Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Hat To Grow a Garden

There is often an idea in my head for years before it actually materializes.  This is as true for hat making as it is for folding laundry or sorting through piles of paper. 

Being an avid, albeit a negligent, gardener, I have been wanting, forever, to create a hat with special gardening status.  I can now proudly say that I have accomplished this one task.  The laundry and my child's artwork from the past nine years remain untouched, but the hat has finally been made.

I present to you....Gardenia.  She is made on my new (100 years old) straw braid sewing machine from raffia braid.  This raffia braid has nothing to do with the raffia braid commonly seen in factory made hats.  This stuff is substantial.  The braid is really wide and really thick.  It makes the most rustic hat that just makes one want to go out and plant tomatoes.  The band and the rose are made from hand dyed linen.  Yes, hand dying is one of the stupid things I do to ensure that I consistently hover just above the poverty line.

Here are some photos from my garden.  It looks better in the photos than in real life. I love that cropping tool.  If someone invents a garden tool to crop out the physical weeds, let me know. 

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Livin' The Dream in Lunenburg

 I live in a beautiful town with a beautiful family and I make hats all day in a life size doll house. Once again, I need to drone on about how lucky I am.

This past week I felt ridiculously lucky.  With the help of my new brochure people are finally finding me. I had two women from Toronto pick up my brochure in Peggy's Cove and made a detour to Lunenburg to see me.  I had a travel writer pick up my brochure in Amherst and decide to head over my way.

These two gorgeous sisters found me via the Lunenburg Art Map and the next day while visiting Peggy's Cove they were stopped by a woman from Ontario who inquired where they got their hats.  That woman then high tailed it to Lunenburg and showed up my door.

I'm pretty sure that I am sending these ladies home with unique memories.  When people are touristing, life is filled with restaurants, fun shops, museums, beaches and trails.  But my home-based shop offers something a bit different. A peek inside a home.

The first being to meet customers at the door is Lego.  Usually he brings his pillow.  Not so much to give, as to show.  Do you like my pillow?  Look, I have a pillow.
A quick glance around my studio makes it very clear that this is where the hats are made and a quick glance through the open door into my messy dining room makes it clear that this is also my house.

I try to always be generous with my time and travel advice, but the generosity goes both ways.  Every time a customer leaves my shop I find they have also shared a bit of their lives with me.

This coming week will be our ninth anniversary in Lunenburg.  I can so remember the insanity of that first year.  I was trying to be a mom to a four year old while simultaneously trying to keep 30 stores stocked with my hats.  I was a nervous wreck.

I moved to Lunenburg thinking that my business could thrive despite being in Nova Scotia, but it didn't take me long to discover that my business was thriving because I live in Nova Scotia.  It's just so fun for people to wander the streets of a historic town and then discover an artisan working from home with an open door.

These days my life is so much calmer.  Aside from that four year old now being a thirteen year old,  being able to welcome people into my shop has allowed me to give up a lot of the wholesale part of my business.
Between my little shop, the farmers market, online sales and a few great wholesale accounts, I get to live the dream and there is time in the day left over for swimming, walking, biking, and gardening.
 What a life!  I highly recommend it.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

All this and I didn't leave the house

O.K.  fine, I do leave the house once a week to go to the Farmers' Market and I also walk my dog, but my life revolves around my home and that's the way I love it.  I know it's not a life for everyone, but being by myself in my little studio with the occasional visitor is my definition of heaven on earth. I often have to pause and  consider how incredibly lucky I am to be able to make a living in the way that I do.
My weekly Thursday  trip to the Lunenburg Farmers Market is my social day.  It's my time for chatting, shopping and hat selling and it is a highlight of my week, but when I get home I am toast and am always thankful for six more days of not leaving the house. 

This is Julia.  She was visiting from South Africa and circled my booth a number of times before finally allowing herself to be sucked in.  She was having a great time trying on hats and I wasn't about to pass up on the opportunity to photograph such a beauty.

Pam was helping Cheryl Corkum sell her beautiful paintings at the market this week and was all dressed up for Canada Day with one of my hats.

Cheryl's paintings are  at the market every week.

When the market was over, Pam came over and said, "Did you sell my hat?'  "Nope."  I told her,  "It's waiting for you."  And off they walked into the sunset.  I would ordinarily have a hard time parting with this kind of hat so soon after finishing it, but Pam is Hat Junkie family.  One of the many women that have kept me eating through the years.  It couldn't have gone to a better head.

Terri was visiting from the Annapolis Valley and off she went with this Suitcase Sarah.  I really couldn't ask for better advertising than all these beauties.

