Friday 31 March 2017

Memory Lane

Memory Lane

Blinkered and ear-muffed
You don’t want to register
The changes that progress
Has unleashed on your home town.

Half a century later
MacDonald’s and Sainsburys grazing
Where there were fields, oak lined,
Sheep bleating out lambs this time of year.

An Odeon Cinema has colonised the dog track
Where you gathered used betting stubs,
Slipped the track barrier and coursed
Like a hare from the hounds.

The convent bolted and shuttered.
The nuns transplanted to suburban
Housing estates. Mercy Nuns-
Not shamed, but old-

Unsustainable as a going concern.
Church pews still implacable.
More so now to creaking knees and neck too stiff
To crane after forbidden subject of desire

As you were once want.
None of your peers.
Did they migrate, like you,
To wider pastures?

Or aged beyond recall
Like you- a ghost of yourself
Looking for a bend in the road
That’s no longer there.

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2017

Saturday 25 March 2017

Hat Speak

I came across the milliner/artist Susanne Lewest at the Farmer's market, Leopardstown a few years ago. I fell in love with her hats. Today Susanne concentrates on her painting but here is a hint of what she is about.


The milliner is a scavenger by trade and a visit to Susanne Lewest’s studio confirms this.

It is a maze of hat boxes, threads, spools, swathes of various fabric, stuff that I can’t quite

figure out…snakeskin, swirls of snip-offs that used to be something else, feathers, fishing

twine, coconut palms, beachcomb finds, sea-smoothed wood, leather sisal…

I begin to fear for my leather bag dropped nonchalantly somewhere on entry!!

     In a trade that is dying Susanne says, “I want to make the hat casual again.”

Your granny probably had a few hats, your mother fewer, but I remember the “hat for

life” idea that lurks somewhere in my cellular memory. So what makes her think she can

do it? Challenge and transform the cultural prejudices of a nation?

   Born in Berlin where she studied design and model shaping at the Lette Verein Schule,

Susanne perfected her craft with famous Parisien milliner Jean Barthet. She speaks about

her passion in a language that seduces. Her designs she says, “grow from the fabrics

rather than an idea. The act of making becomes an organic process.” While she feels

inspired by the hats of the 20’s and 30’s, the cloche and the torque of the Bloomsbury set,

her relationship with her material is dynamic.

“The hat literally grows under my fingers.”

  Sisal lends itself to the big hat for the classical occasion…what she calls the “chapeau

dame”. Velvets are more at home with the cloche or the torque. Linen is ubiquitous.

Susanne has her own vocabulary to describe her hats that have evolved from the thirties.

  The “année trente” looks like it should be accompanied by a vintage racing car. The

peaked cap takes on a new perspective with the “visière drappée,” incorporating a pleated

bandeau to give it extra volume. The “visière foulard” saves you the expense of a hair

extension, with its scarf effect and illusion of sidelocks. The “huitre” or oyster is her

name for a cheeky linen torque with a shell-like side addition. Her latest creation the

“gruyère” started with the desire to make holes in linen!

   Hats in various stages of embryo are strewn about her studio. She pulls on a coconut 

palm creation still in draft. “One or two more stages to get through here,” she says. To me

it looks finished apart from the hat pins on its crown that shine menacingly.

“I’m not sure what will happen next,” she adds, “but it will come…the dénouement.”


   She would need a magnet for all the pins she drops. And these are not just ordinary pins.

Embelleurs are longer, thicker and a lot more deadly than your commoner garden pin.

Scraps of fabric fly as she snips and fashions her material to the purr of Singer and the

hiss of iron. Ironing a hat is a task that should come with an indemnity claim. She used to

bur n her fingers frequently, ironing out those tiny seams. That’s why every milliner does

come with a wooden ironing board, two feet by two, on her lap where she props her hat

moule, her iron and her hat in the making.

   I’m witnessing here the first stage of hat craft: the laying out, the cutting- sew, swivel,

iron, snip, repeat. She moves swiftly, economically through her repertoire of skills. The

smell of aperture lingers: a hospital twang, the substance that transforms limp cloth into

hard shell.

   “To see a hat that I have created find the head to suit…it gives me great pleasure.”

With a head of unruly locks that most hats just pop off or, worse still, stay on-leaving me

with a suspicious looking bump that could be hidden antennae- I am a challenge to any

milliner. But with Susanne’s trained eye a visière drappée or, in plain English, a visor,

allows me to spin my deviant locks in a swirl over my head, a natural and organic

addition to the creation itself.

 A gallette or beret encourages sipping fresh coffee and savouring French baguettes, even

on not so sunny terraces, while the cloche necessitates a pouring over Mrs Dalloway and

Virginia’s diaries .I come away with the sporty linen visière embroidered with spirals and

a longing for far off horizons and wide oceanic spaces. I’m on the doorstep on my way

out and have forgotten the bag. Perhaps a black leather helmet to go with the convertible

vintage sportscar? Why not !!