Panama Straw

I can’t deny it, without a doubt, my favourite straw to create summer hats from is Panama Straw. Not only do they have an impressive history, but I love that they are still handwoven. The body of them is light yet strong and overall they have an everyday wearable look that continues to be associated with elegance. They are my primary choice. So much so that my Spring Summer Collection is entirely made up of them.

The legacy of Panama Straw dates back to the 1600s.  These handwoven gems, produced in Ecuador are made from toquilla straw, belonging to the palm family. The skill that it takes to weave them continues to pass from generation to generation.  Panama hats have been exported all over the world, and were highly celebrated in Europe during the Belle Epoque time period. Making them famous by wearers such as Theodore Roosevelt. During the 1940’s they were Ecuador’s number one export.

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There are varying grades of panama straw, which is determined by the tightness, and type of weave along with the time spent creating it. Suppleness and colour tone are also a factor in spotting the most elite of panama straw hats.  The premium weave is called the montecristi, the finest and most time consuming of woven hats.  True expert hands weave them; many of the masters have been weaving hats since childhood.

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The weave that I use is called Brisa.  It is a simpler weave made by crisscrossing straw to create diamond-shaped squares throughout the hat.  These hats are beautifully woven and yet more affordable then the legendary montecristi.

I purchase panama straw in a basic hat body form.  It is then up to me to mold the straw over wooden hat blocks, which shapes it into it’s desired and final look.  Finishing touches such as ribbon and trims are always added. 

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Panama straw is a delight to work with, a true pleasure. A material I am grateful to have available as it’s an art onto itself.

My Collection is being featured at East Village Hats in New York and Heart & Sole Too in Victoria, BC.

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First 3 photos are from the book, Panama: A Legendary Hat by Assouline

Last 2 photos: Hats made by Tierre, Photos taken by Ramy Arida

A Trip to New York

Looking at Manhattan from a subway station in Brooklyn.

Looking at Manhattan from a subway station in Brooklyn.

Every city has its own patina. The grand sum of its parts. A tangible spirit that can be felt in those initial few steps along the sidewalk. All our senses taking in new scenery.

The moment I arrived in New York, I was greeted with a familiar feeling, as if I were once again embracing an old friend. I have been lucky enough to get to know New York over the last four years and it’s a city that’s found its way into my heart.

A variety of images always come to mind when conjuring up thoughts about New York. Whether it be food, fashion, arts and culture, the buildings, and its people, there is no way for me to specifically put my finger on the magic of this city. Although I am confident that it’s charm is found in its unique diversity. With over 600 languages spoken there, it is unarguably the most linguistically diverse city in the world. Founded in the early 1600s, its had a lot of time to grow and become what it is today.

Due to this incredible diversity, I personally find myself experiencing a sense of freedom that I don’t often feel in my home city of Toronto. For me, one of the main ways this is represented is through fashion. On a single L Train ride, I saw a woman wearing a leopard print jacket, a floral dress, sneakers and a studded toque. She stood next to a woman sporting a black leather cap, a fur-lined leather jacket, flared jeans, purple velvet shoes and 70’s glasses. They both looked comfortable and confident in their unique presentation. For me, this is exciting and encouraging. It’s an everyday, ordinary thing to make a visual statement. Anything goes, in fact, it seems welcomed here. It’s no wonder that this city gave birth to the Advanced Style movement with icons like Iris Apfel leading the way. How can I not be crazy in love a city that embraces such eclectic fashion statements? Therefore I take every opportunity to visit the Big Apple.

One of the things that brings me to New York, is my friend Julia Knox from East Village Hats. Julia is a talented milliner who has a hat boutique in the heart of the East Village. She stocks the shop from a tiny studio space tucked into the back of her storefront location. She is the perfect example of someone who is prolific regardless of square footage. I am especially a fan of her fedoras, as she sculpts them with an expert hand. She is also a powerful force at creating community. She brings milliners from all over the world to teach in her shop. It’s a busy little place and a joy to spend time in.

A glimpse at East Village Hats

A glimpse at East Village Hats

Fedora Wall at East Village Hats

Fedora Wall at East Village Hats

They make the best fedoras!

They make the best fedoras!

I don’t usually make a strict agenda when travelling to New York. I have rough ideas of what I would like to see, but mainly you will find me walking and exploring the neighbourhoods at a leisurely pace. That way I can stumble upon little surprises that I might not otherwise find. Although I did manage to dedicate some time to shop for turban materials in the Garment District. An area of the city located in Midtown where there is an abundance of fabric stores to peruse. Many of the stores are hidden on the second or third floor of a building, completely out of sight from the sidewalk. So it’s good to look up addresses ahead of time. The Garment District, an area of the city marked by a sculpture of a needing threading a button, is the location where all things fashion related have taken place. From luxury showrooms to manufacturing garments, this was the centre of it all during the early part of the 20th century.

