Friday, 10 November 2017

Being human time...

Hi all...

I need to write a quick word about what's been happening this year.

It started out fabulously, then went down from there...

First with a bit of a health scare (which I'm incredibly relieved to be able to say was not cancer – I've seen too many friends fighting that in recent years). Despite not being malignant, I did still have to have the symptoms dealt with (alongside a number of other problems that came to light as a result – I'll spare you the details) – and you've no idea how much medical stuff in your chest area impede your ability to sew!

Then there was an injury to my arm / thumb – be careful when you’re pulling needles through padding, people, or you have to have your arm strapped up for weeks to prevent further ligament strain.

And (if you've been reading my fb page, you should already be aware of this), I had to move studio for a period that was meant to be a couple of weeks, and actually became a couple of months. So since August, I've been split between 3 studios, and pretty much unable to find anything when I wanted it. I'm now back in my own studio completely, but only handed the keys to the other two back on Friday last week, so I'm still in abject chaos. And all because the building contractors made a mess of the ceilings first time around.

(And, of course, this hard on the heels of a flood at home the year before, which coincided with Nigel being hospitalised at an event and me being stranded in Warwickshire.)

So the upshot is, I'm behind with my work.

I'm slowly getting caught up, and now I'm back in my own studio, with everything in one place, the speed at which I get caught up should increase, especially because I'm also now back at work full time, although I have been strictly banned from working nights as well as days (I used to work 6 days and two night a week, I got very wrong off the doctors).

Sometimes you just have to admit that you're human, and understand that if you don't slow down you'll make thing much worse.

I'm in the process of writing to everybody with an open order to make sure they're aware of what's going on, and where they stand (and to make sure they're not worried I've done a flit), so if that describes you, and you don't hear from me in the next couple of weeks (by letter), let me know.

There are also a number of orders from recent years where the client has not returned emails, or not returned a toile, or not turned up for a scheduled fitting, etc, that are technically still open and in my order book. I'll be writing to all of those clients next, checking whether they want to go ahead with the order, or whether their intention was to cancel. That's in the way of a general spruce up and tidying of the order book, now I'm back in my own little room, so I can start again nice and fresh.

Above all, I want to say sorry for the mess of this year, and to thank all my lovely clients for bearing with me and being patient, and above all adorable, and for understanding that I'm one human being, not a giant conglomerate.

You lot are awesome!

Edit - and then I go and cap it all off by putting a sewing machine through my finger, for the first time ever, since I started using sewing machines when I was 7.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Studio Movingness

You might not be aware (I didn't shout that loudly, was too busy), but I had to move out of my lovely studio in The Art House, so that they could redo the ceilings. 
(Long drawn out story involving them not being done properly first time round, a building company gone bust, and the High Court...)

They had to put scaffolding up to reach my nice high ceiling, so I got booted out for the duration.
That was back in August (offhand), and I've been split between two smaller studios ever since, working in one, and storing stuff in the other. 
Which was somewhat chaotic, because the floor space in the two little studios didn't really match the floor space in my bigger studio, so the one used for storage was crammed with stuff (literally, just stuff... stuff everywhere), and the one I was working from was a bit of a tight squeeze for the cutting table and the sewing table to both fit.

But now I can move back in!  And the ceiling does now look spiffing - and apparently this time it's properly done, so no more cracky flaky paint!!
Replastered and repainted ceiling.  (Taken with the light off so it's not just glared out.)

This is what my studio looked like for the duration (my actual studio, not the ones I was working / storing stuff in).  Yay.

I did have a slight hitch when I couldn't move out of the working studio, because they put scaffolding up outside ahead of schedule, so my 'moving back window' disappeared. 
Though the most 'interesting' part of that was the day they'd put the scaffolding up while I was in there working while wearing noise cancelling headphones, and came out to discover scaffolding going straight across the door, at chest height.  (After I shimmied and crawled out, I went and reported to the office, and the lovely buildings manager had them shift it first thing the next morning.)
But it was strange being met with this on opening the door (that door on the left of the second picture - that's my temporary working studio, that is) :

BUT.... (drumroll, for drama), I'm now back in my own studio, and have handed the keys back in to the temporary studios!  Hurrah!!  (This post has taken me a couple of days to write, during breaks between shifting stuff.)

The hitch being (there's always a hitch) that my own studio looks like this:


Pickle, the purple millinery mascot is hiding, because it's all just too much for him...

So...  Nice to be back in my own studio, with my nice glazed doors and less traffic noise...  But oh my lord, the tidying (argh).

So that's what I'm off to get back to.  MORE tidying and sorting and putting away.  

Oh, and I'm told that in the rest of the building, the flooring has to be covered with an epoxy, because the scaffolders scratched it.  That'll be happening in the next few weeks.  Thankful to say I won't have to move again for it, since they took extra care on my parquet floor, though the floor going directly up to my door will have to be done.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017


My Nana, and me.
I'd like to introduce you to my Nana.

Her name was Trudie Lough. She was (and is) the bedrock that my whole life is built on.

She died 25 years ago tonight.

She was as close as I got to a real mother, and she was the strongest, and kindest, woman I've ever known, so I'd like to share some of her life with you. It's mostly a series of anecdotes she told me over the years.

She was born Gertrude Foster in Scarborough, on the Yorkshire coast, in 1920. She never knew her father. He disappeared from the family when she was young, having drained the family finances.
As a little girl, my Nana spent a lot of time at the beach, and danced and acted – one of my great grandmother's friends was Charles Laughton's mother.

