April 12, 2014

A hat made of a hat… or what I call a "meta-hat"

This is the hat I made for last year’s  Stroll with a Hat (Passejada amb Barret).

Whether or not to sketch before making a hat is something that is often discussed in the forums. I think it simply depends on the type of hat, and possibly on your working process. I enjoy sketching although I’m not particularly good at it, but it works for me. Many sketches don’t get to become a hat, but I often review old sketches for self-inspiration. From sketch to finished product it’s often a long process with many changes. In this case the hat started as an open hat box, and it was only later on that I decided to add the top hat:


My choice of material for the structure of the hat was “toile gommée”, a very stiff canvas that is sold in France and that is very hard to work with, but that added the stiffness required for the hat box. It’s very hard to sew through, so it’s not my material of choice. It can be blocked because the stiffener softens with steam and water, but it takes muscle!


The hat box is made of tie silk that comes in narrow bolts intended to make gentelman’s ties. I think this silk is what inspired me to make the hat because it just talks hat box to me. The “tissue paper” inside of the box is silk organza (from a leftover piece that my friend Paco Peralta gave me), and the hat is made of silk shantung to match the green cape that Paco made for me.

The most difficult part was the top hat, making sure all stitches where hidden and the fabric was nice and tight. Going “miniature” makes life very difficult, particularly with such a thick material as the toile gommée. But that stiffness of the material is what allowed me to flare the top of the hat with my hands with some water and when it dried it was rock hard.

Meta-hat1Another important moment when making a hat is deciding where and how to sew the elements that make it. I used two plastic headbands, covered with elastic cotton velvet ribbon, and I played a little with the position of the hat…


I wore this hat in Madrid for the Head over Heels event organized by Value Retail Spain at Las Rozas Outlet. Stephen Jones was the mentor of that event and we had the good fortune of getting an inspiring talk from him. I love that he praised those of us (all milliners) that were wearing a hat at the moment, if we don’t wear hats who is going to? And the big surprise? There were a few of his hats on display and one of them was a hat box with hats, how crazy is that?! Here you can see it, on the left, behind the great man himself. Could they be more different and yet spring from the same idea?:


And here I am, wearing the final product, on the day of the Stroll with a Hat, next to my good friend Nina Pawlowsky:


April 26, 2010

Teaching how to make a sinamay fascinator

I was approached recently by Castelltort to give a few classes on how to make a fascinator. Castelltort is a  Spanish wholesaler that has just recently started carrying material to make fascinators (sinamay bases, sinamay by the meter, some feathers, veil and horsehair). The classes are aimed at customers (owners of shops) who want to get an idea of what can be done with the material being sold, and who are interested in selling it in their shops.

Today I gave the first class, 3 hour long , in which the ladies attending learnt to make a fascinator. They were supplied with a kit bag containing instructions, templates and the material needed to make the fascinator that I designed for the occasion. This is the table just before the class stared:

Here’s a picture of the ladies that have attended the course with their fascinators on (I’m there in the center):

It has been a very interesting experience and I’m really happy with the results, and really lucky I met such wonderful ladies!

October 7, 2009

Up for a little Sunday shopping?

Filed under: Millinery material,Millinery suppliers — Cristina de Prada @ 4:33 pm

Better late than never, here goes my advice for next Sunday.

Pack your bags and go on a little excursion to Brühl , Germany, for this years special KOPKA sales day!

Sunday, 11 October 2009: 9h a.m. until 4h p.m.

Those who have been following my blog for a while might remember my visit to Kopka last year for the Special Sale, and might have already seen the pictures of my loot (above, picture on the left) and of the shop (pictures on the right, the bottom right picture is of the shelves with the items on offer with color coded tags, each color being a different price).

If you also decide to buy something from the current collection you will get a discount, but only if you pay cash, so remember to take money with you as the offer items must be paid in cash, and if you want a discount also.

I wish I could be going this year, but I wont be able. I hope one of you goes and tells me all about it.

Happy shopping and sorry for my delay in letting you know about it!

September 9, 2009

Reseña del libro electrónico “Plumas Fantásticas” – Review of e-book in Spanish “Fantastic Feathers”

(You will find the review in English below! This is a review of the Spanish translation of the book -the original is in English-, so I’m starting in Spanish).

