The Costume Construction course at Toi Whakaari gets a whole range of amazing guest teachers every year. They teach specialised classes on things like millinery, worbla and thermoplastics, dyeing, tailoring, etc. One of the perks of my job is that if I can work it around my teaching schedule, I can sit in on other classes.
It’s fun for me: I get to learn new skills, or new approaches to a skill I have. It’s also good for the course: it means I’m more familiar with all the work the students are doing, and can step in if a teacher can’t make it for a session.
My goal for 2020 was to sit in on the millinery course and make a late 18th century hat along with the students. Happily for us, the millinery class started after lockdown ended, and was able to go on as normal.
The guest teacher was Sarah Carswell, a former graduate of the Costume Construction course whose done a bunch of work with the Royal NZ Ballet, amongst other fabulous places. I really like Sarah’s teaching style: she covers both the ideal way to do things, and then some hacks that are necessary because of time, budget, or what’s available in New Zealand.
We used a standard 1780s hat pattern, and I made mine a little taller, and a little narrower, inspired by this fashion plate:
The construction is all based on modern millinery techniques: shape wire, stitch to buckram, assemble crowns and rims, cover in ice wool to smooth out the surface, cover in fabric, attach crowns and brims, bind.
And above all, mark and mark and mark everything as you work! Meticulous marking and cutting are the key to hatmaking. Get your centre fronts and backs off and the whole thing goes squiffy.
It’s mostly handsewn, but there are a few bits you can do by machine.
The handsewing is hard work, and at the end of it your brand-new-when-you-started-the-hat needle looks like this:
My hat is covered in black linen (backed in interfacing for strength and durability) and I love it. I want to make another one exactly like it so I can trim one in black and one in red and white striped ribbon inspired by this:
But for now, I trimmed in black, partly because I love a good classic black hat, and partly because I first wore it for Hallowe’en at our historical retreat this year:
Who doesn’t love a good historical witch hat for Hallowe’en?
And what to wear with a witch hat? My decade old chemise-a-la-reine, re-trimmed with black ribbons and sash!
I’m really enjoying wearing previously made costumes, and getting as much use out of them as time I put into them. It’s both mentally satisfying, and takes a lot of the stress and pressure off: no more feeling like you have to make something new every time.
Although the chemise is more adjustable than some other costumes, I’ve definitely gotten wider in the last 10 years, particularly in the arms, and I think it’s going to need a re-make if I’m going to wear it again.
But it was certainly fun to wear! It’s so lush and swishy.
I cast greenwitch spells (aka waving your hands artistically at the plants while your friends take lots of photos of you) to make the plants grow:
There aren’t many examples of crowned hats worn with chemise dresses, but there are a couple. In any case I was approaching this outfit as a costume, rather than as a strictly historical accurate ensemble.
My hair, in case you’re wondering, is 1/2 mine and 1/2 a curly wig altered to be a hairpiece. The wig was a lockdown stress-buy and slightly impulsive hack, but it turned out beautifully and I’m madly in love with it. The ‘tail’ is all my hair.
The earrings were a gift from the Toi Costume class of 2019, and the shoes are American Duchess Dunmores in black wool. My friend Averil did my makeup, and I immediately rushed out and bought every product she used on me.
You will be seeing more of this hat…