This interview I moderated was recorded live before an audience at McLaren Hall during London Hat Week 2015. I will be releasing the recordings in several 20 minute podcasts. Please sign up for the Hattin’ Around Newsletter to find out when the next episode of Milliner’s Question Time 2015 interview has been posted.
Please enjoy getting to know three amazing people and clever London Milliners. Show Notes:
London Hat Week 2015
Milliners’ Question Time
MacLaren Hall 11-13 Mandeville Place, London
01:20 My introduction of Edwina, Noel & Rachel
01:47 Edwina Ibbotson’s Introduction
02:47 Noel Stewart’s Introduction
03:25 Rachel Trevor Morgan’s Introduction
04:12 Leanne askes about their journey into millinery with Roses & Thorns.
05:16 Noel Stewart shares his journey in millinery.
08:26 Rachel Trevor Morgan shares her journey.
12:23 Edwina Ibbotson shares her journey.
21:06 Conclusion & Thank you’s Edwina Ibbotson’s Introduction
Milliner for over 20 years
Studied at Fashion Institute of Technology NY with Ann Albrizio
London College of Fashion with Marie O’Regan
Studied with Rose Cory and French milliner Roland Bouget
Work for top London milliner, Philip Somerville
Pieces called for exhibits and photo shoots Edwina’s designs are couture millinery at its best. Her designs are flirtatious, timeless, romantic with a slight vintage feel and constructed to perfection. Noel Stewart’s Introduction
Studied at the Royal College of Art
Worked for Designer Dai Rees
Stephen Jones’ assistant at Christian Dior, John Galliano, and Louis Vuitton
Appointed Creative Director at Christy’s & Co. Hats, owned by Liberty Noel’s inspiration comes from contemporary art and architecture. Whilst using his extensive skills, he modernizes millinery. Rachel Trevor Morgan’s Introduction
Milliner for 25 years
Operates from her 17th century atelier in St. James’
She is a Liveryman of The Worshipful Company of Feltmakers
Granted the Royal Warrant of appointment to Her Majesty the Queen
Has a husband and three children. Rachel is renowned for her beautiful handwork and design. Resulting in a glamorous feminine elegance.
Noel Stewart’s Journey
Evening course summer holiday
Favorite task is stitching a Petersham
Making furniture – making hats
Dai Rees – steep learning curve
Royal College – Millinery MA
Stephen Jones Rose/Thorn – Everyday is different
Rachel Trevor Morgan’s Journey
Traditional foray into millinery
A levels – started focus on the theater
Mother wore a lot of hats to church on Sunday
Wrote to 10 hat companies in West 1 (London), must be good.
Kangol – Graham Smith – met Graham, offerred a job. Best place to learn for 3 years
Philip Somerville – smaller business – met Edwina (Ibbotson) Learned the other side of business
Market stall – Central St. Martins
Little workroom that was rent free
Moved to St. James been there for about 22 years Rose – adore her job – Thorn – long hours
Love & Hate in equal measure
Don’t go home for 3 weeks before ascot
Edwina Ibbotson’s Journey
Photography in Edinburgh
Ice cream parlor – hated it
Rework hats from charity
Nanny in American for a few months
New York – FIT 9 months
Ann Abrizio tutor –
Met Lilly Daché and Mr. John – didn’t fully appreciate it
Course should take 3 yrs, but did it faster
Following boyfriend to Nottingham, decided can’t live here
Had been to Leeds, Manchester, London
Lived in squats
London College of Fashion
Stephen Jones interview, but no job
Marie got her a job at Philip Somerville’s – Mr. Somerville
Marie teaching Carole Denford (The Hat Magazine) there at the same time.
Lunch meet friends and not go back
Class w/ Rose Cory
Class w/ Roland – she lived in Paris
Rachel was very sweet and would let Roland, Edwina, and Andrew use her workroom for a few months.
House model at Philip Somerville’s – holes in jeans, Dr. Martens, hair a mess. “Get Edwina a nice dress”. Occasionally answer the phone. Small workroom, on a busy day had 8 milliners. Older ladies w/ lots of experience
Work experience in Paris – Knocked on Marie Mercie’s door. They glued everything – not impressed but they did good work on the 17 guinea machine.
