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Crackerjack Contemporary Crafts Newsletter
Celebrating the Handmade since 1986
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An Interview with Ann De Vuono...a Love Affair with Hats
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Issue: # 2   August 2008

Happy SUMMER Successes!

During these so-called lazy days of summer, we at Crackerjack are preparing for the Fall and the Holidays. Top priority has been to make our website accessible and easy to use. So we can now announce that we have achieved that measure of success! Our site can now be viewed on personal devices, etc. and has a new look - check it out! And if you were not aware, we have many of your favorite Crackerjack items available to buy online, and right now, shipping is FREE on orders $70. and over! Links to both our homepage and the catalog are on your left.

Speaking of Success, we are also happy (and grateful) to announce that Crackerjack was a finalist in two categories - Best Jewelry Store and Best Gift/ Novelty Store - in NWSource.com's annual Neighborhood Picks competition. Thank you SO MUCH to all who voted for us! See the bottom of this page for a way to get a great offer good at Crackerjack Crafts.

This issue features an interview with Ann de Vuono, a local milliner whose hats we have carried almost since day one. I must say that one of the most gratifying aspects of this business is that we at Crackerjack are dealing with individual artists, and that personal relationship is great! So many are really nice people, and Ann is a prime example. After all, life is too short to deal with people who aren't nice, don't you think?

All my best - Kathleen
Upcoming Events
Crackerjacl LogoMark your calendar!

Art Walk - First Wednesday
   of the Month - 6 -8 pm
  August 6 - Cecelia Otto         Delicate Wired Gemstones
 September 3 - Andrea Savaar 
French Inspired Jewelry

Wallingford Farmers Market   Wednesdays 3-7 pm
An Interview with Ann de Vuono, Milliner
A Love Affair with HatsAnn De Vuono.jpg

I met Ann at Julia's Restaurant, a Wallingford favorite, on a typical Seattle June morning - overcast and cool enough to want a sweater. We ordered lattes and caught up.  I have known Ann and her work since I began carrying her beautiful velvet berets in the late 80's. But I didn't know her whole story and that was the purpose of our meeting.

Ann came to Seattle in the mid-70's to pursue a dance career at Cornish and then returned to her native Chicago to dance. And that is how she fell in love with hats. Well, not hats per se, but with the wooden blocks used to form hats. She noticed them in the theatre costume shops and fell in love. After suffering several injuries which curtailed her dancing, and with this new interest, Ann began to research and learn about making hats. "Hats weren't in at all," she says "and I'd go in these millinery supply shops in Chicago and they were old dusty places with these people whose industry had completely dried up. It was sad and I thought, "I never want to have a shop with dusty ribbon!' " Her personal life brought Ann back to Seattle where she sought out other milliners like Ethel Young who had a millinery store downtown on a second floor above one of the department stores. She was a very private person who came to trust Ann and would share her designs in progress. Her creations were fabulous and she was very supportive of Ann's interest. Another Seattleite who mentored Ann was Herman, down at Pike Place Market, who had a small shop of hats and who also did re-blocking, cleaning and repairs of hats. Ann remembers him as a very warm and sweet man who shared very specific information with her and tools of the trade which he had acquired over the years.

I asked Ann why hats in particular, and she answered that the sculptural aspect intrigues her. They can go farther than clothing. A lover of fussy, detail sewing, Ann feels hats present her with a greater opportunity to do a lot of detail work in a little space without it taking so terribly long.  Her original hats were miniatures - cocktail type oonfections called Head Buttons that might have a dozen or so tiny folded ribbon roses, or a gather of tulle or a few wacky feathers. She sold them to several boutiques downtown, and in a rush of newcomer's confidence sent a box of eight samples to Showroom 7 in New York City. One afternoon, Ann received a phone call from Polly Mellon, editor of Vogue magazine. "Listen - I really want to use your hats in a shoot!" Polly had seen Ann's Head Buttons at Studio 7 where she did all her photography for Vogue and wanted to use the hats, but was discouraged by the woman at the studio because they were made by a "nobody". "But that's exactly what I want" said Ms. Mellon. And so, Ann's hats were in a Vogue layout!

Encouraged by this success, Ann flew around the country to major cities where she would check the backs of fashion magazines for the area's high end boutiques and approach them to carry her work. Later that year, there was a layout in WWD, the fashion world's bible, also courtesy of Polly Mellon.

