A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
My mother was a milliner.
In pre-war Luton she created bespoke headwear for the moneyed classes: tactfully talking them out of the dubious creations they’d seen in magazines and steering them towards shapes and styles more flattering for her generally short, tubby and round-faced clientele.
I grew up with hats. I sat and watched her making them. She never bought a hat for a wedding, nor allowed me to wear an off-the-shelf bridesmaid’s headpiece (I’m told that on at least one occasion I upstaged the bride) and on the very rare occasions that I wear a hat today I can hear her voice telling me tetchily: “Straight!’ Put it on straight! You have an oval face. For heaven’s sake put it on STRAIGHT!”
In other words, in spite of the fact that I hardly ever wear them (I don’t think my ubiquitous flat cap counts somehow) hats are, counter intuitively, a part of my life and they still hold a fascination for me – which is why Designing and Making Hats and Headpieces sits on my bookcase between P G Wodehouse and the gardening books.
I still have a lot of mum’s hat-making materials, packed away in ancient and carefully labelled boxes, and have promised myself that one day, when my time is my own, I’ll have a go myself – to see just how much of her sense of style has rubbed off.
And for anyone who wants to learn the basics of hat making, Judy Bentinck’s book is an ideal place to start. Beautifully designed and clearly illustrated she leads her readers unfussily through the materials, the terms, the equipment and the techniques involved in making hats and fascinators. What will come as a revelation to many is the fact that it’s actually a very straightforward process, requiring minimal outlay and expense. The list of equipment needed includes rubber bands, irons, pins, needles, plastic jugs, glue, scissors … the only pieces of specialist equipment required are a few basic hat blocks – and you don’t even need those for fascinators. You can, basically, spend as much or as little as you want and/or can afford.
There are hats – and clear instructions on how to make them – for every occasion: showy hats for Royal Ascot, classy hats for weddings, everyday hats for the depths of winter or just nipping down to the shops, fascinators, berets, cloches … from the practical through the whimsical to the downright ‘Look at Me! Look at Me!!’. There’s also some handy advice about face shapes and the types of hats that suit them best – and I couldn’t resist a wry smile when I read this:
OVAL: Wear the hat straight across your brow, not on the back of your head.
Be you 19 or 90, some advice never changes.
The Crowood Press Ltd. 2014. ISBN: 978-1847978226. 128pp.
Photographic credits: All photos – Alistair Cowin.
(For the sake of transparency, I should point out that I’ve known Judy for several years. She once generously donated a fascinator to a fund-raising raffle I was organizing. I not only managed to display it on the wrong side of the model’s head, but also back to front: it’s greatly to her credit that she’s still talking to me …)