Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays

Toyo Braid Hats Sewn on a Straw Braid Sewing Machine

Monday, December 20, 2010

How to Sew Millinery Straw Braid by Machine

Note:  In order to keep my promise of creating a straw braid tutorial in a timely manner (actually not so timely), I'm issuing this post in DRAFT form, and I will be adding to it, hopefully, on a regular basis until it has been completed.  Of course I will add more images, but if you have resources that are relevant to this post, please share.

Let me assure you that I'm not an expert when it comes to sewing straw on the straw braid sewing machine, but I'll share what I've learned over the years.  I've picked up the machine and put it down over and over again until one day I decided to "just do it."  What I found out, is that it was quite easy.  I had been led to believe that that little machine was some big monster and that it would take years to learn how to operate it; no way!

Note:  If you do not have a straw braid sewing machine it is still possible to sew straw braid on a regular sewing machine.   A free-arm sewing machine would be ideal, but a regular flatbed will work alsoOf course you will not have the straw guide and the sewing area will be larger.

When I decided to "just do it" several things had occurred:

1)  I had purchased two straw braid sewing machines, and totally refurbished and added a base with motor to one.  As you may see, these machines are portable.  I don't have the room to accommodate a commercial machine setup.

2) I had collected patents for the straw braid sewing machine and its accessories.  You would think that a lady with a graduate degree would have had more success at deciphering that stuff--boringgggg!  I'm the type of person that will try to put something together before I read the instructions.  Yes, I had put that machine together, parts from here and there, filing metal for a week with a tiny Dremel tool.  I thought I had really accomplished something;  the machine worked perfectly.  I should have been learning how to stay focused while not understanding old 1800s patent language.

3) I had practiced on the machine and made cute LITTLE HATS.  No matter what I did, my hats always came out tiny. 

4)  I had asked questions concerning sewing on the braid machine and had either been given vague answers or had been outright insulted.  I love insults; they help me to succeed succeed.  Thank you.

5)  I emailed a very accomplished straw braid sculptural artist, Ignatius Creegan.  I had read his story in a magazine, and I became absolutely fascinated with his work.  I hadn't been so excited about straw since I first saw Patricia Underwood's hats a couple of decades ago.  Ignatius sent me an email describing, in detail, how to solve my small hat situation.  So, because he had been so wonderfully generous in sharing this information with me, I emailed him and asked for his permission to published it.  A few months after he had emailed me two years ago, I learned how to solve the small hat situation using another method, pulling the braid--not pushing it as I had read earlier.  So, I let Ignatius know that whatever he decided was OK with me; I was so thankful for his generosity.  Ignatius said that it was OIK with him to publish his email; so here it is in it's entirety:
On the machine there is a tipper that is just above the needle on the right side of the needle bar, there is a straight wire spring that is sticking out of a little hole, the whole tipper pulls out, and when you sew it raises the foot a little every stitch and allows you to make that tight curve around your hand sewn button.  If it doesn't pull out right away turn the flywheel till it does.  Or lower the foot. If you have trouble figuring out what I am talking about just feel around about two inches or so above the needle and to the right for a part that will pull out  (it is a sort of odd lever shape)  it pulls out about a quarter inch or more toward you,  that should help you sew the tip. Also, you will note that when the tipper is pulled out there is a hex screw that the top of the tipper hits against. You will turn the hex  screw out, or extended, for a thicker straw, that will give you a higher raised foot, or turn the screw up, so it will jump less for fine straw.
Now, I have to point out something here.  Given the information above and the fact that the same thing can be accomplished by pulling the straw (I'll explain later),  I now had everything I needed to know about sewing straw braid.  So, understanding this bit of information propelled me to the finish line (well, I'm still no expert, but I do OK), a very short time--an hour maybe.  So lets get started.

Preparing to Sew the Braid  (more detail will be added in the future)
  1. Familiarize yourself with the materials I've provided  you below--books, videos, patents
  2. Set up your work area*
  3. Adjust the braid spacing by adjusting the straw braid guide
  4. Sew the button by hand (approximately 1" inch wide--I prefer a little wider).  Read Straw Hats, Their History and Manufacture:  Chapter IX, Hand and Machine Sewing
  5. Read Ignatius' email above
  6. Pull the tipper out to sew the tip (top crown) of the hat
  7. Sew the crown tip
  8. Push the tipper back in after the crown tip has reached your desired width
  9.  Push the tip down vertical to the floor (see videos) and continue sewing
  10. When the side crown has reached its depth, turn the crown horizontal to the floor and pull the edge of the crown.  It will begin to flair out forming a brim
  11. After the brim has reached the desired width, pull the lower single braid to decrease/curve (if desired) the brim after you have reached the desired width
  12. Study better straw hats
  13. Observe
  14. Practice
  15. Practice
*The Spool ( area)

Actually I don't know what the rotating contraption is call that the professionals hold their braid on, so I'll call it a spool.  I created one by simply placing a Lazy Susan (one of those circular rotating things that is placed in the middle of a table) on my work surface and placing my camera tripod on it.  The Lazy Susan has ball barrings under it, so it will move freely without securing the tripod to it.  As the straw is taken up while sewing, the Susan and straw moves very smoothly.

