Advanced Millinery workshop (Hat making)

In April I took an advanced millinery workshop through Chinook College.  This was a continuation of the hat-making workshop I took back in the fall.  I really enjoyed the weekend-long workshop, but I also had some concerns.

First off, the positives….

Although the workshop had some problems, I really did enjoy the workshop.  There were a few great parts about it that I wanted to talk breifly about.

Advanced materials

In the past class we weren’t able to work with the fur felts – and the minute I saw a fellow student looking through them I got a flash of envy and “don’t take it – that’s mine!”-ness.  I pretty much immediately claimed a silver, black, and brown fur felt hood.  (Completely ignoring my feelings about how the fibers are acquired…)  They are luxurious and beautiful!  (Oh, and don’t worry, there were two other browns and one other black hood still in the bin, plus a blond capeline (that I would have snagged if it had been a different colour) purple, pink, green, etc… hoods too.

I also really liked the chance to work with sinamay.  I have three rolls of it at home, and had tried to work with it once with limited results – so seeing the difference between the stuff I have, and the stuff she brought in – was amazing.  The prices were also amazing(ly high).  That meant that I tried out my own roll (unsuccessfully) and some of hers too (with much better results).  I was disappointed that my stuff (which I have bought for 20$ for 10  yards or so) didn’t work at all… and instead the ‘good stuff’ is about $25-40/yard.  Ouch.

Along with the instructor’s supplies of vintage flowers, feathers and ribbons, she also brought in some stock from a colleague – much newer, much higher quality supplies of feathers.  Some of these were absolutely beautiful, and lent themselves to our projects much easier.  I know that the older stuff can be re-worked, re-steamed, and re-done, but I find them hard to look at and see their potential.  The newer examples were very nice, and gave a better idea of what might actually be available (online, mostly from Germany or England mind you.. *sighs*).

Great examples

Ivory mini top hat

The instructor brought in some really lovely examples of facinators and vintage hats for us to take a look at.  Several of the examples were things we had seen in the previous class of course, but as two of our fellow students hadn’t taken the previous class, they were new-to-them, and definitely worth another look!

Great class size

For hands-on things like this, I really do appreciate small class sizes.  Even when I was getting my degree, going to a smaller school appealed to me partly because of small class sizes.  Having only 6 classmates (although 8 were signed up) was fantastic – because it meant we could all talk to one another and also have ample time to talk with the instructor without feeling like we needed to take a number. It also meant that in the classroom, we all could spread out a tiny bit (not as much as I could have done though!) – each of us had one desk for “dry” work, and use of the table for ‘wet’ work.

Fun side-projects

We had a few side projects to work with the sinamay which were fun.

Sinamay lily

We made:

  • One sinamay flower petal from scrap sinamay (I snagged an extra piece of scrap to make a second, as did a few other people who worked quickly).  This lesson taught about hand-rolling the edges.
  • One folded and wrapped sinamay squiggle-thing. (I have no idea how else to describe it…)
  • One sinamay lily (we were given the pattern for this, and some people went wild with it!

One classmate spent possibly 2/3 of one day just working on her lily!  Mine is a little less impressive….

Sinamay lily


Sinamay rolled flower and rolled triangle (scrap) for decoration

The above decoration I made using a scrap triangle of sinamay with rolled edges and a rolled flower from my scrap blue sinamay. I made this in class as well.

Ah-ha moments

One of the things that I had been concerned about when it came to stiffening hats (sizing) was where to get the sizing, and how to use it.  Although you can get sizing (powdered which doesn’t work well, and liquid which won’t ship over the border) we used plain old PVA glue watered down to a 1-6 ratio with warm water.  It worked JUST FINE once thoroughly mixed…. with minimal blotching.  On the fur felt I also used a spray starch worked even better to stiffen the crown.  That might be something worth picking up for future (???) projects.

Ok, now for the not-so-good aspects of the workshop

As much as I really did enjoy the workshop, there are some aspects that I would really like to see improved.  Some of these are the domain of the instructor, while others are totally out of her control, but instead are more something for Chinook College…

Lack of educational content/workshop description

The workshop was advertised as:

Learn how to make your own hats and fascinators – the newest craze in hat couture. In this weekend workshop, use the latest in fabrics, sinamay and crin with lots of supplies available for sale. Recommended prerequisite: Millinery or equivalent.

Which to me indicated that there would be real instruction – “learn how to make…”However, about half way through the class the instructor indicated that by “workshop” she meant something more like ‘studio time’. There was very, very little organized or formal instruction. There is nothing wrong with studio time – having access to the supplies and materials, as well as an experienced supervisor/facilitator is awesome – however I expected a little more educational content.

brown sinamay pillbox example

There was also one point where she said we would be working on a sinamay pillbox – but we never did.  Likewise she passed around a print out of someone who had made a hat with crin – but we never actually worked with it, nor did we work with or even talk about “the latest in fabrics”.

