It is, however, a tricky one. It's beautiful. But it really isn't about the hat. The hat is a base, a foundation, on which the lovely lace takes centre stage to make the big impression.
I knew when I started the design, that getting the right lace was critical.
And, to be honest, I wasn't impressed by anything I could find. Where nice vintage laces were available, they were usually not such a long length as this design called for, and they were very expensive for something I was just looking at through small images on a screen. Perhaps in pre-child days I would have ventured out to the fabric shops in Marrickville or Cabramatta, but now I was really keen to find an online option. I looked for ages and wasn't making any headway.
As it happens though, I had gone with my grandmother to a 'fibre muster' out in Bathurst and met and chatted to a woman named Sandy Fullerton. She and her husband Tom have this embroidery business. I bought a couple of embroidered patches and these cute greeting cards with embroidered motifs that the recipient can remove and sew on to something. We also chatted. Sandy was one of those people who was super enthusiastic about anyone creative and any creative venture. She was full of encouragement, advice and energy. She made a big impression on me.
So here I was struggling with the lace. I hate making phone calls, but I called Sandy. And the end result is this lace, and this hat. So it was worth it!
Since having a lace custom designed and made was a totally new experience for me, and is something that I imagine few people have done themselves, I wanted to share what it was like, and what I learned.
How it worked
Sandy and I discussed my needs, and I sent her an inspiration photo and my sketches. She told me a bit more about what was possible and suggested options. This went back and forth for a bit as I developed my ideas. I could have sketched a design idea myself for her to work from, but I was happy to let her handle the artistic side of things.
So she sent me an initial sketch, which was simplified in a revised sketch, which became our final design. The design had to be digitised for the lace embroidering machine, and then she embroidered samples in different colours and sent images of those to me. Once I approved the design, I sent her the base fabric and chose the thread colour.
Anything is possible
Just within the bounds of the type of lace I wanted, there were many more options that could have been explored. Multiple thread colours, metallic thread, cut work, different widths, more elaborate designs, different lengths of pattern repeat. And that is just one type of lace. Being so lace-ignorant, I don't know much more, but I do know they have other types of machine that do mysterious other things.
It helps to know what you want
This design is, I'm informed, a one colour lace broderie with cutwork within, embroidered onto tulle. It took a long time to reach that level of decision.
I came into the process with very little clear in my mind. After all, I called on a whim to see if this was possible, and ended up discussing types of lace and other things I didn't really understand. I just knew that the end result should look like! I knew the sort of width I wanted, and roughly the length needed. I would recommend having a better idea of what you need than I did. Sandy was excellent in guiding me to the right solution, but it would be much quicker and simpler if you knew the name of the lace type that you wanted, the basics of the design, and the colours, as well as the dimensions.
Sandy waives the design fee for other local creatives, which was extremely nice, and evidence of her passion for a creative life. She did tell me that the fee would be in the vicinity of AU$300. But even without that, the lace was expensive. We are talking AU$150 plus GST for 2.88 metres, just for the embroidery. I had to buy the tulle for the base myself and send it to them, which was another adventure in itself. The initial more elaborate design would have been $300 for that length.
I don't want to suggest that the expense wasn't worth it. It is 18cm wide lace, on the exact colour I wanted, colour matched thread, in a design that I dreamed up myself, that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. It was never going to be cheap. And how many hats use almost 3 metres of lace? Not many. One metre would be a lot of lace for the average lace-draped hat. If I used this design for, say, a lace overlay on a fabric-covered hat, I might use only 20 or 30cms of it, or less. That comes out to a very reasonable price!
I think that if I were designing a collection and wanted to tie it together with lace on multiple hats, or I were trying to sell multiple of one design, that the expense would be very worth it. The value of having an exclusive material at your disposal would be hard to quantify.
It takes a long time
The decision process took about four months, which was largely on my side, as I had to make decisions about design and colour, buy and send fabric swatches and buy and send the tulle. From finalising the preparations to finished lace took about six weeks, but that was over Christmas. I would estimate that if you came in with a clear design and budget, and the knowledge to make further decisions quickly, the whole process might still take up to two months, depending on the current workload they had. The machines can only sew so quickly, and they had a queue of projects waiting on machine time.
For the photos on my mannequin, you can see that they were taken when the lace was just pinned on so I could get feedback from Jessica, as I did at multiple stages of this project. You can see that the early sketches weren't how the final shape ended up either, but that we had the basic idea down pretty early.
The rest of Jessica's outfit photos in this hat are here on her blog. Tom and Sandy don't have much of a web presence, but you can see some of their gift card designs on their website.
I think having anything custom made by a specialist is an amazing experience but often one that you aren't sure how to navigate through, so I hope you found this an interesting peek into the process, even if it isn't something you are likely to do yourself!
What I'd love to know is what you think of the strawberry design and what other colours and designs you think I should use it for? If you were going to have lace designed for you, what kind of pattern would you want?