Christine has been a milliner for 20 years. She started off as an office worker but after marriage and children, she decided that she never wanted to go back to office work.
She didn’t grow up knowing how to sew but went to TAFE in the mid 80’s to learn as much as she could including felt making and using felt. Her first hats, made in the late 80’s were of felt and were very flamboyant.
After she saw the Phantom of the Opera, she realized that she wanted to work in the theatre and was lucky enough to get work experience with the Australian Opera (AO) in ’95. She continued to work there casually and when the assistant milliner retired, she took over. Carol worked from designs drawn by various designers to create hats that could be actually be worn by an actor or singer: they should be no heavier than about 1kg. They also need to be tough because actors tend to take off their hat first and throw their costume on top of the hat.
As a theatre milliner she had to make a wide variety of hats from different materials, eg chux, felt made to look like metal (painted with PVA glue well sanded), chain mail (bought from a fetish shop in Sydney.) There was often lots of detail in the hats even though it couldn’t be seen from the audience. For example, she sent cloth to India to be beaded because AO couldn’t afford to pay her to bead it.
Four milliners worked on the hats for My Fair Lady including Rick Macgill, who had 50 years experience and was very generous with his knowledge. Hats are stored in wheeled cupboards, in two AO warehouses in Bankstown and Surry Hills. Other companies can hire retired wardrobe items. Most costumes made with 3 inch seam allowances.
Christine left AO in 2010 to be a freelance theatre milliner. Last year she made hats for a revival of Phantom of the Opera for Anthony Phillips.
Most of her hats are based on a buckram frame, or on slipper felt which can be bought on a roll, wired and shaped. Christine has made, and sold, many small hats. She exhibits hats and has fun inventing titles. $30 million was spent on hats for the Melbourne Cup last year. She has made lots for people to buy this year. Christine makes hats on commission, eg for mother of the bride and fabric hats, caps, toques, top hats, beanie festival entries. She is an exhibiting member of Craft NSW.
Trimmings are important. First she makes the hat and then surrounds the hat with colour by adding trimmings. She also teaches how to make fabric flowers. Millinery supplies change all the time so that you have to constantly learn new techniques. A well loved hat can be restored with steam, reblocking, a new lining and some fresh trim.