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HATVENT DAY 21 - Ratty Tat Hats

Steam Punk is a Neo-Victorian styled expression linked to the literature of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. Originating in the 1970s, using the fantasy flying machines and mechanical vehicles conjured up in stories of the era, this group emerged. Influenced by the fashion at the beginning of the twentieth century a top hat and goggles all mixed into the industrial revolution set the scene.

Imagine being surrounded by the past. Pocket watches, pieces of bric-a-brac feather, antique treasure, magnificent ribbons and lush fabrics all cascade from baskets in Karen’s studio, nestled near the hills of County Down. From her successful carriage driving career, she discovered a gap in the market. Needing top hats for her display driving, she couldn’t find the top hat she wanted. This was not an issue, having trained in millinery skills, she just made it herself.

Enquires from the public as she showcased her riding were constant. No one could buy what she had created. A seed was sewn; she decided to start her own business. The name came to her in the early wee hours. ‘Ratty Tat Hat’, her followers are called the ‘Ratty Tatters’ who fondly call her hats ‘Pocket Watch Hats’.

Her business took off. With interest from Steam Punk groups, Morris Dancers and other enthusiasts she has gone from strength to strength. Customers love her hats and come back for more. One local fan has bought a stunning 16 hats, each hat is a work of art, her collection is both eclectic and unique.

Every hat is bespoke and carefully crafted with a special arrangement in the significant embellishments on the hat. Starting with a wool felt hood for the hat. She uses her skills to block top hats, tall crowned top hats and dead man top hats. Each hat is individually named. She captures the essence of the wearer.

These links weave through heritage, touch location, take a look at interests and are sprinkled with passion. It is not a formula, characteristics, friends, the situation all play a part in the final creation.

An exquisite scarlet top hat, ‘Curtain Call’, was made for an actress. It reflected her heritage, her family and her life. A vintage map, a White Rose of Yorkshire, some frosted glass with flags. Karen described this piece as, ‘A marriage made in heaven.’ Coupled with flamboyant feathers, the hat was complete.

Karen meets with her customers in person or online. She chats in a comfortable setting to find out about their life. The result is findings that define the character of her customer. Her trade mark is to include a piece of an antique pocket watch. This formation reflects their essence on their top hat. She sends a design drawing to confirm that the customer is happy. Karen explains, ‘It’s easy to pair people with hats’.

A final design feature is created on the hat. Her ’magpie’ tendencies serve her well. She has amassed a collection of antique trinkets; from vintage beads to leather off cuts and everything in between. This formation may include miniature bottles, quill pens, goggles, copper wires, tubes, and cogs textured materials, rich taffeta and dogtooth fabrics. The pocket watch face completed the look. A hat band and feathers were prepared without glue. As each layer is stitched on by hand, the hat transforms. Like a chrysalis to a butterfly, when the hat is finished it takes Karen’s breathe away. Her customers cry with joy, when their eyes lock on their new hat. The magnificent new hat moves from the creator to the proud new owner.

Another part of this top hats’ adventure. They travel all over the world. Participate in the famous ‘Burning Man Festival’ in the Nevada Desert. Dash down the M5 to Glastonbury. Take trips to Steam Punk Conventions and come to the largest Steam Punk Festival in the world in Lincoln at the end of August. The headline act, Dr Kieron Cooney with his Wight Hot Pipes band performed in great splendour with a Ratty Tat Hat. They are works of art. They live in beautiful hat boxes ready for their next outing. (The hats not the band!)

Visit and shop at

See some great images in the September issue of The Hat Channel Mag!


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