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Meet the 2013 MasterMinds: Kitty Mae Millinery

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On Saturday, Westword celebrated its ninth class of MasterMinds -- artistic adventurers who are changing the landscape of Denver. Here's our fourth winner:

I'm not a hat person, but the first time I saw Susan Dillon's handmade toppers, I had to throw my hat into the ring. Under the moniker of Kitty Mae Millinery, she makes hats that aren't just something to cover your head: Each piece is a sculptural work of art, and in the process of creating them, Dillon has revived a fine-craft tradition that's nearly disappeared -- swept in the dumper by modern times. Amazingly, she is self-taught as a milliner, and her passion for keeping the art alive is deep. She recently even entered a one-of-a-kind hat in an international contest to design a special chapeau for Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee. The results are so stunning that few browsers can walk into her Kitty Mae storefront at 3559 Larimer Street without wanting to start trying things on; her fanciful creations are pretty much irresistible that way.

See also: - Meet the 2013 Westword MasterMinds - Best of Denver 2012: Best Handmade Hats - Dress up your head at Kitty Mae Millinery. It just might stick.

Dillon's latest project, a Kentucky Derby line for spring funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign, marks a step in a new direction. The campaign allowed her to buy hat forms in new shapes that will continue working for her into the fall and winter seasons ahead.

Also on Dillon's agenda for the coming year: classes. Encouraged by the turnout for a free crafting party she hosted on Super Bowl Sunday, she plans to start those up regularly in March with a basic fascinator workshop, then branch out to more intensive hat workshops in the fall.

"Right now I'm going full steam ahead, about 900 miles an hour with no sleep," Dillon says with a smile. "I'm really expanding what I can create: I'm making my own silk flowers now, and my bridals are more elaborate and successful than before. And I'll have a dozen new styles for the Kentucky Derby season. I'm just hoping to continue coming up with the most original hats that I can make."

That'll come in handy leading up to the derby: Along with creating her official derby line, she'll be working with a group of fifty Cherry Hills couples on custom designs to wear to Churchill Downs in May. Yes, things are looking good for Kitty Mae. Keep it under your lid.

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