Monday Millinery

When you talk about millinery, two things hit you. The full beam of silence from the person you are addressing and the cheer confusion on their face. Millinery is the designing and manufacturing of hats. For most part, it encompasses accessories such as fascinators, trimmings and hats. It held its highest popularity during the 1800’s. Today it is a term used to describe the art of tailored, couture and commissioned hats and trims.

I embarked on a short millinery course three weeks ago in order to understand the basic foundations and processes of hat making. In fact, during the summer of 2012, I enrolled on a six weeks fabric hat making course which gave me a bit of the millinery bug. The aim for me, was to see how I could incorporate a milliner’s techniques within my head wrapping techniques (see Kiyana Wraps) – besides the fact that I am a complete junkie of acquiring practical skill-sets, the course has been very insightful so far. It has even inspired me to consider opening my very own (and first of its kind) millinery workshop in the DR Congo – and why not? The world is our oyster, right?

the fruit sorters painting

“The Fruit Sorters” by Mark Gertler. Photo credit: Leicester Arts and Museums Service

The assessed course is being taught at Kensington & Chelsea College. As part of the assessment, I must submit a portfolio of work which should include a chosen theme for a collection of at least two hats. I am drawn towards the themes of ‘Fantasy’, Mark Gertler’s painting “The Fruit Sorters” (1914); whose fruit baskets remind me of fabulous couture top hats and “The Story of Punk”. The idea being that I distance myself from my comfort zones and really challenge myself to reap the benefits of the course.

Milliner’s work I admire, include Philip TracyStephen Jones, Noel Stewart (who taught me the fabric hat course) Gina Foster and James Lock & Co to name but a few. Bundle MacLaren, a passed student of Kensington and Chelsea College, has some wonderful pieces too.

WEEK 3: Stiffening process

Stiffeners (not to be used if pregnant due to their toxic elements), are used in millinery to stiffen fabrics; a no-brainer! This ensures that the hat takes form and is sturdy. Although some felt fabrics come pre-stiffened, the one I used bellow was not. Stiffener must be used in a well ventilated area, even your garden would do.

stiffening process

Blocking of felt using steamer

Blocking a hat takes a lot of patience. Although felt is a somewhat ‘kinder’ and ‘forgiving’ material to use for beginners in comparison to sinamay, panama and straw;  it takes plenty of  time to mould it into the block shape. Steam is an absolute necessity in millinery, as it permits you to soften and mould the fabric into shape.


I am not an expert yet, however feel free to ask any questions if needs be. I will try my best to answer them.

External Links

  1. All Sewn Up: Millinery, Dressmaking, Clothing and Costume
  2. History of Millinery
  3. The Millinery Forum
  4. Hat Supply


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