Saturday, July 29, 2006

Millinery: This is a stick up!

I absolutely love stick ups! At least I do when they occur in millinery, as opposed to when they occur in banks and convenience stores.

Stick ups are eye catching details on hats that hover above the hat's crown, the top part of a hat. They seemed expected in comedic character's hats, with the most iconic being a daisy shape on a stick above a flower pot shaped hat.

The story behind this particular late 1950's era stick up however is not so much one of comedy but rather one of pathos
This hat belonged to my next door neighbor, Mrs. Reba Daniels (may she rest in peace...) She was a heavy shapeless older widow when I first met her in 1984. Her home was a tiny two bedroom one bath affair in a small post WWII subdivision.

Our properties were divided by a 4 ft. high white picket fence. Naturally from time to time we would both be outside at the same time and spoke to each other just enough to be neighborly.

I remember our first conversation, which occurred shortly after we moved into our property. "We" at that time included my husband, our 5 year old daughter and 4 year old son, one brittany spaniel, one long haired tabby, and four caged rabbits.

Mrs. D. set her jaw, and looked up at me. She asked if we had a dog. I said yes. She said she didn't like dogs. She then asked if we had a cat. Again I said yes. She said she didn't like cats. She glanced at the far end of our yard, and asked if we had rabbits. I could hardly deny the four cages with four large white bunnies in repose. Yes, we had rabbits. She looked me in the eye and informed me she didn't like rabbits.

Then she asked if we had children.
Yes, we had children. Two. A girl and a boy.

I still remember the long look she gave me as she pressed her lips together, sealing in the obvious observation. I smiled and bid her good day, leaving her to her tired yard with dying grass and weed choked flower beds.

Little by little over the years I learned more about my neighbor. She had been a nurse, and raised a son. "Come met my baby boy" she once called over the fence, her arm wrapped around the waist of a bemused 60 year old man. Her face was glowing as he smiled at her, and helped her with some routine household maintenance.

Another time she noted my profusion of roses and wild flowers in bloom. "I always dreamed of the kind of garden I would have once I retired from nursing" she shared. "But when I finally did retire, I had arthritis in my knees and hands so bad, I couldn't do a thing". She looked at her one struggling ragged robin rose, shook her head, and worked her way slowly up the three steps leading to her kitchen door.

I wish I could say I offered to help her with her garden, but at that time in my own life it was all I could do to just keep up with our laundry, cooking and cleaning and car pooling.

The day finally came when Mrs. Daniel's son came to help her move. The little house was now just too much for her to manage. She was going into a retirement home. What few possessions she owned were to be stripped to the barest minimum, and the rest sold as best as they could be at a garage sale.

I walked across our drive way and on to hers, where a few card tables held the knickknacks and household items that she would no longer require. None of them looked like much to me. Inside the garage was a clothing rack with shapeless polyester church dresses, some crumpled low heeled shoes, and a hat.

This hat.

It was a deep shade of fuchsia, made of rich plush french velvet, which is nothing like the polyester velvets of today. The veil was knotted back with the ends tabbed in fuchsia satin, and each tab had a diamond spark in the center. And the stick up...dime sized diamonds that seemed to be watching both the hat and the surroundings with an energy as mesmerizing as a spotlight.

I gently picked it up, amazed at its saucy exuberance, and amused at the witty gesture the stick up produced. I had never seen anything like it. Noticing a mirror, I placed the hat upon my 1980's page boy styled hair and instantly was transformation from "Mom-and-Housewife" in jeans and tee shirt to flirty "Art Gallery and Cocktail Party Going Sister".

Mrs. Daniels stumped over to me.

"I made that hat", she said slowly, like someone recalling a dream. "I took a class, and made that hat. I used to make hats. That was a long time ago."

I wish I had asked her where she wore that hat. Was it made to match a long ago discarded suit or dress? Did she ever wear the veil untied, covering her face with a fuchsia blush, perhaps to conceal the rosy glow that was brought on by sipping a glass of champagne or red wine?