In addition to fabric shopping I also discovered some well-stocked consignment shops in Brooklyn, visited the FIT museum, stopped by The Hat Shop in Soho on a snowy day, and spent most mornings in contemplation while writing in whatever quaint coffee shop I could find.

As I prepared for my departure, I took in a few deep breathes of the dense city air. I was grateful for the adventure. I recognized that I was taking away a little gem, a nugget of wisdom small enough to fit in my pocket. New York was the perfect reminder that our unique expression is what makes the world colourful. Embrace it, have fun and walk with confidence. All sorts of amazing things are about to happen.

Surprise snow day in Soho

Surprise snow day in Soho

A contemplative moment at a coffee shop in East Village

A contemplative moment at a coffee shop in East Village

















Planning Ahead - Being Wardrobe Ready

This winter it finally dawned on me. I can have a complete seasonal wardrobe ready to wear, if I plan a little ahead. This occurred to me when I had a specific look that I wanted to sport but found myself floundering once the season arrived. I delayed going out to look for a few key items, such as wide-legged jeans, 1970’s style, and some cashmere sweaters, which in the end weren’t as easy to find as I had imagined.  I assumed that I could waltz into a few stores and voila; everything would be waiting for me.  It got me thinking about how great it would be if I could transition into the next season with more grace and preparedness.

Currently, I have my sights set on Summer. Since I moved to Toronto, I discovered that there are really only two main seasons, Winter and Summer. Spring and Fall are so short that building a wardrobe around them doesn’t make a lot of sense. In the heart of winter, as I’m bundled up and fending off the cold, I conjure up summery thoughts; walks along the boardwalk, strolling through the city, riding my bike or hanging out in parks.  I feel hopeful.  Maybe for the first time in my adult life, I can be style ready for seasonal changes. 

I started by creating a mood board. I perused the web, gathering images that displayed colours and silhouettes that caught my eye. This became my guide to distinguishing what I’m most attracted to and what I would love to wear this summer. Themes were easy to spot. I love wearing long colourful dresses with medium brimmed straw hats. Skirts, tops and pants come secondary. I’m not a shorts wearer, but I know this would be at the top of many women’s summer wardrobe. Study what you’ve gathered. What is the reoccurring theme; ruffles, dynamic sleeves, simple lines, flowery prints, neutral colours, vintage? What stands out to you?

Traveling Pinafore by Electric Feathers

Traveling Pinafore by Electric Feathers

Photo Credit: Unknown

Photo Credit: Unknown

Photo Credit: Unknown

Photo Credit: Unknown

Once you’ve honed in on the characteristics you wish to see in your wardrobe, the next step is taking stock of what you already have. Go through your closet and find all the clothing that resembles your target style. I’m sure that you will already own quite a few items that you love to wear. Now see what else you have in your seasonal wardrobe. There will be clothing that doesn’t match your vision and items that simply don’t have anything to pair with.

When I started to look through my wardrobe I found a wide array of colourful dresses, both long and short, which hinted to me that I don’t need to buy any more. Then there were my colourful, feminine, cropped tops. I like them all, but when I looked to see what I have for pairing options, I found a hole in my wardrobe. I am really short on skirts and pants. Many of my tops are colourful and short, therefore I envision owning a few high waisted neutral pants and skirts to make a complete and very comprehensive summer closet.

Since I was already in the process of doing inventory, I checked to see if anything was worn out and in need of replacing, then made a note of that.

I created a shopping list. My list consisted of: a neutral, high waisted, wide legged, linen or cotton pant, a long jean skirt, and a brown or khaki, high waisted, medium length, cotton skirt. Also, I do need to replace a pair of walkable sandals. That’s it! With those select items, I am confident that I will have some complete looks for my Summer Style without buying too much in the process.

With a clear vision of what I need, I’m excited to begin my search right away!

Photo Credit: Unknown

Photo Credit: Unknown

Madewell

Madewell

Burda Style

Burda Style

Photo Credit: Unknown

Photo Credit: Unknown

Anthropologie

Anthropologie

Shelved Projects and Completing Them

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Beautiful yellow silk for a camisole, green bakelite beads needing to be restrung, corduroy to make into pants, numerous hats that took a wrong turn and need to be redesigned, bins of colourful fabric that I have marked as potential. The list goes on and on. Patiently these little dreams wait for me to pluck them from the shelf and sculpt them into their intended form. I’ve done a great job of collecting materials. The studio is full of pretty things to play with.

My hands are never still, but with commitments that always take priority, and a consistent stream of new inspirations to distract me, it’s no wonder that many ideas just get shelved, only to be forgotten. Yet they don’t disappear. They take up space, cluttering up my visual field and acting as reminders of inspiration that has yet to be fulfilled.

