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Hat Works: Researching the Nautilus

Hat Works

In my first blog about my Nautilus Journey I told you how it all started…so what happened next? My next, very exciting stop was a trip to Hat Works in Stockport to start researching the nautilus!

Hat Works: Researching the Nautilus

Museums Officer Bronwen (aka Bronwen Simpson, award winning Stockport-based milliner) arranged for me to have access to museum’s research library. But first, she allowed me to see THE MOST delicious hat up close. Yes, I did get to handle it and yes, I was wearing gloves!

Made by Edward Mann in the 1950’s, this hat is just the most exquisite example of the nautilus being used to create a half hat. A hat shape that pretty much embodies the 1950s!

Edward Mann Red Half Hat 1956 - Hat Works Collection
Hat Works: Researching the Nautilus - Edward Mann Ribbon Hat 1956 - Hat Works Collection

These nautili have been painstakingly made using red petersham ribbon, an ongoing staple material in modern day millinery and something which I love working with. The first thing I noticed was the total absence of visible stitches on the outer of the hat. I thought I had been doing so well hiding my stitches in my samples. Now I had to totally rethink my approach!

Luckily, the hat is not lined so ALL the stitching is visible on the inside. This may sound unusual, however, for a milliner on a mission, this was vital information. Also, these stitches were anything but messy! Uniform, neat and very helpful in giving away a few secrets…even if they did test my phone’s macro camera setting.

Edward Mann Nautilus Hat 1956 - Hat Works Collection
Edward Mann Hat 1956 - Hat Works Collection

Realising that I still have a lot of work to do in perfecting my own technique, I decided it was time to hit the library. My goal was to find a reference, an image, anything relating to this trimming technique. So far, all I knew was that it was around in the 1950’s, but how old was it? Where did it come from? Why did it fall from favour?

Before long, it was time for a quick break.

I’m really not one for sharing photos of my meals, but I have to give Laco Café and Bistro a special mention…that was THE best cheese toastie I have EVER had the pleasure of eating. Thank you so much to Bronwen for treating me!

Laco will now be my go-to place for lunch every time I am in Stockport and if you are visiting, I urge you to check it out! 

Laco Cafe and Bistro Stockport

After lunch I knuckled back down to the books to continue my search. As the afternoon drew on, I became a little despondent.

I wasn’t really finding what I was looking for.  I wasn’t expecting to find things instantly (where would the fun be in that?) but I was completely drawing a blank.

Then, I struck gold with these three trade magazines from 1956. The first was actually published by Edward Mann, the maker of the super star hat I’d seen in the morning! The second two were industry magazines featured adverts from a whole host of long-gone millinery companies from across the UK.

However, something became very clear whilst I was flicking through these. These were manufactured hats, the types to be wholesaled to outfitters, boutiques and departments stores. These were miles away from the couture hat I had seen in the morning.

It dawned on me that I was approaching my research from totally the wrong direction.

I had been focusing on fashion trends and mainstream fashion. This was, without being snobby, aimed at the general public. The highly skilled work that I’d seen in the morning was unlikely to be made in a factory. Not necessarily because of the skill level, simply due to the time it would have taken to sew by hand. This was not a viable design for mass production!

Unfortunately, this revelation came to me at the end of the day and it was nearly time for me to get my train back to Sheffield.

However, with a brain buzzing with ideas, I did a quick pit stop via the Hat Works shop.

I’d treated myself to some super wide ribbon when I came in August…and I wanted a little top up for my own nautilus sampling.

The brand colour notebook may also have fallen into my shopping basket – well I do need to keep a record of my sampling!

I had a wonderful day at Hat Works researching the nautilus and my train journey home passed in a flash as I plotted the next stages of my research. I’ll let you know how my new plan of action goes in my next blog.