Shared from the 2015-07-12 Living Intown Magazine eEdition

Hat tricks

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Above, Kite shapes a straw hat for summertime in her small attic studio in Decatur.

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Top, milliner Tina Kite wears a hat once owned by her mother.

Bright bits of ribbon, dyed straw, silk flowers and feathers peek out of cubbies and boxes in milliner Tina Kite’s cozy, sunlit studio in Decatur. Her friendly, gray-and-white cat perches on a shelf above her work table, obviously contemplating which bit of color to go after.

Today, Kite is creating a custom-made fascinator: a lightweight, smallish hat embellished with beads, flowers, intricate straw sculptured shapes, extravagant feathers or ribbons.

First, Kite shapes dampened dyed woven straw against a large, button-shaped wooden block. Then she chooses embellishments to match and complement the color and character selected by her client.

“I interview my clients to learn about their personalities and what they’re looking for in a hat,” Kite says. “For instance, a younger client going to a cocktail party may want a showy fascinator, while a more mature client may request a wide-brimmed hat with a broad ribbon to wear to a fall wedding. The key is collaboration with my clients, and I incorporate them into the process.”

Tina Kite Millinery makes custom-designed hats for weddings, Derby parties, cocktail events and other occasions. She offers a selection of hat styles (including fascinators and headbands) at Avon-dale’s Garage Door Studio, a cooperative that sells local, hand-crafted art, jewelry and fashion.

Her clients include brides of all ages and members of their wedding parties, as well as women who want a bit of glam for galas and special events. Most of her clients are from the Southeast, but because people find her through the Internet, she has created headwear for people across the country.

Kite has been making hats for about 12 years. “I have always wanted to work with my hands and do something creative, but it wasn’t until I saw an article in Victoria magazine in 2002 that I made the decision to become a milliner,” she says. After searching the Internet for milliners in Georgia to teach her, she contacted the subject of the magazine article – Amy Hamilton of Granville, Ohio — and spent several days in Hamilton’s studio learning the techniques for making a variety of hats.

Hamilton taught her the basics of blocking hats — shaping the foundation of the hat from woven straw, felt or other materials. “She took me shopping at vintage stores to select embellishments, and oversaw my work as I designed and made my first hat,” Kite says. “By then, I knew millinery was what I needed to do to satisfy my creativity.”

In 2005, Kite continued honing her skills in London by working with the late Queen Mother’s milliner, Rose Cory. She proudly displays a fascinator she made at the time from a single purple velvet rose and a short green veil, modeling it for her visitor.

The late Princess Diana of Wales helped revive hat-wearing in the 1980s and 1990s. Her styles ranged from broad-brimmed straws to compact bowler-style hats with matching veils and color-coordinated embellishments worn on the crown of her head. Her daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge, has carried on Diana’s tradition of high fashion, often choosing fascinators to complement her outfits.

“Thank goodness for Kate Middleton,” Kite says. “She has helped bring a lot of media attention to hats, and she has really raised the awareness in the United States for fascinators worn perched on the side of the head to be flirtatious.”

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Kite makes a variety of custom hat styles.

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Kite attaches an embellishment to a hat by hand.

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Kite’s studio includes ribbons, buttons, sewing machines and her personal hat collection.

Kite’s designs for brides range from simple to complex; as basic as a cluster of silk flowers or as intricate as a tall headpiece featuring vintage details, seed pearls, pleated organza and feathers. “I work a lot with sinamay, a loosely woven fiber straw made from the stalk of the abaca tree to create big bows, large sweeps of color or flower bouquets, and hat foundations,” she says. “It’s light, flexible and easy to form into various shapes.”

Kite was chosen to create two hats for the 2012 Inspired Pop Ups fashion show event at the High Museum of Art. Designed in black and red, the pieces were a winged fascinator made of sinamay and a tall, modern cocktail hat featuring spirals and futuristic embellishments.

Her mother often wore hats in the 1960s, before she was born, and as a child Kite would often play dress-up with them. As an adult and a student of hat fashion, she finds that today’s headwear is more about the wearer’s personality than the hat’s structure.

“Definitely, hats are making a comeback,” she says. “As a fashion statement, with all the types of hats to choose from, the hat a woman chooses says volumes about her style and confidence.”

Tina Kite Millinery. Decatur. 404-932-6453. TinaKite.com

insider TIP » Milliner Tina Kite periodically teaches hat-making classes at Garage Door Studios in Avondale.

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