Did I mention my new hat boxes?  For years I have been dreaming of carrying good quality hat boxes, the kind that will actually protect a hat.  They are made by a small company in the states.  The quality has exceeded my expectations.

I had another one of my regular Hat Junkies come visit me at the market yesterday.  She needed a hat for her son's wedding.  I had two days before she needed to hop on a plane back to Manitoba. This is what I refer to as a hat emergency.  If humanly possible I am always happy to help. I received my marching orders (Do whatever you want) and got to work.  This is what I came up with.

When Louise came on Friday evening to pick up her hat we both knew it was all wrong.  Louise grew out her dyed hair and now instead of a brown bobbed cut she had a silver short cut.  The earth tones were not working anymore.  We spent about an hour rummaging through my ribbon stash and she put these two colours together.

I love when this happens.  Pink and silver is not a combination I would have thought of, but now I will.  I spent the evening on the day bed redoing the hat.  She came back the next day and we were both delighted.

And, of course, she needed a hat box to protect her new hat.

In case you were wondering what I did with the other flowers, they ended up on this wheat straw boater.  I named the hat, Marilla, for my favourite character in Anne of Green Gables.
I know  that last week I waxed eloquent about how I don't make hats for the races, but then I got to thinking...If Anne Shirley and Marilla went to the Kentucky Derby what would they wear?  This is what Marilla would have made for herself and this ...

would be Anne's hat.

The details are mostly in the back.  Now I am officially out of wheat straw, but fear not, there is a whole new batch on its way to my local post office.  Imagine that!  I can order all my supplies without ever leaving my house.

If you also love to work from home and you live in Nova Scotia then please consider joining Homegrown Works, Nova Scotia's home-based business association.  I started this association less than a year ago and we are seeking new members.  You can check out my latest Homegrown Works blog post HERE.  See you next week.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Take This Hat to Ascot at Your Own Risk

My adventures in sewing wheat straw continue. Wheat straw is seriously rustic.  Sewing with it has caused me to recall the breathing techniques that were taught to me in birthing class, many moons ago.  (didn't work then either) Tony has several times closed my studio door to put a physical barrier between himself and the colourful expressions that seem to fall out of my mouth and Dustin's new catch phrase is, "Language, Mom!" But I just love the stuff.

I had to do a bit of self analysis to ensure that I wasn't chronically drawn to abusive hat making relationships.  But I think I can explain why wheat straw and I stay together.  I know, I know, this is classic denial, but, really, hear me out.  This is the straw of the people.  It is not fancy or pretentious, yet it is so beautiful.  The colour is like variations on sunshine.   It's imperfect and it's perfectly real.

Here's another one of this week's creations.  It's called, Hat for a seamstress.

This is the season for horse racing- Kentucky Derby, Ascot, Queen's plate....  Milliners all over the world are busy creating masterpieces of pomp and flippery. (I think I made that last word up)  I have had some requests for fascinators from ladies that don't know me well and I have learned to just say no.  When I don't want to do something, the process becomes tortuous.    It's just not me.  I could not go to a horse race.  I would inevitably do something inappropriate.  I mean, on purpose. Like eating a banana without peeling it while sipping champagne with the Duchess of Dingle.  There's something about all that  entitlement that would cause me to go bad.  And if you were to fall in love with one of my hats and wear it to the races, the hat would inspire you to do the same. You have been warned.

My hats want to go the Country Fair, the local farmersmarket, a weekend trip to Annapolis Royal,  or to the Lunenburg folk Harbour Festival.

My hats also love to take the cable ferry across the Lahave River and have lunch at the Lahave Bakery.
This photo of the Lahave ferry in the late 1800's comes from a book called, Images of our past, Historic Lunenburg, The Days of Sail.  I bet you dollars to donuts that it's available at Lunenburg Bound.

But if you have your heart set on going to the races then you should buy a hat from my dear friend and one of Canada's best milliners, Edie Orenstein.  Some of her creations can be found at the Nova Scotia Designer Craft Council store next to Pier 21 in Halifax.  You can also contact her through her Facebook page.

If any of you are familiar with Vancouver, Edie was the founder of Edie Hats on Granville Island.  She's kind of a legend and she's hiding out here in Nova Scotia, at least for the next year.  She's the real deal.

I will leave you with a couple of photos from the Lunenburg Farmers Market.  Yep, every hat finds its rightful head.

Carol is visiting from Ontario and she didn't buy this hat....yet.  It's killing me because it's a perfect match.

And, finally, some really big news....Today Dustin learned to wash the dishes.  My investment has finally paid off.    After months of the kid flaunting our rapidly changing physical stature, it occurred to me that he was now tall enough to wash the dishes without serious risk of precious pottery breakage.  Life just keeps getting better and better.  See you all next week.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Does This Hat Make Me Look Old?

