November 22, 2007

Making a brim block out of cork – The edge

Filed under: Making a cork block,millinery techniques and cheats — Cristina de Prada @ 7:39 pm

I thought I’d show you the latest progress on the brim block…

Brim block with the edge

I don’t know how I manage but lately I end up working on the block late in the afternoon until the light is almost gone and I can see close to nothing (guessing my way around), so I will wait until this weekend to check up the block with good light and give it a final shape and polish. The edge is pretty much done, first I’ve traced it with a pen and then I’ve used the metal file to make the indentation and shaping.

I must say I’m pretty happy with the result so far… I can’t wait to block the felt and I hope that a proper hat comes out of it, but it’s really hard to visualize the final hat just from the block, even if it’s me who has made it.


Front view of the brim block

And I want to say thanks to Jill for keeping an eye on me and the block/blog!

November 20, 2007

Making a brim block out of cork – The shape

Filed under: Making a cork block,millinery techniques and cheats — Cristina de Prada @ 11:05 pm

As Jill says, the plot thickens…

Because the brim for the homburg hat curls up, the brim block will curl down (with the crown disappearing through the middle hole). So I’ve been looking at pictures of homburg hats, upside down, to get a good idea of how the brim has to be carved.

What about this…


Upside down... to get an idea


Feels silly doesn’t it, but it’s what I’ve been doing these couple of days, looking at my hat books upside down.

But before getting to the fun (yet terrifying) part of shaping the brim, one needs to file down the opening until it’s slightly larger than the crown block size. The reason it has to be slightly bigger is because the crown block, with the felt already blocked on it, has to fit through, so the thickness of the felt has to be taken into account… This is an annoying and lengthy process, with constant checking and re-checking, and I suspect I’ve over done it and the hole is now too large… Ah well, if it turns out to be too big it can be fixed by glueing a thin layer of sheet cork around the brim headsize. So I will worry when I get there, because at this moment so many other things can go wrong that it might be premature to get upset about just one…

Is the gap too big? The Grand Canyon? I might have left too much space...

Once you have the central hole of the brim done, it’s time for the shaping, this is where I am at the moment:

Front view… Frontal view of the brim block



side view… Side view of the brim block


The curves at this moment are pretty subtle, but I think I will leave them like that. The most important part which is the brim edge still has to be done (check the picture above and see how the brim edge curves towards the inside), and that’s not going to be easy! But hey, I’ve gotten this far…

Making a brim block out of cork – The start…

Filed under: Making a cork block,millinery techniques and cheats — Cristina de Prada @ 4:24 pm

There is no hat without a brim, so now it’s time to get on with the brim block!

These are the steps to follow:

1. Decide the brim width (and give it an extra half centimeter just in case…)

2. Draw an oval, for which you need to calculate the width and height of the oval (based on the brim width and the headsize oval measures). After that all you need is a string and some pins. Follow the instructions on this link, it´s quite simple and you will get a perfect ellipse!


Drawing an oval

  3. Trace your headsize oval on the center of your brim oval pattern, and cut out the outside and inside so you can now use it as a pattern to trace on the cork. We will need two layers of work for the brim. Make sure to mark center front, back, and both sides.

Pattern traced onto the cork

4. Now it’s time to cut the cork with the jigsaw. You need to make a pilot hole with a drill, one centimeter close to the inside line of the headsize so you get a hole large enough for the saw blade to fit in and cut the central oval. I say to drill close to the line because this way you will save the maximum amount of cork for a future project. Remember not to cut on the line, but towards the inside. Once the hole is made you can start on the outside, also leaving a margin, but this time cut towards the outside of the line. With the scraps you should cut two smaller pieces to be used as “elevators” for the block. This elevation will allow us to block the felt in one piece, fitting the crown through the hole in the center of the brim.

Two pieces to elevate the block

5. Now it’s time to glue (with contact glue) the two brim ovals, making sure to match center front and back. The two blocks that we have cut for elevation will be added at the end.

Finally it’s time to shape the brim…



November 14, 2007

Making a hat block out of cork – Step 5 (and final): shaping the block

Filed under: Making a cork block,millinery techniques and cheats — Cristina de Prada @ 9:48 am

Because I did such a lousy job with the sawing, I’ve had to do some extra work and some rethinking on the shape.

Getting to this…

Finished block...

…from this…

The pyramids of Egypt... almost...

