Greetings to all who make their way to my new website and read this blog! I cannot express my appreciation strongly enough. These past three months have been surprising and crazy busy. My life has taken a huge turn from retired nurse and struggling writer to novice milliner and online merchant. WOW!
Because this is my first post on A Lady Bonnet Boutique, the focus is my journey into the millinery world. For those who are unfamiliar with Sharon Lathan the published novelist of ten books in The Darcy Saga sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I encourage popping over to my main website: www.SharonLathanAuthor.com There you will find comprehensive details about my novels (including purchasing links), as well as numerous pages and my decade-old blog chockfull of historical information (mostly Regency).
Now that I have covered that other part of my world, it is time to focus on my new store which is, as the title says, about BONNETS! Yes, I have discovered a new passion in sewing and designing and creating Regency headwear. How did this happen?
As I mentioned in this August 11 blog on my novelist website – Sharing My Recent Fun at the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville – this year’s festival was extra special to me because, for the first time ever, I was able to share it with my daughter Emily and daughter-in-law Serena. It all began about two months before the July 13 to 15 festival when Emily called to let me know that her boss at Nordstrom’s in Nashville (Emily is an HR manager) had approved the days off. About a week or two later, Serena (my son Kyle’s wife) informed me that she could come too. Imagine my excitement! I immediately went through my stuffed closet of Regency garments and accessories to plot out what we would wear. As it happens, I have a LOT of shawls, fans, and dresses, as the photo to the left reveals. Yes, the majority of those hanging bags and colorful boxes contain Regency wear I’ve accumulated over the past decade since my Jane Austen obsession started. Strangely, despite my beloved collection of vintage-look hat boxes seen in that picture, the five bonnets I owned were insufficient for various reasons. Primarily, only two matched the gowns I had on hand and none would work with the gown Serena had already bought for the occasion.
To solve this dilemma, I jetted off to Etsy, the best place to obtain handmade Regency attire and accessories. As it turned out, I found one straw bonnet and one stovepipe hat with prices I could not resist. I snapped them up even though they did not precisely match my wardrobe choices, figuring I could make them work. However, in the midst of my extended searching online for possible costumers not on Etsy, I stumbled, quite accidentally, across several online “how-to” articles and YouTube tutorials for making simple Regency bonnets. Wholly out of curiosity and with zero intention of making a hat myself, countless hours were “wasted” reading and watching. Obviously, despite my initial innocence, I gradually became intrigued, and then inspired to give hat-making a whirl.
I began with the straw hat seen in the photo to the far right worn by my daughter way back in 2009. Over time, the feathers had largely fallen apart and many of the plastic flowers had broken off, but the sturdy straw base hat itself was intact. Figuring I had nothing to lose since it was marked for the rubbish bin anyway, it was a sensible choice to practice on. Digging out my dilapidated glue gun and meager sewing supplies, and purchasing inexpensive fabric, flowers, and so on at our local Walmart, I bravely dove in. To my amazement, honestly, I did a fabulous job and really like how well it turned out! So much so, that even though my first foray into bonnet making, I have this pretty bonnet for sale in my store. Click the image on the near right for more views and if you like it, BUY!
Cautiously optimistic, I next decided to follow one of those YouTube tutorials I had watched. I began with a wide-brimmed straw hat I bought brand-new from Amazon. A rummage through the fabric remnant bin at Walmart unearthed a gorgeous, vivid yellow satin and yellow tulle, and the floral and trim aisles yielded the perfect accents. Long story short, my second endeavor was a surprising success and I am VERY pleased with this yellow poke-style bonnet. See the image to the left, which links to the A Lady Bonnet Boutique purchasing page.
Now, at this point I was enjoying myself (although not remotely thinking of a future in bonnet making) and felt confident enough to try my hand on a hat specifically to match the ensemble I intended to wear on day one of the Jane Austen Festival. Using what was called a “Prairie” costume hat on Amazon as the base (the shape is close enough) I purchased the necessary fabrics and trimmings with careful design planning. The result is the purple bonnet in the images below, including on my head at the festival. Isn’t it fabulous? I love this hat so much that it is NOT for sale and probably never will be. LOL!
By the time I finished the purple hat it was a bit less than a month away from the Festival, which was in mid-July. I had several more planned bonnets in mind to make, my main goal still only to have choices for the three of us to wear at the festival. I had purchased fabric and trimmings (and a new, way better glue gun) to match the gowns my daughter Emily would wear and my daughter-in-law Serena’s gown.
Nevertheless, despite my success so far, I decided to practice a bit more first. My fears proved unfounded as the next two hats turned out excellent and are on sale in my shop (image links below). The black one was a big-brim sunhat from a consignment shop in my home town, and the super-cute turquoise bonnet is built upon a basic sun visor from Walmart.
