I was lucky to have a chance to study with Marie O’Regan, a couple of times this January and I hope to do more. There are some who have been studying with her for 10 years. She has taught many of London’s best milliners. You can hear Edwina Ibbotson, mention her in a previous podcast/post, Their Journey into Millinerys with Edwina, Rachel and Noel. She also taught Ian Bennet, who I took a feather class from a couple years past. The list goes on and on.
This is one of Marie O’Regan’s poupeès and I love it. I can feel the years and the people whose lives have been touched by Marie, her hats and her teaching. If you just see an old tattered head, you are not a milliner yet.
Marie will be 92 this year and has been doing Millinery since she was 14. She is from France and retains a lovely French accent but has been in the UK for decades. She has been milliner to the Queen, taught at the London College of Fashion and instrumental in starting the Worshipful Company of Feltmakers annual hatmaking contest. There could be books written and movies made about her, but that is beyond the scope of this little blog post. I will focus on the things I worked on, with her tutelage.
The day starts with coffee and biscuits while the students discuss with Marie what they plan to be working on. We move to a work table, and Marie moves around making sure everyone has what they need and can begin working. She will take her place at the head of the table, often with a poupeè between her knees to show placement, technique and design.
I have learned that with these types of work/study classes, it is best to come with a couple different ideas and materials. However, I believe the key to a successful day and getting the most you can out of it, is to relax into the flow and see what amazing nuggets of knowledge the tutor will offer in the process of doing some millinery project.
On day one, I brought 3 different hats with questions about head fittings. However as I went through each piece with Marie, she would ask what else I brought. Until I selected the last piece, a blocked orange cloche. That captured Marie’s attention and the focus became the trimming of the cloche. I had blocked it months ago with vision of a layered ribbon trim. I’d made several trips to V.V.Rouleaux a lovely ribbon shop in London which has a glorious selection of ribbons including Petersham. I ended up with some striped grosgrain ribbon to coordinate with the petersham ribbon from Parkin Fabrics that matched the felt.
To my distress, I was instructed to put slashes along the sides and an angle. It was emotionally difficult to cut into the body of the felt, as that was not at all what I had in mind, but again. I reminded myself that it is only a felt and a bit of blocking time, I followed Marie’s lead to see where it would go.
I tried curving petersham and placing it in various layouts on the hat. I learned that if you are going to weave in and out you need to have an even number of slits otherwise it doesn’t end correctly. I don’t know why I always forget to take a picture of how it looks on the first try until I’ve finished taking it apart.
I learned that it is technically difficult to keep the slits a the right angle and distance when the hat itself is changing shape from front to back. Marie could sense that I was struggling and that I needed to let that project simmer a bit to decide what I wanted to do next.
At, midday the dining table is set and she served a lovely lunch which included a glass of bubbly. The French know how to serve a lunch.
In the afternoon, I was gifted with an opportunity to see Marie work with an egg iron to shape buckram into a new hat block. Marie is not only a remarkable milliner and teacher but also a sculptor.
I watched her look at an original shape and then a piece of flat buckram, then with a sure hand she lightly moistened the buckram with a damp piece of calico, then pulled the buckram over an astoundingly hot egg iron, see photo at the end of iron in the fire. The egg iron was covered briefly with another piece of damp calico, to generate steam and protect the buckram. The calico was frequently wisked from hot egg iron and moved to a new damp spot.
A second piece of buckram was added to fill out the shape and then a wicked hot small metal iron and a pressing pad, was used to fuse the two pieces together at the join.
The second day started with me trying to explain and idea about a removable brim for a hat, but that idea did not gain much traction. Marie had a different idea, she offered me an unusual twisted buckram shape which she wanted me to shape myself, using the technique she taught in the previous class, with the egg iron and the little flat iron. There is still much work to be done to make either of the two shapes useful, but the experience was very rewarding.
Here I am wearing Marie’s block that she pinned into shape, so that I could see the balance when it is put together. I love the creativity of the shape and if it looks this good in spartarie and a knit stocking, just think what it can be in a bright coloured sinamay or felt.
One of the things I like best about millinery is that the techniques of 100 years ago, still work. Flat iron, egg iron, kettle and some fire along with a bit of calico, water, pins and pressing pads, with a few basics the millinery opportunities are endless.
To wrap up, it was a total thrill to see Marie manipulate the buckram with such simple tools and immense skill. Unfortunetly, I have two new partially made shapes now to add to the massive unfinished projects list. I hope to return for more classes.