I was thrilled that Dame Sara Thornton chose Imogen’s Imagination as her milliner in advance of her investiture at Buckingham Palace. As a milliner, it’s always wonderful to be chosen by a client to create a design for their special occasion. However, to be chosen by a Dame is an even greater honour.
Dame Sara is the current UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and has had a long and illustrious career within the police service. In her current role as Commissioner Dame Sara has a UK-wide remit to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of modern slavery offences and the identification of victims.
Dame Sara received her honours from Her Majesty the Queen on 21st November 2019, and you can more of see the official photos via the link below. You can also find them via my boards on Pinterest.
The design chosen was a black felt mini button hat, the perfect cocktail hat for an indoor autumnal occasion. The hand cut petals and stamens of the flower have been machine embroidered with lustrous art silk thread.
The petals of the flower are not wired, these glorious curves are a natural reaction between the felt and the tension of the of the stitching. The design was lined with a coordinating turquoise silk dupion.
As a former employee of both Staffordshire and South Yorkshire Police, with a combined service of 11 years, it was even more special to provide Dame Sara’s hat. It is so exciting to see such an inspirational woman smashing the glass ceiling of UK policing and now leading the fight against modern day slavery. For me, as Imogen’s Imagination in the second phase of my career, I hope I can repeat this highlight and be a milliner to a Dame again!
If you would like to chat about a bespoke design of your own, please do contact me. I have more designs in store that are a similar shape to this hat and you can browse them via the link below.
Open Studios is always the annual highlight of the year at Exchange Place Studios.
Ever wondered what artists get up to in their creative spaces?
Our Open Studios event is a rare opportunity to find out!
Naturally, my studio on the 5th Floor will be open for you to visit. This is your chance to see where I spend my days working, and catch me doing some demonstrations too…every day is a work day!
This is the perfect chance to come and play with hats as I will have a full display set up. There will be some new designs, as well as firm favourites.
This will be my only event before Christmas and my card reader will be primed to allow you to start your gift shopping!
If you want to start your wish list, you can see all designs in stock here.
Visitors can venture inside both the Yorkshire Artspace Sheffield City Centre buildings and see over 100 artists and makers from over 30 different disciplines at work. There really is something for everyone!
Open Studios is a chance to catch a glimpse into the creative process, chat with the artists and makers and even buy work direct from the space it comes to life in.
There will also be a chance to view the Painterly Exchange exhibition at Exchange Place during Open Studios.
If you fancy getting creative, there will also be the opportunity to take part in free painting workshops during the weekend.
Need to refuel? Local cafe Albie’s will serving coffee and cake on site too!
If you would like a sneaky peek at what you can expect to see during the weekend, check out the fab video from Yorkshire Artspace…you may spot a familiar face!
When I agreed to be filmed, I didn’t know that the footage would be used in a separate project.
Imagine my shock (one dark, rainy and very late Friday night) on seeing images of myself being projected onto the side of the studio!
However, it was a huge honour to be featured as part of the Making Masterpieces project in conjunction with the Big Draw Mural.
Over 300 people took part in creating the mural and you can see it next to Exchange Place studios.
Saturday 16th & Sunday 17th November
11am – 5pm
Exchange Place Studios, Exchange Street, S2 5TR – Find me on Floor 5
It’s fair to say that this year has been a bit of a belter!
I am so honoured to have been asked to be involved in so many amazing projects and here’s a little round up of this year’s highlights. There have been so many other super exciting things that have happened too…but these are the biggest ones!
A good chunk of the amazing things that have happened this year have been directly as a result of the enormous efforts of the Year of Making team. This city-wide and discipline-wide celebration of creativity and making in Sheffield has been utterly invaluable to the successes that I have had this year. Every project I have been involved during this year has been supported by the team and I owe them a HUGE debt of gratitude. Thank you to all of you, but most especially Tamar Millen, you are a total wonder woman!
We had been tasked by Etsy, as the team leadership, to organise a Christmas Market during the first weekend of December…no small feat for a bunch of first timers!
Cue much discussion about the how we were going to organise this mammoth task and how we were going to pay for it!
April, May and June were all about Operation Hat Stand.
