Duluthian finds calling in creating hats, teaching the art to others

Emily Moe watches episodes of "Downton Abbey" twice: first for the story line, then to pay closer attention to the PBS period drama's fashions -- specifically the hats.

Shaping a hat
Hat maker Emily Moe of Duluth shapes wet felt into a hat on a wooden hat block at her Duluth home Wednesday afternoon. (Clint Austin /

Emily Moe watches episodes of "Downton Abbey" twice: first for the story line, then to pay closer attention to the PBS period drama's fashions -- specifically the hats.

A maroon cloche worn by the character Lady Mary at the train station in Season 2 stands as one of her favorite hats to appear on screen. Moe is using it as inspiration for her own homemade version.

"I've pretty much always been obsessed with hats," Moe said.

Moe has been honing her hat-making craft for the past decade and selling her pieces online on Etsy and at regional fairs. Her hats were part of the costumes for the College of St. Scholastica's production of "Iph" and will be featured in an upcoming production of "Side Show." Moe also teaches classes in hat-making for DIYers and starts a new session Tuesday on the fourth floor of the DeWitt-Seitz building.

Hat fashions


Leah Bourne, a fashion writer for Forbes, wrote in a recent column that after a recent Marc Jacobs' fall 2012 runway show and Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee celebrations, "hats, which haven't been in vogue for decades, seem to suddenly be making a very serious comeback."

Moe credits the royal wedding in 2011 and Kate Middleton's own collection with bringing attention again to hats. Two of the Duchess's hats will be part of the Passion for Fashion auction in late June and are expected to go for up to $2,300.

Though, hats have never been out of style for Moe, who said that in photographs from her childhood she is always wearing one.

"It helps you change your personality," she said. "There are some days I put on a hat and feel like I'm in World War II in France fighting the good fight. I put on a hat and I'm slightly Victorian. There are sometimes when I put on a hat and it's just a bad hair day."

Head start

When Moe and her husband, Adam, had a theater company in Grand Marais, costumes from the 1940s -- a strong hat period -- were part of the appeal of staging radio dramas.

She learned hat-making while living in Chicago and continued to take seven sessions of classes from Eva May, who specializes in unique wearable art.

Moe, who can sew and knit and do bead work -- pretty much anything involving her hands -- found a niche.


"I just loved it," she said. "It was like the biggest fit for me."

After moving to Duluth, Moe decided she wanted to spread the millinery arts, which she insists are not dying. While she believes she is the only hat maker in Duluth, there are at least 200 on Etsy, an online marketplace where artists and crafters sell what they make.

"If we teach it, the healthier the art will be and the more hats there will be in the world," Moe said.

Hat tricks

Moe has a hat tree in the corner of her dining room covered with her creations: pork pie hats, cloches and a bowler style hat with the steampunk touch of pieces from an old watch sewn into the band. She's got a pillbox hat with peacock feathers -- which, Moe said, doesn't look good on anyone -- and a fedora with a single turkey feather.

There are vintage hat boxes stacked in a corner and she has a collection of fascinators, including ones with veils decorated with small beads.

Her style has a demographic:

"I describe it as roller derby chicks who knit and weld," she said.


On her Etsy site, the hats are about $150-$170. The star of the collection is named "Brett Ashley" -- like the female lead in Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises." "Brett Ashley is one of a kind, and so is this hat," Moe wrote on the website. The hat is $300.

Moe recently demonstrated the early steps of making a hat, soaking a piece of fur felt in hot water until it was saturated, positioning it over a rounded wooden block similar to the shape of a skull, then tugging the felt into shape. She showed a pinching technique to create ridges.

After felt dries for a few days she can incorporate ribbon around the edges and cover the inside with silk. The process can take five days, but typically takes weeks.

Related Topics: FASHION
Christa Lawler is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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