A Milliner’s Exotic Advantage

Martha Shanks waited a lifetime to make a childhood vision materialize. Photo by Matt Rose.

While some fiber artists might recall American pioneer ancestors at the spinning wheel, Martha Shanks, the creator of NozamaHats, has an exotic advantage. Raised in Peru by her evangelical parents, she spent most of her first 16 years living with other missionary families on the banks of a lake fed by the Amazon River. In that lush, intense land, life was often overwhelming, and the atmosphere unforgettable. “The jungle was alive,” she recalls. “Now I recognize that [that] drama has driven me to choose riotous colors and styles.”

As a young teenager, she found additional style influence poring over the pages of old Vogue magazines collected by a village doctor’s wife. “I was amazed by the vintage collections from the 1920s and ’40s,” she says. She especially loved the hats; she felt they would be her future.

Photo by Matt Rose.

Today, she’s made good on her prediction, creating one-of-a-kind felted ladies’ hats named for the place that still haunts her (Nozama is Amazon spelled backwards). Each brightly colored hat is first knitted by hand from high-quality wool, mohair, and alpaca yarns. Shanks plays with different brims to determine the overall style of the hat — cloche, fedora, bowler, gaucho, or custom looks she and her clients work up together.

The hat is then felted using hot water and agitation, a process that meshes fibers and shrinks the piece into its intended shape, and hand-trimmed for a more polished, fitted look. The final step — embellishing with velvets, laces, feathers, beads and other treasures — gives the hat its personality.

The result is both posh and functional — something that can be worn to a special event, or on a snowy winter hike in Western North Carolina: Shanks’ latest landscape of inspiration. “When I drove into Asheville for the first time, I remember thinking, ‘I hope I never take these mountains for granted.’”

NozamaHats, Asheville. For details, call 828-505-8156 or visit nozamahats.com.

Join the Conversation


  1. says: Joyce Dover Evans

    Is there any way that I can get a copy of the Dec2017/Jan2018 edition of Asheville Made? A friend, Martha Shanks, and her hats are featured. Cannot find a copy. My address is P.O. Box 6715 – Asheville NC 28816. Thank you.
    Joyce Dover Evans

    1. says: Daniel Walton

      Hi Joyce, thanks much for reading Asheville Made! While we’re unable to send individual print copies, there are still plenty available around town. Most downtown and River Arts District galleries should have stacks, and several of Asheville’s Community Publishers Group kiosks (such as the one outside of French Broad Food Co-op) serve as distribution points.

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