We kicked off in April with our first craft market, swiftly followed by another one in May. We also managed, between the three of us, to lead a hugely successful facinator workshop for over 70 members of the Seven Hills WI! You can check out the images here thanks to SHWI’er Laura’s fab photography skills…we were too busy to breathe, let alone document the evening!
We set up shop in the Winter Garden pop-up space on 2nd June and there we stayed until the end of the month. This was our first time running the shop for a whole month…and it was our best year to date! We have booked our spot for June 2017, but that’s all I can tell you so far!
We were very honoured to have not only Dr Julie MacDonald, the High Sheriff of South Yorkshire join us for our launch party, but also The Right Worshipful the Lord Mayor of Sheffield, Councillor Denise Fox, 120th Lord Mayor of the City of Sheffield.
This project wouldn’t have been a thing for the last 3 years, and wouldn’t continue to happen, with out the on-going commitment (all year round!) from my colleagues Amanda (Amanda Moon Headwear) and Siobhan (Siobhan Nicholson Millinery). Thank you!
I love our girl gang and am so excited about planning the 2017 pop-up shop.
A Sweltering Summer…
I say June was all about Operation Hat Stand….mostly!
In June I had to beat the fear and deliver a demonstration day to some very discerning customers.
I was asked invited to Oasis Watermead Academy to inspire their pupils ahead of their end of year school picnic, when, inspired by the Queen’s Birthday garden parties they would all be making their own hats to wear.
Yes, I did get to meet almost every child in the school that day! It was a huge amount of fun though and I was given the most amazing design ideas to take away for my own inspiration.
July was a bit of a rollercoaster month. I’d spent the first 6 months of the year thinking “once Hat Stand is out of the way, I’ll do…..” How wrong was I?
I’d spent every spare moment of June making a brand new design for the acclaimed Made In Sheffield exhibition at Millenium Gallery which closes on 8th January 2017.
I didn’t make things easy for myself, but my collaboration with my Exchange Place Studios neighbour, Giles Grover of Small Machines created so many opportunities in the months to come I was completely blown away!
You can read more about the feature over on the Hat Stand blog here.
Autumn into Winter was a bit of a blur…
I’ll be honest, September was a pretty scary month with a huge first to be overcome.
It started off with another unexpected front cover feature, again from HaTalk Magazine, but this time I was on my own as the prestigious Hat of the Month feature all about my exhibition hat.
I then re-convened with my Hat Stand colleagues to take part in the Meet the Maker series of demonstration sessions, held inside the Made In Sheffield exhibition at Millenium Gallery. Good job I’d beaten my demonstrating nerves earlier in summer!
The final challenge of the month was a public speaking engagement…not nervewracking at all! However, I wasn’t on my own, I was invited along with my collaborator Giles Grover of Small Machines to talk about our experience of making the exhibition hat as part of the Year of Making showcases at the Festival of the Mind. As the talk was to be held in a Spiegeltent, possibly the most opulent temporary structure I have ever had the pleasure to be in, it was an opportunity not to be missed!
October. This may surprise you, things went a little bit quiet!
Well, technically, thats not true as I was frantically trying to get ahead with all the planning that we, the team leaders of Sheffield Sellers on Etsy were doing for the Etsy Made Local market….and boy, was there a lot of admin to do!
I also had a couple of vintage fairs, including my first one in the West Midlands for over four years…I did sneak in a visit home and a sort of weekend off for that one!
Fast forward to November.
Having one hat in an exhibition was something I never in my wildest dreams imagined would ever happen…let alone two!!! Thanks to yet another Year of Making opportunity, I was invited to create another unique piece for the Woven exhibition at the Makers Gallery.
The invitation to take part in this exhibition was even more special as it was curated by the one and only Tokyo Jo. I have been a long-standing admirer of Jo’s work for nearly a decade and it’s fair to say I had to reign in the fan-girl response when she got in touch!
There can’t be anyone in Sheffield who has never heard of the Crucible Theatre, in fact, I think you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who has never heard of The Crucible, full stop. As the home of snooker, and Sheffield institution, I had no fear when I was invited by Year of Making to take part in their showcase of projects that had taken place during the 2016.
And when I say this, naturally, I am lying through my teeth…I was VERY nervous!
