What to do if you want to be a milliner

Isabella Josie is a milliner from West Sussex, and reveals how she makes a living from making hats.

milliner
Isabella

My journey into millinery all began after an invitation to a family wedding. I wanted to wear a hat but I couldn’t find one that I liked. They all seemed to be a bit too bland and frumpy. My mission was on, it was time to create a hat.

Royal connection

My first millinery experience was in London with a lady who used a hammer, steam and tacks to stretch her fabrics over wooden blocks. I loved seeing how you could turn a flat piece of fabric into a 3D wearable sculpture. I knew then that I just had to find out more.

Milliner Isabella Josie
Milliner Isabella Josie

My next step was research, if I wanted to make a hat, I needed to learn how to make it properly.

Read more: How I became a seamstress specialising in bridalwear

From my first hat-making encounter, I knew that millinery involved hat blocks, so I called up a traditional hat block maker to see if they could recommend any hat-making tutors.

I was lucky enough to make my enquiries at a time that a lady called Rose Cory was still teaching hat making. Rose Cory used to make hats for The Royal Family which meant she was able to teach me how to make hats in the traditional couture way. It involves a lot of hand stitching.

Milliner Isabella Josie

After spending some time with Rose (and lots of practice) I felt ready to create some initial hats and fascinators which I took to a local craft fair. I was so excited to sell my first hat, I couldn’t believe that someone actually liked my work enough to buy it.

Learning new techniques

Since then I have been to London to study new techniques with various international milliners.

Millinery is such a wide field and there is so much to learn – feather work, silk flower making and free-form sculpting techniques to name but a few. I absolutely love it and you certainly never get bored.

As well as creating my own seasonal collection, I also get to work with some fabulous clients to help create their perfect headpiece.

Milliner Isabella Josie

What to do if you want to be a milliner

If you want to become a milliner I think it’s best to go on some taster days before you buy any equipment. Once you know the basics you can try and create a headpiece at home with some household items, for example, a steam iron and an up turned wooden bowl to create a basic brim and hat base.

Having your own business means you will also need to find out about things like marketing, web design and product photography.

Variety is good and being your own boss enables you to choose your own priorities and the times you work. I have recently joined some local networking groups and I find these beneficial as the conversations you have really help you think about the next step for your own business.

Isabella Josie hats

Be adaptable

It’s so important to do something you love, it gives you so much energy and brings you to life.

In today’s fast-changing world it’s likely that you will have more than one career so always try to keep learning new skills, be adaptable and open for new opportunities.

I was originally a teacher, so having that prior experience enables me to confidently delivery millinery workshops which are great fun for hen parties and birthday celebrations.

Isabella Josie hats

It’s also vital not to judge or compare yourself to others. Although it is a natural thing to do, everyone has their own unique path and style.

Someone might get there faster than you, but that doesn’t mean they are any better. I find it helpful to write down the small steps that you need to achieve to reach your goal and tick them off as you complete them. Looking back at your achievements at times when you doubt yourself does keep you focused and motivated.

The quote that has stayed and inspired me over the last 30 years is ‘aim for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars’.

Be kind to yourself and enjoy your very own journey. A goal is great but there is also something very special and beautiful to find in the twinkle of a star.

To find out more about milliner Isabella Josie, visit: www.isabellajosie.com

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