Princes Business trust, loan & grant
£40 government scheme
Living in squats – amazing houses
Climb through the window
Two different lives – ladies who could afford expensive hats.
Bridal wear designer
Same shop for 18 years
Doesn’t sell to trade anymore, mostly private clients
Love going to work everyday
Thorn – ratio of home life & work life.
Father production manager
Started at a Costumier in the stock room.
Anne of the Thousand Days (1969)
Richard Burton (1925 – 1984) Actor
Genevieve Bujold (1942 -) Actress
Sculpture at art school – found 3D easy
L&H Nathan on 143 Drury Lane, London, WC2 – 3.5 years
did things for
Madame Tussauds (https://www.madametussauds.com/London/)
D’Oyly Carte (http://www.doylycarte.org.uk/about)
Small scenes in film – Scrooge (1970)
Maggie Furse (1922-1974) Costume Designer
Albert Finny (1936 -) Actor
Bonnets around edge of cricket fields – Liberty prints & made solidly
Nathans taken over by Berman’s years later
The bonnets were still doing service. They were like iron, buckram & wire.
The bonnets were good shapes, 1830’s with big brims and little crowns.
The Music Lovers (1970)
Ken Russell (1927-2011)
Principles – Richard Chamberlain & Glenda Jackson
Shirley Russell (1935-2002) – Costume Designer
Did little straws – little girls running in white frocks (dresses)
Lady Caroline Lamb (1972)
David Walker (1934 – 2008) Costume Designer – known for Opera
Sarah Miles(1941 – ) Actress
Coral Browne (1913 – 1991) Actress
Tiaras with cameos – Taught how much to leave in and take out.
The shapes will do what you want them to.
Film doesn’t need the kind of detail I wanted.
Joyce Hammond costume designer at BBC
Prue (Prunella) Scales (1932 – ) – tiny crowns, tiny fez tiny beaded trees, boot polish look like dug up. Solid made. Done w/ gold gimp
I could do stagy crowns, straw hats, bonnets, and little theatrical stuff,
but not toppers or men’s hats yet.
Did you have any training?
Millinery Class at LCF (London College of Fashion) on John Princes Street.
The girls said, “don’t go – they will turn you into a milliner”
I looked at everything fresh, and still like that 40 years later.
London Assurance (1970’s) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Assurance),
RSC at Aldwych Theatre
Judi (JuJu) Dench (1934 – ) Actress
A big wide straw, a skimmer. I didn’t know how to make it bigger, it suddenly pulled out in all the damp and steamy.
Ah Ha moment at 4 am
Love 4 AM lovely fresh thinking time, no phone rining
The World Service on the radio – journalist are native to the country they are reporting from.
The ship knocker on the door –
Changes over fromBBC4 to the World Service – play Sailing By
Eventually made it from stock room to the show room
Working night and day – making hats
did a lot of commercials
Make boys Edwardian hats, Laura Ashley liked the Edwardian feel
Helen Messenger (1934-2012) Designer
Laura Ashley (1925 -1985), Bernard Ashley(1926-2009)
Big flyaway brim straws – example of brims that Jane talks about
Boaters with poppies, cornflowers & roses. Making boaters in flat selling like hot cakes. Had 3 friends working for her.
Married and needed a workshop – Found on in Lambeth for 3-4 Quid (£, GBPounds)
Rented it for 6 months, but ended up being there for 3 years.
1st movie to do hats for on own
Back track a bit to when Jane leaves Nathans.
Patti Pope – Theatrical Hatter
Glyndebourne Opera House (opened 1934) in Sussex – work in props (1972)
Guests dressed in evening clothes, beautiful building, big interval – supper on lawn performed Mozart, Monteverdi – Ulyses, Verdi – MacBeth,
Raymond Leppard (1927 – ) Conductor
Benjamin Luxon (1937 – ) Lead Baritone – Ulyses
Makes Helmet for Ulyses
Annabelle Hawtrey – Went to same school, encouraged Jane to come to Glyndebourne.
Health & safety – gas rings, helmets
Mould greek egg shapes for helmet
Wanted to be able to pin into it. Used sawdust and glue. “Lovely Beast”
Jane fell in love with helmets at that time.
