Since 1968, Nantucket Looms has been proud to represent our local craftspeople. We carry the works of over seventy different artisans, including painters, potters, basket weavers, jewelry makers and wood carvers. To honor those whose unique creations reflect the natural beauty and history of our beloved island, we will highlight an artist on our website every month. This month, meet milliner Deborah Harper.
One need only spend a day on Nantucket to understand that hats are a big deal here. Women of all ages proudly don hats of many shapes and sizes all year round - straw sun hats in summer, complete with big, beautiful bows and warm fur hats in winter as they walk the cobblestoned Main Street for the annual Christmas Stroll. Deborah Harper is one milliner who has built a successful business with the help of Nantucket's love for hats. Although she now makes her hats at her home studio on the Cape, with the help of a contractor in New York, Harper once had a store on the island and still sells her beautiful creations through Nantucket Looms. "Hats go up and down in fashion but everybody wears hats on Nantucket - even more than anywhere on the Cape or the Vineyard", says Harper.
Deborah Harper has been in the millinery business since 1989. She attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York for millinery but says she truly honed her skills working in the factories. The business evolved from there and Harper is still creating handmade hats today, almost thirty years later. "It's my passion", says Harper, "If I did an art form other than this, it would be sculpture. I like working with my hands".
Part of the charm of these handmade creations, aside from the hours of meticulous work that goes into making them (one hat can take a whole day to make) or even the time it takes to source the quality materials she uses is the fact that these hats are truly a purchase that last a lifetime. And, similar to how Nantucket Looms weavers love to repair and renew any handwovens that have seen better days, Deborah Harper does the same for her creations. She remembers fondly a lady returning to her store on Nantucket with a hat she had for eight years. A quick refresh and the hat is as good as new and ready to be worn for many years to come. Not only that, but hats can be custom made, where Harper will take the customers measurements and create a hat to the customer's specifics. "People don't buy hats because they usually don't fit properly. It makes such a difference to have it custom made. There is no one size fits all with hats", Harper explains.
When she is not busy crafting beautiful hats and fascinators, Deborah Harper is enjoying life with her husband of five years, Bill, whom she describes as the love of her life and "worth the wait!". "We met doing The Nutcracker. He was my husband in the party scene and then we became real husband and wife!". They enjoy ballroom dancing and wine tasting. "My hats are my life. If I have a hat on my head and a glass of wine and I'm happy".
Join Deborah at Nantucket Looms, 51 Main Street this coming Stroll Weekend, where she will be showcasing her handcrafted hats as well as her ponchos, mufflers and fur-trimmed headbands at a special trunk show in store. Saturday December 2nd 10am - 4pm.