Tuesday 30 August 2016

Millinery Movie Moments: The French Line (1953)

Ok, I admit it, I'm just reviewing random movies I found on late-night TV, not the ones with the best hats, necessarily. On the other hand, I think you'd have to look pretty hard to find a classic movie, or at least a classic romantic comedy, that doesn't have some fabulous hats. Even just watching the extras can be inspirational.

Well anyway, today we're talking "The French Line" from 1953, with Jane Russell as oil heiress Mary Carson. She has some stunning high fashion outfits, but I also really like her "Texas girl" look from the beginning.

She looks stylish in the bath too. I'm pretty sure that Jane Russell never looked anything but stylish in her life.

I had to share this number even though it is hatless. It's the most ridiculous thing but so lovely, flattering and sparkly and bold. I couldn't get a good full length shot but it's, well I guess it's a fitted strapless jumpsuit? With sparkly boobs. And a drapey chiffon robe.

This is her outfit to impress the fiance she hasn't seen in weeks, but it doesn't work. He bolts. He likes to wear the pants, he says. Mary assures him he would but he says "But I'd be afraid to spill something on them, because you'd be paying for them."

Black hats may be classic and stylish and versatile, but they are hard to see well, especially the details! But I like the way Mary's hat curls around her face with the little tails at the bottom.

This is her "old-fashioned" outfit before she gets her new wardrobe from her fashion designer friend. I love the way these movies incorporate as many models and performers as they can, to excuse fashions shows and musical numbers.

Or just a party full of young pretty ladies across the hall, who keep coming to the wrong door. That is relevant to the plot but it still makes me laugh.

This is a plain cap in shape, but the trim is all happening. Our suave Frenchman wears his hat pretty well too. Honestly, I'm not a sucker for the suave Frenchman deal. Is it just me?

I have mixed feelings about this movie in general, mainly because I've ended up watching it so many times while I got around to reviewing it, but it's a bit of fun, although quite weird. The millinery doesn't take centre stage (Jane Russell's sex appeal does), but there are some really lovely hats, and the dresses are even better. A decent laugh and pretty to look at.

Tuesday 16 August 2016

Get ready for Snoodtember!

Here's a heads up for you on an new addition to the calendar. I'm declaring September 2016 to be the inaugural Snoodtember, a celebration of snoods and a time to wear them and love them. I hope you'll enjoy the ride and maybe even jump on board!

From The Muswellbrook Chronicle, 18 October 1940

Why snoods?

I'm a bit fascinated by snoods. Knitted and crocheted snoods are quite popular with vintage loving girls and they look fabulous. They are distinctive, easy to wear, and keep your hair under control while looking chic. But for some reason it seems that only one branch of the snood family tree is popular in vintage circles at the moment, and there is so much more to the snood than just these styles. I want to explore all that the world of snoods has to offer us.

Snoods came in different shapes and sizes, were worn by themselves or with hats, re-appeared in a number of time periods, were made of all kinds of materials, and decorated in all kinds of ways. I won't have time in one month to explore everything, but I want to expand your horizons a little and celebrate the snood in all its glory!

From The Australian Women's Weekly, 27 Jan 1945

My Snoodtember plans

On the blog I'll be sharing some posts with more information about snoods, and how to wear them, as well as links to knitting and crochet patterns. There will be outfit inspiration featuring looks from some lovely ladies with killer vintage style. And, of course, there will be the snood-a-long! I'll show you how to make a fabric snood and trim your snoods.

Even though I have never once worn a snood before, I am boldly venturing into these waters and I'll be sharing how I go with my own outfit photos. Plus I'm going to have weekly themes to give me a bit more guidance and inspiration.

From the Western Mail, 29 February 1940

Join in!

I'd love for you to join me in celebrating the inaugural Snoodtember by wearing a snood, sewing along with me, and/or using the weekly themes to expand your snood horizons.

