May 1, 2010

The birth of a gentleman’s hat

I had a bunch of handsome gentlemen in need of a spring hat for the last Passejada amb barret, and decided to start from scratch and design and sew a stylish hat for them.

Do you remember that a while ago I sculpted a hat with plasticine and extracted a flat pattern from it? If you don’t remember or want to see it again, follow this link.

Well, for my gentleman’s hat I decided to follow the same process. I used a round block as a base in order to save on plasticine (aka Play Doh), and as you can see it starts quite messy and seems hopeless, but little by little it takes shape. I like to smooth it out really well when it’s almost finished. Once the shape is ready I cover it with cling film and ideally I use masking (painters) tape to cover the whole shape, carefully following all the curves. When I made this pattern I was out of masking tape (and it was Sunday, so no hope of finding any) so I used packing tape which is messy and does not adapt as well to the shape, but in the end it did the trick.

Then I drew lines with a felt pen where the cuts (seams) were going to be. I think this is the trickiest part of the whole process, trying to visualise where the seams should be, but it’s a process that can be repeated as many times as necessary, covering the form again if we need to, and marking different seam lines. Once happy with the tape pattern it’s time to transfer it to pattern paper and true it up with a french curve.

I believe I got really lucky because I love the resulting pattern (the crown is made from one piece of fabric), but I should point out that the finished hat is not exactly as the plasticine version… if you check it out carefully you wil see that I marked the seam to be on the top edge of the sideband, but on the finished hat the top edge is a fold and the seam sinks down. When I had the prototype sewn I saw that it had to sink down, there was no other way.

If you check all the pictures I’ve taken of the sewing process you will see that I cut the iron-on interfacing without seam allowance, then iron it to the external fabric, and then cut the fabric with the allowance. That minimizes the bulk, and serves as a guide when sewing… I’m not really sure if it’s a good idea of just a crazy one but it worked for me…

In any case, the pattern still needs some perfecting. The last version is the one being worn by Paco Peralta (my couturier friend, the one on the far left picture), and you can see how the brim curves better than on the other ones (Peter and Joaquín).



March 28, 2010

Emilia and Philip with their new hats

Filed under: daily life,Millinery projects — Cristina de Prada @ 1:54 pm

My most grateful customers, here you can see Emilia and Philip wearing their new hats:

And here is the cloche of Emilia while on the block. It’s a 5 piece puzzle block, and all went dandy, including unblocking (a miracle how when you pull out the middle piece the whole thing collapses and you can take out one piece at a time) until I folded the bottom edge in, and it buckled!!  there was too much felt!! It was supposed to fold in nicely but it didn’t and I had a hart time shrinking the felt so that it stayed flat… I’m thinking of modifying the block shaving off the extra wood, so that the next time it will work properly.

January 21, 2010

Making a 1920’s turban from the book “Manuel de Modes Sunlight”

Filed under: Brimmed turban Sunlight,Millinery projects — Cristina de Prada @ 10:23 pm

I recently bought on Ebay the wonderful book “Manuel de Modes Sunlight”. It’ was published by Sunlight (the soap brand) , and it contains individually bound chapters and a hard cover held together by a ribbon. I suspect that coupons came with the soap allowing interested ladies to put the book together.

I was not really sure what I was buying, but the auction images showed illustrations of hats, so I went for it. When I received it I was delighted because it turned out to be 80% about millinery and it’s packed with wonderful illustrations and instructions. What is funny is that it was advertised as being from the 40’s, when it’s so clearly from the 20’s… I guess some people are “period blind”. I find it very interesting that the author puts a lot on emphasis on technique, pointing out that fashions come and go and what is fashionable today might be completely out of fashion tomorrow.

On the first chapter there is a very simple project, a brimmed turban, intended to compensate the reader for enduring the hardships of the preceding pages (mostly a description of millinery stitches). The turban, according to its description, can be used as a driving cap, sports hat and rain hat, and can be worn by women of all ages, depending on the fabric and colours chosen.

This is a small format book, and has no full size patterns. In this case one is supposed to make the pattern oneself by following the detailed instructions (click on any of the images to see the scanned instructions -in french- and pictures of the process). I made the pattern almost to the letter, only adding a little curve to the inside of the brim so that it wouldn’t sit so close to the face. The author herself (I’m thinking it’s a woman, but who knows!) tells us that the brim could be made narrower, and I think it would look better narrower, and the version on the illustrations is indeed much narrower than the one from the pattern proposed.