Most unique helmets for Acava at Victoria Palace.
Francis Rowe – RSC at Aldwych – wardrobe mistress, friends w/ guy at opera house If you don’t employ Jane I’ll never speak to you again.
Oliver Messels (1904 – 1978) Stage Designer, Verdi – MacBeth
Interview at Nags head on Floral Street with Andy Hall who runs props at Opera House
Only there a few months and meets BBC design assistant for The Pallisers (1974)
It’s a Welsh thing. Jane becomes Jane the Hat
Still working w/ Laura Ashley while at Glyndebourne.
Jane doesn’t require much sleep and is completely driven.
Makes boxes of summer straw hats and delivers to Laura Ashley on Fulham Road
While at Opera House it started to get a little bit big.
1st film on own was Bugsy Malone (1976) w/ lots of dance girls – feathery hats
Done in workshop, two streets away from where she is now in Battersea.
The Pallisers (1974) at Television Center
Fabia Drake (1904 – 1990) cap in black lace and lots of bits – into
Raymond Hughes – Costume Designer- “I’ve got a hatter”
24 episodes took 1.5 years. Now they can do a Major movie in 10 weeks.
Big adventure, terribly successful
7 principle hats a week – had people working for her all the time still working on Laura
Bran Buds advert for Kellogg – Mice w/ no tails .
Mike and Rosie Compton – Costume Makers
Jane made fur heads for 3 mice with charity shop fur coats
Vac – forming = heated bed covered with thick plastic plastic, sucks all the air out and shaped into every nook and cranny. Can not have any undercuts so must do a head in halves.
Got very fast at hats and bonnets. Jane could start the buckram and silk and order a cab and have it finished by the time the cab arrived.
Madame Tussauds – Henry’s Wives complete set – headdresses
Hawley Harvey Crippen (1862 – 1910), 1st criminal caught by radio
Hat had a big hole. People would nick (steal) things, so they’d nail it to the wax figure, so it couldn’t get pinched (stolen). Chamber of Horrors was very dark.
Victoria’s tiny crown – always being stolen
More Laura Ashley – Doing seasonal straws and bridal, felts came a little later on.
It took over the theater work.
Lots of girls working for Jane. One stayed for 20 years, Tracey Mogard.
Tracey, bought Jane Smith Straw Hats with two others when Jane sold the business. She is still going strong and a very good hat maker. They eventually changed the name to Herald and Heart, which used to be on Rye street. They had been next door in Battersea.
Herald and Heart did the hats for
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
Lindy Hemmings (1948 – ) Costume Designer
Andy McDowel’s (1958 – ) Actress – big black hat
They hired out nearly all the hats in the shop for the wedding guests.
New workshop on Railton Road, Brixton. Three floors of a beautiful old shop.
Jane was doing 3,4,5 collections a year for Laura Ashley. All the designs and manufacturing of all hats that they sold.
She had to go to Luton to find wholesale supplies.
William Fischer (W. Fischer & Sons) company in Luton – Import/Export Agents.
Jane learned a lot about where things came from.
Got to know a lot about how straws were made and how to use different straws.
Luton and the hat trade were a very closed industry. Jane needed help blocking. Named the business Jane Smith Straw Hats.
The hat trade was dying all around her 1972 – 1974.
Jaycee Factory Closing – Jane filled her convertible with blocks for £3.50.
Loads (a lot) of the blocks were too old fashioned, but loads were usable –
Reasons for decline – running on empty for a long time,
not charging enough, the blocks were old 50’s shapes that were too small, No contemporary designers
Move to Brixton – had been paying £8 a week for three floors in Brixton
Brixton Riots of 1982 – Fireman answers the phone.
Neighbor gave Jane a record album with a burned corner and a picture of a girl with straw hat.
Moved St. Philips Street
Doing another set of Madame Tussauds,
Peabody Trust (founded in 1862).
George Peabody, an American banker and philanthropist
built houses for workers in the 1860’s.
Opened a retail hat shop
Launch party attended by friends and Fashion Editor of Vogue and Brides magazine
It took over a year to get enough of a following to take off. Discovered by racing people. They would give all sorts of dreadful things to make hats.
