November 2, 2009

Mini hat is out of the block

The hat is out of the block. I used scissors to cut the edge following the string line. I like the downwards curve of the edge, which I believe works nicely with the general curviness of the hat. When I took that picture it still needed a good brush up, though.

I’ve added chemical stiffener on the inside because the hat was too soft.

Below is a picture of the inside of the hat. Whereas on the outside you cannot see any wrinkles, on the inside and with the lateral light that is hitting the hat one can see some wrinkles around the “headsize”. The grosgrain has been sewn in place using pink thread, which cannot be seen on the outside because I go in with the needle on the same place I came out (but on a different angle).

I’ve had to sand the edge a lot to get rid of irregularities which are my very own fault for doing a lousy job with the scissors. The edge also needs to be cleaned with a wet cloth to get rid of the white dust.

The trimming is the only thing missing (to tell the truth it’s finished, but you will have to be patient to see the result!)

These days I feel a need for simplicity and hang on to the old adage “less is more” (or more recently the KISS principle).

Since this blog is called “The rantings blah blah”, here goes some ranting…

I feel there are too many overloaded, heavy handed, unbalanced hats and fascinators on the market (with this tendency to add everything but a kitchen sink on the hat/fascinator), that I feel an urge to steer clear of that and to condemn it.  The simpler the hat the more difficult it is to make. A simple elegant hat is a challenge (I’m not saying my hats are elegant or simple… but one does strive for that).

Lets do this exercise: Pick up your favorite hat book, old fashion picture of hats, or vintage fashion magazine. I bet the hats you love the most are those that are striking without being overpowering, those with a simple line, those where you say “Wow, that lady looks amazing!” and not “Wow look at that hat, that cannot be comfortable, poor woman!”

Having said that, there are hats where there’s a lot going on (as an example, the wonderful butterfly hat by Philip Treacy) that work wonderfully (or so I think). I think making a complex hat look becoming and in a way “simple” is an even more difficult task.

There, I said it.  That’s what I think of the proliferation of fascinators in the market. I have nothing against the fascinator as long as it’s well made (no glue thank you) and it’s becoming. I also encourage the people that only make fascinators to branch out and learn more, because there’s so much more to learn and there is a lot of joy involved in becoming a milliner… and that is why I write this blog, to share what I know.

October 27, 2009

Sneak preview of cork block Mini Hat

For those who cannot wait until the hat is finished and want to know how the blocking of the Mini Hat is going, here is a sneak preview of the hat block in use. I have used a black furfelt cone with spikes, and as you can see there is a lot left over after blocking it.

I’ve started by spraying water based sizing on the cone, wrapping it up in a wet cloth and microwaving it for 1,5 minutes to soften the felt and get the sizing to sink in. I’ve manually stretched the tip a little bit and then I’ve started blocking. Around the collar there was a lot of excess felt, which I’ve managed to reduce by ironing with a wet cloth, pushing down (but not too much), all in an effort to encourage the felt to shrink in that area.

It has taken some time but it has worked!

Here are some more pictures of the blocked felt. First the back (and most troublesome part of the blocking process because it took a long time to get it to shrink down):

And here is a picture from an angle. As you can see I did not need to use any pins, the string that locked on the groove was enough to keep the felt in place. I do not know what I will do with the edge when I unblock it. I think that for a folded edge I should have made the groove lower down, so possibly the only option will be to cut the edge.

October 26, 2009

Mini hat block out of cork

Those who have been following me for a while might remember that I did a mini plasticine (aka Play-Doh) hat block to use it for making straw braid hats (like these ones).

I’ve been thinking for a while that this block would make a beautiful felt hat, but if I blocked felt on it, it would soon lose its shape, so today I set off to make a cork version of the block.

The result is quite close to the original, but one must keep in mind that the curves of the original block where due in great measure to the fact that plasticine is very malleable and lends itself to that kind of look. Reproducing that curviness with cork has been difficult. You can imagine how difficult it has been by looking at the pile of glued cork layers (4 centimeters each) that I started with. When I started I had my doubts it would work out, but I’m pleased that it did in the end, after hours of filing and sanding away.

Now there’s only one thing left to do, to block a felt on it!

You can see all pictures I’ve taken of the process if you follow this link:

All pictures related to making a cork block (you might remember I also made a Homburg hat cork block) can be seen if you follow this link:

Will be back soon with pictures of a felt mini hat made using this block…

January 10, 2008

Finishing the Homburg hat – Final details!!

