Thursday, 10 December 2015

Vintage hats for ladies who lunch!

These little cocktail hats are perfect for wearing with victory rolls!

I was recently invited to Eindhoven in the Netherlands to run a workshop in a vintage ribbon-pleating technique. I had a fantastic time and was offered such generous hospitality. The trip came about as a result of my Mobile Makery Tour of Europe in the summer. You may remember that I took part in a hat festival in Caussade in France (see earlier entry)  - and it was there that I met my Dutch millinery friends. They were keen to learn some of the methods I outline in my book The Modern Girl's Guide to Hatmaking - and this resulted in my trip to Eindhoven. Whilst there, I came across a fantastic supplier of vintage millinery materials. I bought some gorgeous strip straw and decided to use it to cover one of my handmade wire frames. 

I make the frames by hand, using very strong millinery wire - the idea is to form similar shapes to the small perching hats that were so popular in the 1950's, but without using a block. I then bind the wire with tulle and stitch a tulle cover on top, stretching the tulle so it's nice and taut. Once the tulle cover is in place, you can trim it it with whatever you wish.

The first task is to bind the outer edge of the frame. I find that softening the straw with hot water really helps as it needs to be very malleable to do this. Once the edge is covered you can then sew the strip in one continuous piece to the rest of the base - taking care to hide your stitches in the straw so they're not visible on the right side of the hat.

The technique is very satisfying and makes a really light hat that can be trimmed in many ways. Use steam to lightly block the shape once finished. The trick lies in constructing a good initial base that will 'self-grip' to the head. Perfect to wear with complicated hairstyles like victory rolls!

Monday, 7 December 2015

Knitting natter - or not a natural knitter!

Now folks. People who know me, will know that I'm not a natural knitter. I'm pretty bad at enjoying the process, too often thinking of the result and wearing the thing that I've just made. I'm getting better, but I'm not there yet. Thus it is that knitting is generally too slow for me. However, as I'm currently sojouring in Scotland where it's pretty cold, I thought I'd try again. I've been yearning for texture and heathery colour and I needed a scarf, so why not just relax into it and make one?

I had bought these rather pleasing wooden needles for a previous hat project (I am averse to knitting on small needles) and headed to Liberty (on a recent trip to London) to buy some wool. I figure if I'm going to make something it's better to use the best you can afford and create a luxurious item that you wouldn't normally buy.

I purchased four balls of this lovely Rowan yarn and was assured by my friends in the Liberty knitting department that a scarf would not need a pattern. I therefore plucked a number out of the sky and cast on 40 stitches. A brief bit of research on the internet delivered 'moss stitch' which looks lovely and nubbly and is achieved by alternating knit one purl one on the first row, with purl one knit one on the second row,  and so on. I figured that even I could manage that (although if you can spot the mistake here - there's a prize....!)

Two endless coach journeys on National Express and a couple of quiet vintage fairs later, I had almost knitted half a scarf. I realised to be honest, that if I had cast on just 20 stitches to start with, I'd actually have almost finished my scarf! But I resolutely carried on, piping up every now and again to ask anyone who would listen, "am I nearly there yet?" Each time I was told that I needed to knit at least another few inches. So, to encourage myself to finish the scarf I ordered 20 wool pompoms on ebay - made to order in a range of colours that you can choose for yourself. Yes, I know I could have made them too, but I wanted a quick-fix incentive to finish!

The carrot and stick approach worked well, and yesterday I finished my scarf and attached my pompoms. I hope you'll agree it's worked well! I only used 3 balls of wool, so I have enough to make a matching hat too. I'm actually glad I made the scarf 40 stitches wide as it can now double as a wrap or indeed - a rather lovely throw! If I can knit a scarf, then anyone can. Go on, give it a go! You'll feel so proud of yourself when you're done, and you'll be warm  and stylish to boot!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Can't sew? Can Sew!

How many kids do you know who can sew? Very few probably. Another sign that manual life skills are just not being taught any more. We're increasingly becoming a nation that's dependent on others for doing simple jobs - putting up a shelf, wiring a plug, laying a carpet, sewing on a button, fixing a tear in our jeans - lots of people can't do any of these things for themselves. And if there's no-one to help, then we flounder, throwing out the thing that could so easily have been mended. What a waste. So imagine my delight when my cousin's two young children expressed an interest in learning how to use a sewing machine. The Mobile Makery was happy to help! First we started with the vintage handcrank Singer machine - a good choice as you're totally in control of the speed.


