leather caps 2

cutting out the pieces from deerskin. the muslin mock-up is to the right, you can just see the practice cap on the extreme right.

i had ten days to do these caps, between the time my art grant deadline closed and xmas. i had two deerskins santa brought me this fall, and an old dry-rotted mink coat my mom gave me, and a cheap leather jacket someone threw away.

i realized after cutting out the practice cap pieces that i was not going to be able to follow my first idea, which was to make two omplete caps out of deerskin and sandwich them around a fur cap. i wanted to make them warmer than fuck, like the shearling cap i was trying to copy.  that would take at least two layers, because one skin on top of jim’s bald pate isn’t very warm. but i didn’t have enough deerskin.

santa explained it this way. you’ve got a cap. it’s 28″ around. what’s that diameter look like?  it’s a big circle, is what, and how many big circles do you think are on a human-sized hunk of skin cut in half down the middle? not a lot. the middle back, the lower back. maybe the haunches if you’re fat.

having determined that i wasn’t going to get half a dozen caps out of the deerskin, i cast about for something to help extend my options. a comb thru my stash drawers turned up tapestry and fur-coat lining, and then i remembered a leather jacket our homeless man dropped off one day thinking we could use it and knowing it’d just get robbed off him. it was your typical leather jacket, with loads of construction and real thin split leather. but the strength of the various layers wouldn’t matter so much since i was going to in effect quilt them.

deerskin part completed, cutting out pieces from cow leather coat

so i used the time waiting to see a specialist to cut apart the leather jacket. i sat there in a crowded waiting room and used my sharp shiny shears to cut around all the stitching lines. leather, i have found, doesn’t ever close up around a wound. if you stick a needle into it, the hole stays.

this says bad things about the propensity  of doctors to order blood tests.

so you can’t resew a piece of leather without weakening it, because you can’t guarantee the machine’s going to use the same holes, and so you’re just punching more holes in a staight line, and soon it’s micro perferations and you’re screwed.

eventually i had a little pile of leather squares and oblongs and trapezoids and other plane geometry objects. and a huge tangle of seams still joined all together in a vaguely coat shape. we got a lot of visiting done in the waiting room once the ladies noticed me cutting pieces out of something, which of course they did immediately but had to work thru the southern politeness thing.

having cut both the fur and the leather coat into pieces 

i had a bunch of leather jacket pieces, graded by thickness and delicateness, with only the worst pieces put aside for some other project. pack rat here.

i had my mom’s ex fur coat which i’d torn into as big chunks as possible because you never know what you might use it for eventually. there were lots of places where the stitching had failed, and places where the piecing of the pelts had failed and the thing was falling into tatters. i couldn’t tell which were the maybe good pieces from the ones ready to come apart – without tearing them apart. anyplace i put my strength to would rip, but the whole thing held together if i didn’t put any pressure on it. maybe sandwiched between two skins it would be okay…

making the fur batting or inner lining

i went out and bought something to put on the fur skin to recondition it. i couldn’t find mink oil, all i could find was some improperly labelled spray thing for shoes. it wasn’t waterproofing, i didn’t want that. fur is already water shedding. i wanted something oily to get down into those pores and moisturize. something for the connective tissue to hold on to.

it just so happened that the shoulders of the fur coat were rounded almost as much as the flattened hat, and so i figured if i cut out two half circles and sewed them together i’d be able to fit it roughly inside the 7-cornered hat i copied from the sheepskin version my sister gave me. i did that for this one i’m showing below, the first production hat. for the others i cut out lozenge shaped fur sides, fortunately i cut them all going the same way, because the nap on those things is fierce.

the original sheepskin cap, sudie, and my first deerskin cap

my little dog sudie weighs ten poinds. my sister got her for me when i was recovering from cancer surgery. little lap dogs help in the healing process and are a general laugh riot. this one’s a king charles spaniel. she’s not like the breed, which is outoging and friendly. sudie is suspicious and dim witted. but she’s beautiful, and she sleeps in my lap all day. she’s tucked inside my housecoat at the moment, snoozing away while i sit in the cold back room and type with my keyboard next to her head. yes, and included in the above picture, the deerskin cap inside out (the suede goes next to your head, the wrong side is the shiny leather side that will back the fur).

right-the inside, deerskin suede; left-outside, ex-leather jacket

presto chango i’ve finished two of them. but not so fast. these are the best two. the first one is on jim’s head all day long, and he won’t let me do anything more to it. the first production one is sitting on my sewing table. i didn’t anchor the fur inside the assemblage, and it shifted. fur is bunched up near the front edge, and missing in the back. i’m going to have to take the thing apart and redo it. many stitches.

santa came by in the middle of my working on the first one and persuaded me to abandon the central circle and just extend each pie slice to a point in the middle. but this was complicated by something bad – i hadn’t made 7 copies of the basic pie shape, i made one copy of each pie slice, which were all quite different from each other, as measured by holding a round hat against a flat piece of paper and trying to draw around it. i extended each irregular pie slice to a point.

so when i sewed the caps together, i had a whole varying range of peaks. you’re supposed to make them all meet in the center, a perfect 7 pointed star.

