French Millinery Magic

Happiness in not in the mere possession of money;

it lies in the joy of achievement

in the thrill of creative effort.

~Franklin. D. Roosevelt

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

the studio

Chateau Dumas is spectacular. What could be more dreamy than a breathtaking “Monet-esque” 1700’s chateau overlooking the Impressionistic French countryside, meals created around superbly fresh Mediterrean bounty from local markets, lovely gardens, soothing lavender fragrances filling the air and a carriage house atelier dedicated for the millinery masterclass? Heavenly! It is the pefect foil for unleashing creativity long-dormant.

carriage house studio facing east2

Carriage House FAV

southeast carriage house stairs FAV

The second story of the 18th-century carriage house is home for the creative studio. Won’t you come up the east stairs with me to the atelier?

The millinery atelier is filled with all the paraphernalia for the masterclass — new and pristine vintage machines, solid wood hat molds, steamers, bolts of hat material, feather trimings, rolls of antique French ticking, and bits of trims, laces, mother of pearl buttons — all so inspiring. There are a few stunning straw hats beautifully displayed on antique hand-turned wooden hat stands.  I am totally smitten with the vintage sewing machine and the French ticking and trims! Simply lovely! 

Frister Rossman 2

wood brims and crowns FAV

studio hat making


colored petersham and osterich feathers FAV

sinnamay Color Card FAV

straw cones FAV

Hat feathers 1

willy's hat 3

the master teacher

The reason for all this swooning over this gorgeous French region and the chateau you ask? A millinery “artist-in-residence” week course taught by master milliner, Dillon Wallwork. Dillon has dazzled women with his spectacular hat creations, and has made them look gorgeous for at least 25 years. As a royal milliner to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, his creative designs have been seen on covers of magazines and newspapers around the world. Dillon was the hatmaker-in-chief to Princess Diana, and has created hats for numerous other heads-of-state. He effortlessly creates breathtaking hats — hats and hatmaking are Dillon.Whew! What a pedigree! I am pinching myself to be learning from one of the best.

Dillon is a superb designer and master teacher. His knowledge and expertise about hatmaking are beyond compare. He nimbly works millinery magic with the simpliest or the most eleborate materials. It is with a bit of trepidation that I begin the intense and intimate-sized masterclass. Soon, the concerns are allayed . . . the teacher is a master indeed! He deftly provides kind, patient and expert instruction to those who have never even seen a hat being constructed  (c’est moi!). Yet, guides those with experience to the next skill level in hatmaking.

Dillon and Gabriel FAV

the masterclass

Dillon instructs and demonstrates the step-by-step process of hatmaking. My vocabulary expands to include new terms like panning, sinamay, hoods, sisal, parasisal and blocking. I learn that hatmaking is a very labor-intensive artistic craft, and has 10-12 discrete steps before the head is crowned with a chapeau!

The first step is covering the wood crown and brim blocks with ordinary plastic wrap. Yes, the kind found in your kitchen pantry. The plastic wrap makes it easier to remove the crown and brim shapes once dry. Then a wet, sturdy netting is put over the crown to give the hat finish and stability.

wood brim and plastic FAV

netting over block

The hat material (either straw or sinamay for this masterclass) are dampened and stretched over the wood molds.

Putting Sinemay on Wood Brim block FAV

I use a lovely black straw and a fantastic natural straw that was woad-dyed the week priorIsn’t the blue naturally-dyed straw from the woad plant simply gorgeous?!  It is from a centuries-old dying process made from the woad plant soley indigenous to this French region. It is a fascinating process of how the fabric dyes yellow, turns green once taken out of the cauldren and it comes in contact with oxygen, and then becomes the loveliest of blues in moments.

Black hat on wood block FAV

woad blue strawFAV 2

 Straight pins, thumb tacks and string help hold the straw in place in order to keep the shape of the hat once dried.


woad blue straw 5 FAV 4

Champagne hat block FAV

After the straw has dried on the wood mold, it is “panned” — carefully ironed to give it a natural artistic sheen. It is then gently removed from the wood mold using a white plastic bone (similar to corset boning in costume design).

Panning FAV

brim off of block FAV

Stitching by hand, the crown and brim are attached to one another. A petersham ribbon is carefully hand-stitched — using a nearly invisible tiny stitch to the inside of where the crown and brim are attached. The brim of the hat is trimed or turned over and neatly stitched.

Adding Petersham to black straw FAV

Dillon instructs on making beautiful organdie roses. The edges of the organdie are effortlessly hand-rolled. Then, the organdie is magically shaped into gorgeous rosettes as if they are just picked from the garden. Dillon demonstrates the “prunning” and shaping of ostrich, duck, pheasant and other feathers to create fascinating designs to embellish hats. I love how feathers are curled — much like making curly ribbon bows for packages — with the blade of a scissors. Trimmings are added to the hat to finish it off, and making each hat truly one-of-a kind. 