After a basic lesson in threading up the machine and stitching backwards and forwards, I challenged the children to sew their names on a piece of paper after writing them in pencil first so there's a line to follow. I've done this same stitching challenge with a few kids now, both boys and girls, and they love it, quickly managing to control the handcrank machine. 

The children then progressed to the electric machine.  After a bit of random sewing on fabric getting the feel for it, they made a mini cushion which involves turning corners and keeping straight lines. 

The challenge was completed when they stuffed the cushion with cotton-wool and stitched up the gap by hand. Just look at the concentration....!


Both Zoe and Finn were really proud of what they achieved, and I've heard that Finn has even fixed something that his Mum hasn't had time to get round to. Result! Next time, we're going to have a go at sewing on buttons and we'll make some Christmas decorations. Tartan trousers for Teddy are next, and then I think we'll go human-sized. A skill is not just for Christmas folks, it's for life.


Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Dutch Hat Magazine feature

A big thankyou to Elly Stemerdink for featuring my Mobile Makery Europe tour in October's English edition of HoedenNieuws - the excellent and very glossy Dutch hat magazine. It's a real privilege to be included. 

I met Elly during an incredible hat festival in the South West of France at a place called Caussade, which was once the centre of the French straw hat-making industry. Having e-mailed the organisers and failed to hear back I decided to gatecrash the event, hot on the heels of having attended a little music festival at a place called Lagrasse. I was warmly welcomed and invited to set up a stall - with Bambi taking a starring role - comme toujours! 

I met all sorts of incredible people involved in the hat business in one way or another, and was offered the warmest hospitality, in spite of being a complete stranger. Elly was amongst a group of milliners from the Netherlands who come to Caussade every year to ply their wares and make contacts. Not only has she featured me in this month's magazine, but she's invited me to run a vintage-trim-making workshop in Eindhoven on National Hat Day - 7th November. Click on the website below for further details. Thanks Elly!

If you're interested in subscribing to the magazine then please e-mail Elly:

Please look at the website for all details relating to the National Hat Day event (where I'll be amongst a group of milliners offering classes in different skills)

Friday, 28 August 2015

Dorothee L'a Fait

"Even tiny objects can be interesting, sensual and rich," says Dorothee

I first got to know Dorothee when I worked as a reporter for the BBC in Brussels over ten years ago. Dorothee had a part-time job at an enticing little shop full of tastefully curated vintage finds and curios near the square in Ixelles where I lived.  One day I went in wearing a '50's dress handed down to me by my Aunt. The dress is gorgeous. Black and white, it has a little Peter Pan collar and is covered in writing (although interestingly none of the words make sense). Dorothee remarked on my outfit and just like that, we became friends. She was my only non-BBC acquaintance in Brussels, and as a costume designer and artist, her world fascinated me. Moreover, she was an inspirational and lovely person.

Dorothee grew up in a bohemian household in Paris. It was perfectly normal for her parents to hold colour-themed soirees and even dinners were cooked according to shade and tone. It's hardly surprising then that colour is Dorothee's passion. One of her recent projects has been to create a series of silk flower corsages all hand dyed and sewn. The flowers are completely unique and many have been made with a specific person in mind using colours that complement them. Each flower is numbered and named after the person who owns it. You can see my beautiful specimen here below.

Here you can see some of the pretty headpieces from Dorothee's new collection. She has become fascinated by millinery and her hats are a wonderful showcase for the handmade flowers she loves to create. 

Dorothee's atelier is full of intriguing objects. Her training in costume design means she has a keen eye for unusual detail and I just love the way she groups things together. A visit to her flat is such a treat - a feast for all the senses!

Dorothee's latest collection features beautiful bridal pieces. Delicate and fragile in appearance each one is made carefully by hand and they seem somehow to spread a little magic.  I love the way that Dorothee sees her work. "Hats can transform a person and reveal hidden things about them," she says. I couldn't agree more!

Beautiful single flowers below made for a special day - each one formed by hand.

Find out more about Dorothee's work by looking at her website - just click on the link.

La Frenesie - Brussels

I've written about this fabulous shop in Brussels before but I want to plug it again as it's really worth singing and dancing about. You'll find La Frenesie in the Marolles district of Brussels on the site of the Jeu de Balles fleamarket. The owner Caroline Moreau is a florist and you'll find a beautiful selection of blooms on offer. However, she also has a great eye for interiors and her shop is full of gorgeous vintage finds all grouped in interesting arrangements which really spark the imagination. Hankie pelments, doilie curtains, vintage plastic table and picnic-ware, quirky crockery - you'll find them all here. It's my shopping tip for the weekend. Search this place out. You'll love it!