For this project I have upcycled (a term I learnt from Jane) a viscose velvet jacket I was not using anymore. The velvet is quite thick and heavy (although it drapes nicely), and I suspect that with a lighter, stiffer fabric  the turban would look fluffier and better. To make things worse, at the time of cutting the fabric I realized I was a little short, so I have an extra seam at the back where I’ve had to add a little strip to get the right size. The ends are supposed to have a big tassel, but I didn’t get to that, although I believe it look  decadent and beautiful with them.

The author of the book recommends the following fabrics (I write the names of the fabrics in French as they are written on the book, because I don’t know most of these fabrics): “Crêpe de Chine” flexible and yet solid would be perfect, on an elegant note we can also make it in “soie paillette”, “charmeuse” or “pongée”. It would also look pretty in (…) “crêpe suisse”, “crêpe coton” or in “duvetine légère”. I believe the first four terms are silks of some kind, still available (except for the soie paillette, which I believe is silk with sparkly bits), and also the crêpe suisse seems to be unavailable these days by that name.

If you decide to give it a try, will you let me know and send me a picture?

December 2, 2009

My hats at GRATACÓS

Filed under: daily life,Millinery projects,Millinery trivia and events,My hats at GRATACOS — Cristina de Prada @ 11:51 pm

If you happen to be in Barcelona and get a chance you should visit GRATACÓS (Paseo de Gracia 110), the best fabric and accessories shop in Barcelona where you will be able to try on and buy the hats from my mini-collection, PAJAROS (Birds). My friend Nina Pawlowsky and I share a window and a large table display inside (shown on the picture). The hats with a cut design on the left are Nina’s designs, the bird hats on the right are my babies.

Si pasas por Barcelona te propongo visitar GRATACÓS (Paseo de Gracia 110, esquina Diagonal), la mejor tienda de telas y accesorios de Barcelona, dónde podrás ver y comprar los sombreros de mi mini-colección, PÁJAROS. Mi amiga Nina Pawlowsky y yo compartimos un maravilloso escaparate y una zona interior de exposición. Los sombreros “troquelados” a la izquierda son diseños de Nina, los sombreros de pájaros a la derecha son míos. Ya sabes que pedir a los Reyes Magos!

November 20, 2009

Like a wire on a bird

Filed under: Bird of Paradise hat,Millinery projects,Wiring felt bird for structure — Cristina de Prada @ 4:15 pm

Here are some pictures of how I do the inner wiring for my beautiful green bird. I have used a large brim block as a base to shape the wire. With the pattern drawn on a piece of paper I have traced a line where I want the wire to go, and that done I have placed the paper on top of the brim block and pushed small pins all along the lines where the wire is supposed to go. The bits where the wire has to bend have many pins, while there are no pins where there are straight lines. After doing that I have been able to easily measure how much wire I was going to need and cut it to size before starting. With needle nose pliers you can make little circles on the ends to avoid snags and make it easier to sew in place. I’ve sewn the wire in place by hand without getting to the other side of the felt.

I want to thank Montez for giving me the idea for the rig I’ve made to shape the wire. Check it out for yourselves, here’s where my inspiration came from:

I hope you will be able to use this technique to make your hats. Needless to say this bird is my design, so please do not copy it… I’m sure you can think of something else that is as beautiful!

November 2, 2009

Mini hat is out of the block

The hat is out of the block. I used scissors to cut the edge following the string line. I like the downwards curve of the edge, which I believe works nicely with the general curviness of the hat. When I took that picture it still needed a good brush up, though.

I’ve added chemical stiffener on the inside because the hat was too soft.

Below is a picture of the inside of the hat. Whereas on the outside you cannot see any wrinkles, on the inside and with the lateral light that is hitting the hat one can see some wrinkles around the “headsize”. The grosgrain has been sewn in place using pink thread, which cannot be seen on the outside because I go in with the needle on the same place I came out (but on a different angle).

I’ve had to sand the edge a lot to get rid of irregularities which are my very own fault for doing a lousy job with the scissors. The edge also needs to be cleaned with a wet cloth to get rid of the white dust.

The trimming is the only thing missing (to tell the truth it’s finished, but you will have to be patient to see the result!)

These days I feel a need for simplicity and hang on to the old adage “less is more” (or more recently the KISS principle).

Since this blog is called “The rantings blah blah”, here goes some ranting…

I feel there are too many overloaded, heavy handed, unbalanced hats and fascinators on the market (with this tendency to add everything but a kitchen sink on the hat/fascinator), that I feel an urge to steer clear of that and to condemn it.  The simpler the hat the more difficult it is to make. A simple elegant hat is a challenge (I’m not saying my hats are elegant or simple… but one does strive for that).

