Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Milliner's Assistant

I'm very lucky to have lots of creative friends both within the village and thorough the world actually (as you'll discover during my blog). Some are knitters that I've met during weekly knitting groups, friends from University who work in TV or making jewelry, artists linked to Southampton City Art Gallery, sewers with local shops, a couture milliner with royal commissions...

...Such as Sarah Cant, couture milliner (and millinery lecturer in London) who happens to have been invited , along with the likes of Mario Testino, Faberge and Dita Von Teese, to create two masks for The Elephant Family charity ball and with only two days to make them asked me if I could assist her, as I said, I'm very lucky.  The theme of the masks and also the cause of the charity is endangered animals. The list of suggestions for the pair of masks included elephants, panda's, bird of paradise etc but never being one to follow the crows Sarah chose a cute and scaly anteater the pangolin.
Day 1
I found myself in the beautiful garden painting goat leather with metallic bronze and gold paints (a mix of water, pva and metallic powders). The sound of lambs, bees and birds and a neighbour chopping fire wood surrounded me and I couldn't think of anywhere nicer to spend a creative day. After hanging the hide to dry I set to applying gold leaf to the left over felt from the masks Sarah had already moulded around a mannequin head and cut to shape. I've worked with gold leaf before but I'd never seen the colours and patterns the like of which Sarah had collected.  One had zigzags of grey and dark gold whilst the other pictured below had spots and was a glorious rose gold and yellow.

At this point I should add that if I didn't have such a loving family at home, I might just try to live in Sarah's studio, it's a treasure trove with a cornucopia of materials, vintage paraphernalia, ribbons, sequins, hats and I feel I could quite happily reside in her supplies cupboard, nestled just next to the large box of sequins.
Once cut to shape, moulded again and pinned into shape on two hat blocks, Sarah edged the masks with a soft metallic leather that she pulled and teased carefully into shape. Sarah stitched the net in place by hand, ensuring it sat proud of the masks in order to be comfortable to the wearer. We couldn't have the likes of the Duchess of Cornwall or Goldie Hawn catching their eyelashes of the netting (!).
The pair of masks watched over our preparations in the studio pinned to their respective heads. In order to gain the pangolin like nose Sarah added a Pinocchio extension to one of the heads. She said that one of the tricky things was having no idea who might purchase them - the masks will be displayed at Sotherby's and they are in effect the purchasers 'ticket' to the The Animal Ball. Usually Sarah works closely with her clients to commission and only after several fittings and around 6 to 8 weeks does she deliver the finished item.

Day 2
Sarah had continued to work once I left for the afternoon (after a gorgeous lunch outside under the parasol). I helped her to finish preparing the rest of pangolin scales from the gold leaf covered felt, various metallic leathers, some of which were scratched with the back of a scalpel to add texture and sequins, all cut to 6 different sized templates. To add texture and interest to the sequins, not to mention to make them less 'sequiney' Sarah ironed them in between two pieces of parchments paper and moulded them over a small block.
The effect is stunning, and something like mother of pearl, albeit far more pliable and much less fragile. I'll definitely be trying this at home.

Sarah had decided on a tonal palette of colours for each of the masks, dark gold, with grey and black for one and bronze and lighter golds for the other . I thought they looked beautiful all laid out in size and group order, like an anthropological display of a pair of rare, endangered if you will glitzy pangolin's!

You'll notice the feathers too. Sarah showed me how to cut and pull them to the size required and then bend and curl them like you might  with ribbons to make twirls for decorations. Again this is a technique I will be using at home.

The black feathers were daubed with some of the metallic paint used on the leather. Sarah then attached them to the standing-up crown of the masks with a few stitches, they look very much like the pangolin's long claws and even longer tongue. I loved their curled spikiness - a contradiction I know, but just look at them, they're so striking as was the effect of all the combined textures as Sarah started to build up the masks with layers of scales.

Sarah used her sketches and photos of the pangolin's scale arrangement in order to place the scales and attach them to the felt base.

It was fascinating to watch Sarah work, to watch how she considered the size and arrangement of the scales as well as colour, checking back to her sketches and research, intermittently trying them on to ensure comfort to the wearer.

Since we've been friends I've always been aware of her creativity, but this was a great experience - I loved the opportunity to assist her with this project and see her making process from start to almost finish...

...I say almost finish because I had to leave to get back to all the goings on at home before Sarah had completed them both. A text I received from her around 8pm that evening confirmed 'One down, one to go!' and the next day she delivered them to Sotherby's on her way to her lecturing job in London. I'll post a photo of the finished items very soon.

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