Reflection in Isolation
Quite the time in the world to be living in. So much going on, then again, not all too much. While there is so much unknown fear and worry going on around us, I've been doing my best to see outside the box as though the glass is half full. It's an interesting thing that while it has been highly encouraged to keep our distances from one another, I have seen this season of life work in a beautiful way of bringing people together. Whether it be spending time with loved ones, calling a distant friend to check in, or sharing special playlists from person to person around the globe; we are all connected in unique ways within our own personal situations. Businesses of all kind are coming to a screeching halt. Doors are closing up and leaving cities both big and small looking like an old western film from the '40s...dry and deselect.
Now, not being naive to the climate of the world, in a way for me, I see this as a good thing. For myself (along with others) it has forced (or better yet, allowed) me to slow down. Operating a business, running a store, making each product of the business by hand, and having a family, doesn't allow for much slowness these days. With all that is happening around the world, I find myself more still and quiet, both in the store and home life (at least when the babies are asleep). Thus, allowing me to do some reflecting on myself in a personal way, as well as in my business and my craft.
In times of rest during the days, I find myself looking for inspiration, motivation, hope, clarity and peace. I am constantly looking to fuel my fire for the trade in which I practice as well as providing a roof over my family's head, especially in times of uncertainty. For the last month or more, I have dove deep into a number of interests which I will discuss a few specifically here. There are a few trades, crafts, artisans (people in general) that have always resinated with me on a personal level, but also as a craftsman. I have come across articles, videos, documentaries, books and more in these last few weeks on these particular trades that have opened my eyes again to how I see my own craft. Learning more about these trades and particular craftspeople has lead me back into the store with a new and hopeful outlook. Always looking onward, past the climate of todays world.
Shoes are one of those things that you always wear. Whether cheap trainers, or handmade and bespoke, they are protective to your feet and serve a purpose. To me, a good shoe gets better with age and wear. The way the toe box or apron deflates and wears in. The way that they start to break in and start to mold to your feet as they are worn. They will feel better and fit better with each step taken. Shoes can tell a narrative. Scuffs and marks accumulate over time and tell a story of being worn in from the pebbled streets of New York, or the cobblestone of Italy. They go with you on your journey and have stories to tell. A good shoe can also be re-soled, giving new life to a pair worn for years around the world. The way a shoe is made, by the leather being pulled over a last or being worked and sewn by hand; shoes can be a beautiful, functional piece of art, with your own story to tell.
As with hats, I relate greatly to shoe makers and how a hat and shoe compare not only by style, but functionality. Much like a shoe and its process, a hat is pulled over a block, using it to take the size, form, and silhouette. Like a well-worn shoe, for decades a hat as been a great tool to own. Both protecting you from elements such as rain, snow and sun. To me, a hat is much more than a stylistic preference; at its core it is a tool. When worn well and properly, it too can have a great story to tell. I think a worn in hat with scuffs, marks, and stains from being lived in, is much more elegant and proper than a pristine hat that only gets worn a couple times a year. As a shoe can be (and should be at some point) resoled, a hat can be reblocked and cleaned to give new life to the hat that has seen many circumstances. For me, being shaped back into its original form, while still having the character and grit of years of use, is the pinnacle of style in hats. A proper hat is the greatest form of luxurious functionality in my eyes.
Yohei Fukuda Hiro Yanagimachi
Cooking; what my wife wishes I did more often and was better at. While I admit this section is probably the furthest from my personal arsenal, it is something I have found great relation to and have found very inspiring in this season of life when looking at my own craft.
A chef who has dedicated their life to food is a beautiful thing. One who operates at a level of having achieved, or striving for the Michelin status, is not something to quickly look past. A chef who understands culture and working with natives in that field is a wonderfully beautiful relationship that is often missed with chains or similar
establishments. Inspiring is the chef that cares for not only the overall outcome of the dish, but cares for the top quality of each ingredient that goes into meal served. Caring for their tools and understanding their kitchen is a skill set into itself. Knowing varying degrees of temperature and how to care for each. An observation I've made is that (mostly) no two chefs are the same, even if cooking the same dish. Different techniques, tools and life experiences make each cook unique unto themselves. The creativity that spues from each is an inspiration to see. Something else I have seen in chefs is how important, if not the most important aspect of their craft, is the prep time. Before even starting the dish, a chef makes sure their team is all on the same page, the kitchen is well prepared and ingredients have been cared for.
