposing quality straw hats is really quite simple.  First of all--straw, like other natural fibers, has the ability to be reshaped and sized with the addition of heat, steam, starch and molds.

I've been very fortunate to find decent straw hats literally every time I enter my favorite thrift store.  The trick is knowing what to look for.  First of all, make sure the hat is actually natural straw.  Typically there will be a tag indicating that it is straw. Another consideration is the construction of the hat.  Most of them seem to be made from braided straw which is more desirable than woven straw. Woven straw blanks are fine if you are just going to reblock and completely cover the hat, but braided straw is so much more versatile and it is what you see in period hats.  How do you tell?

Woven straw looks exactly like what its name implies:

Braided straw is made from a long braid of straw that is spiraled and sewn to create the hat form--much like a braided rug.  You can see the machine stitches which secure the braid.  You will see different grades of braid--the better ones being narrower.

Another consideration is whether or not the hat has a double braid at the edge of the brim.  You can usually see if there is only one or 2 layers at the edge. This isn't terribly important unless the particular style you wish to create requires it--as you can see in this post.

Last, consider the overall shape of the hat and the changes you want to make to it.  Sometimes, no amount of blocking can do what you need to do.

Let's consider the above picture.  All of the hats above except the one in the center front, can be remade into flat hats with some simple techniques and blocking.  The one in the center front cannot.  My plan for that hat is to flip the brim down and reblock it into a 1920's cloche shape.  The large hat at the left in back will be blocked to be a large Gainsborough style hat.  The one at the left in front is small and almost a flat hat.  That one will be made into an 18th century hat for my granddaughter.  The other two have yet to be determined!

So--how do you repurpose a hat?  First you need forms to block the straw over.  I have a 3 pound coffee can for a straight crown with a flat top.  I have a large plastic container that is slightly sloped (at the post linked above) and I have a stainless steel mixing bowl that works great for cloche style hats.  You also need a stiffener--I use spray starch or you can use Knox gelatin in water.  Steam and a good iron help.  I actually iron directly on my flat hats.  Sewing machine, thread.

My 2-part tutorial will show you how I made a floofy French hat.  I've always been enamored by these somewhat silly hats:

The first hat is the one I wish to make.  It's not quite so over-the-top as the others. Analyzing the picture, I see that it is a braided straw hat with a fairly large brim. It could be a flat crown but I believe there is a crown under the ruffle that supports the flowers.  I like the daintiness of this one even though it is quite fancy.  I've decided to remake a thrift store hat to have a 2 inch tall flat crown, a white silk taffeta ruffle that lays on the brim and one that sticks up around the crown, both ruffles being scalloped and pinked. Mulberry paper flowers will fill the crown and there is a twisted 2-color ribbon trim at the crown.

Here's my hat:

$2 at the thrift store! Just the size I need. The brim is stapled up so I removed the staple first.  Unfortunately the flower was both stapled and hot glued on.  I discovered that a few blasts of steam from the iron softened the glue enough to easily pull it off.

Next, I starched and ironed the brim

Obviously, I will need to change the shape of the crown and reduce its height.  I also need to shrink it a bit.  Since this hat was going to be covered with ruffles, I simply cut the crown off. I figured any stitching I need to do to reattach it will not be seen. You can also snip stitches and unravel it but I only do that when I need to reduce the width of a wide brim. Notice that I left a little lip of the crown to have something to stitch the new reshaped crown to.

Next, I wet the crown and placed it on my mold.  Here I'm using a 3 pound coffee can with a piece of foil on it.
The crown is quite loose on the mold so bent the top around the edge of the can and wrapped the sides of the crown with some old bias and twill tape to hold it tightly to the mold.  Basically, this will shrink the crown to fit the mold.

I left it to dry for a day then took the crown off the mold.  You will notice that the crown it uneven due to the spiral construction.

I laid the crown top down on a flat surface and measured 2 inches up all the way around to even it out.

After trimming the crown, I pinned it into the brim with the brim overlapping about a half inch.  In retrospect, I probably should have blocked it before cutting off the brim because the opening in the brim was bigger due to the shrinking of the crown.  I pinned it in 4 places (12 o'clock, 3 o'clock, 6 o'clock and 9 o'clock) and steamed the brim to shrink it a bit.  Then I placed it on the free arm of the sewing machine and stitched it using the widest zig zag stitch,  I used white thread since the braided straw is also stitched with white thread.

