London's Lower Lea Valley provides the rich earthy tones for Delly Deacon and her world of hats.
A hat-maker based in North London, Delly Deacon studied 3D design and craft at University of Brighton before finding her passion of crafting handmade hats, formed using natural ingredients available to her.
The resourceful milliner knows how to make her imperfect aesthetic stand out — patchworking dyed fabrics in an innovative way. For Delly’s exclusive Aspect Online collection; Ash trees, Elderberries and Blackberries act as the source of her natural colour palette. The ethical designer creates no waste in the material she uses, with each hat accompanied by a dust bag made from the leftover fabric.
Here, I speak to Delly on her design process, her collaboration with Carhartt and the locally sourced ingredients she uses.
For our readers that do not know who Delly Deacon is, could you tell us a bit about your background — where you were brought up and how you came to be a hat designer?
I am from Highbury, London, born and bred. My mum was a fashion/costume designer and then tutor so I was always surrounded by making and creativity and the desire to do it yourself.
From what I’ve seen you tend to look into making the simple standout through traditional materials put together in an innovative way. Can you talk us through some of your processes of producing some your hats?
I like layers and working into an object. I don’t like making things that look pristine, or precious or factory made. I don’t really see the point in buying something handmade if it looks like it could pop off a conveyor belt. I saw an Anselm Keifer documentary where he adds crushed bits of other paintings onto new paintings and he can never quite let go or finish a piece. I really related to that; always wanting to add another wiggly stitch or another patch or another layer, but not at all in a perfectionist way.
There’s lots of techniques such as the beeswaxing or patchworking or dyeing that adds another step to the journey of making the hat, and I think it’s the meandering walk of making my objects that I like to show to people. It’s definitely not a race.
You recently collaborated with Carhartt exclusively for Selfridges' ‘Project Earth’ campaign - could you please talk us through your concept with Carhartt and the experience of collaborating with them?
Working with Carhartt was great, they really trusted me and let me lead the way. I think we have similar themes of durability and hardiness, and objects that are built to be used, worn in, and last, so it all felt quite natural. They gave me a load of stock that would not be used or would go to waste and then from that we worked out together what styles they would turn into and what colour palettes I could aim for each style.
I like reusing old material scraps or reusing items of clothing, not just because you’re avoiding waste but it’s also more about problem solving rather than being given a blank sheet of paper. I enjoyed the serendipity of cutting a panel and a certain stitch or rivet, or pocket lining becoming a feature of that individual hat. It was a great opportunity for them to give me, and it’s been bizarre and wonderful to see my hats on the shelves in Selfridges.
Did you always know you wanted to craft hats, or was it something you suddenly got into?
I think I was always going to make/create things. I never questioned it but I never really knew which path to take with it, I still don’t really. I know more what I don’t want to do than what I do. I ended up doing a degree in Brighton that was focused on how to work with wood, metal, ceramics, and plastics. It was a great course where you were really taught and guided, although I was pretty lost and hadn’t learnt how to apply myself fully by that point and didn’t quite fit in. I made giant rucksacks and a tent for a fictional character I had made up in my head, so I was always stuck between design, accessories and art. Then I came back to London, had to downsize, and had a crack at making a hat and finally found a thing that had legs for me and have not stopped.
How did you come across the technique of coating your hats with beeswax and what are the advantages of this coating method?
The beeswaxing was something that was recommended to me at uni. I was making these big bags and wanted them to have waterproof tops so my fictional character could wade through rivers and trudge through rain. The beeswaxing fitted in with the theme of something my character could make themselves. Once I tried it, I loved it, it’s fun to slap on to the material, it’s seriously waterproof and once the fabric softens and has been worn it has this lovely dusty softness to it. You can leave it scrunched up at the bottom of your bag, drop it in a puddle and tread all over it and it only makes it better.
Could you talk us through the sourcing of your materials and how you
implement sustainability into your design process?
I’m certainly not perfect when it comes to sustainability, anyone making anything is only adding more into the world. The best we can do is to stop wanting lots more and instead have/buy objects that we really love and care for and are attached to. Buy from smaller brands that we value and have a stronger connection to, that are doing their best to make something special.
I like to use deadstock fabric or old garments as much as I can, and I have been enjoying collecting local plants/leaves/twigs to use for natural dyeing, this also adds to the serendipity of the objects and another leg in their journey. Also, what’s great about hats is you’re only using small pieces of fabric, so a small scrap can go a long way and I use as much of the fabric as physically possible.
Are there any other brands in the distant future that you like and could see yourself collaborating with?
I’d be open to anything as long as it’s good fun, I’ve never been much good at doing things I don’t want to do. Luckily, I have been fortunate enough to mainly work with great people and good friends, such as Sage Nation, who is such a talent and support. Working with friends is nice, they know what you’re aiming for and what your limits are so it’s always a pleasure.
What was your research process and inspiration around forming the hats you have stocked on Aspect Online?
I tend not to overthink it and just let the material lead the way. Over lockdown I enjoyed walking through the Hackney Marshes, and identifying lots of different plants and working out what they all do and what colours they make. I’m no expert at making the perfect shade but seeing dyestuff was an abundance of good fun and making these hats for Aspect Online seemed like the perfect opportunity. I went for 2 different shades, one was leaves and twigs from an Ash Tree that had been blown over in the wind, this gave me a nice toffee brown.
The next batch was from foraging Elder, Sloe, and Blackberries, I tried to go for the ones that were on the turn so people and animals that were more interested in eating them weren’t missing out. This made a great blue/green, then I washed the fabric in iron to deepen and darken the colour into a grey. This made it more appropriate for the rainy season, then they all got beeswaxed. With the bits of excess fabric, I made little patchwork bags for you to keep your hat in. I’ve never put so much work and process into a range of hats, it was great to see how each step progressed.
Interview by Shammi Popat