Victorian registered nurse Jo Peterson is busy making her name as an emerging designer of multi award winning classic millinery.
“I just like to make really nice hats,” says the chemotherapy nurse who lives down on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula.
Under her label, Jo Maree Millinery, Jo’s headpieces have gained recognition at local race days and at industry events across Australia. She was recently announced as a Top 10 finalist in the Millinery Association of Australia’s Design Award 2019 and her design was chosen by renowned London Milliner Stephen Jones as his ‘Patron’s Pick’ from the entries submitted. Her winning design was inspired by Grade 4 string art and Spirograph which she loved as a child. She bought the vintage 1940’s teal straw cloth on a trip to Paris a few years ago and that influenced the colour palette for her design that she almost “piffed across the room” on several occasions.
“It was driving me crazy. The stitching wasn’t right; I had to unpin it and redo it a couple of times and it was challenging to get the engineering right. A hat generally takes me 10-20 hours to make, but this piece took me three weeks to complete. Each hat I make is special but with a competition piece I am really particular with the design and overall aesthetics and will work on it until it’s the best it can be because it represents my brand, my attention to detail and the quality of my workmanship.”
Jo’s other achievements include ‘Top 10’ National Finalist in the MAA’s Design Award 2018, ‘Best Millinery Exhibit’ at Royal Melbourne Show 2017 and 2016 as well as ’Top 20′ National Finalist at the Oaks Day Millinery Award 2015 at Flemington and the MAA’s ‘Best Hat’ Student Encouragement Award 2015.
The awards validate what she has been doing says Jo, but insists it’s just a hobby.
“It’s a balance between my stressful job as a haematology and oncology nurse and having two teenage boys and a husband – it provides me with some ‘girly time’ and some Zen space. I don’t want it to be a fulltime job. I don’t want the pressure to have to make that hat; sometimes inspiration doesn’t come and other times it comes in floods.
“I’ll do some hand stitching or make flower trims while watching TV but I don’t want to miss out on time with my family because I’m doing it [millinery].”
Jo has been making hats since 2014. She moved down to the Peninsula with her family in 2010 and works in the Day Chemotherapy Haematology and Oncology clinic at Rosebud Hospital. “It’s my outlet. For the most part I totally love my job, but as patients come to the end of their treatment it can be really sad. It comes in bursts where we can have several patients pass away in one week and it takes its toll both mentally and physically. The world feels very heavy on your shoulders. I go home and work on my hats. It makes me feel good – it puts the world at my front door.” Jo says she was always dressing up as a child and used to knit, quilt and sew.
“I’ve done almost every craftwork there is. I thought I can do that [millinery] but then realised I would have to do it properly.”
She studied millinery for six months at the Melbourne Fashion Institute; and then went on to gain her Certificate II & III in millinery at Kangan Institute in Richmond over a two-year period.
Jo says she loves being part of the millinery community and this year became a general committee member of the Millinery Association of Australia. The association has about 180 members across the country, half of whom are based in Melbourne, she says.
“I’ve made good friends. I love the networking and collaboration. It’s like the old days where women got together to sit around and stitch.
The MAA puts on a Design Award competition and Gala Evening each year and it’s our ‘Brownlow Night’…we come together and catch up with old friends and make new ones. It’s a fabulous evening celebrating all things millinery.
Jo has developed her craft under the watchful eye of renowned milliners such as Louise Macdonald, Lynette Lim, Rebecca Share and Serena Lindeman. New Zealand TV presenter and producer Jane Ivil and journalist and media presenter Grace Ramage of Racing.com have both worn Jo’s hats.
“It’s very difficult to break into the market. There are so many wonderful milliners in Australia. Many stylists have contracts with various national companies which makes it difficult to get your headwear ‘out there’ to be seen by the masses, but I’m really fortunate to have many loyal and repeat customers that come back to me year after year. I thought about doing hats for Fashions on the Field but I decided that I really just wanted to make beautiful hats for the reason I got in to millinery in the first place…to make really nice hats for ordinary people who like to go to the races and feel good wearing beautiful millinery at a price they can afford.”
Jo’s hats are all hand blocked over wooden blocks, then hand-sewn and finished with handmade trims. It’s all labour intensive and there is nothing mass produced about her designs. She has a love of vintage fabrics, lace, pearls and beads and enjoys mixing them up with modern materials to create headpieces with a unique flair.
“You’re always trying to find a different edge – there’s nothing new in millinery. We all have similar supplies, use similar ‘on trend’ colours but it’s amazing the different designs that milliners can come up with using the same materials that are available. “That’s a really exciting aspect of millinery for me”.
“I bought some vintage 1940’s fabric in Paris a few years ago. The fabric is beautiful – a tiny little bag cost me 300 Euros. I told my husband not to look at the credit card bill coz I thought he’d have a fit! But I’ve used several of the pieces so far in hats for the Melbourne Show where I won Best Millinery Exhibit and twice for the MAA Design Award where I’ve been selected as a Top 10 finalist. There is just such beautiful quality in vintage fabrics, but they are becoming harder and harder to find.
Australia does millinery very well, says Jo. “It’s not over the top. The Kentucky Derby in the US has big hats, they’re massive. Australia is a bit more understated and stylish.”
Jo and husband Warren are keen race goers and have had shares in various horses. They are currently part owners in a five-year-old chestnut gelding Taikun Warrior trained by Peter Gelagotis whose home track is Caulfield. A few years ago, they were lucky enough to have a runner in the Group 1 Blue Diamond held at Caulfield. It was very exciting but totally nerve wracking as well! I love going to the track for fashions, but it’s the races that I really want to see.
Jo says she ramps it a bit for the Spring Carnival and will work on about three or four hats at one time. She also supports charities by donating hats for events and fundraisers, including Cranbourne’s ‘Pinker Pinker Plate’ race meet held each October, which supports breast cancer and the Victorian Wakeful Club which encourages women in racing and supports various charities around Melbourne.
Jo laments what she sees as a tradition of everyday hat-wearing in Australia going by the wayside. “I would like to see hats worn on a daily basis as they are in Europe. It would be really great if people wore more hats – everyone wore hats. It’s fun to dress up and your look is complete with a hat.”