The stitching barely shows and this could be used with just a ribbon trim.

The top of the crown is a bit sunken so I sprayed it with starch, steamed it then turned it upside down and weighted it down to dry.

Perfect! You can see how easy it would be to have made this a flat hat by making the crown about an inch high instead of 2 inches. I'm really happy with the result. The brim will undergo some additional blocking in the next phase.

Now for the fun part!  Decorating the hat!  Stay tuned for Part 2.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Odds and Ends

Sometimes I just get lost in making small projects.  Here is a compilation of what I've been up to lately.   The first project wasn't so small as it was a gown but it was completed in 3 days so it wasn't a particularly taxing project.  I purchased the hand block printed fabric from a friend who was destashing and I used the Larkin & Smith English gown pattern that I had adapted into a center front closing gown as explained in this post.  I wanted to wear this during the Printed Fabrics Symposium in Colonial Williamsburg as my goal was to wear a different print each day.  I got the gown almost completed before leaving and ended up doing some finishing in the hotel.

I love this fabric

I added the ties to draw up the skirt and finished the hem in the hotel.  Here it is with just the side seam ties drawn up.  There are also ties to draw it up at the side back seams.

Whole outfit as worn in Colonial Williamsburg

Visiting Philly for the members' preview at the Museum of the American Revolution and wearing different accessories:

And at Mount Vernon for Call to Arms with different accessories.

I love this gown.  It's lightweight and very comfortable.  Because the fabric is so lightweight, I made sure to use a medium weight linen to line it with in order to provide the necessary structure.

The next project which I had been procrastinating doing was a new shift which I'm wearing in the picture immediately above.  My old shift didn't have cuffs which I prefer so I finally made one that did.  I purchased some lovely cuff links from K. Walters At the Sign of the Gray Horse last year and finally can use them. I really dislike making shifts and shirts.  I think it's the gussets and felled seams that bug me so I'm glad that I got that one done.

Next project was a nifty silk work bag using the instructions in the first Lady's Guide to Sewing.  I used some silk taffeta I had bought to line a yellow cloak and lined it with a scrap of yellow linen.  Silk ribbon trim was added to the outside in a lighter yellow.  I need to order more of this ribbon for the ties as I didn't have enough.  I used white China silk ribbon in the meantime.  I love these bags when I don't wish to carry a basket and I carried this one around Philly when we were there (you can see it in the pic above.)  

Next small project:  A green market bonnet!  This green ribbed silk is one of the new ribbed silks that Renaissance Fabrics is carrying.  They are gorgeous!  This one has yellow threads in the weft which makes it somewhat iridescent.  This silk has a lot of body and is very crisp.  I used the Fashions Revisited Market Bonnet pattern which was very easy to follow and the project took one afternoon.  The ribs on the silk ran horizontally on the fabric so I cut the bonnet on the cross grain which ended up only using 1/2 yard!  I have enough left for another project.  I also had some double layer milliner's buckram in my stash so I only needed one layer of that for the brim.  Finished it off with some wide white double face satin ribbon from my stash which was ruched.

Next project was decorating a new pair of American Duchess Dunmores.  The shoes were on sale and since I wanted blue shoes to wear with a number of projects, I figured why not!  I bought the shoe dyes from American Duchess and mixed two colors using the provided swatch to get the color I wanted then I followed the instructions for dying the shoes.  The color was nice but the dyes did not dry evenly for some reason, leaving white areas along some of the seams and looking a bit splotchy.  AD sent me more dyes and I did another coat which helped somewhat.  After searching online, I found that a lot of people used Rit dyes successfully to dye shoes.  One difference with Rit dye though is that it typically needs to be rinsed out which doesn't happen with shoes so you have to Scotchguard the shoes.  The Rit dye worked great to even out the color and I sprayed the shoes with a water proofing spray created for sports gear.  Since I was using fancy buckles on these shoes, I felt they needed a little more trim so I found a narrow braid at Joann's that worked well.  

I haven't worn them yet but I hope to wear them with a gown made from the fabric in the background of the pics.

My last project was a utilitarian one.  I needed a hussif!  I have a lovely 18th century sewing box but it's too big to take with me to events and, quite frankly, I'm tired of hiding zip loc bags in my frail.  I figured out how many pockets I needed and made a hussif that would be able to house all of my basics.  I also made a little leather sleeve for my embroidery scissors so they wouldn't poke through the fabric and I used Pigma pens to create a linen measuring tape.  I have everything I need right at hand!

