Monday, August 16, 2010

John C. Campbell Folk School--Millinery Class

Last weekend I taught for the very first time at John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina. The Folk School, as it is affectionately known, is 85 years old and was started as a means of preserving the crafts of the Appalachian Mountains and the people who lived there. Today there are an incredible number of arts and crafts taught there every week and weekend--from blacksmithing, to basketry, to woodturning, to clogging (a traditional mountain dance style), to printmaking, to....just name it!

The Folk School is in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the shadow of the Great Smokey Mountains. Here you see a little of what the scenery is around the School.

There are numerous original and new dormitories and studios around the campus, which sits on many, many acres. Here is the Farm House, where I stayed for the weekend. It was lovely!

Mountain tradition is that every day starts with MorningSong. At the Folk School either one of the locals comes in, or in this case one of the weekend instructors did MorningSong. This is Aubrey, who taught clogging over the weekend. Turns out she also sings beautifully and plays banjo, mandolin, and guitar. This picture show her playing banjo and doing some fancy clogging steps. She was fabulous!

Here you see the last morning of class, right before we went to the final presentation of each class' work for the weekend. We had a class of 12, including my assistant, David, whom you see at the far right. Many of the class had to leave before 'presentation' due to the great distances they travelled to get to the School.
The purpose of this class, 'Crowns and Brims: A Millinery Survey,' was to learn through observation and practice, skills including wire construction, fabric covered buckram, blocking straw, and sewn straw braid. This was not an in-depth study of any of these, yet a means to be exposed and practice at least two of the skills into one hat. e.g. straw crown with wire brim, buckram crown with straw brim, etc.

Here's Sonja with her finished product, a gorgeous wire construction brim (covered in black and white silk) with a fabric covered buckram brim. Just gorgeous!

Here you see her after she's finished the construction and is covering the frame with silk.

The early work in the construction process. Not quite as easy as it looks!

David, my studio assistant, chose to create a wire frame brim with buckram crown, as well. What a colorful guy in his elegant hat! Great job, David! Now here's a hat lover! You should see his collection! And what great guy! He kept us all sane...well, most of us!

Ah, David and Sonja HARD at work on their wire frames. Sooo much time spent in creating the frames, but with such wonderful results.

Gerald was the other man in our class. I didn't get a chance to photograph his finished product but he did an amazing job! Here he's working on this fabric covered buckram brim. He chose a blocked sinamay crown to pair it with.

Below you see some of the class with their final project, minutes before we did a catwalk before the whole school (about 100 attendees/instructors). Most classes displayed their work on tables, we strutted ours!! Such fun!!!!

Beautiful Sara in her purples and lavenders! She worked incredibly hard on her hat.

Mollie in her wire frame brim, draped in a sheer dotted fabric, with a silk covered buckram crown.

Pictures don't do this hat justice! This was a smashing hat!

Robbie begins her huge, no HUGE, wire frame hat!

See where this is going? Love the conjunctive wires.

Trying it on for size. This took an amazing amount of work to get it this far.

The final hat! The wire frame was draped in a stretchy netting that beautifully covered the circumference and area of this hat. Note the tiny silk crown--covered buckram.
I have to give Robbie, Mollie, and Sara some extra credit. They each stayed up until 3am to complete their hats before presentation on Sunday morning. Others of the class stayed up working in the studio until midnight! Now that's dedication!!!

Cathy working on combining the straw brim with the buckram crown.

Cathy's final product. Love the color combination! Cathy did beautiful handwork.

Leslie and Jan work on their hats. Leslie chose a wire frame crown and a blocked straw brim; Jan chose a straw crown and a wire brim.

Love the final outcome, Jan! And the neutral colors are soft and pretty.

Karin chose a blocked sinamay crown and a blocked straw brim. Note the stash of embellishments in front.

Karin in her finished product; again, right before presentation. Nicely done, Karin!

Thanks to the students who listened, took challenges, worked hard, played nice with each other, and trusted me as their instructor. Your willingness to trust me in the work I outlined for you is muchly appreciated.
And thanks to the amazing Folk School for the opportunity to teach there for the first time. I do look forward to returning next year for a week-long class, followed by a weekend class.


  1. I am so proud of them. They did an incredible amount of work in a very, very short period of time. Thanks for your comments! They will appreciate it when they see your post.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing these amazing hats. I really want to try doing a wire frame now. Can you suggest any good reference books or sites (I'd love to come to one of your classes, but I'm the wrong side of the world)

  3. Hey, Alison! Thanks for commenting. I know How2Hats is having a sale on their books right now, and one of them is about Wire Frame Hats. In fact, the book was written after I taught there, at the Wombourne School of Millinery, several years ago. Most of the pix in the book are from the class I taught. See; tell them I sent you.