The first hat I made was for cold winters in upstate New York where I grew up. Using some fake sheepskin fabric, I made a hat with ear flaps. I think I was inspired by some Russian hats I’d seen. I didn’t have a pattern. I just cut and sewed. I’m not sure what happened to that hat, which I made it when I was in high school (oh so long ago).
The second hat I ever made was after I graduated from college. I was inspired by a picture in a magazine. You can read about that experience in this post, “The Red Velvet Hat.”
I took a long hiatus from making hats – until I began sewing again and I wanted to tackle making a hat from a pattern. I flipped through many pattern books at Joann Fabric and Craft before deciding on V8440, which has some great hats by Patricia Underwood.
The sample wasn’t very big, less than the yardage of the pattern. But I thought I could make it work by cutting it on the bias, which would make this rather heavy fabric a little less stiff.
Sewing the Hat
The pattern is simple – four pie-shaped pieces of fabric with four darts. You use the same pattern pieces for the main fabric and the lining. The trickiest part for me was the topstitching because there’s a lot of it and you have to go slow if you want your stitches to be equidistant and even. This pattern has topstitching along both sides of the seams of each “pie” piece and five parallel lines of topstitching along the brim (see photos below for details). I had to be really patient when I did that part.
After I finished the top stitching, I tried on the hat and realized much to my dismay that the hat was too big! I was aghast. I had just done all that beautiful topstitching! How could this be?
Well, I didn’t take into account that I was using a heavy fabric and when you make a hat, every 1/8 of an inch really counts. When I cut the fabric, I likely made each pattern piece slightly larger than it should have been. Plus the fabric had a tendency to fray so when I sewed it, I should have compensated for the fray and stitched a slightly wider seam and trimmed the seam after I was done.
After setting it aside for a day, I decided I couldn’t let all that sewing go to waste so I decided I to add two additional darts in the back, taking in about a half-inch each. I held my breath, took my scissors and sliced through the finished edge (five rows of topstitching!). Then I sewed two 3/8-inch darts and put the hat on again. It worked! Now the hat could fit on my head instead of falling over my eyebrows. (Click on the images below for larger views.)
This is my favorite place to browse and find vintage hats in person. It’s truly a hat lover’s delight with a wide variety of styles in excellent condition – everything from wool hats trimmed with feathers and sequins to bonnets with velvet ribbons and netting. But hats are just one of many things All Things Vintage in Oakland, Calif. carries. You’ll also find plenty of clothes, shoes, and accessories, including a range of vintage jewelry.
The only catch is that the store is only open two weekends a month, 10 am to 4 pm. The two lovely ladies, Claudia and Lucy, who opened the store in 2009, have full-time jobs so it’s essentially a labor of love. They call it their “hobby.” In fact, Lucy told me in an email, “We both have so much fun meeting our customers and finding our merchandise that the store is not work for us.”
Claudia and Lucy love to go to estate and garage sales, flea markets, auctions, Goodwill, and other places to hunt for their wares. They also bring back finds from their travels. Claudia goes to Germany twice and year and Lucy often visits family on the East Coast. A good portion of their merchandise is consignment. “Often our vintage-loving customers will bring in their items when they are cleaning their closet,” says Lucy. “We also are approached by people who find us in the web or Yelp.”
I heard about All Things Vintage last year from the wife of a colleague at work who knew that I wear hats a lot. She had been to the store in the spring and noticed that it had many hats on display. So she gave him a printout of an upcoming sales notice to give to me. And I’m so glad she did – except that each time I go, I can’t resist buying another hat. I was there two weeks ago for a great sale and got two vintage hats at 50 percent off, including tax (a whopping 8.75 % in Oakland), for less than $30. I took these photos during that visit.
The store is having another sale this weekend – so if you’re in the Bay Area, be sure to pay them a visit at 3506 Woodruff Ave. Here’s a list of the weekends they’re open: All Things Vintage Calendar. And bring your checkbook or plenty of cash because they don’t take credit cards.
