Gemma Sangwine

Unique and bespoke millinery, fascinators and bridal tiaras

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Royal Women – Queens and Princesses and their dresses

This week got off to a good start, with a trip to Bath with my studio buddies Nick and Victoria, to see the Royal Women exhibition at the Fashion MuseumRoyal-Fashion-MAIN

On display were dresses and gowns from four recent generations of the British royal family, Queen Alexandra, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, and Princess Margaret.

For these women it was important to support British designers and materials, as a way to show patriotic loyalty to their new role. “In 1863 Alexandra brought her own beautiful Belgian lace wedding gown, but was forced instead into a blizzard of Honiton lace and swags of orange blossom: the exhibition demonstrates how as soon as she could she had the gown drastically remodelled, stripping off the frills and abandoning the giant crinoline.” 

By 1910 Alexandra preferred French couture houses, and the dress that I would have taken away was a purple embroidered chiffon evening dress by Doeuillet, Paris. The colour is a deep, regal purple with the most exquisite embroidery and bead work, including tassels of beads cascading from the cuff on the short sleeves.

There were two dresses from Queen Mary, both from the 1930’s, my favourite era, one a floor length fully beaded gown, the other a devore velvet dress with built-in cape.

Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother If you’ve been watching The Crown you will have had a window into the world of the royal family, and looking at the dresses from Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother I was reminded that Edward and Wallace called her as Cookie, a reference to her rounded build (like a cook, not a biscuit!).

In comparison Princess Margaret’s dresses were tiny, her Dior dress from the early 50’s practically looks like it’s got a handspan waist.

She certainly seemed to be able to have more fun with fashion, and didn’t feel the need to always buy British, though she did follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and wear Norman Hartnell dresses. In fact Hartnell designed the wedding dresses for both Margaret, in 1960, and her sister Queen Elizabeth, in 1947.

Interestingly, many of these garments have survived because they were passed on to ladies in waiting or friends of the family. Some are on loan from our current Queen and others were purchased years ago by the museums founder, the costume historian Doris Langley Moore, as she discovered them squirreled away in a boutique in London.

The dresses which belonged to Margaret were acquired when one of the curators at the museum was invited by the Queen to come to Kensington Palace, pieces from Margaret’s wardrobe were laid out on a bed and the curator was motioned to pick one or two…well they cheekily asked if they could take them all, and, after some consultation, they did!

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WedFest April 2018

With the promise of spring in the air, last weekend I packed up lots of my sample stock and trundled over to exhibit at WedFest in Cheltenham. It’s a wedding fair with a difference – set in an old barn on a farm in the lovely Cotswold countryside – and as well as showcasing wedding suppliers there’s also food and drink vendors on site so you can sample their catering and grab a spot of lunch in one go.

Well, in true British style the weather on the day was cold and raining, but that didn’t dampen our spirits. The barn was beautifully decorated with bunting, fairy lights and blossom trees.

I was showing my accessories alongside Jan Knibbs on the Atelier 19 stand, we both love all things vintage and work so well together that it’s sometimes hard to tell who made what!
As well as meeting lots of brides-to-be I also caught up with other suppliers, old and new, including Charlotte Parker Bridal Hair, who I have worked with on several photo shoots, Victoria Abbosh Makeup Artist, who I’ve been stalking on Instagram for a while, next to us were The Flower Girls with their signature elegant floral display, and Aisle Hire It who supplied lots of the venue props for the day including their distinctive Love light – they hand make all the props themselves so can pretty much supply anything you want!

The next event you can catch me at, with Atelier 19, is VOW Live in Bristol on the 29th April.

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Parkin Roadshow – a sort of convention for Milliners!

This weekend I took a rare Saturday off to visit the Parkin Roadshow in Bristol.

Parkin Fabrics are a family firm based in Lancashire. 14484959_1327825540569693_7383953612802224056_nThey sell mail order, so the roadshow is a great chance to see lots of millinery materials and supplies up close in real life and quiz the team about any technical issues regarding using them.

I also learnt more about the history of the company and the lengths they go to to source materials from the UK and around the world. For example, in 1993 renowned milliner Mitzi Lorenz gave Parkin a small sample of woven fabric which she said was called Cinnamon, and asked if they could source it ….this turned out to be Sinamay, which is made in the Philippines from the Abaca plant. weaving-sinamay

Parkin work directly with the Filipinos who harvest and process the Abaca leaves to make a fine, strong yarn which is knotted together and hand woven to make sinamay. This is an incredibly laborious process, all done by hand, and is a craft which dates back centuries. It also ticks the eco-friendly box as Abaca is a renewable resource and the production process is carbon-neutral – completely fossil fuel free!

But it’s not just about sourcing materials from overseas, at Parkin their Buckram is 100% cotton and is woven, bleached and starched here in the UK, in the North West of England.

So, all in all, I got to go shopping and learn a bit more about the craft I love. Being able to label my millinery products as Made in the UK, or carbon neutral is a great bonus too!



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Guest Exhibiting at Atelier for Select 2016

After opening our studio at Stafford Mill for the Select Trail for the last 5 years, we took a break in 2015 and enjoyed being tourists and visiting local artists and craftsmen for a change.

But in May 2016 I decided to join in again and took the opportunity to exhibit at Atelier Stroud, along with Heloise of Pink Frazada, Heather Haskins (Atelier’s resident seamstress), Francesca Chalk’s printed textiles, Polly Lyster’s Dye Works and Deborah Roberts Photography.

