Thursday, January 13, 2011

Holly's Hats

A Cornish fashion student using her grandfather's feathers to make hats

“'Hello, I'm Holly and I make hats,” Holly Young said to the bespoke milliner Justin Smith when he came into the fabric shop she worked at in Soho. “If you want any help here's my number.'” She smiles. “Then I went went bright red! But a week or so later he phoned me up - you have to do it. I worked for him during busy times on and off for about 2 years.” Determination to succeed is vital in business nowadays, and Holly clearly possesses not just a quiet perseverance, but great talent.

Holly, now 26, studied Costume Design for the Performing Arts at the London College of Fashion. “I was wavering into fashion but I didn't know what I wanted to specialise in,” she says. “Costume Design is very heavily on the making as well as design, whereas Fashion you can pay people to make your final collection for you. With fashion you get marked on design and research whereas costume you get marked on technique and sewing ability. It was quite a tough course.”

Holly has worked with Kneehigh Theatre, English National Opera and English National Ballet. “English National Opera was in my 2nd year at uni after I'd done a course in millinery. I worked in the hat department and it was so much fun. I just loved it more than making costumes and I found it easy which helps. It's sculptural as well.”

Holly, from Devoran, graduated in 2006 but found life in London difficult. “I found it really hard to find time to do my own thing because you have to work all the time to pay the rent.” She came back to Cornwall in 2009 and now has a workshop in The Old Bakery in Truro. “I wasn't intending to stay down here but because I've met so many helpful people I've decided to stay - there are loads of creative things happening here.”

Setting up in business was a gamble for Holly but “it's what I've always wanted to do so in a way I feel there wasn't a choice,” she says simply. “It was accumulative – one thing led to another and everything's been positive along the way so I'm keeping going.”

According to Holly's mother, she has always loved hats. Holly laughs. “I always used to wear them when I was younger. I loved dressing up and wearing slightly unusual things, but I don't tend to wear hats that much myself - I just really enjoy making them.”

Holly is quietly spoken, but her huge eyes light up when she talks about her work. “What I love about making hats is that each one can be totally different, and you can make one in a day rather than a dress which might take 5 days,” she explains. “It's quite satisfying because it's relatively instant - the finishing touches take the longest time.”

People are defined by their hats, as Holly explains: “If you wear a hat that's what people always notice because it's at eye level. You could be wearing jeans and a plain top but put a hat on and you look dressed up.” Holly smiles. “That's what I did for a book launch on Friday.”

I was confused about when is a hat not a hat. Holly picks up a chic red felt number, with a beautiful ornate hat pin stuck through the rim at a jaunty angle. “I call them hats but really they're accessories. In my mind a hat has its own shape like this one. A fascinator is either on a band or clip or elastic. Fascinator tends to be a little thing on the side of your head and more fancy.”

Holly's hats are quite unique, a point she is rightly proud of. “There's nobody in Cornwall doing quite the same thing,” she says. “My stuff is quite fashionable with a quirky twist and because I've been lucky enough to have very good training, everything is as high quality as possible and hand stitched.” She shows me a piece of intricate stitching. “My commissions mean I can make something that matches people's taste. I really, really enjoy doing stuff that makes people happy. ” She sits back and sips her tea. “A lot of commissions are very different from stuff I've designed myself. I enjoy that because the design has come from the customer.”

Since returning to Cornwall, Holly has attended various courses which have helped her tremendously. “The Princes Trust course gave me a grant of £250 which funded several hats and all the material, and the Empowering Smart Women course run by Truro College was heavily subsidised,” she adds. “There were times when I thought 'I can't do this,' but the support from those courses made me realise I could. I hope I will be inspiring to other young people of Cornwall and prove that you don't have to leave the county to be successful.”

Most of Holly's work is for special occasions and weddings, but she has started selling hats in Opium in Truro and a specialised vintage boutique in Brighton. “Charging varies from £60 for a simple fascinator or for a full-on hat a commission would be £250-300 depending on how long it took me – the average price is about £100,” says Holly. “Hats make people look and feel special. It's quite a simple way of making your outfit look more expensive.”

An unexpected legacy came to Holly from her family. “I inherited a box of all kinds of feathers from my grandfather – he collected them to make flies for fishing. I wouldn't look for feathers for ethical reasons but these have come to me just at the right time.” Never one to turn down an opportunity, Holly has used the feathers in several of her hats, to stunning effect. “I'm sure grandad would be pleased that they're being put to a good use. It ties in nicely with the whole vintage fashion thing at the moment.”

Looking to the future, Holly says, “I'd really love to have my own boutique selling hats and fashion.” But for now she is happy in her workshop in Truro, turning out these eye-catching, witty hats. She looks up and smiles. I've learned that everyone can do whatever they want if they're determined enough.”

The Old Bakery, Blewetts Warf, Malpas Road, Truro, Cornwall TR1 1QH
Open Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Sat and Sundays.
Ring 07968 783320 – appointments recommended

Cornwall Today January 2011

A Romantic Walk

From Mylor Quay along the creek to the Pandora Inn,
returning via Mylor Bridge

I met my husband, Pip, when he was living on an oyster fishing boat called White Heather, moored near the Pandora, so this thatched pub at Restronguet was our local – a very romantic place to do our courting.

To start the walk, take the A39 Falmouth-Penryn road and at Penryn, take the road signposted to Mylor and continue until you reach Mylor Bridge. At the first roundabout go straight over, then take the first sharp turning on the right, and drive down past the post office to park on Mylor Quay.