I’ve often asked where I get my hats. Well, some of my hats I’ve had for more than 15 (or even more than 20!) years. But I do buy several new hats every year. So here’s a list of some places where I’ve gone shopping for some of my more recent hats, vintage and contemporary – along with photos of what I bought there.
I got this mannequin head (I call her Natasha) so I could take pictures of my hats – I didn’t want to be the model for every hat. Frankly, I don’t have much patience to pose in front of the camera for more than 10 minutes (kudos to those who can!).
All Things Vintage – This little shop in Oakland, California (3506 Woodruff St.) sells clothes, accessories, and an amazing array of vintage hats in mint condition. On my first visit there this summer, I tried on numerous hats before I finally narrowed down my selection to a black straw hat with a veil (the one I’m wearing on my About page) and a small velvet hat with a gold pin. Both of the hats were in perfect condition and each one was less than $30 – an excellent price for a vintage hat. On my second visit a couple of months later I couldn’t resist getting this white straw hat with a black velvet accent (above right). I’ve worn both of them a couple of times. I’ll be going back to check out their wool hats soon.
Hats of the Fillmore– This San Francisco shop (1539 Fillmore St.) sells a range of reasonably priced contemporary hats for men and women. When I popped into this store last year, I couldn’t resist getting this cute straw hat with grosgrain ribbon (left).
The Vintage Hat Shop – I discovered this Etsy store when I started following it on Twitter (@yesterdayshat) and saw the owner Cindy’s tweets describing the vintage hats she had for sale. I had never purchased a hat online before but I decided to take a chance and get this grey felt beret with a big button on it (see photo below). It was only $18 and I didn’t have to wait very long for it to arrive – just a couple of days. The hat was carefully wrapped in tissue paper tied with a bow and came with a nice handwritten note. The beret was in excellent condition (yay!). I’m sure it’ll be hard to resist buying more hats from this place.
Urban Outfiters – Yep, this national chain often carries some hip hats – though some of them can be rather cheaply constructed. So you may have to sift through a bunch to find the best one. I’ve had good luck with the wool felt hats though. My most recent purchase was this so-called “5-way” (or was it 6-way?) black wool hat – you can flip the brim all the way up or down or just turn up one side – just the front or the back. I bought a few different ribbons from Britex Fabrics to wear with this chapeau.
Goodwill in San Francisco– Earlier this year when I was in the Haight, killing some time by window shopping before Amy Chua‘s reading at Booksmith and I spotted this unusual wool hat in the window. It reminded me of a Shar-pei – you know, the dog with all the wrinkles? I haven’t worn it yet but I think it’ll look pretty snazzy with a black jacket and some pants that match the hat’s taupe color.
I saw a lot of fun clothing combinations and nice details over the past month. These photos were snapped in San Francisco – usually in the Financial District or around Union Square during my lunch break or after work.
What you’ll see below is:
grey knit tights with a snowflake pattern worn with a knit dress and a fun cat-face backpack – spotted on Market Street, near Powell.
a nice detail on the back of a grey sweater – seen on Kearny St. at Sutter.
a woman on the BART train holding a rose and wearing aa combination of purple and pink accessories (sunglasses, scarf, purse, arm warmers)
and two photos of lovely ladies selling their wares at the Renegade Craft Fair in San Francisco this past December: Laura Bruland of Yes & Yes Designs, wearing a perky Girl Scout outfit (she makes unique jewelry from recycled book covers), and Trinity Cross of Field Day who makes lovely dresses and other clothes from reclaimed fabric. Both companies are based in Oakland, California. (Yay for the East Bay!)
Not long after I graduated from college, I saw a photo of an absolutely stunning red hat in a magazine. I can’t recall what magazine it was but this shaped felt hat was gorgeous (and gorgeously expensive) with many folds of felt in front. I loved everything about that hat – the perfect shade of red, the beautiful design. It was a piece of art. I wanted that hat but it was way out of my price range.
