Millinery Textures in Felt-Making

Written by Trish Hirschkorn (Trish Raine Hats)


In 2022 I had the good fortune to take a year off from my day job as an occupational therapist and was successfully awarded an artsnb Creation Grant.  I am a felt-maker milliner (hat maker) who wanted to take advantage of this time off to innovate fabrics by delving back into the basics of felt-making.

I began my felt-making journey with a series of weekend courses in 2008 and worked to solidify my felt-making skills in a few short years.  Once I had a good hold on felt-making, I made the leap into the world of millinery with a 2015 artsnb Professional Development grant to attend a course in Ireland, which fueled my creative direction.  Since that time, all the education I sought in-person or online was in the realm of millinery. 

This year’s leave provided time where I could re-enter the world of felt-making, bringing together wool and various fabrics used in traditional millinery practice.  I immersed myself by learning how to felt with various paper mediums (and then mark the work with traditional art supplies) and sampled a dozen millinery fabrics.  Frankly, some worked fabulously, and others flopped.  There are not a lot of felt-makers in millinery, so this project was unique in its approach and results!

A 4×4” sample with various resists, inks, silks, pastels and watercolours. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Paper turban marked with ink, daylight and lit up. Paper felting technique learned from Fiona Duthie. Photo credit: Floyd Jackson. 

This paper felt turban hat was made after learning the basics of felting with Thai Kozo paper and mark making.  It won a 4th place at the Mad Hatter’s Society 2022 International Hat competition.  It can act as a hat during the day and a lampshade at night! 

After the allotted six months of the grant, I returned to my day job and the focus of creating hats for the 2022 fall and winter seasons.  I am currently between shows/sales, but behind my one-of-a-kind hat production, I always have art or gallery pieces in mind.  Making hats from upcycled silk fashion and merino wool is a creative outlet that equals a physical workout in what it does for my mental health.  While I busy my hands and drop into the process, my mind clears and often wanders to other creative places and future projects.  I love innovating new practices and with the artsnb grant was able to dive headlong into projects I’d thought about for years.

“Gossamer Garden in Blue”.  Photo credit Floyd Jackson, model: Sophie Chapman.  The gossamer hat is a Trish Raine created line inspired by a customer with alopecia who wanted a lighter hat to wear.  Light, luxurious and made from silk both outside as the design and inside against your hair and skin!

My creative process is to conceptualize a hat and start sampling.  Once I have a solid idea of what I’d like to produce, I spend a fair amount of time reverse engineering the whole and parts of the project.  A correct sequence of steps is paramount to a seamlessly finished piece, to cover up your steps so that it looks polished and as perfect as it can.  With innovation there is also a fair number of “just go for it” moments too, where you let go and make an indelible move on your project, for better or for worse. 

“School Dance” is my entry into the US Milliner’s Guild Bes-Ben Fashion and Humour international competition.  Inspired by Bes-Ben’s “fish” hat, this hat placed in the top ten and toured to Texas and NYC in 2022.  Photo Credit: Floyd Jackson.  Model: Natalie Shalala.

I find many parts of my work rewarding.  Being able to make something equally beautiful and functional is wonderful.  Wearable art that is accessible and appreciated by a patron who values a piece as much as I do is what I value the most. 

“Wildflowers in Pink”. Photo Credit: Floyd Jackson. Model: Lily Arnold.

As my work continues to evolve, I plan to develop several designs based in innovation from this Creation grant and present them to the world of millinery.  I submit designs annually to international hat competitions and I already have two hat bases fabricated, waiting for inspiration and time to complete!  A stunning combination of merino wool and silk abaca (pineapple fibre), and wool and Paris cloth (silk abaca and polyester) are at the top of my hat list.

Paris Cloth findings 2022, a sample for a hat in progress.  Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

The opportunity to stretch artistically (especially during COVID) with the support of this grant has meant a lot.  It allowed me space to try new practices and innovate materials and techniques that I will use henceforth.  It also gave me space to step away from my hat line and dive headlong into artistic practices.  Now that I’m back to my previous incarnation as a working artist, I often think of innovation and development beyond what I’m doing day to day.  Ideas take time to germinate, as they lie in my subconscious, working out details for the “next project”.

Trish Hirschkorn is a felt-maker living in Fredericton, with a unique perspective of blending the line between felting and millinery. She pays homage to designs of the past while using modern techniques and up-cycled materials. Her millinery education involves travel to Ireland, Toronto, and Tennessee. Trish and her work have appeared in Fibre Arts Now magazine, HATalk magazine, and Felt Matters magazine, and she has won several international millinery competitions.  2022 saw a piece exhibiting in Texas and NYC as a top-10 finalist in an international competition and was a year Trish spent researching – combining traditional millinery materials in felt, to innovate new fabrics in millinery with the assistance of an artsnb Creation Grant.  She has one more show in Fredericton, Nov 26th at UNB, where she will be selling her hats.

Photo credit: Floyd Jackson.

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