Hats and Hands – Millinery Veteran

Waltraud’s Hatmobile tours the country delivering millinery workshops

Hats and Hands – Millinery Veteran

Sandra Conte


1 February 2014

A 1980’s journey from Austria to Australia bought a new-found passion to Waltraud Reiner, patterning her into a milliner.

Waltraud's entry to the craft was working under Melbourne milliner Magda Urban, royal milliner Phillip Somerville and London’s Rose Cory. She also studied under Frau Bollman in Munich, Germany in 1986 and utilised her travel time to resurrect techniques and materials from varied locales. The results were stunning with her taking out the 1989 ‘Winner of Hat of the Day’ at Australia’s Melbourne Cup.

By 1990 Waltraud had launched her own millinery studio entitled the Melbourne School of Millinery. From 1990-93 her work was publicised in Vogue, Elle, Studio Bambini while developing her business into supplying techniques and new materials. In 2000, Waltraud undertook a course with Norwegian felter May Hvistendahl and in 2001 with UK felter Jeanette Appleton.

Waltraud explains her mission has, for many years, been “to bring the art of hat-making to people across Australia by running mobile millinery classes and providing supplies to Australians in remote and local areas”.

The psychology of hat-making is as fascinating as fascinator head-wear. Waltraud explains, “Through the medium of hats, we aim to reach out and connect people with others and with themselves. Our classes and tours aid emotional well-being by providing space, skill and opportunity for people to express their feelings through colour, texture and shape. Art can be a powerful form of emotional therapy, and we believe that the hat is the art of the HEART. The hatmobile also supports the Reach Foundation by using the acronym of HATS: Helping Australian Teens to Succeed, to raise awareness of such as we travel”.

Waltraud states, “Hats have given my life outreach beyond belief. By following my heart, which took me away from Austria 30 years ago, I found what I believe to be my purpose. Working in Australia throughout Arnhemland is one of those situations. It is not about hats, it is about connecting through hats. I speak and talk through hats. Hats have metaphors. We keep things under our hats and we change hats all the time. The language of hats lets me get close to myself and people. Hats are colour and texture and shape. When working with different people throughout the country it is the techniques from all sorts of artisan skills I can use to make hats”.

The basket making techniques in Arnhemland merge with Waltraud’s process to which she explains, “To me baskets are hats turned upside down. You need just to see the shape and let it form to the head, let it become one with you, not force it, be guided by the material.

Indigenous communities give the opportunity to sit on the ground to share and learn… an opportunity for an exchange, of using the basket coiling technique which belongs to so many people all over the world and turn them into hats and show that there are other ways to look at the same thing. In return, I have learned to recognise plants and which roots give beautiful colour to dye the fibre”.


Hats made from the earth by Waltraud Reiner

Hats made from the earth by Waltraud Reiner

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