My teacher of hat-making (or millinery) is Prudence of Prudence Millinery, who has famously been making hats for Vivienne Westwood and other great brands as well as for her own. I strongly believe that she is the best in the world. While she is one of the sweetest person that I know, when it comes to making hats, she is uncompromising in her approach. I learned so much from her about couture work. There are so many words that she said that I still have close to my heart when working but I would like to share one of my favourite quotes from her.
During the class, she would often refer to something and say 'Um, this is 'home-made' rather than 'hand-made'. While Prudence finds the same amount of love in both 'home-made' and 'hand-made' things, as the best milliner in the world, she believes that the standards of techniques involved to produce 'hand=made' items are totally different from those employed to make something 'home-made'.
In order to be able to call a hat 'hand-made' or 'couture' instead of 'home-made', she taught us students very specific techniques many of which have been largely forgotten or ignored for commercial reasons. She also expected us to perfect the skills by taking time to do everything neatly. All the hand techniques were often complicated and hard to get it right. Every time we learned new stitches and new materials, it would take ages to make the most simple thing and I would often go home thinking 'Maybe I'm not good at this'. However Prudence would say 'Don't worry, don't rush. Speed will come with time. It is important that you learn the right skill to achieve the best aesthetic. You'd hate to see ugly sewing machine stitches on the brim of your hats, don't you!? Take your time and never compromise on your standard. It makes your piece truly 'hand-made', not 'home-made'. I had to be patient and so did Prudence during my long training period.
Craftsmanship has become a very popular concept and even pre-packaged biscuits sold at supermarket says it. I am actually not bitter about it at all because there is nothing wrong with the concept and we all have to say something nice to say to sell. However, I feel terribly sorry when I see people paying lots of money for something not-well-made because they are somehow tricke by the word 'craftsmanship'. Someone has somehow managed to blur the line between 'hand-made' and 'home-made'.
I'm sure it is still a little vague. If you are curious about difference between 'hand-made' and 'home-made', please come and visit my studio. Once I tell you what to look at and why I do certain things certain way, the way you look at hats or any other products may change a bit. Then I hope that you will also realise that much more thoughts and care are put into your hats and what you pay is certainly invested into your hats, not into that vague 'brand experience' . OK, now this is also my excuse for not having a mahogany table and marble floor like a 'luxury shop' should do, which makes some of my business savvy friends freak out all the time!