Nana was always one of those annoying girls who could see a film on Friday night, knock up a copy of what the star was wearing on Saturday, then wear it on Saturday night. Eventually, it was natural that she became an apprentice tailoress.

Her mother became sick when Nana was still a teenager, and with all the family money gone, they had to take in laundry, including the Dr's shirts, to pay the medical bills. She finally lost her mother when she was 16. Her mother was 48 years old.

On her mother's death, Nana had to leave their rented rooms. Her job wasn't enough to pay the rent on her own, and her brother (Ronnie, two years older) had already joined the army.

She packed up her things in her trunk, including the books she and her mother had won as school prizes, and the oil paintings of her mother as a girl, and her grandmother, and moved in with the family of her best friend. All her life she considered them as her second family. She always called her friend's parents Mom and Pop Hume.

Eventually, Nana got a job in service as a trainee cook, and graduated to cook in her own right. She moved to London, and got engaged.
Then the Second World War started. Her fiancé joined the navy, and the family she was with decamped from London and moved to Hitchin in Hertfordshire.

In 1940 or 41, her fiancé, whose name she never told me, was killed. His ship had been somewhere near the coast of Italy, (or possibly between Spain and Italy), when it was sunk.

One day, while still with the family in Hitchin, she apparently became despondent because her brother, who she had not seen in several years, had one day of leave in Liverpool. The man of the house liked to hang around the kitchen, because he always had as a boy (his wife didn't approve). He asked Nana why she was so sad, and Nana explained she couldn't afford to go to see her brother, even if the leave had coincided with her day off. Her boss gave her the day off. He also gave her the money to get the train to Liverpool to see Ronnie. On that trip, she met a friend of Ronnie's, a tall thin soldier who also had a day of leave. He was called George.

She left the family she'd worked for, because she'd been called up to work in a munitions factory. Her walk home from the factory involved crossing a field, with a style, in the blackout. She heard somebody coming up behind her as she got to the style, and a man tried to grab her. She stabbed him in – er – a delicate place, with the tip of her umbrella. It was the same umbrella she had when I knew her, and it was sharp – that will have hurt a lot!

Nana and George got engaged. They had the wedding all planned. The church was booked, friends and Mom and Pop Hume donated their rations and got hold of some eggs for a cake, another friend had got a worn out parachute on the black market for a dress. George's leave was cancelled.

He managed to get a short leave a few months later, at hardly any notice, and they got married in a registry office – George in battledress, and Nana in a dark blue suit. Three months later, George jumped into Arnhem.

George always said he 'got out without a scratch', which he attributed to the good luck charm of my Nana's photo in his pocket. He wasn't killed, wounded or captured, so he became one of the survivors, known as evaders, who had to escape from occupied Europe. I don't know the story of how he did, but he made it home safely (lucky for me, since I called him Granda).

After the war, Nana found herself in the north east, and by 1951, with three kids under 7, and married to a fireman (Grandad). She wasn't content with that though, because through the 50s and 60s, she and Grandad fostered around a dozen other kids for varying lengths of time.
She used to take in animal waifs and strays too - she couldn't resist, hence my childhood preventing the cats chasing the budgies, and preventing the dog chasing the cats...

She also had double pneumonia three times and a major thyroid condition, but the woman was a force of nature, and nothing kept her down long.

Till in 1977, Grandad died, at 57, from lung cancer, and she never got over it. She couldn't even bear to hear his name. Little over a decade later, her youngest son, my Dad, died at 37. And four years later, without warning, at 9.02pm, she just stopped breathing. And everything I'd ever known was gone in front of my eyes

I try not to think of her that night though.

I remember us sitting by the fire watching Fred Astaire films together; of her cooking – baking with her, and her making mushy peas using tablets of bicarbonate of soda; of her teaching me to sew and forcing me to unpick it **again**; of the horror stories she told me about nearly sewing through her finger, as she was teaching me to machine sew using the same machine; of her taking me to Newcastle every Tuesday (pension day); of her teaching me to read, and taking me to the library every week; of how she used to tell me 'no you can't do that, because it's not appropriate, dear'; of her taking me to the beach; of her reading while she watched TV, and knowing exactly what was happening in the book and the show; of her dressing me up as Shirley Temple, because she always wanted a daughter of her own, and I happened to have natural blonde ringlet curls; of playing her Bing Crosby 78s; of how she had a summer wardrobe and a winter wardrobe, and they got swapped over every autumn and spring; of how her hat and coat ALWAYS matched; of us doing the Polka and the Charleston together round the kitchen like mad things...

It's hard to think it's been 25 years since I saw her last. In some ways it feels like yesterday; in others it feels like knowing her was a dream that never really happened.

So, Trudie Lough, 24.10.1920 – 29.8.1992, this is how I'll remember you, coat and hat matching, shoes matching collar... and with Grandad.


Thursday, 27 March 2014

Website, and competition good news...

Firstly, certain people will be happy to hear that The Great Website Rebuild has begun.

A while ago now the website got corrupted.   I repaired it as best as I could given the time I had available - but it isn't really up to par, and it needs rebuilding desperately.  I do web stuff around sewing, at weekends, in the evenings, and on trains, on days off, etc, so it will take me a while... but I've broken the first blank page!

Secondly, a while ago now, I entered a competition with the Heritage Crafts Association, on something of  a whim, and at almost the very last minute.
And (girly squeal! and childlike bounce!) I came in the top three!!!   Of a national competition!!!!!

You had to submit four pictures of work in progress, and four of completed pieces - here are my pics of the completed stuff:

And my 'in progress shots...

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Happy New Year!!

