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Hat's the way to do it
By Linda Serck
With all the wonderful hats on display at Royal Ascot's Ladies Day, we visit Hungerford milliner Jane Corbett to find out how these outlandish creations are actually made.
Ladies Day is where the women lord it up for a change. Breezing past in outrageous head gear and fascinators bursting with colour, it's one of the highlights of Royal Ascot.
And while these are certainly arresting couture hats, have you ever stopped to think how they are made?
"It's quite a traditional process that hasn't really changed over many years," says Jane Corbett, who runs a hat shop in Hungerford.
"Most hats are made either with straw or felt and are steamed over wooden shapes to mould into the hat shape.
"We have lots of different shapes for the crown which is the top part of the hat and the base - which is the brim - and by mixing those two different shapes together you get lots of different styles of hats."
I once embarked on a bite-size millinery course thinking that afterwards I could rustle up my own extravagant hats in a jiffy, but after three days of designing sewing, cutting, setting and moulding I realised that it takes the patience of a saint to complete.
Jane, who trained under the Queen Mother's milliner, agrees: "You need quite a lot of patience, the process from steaming to the finished hat can be everything from a day to three days, but we can quite often spend longer making the trim for a hat than we actually take making the hat itself.
"If you're having hand made flowers or delicate bead-work then that can more than double the time."
Other credentials are of course also crucial: "You need to have quite strong hands," she says, "I remember when I went to learn I was a bit worried that I had big heavy painty hands from being an artist, and I imagined that for a milliner I'd need long thin fingers.
Bursting with colour
"But it's actually quite tough on the hands - the process of moulding with straw, working with pins and drawing pins all day long.
"You do need good hand sowing skills and you need a good eye for design and the right shape.
The perfect hat for a lady can depend of course on her outfit, but there's more to it than that:
"Quite often clients will come in with their outfit because whether its floaty or tailored, obviously the colour is quite critical.
"But as soon as you start talking to someone it's also about their personality, the proportions of their face, there's going to be several hats that suit every person but it's getting it right for the occasion for the outfit.
"Somebody might want to be really showy and quite extravagant person, somebody else might want to look classic and neat and not make a big scene."
Couture hats can often be a lot dearer than their factory-made equivalents, pricing some female hat-fans out of the market.
The board of inspiration
"It's to do with the man hours involved," says Jane, "it could be a whole day just to make three lillies.
"It's just like any other craft, if you buy a teapot from a department store it's not going to cost as much as a local potters', you're paying for that unique thing."
And speaking of unique hats, Jane has made quite a few that belong to the realms of the downright absurd.
"One hat I made was for a house-builders' advertising campaign and I actually made a hat that was a house and the brim of the hat was a cottage garden complete with gate and flowers!"
She adds: "A couple of years ago I made a replica of a garden at Chelsea (Flower Show) as a hat, but that's a little bit more like Blue Peter hat-making, with glue and making models more than couture millinery, but it was great fun!"
last updated: 01/06/2009 at 14:54
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