Here’s a new feature within the world of “Millinery Operations.” Going forward, every other month will be an interview with a milliner! For the first milliner to feature, I chose Sally Caswell.
I met Sally at Millinery Meet-Up in September 2018, and think she’s a lovely person. And, of course, she’s a talented hat-maker. Sally is the current president of The Milliners’ Guild in the U.S. So she’s the perfect choice to introduce to you.
How long have you been a milliner? And how did you get into millinery?
I’ve been making hats for about 12 years. When my kids were babies, I started a business making baby accessories, including hats, and after a while I decided I wanted to make hats for adults.
I started out modifying patterns and making things up as I went along, but I finally enrolled in a class at FIT because I wanted to learn how to do it properly. I loved it, so I continued and completed the Certificate program there.
Is millinery your primary occupation or a side job?
Millinery is my primary occupation, though it does get sort of divided into two part time jobs. One is my own millinery business and the other is working for a theatrical milliner.
Do you do any other crafts or artistic pursuits?
I like to make clothes, too, but with kids and multiple jobs, it doesn’t really fit into my day. I have to content myself with Halloween costumes once a year, though now that my kids are older, I don’t even do much of that anymore!
What is your favorite material or technique and why?
I like using the pleating technique I learned from Lina Stein. No matter what I have in mind when I start, I always end up with something a little different when it’s finished, and that’s always exciting.
But, really, I am happy working with all the materials and techniques I use. Felt, straws, feathers, silk, ribbons — endless possibilities.
What is your favorite style/shape of hat to make and why?
Oh, I couldn’t even pick a favorite. But I do like making “spring style” hats. With the many events in the spring, there are so many styles and shapes that are appropriate that you really can do anything.
The Milliner’s Guild: What do you do for that organization, and what do you get out of it?
I am currently President of the Guild. I have served on the Board for many years, and also served as Vice President and Treasurer. I joined the Guild after I finished the FIT program, and being a member has had a big impact on my own millinery career. I have learned so much from the other members, and I’ve had opportunities to show in places I never would have on my own. Right now, we have a display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Mezzanine Gallery. Our display is coordinated with two exhibits in the museum, Camp: Notes on Fashion and Instruments of Rock n’ Roll. It’s pretty exciting to have hats in that great institution, and it was so inspiring for all of us to design them with these exhibits in mind.
Being in the Guild has pushed me to grow, and I love the camaraderie of the members. We’re all “competitors,” but we share information and work together. I’ve made some great friends.
You’ve worked on making hats for Broadway shows, right? How did you get involved in that?
A former Guild member, Cigmond Meachen, who has worked with Arnold Levine for many years, called me one day to ask if I would want to work there. The company I had been working for had recently closed, and she knew I was available. I jumped at the opportunity. We make hats for Broadway, Disney, and lots of regional theaters, ballets, and operas. There is a very talented team there, and, again, I learn so much from all of them. And it’s exciting to go to a Broadway show and see the hats I have worked on up on the stage. Some of the current shows we have worked on are My Fair Lady, The Cher Show, Hadestown, King Kong, Frozen, Aladdin…
What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring milliner?
Meet other milliners and share information.
What one piece of advice would you give to someone who is looking for a hat to buy?
Well, first, contact me! But aside from that, I would advise someone to try on different styles. People often have an idea of what they want, but sometimes something else that they might overlook will suit them better. Be open to the milliner’s suggestions.
What’s a favorite hat that you’ve made (and why)?
I made this hat last year for NY Textile Month.
I also love this one, the curves and swirls.
I have other favorites, but since I’ve already exceeded my one, I’ll stop here.
Anything else about you as a milliner?
I learned to sew from my Mom when I was a kid, but I came to millinery relatively late in life. I have a bachelor’s degree in political science, a master’s degree in art history, a Certificate in Interior Design, and I worked as an art consultant for 20 years (the baby accessories business was started while I was on a very long maternity leave). It might not be the usual path to millinery, but that was the route that I took.
Where people can find you and your hats?
My website is sallycaswellmillinery.com, and Instagram and Facebook are @sallycaswellhat. I sell directly to clients and through The Hat Shop and East Village Hats, two fabulous shops in New York. I can be reached directly at email@example.com.