I'm not officially back at work until next week, (and am not that web-present at the moment, as my laptop is still at the menders), but wanted to briefly say 'Happy New Year' to everybody!

As you'll have seen, if you've read the rest of my blog, 2013 was rough for me, but Ill be starting out on 2014 on Monday with lots of hope for it being much better.  Thank you to everybody who's been kind to me during the horrible times!

And a piece of good news I had at my HNC graduation, when I looked in my little certificate folder - I did graduate with a distinction for my hats after all.  *HUGE grin*!!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

An update... getting back to normal.

It's been quite a long time since I've posted on this blog.  There are a number of reasons for that - I've had my head down working, I've been doing my HNC at college (I passed!!), I haven't been very well...

Anyway, it's getting to the end of the year now, and I've just done TORM* (an incredibly busy and successful TORM, and I'm very grateful to all those who made it so).  After a massively busy month before the market, getting ready, I'm now having a few, (I hope, and like to think, deserved), days off.   Well, I say days off, what I mean is unloading the van and unpacking, working on general admin, planning and internet / website / social media stuff, working on some charity hats that I'm going to be auctioning - you know, a self-employed person's time 'off'...

I've also been looking back on this year.  I know it's not over yet, but it's getting there, so I've been ruminating quite a bit lately.
This has been a very bad year for me.  I think one of the reasons I'm looking back on it even though it's still November, and it's traditionally after Christmas and at New Year that you review, honestly, I can't wait to see the back of 2013.  There have been a few high points, but they've been overshadowed by several months where it felt like I was wading through mud up to my armpits, and that it was never going to end or get better.

I don't want to appear as though I'm moaning ('quelle horreur', as Holly Golightly would say), but to put my year into context a bit:

Things started out badly, when a castle that placed a large order (a couple of months worth of work) decided not to pay me for it.  This dragged on for months and months, and pushed me right up to the point of bankruptcy.  Finally, they returned a substantial amount of pieces that they had ordered separately - as far as I'm aware because the contractor had kept ordering after she'd spent her budget, so the money just wasn't there to pay for them, and never had been.  Had it not been for the fact that Nigel (him indoors :)  ) has a job of his own, I'd have been out of business by March, because I had no choice but to use my reserves on those little luxuries like food and fabric!

As a direct result of this palaver I came very close to having to drop out of the millinery course that I'd almost finished - although it didn't come to that, I had neither the money to buy blocks and new materials, nor the time to make complex hats.  I still passed, and with a high merit for my finals, but not the distinction that I'd been on track for.  I was devastated (albeit briefly), but not surprised - I knew I hadn't been able to do my best work, and the grade was perfectly fair, if not a shade generous, on reflection.

The situation with the castle also put me badly behind with proper work - with one or two jobs, I had run out of essential materials and couldn't buy more - at one point a machine broke down (the motor died), and we had to wait till Nigel's pay day to have it repaired, not to mention the amount of time that was taken up in trying to communicate with the castle, only to be shouted at, to have the phone slammed down on us, or to be given the run around with various members of staff and contractors continually passing the buck and refusing to accept responsibility.

Then came another hammer blow - Nigel was to be made redundant just after Christmas, because Britvic were closing the site at which he worked (boo hiss baddies).

Around the time that we got the redundancy news, and that I was going through the pressures of my college finals, and the two wedding dresses I was making at the time, somebody decided to start harassing Nigel, via the internet and text messages.  This was someone who had a problem with me, but who seems to have seen my husband as the vulnerable one, because at no time did he contact me at all, not even once - he simply hurled a torrent of vile, profane and bullying abuse at Nigel.  He also threatened Nigel, and threatened me (through Nige).  It got so bad that we had no choice but to involve the police, who told us that they had issued a 'stage two warning' (whatever that means), and the abusive messages stopped (thankfully), at least for a time.

I was working all the hours I could, and making no headway.  I was staying up late at night, to try to get things finished, and getting up early so that I could get a headstart, and getting nowhere.  I was skipping lunch altogether, or eating it while I worked, to get more done.  Not the most sensible plan, I see now, but when you're locked in a feeling of guilt that you're not superhuman, and terrified of feeling that you're not good enough, this is how you try to address that.

I felt fluey all the time, I had bad headaches pretty much all the time, my vision was blurred, my joints and muscles ached and kept cramping, I was getting stomach pains and cramps, heart palpitations, stabbing pains in my neck and shoulders, I was getting panic attacks, and adrenaline rushes, more than once I shouted at people, or snapped at them for things that, under normal circumstances, would make me crack a sarcastic joke....  eventually I became frightened that I must have something really seriously wrong with me (cancer, or a brain tumour, or some obscure life threatening illness), so went to my GP. The doctor had a long talk with me, and asked me to tell him what was wrong.  After I'd taken up about four appointments worth of time, he told me that I had severe 'stress', was completely burned out, and that I was clinically exhausted.  He said that I couldn't go on as I was, or I would end up collapsing and being hospitalised.  He seemed mildly surprised I was still on my feet.  He wanted to sign me off for several months (but as I said, who am I gonna give the sick note to - have a chat with myself??).  He also suggested that I may have been struggling with the exhaustion for the last couple of years, but that everything else had sent me over the edge.

I did promise to take things easier, and at that point we wrote to all the people whose orders were affected, apologising, and explaining that I'd had some problems and been unwell, but that I was working hard to both clear my backlog, and keep up with any more urgent recent orders that I'd taken.  Obviously, this is what I should have done from the start, but when your brain is fugged, you just don't think of things like that.