Atelier is a light, airy, friendly and relaxed space which hosts a sewing club and regular workshops. For the Select Trail the sewing machines were put away and our group of local artists and makers moved in, laying out our wares and generally taking over!

We had lots of visitors over the two weekends, many of whom had never been to Atelier before, so it was great to introduce them to the space, and to talk about our own work.


For me it was a bonus to be able to just rock up with all my stock and display props and set up my stall, rather than having to tidy up my own studio to make it presentable for visitors, which if you have ever visited us at Stafford Mill, you will know it is quite a task.

I end up frantically pushing boxes under tables and randomly shoving materials and equipment into drawers….and then spending the following months looking for them!

Later this year you can catch me as a guest exhibitor at the Made in Chalford Christmas Fair at The Victoria Works Studios, Chalford, on the 3rd & 4th December 2016.

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Two Make – What happens when a milliner and weaver work together?

Way back in April last year my friend Nick of Leto & Ariadne approached me about working together as part of the Two Make collaboration project organised by the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen (of which Nick is a member) and the University of Exeter.

So, at this point I should mention that I have known Nick for about 20 years, we met on the first day of our Textiles & Fashion degree course at Winchester School of Art and quickly became firm friends. We both specialised in weaving and have a similar ordered and analytical approach to pretty much everything! (And sometimes unintentionally colour co-ordinate our outfits – see photographic evidence below!) We have stayed in touch over the years, and when Nick relocated from London to Stroud a few years ago we, along with my sister Victoria of Studio Vee, took on a shared studio together .

Gemma & Nick, photo by Camilla Reynolds Photography

Gemma & Nick, studio portrait by Camilla Reynolds Photography

During this time we have considered teaming up, but, due to time constraints, have never quite managed it, so this project was a great opportunity to finally produce a collection together as part of a structured collaboration.

We wanted to do more that just combine our crafts (millinery and weaving) and used the opportunity to explore new materials and techniques, something we don’t get the time to do in our day to day practice. For me this has meant trying out thermo plastics for the first time, and for Nick it has been a chance to use a mix of fibres, including cotton, paper and carpet yarn. We have also used social media to help us collaborate and plot the progress of our project – you can see more of this on our shared blog Spirit of Kinship.

You can see what we, and the other makers (there’s 20 of us altogether!) have been up to as all our work has been collated and curated into an exhibition which opens at the Corinium Musem in Cirencester on the 6th of February – on til the 28th February, after which it goes on tour round the UK.

Two-Make-Invitation-1-252x300The full list of collaborators are; Bella Peralta & Jenny Bicât * Matthew Tradgett & Sarah Pearson Cooke * Valerie Michael & Tim Blades * Karen Hansen & Rowan McOnegal * Susan Early & Sarah Cant *  Derek Elliott & Faith Ristic * Trevor Lillistone & Su Trindle * Stephanie Kemp & Alison Dupernex * Nicholas Ozanne & Gemma Sangwine * Tess Wakeling & Kristian Pettifor

The project is curated by Miranda Leonard in partnership with Dr. Nicola Thomas, University of Exeter and the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen.
The exhibition is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Arts Council.

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Creativity in the Stroud Valleys

I have lived in Stroud for 10 years now, and feel very lucky to have settled in such a beautiful, vibrant and creative area. Nearly everyone you bump into is an artist or maker of some sort, or closely related to one.

The Studio at Stafford MillThere is a strong history of the textile industry with many old weaving and spinning mills, often built by the river Frome to make use of water power, and some of those that survive have been converted into offices or studios, including Stafford Mill where I have a studio alongside my sister Victoria of Studio Vee, and fellow Winchester School of Art graduate Nick of Leto & Ariadne.

In the month of May, over two weekends, many of these artists and makers throw open the doors of their work spaces for the SIT Select Trail and SVA Open Studios. Having taken part and opened our own workshop for the last 4 years, this time we decided to opt out and visit some of the studios we have heard so much about but never been able to get to!

Here are some of my highlights;

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Colour me Beautiful

Way back in September I visited a place I’d wanted to see for a while……continuing on from the colour theme as it’s somewhere that colour takes centre stage.


Portmeirion Village was the vision of one man, Clough Williams-Ellis, and was built between 1925 – 1976, using a mixture of historical buildings and monuments, many of which were rescued from demolition in their original settings, so that Portmeirion is often referred to as ‘a home for fallen buildings’.

Inspired by the architecture of Mediterranean towns such as Portofino, Clough Williams set out to create a tightly set village in harmony with the landscape.

Many of the building’s walls and gates are painted in a specific colour scheme, shades of terracotta, yellow, peach, turquoise and blue, which adds to the Mediterranean feel, and the colours are used to great effect to pick out details, including ironwork, window frames and mouldings on the buildings.


I didn’t know it til we arrived at Portmeirion, but it turned out my chosen outfit of vintage paisley mini dress with turquoise leggings, was a perfect complement to the painted architecture!

Portmeirion2We arrived at Portmeirion just as it opened so were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves for the first hour, and enjoyed the peaceful tranquillity of the place. It certainly sits well in the landscape and the colours bind it all together, bringing harmony to an otherwise mis-matched collection of structures.