I do love learning about other crafts. There’s nothing like the series of ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions that takes you deeper, step by step, into understanding the way quality things are made, as well as the commercial reasons that aspects of it are abandoned.
It helps if they have some connection to menswear, of course, and my most recent learning experience was with embroiderer Claire Barrett, of Hawthorne & Heaney. Claire set up H&H when she left Hand & Lock last year, and now has her own studio up in Islington with two other colleagues.
She used to share the studio with a taxidermist and there is still a pigeon (Cecil) in the rafters, an squirrel on the mantelpiece and a rather imposing picture on the wall of a hare being hung. The guy downstairs makes bowls, which are cooking in the oven. It’s fantastically artsy.
Hawthorne and Heaney are the maiden names of Claire’s two grandmothers. Grandma Hawthorne’s scissors can be seen below, and grandma Heaney was a cutter at Moss Bross. “I knew my maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Heaney, and when I asked my father what his mother’s name had been, I couldn’t believe it. They fit so well together,” says Claire.
She met Monty Moss at the MTBA dinner at the beginning of the year and asked him if he remembered her grandmother: “He said he did, but I think he was just being nice,” says Claire. At home, Claire has a letter from Monty to granny Heaney, congratulating her on her granddaughter Ethna graduating from the Slade.
Claire’s work divides between tailors and fashion designers. There are periods of intense activity around the fashion weeks and graduate shows. Hanging on the wall is an intricate pattern in gold pieces down a black dress. In a bowl on the side are several dozen beetle wings, which will decorate another creation.
For the tailors there are some big, occasional projects and lots of regular stitching of initials onto things. The big projects include livery work – there is an old coachman’s livery hanging on the wall, for instance, which Claire has to draw.
“A lot of embroidery work today, particularly with gold, is outsourced to Pakistan,” she says. “But they tend to work with samples, which may be copies themselves, so compound errors are made – a line slowly turns into a blob.” Claire is making a record of the lace work on the coachman’s coat so this never happens with items for the royal household. Specs will be made for Clarence House and for Henry Poole.
Claire also does a lot of embroidery work on bespoke slippers, which readers of The Rake will have seen examples of recently.
More on my project with Claire next week.
Photography: Luke Carby