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Hat Works: Researching the Nautilus

Hat Works: Researching the Nautilus

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.

London Hat Week: Nautilus Workshop

Plum Felt Button Hat with Nautilus

Back in March last year, I attended a workshop at London Hat Week to learn how to make Nautilus trimmings. It was run by the brilliant Leanne Fredrick of Hattin Around and I was very excited to be attending.

Many moons ago, when I first started using Pinterest, I kept seeing the most amazing ribbon trims created using a pleating method. 

Very quickly I learnt that these amazing ribbon shell-shaped motifs had the very apt name of “Nautilus” after the sea creature they resemble.

Nautilus- Leanne Fredrick Hattin Around
Nautilus- Leanne Fredrick Hattin Around

Some of the images I have collected over the years show these vintage style trims used simply as decoration. However, I’ve also seen multiple nautili (Google says this is the plural!) in different shapes and sizes used to create 50’s style half hats.

For years, I’d seen these trims on Pinterest, but despite my best efforts, I simply couldn’t hunt down a “how to” guide. When I saw Leanne’s workshop being advertised, I knew I just simply had to be there!

(If you are a Pinterest hoarder too, and want to see just how bad my Pinterest habit is, check out my Ribbonwork board here!)

The workshop was immense fun and creating my first Nautilus brought with it a huge sense of achievement. It was far from being as accomplished as those created by Leanne for her workshop samples, let alone the glorious half hat she made using the technique. However, practice makes perfect.

Nautilus Workshop - Sample Progress

As soon as I got back to the studio, I settled down to try again. Needless to say, I was very eager to trial using my newly learnt skill on a hat. 

My sample from the workshop may be a little rough and ready, however the mismatched thread was a conscious decision. I knew I would need a reminder of where my stitches were supposed to be!

Naturally, on the finished nautilus my aim was make my stitches as invisible as possible.

This plum felt mini button hat was designed with the specific goal of mixing a variety of textures.

Felt is a wonderfully versatile material and this deep plum purple shade is perfect for autumn.

It features a veiling overlay, felt loops for a little height and the star of the show, a nautilus!

I confess, I still have yet to get a full set of images of this design, but as soon as I do, it will be available in my online shop!

Plum Felt Button Hat with Nautilus

Fast forward again to June 2019…when I finally got chance to revisit my practice again! It’s fair to say this learning process has been a slow burner, however, it truly has been worth the wait.

During the course of a week I experimented using different widths of ribbon, playing with the size of the pleats, altering the length of the ribbon all in the quest for the perfect nautilus. 

There were certainly a few Goldilocks moments during this process!

Nautilus Workshop - Further Sampling

However, this isn’t the end of my Nautilus journey, in fact it’s just the beginning!

In August I visited Stockport-based milliner Bronwen Simpson and we had a wonderful chat about this technique and what little we knew about its history and usage.

I should mention that Bronwen isn’t just an award-winning milliner, she also happens to be Museums Officer at Hat Works, the Museum of Hatting. Yes, she does have a pair of dream jobs!

Bronwen very kindly invited me to visit the museum for some behind the scenes access to their collection as well as the museum’s reference library. Knowing there are hats in the collection that use this technique, how could I possible refuse?

As for where this adventure of discovery went next, I’ll save that for my second blog!

End Note:

I don’t know if Leanne is running her Nautilus workshop at London Hat Week 2020 (16-22 April), but check out their website for further updates of the full workshop programme when it is published. Maybe I’ll see you there!

UPDATE: You can now find the fruits of my labours in store! Check out my new designs featuring the Nautilus technique here.

#HATstock: Hatty Heaven with The Hat Stand

The Hat Stand does HATstock

The Hat Stand does #HATstockEarlier in the year myself and my Hat Stand Sheffield collaborators Amanda and Siobhan were invited to speak at the inaugural HATstock at Hat Works: Museum of Hatting in Stockport.

The event was to be a celebration of hat making in the North and we were incredibly honoured to have been invited to not only take part in the showcase, but to give a talk about how we, as individuals, got into millinery and how we got together to become The Hat Stand.


We have been booked by a number of womens groups to deliver this talk in the run up to this year’s pop-up shop, but this was the first time we were going to deliver it in public (not my dining room!). We had the usual normal nerves about public speaking, but then who doesn’t?


Then we found out about who some of the other speakers were and there were some pretty illustrious people in the hatty world. I’m actually playing this down, as I’m still slightly overwhelmed that we were invited to be on the same bill! The other speakers included the organiser of London Hat Week Georgina Abbott; long term supporter of Hat Stand and editor of HATalk Magazine Becky Weaver; and my former tutor from Leeds College of Art, Sharon Bainbridge, a nationally renowned tutor and curator of hat exhibitions.


