When I moved to New York City at the end of 1999, one of my dreams/goals was to take hat making classes at FIT and become a milliner. I’ve always loved hats – my mom says it’s because she made me wear sun bonnets as a baby. I used to collect vintage hats but over the years, have reduced that collection to one, and even it’s life with me isn’t assured. I seem to spend most of my time wearing a bike helmet, but I do have an assortment of summer straw hats and even made a fabric sun hat a few years ago.
When I saw a hat making class listed in the Smithsonian Associates catalog, well, I couldn’t resist. So last Saturday, I joined close to thirty other women for a 2-hour hat making class in the Ripley Center on the National Mall. Knowing something about hat making from my theater days, and garment construction in general, I wasn’t sure how we’d learn to make hats in two hours, but all came clear when we were instructed to pick out a base to get started. After eyeballing a range of straw and felt hats, I opted for a black felt floppy brimmed hat, knowing that it would have more options than the straw ones. Then I chose some fuchsia pheasant feathers for the decoration.
The milliner showed us one by one how to steam and block our hats and helped us with the decorations. I wanted something a bit early 1920s with an asymmetrical brim, and spent alot of time free form cutting the brim (eek!). I would have felt more comfortable with a dressmakers curve to get it even but did the best I could with the offered dull scissors. I decided to drape the feathers (cut in half) around the brim, and although I like the look, that wasn’t exactly what I was going for. Well, there’s only so much you can do with a few hours and a floppy hat brim, but overall, I think I am fairly pleased with the outcome.
The milliner teaching the class was a local man, who told us his personal story of how he got into hat making and said that since small, locally-owned stores were too expensive to run, he was reinventing himself and teaching classes. I think this is a wonderful idea and would love to help him set up more classes and really start with some hat basics and history. Maybe make it a 3-hour class with the first 30 minutes breaking down the history of hats, the different parts of hats, and techniques like blocking and steaming. I think a class making fascinators would be good – after all, there are two royal weddings coming up this year. Who says I can’t wear a fancy fascinator while watching it on TV?!?As I stare at my list of sewing projects for the spring, all I can think right now is about taking more hat making classes and wanting to reread all my hat making books. I want to learn more about steaming felt hats and creating different shapes. I think it’s time to bring back hats. It is one way to combat helmet hair, after wall. What do you think? Who’s with me? Break out your hats and start wearing them!