Monday, April 30, 2012

Vintage Millinery Mannequin Heads

I was on my way to an annual American music festival, one of the largest in the US--Merlefest, when I received an email from a woman who makes mannequin heads.  This woman, Marge Crunkleton, lives here in the state I live in--North Carolina.  I had never heard of her but boy am I glad she contacted me!

I traveled to Denver, North Carolina, on my way to Hickory, North Carolina, to meet my best friend so that we could attend Merlefest, the music festival.  Denver was about a 4.5 hour drive from the Atlantic Coast (where I live), up toward the mountains of North Carolina.  Marge lives on beautiful Lake Norman, a huge lake near Charlotte.  I did not know what I was about to see!

Marge, a very young 80 years old, makes vintage mannequin heads, about 20 different styles, all from the 1920's through the 1950's.  They are fabulous!  They are actual reproductions, directly molded from true vintage mannequin heads her son finds throughout his travels in the US.  Marge makes them all differently by changing eye color, skin tone, hair color, lips, and even how she paints the eyeliner and eyelashes.  You cannot believe how changing even one of these elements changes how the 'lady' looks.

When I first came into the room where these unfinished manny heads were...I felt like I was seeing the Chinese Terra Cotta Warriors!  There are over 20 different styles of mannequin heads, and you can choose the color of the hair, make up, etc.  Marge had several dressed out in vintage hats.

I just knew this was a vintage hat, but upon further inspection it appears to be a fabulous reproduction of a 1940's hat.  She had mink and evening bag to further accessorize 'Susan' or 'Pilar' as Marge's son calls her.  She was my favorite!

Here she is 'unadorned' so to speak.  I love her high cheekbones!

Marge had quite a few vintage hats...some quite remarkable.  She just uses them as props, but they really make the 'girls' come alive.  I was impressed.

Another example of the style of mannequin heads is above.  This one is really a jewelry display head, because of her neck and the way a necklace can be shown to advantage.  She will be my next purchase since I sell vintage costume jewelry in my shop--aMuse.

In fact, Marge has a few heads that are historically used for jewelry, not hats.  The headsize on these would be too small for almost any adult women's hat.  And speaking of that, even the manny heads that ARE for hats, usually are going to be 21.5", when the average American woman's head is 22"-22.5"  Something to think about when making and displaying hats.

I looked at a number of heads, all with different hair color and eyes.  I'm big on eyes!  The 'girls' on the right--Susan and Liz are the two I took home with me, but it was a tough choice!

BTW, when I got home with the manny heads, my dogs went NUTZ!  The 'girls' look just a bit too real sitting on the dining room table. 

Marge tells me she is very interested in milliners knowing about her vintage 'girls' and hopes to sell them to those who appreciate them.  However, at 80 years old...she wants to be busy...but not too busy.  I think you will love her and her mannequin heads.  Find her at  Please tell her I sent you.

After I left Marge's house I went on to Hickory to meet my friend.  Next day we made our way for an hour to Merlefest to hear some of the most amazing Americana music you will hear anywhere.  The festival is in honor of legendary bluegrass musician Merle Watson, who died young.  His father, even more legendary, Doc Watson, is 90 years old and still a force to be reckoned with musically. 

Not too big on fashion hats, and why would they be?  This is more about hearing great music!  You will see lots of sun hats, Western (cowboy) hats, and baseball caps.  But look what I found!  They were so energetic and I loved their take on hats at festival!

Hope you enjoyed this post.  Next post will be a tutorial on making a hat I created for Kentucky Derby.  Til then, happy hatmaking!  And thanks for reading!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

'The Millinery Guild'--Hollywood Milliner, Extraordinaire

Last post was about Hat Camp 2012.  Great event meeting so many fellow milliners from here in the US and Canada.  This post is about an extraordinary milliner who has been my 'phone friend' for a number of years.  I don't remember how we connected, exactly, but I do remember that I thought she was pretty special from our first phonecall.  I'm talking about the milliner behind Chapeau du Jour, a blog I'm sure you will want to visit, Montez Murphy.