Yeah, slight quickening of heart rate…until I found out that spaces for our talk had sold out. I’ll be honest, then I just felt a bit sick!


As well as our talk, we had been offered the opportunity to display some of our work as part of the Millinery Showcase at the event. Cue a frantic discussion about how to create a slick and professional display as new details about the space emerged. We genuinely had an entire two hour meeting devoted to photo frames. The style, the size, the cost and how quickly we could source them. This was a whole new world for us, we know the pop-up shop so well now we can just rock up and set-up! This proved to be a useful example for our talk when discussing how collaboration, co-operation and compromise works between the three of us!


The extended chat was worth while though and we were really pleased with our final display.



The next task was actually delivering our talk. We knew what we wanted to say…we just needed to do it! Despite all our natural nerves, I was so proud of us all for how well we worked together to offer an insight into our girl gang. We backed each other up, prompted important points, but equally gave each other time to say what we needed to say. Kinda just like we always do at meetings!


Our audience were lovely and friendly, they laughed in the right places, gave a tremendous applause and even came to compliment us on our delivery afterwards. Needless to say, this reaction has helped buoy our confidence to deliver this talk in the future, just as well as we are booked for another two sessions on this topic!


HATstock the audience


Once this scary bit of the day was out of the way, we were free to enjoy the other goodies on offer at HATstock. We were able to enjoy the other talks, chat with the other millinery showcase participants, do a bit of supplies shopping and meet the huge numbers of hat enthusiasts who came from all over the country.


However, the total icing on my cake that day was selling a hat that I had specifically chosen to bring to HATstock.


I actually made the base shape of the hat a year ago when I attended an open blocking session at the museum (You can read my blog about it here). This was when I first met Bronwen, the brains behind HATstock, so it seemed very fitting to bring the finished piece.  Despite completing the design last year, on Friday morning I decided it was missing a little something. Nothing like a last minute design change to help with increased stress levels. But I’m so glad I added the gold painted edging to the petals on the hat, it really did make all the difference, and it’s new owner certainly though so too!




Blocking a straw hat

HATstock Imogens Imagination

I also chose to wear a rather special hat myself (I would have been totally under dressed without one!) and that too had a Hat Work link too.

It was another of the pieces that I had blocked at the same session last year, but that had remained completely unfinished until the Friday before HATstock! I really didn’t think any of this through.



We had a simply fantastic day at HATstock and we have to offer our gratitude and huge thanks to the amazing Bronwen and all the Hat Works staff who worked so, so hard to make the event happen. We were so honoured to be invited to take part and it was such a privilege to be involved in such a brilliantly organised event.


Hats off folks, you nailed it! Thank you so much from The Hat Stand

HATstock The Hat Stand Sheffield





HATstock at Stockport Hat Museum

HATstock Stockport Hat Museum

HATstock March 2017In June The Hat Stand pop-up shop will re-open at the Winter Garden. But before our grand opening we have a few events planned for the coming months.

First on our list is HATstock on Saturday 25th March at Stockport Hat Museum.

If you like hats, you will love this place! It is a hatter’s heaven.



The event is a celebration of hat making in the North and we are incredibly honoured to have been invited to not only take part in the showcase, but to give a talk about how we, as individuals, got into millinery and how we got together to become The Hat Stand.




We wouldn’t expect you to visit this event just because we are there, so we need to tell you how much MORE is going to be happening on the day! There will be showcases from 11 Northern milliners, each with a unique style and approach to hat making, 6 short talks covering a range of hat related topics and a marketplace to explore the materials and equipment used in millinery.

Last, but by no means least (and as a history buff, this is my favourite bit!) there will be tours of the museum where you can discover the history of hat making and it’s importance in the heritage of Stockport.


We know what you are thinking, all of this? In one day? How much will that cost?
The answer is very simply, nothing. Nada. Niet.


The whole day is entirely FREE, but you do need to register for tickets to the event and for the talks.  You can do that quickly and easily via the HATstock Eventbrite page.

If you would like to book specifically for our talk, The Hat Stand presents ‘Journeys into Millinery’, you can do that via Eventbrite too. Our talk is now 40% sold out so if you would like to come, please don’t delay in booking your space.We will be speaking between 11.30-12, so if you will have plenty of time to enjoy the rest of event.
We very much hope you will be able to join us in Stockport for what promises to be a fantastic day. Plus, we can’t deny it won’t be lovely to see some familiar and friendly faces in the crowd!