Friday, 21 August 2015

A visit to Legeron - Paris

Whilst studying millinery professionally some 12 years ago now, I visited Paris and the house of Legeron which is renowned for its handmade flowers. The atelier first opened in 1727 and was taken over by the current owner's Great Grandfather in 1880. The business has remained in the same family ever since. Bruce Legeron (pictured above) is now at the  artistic helm of the business.  Famous couture houses such as Dior, Givenchy, and Dries Van Noten adorn their collections with the gorgeous blooms created here.

I had such vivid memories of my first visit to Legeron that I was determined to go there again during my Mobile Makery tour and what's more, this time, I wanted to see behind-the-scenes. I had another special reason for learning more as my Belgian friend Dorothée had recently acquired an incredible flower-making press and all the accompanying tools from a milliner in Brussels who'd sadly decided to sell up. Dorothée wanted to find out as much as she could about the art and craft of couture flower-making, and so we decided to go to Legeron together.

The atelier itself occupies two floors of an incredibly romantic old building. Go up the wooden stairs which smell of melted wax and ring the bell. You're led into a room full of hand-made flowers tucked away inside dozens of small drawers lining the walls. The flowers are created from every conceivable material - cotton, silk, plastic, rubber, leather - and come in every shade of every colour. Dorothée and I had made an appointment so that we could meet the famous Monsieur Legeron ourselves but to our disappointment he wasn't there. Our 'behind-the-scenes' visit was looking unlikely until the company's website designer (the son of one of the women who make the flowers!) gallantly stepped into the breach and offered to show us around. 

First we saw fabric stretched out on wooden frames ready to be stiffened with (mostly) gelatine. Then we were shown how the petals are stamped out (there are hundreds of different shapes) ready to be individually dyed.

It's Mr Legeron himself who hand-dyes the petals. His tiny workshop is at the heart of the atelier and it has more than a touch of magic about it. Tints of different shades are created and then painted onto each petal. As you can see from the picture below, every flower has a unique top-secret 'recipe' to determine its finished appearance. Shhh.......don't tell a soul! The petals are left to dry slowly overnight.

Next, the petals go to the workroom where a small expert team assembles each flower using a variety of heated metal tools to coax the flat forms into life. It takes about 10 years to become fully apprenticed. The longest-serving member of staff has been at Legeron for 40 years. In a world where skill has been replaced by speed it's a reminder that true quality doesn't come cheap.

Leather 'fabric' adorned with 3D flowers.

My friend Dorothée proudly modelling a Legeron silk bloom.

Already entranced by our mini tour of Legeron, Dorothée and I were in for another treat. Our guide went and rummaged around in a back room and came back with a large ledger. Inside were original sketches for hats dating back to the 1950's detailing the trims with which they were to be adorned. Take a peek for yourselves here below!

It's enough to get a girl hatting again!

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Mary Jane's Mobile Makery - How to Make: EASY PEASY Vintage Pillowcase Top

Whilst in France I've bought dozens of vintage 1960's pillowcases in bight bold florals.  Many of them are the old bolster-style pillowcases which people don't use any more. These tend to be open at both ends and just simply hemmed.  They cost as little as 50p each, and are lovely and soft after being used such a lot. 

In this little tutorial I show you how to make a very easy top from one of these pillowcases creating your own pattern first from newspaper. Don't worry - you don't need to be an expert pattern draughtsman or woman - it's really easy! My cunning time-saving tip is that if you position the pattern at the top and bottom of the pillowcase, you won't have to bother hemming your top as the hem on the pillowcase is already there for you to use. Hey Presto, no tricky hemming! This pattern will work for a size 10 - 14 (UK) - it'll be loose and breezy on the 10 and a little more fitted on a 14. For your info: I'm a 14 so you can see how it looks on me. If you need another size you'll have to adjust the pattern a little.  

Hope you like it! Please send me pics when you make yours! If you don't have a vintage French pillowcase to hand (and why should you!) you can just use fabric of course. Recycled is best! GOOD LUCK!

Mary Jane's Mobile Makery - How to Make: Vintage Pillowcase Top Trailer!

Coming Soon! How to make a fabulous vintage top from a recycled French pillowcase thrifted on my travels!

