This story is part of the Comox Valley Record’s winter edition of Trio Magazine, published quarterly and available throughout the Comox Valley. The winter edition is available at the Record office (407D Fifth St.) and at businesses throughout the Comox Valley.
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Piroska Müller is a German-born milliner who now resides in Black Creek and makes and sells hats, as well as stoles and scarves, out of her home.
These aren’t your baseball caps or toques, rather, Müller makes handcrafted, fur hats reminiscent of what you’d see on runways and in fashion magazines.
Müller was born in Remscheid, Germany where she first became interested in hat-making. As a little girl, she would spend time with her neighbour who was a milliner and was gifted a hand-crafted hat that she loved to wear.
After she finished school she completed a three-year apprenticeship with a milliner, worked for two years and then moved to Düsseldorf where she spent three years completing her master’s. In 1985, she became a fully qualified master milliner.
Most of Müller’s hats are made of rabbit hair.
“Rabbit hair is more soft and you can wear it in the rain and in the snow…and it is warm,” she said, adding that rabbit hair is rare but it takes more work to use less expensive materials.
Müller said hats are more popular in Europe than in Canada, as royals from various countries will often wear hats.
“In Europe, you wear more hats than here,” she said.
In Germany, she even made hats for high-profile people, including Queen Silvia of Sweden – though it was kept a secret.
“She didn’t like it when other people knew where she got her clothes or her hats from,” said Müller.
In 2010, Müller moved to B.C. with her husband for his job, and with her came her hats.
In B.C., Müller only sells her hats locally, and said it takes two to three days to make one.
She can make about three hats at a time. Her process begins with one piece of fabric and a steamer that heats up at 222 degrees.
“You steam this [rabbit hair], and pull it over the wooden block,” said Müller. “It is very soft when it’s steamed. You pull it down and down so you can make, with your hands, the brim.”
She said once the fur has been shaped it has to dry and once it’s dry she can stitch it or add decorations to it.
Müller said she gets inspired by material and colour.
“Most of the time when I have an idea in my mind I go to the cupboard, pick something out, and sit there,” said Müller. “And it turns out totally different.”
Hatmaking isn’t the kind of thing you just pick up one day and learn as Müller said it takes time.
“You cannot learn it on the internet or on Pinterest or something, or in one day or one week,” said Müller. “You need time and you don’t begin the apprenticeship with making hats, you stitch a little bit. You start with small work.”
Müller works out of her home in Black Creek but said in Germany she had her own shop, and would travel as well.
“I go to fashion shows,” said Müller. “In Germany and in Paris and in New York…when you go to a fashion show you can sell them more than in a shop and they can order the hats.”
Müller said she’s been to around 30 to 40 fashion shows and her favourite ones were in Paris and New York. These days though international fashion shows aren’t a part of her work anymore. But there are still fashion shows; Müller said there is a local show in the works for spring 2023.