Published in Issue 21, February 2013
Written by Forme Millinery
Hat Blocking (block·ing) v.
A mold or form on which an item is shaped or displayed: a hat block. The term used to describe the action of molding a hat shape
I am an Award Winning Couture Milliner and have been making handmade hats for the past 5. It all started when I collected vintage hats as a child and years later when I learned one could have a career making Couture Hats, I went for it. My collections always have a vintage feel whether it is using a vintage hat block I found from the late 1800’s, or finding that perfect vintage embellishment hidden in the corner of an antique store. When it comes to making hats, I love working with my hands and have gone back to the basics by learning the ancient techniques of blocking hats on old wooden hat blocks. It is a process that takes a lot of patience, but having the reward of a spectacular hat that you can call your own is worth all of the hard work. My hats represent a creative journey which allows me to keep this craft alive. Being able to give new life to a hat block that was once used many years ago, or with a vintage embellishment that was once loved by many, it gives me great joy to share my love of hats with all of you.
Couture Milliner of Formé Millinery
Photography by: Rick Stewart Photograph
The Art of Hat Blocking
I gaze at my wall of old wooden hat blocks determining which hat I am going to make today. Will it be a cloche, a large brim, or maybe a fascinator? Today… I will make a variation of a cloche hat out of recycled wool.
Step 1: Soak
I begin by filling up a small tub of hot water. I take the wool that I will be molding with and place it into the water until the wool is completed saturated (this process can take a while depending on the thickness of the material - steaming can also be applied if necessary to insure that the material is very pliable).
Step 2: Stretch
Once the wool is ready to be formed, I take it and stretch it over the crown of the hat block. This takes a lot of patience and elbow grease to get every wrinkle, pleat or bubble smoothed out. A spray bottle may be needed to keep the wool wet. I do this process over and over until I can feel the fibers in the wool stretch apart enough, so when it dries, it will dry into the shape of the form. I repeat this process for the brim of the hat.
Step 3: Secure
To complete the blocking, I tie down the wool to the block in the “rope line” using a slip knot. In some cases, I will also nail the wool in place to insure it does not move around and lose its shape. It will then dry in this position for at least 24 hours until completely dry.
Step 4: Cut
The hat is now ready to be assembled. I start with the crown, trimming the access wool, but leaving just enough to turn under at the crown line to make a nice finished edge. Then, I cut a hole into the top of the brim where the crown will eventually be hand sewn on top. I trim back the unused wool to about a ½ inch seam allowance which will be sewn inside the crown.
Step 5: Sew
Now the crown is ready to be attached to the brim. I start by folding over a small edge of the crown line to create a finished look. I then take the prepared crown and place it over the brim matching up the front and back and making sure that the brim seam allowance is laying nicely on the inside of the crown. I pin in place and begin to hand sew the crown to the brim. I use small loop stitches in the edge of the crown so they cannot be seen - I have found this to be the best and most secure way to attach the two together.
Step 6: Wire
Wiring the brim of a hat is sometimes optional depending on the thickness of the material you are using and how well it holds its shape. For this example, I will be putting a wire into the brim to insure it holds its shape. I first measure how much wire I will need by laying it gently around the brim. I cut it carefully with a wire cutter. With the wire, I “break the back”. Essentially, I am taking the curve out of the wire so I am working with as straight of a wire as I can so I can then create my own curve while I am sewing. I attach the wire joiner on one end and then begin sewing it to the brim of the hat. Once I have sewed the wire around the whole brim of the hat, I attach the other end of the wire joiner and complete the final stitch on the brim. Now the brim has a nice, sturdy shape.
Step 7: Sweat Band
The sweat band provides a finished look on the inside of the hat. It also provides comfort where the hat meets the head and provides protection from makeup and perspiration. I measure the sweat band to fit where the crown meets the brim. I hand sew the sweat band in place.
Step 8: Embellish
The hat is almost completed. It needs the last finishing touch of an embellishment. This can include a flower, button or beads – whatever your imagination brings.