I live in a small apartment with my husband, and I’m proud to say that we’ve carved out enough space for each of us to have our own creative stations. Due to our tight quarters, it’s crucial for me to keep things efficient and tidy. The biggest challenge to this is ‘projects that I will one day get to.’

When I have new inspiration, my mind lights up, it’s exciting. I want to chase that idea, buy the material and start something fresh. What a rush! Until I get home and put the material on the shelf in order to work on it later. Yikes, here we go again. In the end, I just feel guilty.

I listen to the news on the radio, I’m aware of the effects of mass consumerism on the planet and I want to contribute by being more conscious of my choices, and less reactive. When I look around my work area I want to see open space so my mind feels clear and expansive, rather than contracting under the pressure of all the things I must get done. I want to be more present with ideas as they arrive. Then if I feel like pursuing it, I don’t want to wait for a year to pass before I can take action.

There are a few things that I need to do to make all of this happen. Firstly I see the importance of embracing what I currently have. Which means using materials I have collected over the years, completing projects that have remained untouched or letting go of them altogether. As well as becoming increasingly discerning about which projects I decide to pursue in the first place.

To begin, I’ll start taking one project off the shelf at one time. Here we go!

The first project I selected to complete is a purse with tortoiseshell handles. I found the handles at a thrift store in Orangeville, ON called Seconds Count. It’s one of those places that still charge $1 - $2 for many of their items. It’s run by volunteers, and the proceeds are donated to the community hospital. The handles had to come home with me.

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I rooted through my stash to find a material that would match the handles well, but nothing jumped out at me. So I took the handles fabric shopping. Once I was in the store it dawned on me how many different directions I could go. It was a bit daunting and I will admit that it took me awhile to decide. I kept texting a girlfriend who’s taste I implicitly trust, the options that I was mulling over. We settled on the same one, thankfully.

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The next decision up to bat was the shape of the bag. I cut out different paper patterns in order to figure out the size and shape that suited the handles and the fabric. It was all very rough, but they acted as a helpful tool in making a final decision.

Here is the finished bag. I’m really happy with how it turned out. I like that the shape mimics the fabric pattern and I’m confident that I will use it. I did have a little fabric left over so I made a couple of cushions as a bonus.

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Berets and Boots

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My fall fashion inspiration can be summed up in two words, berets and boots. For me, the two go beautifully together. Both are timeless and weather appropriate. I also can’t help but conjure up images of waltzing down the street looking like Faye Dunaway from Bonnie and Clyde.

The traditional beret is made on a knitting loom, then felted mechanically. Once felted they are dried on moulds which determine the size. Since I don’t knit, but wanted to make some berets for my Fall/Winter collection, I created mine out of felt by blocking them on a wooden hat form. This gives them a more structured look than the soft knitted variety. In millinery, we refer to berets not by the material, but instead by their particular shape.

When I say the beret is timeless, it indeed is. Berets have been around since the 17th century, but similar styles date back to the Bronze age and were worn throughout Europe. Beret making became industrialized in the 19th century and was popular amongst the working class in France and Spain. By the 1920’s berets started to become a fashion statement and still are to this day.

To complete my desired look, I treated myself to a pair of ankle boots from Heart and Sole Shoes, a store in Victoria, BC. www.heartandsoleshoes.ca. They are from Earth Footwear and caught my attention because they have a 1960’s look, and of course the colour is unique. It being a stone blue. The ankle boot has always been my weakness. Partially because they pair well with dresses, skirts, and flood pants, which I mainly wear, but also because my skinny calves and ankles seem to suit this style best.

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I don’t know that enough can be said on the versatility of boots. Whether you sport a short, mid-calf, or tall style, they offer options for mixing and matching with your entire wardrobe. Never be afraid to experiment. Different hemlines of pants, skirts or dresses, a flared look or something sleek, it all can work with a favourite pair of boots.

Although boots were regularly worn throughout the 19th century, weren’t considered high fashion until the 1960’s. By the 1970’s they became a staple in women’s wardrobes. Boots were once worn for more practical attire and only gained height when hemlines started to shorten. Taller styles became an acceptable alternative to showing one’s ankles and calves. In 1913, Denise Poiret, wife of couturier Paul Poiret, wore a pair of knee high boots that caused a sensation in both Paris and New York. Designed by her husband, she gave rise to the ‘Russian boot’ that by the 1920’s was being made in a variety of styles. Although this style lost ground in the mid-1930’s, appreciation for a stylish boot was only gaining ground and continues to this day.

Russian Style boot

Russian Style boot

Living in a big city allows me the opportunity to study street styles and I can’t deny that with fall and winter season approaching I see boots, boots, and more boots each and every day! To add to my secret delight, there has also been a sea of berets as well.

Stay warm and have fun with fashion.

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