Jane is not couture, but she was contemporary.
Did hats for all sorts
Annie Lenox’s wedding hat,
Duchess of Norfolk,
Duchess of Kent’s, Daughter-in-Law,
6 hats for Sarah Ferguson before she married to Duke of York,
Tried for Diana, but she was having Harry and wasn’t doing engagements
Jimmy Mulville, founder of Hat Trick Productions
people come back year after year
Exhausted! 14 years with Laura Ashley, time for a change.
Sold business to Tracey & two other girls.
Didn’t want to make another hat as long as she lived
Sold it all – Travelled
Bus tours, Paris, Glasgow, Cathedrals, sculpture, exhibitions, Edinburgh, Paintings
Ran out of money. Time to get a job.
People thought she was mental or her business has gone bankrupt.
BBC shop below World Service.
Jean Hunnisett – Costume Designer and author – Advice, Teach.
Janet Kent in Liverpool she likes mad people like you
Christmas was wonderful – Chilean offices had best music
John Timpson (1928 -2005) – Managing Director
BBC World Service 70th anniversary – wonderful night
Teaching in Liverpool at Mary Fletcher – Liverpool city college
I didn’t have any idea how much I knew. Loved Teaching
Mary Husband – Costume Designer from the Beeb (BBC) Where have you been? Twiggy (1949 – ) Actress – made three cloches
Cosprops with John Bright, http://www.cosprop.com
Mark Wheeler – Theatrical Hatter, Shared a Regents Park Show
Starting again with new young designers – exciting
Guys and Dolls (2005) London Piccadilly Theater
Ewan McGregor (1971- ) Actor
Film was more precise than before – becoming very correct.
Principles (lead roles) would have something quirky to draw in audience of today but the others were dead on period piece costume.
Beautiful bits of lace and ribbons, old fabrics that would drop apart
Golden Compass (2007) 30 police helmets
The Duchess (2008)
Michael O’Conner (1965 -) Costume Designer -Won Oscar for Costume Design
Keira Knightly (1985 – ) Actress – Made all her hats
Hayley Atwell (1982 -) Actress – Made all her hats
Iron Lady (2011)
Consolata Boyle – Costume Designer
Meryle Streep (1949 -) Made her hats. Meeting her was very enthralling
The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) lead to more principles –
Sandy Powell (1960 – ) Costume Designer – three oscars for costume design.
Kristen Scott Thomas (1960 -) Gables
Natalie Portman (1982 – ) Actress
Scarlett Johansson (1984 – ) Actress
Eric Bana (1968 – ) Actor
Did nearly all the principles hats.
Commercials always ask for weird things
bowler / flying helmet – usually strange mixture
Andrea Cripps – Assistant Costume Designer
Kathy Burke (1964 -) Actress
Huge nun’s headdress – They could not make them stay in place.
Morley College (http://www.morleycollege.ac.uk) (1996)
Janet Brown – Head of Fashion Department
4 years later got a set of blocks that Jane designed (2000)
currently teaching two mornings a week (10-1)
Morley will have theater hatting on a regular basis
Does summer school – block carving
The importance of being able to carve your own blocks
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)
Imelda Staunton (1956 – ) Actress
Legal hats – modify shape
Blocks are carved out of polystyrene
Everyone can carve. It is thrilling thing to teach –
1st one is a little lumpy and then suddenly they can do anything.
Thank Jane Smith for sharing your journey with me and allowing me to share it with other.
To see more Jane Smith hats, go to her website.
I take to the streets of London to see what hats people are wearing a cool day in March.
I usually ride my bike to hat class but not today, I had a meeting after class. I love riding my bike. I ride for sanity, fitness and transportation, and on hat class day it is for all three. However on the days that I cannot ride, the best part of not riding my bike is I can wear one of my adored hats, or test drive a new hat. This day I choose my grey fur felt fedora. I will do a podcast about this specific hat at a later date.
On my walk to Morley College from the Elephant and Castle tube station, I noticed a sign for a new exhibit at the Imperial War Museum (IWM). I have not been yet, but I will go see Fashion on the Ration – 1940’s Street Style, apparently they are also offering a 40’s style lunch for group bookings. I’ll have to go check it out.
