I was recently invited to conduct a workshop at the Wagga Wagga International Millinery Convention 2012.
This is an event held every few years in regional New South Wales in the bustling rural city of Wagga Wagga on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River. The one week forum was organised by a bunch of committed and talented local milliners who showed us all how inclusive and warm country hospitality is. They invited this Sydney hat maker along for the convention.
This year there were over 200 attendees travelling mainly from within Australia with international hatters, hat designers and hat makers from Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Hong Kong and New Zealand beaming in to be part of the skill set. National and international tutors were selected to deliver a range of workshops for delegates to advance their hat making techniques.
I chose to deliver a workshop in the making of wire silhouettes, particularly a cocktail top hat based on one I had made for Nicole Kidman in the Baz Lurhmann feature film of Moulin Rouge from 1999.
Wire work is very different to constructing hats from the solid forms of felt, straw or cloth.It gives a light and airy feel to a hat while offering a sturdy construction. There is so much negative space within and around the object. Creating the form requires a well honed eye for line, symmetry and proportions. Working with wire is hard on the hands, requires some skill and precision and much time is put into the object before tangible results are to be seen.
Like solving a puzzle, only in the 7th hour did many participants believe they were going to leave the class with a finished hat. A perfect challenge for eager students! and one I had never delivered before.
And rise to the challenge the students did. Some loved the precision, others chose to interpret the brief in a more fluid way while some had mini meltdowns mid afternoon that were mopped up by (sugar) and the collective will of the group. Each participant found their own way with the brief and all left with a recognisable form.
One aspect of teaching I do enjoy is guiding students to proclaim their own process, identify their strengths and weakness, their personal flair. Making hats is a wonderful avenue for the expression of the individual as all the Wagga delegates delighted in.
And at Wagga Wagga there were some very expressive creations wandering around the streets on delegates heads, juxtaposed with farmers coming to town, RSL club patrons feeding the bandits and bathers relaxing on the Murrumbidgee shores.
On every street corner there was a conversation to be had with another bunch of hatters, the Rockhampton crew , the Townsville group, the Sydney TAFE students, the chatty Irish, the local race goers or the Chicago fellow tutor.
I have never been in the company of so many milliners. I came to Wagga thinking I was an endangered species and left realising I was in a fashion incubator!
Congratulations Wagga Wagga ( belatedly) on a sophisticated and inclusive week that has bonded the Australian and international headwear community.We left with our hearts warmed by the experience.
After 50 years of old hat I think millinery in Australia is fresh, alive and invigorated. Watch out for some styles coming right at you soon!!!