By Anne Livingston, of Hats by Anne, Toronto
I received a sample of an abaca hatmaking fabric from That Way Hat through a millinery interest group on an online professional social network. Geoffrey of That Way Hat had asked for volunteers to test this material, possibly as a substitute for sparterie. Sparterie is, they tell me, a fantastically mouldable fabric that was made from willow and, even if you can source the modern version, it has not been produced in the manner venerated by milliners past in some time. It’s achieved near mythical status these days – call it millinery “unobtainium”. Naturally, I was one of the eager souls who jumped at the offer.
The sample arrived soon afterwards – beautiful, densely woven sinamay, slightly bleached, in a lovely, natural, wheaty colour. (Sinamay is a woven fibre, not unlike straw, made from a type of banana plant from the Philippines.) I have never had the opportunity to use such tightly woven sinamay before. I am told regular sinamay is 17 x 17 strands per inch, while this was 20 x 25.
After some musing over what to make with the sample, finally the fabric revealed to me what it wanted to become, and I got to work.
It was gorgeous stuff! I loved how dense the weave is; much better than any I’ve been able to buy before. It was easy to use and I didn’t need more than two layers for either the brim or crown, which were blocked separately. With typical sinamay I probably would have needed to use more layers, three for the brim.
I used it the same way I would have used any other sinamay. I didn’t try to cover it with fabric, the way (I believe) sparterie is used. I have never used sparterie, but I believe it has qualities substantially different from this fabric. It was often used as a “base”. This sinamay can be used free-form.
I experimented a little, by layering on a sample of art paper to a small piece of the sinamay to see if that would work, and it did. I used a bonding web to fuse the layers and it worked a treat. Maybe hat #2 will feature this treatment, but I was having a raffia moment and really wanted to use lots of natural raffia braid on hat #1, so I did.
Pragmatically, the texture of the multiple rows of raffia braids was good for hiding the hand-sewn join between brim and crown. Esthetically, I loved the natural colours and the subtle contrast between the sinamay and the raffia braids. At first glance they are quite similar, but ironing the raffia braids (which I did primarily to flatten them) deepened the colour slightly, and added sheen.
There are also gentle shifts in colour in both the sinamay and the raffia, which you probably can only see in person. I also love how the braids play up the sinamay brim’s translucence.
Because I was loving the sinamay’s natural colour, I didn’t try dyeing it. That same characteristic would also have made the results less predictable. Sinamay takes dye like a dream and I’m pretty good at it when the material is white to begin with but I’m no expert, and making allowances for the natural yellow-y tone is beyond me at this point.
So that’s my story about the creation of this cavalier-ish chapeau I’m calling “Natural Wonder”. I see it as the perfect punctuation to the ensemble of a guest – or mother-of-the-bride (or groom) – at a country wedding, or a garden party, or baptism, or strawberry social, or….
Where would you wear it?