I'll be sharing images primarily on Instagram, and in a round up post here at the end of the month, and I'd love to see your looks too. On Instagram, use the hashtag #snoodtember and tag me @tanithrowan so I don't miss them. If you aren't on Instagram, you can email photos to tanithrowandesigns@gmail.com or send me them on Facebook if you prefer. (I would love to see your photos even if you don't want me to share them, and I will only share anything with permission!)

From the Western Mail, 23 January 1941
Are you a snood wearer or have you ever made one? If not, are you willing to give it a go with me?

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Trove Pattern Project: 1934 "Vagabond Beret"

Today the Trove Pattern Project delves further back into 1930s fashion with this so-called "Vagabond" beret. This free pattern appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on March 1st, 1934, and was by "Elissa".

Berets are a fabulous and useful hat, and the illustration looked very promising.

I'm pleased with the results and I might even actually wear this hat. I haven't often used stitching as a design element on hats, especially not anything as simple as straight lines, but I really like the effect (even though it is very subtle on my fabric). I haven't completely decided if I like the buttons yet.

Like most of these patterns, the instructions are brief and require you to make quite a few educated guesses along the way, but I've included mine here to help you.

Note: These are not full instructions, read through the original pattern and instructions for the rest of the information.

  • Half a yard of fabric. Recommended in black velvet, but it also says at the end that it could be made in "tweed or face cloth to match the coat or frock." I've used a cotton/wool blend leftover from making, appropriately, a 1930s style top. I'm a big fan of wool for berets, and it's less formal than velvet.
  • Half a yard of stiffened millinery net. I don't actually know what they are after here. You can get blocking net, and I think it is similar to the kind used in the 50s and 60s, but the 30s? I'm not sure if it is the same thing. It gets cut out in the same pattern piece for the top and sewn flat, so it is basically interfacing to provide more body. So I just used interfacing, a medium weight iron-on, because that is what I had already and it suited my fabric quite well. I actually used it on both pieces, because my fabric is very drapey otherwise, but I think the original is only using the net on the top piece.
  • The trim they show, that I've also used, is an "embroidered" pattern and two metal buttons. They also suggest feathers or a ribbon bow as alternatives.
  • They recommend buying a ready-made lining. Not as easy to find as they used to be, but I did find some online at Torb & Reiner and also Hatters Millinery Supplies. There are also instructions online for making simple hat linings. You can use the original pattern to make a lining (which is what I would usually do for a flat pattern hat) but because the top is stitched down it won't work as well in this design.

  • The size worked out perfectly for my head, which is about 57cm, when I assumed a 1cm seam allowance was included on the pattern.
  • A bit of guesswork is required to draft it, but the key measurements are given. This is how I drew up the pattern for the side band:
  1. Draw a rectangle 23.5 inches long and 10 inches wide.
  2. Find the centre of both long sides, and join them.
  3. Measure 4.5 inches along this line from the top and mark this point.
  4. We know the bottom edges are 3 inches long but not the angle they are at, so I guessed. I measured 1.5 inches (I think. Maybe it was 1.25) up from the bottom corners then drew my 3 inch lines from there.
  5. Sketch in the curves as smoothly as possible.
  • I didn't take a photo of all that, but here's a quick diagram for you: 
  • Attach the interfacing/net/whatever to the fabric. So I just had to iron my interfacing on. The original instructions have you tacking the net to the fabric for the top piece, and the decorative stitches are a part of this, so you don't really have to do extra tacking, just line them up and go on to the next step.
  • Sew the decorative stitching on. The original says with "silk", I used regular sewing thread. I imagine embroidery thread would be more appropriate. Mine doesn't show very well because of the dappled fabric but on the plus side it had straight lines I could follow!
  • One tip for the stitching - draw on the seam line and don't stitch beyond this. I stitched closer to the edge in some parts and then later when I trimmed my seam allowance, some of my stitches came loose. You could also choose to stitch that seam with a narrower seam allowance.
  • I then pressed the piece with steam because my stitching had made the fabric wrinkle a bit.
  • Assemble the hat. Again, I used a 1 cm seam allowance as it wasn't stated but that amount would give me the correct fit. I trimmed the seam allowance where the top and side joined to about 5 mm so it would sit nicely.
  • The instructions say to "Turn in the lower edge until the beret is shallow enough." *sigh* I turned it up about 1.5 cm, and then hand stitched it into place.
  • The seam on the side band in this hat sits on the right of the head. (At least, I think that is what they are saying.) Try the hat on, pull the top forward and down until you like it, then pin into place and slip stitch down. This seemed a bit vague but when you have the hat on it does make sense. Looking at the original illustration helps.
  • Add your buttons and a lining. I haven't lined mine yet. I'm going to decide how I feel about the buttons first.
  • There isn't much to the wearing of this hat, as it should fit your head, and the rest is all just deciding how much of an angle you want. How jaunty are you feeling today? 