Hand rolled organdie roses FAV

black hat and organdie roses FAV 1

special visitors

The millinary masterclass is thrilled to have Carol and Nigel Denford editors and publishers of The Hat Magazine out of London visit the class and learn about our progress in hatmaking. Their visit is quite lovely.

Carol (Hat Magazine) and Claudia

dreamy hats

We each make at least one complete hat. Some make more. The hats are all created uniquely, and there is a deep sense of accomplanishment. Stunning!

Claudia's Tango Hat FAV

Cathy's Hat FAV

Katie's Hat FAV

Naomi and Laurie FAV

My nights are filled with dreams of attending more millinary masterclasses to be offered in the fall and summer. A girl can hope . . .

The final lovely sights of  a once-in-lifetime dream trip to France are just around the corner.

à bientôt mes amis!

Won’t you journey with me awhile on this amazing trip in a gorgeous countryside chateau? Other adventures are at: 

 French Dreams at Chateau Dumas.

 Inspiring Beauty at Chateau Dumas.

 Estivales du Chapeau {hat festival in France

 Creativity at Chateau Dumas

Heavenly French Lavender

Fabulous French Hat

Bon Appetite!


Filed under crafts, France, millinery, Sewing, Travel

12 responses to “French Millinery Magic

  1. Simply fascinating! All the hats are just scrumptious! What a dream come true for you, Debbykay! Thank you for sharing it with us!

  2. Francesco

    Dear Debbykay,

    I have been enjoying your telling the story of your recent adventure with much anticipation. The words you chose tell a story that stimulates the imiganation.

    The hats you are showing are stunning and to think are handmade and unique. I can not wait to hear more about the challanges of hat making.

    Best regards,

  3. Dear Debbykay,

    One could never tire of the beauty at Chateau Dumas! The colors are so vivid and lovely. You have captured their beauty in your wonderful photos! I can imagine how delicious the food is, with so many fresh, local ingredients.

    How excited you must have been, going up those stairs, and into your millenary class! I would love to come with you, up the east stairs and in to the atelier… oh! The vintage sewing machine is gorgeous! It is really quite amazing to see all of the supplies used in hat making and the steps taken to achieve the perfect chapeau! Dillon sounds like a wonderful instructor. I can imagine your excitement learning from one so accomplished with his work. The dyes are gorgeous, especially the blue! I love all of the hats that were made… stunning indeed, and they all look as if they had been hat making for years!

    Sweet Debbykay, thank you for sharing your wonderful and exciting dream trip to France. I hope you can return to enjoy the experience again!

    Thank you for the very kind comments you left for me! It is always so nice to see you have visited my Rose Cottage! Your kindness is such a blessing! It would be heavenly to share a cup of tea with you! The fun we would have!

    I love that your dear husband will make things for you, from your tiny sketches on post it notes. It shows how well he loves you, and knows your mind and heart! What joy a happy marriage is!

    I am so glad you like my new banner. Thank you for your kind words. I feel the same for you. Your sweetness and encouragement mean so much to me, my kindred heart in the north. I think of you often!

    I hope you have a beautiful week and all is well at your lovely Rose Cottage. I look forward to the next installment of your trip.

    Love to you,

  4. Dear Debbykay,

    My, I’ve just had a transcendent moment! My daughter just brought me a sprig of lavender from our garden, and I was smelling as your photos loaded. I felt like I was there for a split second~That may be about as close to France as I get! I love, love, love all the hats and trims~the blue is indeed amazing. And I chuckled when I read that Dillon was a hat maker for “heads-of-state”! I don’t think you meant it as a pun, but it struck my funny bone :).

    Thank you so much for more gorgeous pictures.



  5. It is so fun to see the process of how you made your hat… and to learn from the best is so wonderful! I love the blue color… so lovely. Glad you had such a wonderful experience. The French seem to have all the fun! lol


  6. Edie

    Dearest Debbykay~
    I have taken a break from my new job adventure to enjoy your lovely writing and oh so beautiful pictures…

    I am just so happy you were able to take this short dream adventure and have such wonderful memories you have been sharing is the icing on the cupcake!


  7. Laura

    What a beautiful blog you have. I will be back soon!


  8. fabulous hats….love them!
    have a wonderful day~

  9. Debbykay ~ I’m nearly speechless! What an opportunity for you ~ the images and information you’ve shared are so fascinating. Were you pinching yourself to assure you weren’t dreaming?!

    Thank you so much for sharing your unique experience with us ~ and thank you for commenting on my blog; I’m SO happy to have found yours that way. It’s lovely.

  10. OH Wow, I just found your blog through one bite and it is beautiful. Your hat making story makes it clearer to understand how they are made. I still have to read all your other stories about the chateau Dumas.
    Riet, The netherlands

  11. Thank you so much for your visit to my blog! I’ve been reading and looking around yours and it appears you are enjoying the most exciting trip! Love the hats!


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

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