HATstock, Saturday 25th March, 10-5pm

Hat Works Museum

Wellington Mill, Wellington Road South, Stockport, SK3 0EU

Twitter: @HATstock

Facebook Event

Instagram: @hatstock



HATstock Stockport Hat Museum






















Hat Works, Stockport: A Milliner’s Paradise

Hat blocks at Hat Works

Hat Works Museum StockportAt the weekend, I took myself on a little day trip to Stockport.  This may sound a bit of a duff place for a day trip; no beach, no massive shopping centre and no discernible culinary treats.  But for me, it was paradise as I was off to Hat Works!

Stockport is a hidden gem with lots of social history museums (Staircase House, The Air Raid Shelters, Bramall Hall) but my destination was Hat Works, the UK’s only museum dedicated to the hatting industry, headwear and hats.

Stockport, once the hub of hatting in the British Empire, kept not only the well-heeled properly attired, but everyone else on every social level in-between. However, things weren’t always exactly pleasant for workers in the industrial era. The town attracted the attention of Karl Marx, who even visited to write about its dreadful working conditions.  At Hat Works, you can see a recreation of a worker’s cottage as well as see, hear and smell just a few of their machines running…when the factories were running at full-tilt it must have been terrifying!

However, upstairs, it’s haven of peace where you can find yourself surrounded by beauty…such a contrast!  With displays of hats with historical and cultural significance as well as a rolling exhibition of contemporary millinery, it’s a great place to just soak in the prettiness.

My destination though, having experienced all the rest before, was the workshop space behind the cafe. I was there to take part in an Open Blocking Session and to gain access to some of the museum’s huge collection of hat blocks, both vintage and contemporary.  I’d also signed up for a trouble-shooting millinery tutorial with the museum’s resident tutors Sue Carter and Marie Thornton.  As Sue was my former tutor from Leeds College of Art and Design, I couldn’t wait to have a good gossip with her about hats, life and more.  You can see why this was going to be such fabulous day for me!


I can honestly say Hat Works didn’t disappoint.

Look at the sight that greeted me when I arrived!  So many blocks, so little time….



I had come well prepared for my day with a big bag packed full of sinamay, straw and some pre-stiffened felt.  However, I had no plan for what I was going to do; I was totally at the mercy of the blocks and wouldn’t know what I was doing until I got there.  That was a bit of a struggle for me, as anyone who has met me will know, I do like a plan!  Spontaneity is, unfortunately, not one of my strong points.

But I very quickly hatched a plan when I spotted some of the newer blocks on offer.  Knowing which maker these blocks had been sourced from, but not having had the funds to take a punt on buying blind, this was perfect. I could now try before I bought!  Not something which is usually available when it comes to buying hat blocks. As they are a serious financial commitment and investment, this was a super opportunity.

To make the most of the few hours available to me, I decided to use sinamay for the first one.  I knew this would dry quickly, even if it would take longer to build the three layers of material up individually rather than using a felt hood….so I set to work.


Project One

This sloped beret shape is not dissimilar to a block I already own, but it is somewhat shallower and less bulbous.




Blocking a straw hatProject Two

For my next project piece I decided to shift to a straw. I found this as part of a massive studio tidy up last month and it seemed like the perfect choice for this simple button.

Again, I do have a button block, but this one is bigger than my current block.  I decided to use the straw off-centre to maximise the starburst effect and offer as much of the straw to sew the decoration into.

There’s also a few tools of the trade in this shot!





Project Three

With just enough time for one more block so for my final project of the day I had to choose one of the vintage blocks on offer.  This is a fabulous 60’s pillbox and when blocked, didn’t look dissimilar to the one worn here by Jackie O.  One of the other attendees blocked it in a gorgeous bottle green fur felt and it looked delish!

However, I wanted to focus on the dimple in the middle of the hat to create a more contemporary shape…so again I cracked on with getting my three layers of sinamay on as swiftly as possible.  Once it was dry, I trimmed things to make them a bit more even…but there is still a bit of a wobble in the edge! However, I will be re-cutting the edge of this even shorter and I won’t be rushing in the same way I was at the end of the day.



I was one happy hatter by the end of the day

Bags of materials for HatworksI left Hat Works with a great feeling of achievement and a bag full of exciting goodies…even if I didn’t use half of the materials I had taken with me!

I’d like to offer my enormous thanks to the lovely Bronwen who lead our blocking session.  She was fabulous and made sure everything ran smoothly and that we all got the very best out of the day.

A huge thank you to Sue and Marie for their, as ever, brilliant advice with a few other projects I was having technical niggles with. I really hope I’ll be able to make it to one of their Hat Chats in Huddersfield over Summer.

If you would like to try out the workshops at Hat Works, check out the full listings on their site. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter too, the next program is currently in progress and it sounds very exciting!