I might even like this enough to try it in another fabric, but on the other hand, many more patterns are calling me.

What do you guys think of this one?

If you've missed any of the other pattern reviews in my Trove Pattern Project, you can find them here:

Tuesday 2 August 2016

The first year of my email newsletter: lessons for very very very small businesses and blogs

Recently, I sent out my 26th email newsletter. Since I send them out fortnightly, that makes one complete year! I'm pretty pleased with myself for starting and following through with the newsletter, and I wanted to talk about what I've learned in that time.

The thing is, it feels a bit weird to give advice when I have a very small business, a very small blog, and a very small number of newsletter subscribers.

Maybe, though, there is a need for that kind of honesty. If I listen to a podcast or read a blog post about email newsletters, they always say things like "even if you only have 1000 subscribers" and I think "Ok, what if I only have 10?"

I had 10 subscribers when I sent the first email. And actually, one of them was me. And two were family. But when I started this blog, three and a bit years ago, the only people reading were my mum, my sister, and one of my friends. Even my best friend couldn't be bothered reading it. I don't think my husband has ever read a post. But it grew, and so has the newsletter, and I hope it will continue to do so. Even so, it probably won't reach numbers in the thousands, and that's ok. (It's currently at 40, by the way.)

I'm no expert at newsletters, but I have experienced starting one from nothing, with a small audience, to accompany my very small blog and business. And maybe that is the kind of experience you expect to have to. If so, I hope I can help by being the kind of very small voice that isn't often heard.

Here are the points that were most important to me.

Get inspired

Small business and blogging experts really push that a newsletter is the most important way you can connect with your audience. Both because people usually check their email more reliably and regularly than any other channel, and because you will "own" the email list and control it, unlike your Facebook page and the people who like it.

The main reason I ignored that advice for so long, was that I hadn't seen what a good newsletter could be. In my mind, a newsletter was something a business sent me to tell me sales were on or new stock had arrived or other things I mostly deleted before even reading them. Once I found a couple of newsletters I actually enjoyed reading and looked forward to, I had ideas for what I could do myself.

If you don't have any newsletters like this in your inbox (just one will do but more is good) then go out and subscribe to heaps. You'll probably find most of them boring (or never even receive anything from them!) but you can just unsubscribe again. And you'll learn what you don't like. Subscribe to anything you like, but try to include businesses or blogs that have something in common with yours, whether it is the niche, or the type or scale of the business.

Have a plan

You need to work out what to actually include in your newsletter. Make sure you find a nice balance of content that is a real gift to your reader, and content that aims to benefit you, for example promoting your products. You want your newsletter to be a genuinely good read for your audience.

You need to be in this for the long haul, so make sure your plan is set for the long haul, so you don't run out of steam or time or ideas. Try to pick content types that you will be able to continue. For example, if you frequently post to Instagram, you will probably always have content for a "Social Media Round Up" or you can use those images for a "Behind the Scenes" section.

Have a range of options for content, even if you won't do them all at first, or all in each email. If something you plan turns out to be unsustainable or not successful, you want to have other ideas to turn to.