… has not been easy at all. I’ve had to do some serious sanding down just to eliminate the steps. Honestly even a one armed blind folded person would have done a better work with the sawing… but hey, it didn’t turn out that bad so I’m not going to beat myself over it.

These are the steps to follow:1. First file down the headsize area until you get to the correct headsize, making sure you file evenly as not to change the oval shape. The last steps of these have to be done with sand paper or the metal rasp to leave a smooth finish.

2. Use the side of the metal rasp to make an indentation around the base of the block to form the string groove. This will be useful when blocking because you will be able to tighten a string or special spring around it to keep the felt in place.

3. Follow your plans to shape the rest of the block, using the different tools.

4. If you need to have a groove or difficult shape that cannot be made with just the rasp, the variable speed rotary tool with a large round bit will be of enormous help. But beware, it is easy to make irreparable damage because the bit will be turning at really high speeds, so be very careful and remove material little by little. Finish with some sanding to even out.

And there you have it! A finished crown block!… still to come of course, is the crown block.

Some pictures (click to enlarge):

November 13, 2007

Tools I’ve been using in making the block

Filed under: Making a cork block,millinery techniques and cheats — Cristina de Prada @ 5:54 pm

Tools for cork hat block making

Originally uploaded by … the millinery blog.

These are the tools I’ve been using. There are notes on this picture (comments on each tool), so please click on it to be directed to flickr and you will be able to see those notes when you run your mouse over the image…

Making a hat block out of cork – Step 4: making a removable headsize base (optional)

Filed under: Making a cork block,millinery techniques and cheats — Cristina de Prada @ 10:55 am
Base with holes to hold up the block

The idea was to make a block that looked and felt as close as possible to the real thing. Having holes in the base to hold the block is really useful, an the central hole allows you to put the block in a stand.You don’t really need to do this. This layer can be just like the others, glued in and then sanded (and you can omit the three holes), but since I was going to make the holes and that was going to be time consuming, I thought it would be better to make the base reusable for other blocks of the same size.

But since I did it, here’s how…

I used a “hole saw drill” with it’s corresponding “hexagon adapter a.k.a. mandrel“. The circle has a diameter of 29 millimeters, and we used a drill press stand (that we’ve had for ages) that allowed us a lot of control on the depth of the holes and the perpendicularity. Afterwards we used a thick drill bit to empty out the remaining cork.

Drilling the finger holes... click to enlarge

To attach the base to the rest of the block I used a dowel kit and again the drill press stand, which is important in this case to make the holes perpendicular, otherwise it will not work properly. The idea is to make a first set of holes in one side, then you put a metalic pointed thing in the wholes (that comes with the kit), position the other side on top in the right position and press hard to leave a mark. Because it’s hard to see anything in cork, I glued a piece of paper, but you can just as well use some masking tape (it just didn’t occur to me at the time).

The result was great! And I’m really happy I did the whole thing.

One important detail is to leave sanding until later, when it’s properly assembled, so the whole thing will be smooth.

November 6, 2007

Making a hat block out of cork – Step 3: sawing the ovals and glueing up

Filed under: Making a cork block,millinery techniques and cheats — Cristina de Prada @ 6:41 pm

Peter sawing away...Planning all done, and the oval patterns traced on the cork it’s now time to use the jigsaw to saw them up. Since sawing is the fun bit, and we were sawing 4 pieces, we did 2 ovals each (modesty aside, mine turned out much better!).

Some advice:

1. Do not do this in your living room. Or you will end up with a think layer of cork dust all over the place, if you don’t believe me take a look. I should get a foldable work bench so I can do it in the balcony.

2. Make sure your cork sheet is well fixed to your table, a couple of bar clamps will do the trick. You don’t want your cork to be wobbly.

3. If your jigsaw can be tilted, make sure it’s perfectly flat (unless you want it tilted!)… don’t ask me why I’m telling you this.

4. Make sure to cut outside the line. You need to leave some space for the sanding that will happen later, if you cut exactly on the line you might be eating away too much cork, and it’s easy for the blade to go in the direction you don’t want.

5. Do not bother to use the vacuum accessory (that connects the jigsaw to your vacuum cleaner) because it really doesn’t suck up much (at least in my case).

We did make a dog’s breakfast out of it, I must confess, and we did not get the gradual step effect that I wanted. It was quite a mess, but I’m fixing it during sanding, although it might affect the final shape.