I'm happy to say that after a serious low point over spring / summer, things are now getting much, much better.  I moved into my new studio, in September, which is wonderful, if a huge change (I'm getting used to being around people on a daily basis again!).  I'm actually going to bed at night, instead of working seven days a week, and four or five nights a week, and I get up in the morning, and catch a train to go to work.  When I estimate people's delivery times I'm being much more realistic (for example, if somebody orders a gambeson, I'm admitting it takes two days, instead of thinking 'well, if I start at 9am, I can cut it in the morning, machine it in the afternoon / evening, and hand finish it overnight, and I should be done by 5am, so that'll take a day').  Occasionally I still muck my timings up, and end up working all nighters, but not as a regular thing.  I'm no longer getting the aches, pains, headaches, and fluttery heart, etc.  And people keep telling me (or Nige) that I seem much more relaxed, and have my sense of humour back (mostly).

I'm also happy to report that Nigel jumped ship from his old company early, and is now settling into a new job.

So, anyway, the upshot is, I'm getting there.  Yes, I'm still a bit behind, but I'm working my way through, and as far as I'm aware I've contacted everybody that was affected - if I have missed anybody, as I admit is possible, now that I'm willing to admit I'm a person, not a machine, please do get in touch, and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.

And I really hope that 2014 is as good as the stonkingly good market we've just had suggests it will be!!

*TORM is The Original Re-enactor's Market, which takes place at Ryton-on-Dunsmore in March and November every year.  I've just set up the official Facebook page for the market at

Sunday, 30 September 2012

A thank you.

A very quick post to say a big thank you to Jenna Odie, of Cute Kids Designs, who featured my machine embroidered black bull livery badge on her blog, Buy Handmade British.

This is the badge featured:


Wednesday, 29 August 2012

My Nana

This has been a really difficult day for me. I wasn't sure I should post this, but I've accomplished b***** all else today, so I thought I may as well.

My Nana was the closest thing I ever had to a real mother.

She brought me up and took care of me all my life. 

She was kind, gentle, never laid a hand on me. She taught me to read, to cook, to sew, to dance, taught me that all people were equal, and gave me an incredibly strong morality. 

She lived through the Great Depression, World War Two, took care of her mother until she died (when Nana was 16), had pleurisy, had pneumonia four times, took care of her husband (my Grandad) when he was dying from lung cancer, raised three children of her own, a score of foster kids, and me.

Then without warning, when she was 71, and I was 17, I saw her die suddenly. One minute she was talking to me, and the next she was dead.

That was 20 years ago tonight (at about 9.02pm BST).

So I just want to say, in this post that has absolutely nothing to do with sewing, or with my work, if you love somebody, even if you don't always get on, talk to them. Tell them you love them. Give them a hug. spend some time together. Because it takes just one second for them to be gone forever.

And I love you Nana, and miss you forever.

My Nana and Grandad - Gertrude and George Lough

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Festival of History (Kelmarsh, or Kelswamp?)

In theory I was meant to have my stall at English Heritage's Festival of History at Kelmarsh Hall this weekend just gone.

Well, I was there, and my stall was there - unfortunately most of the stuff was never unpacked from the plastic boxes I left it in after unloading our van on Friday night.

For on Friday night, at around 11.30pm or 12am, an (unforecast) rain that I can only describe as 'Biblical' hit us.  I lay awake in bed listening to it pouring, and getting heavier, and heavier, and heavier,  And just when you thought it could get no heavier, it did.

As it turned out, almost a months worth of rain fell in a few hours.  We awoke to find the ground our tent was on to be sodden, but not too bad.  Then I got a 'knock' on the tent door from Mr Griffin, letting me know that the event was off, and that if we needed any help, to give them a shout, and if I wanted to open that was fine too.

I went off to see my friends (in my re-enactment group, Conquest), to find a large fast flowing stream running through half of the camp, and several friends' tents.  Fortunately, a sort of 'Blitz spirit' pervaded the whole site, and everybody pitched in and helped everybody else.  The weather improved, meaning that the exits that were at first flooded (trapping us onsite for a while) cleared, and the site was slowly cleared - we got off home at around 4pm.    Sadly, by the time we left it was warm and sunny, and the water was draining away at a rapid pace.

From my point of view, the weekend wasn't a total washout - I got a couple of nice orders, and handed out a load of hat-related business cards in the beer tent, and wandering round the assorted streams and lakes on Saturday.

The staff onsite, both English Heritage and event staff, and the site staff from the Estate were wonderful, and couldn't do enough to help anyone having problems (we played the new game of 'towed by the tractor' three times)!  And I'm now off to find some new wellies - although waders may have been more useful in some parts of the site at the weekend.  Waterproof boots are fab - till you wade into water deeper than them to help a friend, and it pours in over the top and gets trapped - because they're waterproof... 

There was no way anybody could have predicted it - just one of those things you have to allow for when doing events outdoors!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Modern Vehicle Pennants

My most recent work - a set of five vehicle pennants (aka flags).

This was a private commission for an officer of the Grenadier Guards (of the British Army) who is currently serving in Afghanistan.

There are four smaller pennants, and one larger.  All are machine embroidered, onto linen fabric, and are triple stitched for strength.

Forgive the fact that the pictures are not the best ever - due to time constraints I had to photograph the flags on my phone (bad planning on my part - dead camera battery!).

My plan is to re-embroider the crown and the rose as a sample that I can photograph to show the detail, so watch this space!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

"What have we done?"

'What have we done?' - the question repeatedly asked by Mary Portas in her Channel 4 series 'Mary's Bottom Line'.  I watched all three episodes back to back on 4OD this morning, while I was hand sewing.  And I have to confess it really got to me.