Just after snapping a photo of me in front of the sign so I don’t forget. This is my current note taking and reminder system…take pictures of it.
As I set off down the street a striking older woman approached. She was so lovely and I was only a little late for class. I asked if I could take her pictured. She agreed and then promptly told me she was 87 years old. She was absolutely charming with her magenta coat, dusty rose wool felt beret and large single pearl hat pin. We had a lovely chat and I learned that she is a turn local Londoner. Born just a few block to the West side of the IWM, moved a few blocks to the East side of the IWM at age 6, then to the North side when she married at 22, where she’s lived ever since. We parted ways and I went off to work on my 1840’s style straw bonnet.
After hat class I set off for Oxford Street by way of the Lambeth North tube station. Still feeling brave (Brave is my word for the year) and energized from my successful encounter with the little lady in pink, I mustered the courage to ask these two people if I could photograph them in their hats. They were surprised, but delightfully agreed. The lady in the green wool hat was from East Africa and the man in the black cap was from Germany. I love the diversity of London!
I headed across town just after class to take a look at the venue for theLondon Hat Week, Milliners’ Questions Time event, that I am moderating. Tickets are now available for £16, so if you are interested, follow the links. It is in a listed building and I’ve attached just one of the beautiful stained glass windows.
A walk down Oxford Street is always a wonderful time in people watching. There were many people wearing your basic knit hat in all its various forms, there were a few deer stalkers and the occasional fur cossack.
This lady was happy to allow me to capture her cowboy style hat.
My biggest challenge of the day was the flat cap. There was something about the gentlemen wearing the flat caps, and there were a lot of them, but I just didn’t feel comfortable approaching them. However, this kind man agreed to pause a moment on his hurried run to the tube station. I just adore the flat cap and his smile.
Spring colors in the Oxford Street windows – It is all about yellow and blue. From children to adults to handbags, yellow is everywhere with compliments of blue.
Austro-Hungarian Empress Elisabeth’s riding hat fetches 134,000 euros (110,500 GBP, 186,500 USD) at an auction in Vienna on 5 March 2015. If that isn’t if hats can appreciate in value and not just in the eye of people, it I think we can look forward to seeing more hats around town.
Empress Elisabeth, called “Sisi” by family and friends was a beauty and free spirit who continues to intrigue biographers, novelists and film makers, was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in 1898. for more information see the article in Reuters.
Thank you little lady in the pink beret, you made my day.
50 Hats That Changed The World
by Design Museum, published in 2011
HA3 – 50 Hats is 10:41 in length, scroll down to see some text and images that go with this podcast.
I really enjoyed this book. It was a great combination of lovely pictures and short paragraphs packed with information. The writing is accessible but also requires a bit of a stretch for my vocabulary.
Hats have three possible purposes, protection, symbolic and aesthetic. I like how the books finds a balance between these three factors. It highlights how a hat is often meshed with the wearers identity. This may be on of the reasons for the decline in hat wearing after WWII combined with a general trend toward informality. I don’t know if Philip Treacy, Stephen Jones, or Noel Stewart were influential in this book, but they all got a rather prominent shout out early on.
There was an interesting quote from the book, “Everything around us is designed.” This quote seems appropriated as the book is written by the “Design” Museum, but personally I think most things more often evolve.
With a broad stroke overview, the book is heavily weighted in the 1900’s by deferring several shapes into the 1900’s, such as the bicorne which was a hat commonly worn by captains and pirates. However the first hat was an impressive crown from 1300’s, but it then skips ahead 400 years to 1789 and Marie Antoinette’s milliner. Nine well known hat shapes were highlighted for the 1800’s and a whooping 32 of the 50 hats were allocated into the 1900’s. Reasonably only 7 hats were saved for 2000’s.
It must have been a rather daunting task to try to distill the entire history of hats into just 50 and also how to order them to be relevant and interesting. In general I think the book is fantastic, but bringing some of the older hat styles into the current times is misleading, such as the tweed flat cap has been around for 400+ years but doesn’t get a mention until the year 2000.
