November 19, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: From the Neck Up: An Illustrated Guide to Hatmaking

Filed under: Hat book and magazine reviews — Cristina de Prada @ 1:26 pm

From the neck up

Title: FROM THE NECK UP : An Illustrated Guide to HATMAKING
Author: Denise Dreher
ISBN: 0941082008
Availability: Yes, directly from the publisher 
Language: English
First edition: 1981 (my edition seems to be from 1992)
200 pages, paperback
Price (as of the post date): USD 24.99 (not including shipping)

This is a book you must have if you are serious about making hats. A classic millinery book, offering information on design, materials, equipment, suppliers, stitches, pattern designing, foundation construction and covering, brim facing, edge binding, trimming, finishing, working with felt and straw, block making out of balsa wood, turban draping, renovation and alternations. It also have a very useful glossary at the end.

Although it’s a very technical book, the author does not expect you to have expensive materials or equipment, and often describes ways to do things without the professional equipment.

Denise Dreher was trained as a theater milliner, and next to the general millinery instructions she offers a lot of useful information about making theater and period hats. Personally I find that too much information never hurt anyone!

What I found more useful:

1. My copy of the book is spiral bound, making it very easy to keep open while working. It’s worth asking if the spiral bound is still available.

2. It’s full of very basic information explained in depth, like millinery stitching, the concept of bias fabric, the basics of pattern making and how to make a fitted lininig (just to name a few).

3. It covers in depth the use of different materials:

  • BUCKRAM. It has extremely detailed instructions on how to make a flat patterened hat out of buckram and wire (like the hat I’m wearing on this picture), and how to cover it with fabric.
  • WIRE. Also has detailed information on how to make wire foundations (like the brim on this hat, which was lots of fun to make).
  • WILLOW. Have you ever heard of willow? A versatile material, it was very common in the past. Now a very expensive supply (although still available), the author explains how to handle and use it, as well as the wonderful things you can do with it.
  • FELT. Describes the different quality and finishes of felt, as well as the shapes. It walks you through the techniques of blocking and shaping the felt.
  • STRAW. It covers the blocking of pre-shaped hoods and capelines, and also the use of straw braid. You get the instructions to make straw braid hats over a foundation, over a block and by hand. Unfortunately it does not talk about sewing the braid with a sewing machine (as far as I know there is no book covering that, but if you know of one, please let me know!).
  • RIBBON. The basics about making bows, rosettes, cockades (there are more specialised books on the subject, but the basics are well covered here).

Those looking for a book full of color pictures will be disappointed. All pictures in the book are black and white, which is more than adequate for their purpose of explaining techniques. Many of the hats shown are period theater hats, but they help to make the point about whatever technique is being described at the moment. The book is also full of ilustrations, some made to describe technique subjects, but it also has a lot of beautiful 19th century fashion engravings that are a joy to look at.

The patterns chapter is probably the one you are going to use less if you make contemporary millinery. This chapter is packed with scaled down historical hat patterns. Yet, it’s interesting information that can come in handy and be an inspiration if you want to design a pattern hat.

The suppliers listed on the book (depending on the edition you have) might be out of date, but an updated list can be found at the publishers website: Most of the suppliers on the list are from the US.

Bottom line: this is a book that is well worth buying and keeping at hand.


  1. Although I didn’t read the whole text of your blog, I am surprised with your discovering of the microwave for millinery. Phantastic! See you soon!

    Comment by Nina Pawlowsky — November 19, 2006 @ 6:31 pm

  2. Hi,

    I’m making a bonnet for my daughter to reenact in, and quickly becoming immersed in it all. Love your blog–fun to read and it’s informative.

    PS: Do you know a millinery willow supplier??? Please, oh please let me know if you do!

    Comment by Lisa — March 23, 2008 @ 11:27 pm

  3. Hi Lisa,
    I have a little bit of willow that I bought here: but they don’t seem to carry it any more, at least not on the website. I remember it cost me a lot of money, but I’m happy I bought it. I also have willow made out of paper (instead of the wood shavings), but I don’t remember where I got that one, I think a friend bought it for me at a supplier in Belgium (but I don’t know the name!).
    Let me know if you find any too.

    Comment by cristinadeprada — March 24, 2008 @ 12:58 am

  4. this ,i think ,is one of the most valuable books anyone into hats has to have!
    so well written ,easily understood, and just so much useful info in it to get to hatting!!! I wouldn’t be without it ever… the last one I owned grew legs during a workshop, which reminded me just to be cautious!! it is a pity !

    Comment by lina — February 23, 2009 @ 12:16 am

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