Finished Homburg... yipeee!

The Homburg hat is finished, pfiuuu! I cannot believe it, I’ve been dragging this project for weeks (months?).

The inside sweatband is in. I pinned it in place, marked with a pin where it should join a the back, took it out and sew that bit by machine. The sweatband itself (grosgrain) has been slip stitched in place (well, more of a stab-slip stitch because the felt is too thick to do a real slip stitch and I didn’t want the stitches to show) .

For the outside I’ve used a wide grosgrain ribbon, same color as the edge and the inside band. I’ve curved it with the iron (spraying first some water on it), and it has required some adjustments to get the right curvature so that the ribbon sits perfectly flat on the felt. Where the ends meet I’ve stitched by hand but before that and to avoid unraveling I’ve machine stitched a few millimeters from the edge on both sides (it also has helped to keep the fold in place).

Hand stitched sideband, bow will go on top. Click to enlarge.After that, it was time for the bow. I’ve done some research, and in these pictures (click on the picture to enlarge) you can see different bows from Stetson hats (taken from this wonderful book).

As you can see from these close-ups the bow itself is not really a bow (a real bow would have three thicknesses plus the thickness of the ribbon underneath. These bows are made with a single layer of ribbon, ends tucked under half a centimeter. The knot of the bow is also made separately. The whole thing looks surprisingly professional in the end, but a real bow would have been too bulky.

Click to enlarge - frm the Stetson book of Schiffer PublishingI find it quite peculiar that the fold of the bow goes towards the underside, but I think it’s done like that for a practical reason, because otherwise dust would gather there very quickly.

I have chosen a folded central knot because I think it looks much nicer.

What I have not done is iron any of these because it would have taken the fluffyness and natural look away. When stitching every end the whole thing stays very much in place.

Here are pictures of my bow (click on pictures to enlarge):

Underside of bow, tucked edges, click to enlargeThis will be the knot - do not iron! - click to enlargeThis is the knot sewed on the back

Back of the bow ready to be sewed onto hatBow pinned on hat ready of hand stitching (stab stitch)Finished bow1

Have you see the wonderful initial? I got that one from Nina, she has a wonderful stash of vintage initial letters and I think it’s a wonderful final touch!

Vintage metal initials for man's hatsHere is a bunch of initials, so you can get an idea how they work. Basically you just push them through the ribbon and fold the metal edges (quite soft).

You can take a look at all the pictures related to the making of the hat by clicking on this link.

You can take a look at all the pictures related to the making of the cork blocks that were used in making the hat, and the making of the hat itself by clicking on this link.

Thank you everyone for your support! I hope to post pictures of Peter with his hat on soon!

The Homburg hat is finished!… tomorrow the details!

Finished at last!

More on this tomorrow…

January 1, 2008

Homburg hat – ribbon on the edge (deleted – check the updated one)

Please check the updated posting here (I had to delete the one here because the html had gone crazy).

December 29, 2007

Update on the Homburg hat

The crown block is finished. I have adjusted the shape a little bit more and have called it a day!

Remember I made a detachable base for the block? I was trying all along to “save” the verticality of that base and I think that might have contributed to the hat not sitting comfortably on the head. My last (EVER) modification to the block has been giving some angle to that part so that it sits nicer. In these pictures you can see the work halfway. The right side has been given an angle, while the left side is as it was, before sanding:

This left side is still straight on the base

Right side has been given an angle from the bottom


Check the difference between the base on the right and left sides

Notice that I have traced the edge of the headsize with a pen, that way I will immediately notice if I start sanding that by mistake.

I’ve already reblocked the crown and it’s drying, so my next posting (soon!) will be about trimming the hat.

December 10, 2007

The never ending story: still fiddling with the block

Hat after making changesI’ve been under the radar for quite a few days because of a family trip to Holland, but I have now a few hat stories to tell you. Before I do that I want to give you a little update on my homburg block/hat.

After some heavy sanding and filing I blocked the hat crown again.

Ironing to reshape

No microwave this time, instead I put the kettle on the stove to get some old fashion steam. Then with the help of my small travel iron and a wet cloth (which in combination produce a lot of steam) I managed with no problems to reshape the felt. On the down side, when I tried it on Peter again I could see that I had improved but it was not yet comfortable to wear, so I will give it another go soon (some more sanding and reshaping) because I want to be finished with it and move on to something else (possibly another hat block for myself this time).