I readily admit that these types of bonnets are not precisely authentic Regency creations. They would not pass muster to a serious costumer, for instance. That said, I have discovered tremendous joy and satisfaction in the challenge of re-purposing old or unique shaped hats into something new and beautiful. I will share more of this process in future posts. In reality, while it may come as a surprise to some, upon close examination of period fashion plates, portraits, and extant examples, one sees a wide range of shapes and styles in headwear during the Regency and broader Georgian eras.
Check out my Pinterest page for hundreds of examples: www.pinterest.com/sharonlathan62
Additionally, bonnets created from used hats and with materials frugally purchased are, IMO, great alternatives for those who either cannot afford the pricey varieties or do not want to spend $100 upward for a bonnet they may wear once or twice a year. In large part it was this concept which sparked the idea of creating hats as a side business. As noted earlier, I live in an area with a plethora of excellent thrift-type stores, so gathering inexpensive materials is easy-peezy. Encouraged by this reality, and the positive feedback I was receiving from those I shared my hats with, I got serious.
Supported by my wonderful husband Steve, I inhaled deeply and took the final plunge. Within a week I had a new sewing machine, two big work tables, supplies galore, and bins full of fabrics, lace, and more. Watch the video below to tour the official A Lady Bonnet Boutique workshop.
Impressive, isn’t it? LOL! Amid the set-up and buying spree craziness, I also spent hours online learning as much as I could about serious millinery techniques and the unique, specific supplies one must have to make quality hats. My eyes were definitely opened to a world I knew nothing about! Millinery is a skill one hones over time with each hat an opportunity to try new techniques. I have much to learn but do believe that each hat or bonnet I’ve made has been better than the last.
Getting back to prepping for the Festival, after the black straw hat and turquoise sun bonnet (see above video) and a pretty pink lace bonnet (see right) I felt brave enough to make the bonnets for my daughters. As seen in the photo below, both bonnets look amazing. Of course, these two hats belong to my daughters so will also never be for sale.
Before the festival I did complete one more hat (the capote seen to the right) and started another, my first stovepipe made from proper buckram and millinery wire. Once the festival fun was over, I turned my attention back to bonnet making and getting my store opened. For a couple of weeks I worked like a mad woman to increase my stock. This included making 8 more bonnets and gathering together ten or so accessories for resale. At one time I had four projects going at once! It was a bit insane, but necessary. All in all, it took me two weeks before I felt ready to officially open my Etsy shop. I just had one more box to check…
What should I call my store?
Yes, one of my biggest hurdles was deciding on a name! Indeed, the name of one’s marketplace, much like the title of one’s novel, is a HUGE decision, not the least of which is because it is a finality. In this case, input from my husband and daughter was invaluable. I wanted to have some sort of Jane Austen or Pride & Prejudice reference, so we batted around a ton of ideas before I initially settled on Elizabeth Darcy’s Wardrobe. Alas, this was too long for Etsy. I was bummed and unenthusiastically went back to the drawing board. As it turned out, after mixing multiple words and phrases around, A Lady Bonnet Boutique felt like the best fit.
I have to admit that I adore this name! Not everyone will understand the “A Lady” connection to Jane Austen, but that is okay and may actually be in my favor if I expand to include hats or other items that are not clearly Regency. Time will tell on that possibility. Getting back to the here and now, with a name decided and the graphics created (by me), and the technical side of an Etsy marketplace figured out, I opened my Etsy Shop on July 29. The very next day I created a Facebook Page. Go me!
In all honesty, my plan was to only have the Etsy shop to sell my products with Facebook for outreach/marketing and then a link or possibly a dedicated page on my novelist website. After much reflection and a lot of research into online marketplace success, I reluctantly decided that a dedicated website for A Lady Bonnet Boutique was wise. Creating a website is something I’ve done over a dozen times now and I already have my own server (an awesome VPS from Liquid Web) so that process wasn’t too hard. Learning how to set up WooCommerce, however, was a challenge, let me tell you. But I persevered and a week later, here it is, my newest website!
That brings me to the end of my “How did this happen?” tale. Wish me well in this new venture and please help me out. How can you help me?
- SHARE my store and the items for sale using any of the sharing links strewn all over!
- LIKE my Facebook page!
- FAVORITE my Etsy shop!
- SUBSCRIBE to my mailing list for updates on new products! The sign-up is on the shop sidebar.
And, of course, the best way to help is to PURCHASE SOMETHING! LOL!
Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read this debut blog. Comments/Feedback is very welcome!
Lots of love, Sharon Lathan