I can still hear the hiss of steam as my grandmother reshaped her going to church hat. She never left the house without a hat on her head and I was fascinated. Wearing a hat was more common in her era but it was also part of her heritage. At the age of 12, after her mother died, she moved, from Lambourne to live with two aunts in Hitchen. They were milliners and she learned her millinery skills from them. Her name was Mary Anne Eliza. My business name is a tribute to her.
Eliza’s daughter, my aunt Jen, was an haute couture embroiderist. She taught me my needle skills and how to work with beads and gold and silver wire. I love the effect they have, elevating a design by adding subtle glamour.
As for me, Kate, this is my third career since gaining a degree in modern history. After training and practising as an occupational therapist, I felt the lure of politics and campaigning. But hat-making professionally was always in the back of my mind. I kept it alive as a hobby until I realised just how much I needed to work in, not escape to, a creative environment. Studying millinery in my spare time, I achieved the City & Guilds qualification in felt and straw then took courses in working with silk, shaping felt, rolling and stiffening sinamay (a natural woven fabric made from the abaca tree), block making, fashion history and vintage millinery (learning how the construction of hats changed to reflect hairstyles such as the victory roll and the lindy hop twist).
My inspirations include architecture and nature. I lose myself in the meticulous task of folding ribbon, creating something three dimensional out of something flat. I really enjoy working with feather and I love being creative with colour. Having been through the life-changing experience of having my colours done, my eyes were opened to the colour spectrum and especially which colours go well together; I am not nervous of using unexpected contrasts or shades and I know which colours will complement your outfit.
I work from home with two naughty Jack Russells. While walking with them, I often see something that turns into an idea for a hat. I prefer not to be too prescriptive at the start, to allow creativity to flow – it always leads to something better.