For our side projects she said she would have us all make sinamay feathers and sinamay roses.  We didn’t get the chance to make these.  It’s not so much that I wanted to make these things (although the feather might have been interesting) but rather that we were told we would, and then for whatever reason we didn’t.

Additionally, since the workshop was on a weekend, there was no time between classes to work on our own things, do research, buy additional supplies, consider options, or anything else.  The instructor had sort of a “do your own thing, and let me know what you need to know from me” outlook, which can be fantastic sometimes – but there wasn’t enough time to DO enough to get to the point where we could really benefit from her supervision or suggestions.  I started 7 hats, but didn’t finish any of them in class.

Poor time management

The class was scheduled for:

  • Friday 4-9pm
  • Saturday 9-4pm
  • Sunday 10-2pm

Because of the early start on Friday, I took the day off work (sort of… I worked a few hours from home in the morning) to give myself time to prepare my materials/supplies, and get over to the school where the class was being held.  I presumed that the majority of the students would be doing the same – or would be self-employed/retired/etc.  Unfortunately when I got there, I was told that we would be waiting for my fellow classmates to arrive.  Of the 8 people registered in the class (Gotta love small class sizes!) four of us were there by 4:30.  This to me would have been a good time to start.  However, the instructor took the first TWO hours of the class sitting on her eBay account waiting for an auction to end and chit-chatting.  At 5:15pm a fifth student came (likely from after work) and it wasn’t until 6pm that we actually started working – on making sinamay petals from scrap sinamay. A sixth classmate arrived at 8:30pm – two others were registered but never attended.

Late in the Friday class, the instructor said that the next class would be from 10-5pm.  We commented that the class was supposed to start at 9, and she said that she had to pick some extra sinamay up from a colleague  and so she would have to be there at 10 instead. When I arrived (shortly after 10 because of locked doors (see comments below about location…)) the class had begun, but then at 3:30pm the caretaker came to tell us to be out by 4pm – our instructor had neglected to ensure that her change of time frame would work for those who needed to clean, alarm, and lock up the building.

Sunday the class was supposed to start at 10 according to the schedule, but we were told in the previous class and emailed to arrive at 9am instead, since that is when the instructor would be there.  Since I was able to get a ride, I opted to split the difference and arrive at 9:30 (I had never received the email, but I knew the instructor said she would be there at 9am) and found my classmates standing on the front lawn.  The doors to get INTO the school weren’t unlocked until 10:15, (apparently they unlocked the back doors, but not the front…and one of our classmates went around to let us all in…) which means we didn’t get started until 10:30am.  Then the instructor wanted us to start packing up at 1pm, and we were out of there by 1:30.  My ride had offered to pick me up just after 3pm – which meant I waited around for an additional hour and a half.  If I didn’t have so many bags to take home, I would have probably bussed it instead.

So… our intended (advertised) schedule is above, here’s what we actually did:

  • Friday 6-9pm (two hours less than what we paid/planned for)
  • Saturday 10-4pm (one hour less)
  • Sunday 10:30-1:30pm (one hour less)

Very annoying.  Four hours – that would have been enough time for me to block another hat!

Lack of supplies

A few days before the class, I was concerned that I still didn’t have a supply list.  On one hand I thought that the instructor might have been providing all of the supplies (in the last class she supplied needles, thread, wire, pins, elastic, etc in a ‘starter kit’ along with buckram) but at the same time it would make sense in such a short class for us to bring some supplies as well for personalization.

I called the school and the person at registration was a little shocked that she too didn’t have a supply list.  She offered to call her supervisor for me and have her call me, but I declined – I figured that if any supplies were needed, that registration office would have the list – or it would have been mailed out with our registration.  I assumed with that that I could bring my basic sewing kit (scissors, needles, thread) and that anything else we needed would be supplied  Since I had never worked with sinamay before really (well, I did, but not with great results, so I had assumed I had done it wrong) I had no idea what might be needed.

However, there was very little supplied, and when we arrived we were told several times that we should have had things (elastic, saran wrap, card stock, needlepunch etc) that most of us hadn’t bothered to bring.

Apparently the instructor had sent out an email – but mine bounced back because she spelled my email wrong.  She sent that out on Thursday night before the class, and apparently didn’t have time to follow up or call me to let me know what the email said.  (I never did get the email, so I don’t know what it said.)

