July 11, 2007

Summer project: make straw braid hats with my sewing machine

Filed under: Millinery projects,millinery techniques and cheats — Cristina de Prada @ 9:40 pm

Straw braid hatstraw braid hat side view

I have a sewing machine for straw braid that I bought a few years ago (one of those ‘I must have it’ moments)… but I’ve only made one hat with it (above). It’s not easy (unless you do that everyday, in which case I guess it ends up being easy).

It’s time now to dust my sewing machine and put it back into use. There are no books or videos about machine sewing straw braid, so what I know I’ve learned from my friend Nina who in turn learned by trial an error.

machine sewn hat underside viewBasically what you do is start with a hand sewn little circle and from then you go on, the machine allows you to regulate the distance at which you sew on edge to the other. As you sew, if you pull, the edge tends to curl, if you feed the straw braid loosely then it goes flat and if you overfeed it can even go wavy. You still need a block to periodically test the hat in progress in order to get the right shape and size. I don’t know if I’m making any sense… I hope… and promise to take plenty of pictures once I start working.



  1. Lovely hat! regular sized I guess 😉

    Comment by Prima — July 11, 2007 @ 11:24 pm

  2. Wow. I still haven’t done one of those yet. I did do a wire frame though.
    I’ll be watching to see your hints and tips.

    Comment by jill — July 12, 2007 @ 1:13 am

  3. Actually it’s a big size hat! I tried to make it fit the block but it ended up being larger than expected… so, dear prima, you can borrow it any time you want because I’m sure it’s going to fit you!

    Comment by cristinadeprada — July 12, 2007 @ 3:29 pm

  4. Looks great! I love straw-braid hats, they grow so organically. You are right, it does get easier the more you work with it.

    Regarding the hat being too big for your block/head, i got one of my spiral straw hats to shrink quite a bit by submerging it in simmering water, then pulling it onto a block. Or, if dunking it is too daunting, steam might have the same effect.

    I hope you post more pictures of any further ones you make!

    Comment by LaBricoleuse — July 13, 2007 @ 12:05 am

  5. Good for you! Trial and error is not a bad way to learn – just frustrating at times. We do learn from our mistakes too. I love your hat. When I was at FIT we had lots of machines but they were never in working order. So the one thing I did not learn in the millinery program is how to stitch straw braid hats. Too bad. I have, however, hand stitched a few.
    K Q:-)

    Comment by Kate — July 16, 2007 @ 9:18 am

  6. Hello,

    Thanks for a wonderful blog site. If possible could you please help me. I put my straw machine together by buying straw machines from Ebay. I even put the machine on a portable Willcox & Gibbs portable motor bed. My problem is that when I try to sew the straw on the straw machine it always curves in–after I’ve hand sewn the tip by hand. I’m using straw braid that is approximately 1/4th inch wide. I would appreciate any suggestions you and/or Nina could give me. I’ve practiced for hours; no matter how much I push, the top does not stay flat. I have no problem sewing the side of the hat and the brim, only the top.



    Comment by Lee Duncan — December 16, 2008 @ 7:46 am

  7. Hi Lee,

    After laughing hard and shaking my head, all I can say is “Welcome to the club!”. Although I did make the hat on this posting (by some miracle I might add, it was finished in one morning, ready for a wedding in the afternoon), I have not been able to reproduce my results, and all my attempts this summer were so discouraging that I decided to drop it for a little while and take it up later on with renewed strenght. My friend Nina who has no problem making the hats tells me it’s a matter of patience… but I haven’t been able to see her at work doing this, so it might also be a matter of technique.

    I do believe that the type of straw does make a difference, because some are more cooperative than others, but WE, with our sewing machines, should be able to sew all those straws without problems, shouldn’t we?… it just drives me nuts not being able (particularly because I have a mountain of vintage straw waiting to be sewn into beautiful hats.

    Enough whining, here are some tips, for you and for me, of course:

    See (and hear) this video: http://www.cheribibi.fr/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=62&Itemid=50

    The hatmaker in the video, first, seems to be doing it all on the machine (no little hand sewn circle first)… we will get there eventually but I would stick to making it by hand for now. Second, he is not directly in front of the machine, he is slightly into the table cut out. Third, he is not worried about feeding the straw at all! He has both hands on the circle, using all fingers to keep it flat but particularly his thumbs.

    So right after I saw this video I realized that I had always been worried about feeding the straw in this first phase, which left me with no hands to concentrate on the circle itself… I think that little change should make a difference, but I have not tried it yet.

    Then… one dream of mine is to do a specialised course. I know Jame Smith in the UK does courses every now and then: http://www.janesmithhats.co.uk/ but closer to home is the Musée du Chapeau (Hat Museum) at Chazelles-sur-Lyon. They give the most fantastic courses, but I’ve never been to one. This link is to the PDF with the courses for 2009: http://www.museeduchapeau.com/Programme%202009.pdf

    The course “Paille cousue machine” (machine sewn straw) takes 4 days, and there are only 4 places available (or 6 if two people bring their machines). It costs 598 Euros… I would love to do this course… from 15 to 18 July… but my mother is ill and life is complicated. Then again you need to speak French, which is no problem for me, but I guess it might be for other people.

    Closer to you is the magnificent hatter Ignatius Creegan. I only recently found out about him and the pictures I’ve seen of his hats left me awestruck. He makes amazing creations by machine sewing straw. This is his website, you might try to call him and find out if he gives any courses: http://ignatiushats.com/

    Please keep me posted on how it goes, I will do the same!

    I know we can do it!

    Comment by cristinadeprada — December 16, 2008 @ 1:16 pm

  8. Thanks much. Check out these pages on straw braid manufacturing at the University of Wisconsin Digital Collection. Chapter IX deals with hand sewn and machine sewn straw. There are also some millinery books here. I think I found this through your site, but I never thought of searching on straw braid.



    Comment by Lee — December 17, 2008 @ 9:30 am

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