Again, my fears were unfounded. I was joined on stage with the ever cheerful and encouraging Nick Wright of Ernest Wright & Son Ltd, scissor makers extraordinaire.
However, I threw open my studio door at Exchange Place Studios to the public to give them an insight into what happens behind the scenes in a creative cave…once I’d had a serious tidy up that was!
I was incredibly relieved to meet some people during the course of the weekend who had been at The Crucible earlier in the week and they were all very kind in their praise about my delivery and content of the conversation I had with Nick….phew!
And then suddenly it was December!
The first weekend of the month was the climax, culmination, pinnacle (all those words!) of over eight months planning with my fellow Sheffield Sellers on Etsy team members. Etsy Made Local was live!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow team leaders Rob (Sheffield Mug Co), Donna (Charley & Billie) and Jayne (Maxwell Harrison Jewellery) for their tireless commitment, support, enthusiasm and downright hardwork in the run up to the event, during and after.
Oh, and thanks for putting up with my coping strategy of wine at every opportunity!
We had a preview evening, an art installation, over 54 stallholders and 2 full days of trading during the weekend….we pulled out all the stops for this. You can find the official photos from the Preview Evening on our Facebook page
I’ll be the first to admit I look somewhat delirious in this photo, and the jury is still out as to whether that was due to exhaustion, relief or happiness at how well the event turned out. With an estimated 4-5k people through the door over the weekend, it surpassed all our expectations when our our significant promotion was conducted via a social media campaign.
Well, frankly if you made it to the end of this round-up, you are probably as knackered and exhausted as I am!
I’m going to spend most of the Christmas period asleep so I can be ready to be on it in the new year….I have a big project to launch in the coming months.
Today a brand new exhibition opened at Millennium Gallery where it will run until 8th January 2017.
Usually, I wouldn’t write about a new exhibition, but this one is a little bit special, as I am in it. Well, obviously not me, literally, but my hat is!
To have been invited as one of the makers to take part in Made in Sheffield is, quite frankly, a massive honour. The exhibition will feature work from over 150 creative businesses and artists as part of the city-wide initiative, The Year of Making. I genuinely never ever imagined I would ever be involved in something quite so prestigious!
The invitation to take part was originally offered during Open Studios at Exchange Place, back in November last year. Naturally, I decided that I wanted to make something special for the six month exhibition. I had a little think and decided that my inspiration for the piece should be, well, making! I also wanted to celebrate collaboration, traditional skills and modern technology.
Not too much to cram into my brief for myself then!
One of the most recent technologies to be used in millinery is laser cutting. I’d seen some fabulous geometric, flora and fauna based designs via my daily Pintrest forays, but they just didn’t feel right with my “traditional” brief. Then I spotted some shoes that were spot on….well you don’t get more traditional than a pair of brogues! And then followed some serious shoe shopping on Pintrest, all in the name of research naturally.
My next job was to decide what material to make the design with. Obviously, shoes are made from leather so this seemed like the natural choice. But I’ve never actually worked with leather before! Luckily, I have my #girlgang of Hat Stand Sheffield milliners, both past and present, so I was able to get lots of advice from them about how to go about working with it. I was also able to call on the expertise of Kathryn Sillince of Magpie Accessories (also of Exchange Place Studios) for general advice about working with leather and potential pitfalls.
So design inspiration chosen, materials chosen, I just had to think about the technicalities of a practice that I knew nothing about (I really wasn’t making life easy for myself with this idea!). My next port of call was to see our resident “laserist” at Exchange Place Studios, the brilliant Giles Grover of Small Machines.
Small Machines, Big Ideas!
Giles normally makes toys, but not just any old toys. Cool toys. Toys that come in kit form that you can build yourself. Toys that work by hydraulics, or shoot stuff…I mean who doesn’t think a ballista is cool?
But I also knew that Giles had worked with other designers such as M-Dex Design and The Owlery, so if he would agree to help me, I was going to be in very good company!
Giles and myself had a long chat in January this year about the capabilities of his kit, the limitations of my material of choice and ironed out quite a few potential hazards. We agreed we would come back together once the invitation was formalised. Then on the second day of The Hat Stand, the email landed…as did the deadline! Suddenly, a project which had been on the back burner for 4 months needed to be completed in three weeks! Cue action stations.
