Inspired to re-create the vintage hat-making process

Friday, October 12, 2018 - Met Tina to visit London’s Portabello Market, as Friday is the most successful day for the millinery supplies / trims and fabrics. The second booth we visited had a stack of embroidered and beaded decorations which had likely been cut from vintage clothing. I purchased two pieces, after the inspiration at Blythe house the previous day.

This piece was sewn to a square of paper, and when I cut it from the paper, I secured it gently to the fabric on the backside with fabric "Tacky Glue".

In the absence of willow foundation, I blocked a buckram skull-cap crown, and applied white cotton flannel batting to the crown. I gently steamed the flannel to secure it to the buckram on the block.

I used cotton covered millinery wire to manually create the meandering shape of the embroidered piece, and secured it in place by hand with 5/8" bias crinoline, then covered it with a bias strip of the dupioni silk to be used as the cover for the headpiece. Hand stitched the cover to the wired piece to form a double welt around the finished headpiece, then turned to the underside to secure all of the beaded artwork in place. Some of the beads had loosened; this step strengthened the design considerably.

I used the same dupioni silk from the upper side to line the underside, spraying lightly with fabric adhesive, then hand-sewing with invisible stitches, and gently pressing the edges without steam. Finally, I added a comb on the front center, and attached netting around the entire shape to allow for the use of hairpins without damaging the headpiece. The option of attaching an elastic is also still available.

I began this project at the end of October, 2018, and finished on August 22, 2019. I took the time to consider every step in traditional millinery practice, and I did not keep track of the time spent. Every stitch is hand-sewn. I was able to find wonderful beads to fill in where beads had fallen off, and was able to find a beautiful dupioni silk for the cover and lining. Thanks go to Tina Giuntini for the opportunity to be her “intern” for a day, and to Izzie Lewis and Wayne Wichern for prompting along the way.

This headpiece can be seen at our Ballard Millinery Studio this season, upon request.

Different levels of "Studying millinery"

The more I learn about making women’s hats, the clearer my realization that it is an ancient art with societal meanings in the creation and the wearing of hats. Each milliner I meet, speak with, and work with has a different store of knowledge and experience to share, and the number of books available is staggering!

I had been content just learning techniques from others, finding a hat style I like at a royal wedding, in a photo, a movie, or Downton Abbey, and stretching to find the necessary techniques from experimentation or more experienced milliners.

Then, a friend and I decided to go to London for the Seahawks football game at Wembley Stadium in October of 2018. London! Hat Central!

I had recently met, taken classes from, and thoroughly enjoyed London Milliner Tina Giuntini of Bea & Evie. So, I emailed Tina that I would be in London, and hoped we would have time to meet. Well, she was not only willing, but requested a research appointment at the Victoria & Albert’s Clothing archives in preparation for “Millinery Through the Decades” classes which she and London Milliner Judy Bentinck had been planning. Just days before my departure, Tina let me know that the appointment had been awarded, and it was on my arrival date, in the afternoon.

Thursday, 11 October, 2018 - Arrived London-Gatwick, and, just hours later, met Tina for the research appointment, which was at the Victoria & Albert Museum's Blythe House Clothing archives. Tina had chosen a group of vintage hats when she requested the appointment, and assigned me to be her intern for this research. As we examined each hat, Tina asked me to make detailed photographic images, which I did, and we both took notes. The examinations were limited to looking closely but never touching, and when we were ready to see other angles, we asked the archives monitor to move the hat. We had a total of two hours to look at all the hats.

This is one of six pieces we examined, and was listed as circa 1950’s. It features silk twill fabric onto which a lace and beads embroidered piece was sewn. the embroidered piece appears to have determined the size (approx 7” front to back and 8” side to side) and amorphous shape of the headpiece

Examination of the underside of the headpiece shows that the foundation was of willow, which is no longer commonly available in the UK or the US. Willow is lightweight and flexible, so is an ideal material for this type of headpiece. It is apparent that a batting of some kind was used between the foundation and the crown covering. The shaping of the crown is supported by millinery wire which appears to be bound in place by a bias strip of the cover fabric sewn to be a sort of piped or welted edge. The only lining is tulle netting on the complete underside, through which hairpins may be used to secure the piece in the wearer’s hair. A comb and a label (Simone Mirman) had been sewn in place, answering the question of which was the front of the piece. This headpiece was likely one of a kind, based on the uniqueness of the embroidered lace applied to the crown.

I was fascinated by this headpiece. It was well-worn, and I wondered about not only the events it has seen, but from what kind of garment the extravagant lace piece came. I love the three dimensional nature of the beads and lace - it gave me a crazy impulse to try to make my own bit of lace and bead scrap for a hat. I didn’t do that, but I’ll share what I did do in my next post.

Milliners Artisan Guild Hat Show

Stay warm and stylish this winter with a one of kind handmade hat! Join Mabel M Hatworks and other milliners from the Seattle are for our fall show on Friday September 25th from 5PM to 8PM and Saturday September 26th from 9AM until 2PM.  Come by and try on hats from our most recent collections perfect for weddings, cocktail parties or wearing around town.