Meet Fiber Artist Amee Sweet-McNamara
How about a real conversation starter that keeps your head warm too?
Yes, these hats are quite flamboyant, but Amee Sweet-McNamara of Andover makes them for people who enjoy expressing themselves. Or, as she says, “They’re the cure for the common noggin.” When asked, “Where would I wear this?” she recommends to the grocery store, the DMV or the bank.
Sweet-McNamara has always liked working with fiber as a medium. She has been sewing since her mother taught her to pin patterns in kindergarten. More recently, she started making cut-and-pieced hats, but really wanted to make more formal blocked hats — like a man’s top hat.
She found a milliner in Rhode Island and spent a weekend exploring the basics. “I was smitten,” she says. “I could take a floppy felt nothing and make something you would find in a millinery shop. The real barrier is the tools. The hat blocks are quite expensive and you need one in every size.”
After she steams, starches, stretches and shapes the wool-and-rabbit fur mixture on the block, it is removed for hand stitching, which she expertly hides. Now, her “canvas” awaits. “I kind of think of the project at this point as a cupcake ready for the decorations,” she says. And decorate she does. Silk from ties, beads from her polymer collection, Victorian and kanzashi flowers from ribbons, and maybe even a touch of braided soutache jewelry are lovingly, and cleverly, added to the final creation. On several occasions, she has made “memory” hats, using a silk tie from a loved one and adding other personal details that honor the memories.
Sweet-McNamara has honed a number of different skills over the years, and all of them come together to create the various elements found in her hats. She literally wrote the book on soutache, a relatively new form of jewelry made with braided ribbons and beads, and travels across the country teaching the method.
Needing more exciting beads, she started working with polymer clay to create her own, and about three years ago, she created a line of funky bugs, also made from polymer and beads. After adding feathers to the hats, she says, “I need to learn more about what I can do with them.”
Her message to the crafting women out there is to not feel guilty about taking up a craft hobby, then getting bored, then taking up another and another. “All your skills will coalesce — besides, it much less expensive than your husband’s little-used tool shop in the basement.”
While it has been difficult to market since the shutdown, she is able to offer online classes and even “Bead & Breakfast” opportunities, where a student spends the weekend at her home and leaves with a finished product.
In recognition of the current health of the nation, she offers a free mask with each felt hat purchase.
You will look marvelous, darling, and stay safe!
In addition to felt top hats, Amee Sweet-McNamara makes fascinators, which she describes as “a party on your head,” slightly larger cocktail hats and cut-and-pieced hats. The cut-and-pieced hats are crafted from fabric and sinamay hats, which are made from a material woven from abaca tree fibers, much like a straw hat, but more delicate. Prices range from $135 to $495. The “Billie” shown here is $425.