Areas that I really did like were the discussion about the Bowler, introduced in 1848. I was particularly thrilled to learn it was originally made by James Lock & Co.. It was commissioned by Edward Coke for his gamekeepers to protect their heads from low branches and was designed by Thomas and William Bowler. This was exciting for me because for London Hat Week in 2014, I went on a tour of James Lock and Co. on St. James Street in London. If you get a chance, it is a lovely store. The people were delightful and the hats and history are unmatched. The ladies hats are upstairs and designed by Sylvia Fletcher. I’ve not met Ms. Fletcher but one of the ladies that works there, Claire Strickland, is a really talented milliner. I met her last year at London Hat Week. Take a look at some of her amazing creativity at http://www.clairestrickland.com.
There is a lot of history involved with the bowler, which is called a Derby in the USA. One element I learned about while in college, which is hat the Bolivian women wear a bowler as part of their traditional clothes.
The Balaclava was a term I’d heard, but it was nice to see a picture and be able to see the spelling for the hat that I’d always referred to as a ski mask. Luckily my ski gear is all over the house right now, so I was able to do a “selfie” of my balaclava.
The Victorian Bonnet is fascinating with a huge amount of variation in shape, style and trimming. It was validating that it was mentioned as I’ve been working on making a strip straw Victorian bonnet for several weeks now. It is slow going, but I hope to have photos for the blog soon.
I didn’t like the mesh floppy hat by Maria Blaisse for Issey Miyake. I thought is was just a piece of sinamay that was tied with a string on a wooden head. The only redeeming element of this entry was that this may have represented the introduction of sinamay as a new material in the millinery world. Sinamay was introduced to Australia in 1990, so perhaps the 1987 introduction of the “Mesh Floppy Hat” was a big deal based off materials no necessarily its design. Sinamay is a straw type fibre from the Abaca tree, a member the banana palm family and it is pervasive in the world of millinery.
One of the great things about this books was that I learned about people I’d never heard of, such as Alice O’Reilly, who was the milliner for Cecil Beaton, who designed the hats for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.
And Lindy Hemmings who designed the large black hat, worn by Andie McDowell in Four Weddings and a Funeral. That wide brimmed hat was made by Herald and Heart in London, here is a short video about this famous hat.
In addition to learning about new people, I also learned more about people that I have heard of such as Philip Sommerville. The Millinery community was saddened last November (2014) with the passing of Philip Sommerville. I knew he was a very well accomplished milliner and that many current London based milliners apprenticed with him, but I didn’t know he’d made hats for Diana, Princess of Wales. All of this made me excited all over again with a new (to me) hat block that was from Philip Sommerville’s collection at one time. I have a beautiful beret that is 1/2 done, waiting for the trimming, that I made from his old block.
I adored the second to last hat. I was Aretha Franklin’s grey felt, that she wore for the inauguration of Barack Obama. It was lovely, but I am not sure it qualifies as one of the 50 Hats that Changed the World. But it certainly was a momentous day for many people as the US inaugurated it’s first black president.
Noel Stewart finishes off the hat line up, but it is his quote that caught my attention, “People often draw parallels with sculpture and fashion, but in the case of millinery, it’s a genuine love match.” I like it.
I borrowed my book from the library, but I wish I’d bought it as an easy reference.
This post was originally planned to be posted in conjunction with the movie release of 50 Shades of Grey, as I thought the similarity between the 50 shades and the 50 hats was funny. However our family had a last minute opportunity to go skiing in the French Alps for a few days, and I’ll admit that I dropped everything to dust off the ski gear for a chance for a skiing adventure. Thus it is a week later than planned.
The book was better than I expected. It was interesting and informative with plenty of eye candy.
Three new words for me.
“Leitmotif of the queens style” – recurring musical idea which is associated with a particular idea, character or place.
“the classic Ska uniform” – music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950’s.
“Vivienne Westwood’s elective oevure” – the body of work of a painter, composer, or author.
It was autumn 2013 and I was surprised with an invite to join Edwina Ibbotson and another apprentice, Mee on a field trip up to Luton to visit three millinery suppliers. Boon & Lane the block makers, Baxter, Hart & Abraham suppliers of felt, straw, and petersham, and Randall Ribbons suppliers of feathers, flowers, an endless array of sinamay colors and much more.
