The Fabulous French Straw Hat

Be like Curious George, start with a question and

look under the yellow hat to find what’s there.

                                                                                  ~James Collins

(Note: There are many spectacular images capturing the amazing beauty of Chateau Dumas and surrounding villages. Allow time for your computer to load the images so that you don’t miss any. This is the sixth in the series on a millinery masterclass held in southwest France. Won’t you follow along?)

timeless traditions

Under an incredibly brilliant French blue sky,  Chateau Dumas grows more lovely with each new day. The colors and lighting in this plush Mediterrean region appear as if everything is in technicolor–it is breathtaking. The songbirds continue joyful merrymaking throughout the day, and the sporadic circada’s high-pitched drilling song reminds me it is midsummer. What splendor!

chateau east view FAV

It is under this warm afternoon sun that some of the travelers in a millinery masterclass make a short journey to the nearby Chapeaux Willy’s. The vast fields of golden sunflowers nod cheerfully as the car races up and down the rolling hills on the narrow French country roads to the hot afternoon’s destination. Precisely groomed vineyards, stately apple orchards and fields of hay and corn are at every hairpin turn. Pink and golden stone cottages with ancient terra cotta half-round tiles that are surrounded by lavender hedges accentuate the picture-perfect countryside. I feel as if I have stepped into an Impressionistic painting once again.

French countryside FAV

Septfonds house FAV 3

Willys Sign FAV 1

Established in 1824 in the charming village of  Septfonds, Chapeaux Willy’s is a small artisan hat factory that has been in the same family for seven generations. It is here that lovely and colorful French straw, sinemay and wool felt hats are created using timeless techniques passed down through family members.

Pananma Hat Label FAV 1

The centuries-old stone building is overflowing with shelving stacked with ribbons, silk flowers, bolts of colorful sinemay(fabric for hat making), straw hanks, and a wide variety of mystery hat making fabric rolls–some seem as if it is a very fine papyrus. 

Sinemay-the raw material for hats

Sinemay- more raw material for summer hats

Cutting Sinemay

Ribbons and such

le chapeau de paille français {the French straw hat

Each of those working at ChapeauxWilly’s bring pride, enthusiasm and artistry to their work as the centuries-old tradition of French straw hat making is demonstrated. First, hanks of woven straw braid are re-wound on a large, simple wooden “spool.”

Hat Straw on Spool

Then, the colorful straw braid is stitched together using specially-designed sewing machines. Nearly all of the equipment is over 100 years old — these are workhorses of Willy’s. Each stitch is even and perfect–it appears to be stitched together effortlessly. But then again, some have been creating hats at Chapeaux Willy’s for over 40 years. When asked how many hats are made a day, one milliner just shrugs her shoulders, laughs and with a twinkle says in French–je n’est sait pas . . . l’amour d’I juste pour faire des chapeaux ! [I don’t know…I just love to make hats!].

A preferred work horse

Sewing a Straw Hat FAV 1

Sewing a Straw Hat FAV 3

Sewing a Straw Hat FAV 5

Sewing a Straw Hat 7

 Within several moments, the straw braid is stitched together with the appearance of relative ease. A straw hat is partially completed. The edge is neatly finished with lightening-speed expertise.

Edging a pink straw

The next step is to shape the hat using metal steam-fitted hat molds. Willy’s has hundreds of hat molds in various shapes and sizes that are interchanged on the steam presses to block the hat.

Shaping a red Straw FAV 2

Shaping a red Straw FAV 1

Each straw hat is finished with lovely embellishments…ribbons, feathers, flowers or sinemay. The traditional French straw is left plain.

Working on a blue straw

Hat Embellishment FAV1

Straw hats stacked FAV 2

the quest

Off to one end of the large room with the vintage sewing machines and hat material is an enormous display table stacked with hats that span the spectrum of the rainbow. Each is unique. The three stone walls surrounding the massive display are outfitted–ceiling to floor–with five-foot deep shelving over-flowing with hats of all shapes, colors, sizes and designs. A girl just has to try them all!

Hat Display FAV 1

Red Hats FAV

Red Hat

Natural Straw

Fushia

Blue wool felt

Whilst all the hats are lovely, and there is a plethora of millinery paraphernalia  . . .  I search for a fedora . . .  actually, a Panama for a classic kind of guy. There it is! The Real McCoy–an authentic Panama made with hand-woven straw from Ecuador.

Genuine Panama Hat Label FAV 1

Panama Label and Stamp FAV 2

Panama Hat FAV 1

Soon our little troupe of millinery-minded travelers from around the world journey back to Chateau Dumas with hatmaking material overflowing in the car’s trunk and spilling over on our laps. Memories of a fascinating afternoon at Chapeaux Willy’s linger long after the sun sets over this breathtaking countryside.

