The things that make us different, those are our superpowers.*
Dyke on Metaphysical Grandma
Interview with Mamie Raynaud, Hat Maker
Mamie Raynaud, also known as The Mad Duchess, studied hat making at Jenny Roberts Millinery, as well as with other master hatters in Europe and Australia. She learned to use a sewing machine at age ten while making a Taiwanese aboriginal dance costume. A lover of textiles arts, Mamie was first interested in millinery more than 20 years ago while studying fashion design in California.
Was hat making your first love?
Millinery is more like my lost love. I was lucky to have grown up in the heart of Los Angeles, and was exposed to art and fashion at a very young age. My real dream after high school was moving to New York City for art and design school. I lost my nerve mostly because I didn’t think I had enough talent or means to get into a school like Parsons. I ended up in San Francisco—what I felt was the next best city—and got married in my junior year of college. Two children later, I enrolled in a local design program at a junior college where I realized, albeit too late, that I did have a talent for art and design. I also learned about hat making for the first time from a lovely milliner from Austria named Elfriede Spenza. She was the head of the accessories department, where I fell in love with the idea of hat making.
Do you think of Elfriede Spenza as your mentor?
I am almost certain that I was a “blip” on Elfriede Spenza’s map. I was this inquisitive fashion student hanging around her little studio who never became her actual student. She really taught me the basics about hat making, and how I could recycle almost any old hat into a new one using steam, hand shaping, and blocking on wooden hat blocks. She really gave me the foundations of hat making.
If you didn’t learn hat making in fashion design school, where and when did you decide to make hats?
Even though I made a promise to Elfrieda Spenza that I would add her courses before I left, I never did. Elfrieda passed away in 2010, but she was the reason I decided to learn millinery 30 years later. I moved to Medellin, Colombia from California around the end of 2017. It wasn’t long before I developed relocation remorse, and the isolation turned into a deep depression. I remained high functioning, even though I was barely holding it together. At this point, I needed a miracle to happen.
We planned a long road trip from Texas to Europe, and since my husband would be working when not driving, I turned it into a “Bucket List for Crafting,” culminating in millinery training in England. This six-month journey was my miracle.
I found my millinery teacher, Jenny Roberts, accidentally, on an internet search. She felt like a good fit for me. Her studio was located in one of the loveliest towns in Yorkshire, Harrogate. Jenny met my travel schedule and delayed her summer holiday so I could get through private and intensive lessons in a month. I had six-hour instructions during the day, and the evenings were spent on finishing each hat exercise. Most days were 16 hours long, with dinner breaks. I also worked through weekends. Four weeks later, I had completed more than 15 different hats using what felt like hundreds of techniques. It remains a record for me to this day.
How did you feel about being a millinery student after so many years?
I felt incredible. I had to pinch myself every day to make sure it was real. My husband never knew I wanted to make hats, so he was pretty apprehensive about my committing a whole month to the training. He was amazed by the results, and not by just the hats, but how happy I was after a year of depression. It was during this trip that my husband agreed to move back to the United States full time, and make Colombia our holiday destination.
Are there particular colors, design elements, and/or themes that you are particularly drawn to?
I am constantly changing colors and design elements. I do this almost daily sometimes. I get inspired by a shape or a piece of fashion and I try to create something to match. I often design using limited materials I might have on hand. It’s always a good exercise to work within these confines. Milliners in general are really resourceful technicians.
What inspires and influences your work?
Most of the time it’s just an emotion I want to convey. I get these feelings when I watch old movies, or look at classic designers like Dior. Nature also inspires me—down to the little insects. Almost anything that elicits an emotional response has potential to become a hat.
Do you have a particular hat you are most proud of?
My favorite is “Victoria in Shanghai.” I created it for an Australian hat competition where the theme was “equilibrium.” It was the first piece where I combined my Chinese heritage and British influence.
What hat challenged you the most?
“Flora De Medellin” was my first head piece I made after my millinery training. It was challenging mostly because of my inexperience. It was my first piece on exhibition at London Hat Week.
Do you plan out the design of a hat in advance? If so, does a hat ever deviate from your design as you start putting it together? If not, what’s your mindset as you proceed?
Commissioned hat designs, materials, and colors are confirmed in advance, and they usually require a fairly detailed sketch. There’s very little deviation there, and if I do change something, a client needs approval. Most of my non-commissioned designs start with a base shape, color, and a general theme. All my designs deviate at some point in time because the colors or textiles didn’t match like I imagined, or the engineering aspect made it impossible without a change. I have to create designs I can replicate for practical purposes. My website is filled with samples to give potential clients an idea of what they might want to commission. The art pieces, however, are a part of my personal collection or meant for exhibition, and they can’t be reproduced.
What has most surprised you about your work?
Reaching a new level of patience and persistence, especially with challenging projects. It’s not so much the work, as much as what the work itself has changed in my psyche. I see possibilities in everything, as well as accepting failures. Millinery has taught me acceptance and humility. It has enabled me to look beyond my field of vision, and pushes me past my boundaries.
What failures have you had in hat making, and how did they help improve your work?
