I found it…Trip to Luton Blog Post

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. 

This was originally written years ago. I am delighted to say all three vendors are still trading in Luton, UK. Why am I posting this now?  I was working on my latest article for The Hat Magazine #86 about the differences between how Hatters use hat blocks verse how Milliners use blocks and I needed images.  Photos have been trickier to get during the Covid lockdown.

The Hat Magazine #86 Cover The Hat Magazine 86 Hat Blocks

I knew I had images of the Boon & Lane block makers, but I could not find them.  Crazy frustrated, I let it go and waa-laa, like magic, a few days after the finished magazine* arrives in the post. I stumbled across the blog post about my trip to Luton, UK on an old neglected website I wrote prior to Hattin’ Around.  There was also an embarrassing early attempt at a podcast, but I am going to leave that behind for now.

I hope my reminiscing about hat related discoveries in Luton will bring you joy as it did me. I also don’t want to lose it again.

Back to the original blog post…

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.

Mee, Leanne, Edwina arrive in Luton
Just arrived in Luton, Mee, Me and Edwina

We drove to Luton in Edwina’s light blue vintage Mercedes. That is an experience unto itself. It took me a while to figure out how to do the old hook and magnet seat belts. The journey to Luton is about 40 miles through London and took nearly 2 hours, but we arrived mid morning at our first destination, Boon & Lane.

Edwina with vintage blue
Edwina with vintage blue and her hat block proto types

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 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.

Steve Lane Aluminium hat block sand
Steve Lane tamping sand for Aluminium hat block cast

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 Mee and I the various pieces of equipment.

Alan Davies talking with Edwina
Alan Davies talking with Edwina about her latest shapes

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.

stages of finish of a wood hat block
Stage of finish of a wood hat block, R>L

I choose a large downward flat 45 degree brim block and an oval head shaped flat topped crown block with slightly rounded edges (known as a square crown), to contrast the domed oval crown block (known as a round crown) 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.

crown brim collar hat blocks
My new blocks from Boon and Lane. The crown has a felt on it, to take it up a hat size to fit my larger than average head.

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. 

treasures from BHA
My treasures from Baxter, Hart and Abraham. Hat box, felt hood, capeline and petersham.

Next stop –Baxter, Hart & Abraham, suppliers to the millinery trade. This place is 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. Feel 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. [Update: I made a trilby with the cognac and fedora with the grey, which I still wear today] 

Sinamay colours
Sinamay colours at Randall Ribbons

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. 

Feather samples
Feather sample board 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.

Boxes of silk flowers
Just a small portion of the boxes of flowers.

We only went to three places, but it was 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.

Prior to moving to the UK, I’d never heard of Luton. Since the field trip, I’ve heard Luton mentioned several times in relation to the hat making and millinery industry.  Luton was very active in the making of straw hats in their hay day. Which became more real to me because I have just begun taking a strip straw class at Morley College with Jane Smith.

…The end

It has been a pleasant walk down memory lane. I admit  to making a few revisions.

*Many thanks to Elly Stemerdink for the fabulous photos for the hat block article.

Bridport Hat Festival 2017

Bridport is a small villiage in Dorset, in the south of England, just 1.5 miles from the English Channel. I had heard of the Bridport Hat Festival for several years and this year I finally entered images of a hat in the contest. I was delighted to have been shortlisted and sent in my hat for judging. I took the train/bus down from London on Friday afternoon in early September. If you can get a seat with a table,  long train rides are perfect for finishing a hat and meeting nice people.

There were hats in nearly every Bridport shop window and the charity shops had loads of hats for sale at great prices. Above are my favorite charity shop finds of the weekend, although I didn’t buy any of them. An eccentric grey hat by Pop Goes the Weasel, a lovely but far too small, white felt by Graham Smith for Fortnum & Mason. A Frederick Fox in a fawn with black ribbon & flower trim and another no-label hat with loads of stitching.

From Bridport I enjoyed a walk that lead me by the river then through three fields,  down to West Bay for the evening. (Images L-R, water mill by brewery-Bridport, Harbour West Bay, Dorset Coast – West Bay, Station Kitchen – West Bay). It was a gorgeous day and I savored a delicious dinner at the Station Kitchen. I appreciated a cozy night’s stay at a vegetarian B&B, The Old Mill House in Bridport.

The Old Mill House was not much to look at from the street, but had gracious hosts and a small bridge over the river in their serene garden.

The highlight is seeing the variety of hats. A lovely couple wore Twin Peaks, hemp hats from Kathmandu by Elephant Road, a couple in matching outfits, and my strip straw hat with wavy border and vintage flowers.  I think this hat below, a hand felted scene of Poseidon/Neptune was stunning. Can you see the horses coming out of the sea foam on the left and sea creatures following behind on the right?

The Bridport Hat Festival is a fundraiser for various charities. One of which is Brain Tumour Research. They seem to be at a lot of the events I attend. I like collecting their annual hat designer badges.

At one of the charity fundraising stands a gentleman was enjoying selling 2nd hand hats by coming up with some outrageous claims. I bantered with him a few moments, then just as I was ready to decline and depart, I saw another unlabeled stitched beret, in gold and it fit me. If you’ve been following my blog posts, I have come across several of them in my adventures in Southern England. Who made these hats? The price was right and it came home with me. 

More crazy hats from jesters to lampshades. A couple who went with a breakfast theme of a skillet with bacon & eggs and a large fried egg.  Hats with loads of stuff on them to a US political themed hat.

Then in the vendors hall I spotted this little wire framed gem. I will be teaching a wire frame half hat class during London Hat Week in 2018, Cocktail Half Hat with Daisies. It also came home with me, as another sample of how versatile the wire frame technique is to make charming hats.

The vendors hall featured several milliners and hat makers. Here are a few.  From Left to Right. Fairytale Chic, Humphry Hats, International Feltmakers Association, and Hats-A-Head. I love all their creativity and craftsmanship.

Finally, the catalyst for my journey the Milliners and Hatters Open Competition.  The hats were on display all day in the Town Hall. At the end of the day the hall was cleared, then set with chairs with a center aisle. Each hat was modeled and awards were given.  I didn’t bring home any prizes but it was fun to have my hat on display and then modeled at the end. The hat on the far right was the overall winner. I think they will eventually get photos of the hats on the Bridport Hat Festival website.

My learning opportunity came when the hats were modeled. Despite having a center back mark and comb for placement, my hat ended up backwards and on the wrong side of the model’s head. Luckily it looked beautiful from all sides, but it really would have shown better if it had been worn properly. Live and learn, next time I’ll make it super obvious. 

Bridport was a lovely town and we had great weather. I think it would be a good place to take my family for a little holiday in the future.  Thank you Bridport for a fun day out.

Field Trip to Luton – HA2

HA2 Field Trip to Luton

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.

Mee, Me and Edwina
Mee, Me and Edwina

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.

Edwina and the her vintage blue
Edwina and her vintage blue

 

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.

Steve and sand
Steve Lane tamping sand for aluminum hat blocks.

 

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.

Alan and Edwina
Alan and Edwina discussing her custom shapes that have she has carved from polystyrene.

 

Stages of a block
Stages of block making from Right to Left

 

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

Hat Block from Boon & Lane
Hat Block from Boon & Lane
hat blocks from BL
My first custom hat blocks.

 

 

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.

my treasures from BHA
My treasures from Baxter, Hart & Abraham – Felts, Petersham, and hat boxes.

 

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.

feather sample board at RR

Boxes of flowers at RR

Sinamay at RR

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.

HA Field Trip Luton map