Last week I set up my wares at Lady Luck Boutique in the Hydrostone Market in Halifax. Gloria walked into the shop looking like the text book definition of elegance. She tried this hat on and asked, "Does this hat make me look old?"  We all agreed that it looked beautiful on her and she went home one hat richer.

There's something wonderful about this question coming from a 90 year old woman.  It means that in her mind, she is young.   She wakes up every morning and dresses to meet the day.

Although I meet plenty of women who have convinced themselves that they can no longer dress to be noticed, I am inspired by the ones who expand the rules.  Beauty doesn't stop at middle age.  It just changes.

Randi also came by the trunk show. Just so happens that she has an entire room full of my hats. I don't think she'll mind me telling you that she is 65.  Every time I see her she is more beautiful.

And then there's Linda, quilter exraordinaire.  I could tell you about how Linda is always dressed so beautifully, but a picture speaks a thousand words.

 I made this hat last week on my new straw braid machine.  It was one of those labours of love where I just give up on calculating my time. I expected the hat to live with me for at least a few months before finding its rightful head, but Linda walked by my booth at the market at 9:30 a.m and that was that.   It left me without so much as a backwards glance.

 Here's a side view where you can see all the silk flowers that I made, petal by petal.

And this is what the hat looked like before it decided to become a hat. That's wheat straw, by the way.  My new best friend. We didn't like each other at first.  It cracked every time I looked at it.  But then I discovered that it likes to bathe before becoming a hat.

This is the straw soaking in a bucket of my tears. If only there were a manual.  It's all trial and error and I'm not always the epitome of patience.

When the tear bucket fills up, Tony is always there to mercilessly mock me. It's probably a good thing that he refuses to take me seriously.  (shameless promotion warning) Check out his beautiful doors and furniture HERE.

 And when I truly lose the ability to laugh at myself, I go for a walk.

 ...or work in the garden. Dustin wanted me to tell you that I was quite adamant that there would not be any ripe strawberries yet.  Good thing he doesn't listen to his mother.  I let him eat both.

So, yeah, all in all another charmed week in Lunenburg.  See you soon.

Friday, June 9, 2017

How do I Bore Thee? Let Me Count the Ways.

I might have a wee tendency towards obsessiveness.  It's a bit of a pattern in my life.  Something will grip me and I can think of or do nothing else.  The predominant symptom of this state of mind is that I become incredibly boring.  Well, not to myself.  To myself I'm perfectly fascinating, but anyone who happens to cross my path will invariably get to hear way more than they ever wished to learn about dancing or land use or the building code or home based business or local economies or...

      Straw braid sewing machines!!!  Isn't it incredible? I'm so in love.  Do you want to hear all about it and all the little parts and the fact that there was no wrench that fit the bolts, so Tony had to file one down for me and it took me forever to figure out the right thread and how to get the straw going in a bloody circle.  I laughed, I cried, I swore like a sailor, I let the dishes pile up for five days, forgot to feed my kid and then...

I made this pretty hat and the one in the first picture.  Talk about a learning curve.  This particular hat is quite small.  Not that I intended it to be small, but I am only beginning to figure out how to impose my own will on the hat.

I'll tell you the story behind this machine and hopefully you won't start slowly backing away from me like everyone else I talk to these days.

It all started 14 years ago...(get back here).  Tony and I were living in Massachusetts.
A friend of Tony's owned the building in Lynn that used to house Henry the Hatter.

Tony asked his friend if we could go down into the basement to check out Henry's old hat making equipment.  He responded with whatever the Massachusetts equivalent is to  "fill your boots."
So, we filled our boots...with hat blocks, fabric and a couple of antique hat sewing machines.

I never did know what the machines were meant for, but a few months ago I came across a photo of a straw braid machine and I realized that this was my machine.  So, I called Neil at Bridgewater Sewing and he cleaned it up for me and put on a little motor and I got to work.

But after watching a ton of videos on straw braid machines, it seemed my machine was missing a key part that made the whole thing easier. The lapper feeds the braid in and lines it up with the previous layer.

Then I discovered Robin at City Sewing in NY and I sent him a photo of my machine to see if he had the part I was looking for.  His response...That's not a straw braid machine.  That's a set up machine for sewing in the sweatband.

