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John & Kate McLaughlin, Hats

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John & Kate McLaughlin
Attracted to the art of designing and making hats at very early ages, John and Kate McLaughlin put their skills and creativity to work when they started the business that would become an award-winning hat shop, Wanting to continue a time-honored tradition, they also purchased the previous owner’s 100-year-old equipment used to service and create custom hats—the wood blocks, hand tools, rounding jacks, crown irons, hatting boards and more. Today, they make some of the finest, most sought-after hats around.

Have you always worked with your hands?
Both Kate and I have always been artistic. There’s something we find that connects us to the pieces we make. When something is made by hand, you give it a part of you during the process. It gets a soul. We have always worked with our hands, but the hats are the art that we get to create every day now that have function and purpose for those that we get to make them for.

What drew you to your chosen craft?
Kate made her first hat in high school. I found my grandfather’s hat in in a hall closet and started wearing it in 5th grade. We have both been hat people from those moments on.

What do you enjoy most about your craft?
I love creating something that’s an outward expression of who someone is. Hats are the last thing you put on, they are the first thing people notice and are just outward expressions of who we are and how we want to be seen.

Fire burns the hair of the hat evenly, creating a proper pouncing surface.

How long did it take you to become an expert?
We still are both working at our craft. Kate has been a master milliner for over 15 years. I earned the title of master hatter a few years ago. But it is a journey that never ends. There is always something to learn. As artists, every hat we make we want it to be better than the one we made before you chase a perfection that only exists in our minds, but that’s what drives us.

Do you feel like you are still learning?
Always. The day I am not learning is the day I am dead or need to retire.

How many hours do you spend making each item?
It can vary depending on the embellishments, the style, but each hat has somewhere between 7 – 30 hours into it.

If you could spend a day with a master of your craft (past of present) who would it be and why?
I could not pick just one.

Is there any one person who has bought/used any of your products that makes you especially proud?
Our everyday customers. They always ask about what celebrities have been in, but it is our everyday customers that are from around our city. They are the ones who help support us, and have kept our doors open, and really let us work, and preserve our craft.

What does the future hold for your type of work? Are you training young people in your craft?
Our kids are learning the trade, as well as our apprentices. Hats are seeing a huge comeback, so I see a good future for our store and for our craft.

Why is it important for people to make things with their own hands?
Portrait of John and JillIt brings a level of connection to the piece. It is an eye to quality of the highest standards. It isn’t about how many you can make. It’s about how well you can make that one piece, right then. It’s going to be different than others. Even if you make the same style, each one is going to have a little difference. When you make something by hand, you are leaving something behind. I may not be here 60 years from now, but the hats I make will. I am my work, that’s why we sign each one. I want my kids to have someone bring in a hat that we made 50 years ago and look at it and smile knowing that mom and dad made this. This craft, these hats, this is what I am creating and leaving behind. We put love and soul into each one then they get there own life, divots, and bends, creases and wear that can only come from a lifetime of wear, and repair. Each day adds more character. To each hat, like wrinkles on a face and stories of a life well lived. Our hands create these living works. You can’t get that from a metal stamped piece.

In what ways are handmade goods better than those that are mass-produced?
It is the level of finishing and detail. You can tell when you look at it. There is something different about anything made by hand.

View John & Kate’s Website