She began by telling us about the many creative people based near her at the King Street Workshops. Although being a milliner involves working alone a lot of the time, being surrounded by other people who work in a similar way helps to build a sense of community.
Claire explained it can take anything from about eight hours to several days to create each headpiece. Her simplest comb-based fascinators start from around £35, while her larger hats can cost around £200 – which sounds very cheap when you consider all the materials and labour – up to three days – which have gone into them.
She told us about the different processes she uses to create each style of hat, from a relatively simple 1920s-style cloche hat to a more elaborate wide-brimmed creation with a huge range of trims. The finish of all her hats was incredible; Claire does much of her sewing by hand so that the stitches are almost invisible.
We enjoyed seeing and handling the various fabrics Claire uses and seeing hats in various stages of completion. She even used a steam iron and one of her hat blocks to show us how the process begins, turning a misshapen piece of woven straw into the beginnings of a hat. It’s a lot more physical than it looks – Claire must have very strong arms!
At the end, there were quite a few questions – including how to choose the best hat to suit you. Claire explained that most people can wear a simple fascinator and it won’t overwhelm them, but a more traditional hat depends on the customer and the outfit they’re wearing. It’s all about getting the proportions right: the width of the shoulders is important, but so is the flare of the skirt and so on.
Once the talk had finished, everyone rushed forward to get a closer look at the hats and even try some on. Claire was kept busy for some time, answering questions and giving suggestions about what style of hat would suit individuals. Her style is very much influenced by vintage fashions and that appealed to a lot of our members, with different shapes and eras evident in Claire’s work.
We’d certainly recommend Claire to other WIs in the area and no doubt a few of our members will be contacting her next time they have a wedding or other special event coming up.
Thanks to Claire for a great evening, and to the ladies who provided cakes.