Oswaldtwistle for London Hat Week 2018

Inspired by the Wonders of Industry at the Great Exhibition 1851, Britain.

The tagline of Sue Wood Millinery is “Beautifully British” because my home country is often the source of inspiration for my millinery designs. This hat has been heavily influenced by the weaving craft and the Industrial Revolution (1760 – 1840). I find this era particularly exhilarating because it is a key part of British history whereby Britain underwent change in all aspects of life.

Before the Industrial Revolution, weaving was a cottage industry craft carried out by women with handlooms like the Spinning Jenny. It is a craft that has been performed by generations of women and girls across the world.

The invention of the power loom by Edmund Cartwright and Richard Roberts set the mechanisation of the weaving industry in motion and weaving became a profession. For the first time, women were being paid for the work. In that way, it could be argued that the Industrial Revolution helped to give rise to movements for women’s rights.

Weaving has been passed down by generations and generation of skilled women, but it is a skill which has been dying out in Britain over the past century. Nonetheless, much like millinery, weaving has been kept alive by a few skilled artisans who are determined to keep the art alive. My hat has been directly inspired by these women, as well as the craft of weaving both before and after the Industrial Revolution.

I recently made a visit to SIL Holdings; a historic mill in Bradford which is still in use today where they had some of the old looms on display. I was able to watch as a woman wove threads into a fabric on an industrial loom.

Whilst I was there, the mill was giving away waste wool material, which was deemed unsuitable for use. Upcycling is one of my passions, so I could not resist taking the yarn which was made using the machines found in mills during the Industrial Revolution.

Inspired by the techniques I saw at the mill, I took the yarn and made it into balls of wool and then used a circular handloom to create the woven cover for the hat as well as the centrepiece. The circular centrepiece at the front of the hat is reminiscent of the water wheel used to drive the mechanical processes in the mill.

The style of the hat is a traditional flat cap, inspired by the working-class men of the period, who would also have worked at the mills. The ram’s horns which wind across the top of the headpiece acknowledge the origin of the wool. They are made with upcycled household materials including tin foil, tissue, used paper and gardening twine and finished off with spray paint and antique gold.

Finally, the earthy and muted colours have been inspired by the damp, humid atmosphere often found in the north of England, which made it the perfect location for weaving.