I will never know. Instead I went home and dug a few dollars from my purse, made my purchase, and returned home with the hat, a few memories, and a mystery.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Millinery: Sometimes it's in the blood

Occasionally I get asked how I became a milliner. "How" is a lot of things, such as practice, practice, practice making lots of hats before I became comfortable referring to myself as such. Taking a millinery class at Houston Community College was probably the biggest "how" in the process.

But I also think it was just something in my genes.

The photography above is of the Brosnan family of Springfield Massachusetts, taken some time around 1915. Garbed in the classic Edwardian splendor of a white lawn dress, waist corseted, and a longstem rose tucked into her ribbon waist band, the girl at the far left was my great aunt Florence. She grew up to become a milliner.

Pictured below is one of the two hats that I own which she created in the 1960. It actually was a collaborative effort; my dad shot the pheasant from which the feathers were plucked. Now there's a family project for you!

My grandmother Madeline is seen in the center of the photograph.

And for you trivia fans, the inventor/patent holder of the paperclip was Cornelius J. Brosnan, my great grandfather, the gentleman in the far left of the photo. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Millinery: Singing in the Rain

While the western United States sizzles, we here in Texas are getting lots of rain. I love rain, and I love the song "Singing in the Rain".

Now how many of you remember the scene where Gene Kelly dances in a deluge, splashing and tapping down a street, singing and swinging an umbrella.

Ever noticed what shops he goes by?

Take a look...and I wonder who's creations are on display in the window of the LaMallie Millinery Shop.

No wonder he's dancing. I'd be dancing too, in the rain even, if there was a cute little millinery shop like that on the main street of my town! Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Millinery: Veils

Historically, veils were just another design element associated with hats, as common as today's trimmings of flowers, feathers, and ribbons.

In the 1940's veils were so ordinary that Norman Rockwell included a veiled woman in his painting
"Waiting for the Veterinarian"

I've photo-copied the picture in full, and below is a close up of the lady in the upper left hand corner.

She is apparently visiting the vet with her black standard poodle, which is seated obediently by her side. A trip to the vet, just another mundane errand to run. "Let's see," I imagine her saying, "Where did I put my veiled torque?"

Personally, I am both fascinated and puzzled by veils. Fascinated because veils were worn with such aplomb by the likes of Katherine Hepburn, and other fashion icon as contemporary as Madonna. Puzzled, because I am never sure when to wear one.

Currently wearing a veil at any time other than down the aisle on one's wedding day causes children to stare, and men to rush over to strike up conversation.

Explanations are demanded, and I really can't come up with a good one, except I like how veils look on a hat, and am slightly less sure of how I feel about how they look on me.

My dad recalls his 1890's born aunt, (who later held a degree from Columbia and a Masters from USC) as frequently wearing day hats with veils. She appeared, as he put it, mysterious.

Here are two veiled hats I've created, that I actually do wear frequently. They are just the thing to make me feel elegant, and casual at the same time on a hot humid day. And if someone thinks I look mysterious in them, well then, so much the better. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Lake Houston-Summer

This is the part of Lake Houston that is about a football field from my house. Lake Houston is a man-made lake, and goes for many miles down towards the gulf. It is really neat to walk to, as there are paths all around the lake, winding through woods and meadows.

I have seen fireflies in the loblolly pines at night, and deer, and several kinds of snakes (eeekkkk!)

The water is a muddy blue, as the soil is clay around this area. That real southern "muddy water" motif, along with cicada sounds in the trees, warmth, humidity, and cypress knees poking up around the water edge makes it all seem "another world" to this southern California native. Sometime I just can't believe I am so lucky to have all this just a short walk from my front door.

I've swam in the water, just to say I did. You can almost walk all the way across up to shoulder level. People do catch fish, and B. and I bought flies to go fly fishing, someday.

I thought I would post this as a beginning of a four season study.

 Posted by Picasa