So I attempted to make my own version using red velvet. Looking back on it now, it was rather an ambitious undertaking – especially considering that I had only made one other hat before and I had no experience making patterns of any kind.
I measured the circumference of my head to determine how much fabric I’d need and then I sewed that horizontal piece of fabric to a oval of velvet that I’d made for the top of the hat.
To create the folds, I hand stitched the velvet in several areas – sometimes just a few stitches in one spot and in other places, several stitches to hold the folds in place. And I lined it with black satin. (Click on any of the photos below for a larger view.)
It didn’t look as good as the model in the magazine but it was a good effort! I did wear the hat a few times – holiday occasions mostly. I’d almost forgotten about this hat – it was stashed in the closet on a high shelf when I rediscovered it a few days ago. And who knows, maybe I’ll wear it for the office holiday party this year.
After I made my sewing machine pocket organizer, I got to work on a chair organizer – a very handy item that drapes over the seat of the chair so you have pockets on both sides of the chair (from McCalls’s pattern M4274, now discontinued). But it’s made for a traditional chair with four legs. There are two ties that hold it in place to the chair back. If you have a different chair I suppose you could leave the ties off and it could still work if you use safety pins to attach it to the seat cushion. Or if you have enough things in the pockets to weight it down, it could just stay in place by itself.
As you can see, I stuck a variety of things in it – pinking scissors (a birthday present from my older sister), extra pair of fabric-cutting scissors, boxes of pins, bobbins, and so on. It’s quite handy.
Simplicity also makes a pattern (3776) for fat quarter sewing accessories that’s still in print (at least as of this writing). It doesn’t have a chair organizer but it has a project organizer and other things you can make to hold your sewing items.
This week’s StyleEye focuses on outerwear. I saw some nice coats on women either on the street or on BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), the commuter train in the SF Bay Area. I take BART to and from work and often spot people wearing something eye-catching as they’re waiting for the train, exiting or entering the station, or even on the train.
I’m usually capturing people in motion so the photos aren’t necessarily in focus. Once in a while I’ll ask people if I can take their picture, but that’s only if I feel they aren’t in a hurry and if I feel OK about asking a complete stranger if they’d mind if I snapped a photo.
Sometimes I feel a teeny bit like a stalker – especially if the person is ahead of me and I’m hurrying to catch up with them and whipping out my iPhone to get the photo. Hmmm.
Well, it’s kinda like what Bill Cunningham does for the New York Times, right? But I’m not trying to compare myself to him – after all, he’d never publish blurry photos. Plus he’s a professional and I’m strictly amateur. (For more on Bill, see my review of Bill Cunningham New York.)
Around that time, I had some baby showers to attend and Amy’s book really came in handy. She says to use “cotton on the front and cotton flannel on the back.” I wanted to use fabric that wasn’t stereotypically “baby,” such as pastel building blocks or cutesy baby animals. So I chose bold colors or designs for the front. But I didn’t find many options for the flannel back so I went with a polka dot pastel blue. At that time I had not yet explored shopping for fabric online. I was at Joann Fabrics and limited to what was in stock.
Before sewing, I prewashed the fabric and put it through the dryer. My washing instructions to my friend Debbie were: machine wash cold, tumble dry low. Or just rinse them in the sink and let ’em dry overnight.
Once I was ready to begin, I turned to page 112 for “Simple Bib.” I had already photocopied the pattern,which was in the back of the book, and cut it out. All I had to do was trace the shape on the flannel, put that piece on top of the cotton and then sew on the marked line.
However, I had been sewing other things that month and I was on automatic pilot: cut out pattern, pin to fabric, cut fabric. So I traced out the bib on the fabric and cut along the line. Whoops, that was a mistake. If I had read all four sentences of Step 1, I would have realized that I was supposed to sew on the marked line BEFORE I cut out the shape of the bib. Then you cut the fabric 1/8″ from the seam.
