Friday, 24 June 2011

I’m Mad As A Hatter

…I’ve never felt better

It’s hard to believe that I’m out of my mind

I’m mad as a hatter, so pass me the butter

Cos life is a tea party all of the time


That’s the MH’s song from “Alice, the Musical” [you can hear the song here on the Out Of The Ark Website] and my friend asked for a new MH costume for this year’s school production – “very bright and colourful, and quite mad” she said.

So I took all those lovely scraps which I was given in March by a colleague at my other school. I cut out a simple jacket pattern in plain polycotton, then made a sort of Victorian Crazy Patchwork Fantasy Fabric…


…and sewed it together


I took it into school today and tried it on the girl who is the MH. Apart from the sleeves being too long [they’re easy to shorten!] it fitted fine – and it looks much better on her than on the hanger. And she is thrilled with it, so is the teacher.

Hatters were mad because they used mercury in the production of felt hats and over time, this was absorbed into their system, and mercury poisoning causes dementia. Lewis Carroll grew up near Stockport, where millinery was a popular trade. The UK’s only Hatting Museum is there – one of these days I shall visit. Till then, here is a brief virtual tour!

Hat Works open every day but Monday, admission free!


The Solstice is past, the nights are getting longer- and in a week’s time it will be July!

If I work really hard, I should have all costumes and teddies and HBC crafts done by then. And in July I shall sit back and create…nothing! [maybe]


  1. I never knew that about the hatters. Something new today. . . . . . Love the jacket. Easy to see why you've become the resident costume designer! Not a good day for jackets here, though; already headed for 108F this afternoon. ~Liz

  2. LizBeth - How on earth do you do ANYTHING in that sort of heat?

  3. My great grandfather was a court milliner....he remained perfectly sane...his great grandaughter however...!
    Jane x

  4. The felt hat industry has been traced to the mid 17th century in France, and it was probably introduced into England some time around 1830. A story passed down in the hat industry gives this account of how mercury came to be used in the process: In Turkey camel hair was used for felt material, and it was discovered that the felting process was speeded up if the fibers were moistened with camel urine. It is said that in France workmen used their own urine, but one particular workman seemed consistently to produce a superior felt. This person was being treated with a mercury compound for syphilis, and an association was made between mercury treatment of the fibers and an improved felt. Eventually the use of solutions of mercuric nitrate was widespread in the felt industry, and mercury poisoning became endemic. (reference) Dementia and erethism were indeed a common ailment among 19th Century hatmakers.

    The crazy Mad Hatter of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland is becoming widely associated with the effects of Mercury on behavior as well as physiology. Mercury was used to process the felt hats used in England around Lewis' time. Erratic, flamboyant behavior was one of the most evident alterations caused by mercury. (Others included excessive drooling, mood swings, various debilities.) (reference)
    But Lewis Carroll did not invent the phrase, although he did create the character. The phrases 'mad as a hatter' and "mad as a March hare" were common at the time Lewis Carroll wrote (1865 was the first publication date of Alice). The phrase had been in common use in 1837, almost 30 years earlier.

  5. Thanks for the comments - especially all this fabulous information from anonymous


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