Ann's designs are influenced by the world around her, whether that's plants or politics, and by designs from the past. She is greatly influenced by architecture as well, intrigued by the concerns with balance.  She finds magic in working with both the fur felt and silk fabrics. "They do whatever I want. They don't speak to me, I don't speak to them, they just do what I want." The fur felt and the woven straws are purchased as softly dished rounds called hoods for smaller brimmed hats, and cartwheels for larger brimmed pieces. The milliner coaxes shape from them by using wooden blocks. These are the things which were the object of Ann's first love. They are honest looking things, beautiful in their clean lines and burnished simplicity. Using steam for felt, and water for straw, Ann painstakingly forms the blank over the block. In the case of  straw, it must be kept in place by winding thread over the whole surface and leaving it to dry. Since the felt is not wet, it doesn't require as much time to dry, but Ann always leaves them on the block overnight to let the shape really cure. Ann enjoys all aspects of making hats, although she said each aspect she loves some days, and hates on others. "But that's because I'm passionate about what I do!" I know Ann's studio is in her home, and I asked what the benefits and drawbacks were to that. She said the benefit was that when you had insomnia, you could get something done. And the drawback was the interruptions. "Sometimes I fantasize about being on the sixth floor with big windows and no doorbell. But then I'd probably be too isolated."

About creative challenges, Ann declares it a mystery. She'll have great big creative dry spells, but when she does, she keeps working - "I'll make all the linings for the whole next season. Otherwise I'd be broke, for one thing. And I'd be lying in the fetal position somewhere!"

Her biggest challenge as a business person is selling her own work. I asked how she makes a client more comfortable wearing hats. Ann says she always has a wide variety of samples and has gotten very good at knowing what shape will be most flattering for a person's face, and what colors. So by showing the customer flattering choices, she helps them feel comfortable right away. "I always have a few outrageous hats, so there's a sense of playfulness the customer can enjoy." Glasses? "Not an issue at all!"

We spoke about the appeal of hats. Ann believes it's because they draw the eye up. On a physical level, a person looks at your eyes, and then looks up, which is more comfortable to women than when the other person looks down. On a spiritual level, again it has to do with looking up, and beyond the person. Besides being whimsical, and fun, hats cover the seat of our intelligence, the crown of the body. It's somehow significant that we cover it, adorn it. I asked if Ann had a favorite hat. "I bought a hat in a second hand store when I was thirteen - it's still my favorite." She described it as a dusty brown velvet Juliet cap covered in beads the colors of gunmetal, bronze and silver. "We had to wear hats to church. We got a new hat every Easter. Even after you didn't need to wear a hat to church, we wore hats to church. In every photo of my mom as a young woman, she has a hat on. The fascination stayed with me." She reminisces about moving to Seattle to go to school and making elaborate celebration hats for her friend's birthday out of scraps of paper and things she had at hand when she was eighteen. "I've always sewn," she says as though this is a revelation to herself.

Hat etiquette? "Men should never wear their hats indoors." Ann glances over at a man sitting in the restaurant with a backwards ball cap on. It's fine for a woman to take hers off indoors if she wants or keep it on, but you must take a hat off at the theatre unless it's completely flat to the head like some of the hats from the Thirties. Always be considerate of others.

When asked what Ann would like everyone to know and appreciate about her hats, she said that they "keep you warm in winter, straws really do keep you cool (in the heat), they can cover up a bad hair day and show off a good hair day. Each and every piece is made totally by hand, none of my embellishments is purchased, everything is made in my studio."

We paid for our lattes and went out into the cool day. Ann had to get back to the studio. I walk across the street to the store happy to have had the opportunity to learn more about her amazingly well crafted designs. I am left with an even greater appreciation for her hats and the wonderful, supportive woman who creates them. Stop by to see what we have in the store - there are some wonderful summer hats to choose from - and check out our Staff page at www.crackerjackcrafts.com to see some of us in Ann's hats at the Wallingford Art Walk in June.
Next Month: Moving into Fall
I hope to see you during the Art Walk. Enjoy a glass of champagne or sparkling cider, chat with Cecelia and see her latest creations, and then come next month to meet Andrea. It's a great opportunity to get out in the neighborhood on these warm evenings!

And I wish you a summer filled with your own successes!

Kathleen Koch
Crackerjack Contemporary Crafts

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