Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Custom-designed lace: my experience

If you've seen the 1939 movie "The Women", I'm sure you couldn't be anything but wowed by the fashions, and that definitely includes some stunning hats. When Jessica Cangiano and I were discussing our latest collaboration, we discovered that we were on the same page when it came to this movie. Love. Love. Love. Jessica tentatively suggested attempting to create something like the lace draped hat with the big lace bow, worn by Rosalind Russell as Sylvia Fowler, in the scene where they stalk the perfume counter to lay eyes on Crystal Allen. I was one hundred percent on board!


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.


It's expensive

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?
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19 comments

  1. Custom lace - definitely pineapple pattern. What I'd use it for I have no idea, but it sprang into my head!

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    1. Of course! That would look very cool.

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  2. This hat is amazing. I adore how it frames her beautiful face. I love the idea of lace in a print with poodles or cats or maybe stars

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    1. Thank you! The face-framing effect has turned out perfectly, and of course Jessica knows just how to wear a hat to the height of its potential!

      I love the idea of poodle or cat lace. Those would be really fun.

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  3. The hat is absolutely stunning, and I'm so impressed with the level of detail and creativity that went into the design. Custom lace! I didn't even know that was a thing. The final product is absolutely stunning, and totally worth the time and effort that went into it.

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    1. Thank you Jessica! It is really nice when all the effort works out in the end!

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  4. I saw the hat on Jessica's blog. Very beautiful. I was wondering where you got that beautiful lace that is the perfect size...I wanted to get some to add to a hat myself. Custom lace, who knew...wow!!!
    Dee

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  5. Exquisite is the only word I can think of describing this hat and that lace. You've done an amazing job, you have such great skills.

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    1. Thanks Akram! I really appreciate that :)

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  6. I had no idea this was even possible. But you have created an incredibly beautiful lace, and hat. Your skill never ceases to amaze me!

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    1. Thanks so much Christina! Before this, I had no idea it was possible either. It's always such a learning journey!

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  7. Tanith, I truly cannot thank you enough for all of the hard work, professionalism, attention to detail, and personal expense that you put into designing this staggeringly beautiful hat. Your workmanship, like that of the custom lace, is unparalleled, and you have created a piece that more than captured my original vision.

    Mere words of gratitude scarcely seem like enough I truly want you to know how much I will always appreciate and remember everything that you did to make this amazing late 1930s inspired chapeau a reality.

    With all my heart, thank you.

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. Thank you Jessica and you are very welcome. I always know that a hat in your possession will be looked after and loved and worn and appreciated! Which is the best thing there is.

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  8. Wow! This hat is such a stunner, you did such a super job! I didn't know that custom lace was a possibility either and it is really interesting to find out about the whole process. It is very beautiful. I think I would have some kind of autumny acorns and leaves lace but I don't know what I would use it for. I love Kate's suggestion of poodle lace!

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    1. Thanks Kate-Em! Acorns and leaves would be fabulous, and it could be in a rusty colour with coppery bits...mmmm!

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  9. Lace making is such a bewildering skill, it seems so complicated, all those bobbins, but how lovely to have custom designed lace.

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    1. Yes it confuses me too! And there are so many more different types of lace than I ever realised as well. This experience taught me a lot and there is still so much more out there!

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