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.
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!
'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.
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.
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).
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 http://debbieloughmillinery.blogspot.com/
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).
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.
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 http://www.cafepress.co.uk/debbielough
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 http://www.etsy.com/shop/DeborahLoughCostumes
And that's it for now. A bit of a dull week, but more of the stuff I'm working on later...
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 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.