However, there were a LOT of supplies available for sale in the class.  Some of the supplies (sinamay) were also very expensive (up to 40$/yard)  and I feel that having some idea of that when registering would have been ideal.  With most classes they say when additionally you will need to buy supplies from the instructor that will cost between $___ and $____ (Example below) – On top of the 300$ I spent for the class itself, I ended up spending another 70$ on supplies.

Example: Silversmithing 8 Classes – Fee: $259
Begin a lifelong hobby that will enable you to create beautiful and useful keepsakes. Silversmithing is not restricted to jewelry. With a little experience, you can make functional items like baby spoons. Supplies are extra and cost $100-$200 depending on the type of silver purchased. Supply list is provided at the first class. Taken this course before? The instructors have enough projects to repeat it more than half a dozen times. Don’t wait – this course fills quickly.

Some lack of preparation

This is just sort of a nit-picky point.. but at one point she said that all sinamay hats needed to be two layers.  After most of us had blocked our sinamay, she told us the next day that it depended on the weight of the sinamay, and that most of us could have done our hats single-layer.

Several times throughout the class she referred to the hand out we had received in the previous class – but I certainly didn’t have it with me.  There were some additions she wanted to tell us about (hurrah! I do like that!) but there was no hand-out for this class; better preparation could have seen these links and comments be added to notes which could have been printed out (or even emailed) out to us.

Annoying location

Doors that should have been open weren’t and to get to the classroom there were four flights of stairs up and one flight down.  Not the easiest class to get to. (Especially carrying lots of supplies!)  The room that was supposed to be locked up with our things inside was found on one morning unlocked.

The washrooms and hallways were also in terrible (stinky) shape.  I tried several bathroom doors that were locked – very annoying! We had to be careful not to plug too many things in (steamers, dryers, etc) because in the past we blew fuses. Kind of frustrating with so many people needing to work at once.

Moving on…

Ok… so I’ve talked about the positive and negative aspects of the class… I think that the class was valuable – BUT I think it’s a good idea to go into it knowing what to expect too.  If I were to take another class like this, I think that I would want to get a supply list before even registering to have a better idea of the financial commitment I was in for.  In an upcoming post I’ll write about what I worked on, and show some great photos! (great content.. quality varies.. haha)

8 comments on “Advanced Millinery workshop (Hat making)

  1. Fascinators says:

    Great work on the pillbox, it looks fantastic!

  2. […] for now I’ll leave it as it is, and see if I end up wearing it.  If I end up taking another millinery class I might also take it to class and ask the instructor or my fellow students for their insight, […]

  3. […] the advanced millinery workshop post I mentioned a black and a silver topper – this is the spotlight post for the silver/grey […]

  4. I have enjoyed your post very much and I’m so sad to hear about your bad experience with the advanced millinery workshop. This things shouldn’t happen, first because you pay, and a lot for this classes and second because people should be more formal when it comes to schedule. I have read you were told to stiffen with PVA glue. That’s a cheap unprofessional method in my opinion. I would recommend using liquid latex instead. It is a bit more expensive but as you mix it with water (2-3 parts depending on the felt) it will last a long time. And when dry it is completely transparent. Good luck with your millinery adventure. You have some nice pieces here 😉

    • Dawn says:

      Hi there,
      I wouldn’t say that the experience was bad at all – I actually really enjoyed it, but I also had some frustrations and could see some room for improvement. Before this class, the millinery classes kept getting cancelled since she couldn’t get enough students, but after this there have been several classes – so I think there’s something to be said for learning-room & experience teaching/facilitating.

      I haven’t heard about the liquid latex… I’ve used it in the past for make up, but had never thought about using it as sizing. Maybe if I get the chance, I’ll give it a try at some point – thanks!

  5. Hi there :)! I have a question and am having a difficult time finding the answer on the internet. I am beginning to make fascinator hats. They include a circle base attached to a headband and loops, all made of sinamay. I hear about sizing when shaping sinamay on a block, but should I spray sizing on my fascinators if I am not shaping them on a block? Does sizing prevent sinamay being ruined if my wearer wears their hat in the rain? Thank you so much for your assistance. 🙂

    • Dawn says:

      It’s my understanding that most commercial sizing is water-soluble, which means yes, if your wearer wore them in the rain, they would potentially have issues. Likewise the sinamay in general may soften/etc with the moisture of the rain.
      Unfortunately we can not get commercial sizing over the border into Canada apparently… so I haven’t used it. (I’ve used white glue and water mixed together as sizing instead.)
      You’ll want to have your sinamay drying from the size on whatever shape you are forming it into – if you just let it sit.. it will go limp and fall out of shape – so although you don’t need a block, you would need some sort of solid form (a water resistant one).

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