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?)
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.
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!
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 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.
The hat material (either straw or sinamay for this masterclass) are dampened and stretched over the wood molds.
I use a lovely black straw and a fantastic natural straw that was woad-dyed the week prior. Isn’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.
Straight pins, thumb tacks and string help hold the straw in place in order to keep the shape of the hat once dried.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!
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: