Preserving knowledge of millinery and other niche skills
Published: 16 Sep 2016
Sharon Bainbridge is the Short Courses Manager at Leeds College of Art and a volunteer at Hat Works in Stockport, the UK's only museum dedicated to the hatting industry, hats and headwear. She has recently returned from a six week trip to Europe observing museum and education practices aimed at preserving knowledge of niche skills such as millinery. Her travels were enabled by a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship award.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, industrial hat making and millinery were pivotal in developing new towns across Europe, of which Stockport and Luton are examples in the UK. Through her Fellowship, Sharon hoped to observe how other countries are developing and teaching the skills of millinery, and how the important social, regional and national narrative around hat making is being told.
Sharon began her journey in the Netherlands where she visited Tilburg, which had formerly been a small wool manufacturing town. When the wool industry declined in the 1950s, the mayor of the local community created a museum to celebrate and share the town’s textile history. Today The TextielMuseum is a thriving collaborative museum, engaging with a wide audience and supporting new textile production through their Textile Lab.
Sharon travelled to Antwerp and the renowned fashion museum MOMU, where she visited their collection of British Milliner Stephen Jones’ hats. The dynamic leadership and focussed collection policy highlighted to Sharon the importance of museums having their own vision and identity within a community.
In France, Italy and Germany, Sharon visited a range of hat events and museums specialising in millinery. She was struck by how similar the histories of some towns were to that of Stockport, where a successful hat making industry had been hit by the reduction in hat ownership in the 1950s. In each of these towns, a sense of their hat-making heritage has been kept alive by individuals who have recognised its importance for the community and its social history.
“To see the similarities in industry across Europe within textiles and millinery and how different locations have then looked to support and promote this social and cultural heritage has been inspirational. The experience has reinforced my desire to continue to promote ways to preserve niche skills and cultural heritage within the UK” –Sharon Bainbridge
Since returning to the UK, Sharon has begun to share her findings with colleagues across the museum and curatorial sector, and within Hat Works. She plans to further disseminate her research through writing in academic journals and presenting at conferences. Sharon seeks to continue networking with the museums she visited during her Fellowship, and hopes to visit a current hat exhibition in Vienna, as well as the hat museum in Porto.
Notes to Editors