As I was sitting, in Britain, hand sewing my English wool and Irish linen with my British thread and British needle.

Not only the parts where Mary Portas was talking about her teenage years (she lost both parents, aged 16 and 18 respectively), that could be expected to choke me up (I also lost my whole family before I was 18).  But the desperation of the people in a run down area who were trying to find work, but couldn't, and the idea that they were on the scrap heap before they had begun.  One 20 year old (who as it turned out, has a natural ability with a sewing machine) whose parents never had jobs, and who had borrowed a suit from a friend for the interview, because he was determined that he wouldn't be like that, and that his young son would grow up with a father who went out to work "like a proper man".  And the woman who said that before getting the job, she'd thought she was coming to the end of her life.  At 34.

All this in an area that a few decades ago was a key centre of the British textile industry.

 Of course, the deeply stupid thing is that we - you and I - are the ones responsible.  In our insatiable demand to be able to buy more, more, more, more, instead of good quality products that last, at a reasonable price.  In our idiotic belief that 'value' and 'cheapness' are the same thing, we've killed town after town, and left people utterly desolate.

It isn't just about those people though.  It's about us.  Our economy is currently bouncing along the bottom of a valley.  We may go into recession again.  But we seem to think that it's a good idea to send the money that we earn out of our country, and into other countries.  I'm not talking about foreign aid here - that's a completely different discussion (and I believe that foreign aid proves we're part of the world) - I'm talking about the fiver you have in your pocket, the tenner in your purse.  That money could create jobs for people here, in the UK.  And those people would then have money to spend, and that would create more jobs, and so the cycle continues, and suddenly, our economy doesn't look so bad after all.

You may be asking me what on earth this has to do with a costumer, but I make clothes.  I may not work in a factory, or produce thousands of garments in a week, but I'm a textile worker.  And I'm a textile worker confronted at all turns with cheap, poor quality imports from overseas.  Even in the highly specialised area in which I work,  the stupidity that we've all displayed for the last few decades is evident.  (This is not me moaning about that, by the way - I get enough work - but I have no doubt that sooner or later there will be British craftsmen and women put out of business over the issue.)

This is before you even get into arguments about conditions in overseas factories - some of which are very good - some involve the chaining of workers to their machines 36 hours a day, and the beating and torture of children.

The programme is available to watch here for a few more days / weeks

The knickers are sold through ASOS, Boots, Liberty, M&S, House of Fraser, John Lewis, and Selfridges, when they're in stock.  They're selling out all over the place, and being wait-listed - which I think is absolutely fantastic!  Updates are here:

In order for the trainee machinists to hang onto their jobs, the brand needs  to sell 100,000 pairs of Kinky Knickers per year.  So I think the choice is easy - next time I need to refresh my knicker drawer, I'll be buying British, even if it costs a few quid more - at £10 per pair it's worth every penny.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Hats made for cost of materials.

Turning myself into a complete liar, after my last 'won't be around for a while' post....

Anybody who has read any of the below will know that I'm now studying for an HNC in Millinery, at Leeds College of  Art.

'Yeah, so', you may think....

Well, I feel that I need to make some more hats than I strictly have to for the course - call it practise, experience, portfolio building, whatever you want, I need to make more!  'Yeah, so', again...

Well, I'm now offering to make a certain number of hats for just the cost of the materials.  (I'm thinking three at the moment, but that may change.)  They can be modern, historical, whatever - the only thing I'll request is not what's known as "cut and sew" (i.e. not a dressmaker type sewn hat made from fabric).  That's purely because I already know how to do that, so what's to practise!?  So fur felt, wool felt, straw, sinamay, feathers, a mixture, a blocked fabric, etc, etc.   Male or female.  I'll discuss materials costs upfront, so no nasty surprises, and will provide a written costing sheet detailing them all.  And for this one-off time, I'm prepared to work completely for free, (to build my portfolio).  So anybody taking me up on the offer will pay for all the materials, but only the materials.

The hats I make will be one-offs, and unique (providing nobody were to choose a uniform hat, in which case they won't be, because such is the nature of uniforms, obviously).

So, anybody who's interested, get in touch with me at, or through my facebook page

If more than three people are interested, I'll draw names from a hat at the end of TORM weekend.


PS, an extra not - if there are offcuts from the materials, it's up to the person I'm making th hat for whether they want them or not.  Only fair if they're paying!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

I may not be writing that much on this blog for the next few weeks...

I'm in the manic run up to the re-enactor's market now (TORM), so will have my head down working, and trying to keep up with college work, too.

As part of the new brief I got from college last week, I've set up another blog (an experiment in the recording of and expanding on research) - I'll be writing on that, because it's homework!  You can read that here

And other news is that my latest hat has now been all packed up and sent of to competition (I reallt don't think I stand a chance, because everybody else's hats were stunning.  Really stunning!

My hat has two two-tone blocked shapes (blocked then sewn together), and one fully sewn shape - all of which is wrapped round by electroluminescent wire (aka glo-wire - the same stuff that glo sticks are made from).

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Hat Trimmings Exhibition

I went to Hat Works (the hat museum in Stockport) for the first time yesterday, for college (an extra during half term).

It's a wonderful place, and just around the corner from the railway station (though make sure you go out the right (main) exit, if you go. 
Entry is free, and if you take a tour (£2.65 for an adult, £7.00 for a family of four), they start up the machinery, and tell you how it all worked, etc, covering the whole process, from making the felt to the finished hat.