this is why i can’t do traditional quilting. the precision needed to make all the pieces sew up just the same is too much for me. why, i’m not sure i could do it if i were working by hand, but the machine just slews fabric every which way, and i can barely get straight seems, never mind the two layers crawling against each other, never mind leather pieces slipping, and naps preventing evenness.

i ended up going over the cap top after i’d sewn the sides on, artificially putting in a curve. but it was ugly. why did the original design use 7 piece caps? the norm is 4, right, one for each quadrant of your head. and i’ll be that doesn’t sew together easily. it’s orbital geometry, it’s not like plane geometry. i’m tearing my hair out. i need a circular sewing machine.

but they all fit flat on my head when i smoothed them out. one of the hats turned out much larger than the others. it was the last one, and i didn’t need to take it in to make the segments even as much as i had with the other caps. learning curve.

when they say these hats are easy to sew, they’re not counting on me, who never Rs TFM, and decides in the middle to do it her way anyhow.

i had to go over the finished hats and stitch the lining in, quilting it, but only at the seams and not many stitches at all. the fur will shift, as i found out on the first one. the fur has such a nap on it that it crawls even while you’re holding it down. even when you pin it in place. it’s creepy. still going for the fence even after you’ve blown its head off.

i had a lot of trouble with the brims. first of all, i cut them out curved, like the original cap. and then i realized that leather eases, and i could have cut a straight line and had it work, even tho in a bucket cap, the outer edge of the brim is longer around than the inner edge. the leather will stretch. this stuff will, anyway.

whenever i attached a brim, and i did it four times, i had too much play in the outer edge. it was going to need taking in, or cutting differently, something. i didn’t know what to do with it. i didn’t have long enough pieces of the jacket leather to use as a brim, and figured i could get away with rolling the brim made of deerskin around the edge of the fur cap inside and up over the edge of the cow leather cap on the outside, and then just stitch it closed.

which because it was too wide, it didn’t fit and needed a alot of little tucks and eases-in. it’s a bit awkward. but again, leather eases, so it just looks strange.

the hat is much shorter than the muslin pattern, or jim’s test hat, or the original. he had to roll it way up to get itt o perch on to pof his punckin head. he handled a skull cap better than something that came down over his years. he’s wearing it in the studio during the day and keeping the heat down because i’m not down there. i know it. but when i saw how he rolled it i decided it was too long, and cut the muslin pattern down for the ones that i also made peaks on , which ended up being the ones i wrapped up for xmas presents.

to tell the truth, i can’t see the details in the deerskin suede. i found it hard to photograph, the suede takes the light in and doesn’t give it back. my eyes are going bad, and i work in low light, and so i probably don’t see the glaring flaws visible to anyone wholooks at it out of doors.

i want to make up a label that acknowledges the difference between art and craft. because my craft on these hats is woeful. it’s illustrative of how much trouble it is to get right, and how much practice you need to do it right over and over. i show my stitches – and they’re wreckless. jim says i’m using an abstract expressionist stitching technique.

i want to start a series of one-off wearable art pieces. i’ll call them “fucked up clothes by jeanne. “


project – leather caps

when i was over in ireland this spring for my sister’s wedding, i expressed great envy toward this little cap and mittens set, and so she tossed them down the hall at me as she was leaving, and i brought them home.
sheepskin with the fuzz inside, a bucket hat with a roll-up brim. the mittens keep coming off but they’re wam. the cap is wonderful. everyone who sees it wants one. but it’s mine. mine. MINEHAHAHAHAHA.


my friend santa brought me two deerskins dyed black. at first i thought i’d make a little cape thingie out of the both of them, but when my daughter tried to steel my sheepskin cap, i got another idea.

i thought i might could get a half dozen caps out of two deerskins. they’re about as bit as my hide would be if you took it off and tanned it. and that’s surprisingly little usable area.

i made a paper muslin tracing of the cap, which was hard because it’s all thick skin and fur. wool. it doesn’t smooth out onto a flat surface very well, because it’s round.

i’m certain that solid geometry is fun, but it’s a hell of a lot harder than plane geometry. dividing up a pie into slices is easy. dividing an oblong hemisphere into slices is something else. with my head the way it is now that i’m old (okay, past 50), i couldn’t tell you how to figure circumference without a tape measure.

i made a muslin cap. it was big. but i kind of wanted them big.

one layer of deerskin, no matter how nice to touch, won’t keep your head seriously warm the way a sheepskin will. and i just so happened to have, dry-rotting away in my fabric stash, a real actual mink coat that my mom cast off as i was leaving for college. i’ve used it as a blanket on cold nights, but the cats are too fond of it, and i’ve never worn it out lest i get red paint on it, the reference being to animal rights people who wouldn’t want to see me wearing something dead. i’m one of them myself. but damn is it warm. so it’s been sitting in my stash drawer for over 20 years because i’m not stupid enough to throw away a bunch of minks’ lives just on political principles. if they serve some purpose then they can go to mink heaven.

so i want to line my leateher caps.

but the fur is now dry-rotted, and useless for anything. no sooner would i sew it up than it would start ripping around the stitches.