    Where to Purchase a Straw Machine

    eBay:  This is where I purchased my machines, including additional machines for parts.  Search on Willcox & Gibbs and hat sewing machine.

    City Sewing:  Sewing machines, parts and services.

    Note:   These old machines are mechanical; so, more than likely, your local sewing machine repair shop can repair them, if you decide to purchase a machine off eBay.  Make sure that you study images of complete sewing machines before you purchase one from anyone other than a sewing machine shop. 

    Where to Purchase Straw
    Sun Yokos Enterprise (USA), Inc.:  Straw braid and other millinery supplies.
    Manhatco:  Straw and other millinery supplies.  Old fashion in a good way; nice people; located in New York, (212) 764-2218

    U. S. Patents (there are others)

    Improvement in Machines for Sewing Straw, Straw Hat Sewing Machine, Guide for Straw Braid Sewing Machines, Sewing Machine Tension, Guide for Straw Braid Sewing Machine, Presser-Foot-Lifting Mechanism,Tension Apparatus for Straw Hat and Other Sewing Machines

    Helpful Videos

    We all learn in different ways; some of you will look at these videos and see nothing; others will see plenty.  Play certain segments over and over again.  Maximize the screen to get a better view of video.
    Sewing Straw, The Hat Makers, Straw Boaters, Jack Straw Comes to Town, Caught by the Camera

    Free Online Book

    In order to achieve some of the shapes you may try in the future, it's important to study books that teach how to hand sew straw.
    How to Make Hats; A Method of Self-Instruction Using Job Sheets:  Unit III, Straw Work
    Straw Hats, Their History and Manufacture:  Chapter IX, Hand and Machine Sewing

    I Little Advice

    Practice, observe, research, practice.

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    Recycled Millinery Materials: Fur Felt

    I remember reading a millinery book years ago wherein it was written that wool felt was cheap, hard to block, had to be sized in order to prevent shrinkage when moisture is in the air, and could be blocked only once.  The author went on to write that fur felt could be re-blocked over and over again, lasting for 100 years or more, as long as moths did not get into it.  So, over the years, I've never purchased--I don't remember doing so--a wool felt. 

    I'm an avid thrift and antique store shopper, always on the lookout for pre-owned fur felt, among other things.  I always pass on that 100% wool felt, no matter how impressive it sounds.  So, here are two hats I've made from pre-owned fur felt; one given to me and the other I found at the Salvation Army Thrift Store.

    The hat above has a velour finish.  I actually washed the felt in Woolite, blocked it over a hat block (candy bowl), securing it with push pins.  I let the fur dry, and then I lured it using coconut oil.  Luring is discussed in one of the free online millinery books located in the sidebar to your right.  I lured the felt to restore the shine that had been taken out during the wash.  I know, I know, you shouldn't wash fur felt.  No millinery sizing was needed for this hat.  Sorry I couldn't capture the beautiful chocolate color and finish of this hat.

    The trim on the hat is vintage veiling I obtained from California Millinery in downtown Los Angeles.  I made the spider from vintage chenille, also obtained from California Millinery, and three vintage rhinestone (one for the tail and two for the eyes).  I don't usually block my veils because I prefer the unblocked look.

    This fur felt has a beaver finish ($4!, and in perfect condition).  It has been cleaned, blocked, and lured in the same manner as the hat above, then brushed and ironed to a shinny finish.  Because this vintage felt is so soft and thin, I applied a light coat of millinery sizing to its inside.  I added extra sizing to the brim to give it extra stiffness because I left the brim unfinished.  The finish on this hat is so beautiful, I may never trim it.

    Below is a cute video clip from 1942 showing  a woman making a hat from one of her husband's old hats.  I discovered this site from one of Cristina Deprada's (The Rantings of a Mad Hatter Wannabe) Hatty Tweets.  I just love watching these clips.  Enjoy!

    Click on image to open video in separate window.