A First Year Reflection

On February 22, I will be celebrating my first anniversary as Palmer Adams Millinery. And so, at the risk of sounding like one of those yearly Christmas newsletters that people used to send out before social media made it possible to announce our every move in real time, I am going to share the highlights of my first year of hatmaking. I was looking back through photos on my phone, and I realized there are some pretty amazing moments that I don't want to forget. Sometimes I feel as if I haven't progressed enough as a milliner this past year, but looking through my photos has shown me that I have come a long way. 

In the beginning, way back in January before I launched my business, there was just one hat, a denim cloche that I had completed a couple weeks earlier after taking my very first millinery workshop online with Denise Wallace-Spriggs, a theatrical milliner based in the Boston area. I knew after that first class that I wanted millinery to be my craft, my livelihood. 

The First Hat

I didn't really know how to get started as a milliner, but I was interested in learning all that I could, so I kept taking one more itsy bitsy step. I have been operating from the start telling myself "This is what I know right now." That statement is still my personal mantra. What I knew I could do at that moment is what I focused on and did. At that point I knew I could make a flat-pattern cloche, and so I made another one. Then I purchased more patterns and made a baker boy cap and then a bucket hat. I loved trying out new patterns (and still do!). My goal was to have a dozen hats completed to officially launch my business online in February. 

When my launch date rolled around, 2-22-22, I had maybe five or six hats finished. I decided to go live with what I had, even if it was a small offering. I wanted to get my business started, no matter how big or small, and move forward from there. I didn't have any sales in February or March, but I kept buying fabric (and sewing machines lol) and making hats, enjoying the process of creating collections. 

In March I traveled to the Michigan Folk School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to take a workshop with Andrea Blohm, milliner and co-owner of the American Institute of Millinery Education. There I learned how to block wool felt for the first time. I made a felt fedora for myself but lacked the costly wood hat blocks needed to make felt hats once I returned home. 

 My First Blocked Hat

Throughout the spring and summer, I continued making flat-pattern hats. I was absolutely obsessed with fabric, particularly denim, cotton canvas, and premium cotton. My very first collection was called Denim In The Garden and fielded an assortment of hat styles featuring combinations of denim, floral prints, and trimmings. I am fairly certain that Denim In the Garden will be a permanent collection because I adore denim and floral prints -- and I have had so, so, so much fun with this collection. 

I made quite a few berets this past year, too.

I slowly began accumulating hat blocks. There are no longer any hat block manufacturers in the United States, and they are becoming fewer and fewer worldwide. Many milliners purchase used hat blocks from other milliners selling off their collections. This first little bunch of blocks I acquired came from a milliner in California, and, including cross country shipping, I paid $275 all together. Established milliners have thousands of dollars invested in their wood block collections.

The Beginning of My Hat Block Collection

In late August I traveled to Stratford, Ontario, and took a week-long millinery workshop offered through the Off the Wall Stratford Artists Alliance. My teacher was Monica Viani, an award-winning theatrical milliner based there in Stratford. This was an incredible week that I will never be able to adequately put into words. Monica is a master of detail, and I learned a lot from her in that one week. This experience easily is the highlight of my year. 

Day 1 of Learning in Monica Viani's Studio

By the time I returned home at the beginning of September, local schools had started back and everyone was in full-on fall mode. We were suddenly in pumpkin spice latte season, and I wasn't ready. I still had a bunch of summer hats cut out and ready to be sewn together, and I also was dreaming of having a real studio at home instead of using my living room coffee table as a work table and having three sewing machines set up on my kitchen table. I spent the rest of September clearing out my spare bedroom full of who knows what. Clearing out the "junk room" was quite a task. I finished my studio project in early October, and I was so damn proud. And it felt so damn good to have a beautiful dedicated space to call MY STUDIO. 

As a result of not really having any cold weather hats completed, fall and holiday sales were really slow. But I am okay with that. Pauses are good sometimes. The quiet times provide an opportunity to think about how we'd like to proceed. I am learning in my pauses to not feel so badly about what I failed to accomplish. Instead I choose simply to make what I feel like making, and at some point that particular hat will have its day.  

As I head into year two, my plans are to work more with blocks, launch a bridal collection, and, most certainly, to have a wool felt collection ready for fall. I'd also like to get out into the public more to do a few select trunk shows. 

I know that a business takes time to grow. It requires a great deal of patience and a strong desire to keep moving forward one more step at a time, no matter how small. That's my plan. I am moving forward in gratitude with all that I learned and accomplished over this past year because "This is what I know right now." 

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