When I was starting, I struggled to find good advice on this topic that was suitable for me. Maybe I wasn't searching well enough online but everything was geared to bigger blogs, bigger businesses and different niches. So I wrote myself a worksheet and then answered it. It was a really useful tool for me, focused on analysing my own preferences and brainstorming a heap of ideas to consider. It's very simple, but you can get it yourself here if you like.

Don't wait

Once you are prepared and have a plan, don't let insecurities hold you back. You might worry that you don't have time or don't know what you are doing, or that no one will be interested. Did you let that stop you from starting your blog or business? Be realistic about the preparation you need to do, but don't make excuses beyond that.

Don't wait to get "more subscribers" so that your efforts will be more appreciated or worthwhile. If you can write a newsletter that is of value to your audience, it is still of value to an audience of 1, or 2, or 10, or 20.

Once I announced the newsletter, I planned a start date and determined to send the first email then, no matter what happened. With 10 subscribers (well, 9 real ones) I wrote the best content I could, and sent it out.

Be consistent

In writing this post, I keep thinking about newsletters I used to read that I can't remember receiving for ages. I don't remember unsubscribing. I guess they just stopped. Others I know for sure stopped, because it was only after one or two mails were sent. I'm sure there was a reason, and I'm not trying to be harsh here on those people, but you don't want your newsletter to be like that.

Decide how often you will send an email. Pick which day of the week, and probably even which time. Make it something that will work for you. (Abby Glassenberg has a good post on scheduling for sustainability.)

Then do it. As best you can. For the rest of the life of your business or blog.

Change rather than quit

The plan you start with will not be perfect. Perhaps your audience isn't that interested in something you included, or you find yourself bored with it, or it is too much work, or the nature of your business changes and makes different content more suitable. That is totally fine. Come up with some new ideas, or revisit some you thought of at the start, and try them out.

Changing the content or style or even the frequency of your newsletter is not a big deal, but stopping completely is.

One of my favourite parts of my newsletter (and even so it doesn't appear each fortnight) is Hat Style Inspiration, which I only added about six months in. I like having a flexible plan of content to suit what I have to write about. I might review a book occasionally when I happen to be reading something relevant, or include a behind-the-scenes when I happen to have some sketches or photos worth sharing, and then not worry about them at other times. I've experimented with newsletter-specific content, but often find it too much work. I'm happy to try things out and see how I feel about them. You might prefer a more regular structure, but don't be afraid to change it when it isn't working.

The benefits of small

There are really good things about having a small email newsletter, especially at the start. I actually know who my subscribers are, and who is clicking on the links. (I don't know everyone, of course, but I recognise some names from my friends, family and blogging friends.) There is a lot of talk about imagining your reader when you write, and it sure is easy when you don't need to make them up. When I am deciding whether to include a link, or an image, or some information, I have real people to think of. I think, "I know that Jill will appreciate this article, or that Judy isn't on Instagram so won't have seen this great image I shared."

It sounds a bit stalker-ish, right? Try to think of it as you helping me without any effort on your part. And if your name is Jill or Judy I'm not actually stalking you, I just picked a couple of names.

The big picture

For my business it is hard to say if there are financial benefits, since I'm not in a position to quote the numbers of people who bought my product right after seeing it in a newsletter (ok, I am, it's zero). I think there have been indirect sales, in that some people who have ordered from me are subscribers, so it is definitely a part of my communication to customers and potential cutsomers.

But there is also more. I feel like I've gained a lot from my newsletter. I've made connections, started collaborations, shared my own work in a different way, shared the work of others, had great ideas, experimented with content, and above all, the big one, I've committed to something and shown myself that I could do it. Always worthwhile.

For my current newsletter subscribers, thank you for being there, and opening my emails and hopefully reading them. You make me happy by this simple act! If you aren't a subscriber, I send fortnightly emails about hats and vintage style, and you can sign up here.
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