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 !!

Monday, 13 February 2017

That's Amore

This being Valentine’s week and all…

I’d never thought of Hitchcock’s 1954 production of Rear Window as a Romance.
What I recalled was Jimmy Stewart laid up with a broken leg spying on the antics of his neighbours while Grace Kelly pranced in and out of his apartment wearing a season of new frocks.
After hearing a blood curdling scream from the apartment opposite Stewart deduces that Raymond Burr, aka Perry Mason in another life, has murdered and chopped up his wife, maybe- and Stewart tries to convince his detective friend to investigate. Stewart is, of course, spot on- as always.

A Mystery-Thriller was the genre I recollected

But a recent viewing threw me off kilter- Rear Window is a lot more about love than I remembered.

Jeff (Stewart) thinks that Lisa (Kelly) is too perfect for him (Well, she probably was and sure she married a real prince in real life) 
He being an adventurous photographer who lived life in the outback carrying his possessions in a back pack and she being a society gal.

And as if to reinforce his view- discord in love is all around him. There’s Miss Lonely Heart in the basement who prepares candle lit meals  for an imaginary lover, Miss Torso who flirts with everyone but is partial to none, the newly weds whose romance is beginning to unravel and the Thorvalds who bicker and squawk until he finally chops off her head.
Unrequited love, romantic love, doomed love, absent love, tragic love, love gone astray….

Meanwhile Lisa is the main initiator of any intimate exchanges with Jeff, climbing all over the invalid, bestowing kisses in an attempt to seduce him with her overnight case and silk negligée. Which Jeff, strangely enough, ignores-

To win his love she has to do the heroines’ journey. Do battle with the hag and enter the mouth of the dragon.

And so Grace Kelly, replete with crinoline petticoated billowy skirt and stiletto heels, negotiates high perpendicular ladders and iron railed balconies, does hand to hand combat with the murder suspect, is nearly strangled by the villain of the piece and is finally arrested by the cops for her trouble- Some lengths to go to prove her marital compatibility!

Thankfully all ends well and the last shot in the film is of our Girl Friday wearing the trousers, designer though they may be, reading her copy of Bazaar, while he sleeps like a baby.

It’s Amore is the final score

Miss lonely Heart finds a real lover and Miss Torso welcomes home her pint sized partner.

The woman has conformed to the man’s ideal of what makes a perfect wife, risking her life albeit in the attempt... hardly a token to equality between the sexes despite her designer slacks.
A lot of fun nonetheless.
That’s Amore…..

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Writing Opportunity

Two ideas for aspiring writers:


A short story competition organised by Portsmouth Writers' Group
When one of their members' daughters was diagnosed with MS The Writers@Lovedean wanted to do something so they have organised a Short Story competition on the theme of movement.
Full details at


As part of a creative cafe  project and in conjunction with Salford University Cafe lit produce an Ezine.
Every year the best are published in a special annual paperback and E -book
For details see

Thursday, 19 January 2017


In Dublin National Gallery the Turner Watercolours are on exhibit only for the month of January.

Easier to access than Newgrange on the December Solstice, a trip to the exhibition has become an annual pilgrimage for me- to celebrate the new year.


Out in the woods I stoop
to pick up sticks that click
In the distance a fire thaws
the ice river in me

In the house I see
cobwebs stretched
across rafters
In the distance- scrubbed floors
and the smell of beeswax

In the gallery Turner's water-
colours merge into scapes of sea
and cloud
and mountain slope,
all fused in a January dusk

Outside- the frozen season
canvas by canvas melts
and we stretch
once more
towards Spring

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2017

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

On Meditating- sort of

Most of you are probably, like me, in the throes of breaking New Year Resolutions.
I didn't make many and I started late.
Drink more water,eat more veggies, fruit etc
Decrease sugar, caffeine, alcohol consumption....the usual type of thing.
This year I added YET again,,,,  Practise Meditation.
I have been trying to do this for a very long time and I still fail miserably
but I think the most user friendly inspiration on this subject comes from Pema Chodron.
See links.
How to Meditate

And here's a short poem on the subject.

On Meditating

I squat in half - lotus
sort of
count the out- breaths
up to ten
and then again
eye gaze-lowish
upright torso
hands relaxed
watching the thoughts
cloud by cloud
wave by wave
what's for dinner?
remember to ring Helen
back to the out- breath
one to five
fuschia boxing the wind outside
a poem in that
three stanzas in
back to the breath
label thoughts "thinking"
think about shopping and parking
and spending and saving
the gong...

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2017

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Christmas Visitor

I put it down to Planet Earth 2. 
My daughter spent the Christmas holidays watching and rewatching prowling night panthers, roaming hyena packs and baby turtles going astray; confusing the moon with city lights they end up on highways instead of the foreshore.

It was these turtles in particular that so fixated my daughter’s imagination that when she saw a minuscule creature scurrying dangerously in suburban byroads she did a U turn. The fugitive turned out to be a kitten which happily jumped into the car when she opened the door. And so we spent St Stephen’s day looking for an owner and a vet. For kitty on further observation, had damaged his/her eye.

A trawl about the internet and the neighbourhood threw up no clues as to kitty’s identity. A chance encounter in Spar yielded the name of a vet who was actually open. We whisked the fugitive off to this surgery where we were generally misinformed and told to bring kitty to the DSPCA. This charity, however, was closed until further notice and no joy on that website regarding rescue options in case of Christmas emergency.  A cat shelter in Aughrim, Co Wicklow offered to rescue kitty but asked me to check out the eye injury with a reputable vet first.

The fugitive settled in happily, dismantling Christmas tree, bullying our 4 year old setter, cracking eggs and creating general mayhem. A visit to my own vet yielded the fact that the eyeball was perforated, probably by a scratch from a sibling, that kitty was a 12 week old male, would never recover its sight, but was otherwise healthy.

 No prospective owner has darkened our door so kitty looks likely to stay. The Aughrim lady has enough cats to rescue and our setter, while looking back nostalgically to kitty free days…seems to have accepted the one-eyed visitor as a possible long term lodger.

I Highly recommend the generosity, quick response and integrity of Catriona Leahy of Aughrim Cat Rescue. See site if you want to help out or adopt a kitten.