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Millinery :: Inspiring Creativity

by Folksy Support

Written by Amy (Orange Juice) McCarthy

Wedding season is in full swing and lots of people will be sporting beautiful hats about now. It’s a well kept secret that we have some very talented milliners on Folksy, so this week I have asked them all about how to make your own beautiful crowning glory, what inspires them and where you can go to have a go yourself; after all, hats are a very personal fashion statement!

What do you need to make a hat and how do you go about it?

I asked a range of Folksy sellers what they make their hats from and the processes they use and the answers were so varied I am not sure where to start or stop.

It would appear you can make a lovely hat out of practically anything! I will start with the more traditional methods and materials and move on to the more imaginative. In terms of materials, you can use anything from charity shop finds to the finest silk, so you can definitely afford to make something!

Raffique explained to me “My hats are made from high quality Madagascan raffia. Each hat takes roughly eight hours to make. The process involves four stages. The nicest stage being the plaiting of the raffia which is relaxing to do. Each hat is constructed from a continuous length of 10 metres of plaited raffia. The only equipment I use is a needle and a hat block. The hat blocks I use come in four sizes so all headsizes can be catered for! ” She makes it sound as easy as the picture of her hat is summery!

MissHats description of how she goes about making a hat really brings the skill and attention to detail of millinery to life, “I try to create quality hats and head wear with a polished finish, as little visible stitching as possible. I use many different materials but at the base of it are buckram and sinamay which are two fundamental materials to construct hats. Both can be moulded into shape on a hat block or free formed, I mostly use buckram since it is durable and brilliant for pillboxes and funky berets. After I’ve blocked the hats then the real work begins, from wiring to covering different pieces with interfacing, stitching them together, dressing them in fabric and only then trimming them. I love using all kinds of fabrics from silks and satins to printed cotton and velvet or simply encrusting a hat with gems.” I must confess that sounds like a lovely way to spend your time!

But if you are feeling a little less traditional then Hatastic‘s truly unique approach to head wear may really inspire you! “Hatastic! pieces are primarily made from upcycled items, ie discarded clothing and accessories (including jewellery) but my latest collection Recreation was made from old games that I sourced in junk shops!”

Considering the endless creative possibilities, I am dying to know who and what inspires our Folksy milliners’ work?

SabineMitsch has a background in graphic design and illustration, so hats give her a 3d outlet for her creativity. She is inspired “..by turn-of-the-last-century headwear, fashion-shows, street-wear and look to nature for organic forms. …About six months ago I started making children’s sunhats, for which I mainly use vintage fabric. I was inspired to do this as a result of my day-job as a teacher..”

Grandmothers have a lot to answer for once again (I think this may happen every week!) and Raffique says “Probably the one person who has inspired my work has been my late Grandmother. Who herself was a milliner and created some amazing work”.

Hatastic explains her “… inspiration comes from the items I find and I make them ‘work’ by pinning them together, looking at all angles on my head or my mannequin head. Vivienne Westwood inspires me as she works in a similar way, but then gets someone to make up her crazy patterns. I do everything myself so I do get the pleasure of seeing the job through right to the end”

So, what are the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of making a great hat?

Raffique explained to me the rewards of creating bespoke items, “It’s a wonderful feeling to create an accessory which finishes off an outfit for a special occasion. Some of my customers come to me because of the lack of size variation in shop bought hats.”

Though for MissHats, commissions are also one of the challenges! She says, “It still scares me when I get a commission for a bespoke hat, however positive feedback is the biggest reward It all comes down to that one moment when you hand over the hat to the customer”.

For Hatastic the challenge is in making the materials she chooses work for her! “Making my ideas a reality is the biggest challenge! My pieces are getting more and more outrageous, and I won’t give up until I am satisfied that the shape and balance of the piece is right”.

SabineMitsch finds the biggest challenge, like many Folky makers, is making a living from her craft. She says, “Challenging is living off your craft; currently I am also doing millinery-workshops, which I love, as it is amazing to see people being able to create their own head-piece and going home with a sense of achievement and pride”. SabineMitsch has clearly risen to the challenge by sharing her skills!

