This year we are studying Canadian History with our friends N,P & H. As we are up to the Fur Trade at present N investigated the possibility of visiting someone who could give us the benefit of their experience in hat making and research. The result was one of the highlights of our school year so far.
Ruth Mills is a milliner who lives ten minutes from here. She kindly agreed to talk to us about the process of making hats from beaver pelts and about hat making in general. Her expertise has often been sought in making reproduction hats for museums, tv shows and re-enactments of historical events.
On arriving in her basement studio, we were given a introduction to her work. Several vintage hats and bonnets were on display and Ruth explained who wore them, during what time period and how they were made. Sitting on small hat stands were some of her own creations also, one which she let the girls try if they wanted to.
Following our mini photo shoot with the fascinator we moved into the part of Ruth’s studio where all the creating happens. Sitting on the table were five different hat blocks, each with a piece of buckram beside it. Ruth proceeded to explain to us all how the children could make the crown of a hat out of a piece of buckram. It took a little time to find a hat block to suit everyone’s taste but once that was done, they wet the buckram and began to pull it over the hat blocks. As it is pulled it needs to be fastened with pins and pulled some more, always working to decrease the number of wrinkles and pleats around the base of the crown.
Before we left Ruth spent some time showing us and giving the children samples of a range of materials she uses to make hats. She used a scrap piece of fur felt to demonstrate the steaming method she uses to stretch and shape felt hats. Seeing the raw materials for different styles of hats was very interesting. We all have much more of an idea of the process involved in making a hat and the children all have a crown ready to finish and decorate in their own style. When we finished Ruth took a few minutes to show us photos of reproduction hats she has made for clients including one in the Museum of Civilization that we have walked past many times. Next time we are there we will view it with a new appreciation of the research and care that went into its construction.