My first job was to design the decoration for the hat. Whilst I wanted the design to incorporate a brogue toe cap, I wanted to avoid the hat looking too “shoe-like”, I’m not Elsa Schiaparelli!
Giles recommended a (free!) software program I could download that would allow me to trace the required design and manipulate it to suit my design.
This was quite time consuming as I was learning the programme at the same time, but I was very pleased with the results
Once the pattern was in digital form, this was transferred to the laser cutter’s software….and our first trial was under way!
Back in my studio…
My next job (whilst Giles got on with some very urgent orders for himself!) was to get the basics of my hat made. I settled in for some serious blocking and sewing sessions.
Due to my inexperience with leather, I chose a shape that I knew I could block confidently and that would offer some design “wiggle-space” if things didn’t go quite according to plan. I didn’t have time for a trial run so a Plans A-D were definitely required. But I did block a couple of spares, just in case things went really, really wrong!
Firstly, I need to get two layers of foundation fabric, buckram, blocked. This would give my hat the strength to survive being pulled around when I stretched the leather over it.
I then sewed a wire into the edge of the hat to add further strength and prevent it stretching during the process of attaching the leather.
After that, a layer of ice wool was sewn over the top. The leather I used was quite thin, almost gloving leather, so without this underlay the texture of the buckram would show through, spoiling the smoothness of the finished hat.
I also added a bias strip of tarlatan just inside the edge of the hat. This would allow me an anchor point to sew the leather into. I couldn’t stitch through the buckram, ice wool and leather without potentially doing myself, or the hat, an injury!
Finally, I could start pinned my proposed decoration to the skeleton of the hat to gauge the proportions and positioning of my paper templates.
The next step was to attach the leather to the hat, but as with anything millinery related, there was more to this seemingly simple task than meets the eye. Firstly, I had to block the leather over my hat block to stretch and shape it as much as possible before it was attached to the hat. Then, once it was fully dry, I pinned it in place over the buckram skeleton. Three rounds of pinning later, with each session easing out more and more creases at the edge, I was ready to start sewing it in place…again, easing out those pesky creases.
Time to start lasering!
Now for the most daunting part of the whole process, actually laser cutting the leather. I don’t mind admitting that this was possibly the scariest bit! I was now completely reliant on Giles’ expertise, experience and equipment to make this hat happen. No pressure Giles!
I was worrying for nothing though. Thanks to all the prep work we had done, the process was pretty straight forward and surprisingly quick. There’s no denying it wasn’t a bit stinky though!!!
But I was now on my own again now with the project.
Kathryn (whom I mentioned earlier) very kindly gifted me a scrap of contrast colour leather to use in my design.
I now needed to create a series of leather sandwiches formed of my laser cut leather and Kathryn’s kind donation. One of the panels also had wire inserted in to the layers.
As you can see, things very quickly went from super hi-tech, to super lo-tech!
To give my brogue decoration the classic zigzag finish it required, I used pinking shears. This allowed me to cut crisply through the bonded leather edges.
I created decorative panels (no spoilers yet!) along with brogue straps. I wanted to create an element of height in the design of hat, along with a nod to the traditional laces of a brogue shoe, as well as the traditional loops and curls you may find in the trimming of a hat.
Then the final jobs were to assemble the decoration, add the elastic that would allow the hat to be worn, stitch in a suitable lining (I chose coordinating taffeta for this) and lastly cover all the joins with a further laser cut disc of leather. Whenever I make a hat, reaching these final steps is the best part…it means it’s nearly ready for it’s new home.
So finally, here it is.
After seven months in the planning and making, my brogue inspired leather hat featuring laser cut leather and incorporating the key themes, thanks to which I thrived over the last 10 years: Making, Collaboration, Traditional Skills and Modern Technology.
A huge thank you to everyone who has helped me make this hat. Not least to the amazing Giles Grover of Small Machines for making this madcap idea, reality. It wouldn’t have been possible without his assistance or generosity with his time, skills and kit. I am indebted to you for your help. Thank you!
Ps. You’ll also be able to find more of Giles’ work at the exhibition too!