With such varied techniques and styles it’s no wonder all the makers featured here found millinery in very different ways!

So where did they learn and why did they start?

Raffique stumbled into millinery, “I started making raffia hats by accident. It was after reading a magazine article about a lady in Dorset who made them that I fell in love with the hats. I went on one of her hat making classes and the rest is history! I’ve been a mad hatter since 1997”

SabineMitsch and MissHats both took a more general creative spirit and funneled it into hat making, MissHats has only been doing it for 2 years, with amazing results and Hatastic’s unique creations were born out of not being able to find what she wanted on the high street, “I’ve always made things for myself purely because I love dressing up and making an impression – my two sisters and I have always strived to look ‘different’ and that our style and then our outfits are not instantly recognisable as being from a high street shop, so it went into headpieces for me, simply because I couldn’t find what I wanted (that was affordable) to go with the outfits for the many weddings I was going to to 3 years ago…and Hatastic! was born in March 2009″

Itching to have a go having heard and seen what these talented ladies have to say? Let’s find out where you can go to learn yourself….

SabineMitsch and MissHats took classes in Glasgow, “Glasgow is a great place to learn new skills! Colleges offer so many different courses it’s hard to choose (and you can also join the Scottish ILA scheme which helps you pay for tuitions, however certain conditions apply to be able to do that). North Glasgow College is absolutely brilliant if you want to develop your skills in sewing, design and particularly millinery since the teachers are superb and hat blocks aplenty!” . So once again the local college has led to several small businesses being set up!

Hatastic recommends a more DIY approach, “There are many fascinator ‘parties’ you can ‘play’ at making pieces which I think is a great introduction to making your own piece. Otherwise you can just try to play at home as I did with whatever I head to hand. You may be surprised at what you can do!”

But best of all you can learn with our talented Folksy Milliners! SabineMitsch offers hen party, small group and special occasion workshops from her home or yours in the Glasgow area (please contact her via her Folksy shop contact for details) and Raffique says “..I would recommend coming on one of my raffia hat making courses. I run the classes from my Norfolk based studio. No experience necessary – the classes are small and informal but each student makes their own hat. New for Autumn 2010 will be raffia bag making classes.” What a perfect gift or day out with your friends!

It seems that millinery can be as traditional and disciplined as any long standing craft and you can slowly build up your skills and techniques, but it is also a very accessible craft with some of the more simple techniques easily learned in a short workshop. So why not have a go at making your own hat for the next wedding outfit? Or if like me you are busy with your own chosen craft, then click on the shop links or the photos, to go get a beautiful accessory from our talented milliners!

Thank you very much for your time mad hatters!

Amy’s Folksy shop sells beautiful traditionally made leaded gift panels, funky mobiles and suncatchers. Her work often includes recycled glass, found objects and acid etching. There is more than a whiff of the seaside to her work and much is inspired by the Devon coast and moors around where she lives. Amy makes bespoke windows for commission and is exhibits her recycled sculptures and mixed media art across the South West. You can find out more about her on her website, facebook or her blog.

If you would like to write an article or series for the Folksy blog then please get in touch – hilary@folksy.co.uk

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Konnie Kapow July 13, 2010 - 10:01 am

What a great article!

I love love love hats. I thought they didn’t suit me for years and it turns out that’s not true!

I’m always so impressed by the skill that goes into millinery.

I also have the pleasure of knowing Sabine (a lovely lady!) and have first hand knowledge of her lovely lovely hats!


Lynda Norton July 13, 2010 - 1:31 pm

Brilliant, I just returned from the library with a book on Millinery, would love to give it a go. Just need more hours in the day of course. Off to visit their shops now and marvel at the skill.


Victoria July 13, 2010 - 4:08 pm

Some beautiful hats I love the black and white top hat it looks fantastic!

Eloise Rodgers August 6, 2010 - 12:26 pm

Really impressed! Some really inspiring stuff here.

Hopefully get some ideas for my own designs!

The top hat is my fav, really funky!


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