Montez, or Monty, and I have a strong connection.  She and I are both breast cancer survivors.  That makes you a very different person, I think, than who you were before diagnosis.  Not in a core sense, but in how you view the world after that diagnosis.  Montez is one of those people.  She is a strong force.  A person to take heed of.  And I mean ALL of this in a very postive way.  You will find a post on her blog about her 'birthday', the day she received a heart transplant as a result of the treatment she received because of her cancer.  She has my vote.

Montez came and picked me up at the end of Hat Camp, and off to Hollywood we went, which is where her incredible millinery shop resides.  'The Millinery Guild', as the shop is known, is across the street from CBS studios and on a street with fabulous shops.  Next time I'm that way I want to find out all about those shops.

We had so much to talk about and for a few hours we talked non-stop.  What a gracious hostess she was, opening wine, offering treats and a time to discuss the millinery world from our different parts of the US.  Did I mention she has the cutest French bulldog? 

What some of you might not know is that Montez is a great friend and mentor of Project Runway's Mondo Guerra, who learned sewing and millinery from Montez.  Just days before Montez and I got together, Mondo had won Project Runway's All Stars.  That puppy you see above was a gift to Montez from Mondo.  What a sweet puppy dog she is!  Almost feline in her playing antics.  I loved her from the first!

The Millinery Guild represents a number of milliners, both nationally and internationally, including Barcelona's Cristina de Prada, from another blog I'm sure you know--Rantings of a Mad Hatter Wannabe.  Saw some fantastically sculptural hats there, including intricate straw work from Morgyn Owens-Celli.

What I also loved about The Millinery Guild was the fresh, clean lines of the shop--all white and very sparsely decorated.  That's very different from my almost Victorian-styled shop of more and more hats, jewelry, and other eye-candy.  Nice to see a different take on displaying hats--purely hats.

Thank you, Montez, for a special afternoon of talking about everything millinery we could pack into a couple of hours.  You are a special lady.  And a special thank you for the quick tutorial on vintage millinery sewing machines!!  I'm still in awe!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hat Camp 2012

It has been an incredibly busy Spring!  I've been making hats as fast as I can for all the hat-wearing events our area supports like North Carolina's Azalea Festival and Garden Party, plus Kentucky Derby, other horsey events, and weddings.  I'll post some pictures of those in a later blog entry, but I want to tell you about an event I attended a few weeks ago called HAT CAMP!

I couldn't decide if I wanted to treat myself to seeing what I know must be a fabulous display of hats, curated by none other that Mr. Stephen Jones, in New York City (it is ending April 15th)...or by attending the annual Hat Camp, held this year in Los Angeles. 

I chose Hat Camp for a variety of reasons.  Mind you, I had no business leaving a crazy schedule of hatmaking in my own atelier, but I just felt the need to meet milliners from around the US/Canada, and this was the best place to do that.  Seemed I knew more international milliners than I did in my own country.  That was about to change!

Since I live on the Atlantic coast and had to travel completely across the US to the Pacific coast, it started as an early day and ended very late, but oh, the things I discovered.

Crossing the Rocky Mountains, above, and the Grand Canyon, below.

Once I arrived, checked into the hotel, and found my bearings, I headed to California Millinery to check them out.  I've never bought much from them and didn't know what to expect in the way of supplies.  I knew them mostly as a supplier of buckram frames. 

What I found was practically a museum of vintage materials.  Veiling, flowers, petersham, feathers, straw braids and other niceties. 

The braid above is about 3" wide!

Do you see those stacks of boxes?  Full of things I'd just love to get down in the floor with and check out.  Unfortunately, that was not possible.  But I did get some great vintage veiling, braid (which I'm partial to as a millinery medium), and a few other items.

Here's Diego, the guy you'll talk to on the phone or in person if you contact California Millinery.

OK, I get back to the hotel to hook up with my roommate for the weekend, Margo Nickel of Hatshadows.  I had wanted to meet her for a long time.  Margo lives in Tuscon, AZ, and is a supplier of handmade buckram frames.  Check her out! 

We hooked up with several other milliners in the lobby and went for drinks and to search out other Hat Camp attendees! 

