Thoroughly Modern Milliner

Mary Jane Baxter - Modern Milliner

A tutor from Kensington and Chelsea College is fast becoming the crafty creative of the Millinery world and leading the campaign to get home-made hats back on the streets of Britain.

Mary Jane Baxter has passionately pursued the art of creating chic on a shoestring, giving people across the country the skills to make their own hats and head-pieces using inexpensive everyday materials.

‘I’m all for Jeans, heels and cocktail hats. Let’s bring the great British hat back to everyday wear and give people the skills to make it themselves! Making hats at home was the norm in Britain, but we lost those skills over the years and it’s time to get them back.’ says Mary Jane.

With Ascot and wedding season looming, Mary Jane is urging Brits to be brave and take on the challenge to make their own hats. Her top five tips for producing beautiful hats on a budget are:

  1. ‘Believe it or not, cereal packets make a great base for a hat. 50’s style pillboxes and teardrop-shaped fascinator bases are simple to construct. Cover in fabric and trim as desired.’
  2. ‘You don’t have to buy expensive silk flowers with which to decorate your creations. Head to the pound shop, grab a few stems then mix and match the petals to create your own home-grown blooms.’
  3. ‘Cut up an old hat to get a new look by removing the brim and trimming the top part (the crown) with lace. Sew a comb inside to keep it in position.’
  4. ‘Kitsch old tea towels look great turned into a 40’s style top knot! Sew a long tube and thread with garden wire (create a loop at each end so it doesn’t poke through the fabric) to create over-the-top retro glamour on the go.’
  5. ‘Invest in a hob-top kettle and learn the basics of blocking your own hats at home. Wooden salad bowls make great hat-blocks and cost a fraction of the price of the real thing.’

The talented milliner teaches a number of millinery courses at the college as part of her campaign to bring traditional crafts such as hat-making back to the home, and recently launched a book ‘The Modern Girl’s Guide to Hatmaking’, which teaches millinery techniques, and provides ideas for recycling clothes and other everyday items to produce stunning hats.

‘I absolutely love teaching beginners millinery because students arrive students arrive thinking they can’t even sew, and in a few weeks they’re making their own couture hats! With the right guidance, anyone can make a hat at home. You can become your own designer.’ says Mary Jane. ‘There is a growing interest in all traditional crafts. People are keen to find ways of saving money. This echoes the old war time spirit of learning new skills to do it yourself. Making your own hat is a fantastic way to own something unique and glamorous that can dress up an everyday outfit, but without it having to cost you fortune.’

Mary Jane’s niche for chic on a shoe string has also led to her becoming a familiar face on TV. Her credits include being a judge on BBC2’s 10-week amateur crafts competition ‘Handmade Revolution’, a stint on Newsnight and an appearance on BBC Breakfast where she was interviewed about creating a wedding dress for £10.

Anyone interested in enrolling on Mary Jane’s Millinery Courses, including ‘The Modern Girl’s Guide to Hat Making’ – which is run under the college’s summer school courses – should visit or call the college on: 0207 573 5333.

Kensington and Chelsea College has a reputation for excellence in the creative arts. It has nurtured the talents of many gifted milliners including Justin Smith, and its annual end-of-year Millinery and Fashion exhibition is widely regarded as THE place to be to find the industry’s next big thing.

Mary Jane will be hosting a book launch for ‘The Modern Girls Guide to Hat Making’ at Atelier Millinery, W1B 5PW, London, on Thurs 23rd May, 6pm-8pm. To attend please register (external link)