Saturday 30 August 2014


Quirky, eclectic and elegant are the key words that spring to mind when I think of Gemma Sangwine's work and if you're looking for beautiful handmade hair ornaments, bespoke bridal fascinators or corsages then you will love our next exhibitor!

I met Gemma a few years ago and immediately fell in love with her beautiful pieces.  Heavily influenced by vintage styles, harking back to a bygone era when people made more of an effort with the way that they dressed, and everyone wore hats, Gemma loves the shapes from the 1930s and has a collection of vintage dresses and accessories from that era. 

She puts a lot of time into each and every piece she makes, often spending hours picking through her collection of vintage costume jewellery to find the right combination of pieces. She also like using unusual materials, such as old Monopoly money and tokens, and miniature china tea sets.  A self-admitted hoarder who hates throwing things away, Gemma loves finding inventive ways of reusing things.  Consequently most of the materials she uses are vintage or recycled, including antique lace and beadwork (often salvaged from antique 1910-20's dresses) vintage costume jewellery (marcasite and diamante pieces are popular for bridal pieces/  Most of the jewellery she uses is no longer wearable as they are odd earrings, brooches that have lost their pins, broken necklaces etc) and natural and dyed feathers, all sourced either as a by product of the food industry or from a licensed game keeper in conjunction with the Wildlife and Country Act 1981.

Gemma can also incorporate personal mementoes, for example favourite pieces of jewellery, lace or fabric from the bridal dress etc..

As a child Gemma and her sister used to make clothes and accessories for their dolls, progressing to making their own clothes, which led to a degree in Textiles and Fashion from Winchester School of Art.  Gemma then went on to work in retail and admin but kept the creative side going including a regular Covent Garden Market stall selling handbags made from recycled and remnant fabrics.  As Gemma says "Fast fashion is much more readily available now, so with fashion accessories you really have to offer something special to stand out from the mainstream, and my bespoke service is part of this" and her work has evolved in response to trends and customer demands since moving to the Cotswolds 10 years ago.

About 4 years ago, Gemma was making brooches with feathers and beads when a friend suggested she make some for hair adornments.  Once these proved popular, Gemma's designs evolved, adding vintage costume jewellery, old pearl necklaces, lace and beadwork.  Her first bride commissioned Gemma after seeing her work in 'Made in Stroud'.  She opened Gemma's eyes to a whole new market and she hasn't looked back since, with regular bridal commissions, which she loves.

Gemma's inspiration mostly comes from the materials that she uses. For example, she says "the pieces made with pearls set on a round sinamay base came about as I was playing around with coiling an old pearl necklace into a tight circle and folding it back on itself. I saw that they could be made to fit on the base, and by incorporating a statement brooch, had the right balance of pearl and diamante to make a perfect bridal piece."

She continues "I respond to the materials, try out different juxtapositions, see what pieces fit together, it takes time and I'm happiest when I can just sit in the studio and play, the creativity flows and new designs evolve over the course of the day. A new product can take several days, and prototypes, before I am happy with it. I then make up collections in small batches, my favourite bit is sorting through the vintage jewellery, I'm like a magpie surrounded by sparkly things!

My love of vintage means I am also constantly referencing shapes and styles from the 1920's to the 1950's, when women always styled their hair and wore hats and fascinators on a daily basis! After the Great Gatsby film came out last year I found there was a strong trend for Flapper style hair pieces, I made some samples pieces for a photoshoot with my stockist As Long as it Sparkles, and from the back of that developed a couple of new ranges referencing the 1920's. A year later and they are still popular and selling well, I think people love to reference periods in the past when women were more feminine and life seemed more care-free."

Asked about her favourite piece she's created, Gemma responds  "Last October I was approached by two ladies who were organising a Masquerade Ball charity fundraiser at Woodchester Mansion. They both love dressing up and have quite outgoing personalities, so they were up for having some fun and creating flamboyant hair pieces. My favourite one involved using a miniature, feather covered Peacock with two smaller feather covered birds, long peacock feathers and antique beadwork, it was a great statement piece!"

So what can prospective brides expect from Gemma's bespoke service?  Gemma tells us "I work closely with the bride to produce a unique piece that reflects her style and personality. I don't advertise so all my clients come to me either from personal recommendation or because the have already seen my work in one of my stockists or met me at one of the Vintage Fairs I attend, so we will have a good starting point as they know what kind of pieces I make, the materials typically used, and the overall quality and finish.   Each and every piece is unique and the bespoke service allows clients to spend time with me developing their piece, tailoring it to their taste, trying out different options and ensuring they are totally happy with the end product.

I just finished a bridal order which started out as a fascinator with veil, and evolved to include a keepsake bouquet and buttonholes too! I worked closely with the bride to include pieces of sentimental value in the bouquet, I made fabric flowers (including offcuts of lace from the dress) and picked out pieces of vintage jewellery from my collection, to make a piece that was totally unique and individual.  I always feel privileged to be chosen to make bespoke bridal pieces, and be part of such an important event in peoples lives. 

Gemma recently completed a basic millinery course and is developing the skills to be able to make her own fascinator bases and cocktail hats.  Keep an eye on her blog for all her news. If you can't make the fair but would like to see Gemma's work, she currently has four stockists: Made in Stroud, As Long as it Sparkles in Stow on the Wold, Qetty Bang Bang in Tetbury, and Cox and Baloney Vintage Boutique in Bristol.

Her studio is in an old textiles mill in Thrupp, just outside Stroud, and is open by appointment. She will also be taking part in a Winter Open Studio on 8th & 9th November, when she and her studio buddies Victoria (her sister, who makes accessories for men, women & the home, also with an emphasis on vintage and recycled materials) and her best friend Nick (a silk weaver who she met whilst studying at Winchester School of Art) open the doors to 16A Stafford Mill to the public for the weekend.

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