I found the hand tools particularly interesting, though.  I didn't have my camera with me, so I'm going to go back in April (or so), so I can take some photos.

There's also a special exhibition running at the moment, until 11 May 2012, titled 'The Finishing Touch: Trends of Trimming Unpicked'.  It's a wonderful collection of antique and vintage hats, trimmings, and modern hats by some of the country's leading milliners - people like Stephen Jones, William Chambers, etc.  Also pieces by my tutors at Leeds, Sue Carter and Sharon Bainbridge.

I was drawn to some of the hats made from different materials - like lasered wood, or shaped perspex - and one by William Chambers, made of drinking straws (not that you can tell unless you look closely!).

There are videos that you can watch, too, of Stephen Jones, explaining how he finds his inspiration, and doing things with yoghurt pots :o).

The whole exhibition (which is also free to look at) was put together by Sharon Bainbridge, as part of her MA.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Gown at the The Bowes Museum

A gown made in 1911 by Madame Paquin, the Parisian couturier, is currently on display at the Bowes Museum in County Durham.

It's made in silk net, and beaded, so like all dresses of that type, incredibly fragile (the weight of the beads tears the net - the same thing happens with all those gorgeous 20s flapper dresses).

This is the first time the dress has been displayed, and it's on till the 9th of April 2012.

The Bowes Museum

Saturday, 28 January 2012

This Week...

...has been a strange, disjointed sort of week.

I started working, properly, late this year, on account of catching flu (again - or at least a very heavy cold that was barely distinguishable from flu).  Anyway, as of last Monday I'm back at work. 

So this week I've been catching up on some stuff - sending out deliveries, a client meeting, finishing some stuff off, and starting on the years work properly.

At college, I've finally pinned down my design for the Feltmakers Competition, (more of that in another post), and have either got or ordered all the materials.
And we were given another brief (number five) - a short illustration brief, which is all tied up with the feltmakers brief, and has to do with looking at fashion illustration.

A friend introduced me to Pinterest, which is fab (if you're on there, I'm Debbie Lough, obviously).  If you're not familiar with it, it's a sort of online bookmarking site, where you can create 'boards', and see what's on other people's boards.

And over Christmas, (and 'not well' time), I've been working on a Cafe Press shop for my artwork.  I have a ton more stuff to add, but my shop is here
I'm also putting together a Printfection shop, which will have the same designs, but a slightly different product range.

I'm also working on expanding my Etsy shop (which I've been meaning to do for the last few months).  I'll slowly be adding things, both available to order, and stock pieces, over the next couple of months.  If you haven't seen it yet, my Etsy shop is here

And that's it for now.  A bit of a dull week, but more of the stuff I'm working on later...

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Hat project number two...

I just realised that I never posted about my second hatmaking brief.

That's very bad of me, and I will slap myself on the hand, because it was finished in November, and displayed at the Knitting and Stitching Show, at Harrogate, on the college stand.

The Brief

The brief title was 'Where in the World'.  It was all about using visual communication, and communicating ideas through design.

We each had to pick a country, research it, and produce a hat that communicated the country of choice to somebody looking at it.  The example given was the hat worn by Catherine Middleton in Canada, with a Maple leaf on it.

Just to make things a smidge harder, we had to focus on a style that might be made by, or that was inspired by the work of, Christies (the famous hat makers).

I instantly decided I wanted to base my hat on Russia (in all its variations over the years, both Soviet and non-Soviet).

I started by collecting lots of images - anything I could get my hands on - and massive thanks to the friend who sent me lots of pictures, and her little book on the Moscow Metro (she knows who she is).  I also collected written information - internet news reports, wikipedia and BBC archive entries, newspaper articles, etc, etc - I also made notes every time Russia was mentioned on the TV or radio (I still feel as though I should be taking notes now, I managed to get so engrossed in it)!!

After a while, I started to hone in on a number of things - first, there were lots of bits of information coming up, over and over again, about things within other things - Faberge eggs opening to reveal hidden riches - Maryoshka dolls opening to reveal new layers - the way that Russia wants to be seen one way, but when you pull back the curtain on that, and look at how it actually is, it's completely different.

So I decided I wanted to use one shape within another.  Looking at Christies' website, I realised that a lot of the shaped they use are very traditional - a lot of bowlers and top hats, etc.  And then the basic shape came to me - a bowler hat within a top hat, with the top hat somehow cut away to reveal the bowler.

I was struck by the massive wealth and opulence, not only of the Csars, but of the soviet leaders too, contrasting bitterly with the desperate poverty that existed.
I listened to a radio interview about the Arctic Convoys during World War II, and that led me onto the siege of Leningrad, and the massive deprivation and horror that those people endured.
I felt as though I had to try to portray something of the horror that ordinary people lived through.  It sounds foolish, but I felt I owed it to these people I'd never met.
Of course, that horror doesn't just refer to the sieges of WWII.  There was massive degradation and depravity during the soviet era too - through the days of the Gulag (I took a book on the Art of the Gulag out of the college library, and it was graphic, horrifying, and stomach turning) - and right up to the corruption of today.

Five images influenced my colour and material choices.
1. A picture frame by Faberge, in dark red enamel and gold.
2.  A pair of 19th century peasant shoes, made of roughly woven straw.
3.  The modern double headed eagle emblem of the Russian Federation, which is gold.    
4.  The original double headed eagle of the Csars - which was black.
5.  A picture of a large hammer and sickle adornment in Moscow.

