Hat making

One of the features of this year’s White Wine Arts Trail, the bonkers bus outing which traditionally takes place on the opening weekend of Bath Comedy Festival, will be an Easter bonnet competition. When choosing the date for the event, which incidentally is sold out, we failed to spot that it fell on Easter Sunday. We like to be seasonally relevant, but although we will be distributing copious amounts of wine thanks to our generous sponsors, we can’t afford to give all 140 participants a chocolate egg. So bonnets it is, with a nice big egg as a prize.

We first realised people’s hidden talents in the chapeau department when, trying to make something out of nothing, we put ‘Wear your best hat’ on a poster for a fairly modest event in Widcombe. The hats turned out to be a main feature of the occasion! Some incredible creations were on show, including one celebrating the area’s proposed bypass, with a whole traffic jam running round the rim. That was donkey’s years ago and we still haven’t quite got our bypass!

Even more years ago, my college theatre design course included millinery. We were terrified of our formidable (and long gone) hat making tutor who revelled in the glorious name of Sheeta Riddle. Because of financial limitations, all the hats we created had to be one-third size, so you can imagine the tiny stitches we had to make with our shaking hands as she towered over us every Wednesday afternoon. To make it worse, we had ‘breaking down’ in the morning.  This was not a medical condition but involved rendering a worn, antique finish to costumes and props. Consequently our fingers would inevitably be coated with glue and wood stain, making even the simple task of threading a needle all but impossible and thereby producing a torrent of scorn from Ms Riddle.

She once made the mistake of referring to us as ‘those smelly second years’. By way of revenge, one of my fellow students filled the bowler hat steamer with eau de cologne instead of water and locked her in the sewing room, nearly killing her in the process. When it came to her retirement, we froze our lips with ice lollies before theatrically kissing her goodbye. Young people can be so cruel!

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