Gray music-embroidered tilt fedora.

The C-Word | Modern Millinery

Millinery Operations with Kristin Silverman

Hi all! My name is Kristin, and I’m new to the “Millinery Operations” column here. So what to talk about for my first post? There are lots of hat-related things I’ll have to say eventually. But ultimately I decided to kick things off with something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Since nobody here really knows me, it’s also a get-to-know-me post in a weird way. (SPOILER: I’m very opinionated and occasionally cynical.)

I often say I have a love-hate relationship with the handmade movement. For every amazing product, there are dozens more  cheesy craft projects. And the notion of handmade or creative businesses is so broad, encompassing everything from fine art oil painters, to soap makers, to machine embroiderers, to milliners.

Tied up in this is the idea that hand-crafters are creative businesses. But are they? Maybe not. And that’s okay! In my opinion, “creative” and “creativity” are words thrown around with too much abandon. (Confession: My business name is Silverhill Creative Millinery. Part of the reason I use the C-word is to break up the three “ill” sounds in the rest of the name. Am I creative? Sometimes. And sometimes not.) Saying something is creative is largely subjective.

What I’m more interested in is whether something is well-made. Back to my love-hate for handmade: Some of it is poorly constructed.

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” — Pablo Picasso

I say: Whatever your craft is, learn to do it well. And then worry about whether it’s creative. The most successful creative people share one ideal: Never stop learning or growing. Mastering technical aspects opens you up to new creative opportunities and insights.

Gray Music Fedora
Gray music-embroidered tilt fedora.

A couple years ago, I entered the above hat into a competition in the Milliners of Etsy group. One of the judges called it “well made and neatly trimmed.” That was one of the best compliments I could have received. More than 2 years later, I have no qualms about whether it’s creative enough (though I do see ways the construction could be more polished). I haven’t exactly reinvented the hat. If you say to me, “Eh, that’s not very creative,” I’m not going to be offended.

There are thousands of makers, hand-crafters and artists out there. They aren’t all automatically deserving of the label “creative.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. Plus, some people whose work itself is very ordinary are brilliantly creative in marketing and selling their work.

As a maker and a buyer, my first standard is that something is well-made. If it’s not, I don’t care how creative it is. If it is well-made, then I’ll consider it in a subjective category like creativity.

Eco-dyed cloche by Justine Gillingham Millinery.

A few months ago, I discovered the Australian milliner Justine Gillingham. I gushed about her in a post on my own blog. Her work is truly unique. She eco-dyes white fur felt with eucalyptus leaves. (So, by random placement, the hats are automatically one-of-a-kind.) But more importantly, you can tell her hats are well-constructed.

If you can be a skilled crafter and be innovative and creative at the same time… Well, that’s the dream, isn’t it?

Until next month. I welcome comments, questions or requests for topics.

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