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Bobbi Heath is a couture milliner, teacher and the owner of Chic Chapeau, a bespoke millinery business which also offers one-to-one tuition, and group workshops. In her new book, Making Felt Hats, Bobbi shows you how to make felt hats in six different styles to perfectly complement any outfit. We caught up with Bobbi to learn a bit more about how she discovered millinery, her favourite parts of the hat making process, and her Search Press journey!

How are you Bobbi? For those that don’t know you tell us a bit about yourself.

Hi my name is Bobbi Heath and I am a self-confessed “Mad Hatter!” I live in the Worcestershire countryside with my husband and two rescue dogs. One a lurcher, the other a greyhound, with obvious chasing tendencies! I have a large family spread across the world of whom I am very proud. I can’t wait to have contact with them but in the meantime thank goodness for Zoom.

What first drew you to millinery?

My foray into millinery was at the age of 13. A family friend gave me a length of Royal Stewart tartan fabric. I decided I needed a jockey's cap to go with the tweed coat my mother had made me and a pair of red knee-length fake snakeskin boots. I cut the pattern from my brother’s school cap using cardboard to stiffen the brim, never thinking of the consequences if it should rain!

This sparked my love of hats and over subsequent years I re-trimmed and spray painted charity shop bought hats. It was later in life when I discovered a local college ran City and Guild courses in millinery. I enrolled and that was when the journey really began.

     

Can you tell us a little about the book?

The book really came from when I started to teach, and my students kept telling me I should write a book. Eventually I took “the bull by the horns” and approached Search Press. Over the moon at them saying yes, I put pen to paper, turned the steamer on and threaded my needle.

I chose felt because it is a good introductory material to start hat making with. It is easy to work with, comes in wonderful colours and is practical. The book is comprised of six hat projects, to cover various occasions. There are detailed explanations and photographs of stitches, techniques and equipment required. It is designed for complete novices, but also as a reference and hopefully inspiration to other “Mad Hatters.”

What is your favourite part of creating a hat?

It is difficult to say what part of the hat-making process is my favourite. I cannot draw, so my ideas are all in my head and there is such satisfaction transforming an idea into a physical object. (Mind you the idea can evolve and change quite dramatically in the process!) There may not be the right block or the material not be suitable. Also every milliners nightmare with an elaborate shape is making sure it remains on the head in all circumstances. Then there is the actual fabrication and seeing a design become three dimensional followed by the therapeutic effect of hand sewing.

Eventually the trimming for the finishing touch which can take lots of trial and error before, voila! You have your unique creation. So I find it impossible to say what my favourite part is.

     

What do you like most about working with felt?

I love working with felt because it is so tactile and malleable. It has an ability to stretch so much when steamed it can be crafted into wonderful shapes, (why is this not the case when I shrink my husband’s jumpers?) There are several varieties of felt with different finishes and stretch ability. It doesn’t fray so you can make hats with soft brims.

Do you have any tips or wisdom for those wanting to get started in millinery?

Millinery is a fascinating subject and an exciting way of expressing yourself. It encompasses so many materials. You can make a hat out of virtually everything, felt, straw, sinamay, leather, silk, plastic to name just a few. There are infinite shapes to create. Basic techniques and stitches have to be mastered but after that it is up to your imagination. Not a lot of equipment or blocks are required to get started, as I have explained in the book. Kitchen cupboards and sheds can reveal all sorts of useful items. Don’t be afraid to experiment, there are no rules that cannot be broken if the end result is beautifully crafted and makes the wearer feel glamorous and special.

     

You have a fabulous bespoke millinery business called Chic Chapeau. Can you tell us a bit about it?

My millinery business, Chic Chapeau, came into being over 20 years ago. Friends stated asking me to make hats for them to go to the races or weddings and through word of mouth it grew into a business. I make bespoke couture hats, which are all hand made, for social events, such as Royal Ascot, garden parties, weddings etc. I also create hats for photo shoots and have had hats featured in Vogue. A commission I had a couple of years ago was very exciting. It was to make a “Mad Hatters” hat for the Pirelli calendar whose theme was Alice in Wonderland. It was to be made in grey velvet and the size was so big I had to improvise a block. I eventually found that my plastic laundry basket was just the right size, with the top taken off. It all went according to plan thank goodness! Transporting it to London was equally challenging as it would only go sideways through the doors of the train! Great fun. So being a milliner you always have to think outside the box and be prepared to improvise. Necessity is, after all, the mother of invention.


What are you working on at the moment?

At the start of the pandemic and for quite a few months I was making scrubs for the local hospital and hospice, as well as masks and headbands. I was also working with Search Press to get Making Felt Hats completed. This, I am pleased to say, was successfully achieved with the aid of my incredible editor, Lyndsey Dodd and her team. So hats have been put on the back burner and so has teaching.

However now there might be a little ray at the end of the tunnel, I am back designing and making a collection of mainly sinamay, hats, hatinators and headbands.

Do you have any exciting plans for 2021?

With regard to 2021, who can tell? Hopefully at some point there will be orders for Ascot, weddings and events. Also what could be more exciting than a book launch!

I hope if you are tempted to buy Making Felt Hats you will get as much enjoyment and satisfaction out of it as I have done writing and creating the hats for it.

I look forward to eventually walking down the high street again and seeing you proudly wearing your creations. You could also take photographs and email me, bobbi@chicchapeau.co.uk

Happy hatting!

For more information about Bobbi and her work visit her website www.chicchapeau.co.uk.

Making Felt Hats is available from Search Press, RRP £9.99.


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