It made sense to me that the top hat part of the hat should represent the wealthy side of the country, so I lined the underside of the brim in dark red silk, and edged it with gold braid. 
I used a black felt to represent the black eagle emblem of the Csars.  And I hand embroidered a modern double headed eagle in gold and silk threads. 
I made one small change to the eagle itself - on the shield over its stomach should appear St George on horseback.  I replaced this with a hammer and sickle.  My thoughts on that that it shows that although outwardly things appear to have changed, the Soviets and their ideals are as present as they ever were.

Once the hat was together, I completed the 'wealthy' side by adding a pleated, but frayed, band of red silk - the idea behind that being that it shows the fragility of wealth in Russia (say the wrong thing or support the wrong person, and it could all be gone, no matter how powerful you think you are).

Moving on to the 'poor' side...  I wanted to use quite a rough straw, not a fine sisal or parasisal.  So I used an old straw hat that I'd damaged last year and still had. 
To show the horrors, I decided to distress the straw - I buried it, squashed it, burned it, and poked holes in it.  I also dripped nail varnish down from the holes, and let it run down the hat as though it were blood.

I didn't want all the poor side to be bad, though.  My friend had sent me some pictures of some women in traditional dress, very brightly coloured, dancing in Red Square.  To represent them I attached some bright red linen behind the holes.

And that's my hat!  Now, pictures...

On display at Knitting and Stitching.

 At college, newly finished.

And everybody else's hats on display.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas 2011

Oh dear, it's been THAT long since I posted!

Oops - clearly my time has been occupied with the making of stuff, and with college (and the 'flu (proper) that we both came down with after the re-enactor's market!).

Anyway, for now I want to say Happy Christmas to all my clients, and to everybody we've spoken to at events and via e-mail over the last year.

I'm now (strictly speaking) 'closed for the holidays', although obviously my e-mail will still be operative, so if you need to get in touch, send an e-mail, and we'll reply in January when we're back at work.

Happy Christmas!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

My blue hat finished!!

We've had them returned now, athough we haven't got the grades yet (yikes!).

So I've now had time to take some decent photos of my first proper hat.

Arctic Convoy Exhibition

For a long time now, I've been interested in the stories of the unsung, and largely ignored men who took part in the most dangerous shipping operation of World War Two - the Arctic Conveys that sailed from Scotland, around the top of Norway, through the Arctic seas to dock in northern Russia, carrying much needed weapons, and food to the Eastern Front.

Churchill called the journey they made "the worst journey in the world".  Dozens of ships, both Merchant Navy and  Royal Navy were lost, either due to enemy action, or to the weather conditions, and thousands of men lost their lives in the freezing Arctic seas.

So, (the point of this post), I was very interested the other day when I found out that the National Maritime Museum have put together an exhibition about the convoys.  It's on now, at the museum in Greenwich, and it runs until the end of February 2012.

See the website for more info:

While I'm on the subject, there was an interview with a veteran of the convoys on BBC Radio 4's PM programme last week - if you can access i-player, it's very much worth listening to -  The interview is about 42 minutes into the programme.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The blue hat... now finished and in for marking.  I don't have any pictures of it completed yet, because I managed to make the deadline for the college brief clash with a work deadline, and had no spare time for photographing, so it'll be a few weeks till I can take some.

Anyway, until then, some more 'in progress' photos that I haven't shared yet...

Firstly, my crown.  I decided to use a quite classic crown block, with a little dip at one side (originally I chose a more squared, flat top crown, but changed my mind before blocking). 
As part of the challenge of this brief was to learn how to make a whole hat from one hood (or hat blank), it wasn't a problem that I didn't have enough felt  left to block the whole crown.  I used buckram to extend the crown to the full height of the block. 
Obviously, the other option would have been to make a hat with a shorter crown, but I wanted to learn how to extend it, so decided against that.

Next picture is of my brim, all ready to add to the crown, with the headfitting petersham all sewn in.

And finally, the silk that I used for the trimming.  This is a slightly off-white china silk - originally I'd planned to use it as it was, but it just felt too broght when applied to the hat - so I decided to dye it.  I dip dyed the two pieces by hand, having first rolled it and tied a bit of ribbon round it to give the colour a little texture.

As I said, more pictures to follow of the hat after it's been marked (eek!!!).

Monday, 3 October 2011

Possibly slow comms for the next few days...

My communications may be slightly off for the next few days / weeks. 

I may be less likely than I usually am to pick up the phone or answer the door.
Usually, that's because I simply can't hear either when I have machines going,  (I've been known to have the phone on the table beside me and not hear it ring).

Unfortunately, this time there's a more sinister explantion - I've been threatened by an unscrupulous individual (or pair of individuals), who is refusing to settle his bill.  The police are aware of the threat, and are taking action, and they have advised me not to open the door, nor to speak to those concerned.

Anyway, upshot being that anybody calling is even more likely than usual to get the answering machine, and we'll  get back to you!!

Normal service will (hopefully) be resumed shortly, and I'll be back to writing about fun stuff, like hats and dresses and corsets!!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Falcon and fetterlock livery

A piece I delivered this week - already to be seen on my facebook page -  a blue and white livery coat with a falcon and fetterlock back badge.

The back badge is cut from woollen fabric (the Hainsworths unfraying kind), and all the stitching is done by hand.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

My first blocked felt hat (underway)

Last week at college I blocked my first ever felt brim - I forgot to take photos then, so here are a couple now...

This one was taken after I had unpinned the brim from the block, and cut it to size, ready to be finished.  I've put it back on the block to show that it really was from that block - it can be quite hard to tell for sure, because the block is upside down.

And the brim when off the block, and sitting the right way up.  The dome piece behind the brim is the crown part of the capeline, cut from the centre of the brim, which is now sitting pinned to the block drying out, ready to be attached and finished next week.