There is a potential to fail with every project. I have a box full of UFOs (unfinished objects) that never made it to completion. I don’t enjoy giving up on a project because some of the materials are bound to be wasted and can’t be recycled. I try not to beat myself up over a failed hat. It’s just part of the learning process. For every failure, there feels like ten successes.
Is there a moment where you get a feeling of satisfaction and contentment as you make a hat? If so, any idea when or why? Or does it come at the end?
When I was learning millinery in Harrogate, I experienced a really strange phenomenon while working on a hat. I could literally hear a hat tell me it's done. It is magical when this happens.
How does it feel to see people wearing your hats?
It makes my hard work worthwhile when I see my clients happy and giddy. When ladies first put on my hat, there’s a shift in posture, and they stand up taller. I have had ladies sing and dance in the studio while wearing my hat. It really does feel like the Queen was just crowned, and I built the crown.
John Lewis: Good Trouble (2020)
Dawn Porter’s documentary, “John Lewis: Good Trouble,” is a celebration of the life of the civil rights icon, and a warning that his life’s work is being undermined in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder ruling. It chronicles his rise from an obscure farm in Troy, Alabama and onto the world stage.
My wife and I watched the doc the weekend after Lewis died from pancreatic cancer. It had been released a few weeks earlier, and in better times he might have been at its premiere, thin and hobbled, but these aren’t better times. So the doc was simply released online without much fanfare; and there it was the weekend after he died.
The documentary could’ve been tighter, but I liked the scene of Lewis voting in the 2018 election at his local polling place: looking around, admiring the turnout. Made me think of all the other times he voted in midterms when there were no cameras following him and the turnout wasn’t so good. Did he ever wonder, “I got my skull fractured for this?” But that wouldn’t be him. And anyway, 2018 was different: 49.3% turnout, the highest for a midterm since 1914. The House turned blue. The Congressional black caucus wound up with a record 55 members.
We see him campaigning for Stacey Abrams for Georgia governor, and Beto O’Rourke for the U.S. Senate. On election night, we hear him say, “I’m so sorry about Stacey and this kid.” This kid. Love that. We get about 10-15 seconds of Beto here, and it’s so electrifying it makes you wonder what might’ve been.
The Abrams loss was worse, because it points to voter suppression—the very thing Lewis spent his life fighting. The doc gives us some of the sad post-Shelby County numbers:
27 states adopted voter ID laws;
millions were purged from voter rolls;
more than a thousand polling stations closed.
Interspersed with these more recent scenes is black-and-white footage from the march toward those voting rights the GOP is now curtailing. A lot of the footage I’d never seen before. A lot of the footage John Lewis had never seen before. That’s what he says to the camera: “Dawn, I’ve seen footage I’ve never seen before.” Maybe some of it was in “Eyes on the Prize?” Did they show Rev. James Lawson’s non-violent workshops in that doc? Or Lewis and his roommate Bernard Lafayette talking by a creek about how they were involved in the protests despite the concerns and fears of their parents? Or Lewis speaking at the March on Washington, and extolling the crowd, “Wake up, America, wake up!” while Bayard Rustin, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, hangs behind him?
Lewis didn’t have Martin Luther King’s voice—who did?—nor his words. What did he have? He was a slight kid with a childhood stutter and a thick Alabama accent who had the quiet courage of his convictions. That was it; that was his superpower. He was literally willing to die for the cause. He was also handsome. I always thought so anyway. A bit of nerd, too, standing there on the Edmund Pettus Bridge with his backpack on over his tan overcoat. The other day I saw photos of Lewis at a Comicon after the graphic novel, “March,” came out, cosplaying as his younger, iconic self: tan overcoat, backpack. Beautiful.
What happened after SNCC sloughed him off for rabble-rouser Stokely Carmichael in 1966? He went to Mississippi with Julian Bond to register people to vote. He was gaining weight and losing his hair by then. He worked in the Carter administration, then became a city councilman in Atlanta. And in 1986 he ran for the U.S. House from Georgia’s 5th District. Against Julian Bond. I had no idea. I know a lot about Lewis but I had no idea about this. (I guess I don’t know a lot about Lewis.) And though Bond was tall and handsome, and better known, Lewis won, in an upset. He brought up a Reagan-era issue, drug testing, and was willing to take one, and Bond wasn’t, and maybe that tipped the scales. It probably did with their friendship. Bond never ran for public office again, while Lewis kept representing the 5th every day until July 17, 2020.
Lewis has long been my hero—I’ve written about that to the point of boredom—so it was great finding out that he was everyone’s hero—or at least that part of the public that cares an iota about our history. We get shots of him walking through an airport in 2018 and everyone stopping him to shake hands, get pictures taken. We hear stories about him being in a Ghanaian marketplace and shouts being heard: “John Lewis!” The director asks someone what’s it like walking through an airport with Lewis. After a pause, the guy deadpans, “Tedious.”