Sign green willys

Fruity Tip Hat

Whenever you wear your hat, your day will be special.

                                                                                             ~Margo Nickel

More about other lovely sights of  a millinery dream trip to France in the days ahead as they unfold.

à bientôt mes amis!

Read more at French Dreams at Chateau Dumas.

Read more at Inspiring Beauty at Chateau Dumas.

Read more at Estivales du Chapeau {hat festival in France

Read more at Creativity at Chateau Dumas

Read more at Heavenly French Lavender

POST NOTE: Thank you to Dillon Wallwork, our millinery master teacher, for graciously trying an endless stack of Panamas in order to find the perfect size 57! Merci beaucoup, Dillon — vous êtes si aimable! David feels so “GQ-esque ” in the Panama.

David and Panama FAV 3

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13 Comments

Filed under crafts, France, millinery, Sewing, Travel, Vintage

13 responses to “The Fabulous French Straw Hat

  1. Your son

    so many hats! How did you ever find this one for me?! It’s perfect, I think it was made for me!

    I bet you had fun trying on all those hats

  2. Oh! I just love the straw hats! And now I will be on the look out for a Panama Hat for my dear Gentleman Farmer ~ he needs a new hat and that one just “looks like” him!
    What a delicious trip! Thank you for taking us along on this beatiful journey!

  3. What a delightful post! Simply amazing!

  4. Edie

    Good Morning Ms Debbykay~

    What a lovely post and all the photos of hats was amazing.. That handsome guy looks so familiar… Tee-hee!!! I see he is loving his hat!!

    Love,
    Edie

  5. Dearest Debbykay,

    How wonderful to find a new post from you. You are so kind to share your dream trip to France. The photos are so beautiful and you know how much I enjoy your lovely writings. The sky is amazingly blue at the Chateau Dumas! What an incredible view of the fields near Chapeaux Willy’s! I can certainly see why you felt as if you stepped into an Impressionistic painting! I love Monet and it is easy to see where his inspiration came from. France is a beautiful, colorful country.

    The hat making supplies and the old machines they use to sew them are so beautiful. What a joy it must have been for you to see this in person, and meet the people that make these beautiful hats, and to try them on. It would be very difficult to choose a favorite.

    I love the panama hat you chose for your son. It fits him perfectly and he looks very handsome.

    My dear kindred heart, I enjoyed my visit with you so much, as I always do! I would like to thank you for your very sweet and kind comments. You are such a blessing! I love that your grandmother had a pink powder room and how she thought pink made women glow and look more lovely. I, too, wonder about the women that sewed on my antique machines and made the lace. As you said, it is interesting to think of what their lives were like. Yes, those are pink glass knobs on the vanity. I was not able to use organic lavender from my garden. I did harvest and dry some, but it was not a large quantity, as I sadly lost my lavender. I did enjoy making it, and only wish mine was as exquisite as yours and Rebekha’s!

    I was so happy to mention your lovely blog. It is a beautiful and inspirational place to visit sweet friend! Oh, I agree, the kind ladies that come calling do help cheer us. I am so very sorry to hear your husband’s health is declining. I will keep him, and you, in my prayers! I am always here if you need me.

    My very best to you, dear kindred heart! I, too, hope your Rose Cottage in the north will be filled with all good things that are lovely and beautiful! Yes, let us think on those things! That makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

    Much love to you!
    Paula

  6. I’m having a very nice day but it would have been even better wearing a fabulous hat! I loved seeing the whole process! How amazing! You have a wonderful blog! Thank you!

  7. Your roses (on the header) are incredible.

    I can’t wait to visit that site. it sounds like a good time.

    The pics from your vacation are so lovely. I would enjoy visiting that area sometime.

    hugs to you and hubby,
    Barb

  8. i AM curious George
    and

    green with envious George, too…

    🙂

    your photos are yummmmy
    beyond belief!

    {{ i so love the photos of the signs;
    such art to find everywhere you went! }}

  9. What a wonderful, and interesting, post! Love all those straw hats, it was fun seeing how they are made!

    Katherine

  10. rebekah

    What marvelous photos and story! I love seeing your adventure unfold.

    It is so dreamy and amazing!

  11. Pingback: Memories of France « rose cottage gardens and farm

  12. Pingback: Charming French Shutters « rose cottage gardens and farm

  13. ayline

    Dear Hat makers
    I would like to learn so I can be good hat maker, do you offer classes if not can you recommend a school .
    Please I love hats and I do collect them only vantage hats
    I am an accountant trying to leave my profession so I can make a hat and the hat.
    Ayline

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