The narrow strggly bit to the side of the brim is the off cut - I managed to choose a wide brim for my first go, meaning that it was a real effort to stretch the felt to the necessary size, and that I had hardly any left over.

Home work for this week is a sample file of stitching, and to finish the edge of my brim - and to start thinking about how to trim it - the really fun part!  :o)

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


This post has absolutely nothing to do with sewing, or with my work.

When winter is on us, and the two old trees outside my sewing room window are denuded, I can see the workings of Kellingley Colliery through the gaps in the bare branches.

This afternoon there was a roof collapse at Kellingley - one of the last handful of deep coal mines working in the UK.  According to accounts, two ment were trapped - one was rescued, although injured, and one man died.

My thoughts are with their families, friends and colleagues.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Etsy and Facebook

I've been meaning to do this for ages, but time, time, time...

Anyway, I have finally set up a facebook page (or pages) for my work.

My costume page is here!/pages/Deborah-Lough/123277781105753 (or search on Deborah Lough). 

And the page for my padding is here!/pages/The-Padded-Armour-Company/122691571164098

Click on the links to either page, and then click like, and you'll get updates of what I'm doing, and pretty pictures of my work, etc.

Now then, other news is that I've just set up an Etsy shop, where I'll be listing assorted items of costume, and accessories, both stock items and pieces that are made to order.

You can find it here - - at the moment I have some livery badges listed for sale, and I'll be adding more over the weekend, as well as some other bits and pieces.

I'm also in the process of setting up a shop for my padding.

All quite exiting, and I may actually be approaching the 21st century (not entering yet, but approaching!!)

Thursday, 15 September 2011

A strange week...

I've had a bit of a stange week, since last Friday...  highs and lows...

Firstly, good news - the scary health stuff is now over - my cancer scare is done, and the doctor is happy with my healing (I had to have some surgery), so I now officially have the all clear health-wise, and can get back to normal.

Then a couple of days after that, I discovered that a competitor has set up making padding, and has copied some of my design elements (such as using metal washers to reinforce eyelets), and more importantly, and absolutely infuriatingly, has obviously gone through my whole website, and has used parts of it as a base for his - including lifting certain paragraphs whole and without change.

I have no issues with facing competition, I know that I'm good at what I do.
To an extent have accepted that my work will be copied, because it has been many times before - usually by those without the training, experience, or in-depth knowledge to develop ideas and techniques for themselves - don't get me wrong, it's still upsetting, but my attitude (for self-preservation reasons) has evolved into one of 'let them scrabble about in the mud of last year's design and research, while my work moves up and on'.
But the wholesale copying and pasting of text from my website is a new one for me to face.  I'd be lying if I said it didn't hurt - it does - I take time to ensure that all the infomation on my site is accurate and concise, and having somebody else coming along and just take it makes me feel a lot like I did after a burglary a few years ago - violated.

Anyway, the other nice thing that's happened - I started college yesterday, finally.  I'm now a fully fledged student, and a trainee milliner.

Ok, so the first day was largely comprised of sewing circles and straight lines on calico and paper to make sure we could use the machines without killing ourselves, and then a 50 minute health and safety lecture, but we got to look at some hat blocks! :o)  And I finished my machining first so got to leave early.

The course proper starts next week, and we start with the bit I've been looking forward to most - blocking of felt!  Just have to assemble bits and bobs of my sewing kit to take with me.

So, all in all, a mixed week, but on balance, a good one.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Back to work...

I've not been working full strength for the last month or so, because of some moderately scary 'health stuff'.  But I'm getting back down to it now, so thought I'd share the thing I'm working on at the moment.

Another dolman, still under construction, this one not a historically correct one, but to be worn as a modern coat / jacket.

It's cut to fit a woman, so has darts at the front, under the braiding, which is a new challenge (getting the braid to sit correctly over the shaping.

Hopefully I'll manage to get it done in the next few days, and show you some proper 'finished pics', but here are some teasers in the meantime!

Sunday, 7 August 2011


As I recently said, I've been given a place on the HNC Millinery course at Leeds College of Art.  (Yay!)

I thought I'd share the portfolio I took to the interview, so I've taken some pictures of it.

I should preface by saying that I was probably pushing the limits in terms of number of things to include, but when you've made as much as I have, and when it's as varied, it's extraordinarily hard to break that down into a small selection of your best (or favourite) stuff, while still making it a representative sample!

Obviously, the material is copyright, and design right, me, 2011, (or the year in the image!)

I presented the whole lot in an A3 sized display book, of the kind you get at stationery shops.  That was mainly because I already had it on the shelf, and I don't have a 'proper' portfolio at the moment.
The ribbon is added partly for looks, and partly practicality - it would be so completely like me to have picked up the folder upside down, and to have spilled all the work out all over the floor...  Probably on the train...  Or in the middle of the road when walking to the college...  Or going through the ticket barrier at leeds station...  (Not that I'm a clutz or anything.)

The front page is done with a sheet of tracing paper, textured with pastels on the back, and with the sketch and names done using a dip ink pen, then mounted onto card.

Then onto the actual work!  (Prepare for lots and lots of pictures.)

Made for Select Society, and the pictures of the outfit in use are copyright Select Society

Ignore that they're awful pictures of me, since I'm possibly the least photogenic person on the planet!!

The two above hats originally designed on the back of an envelope.

A last minute design, because I had a page to fill.  Pastels on textured paper.


Anyway, starting in September, two years of hat making here I come (one day a week at least)!