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Well, fancy hat! Oldbury's Kerry Jane Aston designs eye-catching headwear for top events

By Heather Large | Oldbury | Features | Published:

Kerry Jane Aston has a head for hats. Her days are spent crafting bespoke one-of-a-kind headpieces that really catch the eye.

Whether it’s for a special occasion like a wedding or for standing out from the crowd at Royal Ascot, she believes no formal look is complete without a hat to top it off.

“I make the most of every opportunity I get to wear a hat – I would wear one to go shopping if I could,” says the award-winning milliner who makes 30 a month in her home studio.

But if you’ve ever uttered the words ‘hats just don’t suit me’ then Kerry says it’s simply because you haven’t found the right one.

“Everybody can wear a hat but you have to find the right style for the shape of your head. You also have to think about the colour of your hair and how you wear it.

“Not all styles will suit everyone but there is a hat out there for everyone,” says the mother of two.

Kerry, who also has a head for numbers, had previously worked in the finance industry but was made redundant when the 2008 economic crisis hit.

She decided to explore her passion for hats by taking a millinery course at the adult education centre in Wolverhampton.

“I have been fascinated by hats since I was a child and millinery was something I fancied doing just as a hobby.

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“I enrolled on the course and within the first two weeks I had learned the basics and made my first fascinator.

“That was it, I was bitten by the bug. I fell in love with millinery and it’s all snowballed from there,” she explains.

To begin with she made hats and fascinators for friends and family but as she started receiving positive feedback and more orders she realised she could start a business – and KJ Millinery was born.

Every one of Kerry’s hats is made using traditional methods from scratch and she loves to let her creative flair flow.

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“They naturally evolve, I don’t follow any set rules, unless it’s for a client who wants something specific.

“It’s very much a creative process and nine times out of 10 the finished hat doesn’t look like I imagined it might when I first started,” she explains.

The process starts with a wooden or foam hat block which is used to create the shape of the hat.

The block is wrapped with cling film to protect it before it is covered with three layers of moistened sinamay, which is made with abaca yarn from banana palm and becomes malleable when it’s wet.

“When you first start millinery, sinamay is the basic fabric you learn with and once you’ve mastered the basics, you can try different fabrics and really run with your ideas,” says Kerry, whose designs have been featured in Vogue and showcased on the catwalk.

To stop the hat base from losing its shape, a stiffener – a type of PVA glue mixed with water – is dabbed on it and left to dry.

After the hat base is removed from the block, it is strengthened with millinery wire, which is stitched around the edge.

Next, the base is covered in the chosen fabric such as velvet or felt, and Kerry inserts a sweat band.

She also adds an elastic ribbon to help it stay in place on the head and she says this can be easily hidden under hair when it is worn.

Then it’s time to dress it up with the embellishments such as ribbons, beads, feathers and flowers.

“I love playing with the different textiles and fabrics because there are many different things you can do,” Kerry tells us.

When a customer commissions a hat, they will often bring part of their outfit along to the consultation so Kerry can match the colours.

Current fashion trends are for smaller hats and fascinators and ones that come with veils.

The Royal Family have been setting millinery trends for decades and these days all eyes are on the Duchess of Cambridge as well as Zara Tindall, and more recently, the Duchess of Sussex.

“The Royals definitely do influence what’s popular because people will see them wearing a particular style or colour of hat and then everybody wants one.

“This is what happened with the crown-style hats which are very popular at the moment. It’s a trend that came over from Australia where women wore them at racing events.

“Kate wore one for Prince Louis’ christening and the style really took off, then everybody wanted one,” explains Kerry.

This season’s must-have colour is ‘living coral’ while pastels and bold colours remain hugely popular.

“It changes from season to season,” says Kerry, who lives in Tividale.

“One season big hats will be popular and then this season smaller hats and headpieces are what everybody wants.”

One event on the calendar that has long been associated with stunning millinery is Royal Ascot, held in June each year.

It has become Britain’s most popular race meeting, welcoming around 300,000 visitors over five days, where racegoers dress to impress.

“I went to Royal Ascot and the hats were just amazing. I was so intrigued by how they were made, how they defied gravity and stayed balanced on the head,” says Kerry, who has also published a book called Fabulous Fascinators, which contains 14 step-by-step instruction guides to help people create their own.

It’s always a busy time of year and orders for the popular event will soon start coming in thick and fast.

“The three months running up to Royal Ascot are always mad because everybody wants a hat for the same time. Then I’m always glued to the television when it’s on, trying to spot my hats,” she tells Weekend.

For Kerry, seeing the finished hat and the joy it brings customers gives her a lot of job satisfaction.

“I love seeing photos of people wearing their hats and seeing how it looks with the full outfits,” she says. “I just love hats, I’ll never get tired of making them. It’s a dying art really, there aren’t too many of us left doing traditional millinery so it’s nice to be helping to keep it alive.”

See www.kjmillinery.co.uk

Heather Large

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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