Gemma Sangwine

Unique and bespoke millinery and hair accessories

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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.










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Vibrancy of Colour

I remember when I was younger seeing knitting patterns and tapestry kits for these amazing, colourful designs by an American guy with a funny name……when I went on to do textiles at school he popped up again in reference books and source material…… he was well regarded and influential, and continues to be so now, at the age of 77!

He is a world renowned textile designer and knitter, originally from California, he came to the UK in the 1960s, he is Kaffe Fassett.

KaffeFassettDIC_Page130Kaffee Fassett in front of the Jars Tapestry, with a couple of his knits from the 1980s. Image taken from his book ‘Dreaming in Colour’

And so it was that on a recent trip to Bath I, along with studio buddies Victoria & Nick, went to the American Museum in Britain to see the breathtaking exhibition The Colourful World of Kaffe Fassett. It was beautifully presented, all the walls had been painted in bright colours, the displays included personal ornaments and ephemera, to show what influenced his work, and they had recreated a corner of his studio, an area that I stood in front of for a good 20 minutes just taking it all in!

Kaffe Fassett exhibition Aug 2014Admiring the studio set up.

Kaffe Fassett exhibition Aug 2014 display cases

Kaffe Fassett exhibition Aug 2014 chairs

Kaffe Fassett exhibition Aug 2014.

So may visual references, such vibrancy and playful use of colour. We all came out uplifted and inspired, not least by his obviously great enthusiasm and passion for his work.


‘This is the grandest show of my career – every item is part of an intricate opera of colour. I have always wanted this approach to my work, but other museum designers and curators have steered me to a rather mixed approach in my exhibitions.

This show is so unique to me because it explains in a visceral way my growing obsession with the power of colour. My hope and conviction is that this exhibition at the American Museum in Britain will show the grey and beige clad young the sensual thrill of pure colour. I still feel vital! I want my message to come across in this mood altering show – I’m flying high on colour.

This show is closer to my desires than ever before in my many, many presentations around the world.’

(Kaffe Fassett, 12 March 2014)

The exhibition is on til the 2nd November. If you get a chance to see it, don’t hesitate, go! 

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A day out at the Zoo…for Bristol Vintage Wedding Fair

The last few months have been focused on making new bridal pieces for the Bristol Vintage Wedding Fair. So focussed in fact that as I packed up the new stock at the studio I just kept finding more and more of it, pieces that I’d made and had then melted into the background as my workbench turned into a creative frenzy of sinamay fascinator bases, feathers and vintage costume jewellery.

Bridal montageAbove are some fascinators with birdcage veils, carefully packed up for transportation, and out on display on my stall

I had a great day, as always with these events it’s refreshing to get out of the studio, show off my wares, get feedback from the public, and bond with fellow makers and fans of vintage. The venue was beautiful too, the Clifton Pavillion in the grounds of Bristol Zoo!

My stall at BVWedFeairA special mention to Delia of Flo-Jo Boutique, who was there with their knicker making kits (great for hen parties!) Kate and Matt of Shellac Sound who added to the entertainment with their array of wind-up gramophones and collection of original 78s from the 1920’s, 30’s & 40’s, Jessica Charleston with her stunning couture wedding dresses, and Adele of Tin Can Floral artisan florist.

I took a few photos on the day, but fortunately there were plenty of professional photographers on hand to record the day, including Pete Cranston Photography and Rosa Fay Photography, below is a selection of their snaps;

RosaFayPhotography BVWF 19

RosaFayPhotography BVWF 23

RosaFayPhotography BVWF 26

Pete Cranston Photography

Pete Cranston Photography