It was low tide when I did this walk with John and Annie, and bath time for a party of ducks, splashing and squawking as they dived into pools of water like over-excited children. As we walked along the road following public footpath signs to Greatwood and Restronguet, several swans glided past, looking down their noses at the riff-raff. Just past a circular mirror on the right, we took a footpath parallel to the creek and, being a boating man, John was fascinated by the selection of boats at Tregatreath boatyard opposite.

The path curved round to the left, by a concrete block wall, then we crossed a private road and took the footpath sign ahead on our right, through a squeaky gate which led to a large field. There are often cattle here – and bulls have been known – but thankfully there were none today and we crossed the field, weaved our way through a kind of metal kissing gate and found ourselves on the foreshore.

We turned sharp left along the path that follows the creek; this next bit can be extremely muddy and slippery. On the opposite side of the creek I pointed out the houses along Church Road – a selection of houses in varying shapes and sizes of grandeur. We walked past a ploughed field on our left, full of rich brown earth like chocolate fudge, and noted the very last of the blackberries, and branches coated in feathery fingers of lichen. “Is that pronounced liken or lichen?” I asked.
John and Annie voted for lichen, and whichever it is, it is supposedly a sign of pure air so we breathed that much deeper as we walked.

Passing through another kissing gate, a winding path led us down to an overgrown quarry and on the shore, a couple of tired old boats, lapping up the sun in their last resting place. The path continued round to the right and another five barred gate into another field, then through that, to another little inlet with yet more decaying boats and a carefully positioned swing hanging from a tree over the beach. Being a painter, Annie was cursing herself for not having brought her sketch book, but as the sun made an appearance, took photographs so she can paint them later.

Passing through another wooden kissing gate and a muddy quagmire, we crunched our way through autumn gold leaves and up into another field, following a path diagonally uphill past a massive oak tree with branches trailing like a dowager's dress, through which the creek sparkled like diamonds.

At the top of this hill was a dead tree, branches grasping their way skywards. The path now tumbled down the other side of the hill and as we looked out to sea, saw moorings, in lurid shades of pink and green, like gobstoppers perched on the foreshore. Passing through another wooden kissing gate, we continued along a path strewn with acorns until we reached Greatwood Quay, where we stood looking out at the waters of Carrick Roads, the Roseland Peninsula, and Mylor Harbour, where there used to be a naval dockyard. The remaining boats of the season were bobbing on the waves and the nearest of these belonged to BATS – Blind At Sea – who often sail on these waters.

Greatwood Quay is a listed building built in the 18th century, of vertically-set dry slatestone with dressed granite copings linked by iron staples. This beautifully built quay was a landing stage for Greatwood House, further along this path.

As we continued along the path, we counted five oyster fishing boats out in the Carrick Roads: because oysters breed in the summer, fishing is restricted to October until April only. The Cornish have dredged for oysters in this area of the river Fal for over a century, and some of the boats, built at local boatyards, date back as far as 1860. Ancient laws were put in place to protect the natural ecology of the riverbeds and oyster stocks, stating that oystermen fishing in the Port of Truro Oyster Fishery are banned from using engines. Only sail power and hand-pulled dredges are permitted, although boats are allowed to motor out to the oyster beds. This is the only oyster fishery in Europe, if not the world, where such traditional methods must be used, and watching a fisherman at work is a real art.

Pip has owned several of these splendid wooden boats (known as “working boats” locally), one of which we did our courting on. The year before we met, his brother took over their business to enable him to have a season oystering, fulfilling a lifelong ambition. “It was incredibly hard work,” he said. “I lost over 3 stone, but I learnt so much from the oyster fishermen, and I was lucky to have such an incredible experience.”

We continued along the path, uphill through the woods, and turned right, from where we could see Greatwood House, once a vast turreted mansion but now converted to flats with fabulous views out over the Carrick Roads. Further on was a row of small cottages, and the path continued past some old stables under renovation. There used to be several Shetland ponies that grazed here: it always amazed me that they could graze at such an angle.

Further on Gunnera leaves towered over us, like huge plants from a nightmare, but we crept past, my imagination working overtime, and continued until we reached Weir Beach, where Mollie loves chasing the swans. Until they hiss back. There is often a solitary heron here, and a black swan that became quite famous. Today we spotted a lone egret, curlews and a cormorant, perched on a buoy, drying his wings.

Leaving Weir Beach behind, we continued along the path until we reached the Pandora where Pip was waiting, drinks at the ready. After a brief interlude we climbed up Restronguet Hill, which is extremely steep and narrow. Towards the top where it flattened out, I pointed out a telegraph pole where, not long after we met, Pip stuck a notice there announcing, 'Pip loves Curls'.”
Gossip was rife among the local community, wondering who owned said curls.

We reached a crossroads shortly after this and headed down the hill, through Mylor Bridge. Being ravenous by the time we reached the foot of the hill, we paid a visit to the butcher, then turned left and arrived back on the quay. The tide was coming in fast as we sat on a bench, eased off our boots, and tucked into excellent home made pasties.

John pointed out some swans gliding serenely past. “That was a lovely walk - I really enjoyed seeing your old stamping ground.” He paused and looked at me. “Though I do think you should put a blue plaque on that telegraph pole.”

OS Explorer 105 Falmouth & Mevagissey
Length: 1.5 -2 hours
Duration: 3 miles
Grading: easy going, though can be very muddy. The hill up from the Pandora is very steep.
Refreshments: Pandora Inn 01326 3726768
Lemon Arms, Mylor Bridge 01326 373666
Various shops in Mylor Bridge