Todos aquellas personas hispanoparlantes que tienen interés en aprender a hacer sombreros bien saben que prácticamente no existen publicaciones en castellano que traten del tema. Para el que sabe inglés eso no supone un problema ya que en ese idioma se pueden encontrar muchísimos libros, y algunos de gran calidad. No obstante hay gente que no tiene el privilegio de saber idiomas y que se ve en gran manera limitada por ese hecho ya que los traductores de internet sirven de poca ayuda cuando se quiere entender un libro.

Intentando salvar este vacío en el mercado acaba de aparecer traducido al castellano un libro en formato electrónico publicado por How2hats que se llama Plumas Fantásticas. Han creado una página web completamente en castellano para atender al mercado hispanoparlante llamada www.comohacersombreros.es  donde venden los libros electrónicos online (de momento solo venden el de Plumas Fantásticas aunque si la iniciativa prospera traducirán más).

Para el amante de las plumas a quien le gusta hacer tocados éste es un libro interesante ya que da una visión introductoria del mundo de las plumas, describiendo los varios tipos que hay disponibles en el mercado, así como diversas técnicas que permiten realizar tocados o decorar sombreros.

Este libro electrónico contiene entre otras cosas:

  • Listado de material necesario
  • Descripción de las diferentes plumas
  • Proceso de teñido de plumas y otras técnicas
  • Confección de un arreglo y aplicaciones
  • Creación de una base sencilla de tocado en sinamay
  • Fotos diversas de tocados que se pueden realizar usando las técnicas que se enseñan en el libro

El libro lista proveedores de plumas, tinte y sinamay que venden online desde el Reino Unido (aunque envían a España). No obstante, con un buscador tipo google, y usando los términos en castellano que aparecen en el libro, es posible encontrar proveedores en España. Uno de los problemas que suelen tener los libros especializados traducidos al español es la baja calidad de las traducciones, pero afortunadamente, en este caso, la calidad de la traducción es muy buena y las instrucciones son fáciles de seguir.

El libro contiene 20 páginas dobles y 62 fotos color, no obstante algunas de las fotos ilustran tocados y sombreros para los cuales no hay instrucciones, ya que simplemente muestran algunos de los usos que se pueden dar a los arreglos de plumas. He de decir que algunos de los tocados que se enseñan no son de mi estilo, pero francamente eso da bastante igual ya que lo importante es aprender las técnicas y aplicarlas al estilo propio y eso es lo que ofrece el libro (la foto es de un clip de pelo que he hecho usando una técnica del libro).

10 de Septiembre: acabo de actualizar los links a la web en castellano que estaban mal!! Disculpas!!

English text (this e-book is also available in its original language, English, and this review is partially applicable):

All of those Spanish speaking people who have an interest in learning to make hats know darn well that there are practically no publications in Spanish on the subject. For those who understand English, that is not an obstacle because many books can be found (some of very high quality) that are written in that language. Unfortunately there are many people who don’t have the priviledge of understanding English and who are greatly limited by that, since online translators dont help much in understanding a book.

Trying to save this gap in the market, the e-book Plumas Fantásticas, published by How2hats, has just been released (a translation from the original Fantastic Feathers e-book).  They have created a website entirely in Spanish to serve the Spanish speaking market named www.comohacersombreros.es where they sell e-books online (at the moment they only sell the Plumas Fantásticas e-book, although if this initiative is successful they will translate more).

For those who love feathers and making fascinators this is an interesting book that gives an introductory look to the world of feathers, describing the different types of feathers that are available in the market, as well as the different techniques that allow you to make fascinators or trims.

The e-book contains among other things:

  • List of necessary material
  • Description of the different types of feathers
  • Feather dyeing and other techniques
  • Making a feather mount and its uses
  • Creating a simple sinamay fascinator base
  • Pictures of several fascinators that can be made using the techniques shown in the book.

The book includes links to feather, dye and sinamay suppliers that sell online from the United Kingdom (although they do deliver to Spain). Nevertheless, using a search engine like Google, and using the Spanish terms from the book, it’s possible to find suppliers in Spain. Specialized books translated into Spanish often suffer from poor translations but fortunately, in this case, the quality of the translation is very good and the instructions are easy to follow.

 The book contains 20 double pages and 62 colour pictures, although some of the pictures show fascinators and hats for which there are no instructions, they are there as a source of inspiration to show what has been done by other people using those same techniques. I must say that some of the fascinators shown on the e-book do not match my style, but frankly that doesn’t bother me because what matters is to learn the techniques and apply them to your own style, and that is what the book offers (the picture  above is of a hair clip I’ve made using a technique from the book).