All in all, it's been a productive few weeks!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Tackling the cell phone "problem!"

There's just something about mixing 18th century attire with modern conveniences that photographers love.  It's really cliché to see pictures of re-enactors with their cell phones or Starbucks cups.  Such was the case a couple of days ago when a photographer from the Philadelphia Inquirer snapped the above picture of me.  He asked if I minded, which I didn't and this picture ended up at the top of an article about the opening of the Museum of the American Revolution.  

Now I typically don't have my phone or other modern items out at events--particularly regimental events.  In this case, I was taking pictures and in the process of uploading them while waiting for a ceremony to begin.  Sometimes there is no one else to take pictures of my group so I do what I can, typically snapping pics then hiding my phone in my pocket or basket.

This picture prompted a Facebook discussion about possible ways to conceal the phone with a friend suggesting a Book Book phone cover.  Since I don't have an iphone, this isn't an option.  Plus, I keep my phone in a Mophie Juice Box which is a wireless battery case.  When taking pictures, my battery goes quickly and this case will give me a full charge while keeping my phone safe.  Thus, I need to be able to conceal my phone while it is in the case.

I decided to make a hide away book to keep my phone in while I'm working on it.  I'll have to take it out to take pictures, but then it will go back in the book. Here is what I did:

First, I found a small hardcover book at the thrift store.  My Juice Box case literally triples the thickness of my phone so the book had to be big enough to conceal the phone inside.  Without the case, I could've used a much smaller book.

It's important to see how the phone will fit and to make sure there is enough of the page left for a border.

It's also important to check the thickness of the book.

I gathered some of my paper crafting supplies:  hand marbled paper, book cloth, craft knife, safety ruler and Diamond Glaze glue/medium (my favorite paper crafting glue/sealer).

I measured the book cover and cut two pieces of marbled paper about 3/4 of an inch bigger on 3 sides.  I then cut the corners off of the paper right up to the edge of the book cover corner.

Time to glue on the paper! Using a sponge brush, I spread a very thin coat of diamond glaze on the outside of the book cover then I laid the paper in place smoothing out any air bubbles.  Then I folded the paper to the inside, first brushing a thin coat of the DG on the paper.  The nice thing is that this glue/sealer grabs immediately.  I did this to both the front and back book covers,

Here is the outside of the book.  I put a weight on the book for about 30 minutes.

Now the book looks perfectly fine the way it is but I wanted to cover the spine. This is simply a matter of personal preference.

I measured the book spine and the section on the front and back covers that needed to be covered by the book cloth.  I cut a piece of book cloth that was 2.5 inches wide by 8 inches long--just a bit longer than the book itself.

I brushed a thin layer of DG on the book spine and centered the book on the book cloth.  Then I brushed more DG on the book and smoothed the book cloth onto the front and back covers, making sure to really work it into the contours of the book spine.  I snipped the book cloth at the edge of the spine and turned the cloth to the inside of the front and back covers, cutting the cloth in the center flush with the book spine.

Next I took some hand printed paper and cut it to the measurement of the inside of the open book, adding about an inch.  This paper needs to cover the inside of the cover and I chose to have it also cover the opposite page.  Covering the opposite page is really optional.  I brushed DG on the inside cover first, lined the paper up with the edges and smoothed it in place.

Next, I brushed DG on the opposite page and smoothed the paper in place working it into the crevice at the center.  I trimmed the paper even with the page. This is only done inside the front cover of the book.

I used the directions at this site for making a hollow book.  Note--the directions tell you to drill holes in the corners of the pages where they will be cut.  I highly advise doing that.  I didn't and it makes it difficult to cut clean corners.   Be prepared for a mess when cutting the pages!  This is what my family room floor looked like!

I sealed the inside of the "box" and put another coat of glue on the outside of the pages and let the book rest for a couple of hours with a weight on top.  Then I took black craft felt and lined the "box" to make it neater.  

The final step is to protect the cover.  The historically accurate way is to coat it with bees wax which is what I chose to do.  Basically you just rub the wax over the entire cover.  You can buff it to get a little shine if you wish.  You could also spray it with an acrylic sealer but I prefer the look of the wax.  

Here's the front of the book:

And the back:

My phone is almost too long to fit, but it is wedged tightly in there with enough space for me to reach the buttons on the sides!

And if a photographer should come along, well--just close a couple of pages and they'll never know that it's not a regular book!