So I had to start over again or the bib would have been the wrong size. Sewing along the marked outline makes for easier sewing because you can easily guide the fabric along the bib curves. Luckily, I had extra fabric and I hadn’t cut out any of the other bibs so it wasn’t a big deal.
The bibs close with snaps, which make it harder for babies to take off. Snaps are surprisingly easy to attach, just have the snap tool and a hammer handy to pound the two pieces together. (Here’s a nice description “Attaching Snaps” on the Make It and Love It blog.) I don’t recommend using velcro because you can be sure the little one will remove the bib.
Here are photos of Nate (what a cutie!) wearing the bibs and photos of the bibs before I put the snaps on. He’s now three years old and Debbie gave birth to another son earlier this year and now he’s wearing them. She tells me that she likes to use them flannel side up because food sticks to it.
Amy Karol calls it “the best bib ever” – and she’s right.
I like to take photos of clothes and accessories I see on people as they’re walking, on public transportation, in a store, or wherever they may be. This will be a regular feature on C Sews so I decided to call it StyleEye. My first post in this vein was called Fashion Details. As I mentioned in that post, the idea is partly inspired by Bill Cunningham’s On the Street column for the New York Times.
I’ve taken several photos since my initial post in November. So I’ll be breaking it up into two posts. Here’s what caught caught my eye:
If you like fashion, photography, or inspirational stories, you need to see the documentary film Bill Cunningham New York, which is available on DVD (affiliate link here). The film will make you smile. This man really, really loves his job. I saw the film at the 2010 San Francisco International Film Festival and reviewed it for DOX, the magazine of the European Documentary Network. I reprint it here for you:
WHEN THEY WALK
by Chuleenan Svetvilas
Bill Cunningham had no interest in participating in a film project. The 80-year-old photographer has been documenting fashion with his camera for nearly five decades. Though he has become famous over the years, he leads a very private life and shuns publicity. Director Richard Press says it took him ten years to make Bill Cunningham New York: eight years to convince Cunningham, who is a friend, and two years to shoot and edit the film.
Luckily, Press was able to gain Cunningham’s trust and the results are delightful. The director unobtrusively follows the photographer by day as he travels about New York City on his bicycle, shooting numerous photos of what people are wearing, darting across a busy street to take a picture, waiting for something interesting to capture. The director takes the lead from the photographer — staying in the background, taking care not to disturb him as he works — and through this approach, gradually reveals the essence of Cunningham’s commitment and a fascinating portrait of a man with an irrepressible joie de vivre.
Cunningham’s singular focus on his subject is riveting to watch. He’s like a photographer in the wild stalking his prey except that he’s running after a glimpse of an interesting skirt, an unusual shoe or a stylish drape of fabric. Though he has been doing this job for years, he still marvels at the clothes he sees and thrills to see an elegantly dressed woman. Some of these photos will eventually appear in his weekly “On the Street” column for the New York Times.
A charming man with a ready smile, Cunningham claims there is no short cut to capturing the “fashion show on the street.” So he’s outside everyday in all kinds of weather with his camera in hand to see what people are wearing. Remarkably, his day doesn’t end when the sun goes down; at night he’s off on his bicycle to document any number of benefits and galas to photograph the attendees and performers. These images will appear in his other weekly Times column “Evening Hours.” The film chronicles one of his nightly jaunts. Clearly, Cunningham is very fit. His stamina and dedication to his profession is obvious in each of his scenes.
The documentary also includes interviews with people who have appeared in his columns over the years as well as a few of their photo spreads. Press filmed a former diplomat wearing many different outfits cut from very colorful fabrics, discusses his clothes and why he thought Cunningham photographed them. In another interview, a young man wearing dramatic eye makeup and a striking hat that matches his suit recalls the moment a friend told him that an entire “On the Street” column had been devoted solely to his clothes and hats. Press also speaks with Iris Apfel, an octogenarian with an extravagant and outrageous sense of style; Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, who says “We all get dressed for Bill”; and Tom Wolfe, a writer known for his sartorial trademark, the white suit. They all have great respect and admiration for Cunningham but know little about his personal life.
