May 26, 2009

New Head – my beautiful Poupée

Filed under: Millinery material,Millinery suppliers — Cristina de Prada @ 1:11 am

Peter and Joaquín got me this wonderful Poupée (a milliners working head, also known as a marotte) for my birthday. A Poupée is a stylized representation of a head . It’s made out of papier-maché and covered in canvas. A head like this is wonderful to do hand modeled hats, draped turbans and generally to get a feel of how a hat is going to look on a person. The canvas (calico) covering allows you to pin as you work along.

These heads get treasured for generations and never get thrown away. Milliners use them even if they’re all worn and weathered, that only adds to their personality, and they still do their job wonderfully.

In an interview in 2007, extraordinary milliner Stephen Jones said, when asked what he thought to be an essential gadget: “The thing I use every day is a poupée, a fabric head. I build shapes on it, using any material at all; it can be a piece of velvet or a tissue – anything can look great as a hat”. He has also designed a poupée inspired hat with beautiful black felt eyes and red mouth as part of the collection of hats to be sold at the V&A shop inspired by the exhibition.

You can still find one of these heads, if you’re lucky, second hand. Nina has a gorgeous vintage one (pictures left).

If you cannot (like I couldn’t) find an old one, there are fortunately still a couple of manufacturers that make them new, following the old methods and using old molds, so they look exactly the same as the old ones (ok, almost the same… new ones are cleaner). Mine is made by Siegel Stockman (same as Nina’s), a french manufacturer of forms and mannequins that started business in the 19th century.

The difference between these heads and the wig canvas blocks that are easy to find on the internet is the fact that the poupée has a chin (and nose!) while the wig blocks do not have them.

When you buy a new head it it comes “blank”, cream canvas, no eyes, no mouth. Traditionally these poupées got their eyes and mouth hand painted (like the one Nina bought), and sometimes even glued in felt, although there are people who prefer to keep them “plain”.

I would like my poupée to have features, and the day I got her I took a pair of scissors, some black cardboard and I cut out for her a couple of 50’s eyes and a little mouth, just to see how it would look. Here cardboard features are temporarily pinned in place which gives her a kind of voodoo look I’m afraid, but it must be said that she looks gorgeous with features on!!! … Painting permanent features would be great, but one false move with the brush and… I don’t even want to think about it!

Let me know what you think about my new friend, and also let me know if you have any suggestions concerning the features and how to paint them.

Have you got your own poupée? If so it would be great if you could share a picture, I would love to meet her!

Update 28 May: I have created a Flickr group called Millinery Heads so everyone can join and share the pictures of their poupées, mannequin heads or even hat stands! Join in:


  1. I like what you’ve done to her face. I have a styrofoam head and she was given to me by a friend. She has pins for eyes that look like staples. Since she was given to me like that, I am hesitant to take them out.

    Comment by Dolores — May 26, 2009 @ 5:40 am

  2. I love your poupee. Mine is a wig type one without a chin and nose but I love it all the same – funny how these things take on personalities. Yours looks very glamourous and Nina’s looks more haughty. One day we should have a big international party for all our poupees and mannequins to meet!

    Comment by Cath — May 27, 2009 @ 8:12 pm

  3. Hola, I am new on the blog world share the passion for making hats so will kee an eye on your blog!
    I have not find a poupee yet and have been using my wooden head block (it is just a hard headed poupee!;) ).I still have not work out flickr so I might improve my skills and get there:)
    Have a nice day.(I am a french leaving in Australia with one grandma spanish and one italian…but shame I can understand a bit of spanish and italian but struggle to write!)

    Comment by sandrine — May 28, 2009 @ 12:47 am

  4. The poupees looked as if they have a life of their own. The poupee I use is made of wicker, actually it is my mother’s which she use to display her wig. I have posted the pictures at your flickr group. Thanks so much for sharing the information.

    Comment by Zorgball — May 28, 2009 @ 10:53 am

  5. Why don’t you make a sticker out of black felt AIRONFIX (pronounced iron fix, but has nothing to do with an iron, it is just a sticker) that way you can change it in the future quite easily. I have some that I can borrow. You really don’t need that much. Remind me.

    Comment by Joaco — May 28, 2009 @ 3:38 pm

  6. Joaco, although the idea sounds attractive my past experiences with aironfix are not good (all my old school books that were covered with that feel disgustingly sticky), I think I will might hand paint eyes and mouth with special fabric paint…

    Thank you everyone for sharing your “head” stories!