Top view of the modified hat

You might look at the pictures and think that the hat looks exactly the same as it did before, but I can promise you that I retouched it so much as to produce a thick layer of cork dust covering the floor of the balcony.

It’s a fact that it sinks in too low for it to be comfortable, but I’m getting some doubts on whether the inner top of the hat should really rest on top of the head. I’ve seen some old pictures of men with high hats and it seems pretty obvious that the top of the head does not reach the top of the hat! Follow this link for a clear example! How on earth they were made to be comfortable I don’t know… perhaps once the headsize is the right one then the hat stays in place, but with the ribbon still to go it could be that the hat is now too big.  Another thought I’ve had is that possibly it would be more comfortable if the sides hugged the head a little bit, so my next modification of the block will go in that direction.

I am open to suggestions, so please let me know what you think!    



November 28, 2007

Making a brim block out of cork – Felt out of the block and oops…

Finally I took the felt out of the block but not before trimming out the excess felt with a new toy I recently bought myself at a craft fair. It’s called a chenille cutter made by Olfa. It’s similar to the paper cutter from 3M that I showed you on this post, only this works much better because it’s intended for cutting several layers of fabric, and the manufacturer even says that’s good to cut felt. I thought it was made to cut chenille, but after looking around on the web I see that it’s meant to make chenille, or at least something that looks like it, pretty cool actually.

Me, using the olfa chenille cutter

Well, back to my hat. I was very proud of myself after I unblocked. It looked like a hat! It looked pretty darn good!


The felt out of the block

   It does looks like a hat… I know it sounds silly but I was imagining everything that could go wrong and was not so sure about the whole thing.

I unblocked while at Nina’s workroom and immediately realised that it was too soft and needed some stiffener. I used the chemical smelly stiffener because it would not have been a good idea to use the waterbased one since the hat might have lost it’s shape. I felt wonderful and held the hat in my hand all the way back home (in the bus)… people must have thought I was nuts.

The BAD news. Either I have to chop off the top of Peter’s ears by one centimeter or I need to re-do the crown. BWAAAHHHH! Entirely my fault because I DID measure the distance between the top of his ear and the top of his head, wrote it down, worked it into my sketch and then FORGOT all about it until the moment I put it on Peter’s head. The underside of the crown (crease) has to slightly sit on top of the head, otherwise it will not be comfortable to wear. Or would it? I think not, but then I think about a top hat and that does not sit on top of the head…

Soooo… this is the plan (possibly doomed to failure). I am reworking the crown block. The height will go down, but mostly the crease will be deeper. I hope I will be able to save the brim, and just steam the crown, put it back on the crown block, tie the base with string and with the help of more steam I should (hope to) be able to work it into the new shape. What I reckon I cannot do is to simply lower the height of the crown without going down on the central crease because if I do that I will have excess felt and I wont be able ease it into shape. Even so, I will have excess felt and don’t have a clue how it will work out… possibly a mess…

Stay tuned…

November 26, 2007

Making a brim block out of cork – Blocking the hat!!!!!

It seemed like the day would never come, but finally I have dared to block the felt on my wonderful new blocks.

Still too lazy to dig up my jiffy steamer from under a pile of boxes I have popped the water sprayed felt, wrapped in a wet towel, into my microwave.

This is the fur felt capeline I have used, bought at the German supplier KOPKA, it’s a special capeline for man’s hats. It’s special because because it’s thicker felt and heavily sized.


Man's capeline furfelt


Here are some pictures of the process:

ready to be  felt in the microwave

Yes, crazy enough to nuke the brim after the crown was blocked (no pins in there, just string!), also a picture of the plastic bags I’ve used to protect the block:

Crown block in the microwave Plastic bags used for protection of the block

And here the blocked brim. You can understand now what I meant before when I said that the brim block goes upside down. The block is in the oven for drying (I have an air oven and it’s set at 50ºC). I did put my marble dust bag on top and some weights on top of that to keep the top crease in place, but I had removed them when I took the picture so that it would dry:

Blocked hat in the oven for drying



Here are some pictures of the blocked brim:

Blocked brim, top view  Underside of brim

I might still get a decent hat out of this… who knows!

Blocked hat


Tomorrow the unveiling/unblocking… I hope to have time to post about it!

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