My mother made hats. She took some night classes in hat-making back in the 60s, honed her millinery skills there, and started cranking out the hats.
She made hats out of feathers, fur, fabric, and straw. She used velvet, felt, sequins, colorful fabric flowers, and added stiff veils made with netting. The feathers were the most time consuming: I remember her painstakingly gluing pheasant feathers in precise rows on a hat form that was perched on one of her wooden “heads.” A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle reminded me of those wooden heads, the steaming process, the draping and sizing and trims that are part of the process of creating a hat. I remembered all the work involved, and how my mother took the time to get things just the way she wanted them.
We moved to New York from California in 1957. When we left California, my mother had brown, wavy hair and wore glasses. By the time we returned to California one year later, my mother had ditched the glasses and turned into a redhead.The transformation took everyone by surprise. Life changed for her that year, I think. Maybe the red hair liberated her to discover new passions and interests. What did I know? I was just a little kid.
As my sister and I got older and kept ourselves busy, the hat-making heated up. My mom made hats for friends and family members in addition to the ones she made for herself. When one of my dad’s former high school drama students got married, the bride’s headdress was a white satin rose attached to a veil (something we would call a fascinator today) made by my mom.
We moved to a new house the summer after I finished 7th grade, when my sister was about to start high school. As a young teen, I found more interesting things to concern myself with than my mother’s hobby of hat-making. She continued to make hats for several more years. Eventually, she put her material and tools away, and stacked her many hat boxes on high shelves in a closet.
After she died in 2007, my sister and I emptied out our parents’ house. All mom’s hatboxes, wooden forms, and other supplies remained stacked up on those shelves. The boxes sometimes held several smaller hats, wrapped in crinkly tissue paper, nestled into each other. As we removed each hat, we remembered seeing her wear our favorites. So many hats: the high puffy blue chiffon she wore with a matching suit, the boxy big-brimmed orange straw with all the bright flowers, a black knitted pillbox with a silver sequined border, the capulet covered with delicate pink flowers with pearl centers, the maroon felt cloche with long arching feathers, and the blue fabric pillbox with the black flower trim she’d made to match a suit my sister had sewed for herself in her teens.
When we’d gone through the whole house, we decided to gather up some of our mom’s nicer things–purses, shoes, gloves, scarves, hats, etc.–and invite our friends (and their daughters) to a “bring your own bag” trunk show. We let everyone choose from the accessories and whatnots that had filled our mother’s closets.
When we put the hats out on display, the variety overwhelmed us. Some rated a “wow!” and a few left us scratching our heads. We wondered when she’d found occasions to wear all those hats!
My mother loved to make them, she loved to wear them, and I know she was proud of them. Hats off to her, for realizing a passion for creativity that’s hard to top.