    Comment by cristinadeprada — May 28, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

  7. Love your Poupee! All these years I’ve been making hats and I don’t own one. Do have wooden head blocks and a wicker hat stand. I think the pinned on features are lovely…but then I was a child in the 50s and love that look. K Q:-)

    Comment by Kate — May 28, 2009 @ 9:43 pm

  8. Forgot to mention previously that I DO own several DecoEyes mannequin heads (as seen on my website) and they are human head sized and lovely for displaying and photographing hats. Check out their website at K Q:-)

    Comment by Kate — May 28, 2009 @ 9:50 pm

  9. Have tried to contact decoeyes a gazilion times and they never answer (emails I don’t think there was a phone listed on their website). They seemed inactive for a while and then a while back it looked like they were back, but they still don’t answer my emails.
    I wanted to get a manequin head for my sister.
    Can you help me Kate contact them?

    Comment by Joaco — May 29, 2009 @ 4:25 pm

  10. Poupee? I’d never heard of such; love it. I visit your site often. I learn so much, even after making hats for so many years. Thanks

    Comment by Lee — May 30, 2009 @ 7:22 pm

  11. Love your poupee, especially with her new features! And speaking of features, saw that you and Nina were cover girls on the latest Hat Magazine cover. That is a mighty lofty set of friends you were pictured with!

    Comment by Jan Wutkowski — May 31, 2009 @ 2:27 pm

  12. Thank you Lee, do you have a blog yourself, I bet I could learn a lot about hatmaking from you too!

    Jan, thanks, yes there we are on the cover of the Hat Magazine, although if you look at the who’s who you will see that the name of Nina and mine are mixed up, but who cares! Unfortunately I was too awestruck to speak to many of the big names(a beer would have helped there, but it was an alcohol free lunch!), still it was a great lunch and the opening of the exhibition “Hat’s an Anthology by Stephen Jones” that night was the best hosted event I’ve ever been to, just perfect!

    Comment by cristinadeprada — May 31, 2009 @ 3:02 pm

  13. I had forgotten to link to Blanca’s wonderful millinery blog where she recently wrote about her poupée:
    Go there and take a look!

    Comment by cristinadeprada — June 3, 2009 @ 10:57 am

  14. I’ve just posted my ‘heads’ on the flickr group page. I prefer to keep my ‘marotte’ blank, when making a hat you don’t want anything to rub onto the fabric (if painted on) or an extra layer/bumps (if stitched on), the marotte can be used to make any sort of hat so you never know if these fake features will get in the way (I recently made a buckram ‘helmet’, that to begin with covered up the marotte completely).
    Thanks for adding me to your list of people whe love hats!!

    Comment by Lucy Chalk — June 7, 2009 @ 9:05 pm

  15. Hi All. Cristina I don’t have a blog but I bought so many books about blogs and how to set them up. I even have a domain name. I’m afraid I would not have enough to say. I love to make covered hats, sort of old school, but I’ve been doing it for 24, 25 years or more. I also make straw and felt, etc., but covered hats are my passion. You are such an inspiration.


    Comment by Lee — June 17, 2009 @ 4:39 am

  16. Hello

    I work for Siegel & Stockman here in New York and yes we still make the heads that you are showing. They are all still made in the factory in Paris. Just so you know.

    Lucia Luis
    Senior account executive
    Siegel & Stockman

    Comment by Lucia — July 6, 2009 @ 9:38 pm

  17. Dear Lucia,
    Thank you for your comment. Indeed I know that Siegel & Stockman keep on manufacturing the heads in Paris. My head is a new one bought from the Spanish representative of Siegel & Stockman in Barcelona.
    I hope this post brings you some customers 🙂

    Comment by cristinadeprada — July 6, 2009 @ 10:35 pm

  18. Hi – have just seen your comment on my site, thank you ! and just wanted to tell you I have added my poupee to my blog as I love mine as well and she never complains ! cheers JULIE

    Comment by julie fleming — August 4, 2009 @ 8:39 am

  19. I have been in touch with decoeyes in USA (about two years ago) but have also noticed that they have become inactive lately. Sometimes the mannequins come up for sale on US eBay if that’s any help – you may get one of their beautiful manniquins by buying from eBay. I found deco eyes very helpful but now wonder if they are still making the manniquin heads ?? I bought my poupee new from Siegle & Stockman in London 20 years ago and she is still with me and I use her every day.

    Comment by julie fleming — February 21, 2010 @ 11:45 pm

  20. I enjoyed reading about pouppees. My suggestion regarding the placement of eyes, nose and mouth is to embroider them (using a curved needle if necessary) in a colourfast embroidery thread. In order to get the correct placement, use an air soluble dressmaking pen which will allow you to draw and re-draw the features until they are as you wish.

    Comment by Maximilien — September 20, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

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