Easter is coming and it's not hard to guess who will be the "grandest lady" in her Easter bonnet on that day. Yvonne Ellison has been designing and making elegant hats for many years. Her talent for creative design has won her notice among hat connoisseurs not only in the mid-Michigan area but internationally. Ellison's hats have been featured in publications, notably "Hat Talk" and "Hat Life." Several have been chosen as hat of the month by "Hat Talk."
A hat enthusiast since she was a teenager, Ellison remembers sitting in church admiring the fancy hats worn by older ladies. When she was 14, she started wearing hats to church, even though most of the girls her age weren't wearing them.
The first hat she made was for her mother -- a straw hat with silk flowers and pearl beads. Ironically, she would also make the last hat to adorn her mother when she passed away.
"I wear a hat to church every Sunday," Ellison said. "I never wear the same hat twice. I often modify hats I've worn, add new ribbons or something, to change them. Every birthday, I make myself a special hat."
About 18 years ago, Ellison's hat-making became more than just a pleasant diversion. She realized that she wanted to learn more about millinery than she could teach herself, and so she began to attend classes and workshops. Over a period of years, a teacher in Detroit taught her a lot about felt.
She studied in Chicago and Saugatuck under some noted milliners. When she began to run out of space for all the hats she was making, Ellison decided to start her business. She named it Where Did U Get That Hat?
Her creative touch can be seen in a hat room filled with hats she has created. In that room four tiers of shelves line one wall, all bearing hats, and more hang from hat trees. She pointed out a double-brimmed creation festooned with 18-karat gold beaded braid and soft-water pearls, saying she made it in a millinery class in France. It was her birthday hat one year, made to match a gold and cream-colored suit.
A highlight of Ellison's life was attending that course in Toulouse, France in 2010, where she learned from a teacher who has made hats for Princess Diana and Queen Elizabeth. She uses the finest materials she can find, many of them ordered from suppliers in Chicago and New York City. "I'm always on the lookout for things I can use," Ellison said. Jo Ann Fabrics, Michaels (craft store), estate sales -- anywhere and everywhere."
Ellison works full-time at Dow Corning Corp. as a shipping and receiving clerk and also works many Fridays and Saturdays at the Gold & Diamond Center in Saginaw. She fits hat-making in whenever she can, often working late into the night.
How long does it take to makes one hat? It varies, but Ellison allows two weeks to make a custom-ordered hat. She estimated that one particular hat took 28 hours. In a cozy hat-making room off her kitchen, Ellison has about 200 wooden hat blocks that she has custom-designed to her specification. “I tape the blocks together to get the shape I want." Ellison said she likes it when a plan comes together, but she changes her plan as she goes along. She'll sell any hat that someone wants. The price tag may be $400 or more. Her hats start at $60. "If they want to buy the hat off my head, I'll sell it," she said.
"Women from 15 different churches buy my hats, some of them pastors' wives," Ellison said. She attends Mt. Olive Institutional Missionary Baptist Church in Saginaw.
Ellison will have 300 hats for sale at her own hat show from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 13, 2014, at Andersen Enrichment Center, 120 Ezra Rust Dr., Saginaw. Admission is free and everyone is welcome. Along with certain hat purchases, people may register to win a Pandora bracelet.