September 10, 2009: I’ve just updated the links to the website in Spanish, they were bad!

July 8, 2009

Four books about hats

Filed under: Hat book and magazine reviews,Millinery material — Cristina de Prada @ 3:20 pm

Recently I bought a few new hat books. Three of them (the French ones), I bought from Amazon France, and the Italian one I bought directly from the publisher.

Here’s what I can tell you about them:

Book 1: Créer ses chapeaux bibis et bijoux de tête

Author: Gaela Lemoine-Vallerie

Publisher: www.editions-eyrolles.com

Details: 2008, 128 pages, 28 euros (26 from Amazon.fr at the date of this post), soft cover. In French only. ISBN: 978-2-212-12335-7


  • Introduction
  • Getting to know the indispensable
  • Hair “jewels”
  • Head “jewels”
  • Hats and small hats (“bibis”)
  • Patterns

It is a well published book with beautiful pictures and how-to drawings. Explanations about the materials and tools. There are interesting instructions on how to make covered hair clips, hair combs and head bands. The projects are classified by difficulty, and are mostly devoted to small pieces and fascinators.

You will find explanations on millinery stitches, how to work with feathers, sinamay, how to prepare a small fascinator base (wired and covered). There is also an appendix with a list of suppliers in France and the UK, and a list of millinery schools.

My advice: If you have no issues with the language (it’s 100% in French although plenty of drawings and pictures) this a nice little book to have. It’s an informed book and a lot of effort has gone into it’s making. If you’re an experienced milliner there might be nothing new for you, but if you’re like me, someone who must have every decent book about hats, this is one you will want to buy.


Author: Agnès Rosenstiehl

Publisher: Editions Autrement (more…)

July 3, 2009

Little straw hat with romantic grosgrain bows

Although made using the same plasticine block I used for the machine sewn mini hats, this one is fully hand sewn. The vintage straw braid is a 4-strand one (four strands of braid already come sewn together into a wider braid), and the grosgrain ribbon is also vintage, from Nina’s stash. I sewed the braid in stages, pinning on the block a few turns and then sewing, pinning again, and so on…

This hat was a commission. The lady who commissioned it needed a hat to go with a simple sleeveless blue silk cocktail gown for a wedding in the UK. The original idea was to use feathers, because I had biot feathers of the exact colour of the dress, but I was not happy at all with my attempts, and finally I changed directions completely and went with the bows you can see now (the grosgrain being also of the exact colour). I think the result is sweet and fun… what do you think?

It’s finished on the inside with a grosgrain ribbon and an elastic band keeps the hat firmly in place.  I hope you enjoy it!

June 1, 2009

Gathered side beret from vintage block

One of the many things I find amazing about hat making is the fact that those casual bumps and folds that certain hats styles have are anything but casual and really owe that look to the artistic carving of the block maker.

This is very obvious when looking at this vintage block. If you look at the finished hat you might think that the straw has been gathered to form the pleats, and actually looking at the block it gives this strange impression of folded wood because the quality of the carving is so good!

To reinforce the folds I used reed, also around the head entry to keep the straw evenly tight. I figured out that reed would be great for this purpose myself, only to find out later that reed is what milliners have always used, talk about reinventing the wheel!… You can buy reed at basket making suppliers, and if you need the reed to take a particular curve you should soak it for a while in water which makes it very pliable and easy to bend into shape. I’ve used short pins to hold the reed in place.

The material I have used is straw braid that comes sewn into a cone. These cones are very stretchy and just perfect for this kind of detailed block. After cutting out the excess I did a zigzag stitch all around to avoid the whole thing coming undone. Although I’m one in favor of hand sewing, if the job is going to be done better by machine sewing I see no point in doing it by hand. This is the case with the sweatband because the material is folded under so the underside stitches of the sweat band will not be seen from the outside.

The only trimming on the hat is a vintage button (a gift of my friend Nina), it looks very nice although because it has a shaft it kind of wobbles a bit instead of staying nicely close to the hat.

This beret, in addition to looking nice is extremely comfortable (I can lean back with no problem which means I don’t have to take it out in the car). I’m happy!

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:  http://www.flickr.com/groups/millinery_heads/

April 18, 2009

Straw braid sewing: the machines


Although it is possible to sew straw braid with an ordinary free-arm sewing machine (check out this ebook by Jane Smith if you want to know more) , when sewing narrower straw it is much easier to use a machine that has been designed for the purpose (like my Corsani, above in the picture). Much of what I’ve learnt about these machines has come from reading old patents, there’s a wealth of information there.