Additional details about the reserved photographer gradually emerge and he comes across as a man with immense integrity and one who truly loves his work. When he’s deciding which events to attend at night, he says his only consideration is the foundation or organization that is benefiting from the event, not the guest list. The film shows him photographing such an event and refusing a repeated offer of food and drink because that would compromise the newspaper. He’s simply there to do his job, not to socialize.
Before his position at the New York Times, we discover that he was a photographer with the fashion trade magazine Women’s Wear Daily. He once shot photos showing models wearing designer outfits and juxtaposed them with everyday women wearing a combination of clothes similar to the models. His intention was to show that women on the street had creativity similar to fashion designers. However, unbeknownst to Cunningham, WWD chose to mock their clothing. So he quit, appalled that his photos would be used to disrespect the women.
The documentary also provides an eye-opening view into Cunningham’s home, a very small studio in Carnegie Hall crammed so full of file cabinets containing his negatives that there’s barely enough room for his narrow bed. He gives the director a “tour” of his place, which has no kitchen or bathroom and his few clothes are on hangers hooked on handles of his file cabinets. This startling scene illustrates just how deeply committed he is to his work. He doesn’t have room for anything but photography in his life. And the documentary makes it clear that he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Cunningham makes fun of the fact that he documents fashion for a living yet has few clothes himself. But he does have his own sense of practical style, wearing his own everyday uniform of a sort – a plain blue jacket worn by street sweepers in Paris.
Towards the end of the documentary, Press follows Cunningham to Paris as he attends Fashion Week. The veteran photographer likes to sit on the side, rather than at the end of the catwalk where all the other photographers position themselves so they can take frontal shots of the models as they strike their final pose. Cunningham would rather watch the models stride by him and shoot how the clothes look when they walk. He says Fashion Week “re-educates the eye.” But he’s also in Paris to accept the Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. True to form, Cunningham brings his camera to the event and takes pictures. A woman asks him why he’s “working” and shouldn’t he just be enjoying the event? But he says it’s not work, it’s fun.
The only awkward moments arise at the end when an off-screen voice asks Cunningham about his sexuality and how important the church is to his life. Earlier in the documentary he’s asked about his family and his life before he became a photographer but the film never delves very deeply into his early life. Nearly all the interviews are with people who have some connection to his work as a photographer. The focus is on the man today and it works because Cunningham is a unique individual with an utterly engaging personality. Cunningham’s admiration for his subjects and his joy in the work is palpable in every frame.
UPDATE: On June 25, 2016, Bill Cunningham passed away at age 87. Here’s my brief blog post about his death, along with links to other articles on him.
I’m cross-posting my Tumblr review of Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey here because the film is about a man who began sewing puppets as a young boy in Baltimore, Maryland. It’s a truly inspiring tale story. The perfect film for the holidays. If you want a feel-good movie, this is it!
Elmo is the adorable red furry Muppet that kids love to hug. Remember the Tickle Me Elmo doll? Well, that infectious giggle and little kid voice comes from Kevin Clash, a tall black man from Baltimore. Yep, a black man is the voice of Elmo. And the Constance Marks’s documentary Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey focuses on his fascinating story, which is now playing in Bay Area theaters and elsewhere.
As a kid growing up in Baltimore, Clash was glued to PBS’s Sesame Street and was mesmerized by the Muppets. He soon learned to keep an eye out for any TV specials by Jim Henson, the Muppets’ creator. Then one day he made his own puppet – out of his father’s trench coat. But he didn’t get in trouble for cutting up his father’s coat without permission. He was fortunate to have loving parents who recognized and nurtured his precocious talent and let him continue to sew puppets.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of footage and documentation of Clash’s early interest in puppets. He sewed many puppets as a boy and held puppets shows for the neighborhood kids. And unlike most kids, he didn’t grow out of his boyhood obsession. Instead he stuck with it through high school even when he was became known as the boy who played with dolls. As a teenager, he was invited to audition as a puppeteer for a local TV children’s program – and the film shows his audition tape. By this time in his nascent career, Clash has sewed about 85 puppets. Later on a school field trip to New York, he had the chance to tour the Muppet studio and see where the puppets were built. Through luck, talent, and persistence, he eventually got the chance to work for his idol Jim Henson. And the rest is history.