I've been able to look at my craft from a distance during this isolated season of life. I'm seeing where I can improve, grow, and succeed moving forward. In many ways, similar to the chefs of the world.
I do my best to not only make the best hat I can with two hands, but to care for each "ingredient" that goes into my hats. Spending time researching and having personal relationships with mills around the world to insure that each raw material that goes into the hat is at the tier I am striving. From the main material being felt or straw, down to which thread I am using. It is very easy for many to get cheap and simple materials to use in hats. Going to the big box sewing store for materials and supplies. For me, it just does not make the cut. I have taken time over the years to refine each hat that I make. I've searched and found the best Japanese silk threads, generally used for traditional kimono making along with French linen threads. Utilizing the best component available for each hat, allows me to offer the overall quality of each hat. The overall finished "look" of a hat is one aspect, but the structure and integrity of it is the foundation of quality in hat making.
Over the years I have also learned that the prep work involved with hatmaking is just as important as the sewing, blocking and shaping of the hats. I do my best to make sure that I am caring for the raw materials, such as the felt, prior to making in order to insure once I get into it the felt, it is at its full potential. Compressing the felt before pouncing, understanding temperatures, pressures, angels and ratios, all go into making the best hat that I can.
The last thing I find myself relating to in the world of cooking isn't actually the main product, or the craft. This would be the over all experience of the customer. I do my best, as most chefs, to have the customer leaving my store feeling better than when they walked in. Hopefully after their interaction, whether it be a fitting, finding a RTW piece or just stopping in to say hello, they can leave feeling a little more joyful, fulfilled, satisfied, and maybe even a little more pep in their step with some gained confidence. I see many of these things to be true with the great cooks around the world.
Trattoria Sostanza - Florence, Italy
An architect is smart. They are thoughtful and creative. They are good listeners and give good advice when knowing their craft. The architecture of a home or building is not only meant to be pleasing to the eye, but also showing creativity, uniqueness and style. Architecture serves a purpose; whether it be a family home of generations, a place to be creative and work, or to sit your tuchus after a hard days work. An architect listens and understands their customer. What are they looking for? What theme and style do they enjoy? What space is needed? What is the location? Architecture can be very utilitarian in the sense of how it is built, where it is built and specific aspects of the design for specific reasoning. That can be as easy and simple as window and door layout to adapt a nice windflow through the house to have a nice breeze on a warm summer day. To know and understand lighting to give a beautiful warm glow in the mid of day to make it feel like you are in central park, as you sit in your living space. An architect knows its surrounding and designs accordingly. Beaches, cities, mountains, deserts, the woods...How can a building adapt to these surroundings to not compete, but be in harmony. In that same regard, knowing materials is also key to this trade. Geography, climate, seasons; this all plays a big part in the architectural trade.
While some may say there is no end to the creativity of design in an architect; personally I find most enjoyable is when there are beautiful harmonies. In the design of the building itself, the interiors and how they all interact with where they are situated in the world. A design with so many ups and downs, ins and outs can be confusing to me, losing its beauty in the creative aspect. Where a design that is simple, minimalistic (either big or small) that has harmony to every aspect of the shapes & sillouhets is something that is very peaceful, authentic and appealing to me. It just makes sense.
That all true with a hat. The over all style and design of a hat is one thing. It can be fun, funky, classic...maybe even a little simple and boring. However, does it suit the one that is wearing it? If I could count the number of times I have heard, "I love the idea and look of hats, but they just don't look good on me" I could retire now. The reason I find most people saying this, is that they have never tried a TRUE hat. They have maybe gone to a hat store, or online and have tried something that was not made for them. The proportions of crown, brim, ribbon...even the size of the hat being generic...was not made for them, their head or body frame. A hat should have a nice harmony with the persons build. the crown being in harmony with the construction of the face, the brim with their shoulder, and maybe taking into account a little in their height.
