Achieving Excellence: Hatmaker finds her passion

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 14, 2014 - 4:50 PM

For Angie Hall Sandifer, making the kind of hats her grandmother used to wear to church is a crowning achievement.

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It took a long time before Angie Hall Sandifer heeded her own words.

“I used to work a lot with kids — Big Brothers, Big Sisters, Girl Scout troops — as a volunteer probation officer,” said the fifty-something St. Paul woman, “and one of the things I would tell them is ‘All you need to do is find your passion and follow it.’ ”

A decade ago, she finally did just that.

For most of her life, Sandifer wore many hats, figuratively speaking. Now she makes hats.

Big floppy hats. Pert, stylish hats. Hats with feathers, flowers, ribbons, beads. Hats like her mother and grandmother used to wear to church in Gainesville, Fla. Hats that her clients wear to Kentucky Derby parties, or even the actual derby.

Today, her company of one, Angie’s Hats, produces scores of handmade hats that are sold at Artists Mercantile in St. Paul as well as at a New Orleans boutique. She also makes custom hats in her Northern Warehouse Artists Co-op studio in ­Lowertown.

“I definitely, absolutely have found my passion,” she said, cornrows framing her Mona Lisa smile.

Her passion is no simple procedure. The materials — from felt or straw base to flourishes such as feathers, flowers, ribbons and rims — have to be top-notch. “You don’t go to Michael’s to get a flower for a hat,” she said.

The hats are handmade, except for occasional tasks on a sewing machine. Over two days, materials are steamed, heated, shaped, molded and blocked on a mannequin head.

And the preparation for fulfilling clients’ requests is as hands-on as the production. “I measure their head and then we talk about the style, the fabric, the feather, the flowers, the ribbon, what have you, if they want it wired or floppy,” Sandifer said. “And then they come back for a fitting, and then if adjustments need to be made, we do that.”

Many of them come back for more.

Amye Scharlau, a St. Paul hypnotherapist and performing hypnotist, has bought about a dozen Sandifer hats since spotting a couple of them five years ago at a St. Paul Art Crawl.

“I wanted to combine the décor in one hat and the shape in another,” Scharlau said, “and she said, ‘Sure, I can do that.’ She wants to really make sure you get what you want.”

After buying some waltzing-around-town hats, Scharlau asked Sandifer to make some for her performances as a hypnotist. “She made three miniature top hats, and on one of them the rim was made out of vintage neckties because the shows have a retro feel.”

What makes the hats special, Scharlau said, is “a luxurious quality. I’ll see people wearing one, and I’ll recognize it and go talk to them. People have done the same thing to me.

“And her bridal hats are off the hook. If I ever get married, I’m totally, totally getting one.”

For her part, Sandifer would like to see women wear hats on a lot more than just special occasions.

“When people put hats on, their whole attitude changes, their whole persona,” she said. “When you dress up, you feel better about yourself. We’re pretty frumpy nowadays. We act different when we dress up, a lot classier, more respectful. We stand a little taller, speak a little clearer.”

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  • That’s a wrap: St. Paul milliner Angie Hall Sandifer does virtually all of her work by hand. “The balance has to be there, the proportion,” she said. “I have to like it.”

  • Angie Hall Sandifer works out of an airy but somewhat cluttered studio in St. Paul’s Lowertown district.

  • Sandifer loves a challenge:  “At the Art Crawl women will come in and say, ‘I don’t look good in hats.’ And I’ll say, ‘You just haven’t found the right hat for your face and your personality.’ ”

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