Being Elmo traces Clash’s remarkable career trajectory, from meeting Muppet builder and his eventual mentor Kermit Love, to working for Sesame Street and then creating the voice and character of the beloved puppet known today as Elmo.
It’s not just a film for Muppet and Elmo fans but an inspiring story for kids and adults alike. After all, how many people ever get to make their childhood dreams come true?
Last February I attended “Power Sewing Toolbox,” a two-hour sewing seminar taught by Sandra Betzina, Vogue pattern designer and sewing book author. The description certainly caught my eye:
“This 2 hour class is full of tips and techniques the patterns don’t tell you but essential to a quality looking finished product. No longer will you be intimidated by mitered bindings, fringe detailing, classy seam embellishments, welt pockets and buttonholes, neckline bindings for round and V neckline and truly invisible zippers. In addition, you will learn a technique for lining knit pants, T-shirts in stretch mesh and zippers hidden in pockets. Feel your sewing savvy soar from a C to an A plus as you learn all new tricks of the trade.”
The class took place at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. Britex isn’t really set up to hold classes so space was very limited. The store could squeeze in a few dozen people into folding chairs placed in between the tables of fabric on the first floor. It was a tight fit but we were there for the duration. Not surprisingly the class was nearly all women with the exception of one man who was an aspiring fashion designer. We each received a nice black Britex canvas bag and retractable tape measure for attending the $60 class.
The first floor of Britex is where you’ll find gorgeous (and gorgeously expensive!) wool and silk fabrics – stuff you just love to touch and feel and wish you could afford to buy. (See “Shopping for Fabric” for more on Britex.) We sat next to these fabrics and Sandra stood near one of the tables and held up her various samples of garments in different stages as she explained her techniques.
The sample clothes she displayed were of her own design from the Vogue pattern line “Today’s Fit.” She also passed various pieces around so that everyone got a chance to look at them up close and see how they were constructed. Here are links to a few patterns: Lovely pleated shirt (V1165), pants with a striking side pleat (V1050), a lined skirt with flattering curing seams (V1082). All of the clothes made from these patterns looked great. And according to Sandra, the instructions are easy to understand and execute. She says she incorporates her sewing techniques in her patterns.
Sandra went over a lot of things very quickly. It was sort of like highlights from her book Power Sewing Toolbox I, which had just been released. She showed us beautiful samples of buttonholes you can create using contrasting fabric – a very nice alternative to consider, especially when you’re making a jacket. She likes to call the fabric around the buttonholes “lips.”
Here’s one cool tip for reducing bulk in shirt collar points: Move the seam from the side to the center back (in red in photo at right).
You can do this with any basic shirt collar. Just take collar pattern and instead of cutting the collar shape on the fold, you trace out one half on the fold and then flip it over. This means that when you sew it together, you don’t have two side seams and corners to trim. Instead you have ONE seam and it’s on the center back.
It took me a little while to understand that so I took a picture of her sample. Hopefully that will make it more clear to you. For a better description, go to her website Power Sewing and subscribe to her tutorials or get a copy of her book Power Sewing Toolbox 1, which covers this technique.
Throughout the seminar, Sandra was promoting her books as well as her Vogue patterns, all of which Britex had on hand for folks to buy. And naturally, when the class took a break, we were encouraged to shop and we got a discount on her books. I went ahead and bought Power Sewing Toolbox 1, which I knew would be a handy reference.
And here are a few additional tips, which I gleaned from my notes. Sandra recommends using:
Steam-a-Seam instead of interfacing for plackets
Fray Block (instead of Fray Check) because it’s thinner