The function of materials, in regards to how and when this hat will be worn is also much like an architect. Does the customer live in a "wet weather" climate? Is this hat being used for function? Will this hat be worn during a regular accruing life activity such as hunting, fishing, camping, horse riding etc? These are all things that should be taken into account with a hat to make sure it not only looks correct on you, but so that it can serve its full purpose of a tool...while looking good.
Architecture, whether it be the silhouette design of a building, an interior of a home, or a piece of furniture, I have always loved. Many different styles and decades have seemed to please my eye over the years.
WASHI - JAPANESE PAPER
Another trade that has caught my eye in the last weeks has been the (if I may) ancient art of Washi, literally meaning Japanese paper. The very specific, handmade paper being made of three different specific types of plants. I won't go into too much of the detail in this craft as I am still learning much about it. However I have found it to be a beautiful thing. This Washi paper being used for screen doors, lanterns, postcards, books, art & more. All to be said, the thing I have found to be so refreshing, inspiring and relatable to my craft is the perfect, imperfections...Wabi Sabi. This paper being made of natural fibers, by hand, always have beautiful markings, scuffs, niks...whatever they may be. Making each paper, a one of a kind piece of art.
Since I got into this trade about seven years ago, I have always wanted to make the best hat I possibly could. In the beginning I embraced imperfections of my hats, knowing they were made by my two hands. Along this journey, admittingly maybe comparing my work to others a little too much, I found myself striving for perfection. Longing to make a hat, that looks like it has been pressed out on a machine in a factory. I am not exactly sure why that is, or how I got there...and I wouldn't even necessarily say it is a bad thing to want to make a perfect hat, but stressing myself in the process of that, can and has created an even worse hat. I have seemed to come back around to older philosophies of Wellema, embracing the beauty of a handmade hat. Knowing that I am not a machine, taking this time to step back and reflect on every aspect of my craft. How varying conditions can effect each aspect of the process. How the climate and temperatures of the day or season effects each raw material. How I am feeling that day in health, both physically and mentally. The dye and natural blemishes of fur. Embracing my wood blocks, most with 80+ years of age, adapting to each of their characteristics of bumps and bruises in their own life. All these things and more, I once overlooked and even fought against, now trying to remind myself daily to adapt and embrace. Working with two hands, and natural elements such as leather and fur...in my mind, there will always be imperfections.
This time of isolation has allowed me to reflect on all of this, and to hopefully, come out of this season of life stronger and more encouraged in my own craft.
If I may encourage you all to find what inspires you in this time, please do so. Slow down each day, enjoy a peaceful moment. Do something you have been putting off. Call a loved one. So that when this whole thing comes to a close, and we slowly return to our new normals, we can come out ahead & ontop. Whatever that may look like.
A few other things that have been getting me by I thought I would share. Day by day with a life of "quarantine", keeping my spirits up and thoughts motivated. We're all wired differently, but maybe something here for you to enjoy as well...
- Puzzle time with my wife
- Music, especially in the quite hours of a rainy day;
- Phil Cook, As Far as I Can See
- Ryuichi Sakamoto, 1996
- Billy Joel, The Stranger
- Daniel Herskedal, Slow Eastbound Train
- Artie Shaw, '1949'
- Textures in textiles
- Roman Holiday (1953)
- Caddyshack (1980)
- A collection of 1920s photogravures from Japan, taken of houses and interiors in Kyoto
- Family "fresh air" time at the Rose Bowl
- Hemmingway's 'The old man & the Sea'
- Works by George Nakashima
Thank you to those who have supported us in these unwavering times. It is my greatest hope to come out of this on the other side with you all, stronger, wiser & closer. When the time is right, we welcome you back into the store for a nice drink & a better hat. Maybe even something new to offer you...
- Cody Wellema