How embarrassing.  And here I had even made a straw braid hat on it and everything.  Good thing the hat doesn't care what kind of machine I used. But it was a ridiculously onerous task lining up the layers of braid without a lapper and I was hooked on the process.  So, I cracked open the piggy bank and bought an antique straw braid machine from City Sewing.  It took forever to get to me because Joe,who makes parts for these machines, is 82 years old and he cleans his church weekly and gets tired out and Robin just can't rush him.  Well, I was eventually rewarded for my patience and I'm glad that Joe lived another day to make this part for my machine and now I have my very own straw braid machine and I'm so, so, boring and I really should be making more of my canvas hats.

because, literally, every time I make one I sell one and it's not like I don't need to actually sell hats, but all I can do right now is play with my new sewing machine. The possibilities are endless.

So, if you managed to stay with me to the very end I will reward you with this beautiful photo from last Saturday.  That might have been the last time I left the house.  See you next week. (If you see me before then, you might want to avoid me.)

Friday, June 2, 2017

A Hat Junkie Hat and Nova Scotia License Plates

Funny title, eh? There really is a connection, though. This is Janis Campbell.  I met her a week ago at the Lunenburg Farmers market.  She picked up this hat and fell in love. Then she looked at the price.  She was totally sweet about it and I never take offense when someone can't afford one of my hats.  I can't afford them either...that's why I make them.

But love is love and when a head wants a hat and a hat wants a head, mere money cannot come between them.  A couple of days later, Janis showed up at my studio and the two were reunited.  The hat would go home with her to Manitoba. But before she left, Janis shared a little piece of her life with me.  This is, by far, the thing I love best about my work.  In the most random of ways I get to connect with so many people.  I love hearing their stories.

Janis grew up in Lunenburg.  She was raised in the Boscawen Inn.

This is the Boscawen Inn. It is currently owned by wonderful people and has the best deck in town. Janis' grandfather was AJ Campbell and he began what is now Tourism Nova Scotia.  So, you know how Nova Scotia license plates have "Canada's Ocean Playground" written on them?  Well, Janis' grandfather wrote that slogan. I think that's an awesome claim to fame.  And now I get to tell everyone that the grand daughter of the man who came up with "Canada's Ocean Playground" has one of my hats!

And if that doesn't impress you then it's also true that Mikhail Baryshnikov once asked me if I was using a payphone....and Martha Graham once told me that I was back on my heels....and I told Cyndi Lauper that she had to wait 45 minutes for a table....and I had a twenty minute conversation with Dan Aykroyd without ever knowing that I was talking to Dan Aykroyd...and of all people, Courtney Love has two of my hats and when I asked for her head size, she responded, 22.5 fat inches.   

 If none of these things impress you, that's O.K.  They don't impress me either.  I have really never had the proper reverence for fame.  I do, however, have tons of reverence for people and the stories they hold and I'm pretty lucky that I get to hear them through hatting.

This here is Sara Bonnyman. Another great face. She bought my green canvas hat yesterday at The Lunenburg Farmers Market. Turns out that Sara is a potter in Tatamagouche, NS.  Pottery happens to be one of my greatest weaknesses.  When I got home I immediately checked out her website .  I see there's a trip to Tatamagouche in my near future. 

There will also be many more canvas hats.  I'm currently  obsessed.

This is Brenda.  She bought this hat from me a couple of weeks ago. Brenda is a doppelganger for one of my dearest friends, Sally (who this hat is named after).  I couldn't stop staring at her.  I told her that it was really hard to not hug her because she just reminded me so much of a dear friend and she responded by giving me a big hug. Turns out they also have similar personalities.

I suppose I have exceeded my sappy quotient for this blog.  My husband will be mocking me mercilessly.  Not sure that the beauty from last week's bike ride is any less sickly sweet, but, too bad....I love my life.
This photo was taken near the beginning of my ride, when I felt able bodied and optimistic. 

I was still feeling pretty good about myself when I reached this house which I never noticed before.  It was the Second Peninsula School.

I paused around the bend because my bike met this tractor and they were quite taken with each other.

I reached the end of Second Peninsula and sat by the ocean for a few minutes and wished that I had packed some food to help me face the 11 km ride back to town. Yeah, from here on in, I was pretty happy that I didn't have any company to watch me get off my bike and walk on a perfectly flat stretch of road.  What is it about life that deludes us into believing we are perpetual spring chickens?  By the time I got back to town I was the picture of despair. 

I stopped into The Fisherman's Picnic General Store and Justine and Kenton were very kind to me.  They pretended to be impressed that I biked all the way to Bachman's beach and they let me inhale most of the Brownie samples that they had out on the counter.

I think this weekend I'll ride to Blue Rocks.  At least I know that when I get to my destination there will be food waiting for me at The Point General, which is now open for the season.  Wish me luck. (photo by Heidi Jirotka Photography)