Monday, 2 March 2009

Lots of hats

Women’s Institute
On a rather cold and wet evening in February, Old Buckenham WI listened to a talk given by Julie Hirst on the history of hats. She had brought a large selection of hats with her, ranging from a cloche of the 1930s to a baseball cap of the present day. She also had a colourful selection of her own handmade raffia hats, beautifully made and dyed in a variety of natural dyes.
The talk began with a brief history of hats and hat-making, from the earliest hats worn for warmth, for identification, for tribal distinction, or occupation, or religious belief. Hats worn by Pearly Kings and Queens with masses of pearl buttons sewed on in particular patterns to denote which part of London you hailed from, bowler hats originating from the Earl of Leicester’s estate at Holkham as worn by the gamekeepers and flat tweed caps from the north of England which showed by the tweed pattern where their wearers hailed from.
One early historical mention of hat making came from Milan in the seventeenth century – milan:millinery. The Italian salesmen did a good promotional job in selling their wares around Europe which helped trade and hats began to be used for more decorative purposes and not merely warmth or local identification.
Hat-making was based on three areas in England; Luton, Stockport and London. After the 1930s, hat making declined as fewer people wore their hats to work in or when going out. Today they tend to be special occasion wear. John F Kennedy is often blamed for the decline in mens’ headwear as he declined to wear a hat when campaigning during his presidential election campaign. Conversely, his wife Jackie is credited with helping to keep the fashion alive for ladies. Princess Diana also did a great deal for the industry during her lifetime.
All this information was demonstrated by Julie whilst wearing the hats she was talking about. She demonstrated her method of plaiting and making her raffia hats and members saw a hank of raffia, which comes from the 7ft to 8ft long leaves of the raffia tree and is then dried. Dyeing, plaiting and stitching together to make the hats takes about 8 hours work. They are packable, very easy to wear and will last a long time. With the request to wear hats at the coming Federation AGM, several members gave those on show a careful look.
The next meeting of Old Buckenham WI will be on Thursday 26 March in the village hall when Steve Lovell will be talking on the RSPB in East Anglia and the monthly competition is for a four to six line poem entitled ‘Birds in my garden’.

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