That's Margo on the left, Holly Coffman from Santa Monica, and Ingrid Ostheller from Spokane, Washington.  I was already meeting so many incredible milliners and we hadn't even started the sessions yet.

Next morning we were all to meet at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising for a behind the scenes archival viewing of some of their most recent millinery acquisitions.  Dave Temple, who hosted Hat Camp along with Louise Green, pulled some nice strings to get us into the netherworld of their archives.  Below you see us waiting to go inside.  That's Louise on the far right.  She's American millinery royalty, although she's British by birth.  I've always loved her hats!  (More from her further done this blog post.)

Oh, and we got to view the 20th Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design exhibit at FIDM. The exhibition includes selected costumes from all five 2011 Academy Award® Nominees for Costume Design: W/E, Hugo, Jane Eyre, The Artist, and Anonymous. Others on exhibit as well.

Dave giving us the lowdown on entry into FIDM and the rest of the morning.  Dave owns Clever Vintage Clothing in LA and later in the weekend he showed us just a few of his vintage millinery and clothing pieces.  All I can say is WOW!  If you are ever in LA, you must look him up if you love vintage!!

Hat Camp started about 6 or 7 years ago when Wayne Wichern, who now lives and teaches millinery in Redwood City, CA, moved from the Pacific northwest to the San Francisco area.  They all missed each other and the Seattle/Portland milliners decided to travel and 'camp' in Wayne's house for the weekend.  Hat Camp was born!  While it has always been a mostly West Coast millinery get-together, and specifically northern CA, Oregon, and Washington, it has now become an annual North American meeting of milliners, thanks mostly to word-of-mouth and social media.  You will want to join in. 

This year there were milliners from New York City, Nashville TN, Boise ID, Austin TX, Vancouver BC, Indianapolis IN, Chicago, and many more places.

Above you see Wayne (left) and Dave (right) at the Saturday session.  All milliners (45!) were given a chance to show some of their work through slides and give self introductions.  It was very eye-opening to see so many styles and to hear about how we each work, where we work, what training we had done, etc.  We all do the same work but amazingly differently!  Very interesting!

Chicago milliner Eia Radosavljevic and I gave a presentation to the group on our experiences at the International Millinery Forum this past January.  Lots of interest about the USA doing something like this.  Anyone interested?

Dave gave us some great information about a woodworker he knows who agreed to replicate hatblocks for him.  Here's an example.  Below you will see more.  As many of you might know, hatblocks are little mysteries unto themselves.  Not always as simple as they might look, especially when someone outside the millinery world is trying to make a copy. 

End of the first day and off to The Pattern Bar for a few drinks and some down time!

Here are a few more pictures from throughout the weekend.

Sunday was a VERY full day but the highlight of the weekend was a trip to the offices and workspaces of Louise Green Millinery in the evening.  Louise and her husband Lawrence welcomed us to take in their amazing workspaces, showrooms, supply areas, and trim tables...and served us dinner and drinks too!  Thank you Louise and Lawrence!

Louise led us through the creative  and design aspects of the business, and what a special treat that was.  She is a very gracious lady and we were all thrilled she was so open to having all of us traipsing through her facility! 

Lawrence, who knows the technical and financial end of the business, led us through some costing information which was as eye-opening as the creative side.  He also showed us the blocking stations, vintage millinery sewing machines and served the wine!

Monday morning we had a quick wrap-up session before we headed to the Los Angeles International Textile Show.  We were likes kids in a candy store!  So many incredible trim companies--ribbon, rhinestones, braids, appliques, flowers and even more.  I found a couple of vendors I've needed for a long time to help with bridal as well as hat trims.  A couple of the companies are even making custom pieces for that's special.

Last of the group to leave the textile show...and Hat Camp as well.

I am so pleased I decided to attend.  I met so many people I've wanted to meet for a long time.  I look forward to the NEXT Hat Camp.  If you are a Canadian or American milliner, you need to plan for next year's meeting.  You won't be disappointed.  Lots to learn.

Next post...I meet LA milliner S. Montez and get to hang out at The Millinery Guild in Hollywood!  Stay turned.  You are gonna love her if you don't already know her!