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2014-03-14 / Features


Heirloom quality hats with a designer flair
By Patti Berg
HTF Contributor

I walked around as a child under age 7 with a drawing pad doing fashion illustrations. I would study the way people stood in the old catalogs and I would try to create interesting clothing. As I got a little older I started to sew and got creative with my own wardrobe. I made all the bridesmaid dresses for my friends’ weddings.

I went to the university and took art classes, but studied sociology as the thing that was supposed to be the career because everybody knows that you don’t make money in art. Then I spent an extended time in Europe and my life was changed forever. I was so entranced with the creativity I saw in the folk museums (especially the Finnish and Sami) that I knew the urge to make something that would bring beauty into everyday life was an important mission.

I sold handbags and jewelry at Endion Station in Duluth for some years and then moved to southern Minnesota where a partner and I had a leather shop in St. Peter. There I designed jackets, hats, handbags and sandals. The leather work we produced was quite wonderful and people came from all around to buy from us. We did the art fair circuit around the state and that was quite successful.

From there, I moved to Grand Rapids and worked for 12 years as a Legal Aid paralegal and finished an AA degree in American Sign Language. I worked in that field for 10 years, but kept a studio in my house where I was always working on something for gifts, etc. I overlapped the two careers for the last few years doing art shows with fabric hats, handbags and clothing while still interpreting as I worked to get my business going and get back out to the art fairs.

Minnesota can be a challenging place to do outdoor art shows, but when it is good it is awesome. I started designing hats for all seasons made out of any fabric that you can name. I love to use unusual fabrics for a hat and mix unexpected textures and colors. For a long time I was also making clothing and, for a time, hand-painting on some of it.

I have now been concentrating on the hats for the last five years or so. That seems to be my best market.

My designs are not trendy. I tend to stay with classics that never go out of style. Traditionally hats were handed down through the generations so I am conscious of creating heirloom quality pieces that are made to last. I also make sure, if I am designing a summer hat, that it can be cleaned without a lot of fuss. I live in

Embarrass – the coldest place in the contiguous United States – so I also know how to make a warm hat that also has style and grace. If we are going to live in this climate, we should be able to look good and also be warm.

I have been designing now for 47 years and my sewing skills are top-notch just because I sew so much. Sometimes I amaze myself when I become aware of how much my hands just know how to do without my even having to think about it anymore. I am good. I use many techniques including appliqué, top stitching, handmade velvet flowers, ruching, quilting, painting on fabric, some dying, crochet and knit. The fabrics

I use may include fleece, fur, velvet, cotton, polyester, knit, voile, wool, leather and maybe the coat someone is wearing if they are not careful. I recycle some fabrics and I am on a constant hunt for interesting fabrics. I buy online, as well as in every fabric shop and second-hand shop that I can get in to.

A little bit about the lifestyle

If the weather is good and I am at an art fair meeting people and talking to them about the hats or whatever, it is the best lifestyle. I have so much fun and people make me laugh and say such nice things that it is incredible. An art fair is where almost everyone is in a good mood and are there to have fun and we do!

If it is 40 or 50 degrees and you are standing outside in your tent trying to keep warm and no customers want to be there, then it is another story. You can have a complete rain-out and go home soggy and feeling a bit defeated. You can even be in danger of real damage and injury if the wind is blowing and you are next to a big tree and the lightning starts. I have been in a lot of scary situations and have gone home to spend two days drying everything out.

Then later when the winter indoor shows start, of course, there is the winter weather driving challenge. My last show of 2013 in St. Paul was a disaster. The streets were covered in ice and it was very cold and I had to white knuckle it to the city and back because the freeway was ice-covered and snow-packed as well.

A bit about the art fair community

Artists, in my experience, are generally an open, accepting and supportive group that understands that we are all in this together. I have made so many lifetime friendships from this lifestyle. It has been rewarding. We help each other during the long days by watching each other’s booths. If the weather turns bad, there will be help for you from others. The younger artists are respectful of and helpful to the elders and we love to see their new energy; it translates into new ideas for our own work. As a microcosm, it is a loving and sharing group.

I have never gotten rich and never will monetarily be rich from my lifestyle and economic choices, but from the standpoint of satisfaction and community, I could not feel more fulfilled. I am grateful for this opportunity to spend my time in creative endeavors and to be able to go out into the world and have all that positive feedback. I am truly blessed and rich in the ways it matters. n

Patti Berg resides in Embarrass, MN. Her unique, handcrafted hats can be viewed online at

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