After sawing, the top layers were ready to be glued together (the bottom layer will be processed differently, not glued). I used contact adhesive for the glueing, and I did it layer by layer because each side to be glued has to be covered with a thin layer of glue and let to dry for 20-30 minutes until it’s not sticky to the touch, only then the pieces can be joined together being extremely careful because once in contact it’s impossible to reposition them, so make sure CF-CF and CB-CB match perfectly. The best way is to position the top piece barely hinged on one edge (matching the markings) and carefully drop it down until it sticks.

Because we did such a lousy job with the sawing this is the result after glueing (there is a gap between second a third layer the size of the grand canyon…):

Glued layers

November 1, 2007

Making a hat block out of cork – Step 2: layout

Filed under: Making a cork block,millinery techniques and cheats — Cristina de Prada @ 9:38 am

Looking for the best layout - click to enlargeYou have to think of your block as a puzzle, or as a layered cake. You want to get the rough shape as close to the final shape as possible to minimize the amount of sanding, and since this block will taper towards the top I have made three templates, one of the headsize (two layers will be made of that one), a smaller one, and an even smaller one.

Layered plan - click to enlarge

I planned the layers on my drawing, based on the 40mm thickness of the cork, as you can see on the picture above right. I’ve decided to make a base layer that will be detachable and can be used on other blocks. This base layer will have three large holes on the base (central one for the stand, side ones so I can hold it with my fingers), and two pegs on the top that will be used to conect the base with the rest of the block (soon I will show you pictures and it will make more sense). Because the three holes on the base take quite a lot of work, the idea of making it reusable seemed quite a good one.

The oval shapes have to be traced onto the cork, and I make sure to mark the sides, front and back.

Oval traced on cork - click to enlarge I have made two lines crossing to get the center point, and clearly marked Center Front (CF). Also remember to clearly mark which layer it is, so you can later glue (drill) them in the correct order.

Keep in mind that you will also want to use that cork sheet to make the brim, so lay out the crown ovals in a way that will allow you to do that. I put them a long the length, in an angle… since I have not planned the brim yet I’m just hoping there will be cork enough.

To be continued…

October 30, 2007

Making a hat block out of a 40 mm cork sheet – Step 1: planning

Filed under: Making a cork block,millinery techniques and cheats — Cristina de Prada @ 2:45 pm

Planning the blockIt’s been a while, but on my defense I will say that I’ve been very busy, so I have many things to tell you.

I’ve been (and still am) busy making a hat block out of cork (the way my friend Nina makes them). First step, I bought myself this jigsaw which had a reasonable price (99.95 euro) along with the fine cutting blades (2.45 euro), some drilling stuff and sanding tools and it total I pocketed 145 euro, which I thought was reasonable.

I bought the cork sheet at a local specialized shop called Surotecnia. There you can buy all things cork, and for our purpose you can buy sheets of 30 and 40 millimeters of what they call Industrial agglomerated cork. Each sheet measures 915 x 610mm and has these specs:

density: 120 – 140 – 150 Kg/m3

weight resistance: 2.000 – 2.300 Kg/m2

The idea is to make a homburg style hat (block) for Peter, and so I spent some time looking at pictures to get an idea of the shape of the hat. The little book you can see in the picture is Italian (with text in Italian and English) and has been out of print for ages -my edition is from 1988!- (this one seems to be a reprint, available second hand). There’s a MEN’S HATS (IL CAPPELLO DA UOMO) book, and a WOMEN’S HATS (IL CAPPELLO DA DONNA) book on the same series.

A homburg traditionally has a central indentation on the top and a rolled up rim (usually edged with a grosgrain ribbon). In other parts of Europe it’s known as a “chapeau diplomate” (France) or “cappello alla diplomatica” (Italy).

Front and profile drawings - click to enlarge To get the right size and shape, first I measured Peter’s head size and I also measured front to back and side to side to make the oval shape as close to his actual head shape as possible. It’s not easy to get an oval shape, but I used a flexible ruler (see top picture), which helped a lot. Using a tape I made sure the size was (more or less) correct, in any case bigger than necessary, so later on I can trace the block onto paper for the right oval. I first cut one half (right side) of the oval, and traced it on the other side to make sure it was symmetrical.

I also used brown paper to do front and profile life size drawings of the homburg shape that I wanted, and that I can later use as reference when shaping the block.

To be continued…

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