One of Lewis’s last acts in the House was introducing and urging passage of HR1, the “For the People Act,” whose purpose is to “expand Americans' access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and strengthen ethics rules for public servants.” The House passed it and sent it to the U.S. Senate in March 2019. While he was Senate Leader, HR1 never left Mitch McConnell’s desk. A newscaster in the doc tells us “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the Senate will not vote on HR1,” and he was true to his word. It's as if racists don’t need armed state troopers anymore; they have Mitch McConnell.
The documentary’s title comes from Lewis’ main stump speech: “My philosophy is very simple: When you see something that is not fair, not right, not just, say something, do something! Get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble!” “Good Trouble” is like that. It's a good doc, a necessary doc. We should all watch it. Listen to his words and translate them to our era. What’s going on in this country post-Shelby County? Let’s say something and do something. At the least, let's do what John Lewis’ own mother and father, and his aunts and uncles, were prevented from doing most of their lives: vote.
Editor’s Note: This version of E. Lundegaard's review, originally written on July 28, 2020, has been substantially edited for length. To read the original, full review, visit https://eriklundegaard.com/item/movie-review-john-lewis-good-trouble-2020.
“Voting rights is everything.” —E. Lundegaard. To read about what’s happening today with voting rights in the United States and the John Lewis/For the People Act (HR1), visit https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-laws-roundup-july-2021
5 Secrets of a Former Cleaning Lady
Years before I went to college, long before I became a lawyer, I went to some guy’s house for a job interview. Inside, to my left, there was a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall birdcage filled with parrots; to my right, a chair and a little round table with some reading material—People magazines, the local paper, and some Rush Limbaugh-style propaganda. When my interviewer emerged from a back room and found me reading the Rush Limbaugh, he asked what I thought. “Hilarious,” I said. “I can’t believe people believe this nonsense.”
I aced the interview and was immediately hired. On my way out, my new boss said he looked forward to arguing with me about “that Limbaugh nonsense,” because he was a believer. I worked for his company for about a year, cleaning an occasional office and many large and diverse houses belonging to wealthy Seattleites. My boss and I never did reconcile our politics, but I made some money, and I learned a great deal about cleaning. (I also learned what it felt like to have a parrot land on my shoulder while I vacuumed.)
Your cleaner does not care about you or your life. Your cleaner is at your house to work, which provides her a paycheck, which enables her to buy the things she wants and needs. Any angst you have about yourself, your house, or your life, in relation to your cleaner, is wasted angst. She is not paying attention to you. She is paying attention to dust/grime/clutter in order to most efficiently and effectively remove it.
The only clients whose life choices I questioned were the able-bodied wealthy who literally shat on the floor. If you are not shitting on your exquisitely-tiled bathroom floor and leaving it for your cleaner to handle, then she is too busy/tired to care how you’re living.
Your cleaner is judging you every time you behave in a patronizing manner toward her. Consider the possibility that your cleaner is as smart as you are (or, god forbid, smarter), regardless of her occupation, clothing, accent, and/or educational background. Treat your cleaner as you like to be treated… or, at least, with respect and kindness.
I had a client who expected me to flop with some vigor onto all soft surfaces as part of the cleaning process. Why? Because this client lived in a big house, and they traveled most of the time. Once, when they’d brought company home for dinner unexpectedly, someone sat on a couch and a cloud of dust poufed around them.
I appreciated this client for stating their expectations plainly. Tell your cleaner, honestly and clearly, what you want and expect, so she can tell you whether and how she can meet your expectations.
Doing your own cleaning? Dust, sweep, and/or vacuum first, and do it with care. When I was in training, and asked why it mattered, my trainer said, “because then, the person who scrubs after you dust won’t hate you.” (Secret within a secret: sometimes, the person who scrubs after you dust is you.) Getting the loose dirt out of the way makes the scrubbing easier and more efficient.
Broadly speaking, these two steps—dust/sweep/vacuum followed by wash/scrub—are sufficient to make most things clean, if you give each step care and attention. If you want things to look clean, you will need to finish with step 3: drying/polishing/shining.
Use big, clean cloths for every step. An appropriately-sized cloth should be folded in half horizontally, and then in half vertically, and then flipped over and refolded, providing eight fresh cleaning surfaces in every cloth.
A former cleaning lady folds a cleaning cloth to show the 8 possible sides of a useful cloth.
Whether you do it yourself or you hire someone else to do it, cleaning every week is easier, and takes less time, than cleaning once or twice a month.
Upkeep and preservation are vastly undervalued.
That lawyer/writer you know might have once been a cleaning lady. She is definitely judging you when you make classist comments. Pausing before making assumptions/judgments can help you look and sound less dumb.
Eagle rays, hammerhead sharks, and various fish in the Baja Bay section of the Pacific Seas Aquarium at the Point Defiance Zoo, Tacoma, Washington, U.S.A. By E. Hudak
*The title of Issue 031 is a quote from Lena Waithe’s 2017 Emmy acceptance speech.
Comments are turned on! We’d love to hear from you. Please comment by clicking the icon below.
Please tell us about your superpowers. Make art and/or writing. Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will publish submissions in this ezine and/or in our first limited edition handbound chapbook.
Behind a Door welcomes your feedback.