We drove to Luton in Edwina’s light blue vintage Mercedes. That is an experience unto itself. It takes me about 10 minutes to figure out how to do the old seat belts. It is an odd hook and magnet device. The journey to Luton is about 40 miles through London and takes over an hour and 45 minutes, but we arrive mid morning at our first destination, Boon & Lane.
Boon and Lane are the block makers. This was an experience to remember. There were two men working in the block factory that was filled with wood and sawdust on one half and different types of sand on the other. They make both wood and aluminium (also spelled aluminum in the USA, so the reason we pronounce this word differently is that it actually spelled differently in the UK vs US) blocks. The aluminium blocks are used for more industrial use, where they are attached to a heating device and there is a top and bottom piece that clamps together to form the hat shape all at once.
Alan Davies and Steve Lane make everything. When I was there, Alan was working on wood blocks while Steve handled the sand packing in preparation for the molten aluminium. They were welcoming and generous with their time. Explaining what they were doing, the stages of making a hat block and showing us the various pieces of equipment.
Thus far in my hat career, I’d done very little blocking, but I was completely seduced by being there. As you are sure to have guessed, today would be my first custom made block purchase. I choose a large downward flat 45 degree brim block and an oval head shaped flat topped crown block with slightly rounded edges, to contrast the domed oval crown block I had in my very limited collection. It took a couple of months for the blocks to be made. Shortly before Christmas, Edwina came back one day with her new blocks along with my freshly varnished crown and brim blocks. They were beautiful shiny golden yellow with my name and the year stamped into them. The excitement was only dimmed a bit as I tried to figure out how I was going to get this massive brim block home on my bike. Alas, I could only manage the crown block that day on the bike, I’d have to wait and bring it home on the bus a couple days later. The journey was made easier by using my very large linen furoshiki
Next stop –Baxter, Hart & Abraham, suppliers to the millinery trade. This place of tidy and well organized. The textile junkie in me thrilled to touch the various different felts. Wool felt, fur felt, and the really furry felts called Melusine. Then there was the colors. My shopping strategy goes, walking around and gather everything I want. Then doing a mental subtotal of how much it will cost. Then feeling anxious about how much I have, then putting back some of my treasures, until I don’t feel the sense of financial panic. I bought several wool felts to practice on without too much financial impact, but my prize purchases were a yummy small (cone) cognac (gold) and a beautiful large (capeline) grey fur felt. It was glorious and I was so nervous at messing up the fur felts. I envisioned a gray (grey) large brimmed hat with a fairly simple crown that I could wear all winter. However, it wasn’t going to be that winter that I’d get to wear it.
Last stop- Randall Ribbons, the makers of all things feathers and flowers. They had a minimum order. Their website says a minimum order of £30. I did not spend anything at Randall Ribbons. I think I was a bit overwhelmed by this point. I had placed a rather sizable order at the block makers, and purchased enough felt at the millinery suppliers to keep me busy for a while. And honestly I just could not envision how I would trim these new hats of mine. I would have bought a simple hat pin or something, but with a minimum order, I left with nothing. I cannot say the same for Edwina or Mee.
We only went to three places, but it was such a full day. Many thanks to Edwina for the tour of Luton and Mee for being a newbie like me. It was nice to be able to listen to someone else’s questions.
Since the field trip to Luton, I’ve heard the name mentioned several time in relation to the hat making and millinery industry. In this country they have been making things for a very long time. Thankfully there are others who love doing to research and writing of the history and I get to read the fruits of their labour. It was oddly relevant as I have just begun taking a strip straw class at Morley College with Jane Smith.
Stay tuned for future episodes about Luton History and my Strip Straw Saga.
My first attempt at a podcast and its about my first felt hat shape which is a cloche.
The Cloche was my first felt hat. I learned so much from this one little hat. It has been altered at least three times. My husband had to scouch down and look up under the hat to see me. I had to reduce the crown height as it was so tall than it could come down around my eyes. I also reduced the brim length especially at the back. It is perfect now, a bit worse for wear as I’ve knocked it around a bit but still comfortable and looks great with my burgundy boots and black wool coat.