Mary Jane's Mobile Makery - How to Make: Vintage Paper Decorations

I've been asked alot recently for some 'how to' tutorials and so I've been giving it a go! Using a couple of apps on my i-phone I've been having great fun putting something together. It's hard to make how-to videos stylish in my opinion as well as informative. So this is my first attempt! Not quite there yet, but I hope you enjoy this. It's all filmed in my Mobile Makery, my fabulous little craft studio on wheels with which I've been travelling around France and Italy.

Introducing Mary Jane's Mobile Makery Tutorials: How to Make: Vintage Paper Decorations!

Bargain Hunting MJ-style in France

Check out this little video to see what great vintage bargains are to be had in France!

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Ti Recup - Carhaix in Brittany

There's nothing better than spending a morning searching for vintage bargains in France. I shouldn't really give away this address as it's so good - but fortunately for you I'm that kinda gal! This is Ti Recup in Carhaix in central Brittany. It basically recycles and repairs stuff that people normally throw away whilst offering much-needed jobs to local people in an area of France which suffers from high unemployment. 

The great thing is that the prices are really really low and the variety of things on offer enormous!

This fabulous 1960's kitchen unit was just 20 euros. If ONLY I could have fitted into the Mobile Makery I would have snapped it up!

I did however buy this beautiful chest of drawers for all of 12 euros. It takes up half the space in my campervan, but hey, when I get back to the UK, I'll need somewhere to store all the stuff I've bought on my travels.

Luckily my cousin's husband Philippe was on hand to help heave the purchases into the car! Because as you can see from the video below - I found quite alot of things that I liked!

I was joined on the trip by my young cousins who also love buying and styling-up second-hand gems. They're already showing a keen eye.....

...and as you can see from the photos below, they wear vintage incredibly well! Left, blouse 1 euro, necklace 20 centimes, shoes 3 euros. Right, dungarees 1 euro.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Hair do's for travelling diva's - Dordogne

It's been a while since I've posted as I've largely been staying in places without internet connection so I've got alot of catching up to do! I've just spent a couple of days in the Dordogne which I loved and definitely want to revisit. I camped right beside the river - a beautiful wide stretch of swimmable silk! It was incredibly warm and I thought I'd improvise with a towelling turban. The style reminds me a little of old-fashioned swimming caps the sort you see being worn in synchronised swimming competitions. Love!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Grasse - perfume making

The approach to Grasse doesn't really give any clue as to its leading role in the world of perfume and scent. I imagined a golden citadel surrounded by lush fields of lavender and roses, plus of course, an overwhelming smell of flowers. To be honest though Grasse seems pretty much like any other rather unattractive industrial town with lots of superstores scarring the outskirts. I mentioned before that you can't park a campervan in Grasse, so I took the bus (see Cannes entry) which drops you off right in the centre. It's in the old town that you get a flavour of the pretty Grasse, the one that's associated with perfume production. Vintage adverts on the walls bear testament to Grasse's elegant and sophisticated past.

Grasse was originally a tanning town, famous for its leather goods. But given the natural abundance of Provencale flowers available locally and the town's strong trade links, it also developed a leading reputation for scenting leather - particularly gloves. And so Grasse's role as a perfume-making mecca developed. There are several production houses still based in the town. I visited the rather lovely old Fragonard factory which dates back to 1926 (there are more modern production houses on the outskirts) and learned about this history of perfume making. The tour is free as they know that you're likely to be tempted into buying something at the end - yep, of course I did! It's also rather Willy Wonka-ish, with the processes simplified and theme-parked somewhat. Nonetheless, it's an entertaining (and fragrant) way to spend 45 minutes and there's a good collection of historical items associated with perfume production on display too.

You do get the urge to be refined in Grasse - there are some beautiful mansions housing free museums. The garden of the museum all about Provence's history is a good spot for a selfie!

The Fragonard brand has somewhat overtaken the town. Inside another beautiful house is a small but perfectly formed collection of costumes and jewellery from the formerly influential Arles region put together by Hélène Costa who's closely associated with Fragonard. Again this is free to visit, and is very well curated. You get an informed and analysis of the role of Provençale fashion from the 18th to the start of the 20th centuries as well as some wonderful examples of the clothes themselves.

Back in the Fragonard clothes and interiors stores (more branding) you can see how the textile craft techniques used on these regional clothes in the past have influenced Fragonard's stylish offering today. Embroidery, needlepoint detail, quilting, colour choices, all bear witness to the techniques of the past. The prices are pretty reasonable too, which means I doubt they are produced in France....

I love these sorts of techniques and how they're adapted for modern living.  My mind started whirring with ideas for a Mary Jane range using textile craft skills too. Well, you never know! My first design is sketched out on the right. Orders to please!