This is what makes these straw braid sewing machines different from your household machine:

  1. They are chain stitch machines (just one thread, no bobbin)
  2. They have a special guide system for feeding the braid and holding the work in place
  3. The needle and plate are all the way to the left to make working easier
  4. They are set on a special table with a big cutout on the middle front so there is space for the hat as it grows, and for you to manouver.

Drawing from patent 218413Some of these special machines have additional special features that were designed and patented by their inventors to make the sewing of straw easier.

To start, there is a mechanism that Willcox called in his patent a “vibrator”, and that has been implemented by every manufacturer afterwards. The mechanism is used when sewing the “button” of the hat (where the hat starts with a tight spiral). When sewing this small spiral the operator of the machine is forcing the straw because the curve is very tight, without this invention the straw can get damaged as the presser foot is pushing down on the straw when the operator is pulling. and it is very difficult to keep the work flat. This “vibrator” contraption is a very clever invention that lifts the presser foot as the needle goes down, pressing down again as the feeder goes into action, thus allowing the operator to easily turn the work.

Here is the text from the patent explaining the workings of the invention.

Excerpt from patent 218413Excerpt from patent 218413

Another interesting invention is the lever that allows the tension of the thread to be easily changed to a tighter tension. This is useful because when one starts sewing the button of the hat (the center of the spiral) the stitch length shortens because of the tight angle at which one is sewing, that often causes loose loops on the underside of the work. Before this invention one had to manually change the tension, setting a tighter tension at the beginning and then stopping the work to set a looser tension as the work progresses. With this invention you can switch between a tigher and looser tension with the flick of a lever (without stopping the sewing).  Below are the drawings and explanation for this invention.

Drawing from patent 309514

Drawing from patent 298315

Excerpt from patent 298315Excerpt from patent 298315

I also wanted to mention that there are essentially two types of straw sewing machines, those that do straight stitch, and those who sew in zig-zag. From looking at the patents I know that there were machines that did a hidden stitch, but those don’t seem to have survived the test of time because the ones in use today are the visible stitch ones, machines that are more than one hundred years old and are still (amazingly) working. The zig-zag machine on the other hand (some are still available in the market) allows one to sew edge to edge and avoid wasting material.

Soon I will write some more on the subject… stay tuned.

March 28, 2009

Straw braid hats -machine sewn-

I’ve been trying to tame my straw braid sewing machine and here are the first results. I have used vintage straw braid from my personal stash.

These two hats have been created using a block that I have made myself. The block is made with Plastilina Jovi (a non hardening modelling clay similar to Play-Doh). I buy it in packs of 350 grams, and in this case I have used a long plastic  container as a base to minimize the waste of material (and give it extra stability).

Using a block is important when sewing straw as one goes back to it repeatedly, removing the hat from the machine and trying for fit, checking that the hat is adjusting to the block (and undoing rows of work when it’s too narrow or too wide).  When the hat is finished the block allows us to iron the hat and stiffen it.

My block has a serious drawback (but a design decision) and it’s that the distance between the center of the tip to the front edge is bigger than the distance to the back edge. That means that I have to add extra strips on the front (where the brim begins) to compensate for that. Adding those strips is a pain!

As for the way to wear these small hats, I did try fitting an elastic band (which is the most comfortable way to wear these small hats and hides nicely under the hair) BUT the elastic pulled the sides of the hat apart (because it’s pretty soft) and deformed it.

I used straw stiffener (before trimming) but for some reason it doesn’t stiffen the hat as much as I would want it too.

I had to think of another way of holding the hat on the head so I added a piece of elastic velvet ribbon, long ends sewn together to form a tube and then sewed the ends to the hat (being careful not to close the entry!).

That allows me to thread a metallic headband, with the advantage that I can move the hat to position it and I can change the headbands colour to adapt it to the wearers hair.

I will post some more on this subject soon. I want to share with you what I’ve worked hard to learn on my own, since (and it shouldn’t come as a surprise) there’s  nothing written on the subject on the Internet or in print and many of those who know don’t feel like sharing. As an example, I recently had the opportunity to talk to a person who makes straw braid hats (father and grandfather also did so) and when I told her that I had problems when starting the hat because it tends to curl up too soon she said “yes… yes…”, turned around and went on her merry way. Nice.

Be on the look out for more soon! All (that I know) will be revealed!

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