Outside it has definitely turned to autumn. The leaves on next door’s plane tree seem to have moved from green through yellow into brown almost overnight and it is now shedding so rapidly that no amount of sweeping can keep the leaves at bay. But whilst dead leaves fall at my feet outside, inside I am surrounding myself with glorious petals!
My vivacious friend I. has been a great advocate of my nascent millinery business. Not only has she waxed lyrical to her friends about her eccentric ex-colleague’s hobby-cum-business, she has also commissioned a cocktail hat of her own for a forthcoming wedding. Over pancakes, cider and coffee we explored ideas and she settled on something in old rose with a large flower. A perfect choice for her fair hair and diminutive figure!
So for the last few evenings I have been busying myself in my little studio – a small box room with ambition. After blocking and covering a kidney-shaped base and bonding layers of silk, my hands set about sculpting individual petals from dusty pink and luscious mocha silk dupion.
Leaving aside my love of hats, it was the sculptural aspect of millinery that attracted me to the craft. You may not think welding steel and making hats have much in common but oddly enough they do. Both involve understanding what materials do under which circumstances and how to manipulate them to achieve the desired effect. Creating an opulent silk flower involves turning fragile two-dimensional fabric into something three-dimensional.
Of course, you also need to know what a flower looks like, how its constituent parts fits together, how it unfurls itself… And this is where months of observing and photographing flowers pays off! Much to Mr M’s mirth our weekend walks are usually punctuated with me stopping, peering into strangers’ gardens and getting the camera out to shoot close-ups of flowers. My computer is full of pictures of roses, hydrangea, honeysuckle, magnolia, lilies… You name it. Lovely images that brighten the spirit and are a great source of research when the seasons have marched on.
Armed with knowledge gained from peering at flowers week after week, I cut out petals – irregularly regular just as in nature. Then with the help of heat and steam, working quickly, my fingers pinch and shape them into delicate petals. Strewn on my table they look like they have been battered in the wind but have retained their form; although fallen from the bud, they are still things of beauty.
As I stitch the petals together into a silk flower, contrasts and analogies swirl in my head. The fallen leaves outside foreshadow the winter to come whilst I cling onto the joy of summer by crafting silk flowers. Whilst my mind is guided by my forefathers in its daily battles, my fingers are guided by delicate elf-like magic in the millinery studio. And no matter how battered and bruised I may have felt in the last year, the petals of my life still hold their shape and are slowly methodically being stitched into something wonderful.