Is there anyone our there who doesn’t have memories involving hats? I mostly remember them worn by my Grandmother and my paternal great-aunts, then, as I look through old photos, I see hats on me and on my brothers. I know I liked hats, but was quite particular about them, when I had a choice. The photos here show my mom in Arizona, where I would soon be born, and she’s wearing a hat, which I did not see often growing up. Next is my dad’s parents; Grandmother had hats to match her outfits and always smelled like powder - I was about four years old here. A year later, we are getting ready to leave Neosho, Missouri, then Grandmother is visiting at our new house in Seattle, and this may be my outfit for riding the train from Kansas with her. This was the mid-1950’s, and hats still completed a stylish outfit, from graduating kindergarten, to playing in the sun, to the last Easter I remember buying an “Easter bonnet”.
The sixties arrived with the importance of “freedom” from having to wear specific styles, and of course, hats no longer required. Jackie Kennedy looked glamorous in hats, but it wasn’t enough for most Americans to continue buying and wearing them.
My teens and into college, style was more about hair and jeans. Although I was an avid seamstress and knitter, hats were something I loved, but not where my money was spent. Still, I tried on every hat in any store that carried them, and my first retail job was at Frederick & Nelson’s Southcenter store, in the accessories department… yes, I sold a lot of hats!
I began studying millinery in early 2011, by taking classes in Seattle from the amazing milliner, Izzie Lewis. Our millinery education began with a buckram hat, which took a month in a weekly workshop to complete. I continued going to the weekly workshops, learning endless techniques for the art of millinery - WITHOUT SHORTCUTS! It was exciting to create hats after loving them for so many years... and to WEAR them. Everywhere! Not waiting for an occasion! Just on the bus to work, or to meet a friend for lunch.
It was (and is) painstaking, time consuming, and expensive to use the lovely materials that make my heart sing. While studying with Izzie and making hats from a lavish array of vintage and current materials, I was able to study variously with Milliner Daria Wheatley (trims), Candace Kling (author, The Artful Ribbon - flowers and cockades), and Milliner Wayne Wichern, who, I think, is adept at every aspect of millinery, and many other things besides. I have learned, and continue to pick up new ideas and skills from each milliner I meet - this is such a great gift!
Making hats is so creatively fulfilling and gives me so much joy! Carol Campbell kindly allowed me to join her studio in Ballard, and I was soon followed by the addition of two more milliners, totaling five of us. Finally, in June of 2018, I retired from my full time job after 29 years, in time to take a series of classes from London’s Bea & Evie milliner, Tina Giuntini. It’s amazing how much information, imagination and creativity there is, and how exciting it is to learn new techniques and use them with existing designs or to create new ones.
Now, the same five milliners have moved our Ballard Millinery Studio to a wonderful commercial and residential mixed use neighborhood. It is a working studio, complete with instruction, equipment, and an amazing array of equipment, including vintage wood hat blocks. And a community of five skilled and imaginative milliners, each of us operating our own separate millinery business.
One weekend, during my first year of hat-making, my dad emerged with a photograph of a young woman wearing a picture hat trimmed with a plethora of flowers, and she was wearing all white. He asked me who I thought it was, and when I didn’t know, he said it is his Aunt Mabel; his father’s oldest sister. Dad hadn’t met her, but I had always known about Aunt Mabel because my name also starts with an M, so I frequently received her initialed silver spoons, and jewelry, including a favorite gold brooch. But I had never seen a photo of her as an adult. Dad went on to say that she was a milliner, and that this photo was very likely her wedding photo, circa 1910.
Mabel the Milliner.
Michale the Milliner.
And that is how I named my business Mabel M Hatworks, and how the favorite brooch became my logo design. I am the second M, and for me, M is also for Milliner.