Opera North Blog

Hats off to the milliners!


Ever wondered who creates the hats for our costumes, how long it takes, or how they're made? 

We caught up with milliner Alison Turton, who has been working on the headwear for our Little Greats season, to find out a bit more about it... 

How many hats are you working on for our Little Greats season?

I have been working on five shows and have made eighteen hats in total, six of them (the bridesmaids' hats for Trial by Jury) are all exactly the same, but the rest were all different in style and period.

Below: 1930s pink duchess satin percher hat with chenille dot veiling in the workshop (pattern for this was taken from an original 30s felt hat), and as worn by Amy Freston as Angelina in Trial by Jury, and 1930s inspired pink crin rose bridesmaid hats embellished with crystals in the workshop. 

How long does it take to create a hat?

A hat can take anywhere from a day to a few days and really depends on what I have to make! I make each hat to a 'fitting' stage and once the hat has been fitted, I will alter it if necessary and then finish it. So because of this I never really know for sure how long it takes.

Below: Hats for Trial by Jury in the workshop – 1930s purple parisisal straw tilt hat with curled ostrich feathers, ivory parisisal straw trimmed with ostrich feathers and sinamay brim and silk crown. 

Do you have a favourite out of the hats you have made for our current season?

I have two favourites — the peach felt tilt hat for Trial by Jury, simply because I love 1930s/1940s millinery. It's such a stylish era and I particularly love tilt hats as they are just so sophisticated. I also really love the 'Chinese Cup' headdress for L'enfant et les sortilèges as it's so striking. I really enjoy making unusual headpieces and relish a challenge!

Below: Velvet covered buckram shape embellished with an oversized pink silk pom pom and gold tassels in the workshop and as worn by Ann Taylor as Chinese Cup in L'enfant et les sortilèges, and 1930s peach bloom felt tilt hat in the workshop. 

Are there any particular challenges that have arisen?

The clown hats for Pagliacci were tricky because I didn't have a millinery block in the shape of the hat and so had to sculpt one out of clay. I have done this several times and it works quite well. Millinery blocks are made from wood and so are therefore easy to pin a material into to hold the shape but as clay is soft, this makes it a bit harder. I used an existing wooden block and built up the clay from there. The shape was then covered in clingfilm and the felt blocked over it.

Below: Creation of the Pagliacci clown hat in the workshop, and as worn by Peter Auty as Canio. 

Can you talk us through the process of making one of these hats?

The hat for Osud (Destiny) is a covered shape meaning it has been made from a base and then covered in fabric. For this process, I used a fine straw called Parisisal. This is bought as a soft hood shape which I then use steam to gently pull over a crown millinery block. This is left to dry and is then stiffened so it holds it shape. For the upturned brim, I stitched a lightweight wire around the edge of a second straw and pulled it up to create a curved shape. This was again left to dry and then stiffened.

The crown and brim were then covered in icewool (a soft fluffy fabric) and then finally the top fabric. The crown and brim were then hand stitched together with decoration added and lining inserted afterwards. Loops were also added so the hat can be pinned onto the wig.

Below: Large Edwardian style buckram shape hat covered in black moire fabric made for Osud, and 1960s style buckram pillbox hat covered in furnishing fabric in the workshop and worn by Katie Bray as Louis XV Chair in L'enfant et les sortilèges

Follow Alison Turton on Instagram to learn more about the hat-making process. 

Find out more about The Little Greats

Hats for Trial by Jury and Pagliacci designed by Gabrielle Dalton
Hats for Osud, L'enfant et les sortilèges and Trouble in Tahiti designed by Hannah Clark. 

Pagliacci and L'enfant et les sortilèges photography by Tristram Kenton
Trial by Jury photography by Robert Workman

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