June 21, 2009

Learning hat making with Nina Pawlowsky

Filed under: daily life,Millinery courses,Millinery trivia and events — Cristina de Prada @ 1:43 pm

Last week was the last class of the millinery course that my friend Nina Pawlowsky was giving at Escola Massana in Barcelona. There was a celebration dinner and I was invited because I was a substitute teacher for one class (and some of the students are followers of this blog!). I had a great time, and it was fun to be there with these wonderful ladies, all of us with our hats on, of course.

On the picture above you can see Nina (the one holding the flowers) and her students (one holding a 2 piece cork block made in class). They were very very happy with the course, very sad it was over, and I must say they were very good students to work with.

The Massana School, one of the centers where Nina gives classes, is a center of art and design belonging to the Town Hall of the City of Barcelona. It is placed in a beautiful historical building on the Gothic quarter (Hospital de la Santa Creu) and was founded in 1929 thanks to Agusti Massana’s legacy, a well known patissier and philanthropist. Unfortunately their website is available only in Catalan language, which is something I find absurd at many, many levels, but I’m not going to bore you with my rantings about that.

The 2009-2010 course will be even more interesting because instead of being just one course lasting two semesters it’s going to be divided in two different courses, both lasting 60 hours, one about hatmaking in general (starting mid-October) and the other one about fascinators and turbans (starting beginning of March). Nina is a very experienced milliner and speaks perfect English so if anyone reading this blog is interested in joining these courses and needs help inscribing just let me know. Inscription is from 2 to 10 September and from 18 to 28 January.

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.

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!

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