but if i make it an inner lining – a batting, if you want – then i don’t really care if it falls apart inside the backing, because it can’t go anywhere, and if i quilt it small enough, it won’t be able to bunch up any.


cool idea. but i’ve never worked with leather before.

and i can’t make as many caps as i wanted to. i’ve got a list a mile long of people to give these things to, even some that i think might wear them. jim’s already sporting the first one, mainly because it was an abject failure. my kid, my sister who gave me the original, my mom whose fur coat it was, never mind my sister in brazil where it never gets cold. i’ve got cousins in the frozen north.

progress pictures to come.

the project: a matching set of “batwing” kimono for a wedding gift

i set out to make two japanese kimono for a wedding, starting from individual measurements. these measurements late r proved to be wrong. i’ll get to that later.

i used silk fabric for the robes and cotton for the lining and hand died and hand painted and cut and pieced and sewed everything. did i mention i designed it? because i didn’t. my husband jim drew the designs for the paintings, i used a make your own japanese clothes book to construct the costumes, and i took it from there.

detail of the dragon kimono front view of the water kimono front being painted

it’s for my sister’s wedding. i told her i was going to make her something special, and she immediately guessed, so i hemmed and hawed and told her that no, i was actually making them a pair of matching silk ba…twings. batwings.

and ever since i’ve been telling her little details of what i’ve been up to, without describing the article of clothing i was making. or completely lying, things like ‘i’m working on your little claw right now, and i had a hell of a time getting the wing struts the right tightness.’ but in the meantime, i took pictures, and i’m glad i have, because this simple task, which balooned all out of proportion, ended up producing not just two elegant matching garments of surpasing softness and exquisitely decorated by myself, but also a pair of silk pillow sheets made from the cuttings, as well as what has become a production line of silk scarves, all of which aare drawn from two sketches that my husband jim, also an artist, provided me with.

The idea

Design ideas started with my sister’s, ‘well, i hope my batwing has a dragon on it, right?’ because i’m always making dragons on silk. something my husband jim has helped with, because i take such bad care of the patterns that he keeps having to make me new scarf sized dragons that i use in making one of my favorite scarves. i make loads of them, and they end up selling pretty well, but i don’t keep track.

my sister gets the dragon ‘batwings’. her hussband is not ldragonlike, but softer and more of a watery disposition. so we ran thru all our japanese art books in our shelves and then went to the library and google images. and he designed me a lovely flowing stream with a crane and a bunch of irises. very nice.

so i got her to measure herself nad her husband, -to-be, of course, and sent me all the measurements. really strange things like the distance from your neck to your belly button. but i feaar she wasn’t paying attention, because her husband’s arms end up being 80 inches long by her measurements, and that just won’ work. anyway, i finally got measurements off an actual bathrobe that fits him well, and i ended up adjusting the size of his batwing accordingly. which means i end up with scraps off a mostly-completed garment that i get to make pillows with.

anyway, i got the fabric, a nice silk noil and the heaviest habotai i ccould find, and i made measurements and cut stuff out and pieced it together and didn’t start sewing. i took the body of the clothing dwon to the studio where i stretched it, traced jim’s drawings on, and then painted with silk dyes, actually acid dyes (i’m not up on the chemistry). then i steam set them, and then i fit them together and sewed them. but not without trepidation. both of the linings started out way too bright. this is a middle aged couple here, don’t want to expose them to bright colors first thing in the morning, especially with hangovers. so my sister’s lining, which started out irish-tourist green, and my brother in law’s lining, which was fuscia red, got sewn, then folded up and stuck in a plastic tub, weighted by bricks, and a mess of black die went all over them. thus the richly textured patterns, see below.

the lining of the dragon kimono the lining of the water kimono

i thought sewing it was going to be easy. it’s such a straightforward pattern – attach the sleeves to the body. attach the sides below the sleeves. that’s it, you’re ready to sew in the lining.

with right sies together, attach lining to garment fitting the lining to the sleeve and shoulders

but every time i sewed something, i sewed it wrong, and i had to rip stitches out of half of my seams and start over again.

when i sewed the lining in, it didn’t fit the garment, even tho the lining was exactly the same size and shape as the garment. so i had to tear out the stitching on the red lining and completely redo it, and i had to remove the stitching on the dragon kimono and redo the shoulder seams to fit the lining.

things like that. very frustrating. and i was doing both sets of batwings at the same time, so i repeated a lot of my mistakes twice.

and in the meantime i took jim’s patterns and traced them out on silk scarves, and made silk paintings of them. theyy were exquiisite. and then someone at choir asked if i was doing any silk painting, because sometimes i bring my stuff in and fire-sale it to the girls, and it turns out she needs something special for some family members who are recovering frmo surgery, so okay, i’ll do a bunch of dragon and water scarves.

and you know, i haven’t gotten to the symbolism behind the two designs and what i did with them.

but never mind that, i’m going to upload a bunch of photos of the work in process.

the dyes on the collar and belt fabrics, of habotai silk

steaming in a home-built device

the front of the dragon kimono after setting the dyesthe front of the water kimono after steaming

the back of the water kimonothe back of the dragon kimono