This past July, I was fortunate to attend two weeks of millinery classes at Chateau Dumas in the south of France. The classes were recommended by my good friend Melissa who went to Chateau Dumas last summer and spoke so highly of the experience. I was keen to dedicate two full weeks (not just evenings and weekends) to advancing my millinery skills in such a beautiful location with fantastic people!
The Chateau is located in the French countryside, about one hour north of Toulouse. The lovely Lizzie is the proprietor of Chateau Dumas. She keeps everything running smoothly while still finding time to join us for meals and tea! Located at the top of a hill, the Chateau has panoramic views of the surrounding farmlands. The benches at the front of the Chateau are a great place to take in the warm, golden morning rays and prepare for the day ahead. While in the evening, the terrace is the best place to enjoy sunset, the view, great conversation, dinner, and wine.
The first week of classes were taught by Dillon Wallwork from London, UK, and focused on vintage Hollywood hats from the 1920s and 1930s. Dillon has decades of millinery experience and many great stories to share. He is a fantastic teacher who made every skill accessible and had the perfect solution for every problem. Dillon started the week with an overview of hats and fashion from this time period so we could think about what we wanted to create. We were also privileged to use vintage blocks from Isabelle Rey who is a sixth generation hat maker at Chapeau Willy in the nearby town of Caussade. More on Chapeau Willy below.
We spent the entire week engrossed in our projects. It was hard to pull us away! From a flapper-style bandeau to a classic east-west brim with deep crown, I was very happy with the hats I created at Chateau Dumas. Each had it’s own vintage flare. Here are a couple of shots of some of my finished products.
The second week of classes on millinery trimmings was taught by both Dillon and Bridget Bailey of Bailey Tomlin. Dillon led us through the construction of bows out of all kinds of materials, various types of flowers that can be made from cotton organdie or using heated flower making tools, and feather trimmings. Some samples follow below.
From there, Bridget took over to cover hand-dyed sinamay feathers and hand-dyed silk flowers. Bridget is also a world-class instructor and also from London, UK. I am so grateful for the opportunity to study with both her and Dillon. Bridget shared her exacting techniques for creating true works of art. She was such fun to learn from. Here are some samples of my end products.
At the start of each week, there is an outing to the town of Saint-Antonin Noble Val for their weekly market. Saint Antonin is a quaint town in the Aveyron Gorges. I visited Saint Antonin a few times while I was at Chateau Dumas. Here are some shots from town and the view of Saint Antonin from above.
Chateau Dumas is situated in the center of France’s hat industry. Thus it’s not surprising that the nearby town of Caussade hosts an annual hat festival every July. Caussade is also the location for a long running hat factory, Chapeau Willy. We got a tour of the hat factory which specializes in straw braid hats that are first sewn and then pressed into the final shape between heated metal plates. It was fascinating to watch how they create their hats. I have heard of this method but hadn’t seen it in person. It’s a different process for making hats than what I do, but with an equally rich history. The sheer volume of hat molds, blocks, and millinery materials at Chapeau Willy was both overwhelming and exciting. I bought plenty of goodies to bring home and play with. Here are some shots from the hat factory.
In between the two weeks of classes, I make a quick jaunt to Toulouse to meet up with my friend Michelle who was travelling around the world. I was so pleased that our schedules aligned so we could meet in France! We spent the weekend as one should when in France: exploring food and flea markets, walking the city, cooling down with refreshing drinks at cafes, and lingering over fantastic food with even better dinner conversations. It was great to refresh and see more of France!
Another highlight of this trip was an evening excursion to Charlotte and Tom’s. Who is Charlotte you ask? Charlotte is the amazing chef at Chateau Dumas. Charlotte and her team make truly heavenly food. Each meal uses fresh, regional ingredients and was a high point of the day! We were invited to have dinner one evening at Charlotte and Tom’s home near Saint Antonin. Their home is truly amazing. I felt like I was witnessing my dream home realized before my eyes with beautiful grounds teeming in history, color, and beauty. I think the photos speak for themselves.
All of the above is just a taste of my experiences at Chateau Dumas and in the surrounding area. There was also the cinema night under the stars, the amazing pool, the hat festival, and more! I could be here all day. But I’ll end here with a couple of shots of the fantastic people who made this trip truly memorable. Á votre santé!