Lets do this exercise: Pick up your favorite hat book, old fashion picture of hats, or vintage fashion magazine. I bet the hats you love the most are those that are striking without being overpowering, those with a simple line, those where you say “Wow, that lady looks amazing!” and not “Wow look at that hat, that cannot be comfortable, poor woman!”

Having said that, there are hats where there’s a lot going on (as an example, the wonderful butterfly hat by Philip Treacy) that work wonderfully (or so I think). I think making a complex hat look becoming and in a way “simple” is an even more difficult task.

There, I said it.  That’s what I think of the proliferation of fascinators in the market. I have nothing against the fascinator as long as it’s well made (no glue thank you) and it’s becoming. I also encourage the people that only make fascinators to branch out and learn more, because there’s so much more to learn and there is a lot of joy involved in becoming a milliner… and that is why I write this blog, to share what I know.

October 27, 2009

Sneak preview of cork block Mini Hat

For those who cannot wait until the hat is finished and want to know how the blocking of the Mini Hat is going, here is a sneak preview of the hat block in use. I have used a black furfelt cone with spikes, and as you can see there is a lot left over after blocking it.

I’ve started by spraying water based sizing on the cone, wrapping it up in a wet cloth and microwaving it for 1,5 minutes to soften the felt and get the sizing to sink in. I’ve manually stretched the tip a little bit and then I’ve started blocking. Around the collar there was a lot of excess felt, which I’ve managed to reduce by ironing with a wet cloth, pushing down (but not too much), all in an effort to encourage the felt to shrink in that area.

It has taken some time but it has worked!

Here are some more pictures of the blocked felt. First the back (and most troublesome part of the blocking process because it took a long time to get it to shrink down):

And here is a picture from an angle. As you can see I did not need to use any pins, the string that locked on the groove was enough to keep the felt in place. I do not know what I will do with the edge when I unblock it. I think that for a folded edge I should have made the groove lower down, so possibly the only option will be to cut the edge.

October 26, 2009

Mini hat block out of cork

Those who have been following me for a while might remember that I did a mini plasticine (aka Play-Doh) hat block to use it for making straw braid hats (like these ones).

I’ve been thinking for a while that this block would make a beautiful felt hat, but if I blocked felt on it, it would soon lose its shape, so today I set off to make a cork version of the block.

The result is quite close to the original, but one must keep in mind that the curves of the original block where due in great measure to the fact that plasticine is very malleable and lends itself to that kind of look. Reproducing that curviness with cork has been difficult. You can imagine how difficult it has been by looking at the pile of glued cork layers (4 centimeters each) that I started with. When I started I had my doubts it would work out, but I’m pleased that it did in the end, after hours of filing and sanding away.

Now there’s only one thing left to do, to block a felt on it!

You can see all pictures I’ve taken of the process if you follow this link:

All pictures related to making a cork block (you might remember I also made a Homburg hat cork block) can be seen if you follow this link:

Will be back soon with pictures of a felt mini hat made using this block…

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 16, 2009

Hand sculpted straw hat

Filed under: Hand sculpted straw hat,Millinery projects — Cristina de Prada @ 6:19 pm


I sprayed a sisal straw cone (a “second” I bought at the Kopka sale) with water in order to block it  on a vintage cloche block but as I was manipulating it (and wondering which was the right side) I became fascinated with the shapes it was taking, as if it had a life of its own, and finally decided to shape it by hand and skip the blocking altogether.

It was talking to me, and I listened.

I folded the edge under twice over itself for a neat edge finish and adjusted the final shape on top of a cork head, to make sure it would sit comfortably on the head.

I applied a coat of straw stiffener (the chemical stinky type), but it was too thick (the bottle must have stayed open too long at some point) and in some areas it left a white film on the straw when it dried. I had to spend a couple of hours, in panic, rubbing those spots with a cloth soaked in alcohol until I finally managed to clean it and then I reapplied stiffener (from a different bottle!). It has a nice varnish shine (which can become a problem when applying this kind of stiffener because you lose the natural look) but in this case I believe it looks good.

This is the raw material:

The hat is finished on the inside with a grosgrain ribbon, and as you can see on the picture below I had to pleat the ribbon on one spot to make it stay flat (on second thought the ribbon should have been joined there, duh!). The hat is comfortably kept on the head thanks to an elastic band (the ones you buy ready made finished with metal ferrules that slide between the stitches of the grosgrain) . Some detail pictures:

I love manipulating straw and felt and letting the material talk to me, it’s strangely therapeutic.

I also like the fact that every time the result is unique.

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