Sunday, April 20, 2014

Adventures in hat blocks & blocking. . .

I was recently asked if I had ever tried blocking felt hats, and my answer was no, that I'd only worked with shaping straw hats. So, I decided to block a felt hat! I placed an order with a millinery supply shop for a lovely quality black wool felt capeline (and some shellac) but just had a funny feeling it was going to take a while to get to me. As I was very anxious to get going on this project, I bought a couple of cheap hat blanks on eBay. This turned out to be a good decision because I'm still waiting for the millinery supply hat, but the eBay hats arrived on Saturday!

So, I had hat blanks, but the one critical thing that I was missing was a hat block. I searched everywhere I could think of online, but all I could find were the usual oval/head-shaped blocks. What I was after was a round block, with a sort of tapered cylinder shape. I simply could not find what I had in mind, but one can not very well shape a hat without something to shape it on! So I thought perhaps if I had a fabric with no give and a firm weave, I could make it of fabric and stuff it somehow. As it turns out, I have this ridiculous plaid fabric that I've been hanging on to even though I thought it really had no purpose since it was almost like plastic, it was that stiff and non-stretchy! Even on the bias, this fabric pretty much doesn't budge! So, yesterday, I patterned it and sewed it up. . .

I left the seams on the bottom outside intentionally so that it would be a bit easier to sew the opening once the form was stuffed! And, that brings me to the next problem: What to stuff it with? I thought perhaps sawdust, since that is what I use for making the bodies for my reproduction French fashion dolls, but I didn't have enough on hand to fill it. So, I decided to try sand, since it's really cheap and can be bought at any Home Depot or Lowe's. Here is the finished item (and my highly sophisticated sand scoop!) ;)

I felt like I might have over-stuffed it a bit, so I ended up removing a bit of it. Woody was very helpful with this. . . Or, maybe he thought this was some funky new form of a litter box!

I think this option could theoretically have worked, but even though the fabric did not stretch, and the sand was VERY tightly packed (I used a mallet and pounded it into the most compact pile of sand I could manage), the entire thing still seemed to shift a bit from side to side if given a decent nudge. After all, this is sand we are talking about! I think it would have been a giant headache to be worried about checking that it was still upright and level the whole time I was also trying to shape the hat! So it's a good thing I have such an awesome husband who was willing to try to turn a log from the wood pile into a wood hat block!

We don't have a lathe, so Glenn was limited to chisels and his sander. I think it actually turned out quite well! (It actually tapers a bit more in "real life" than it appears to in the picture. Not sure why it would not photograph the way I was seeing it!) I felt like I could totally use this for my felt hat making experimentation.

Funny story: We had this long conversation on Saturday morning about how it would be so great to know someone who did woodworking, or who at least had a lathe, but alas, we didn't have the proper connection. Meanwhile, little did we know, Glenn's brother was not even thirty minutes away, messing around with his newly-purchased lathe! Found that out this morning at Easter brunch. Things I wish I knew yesterday!!! Ha ha ha!

This morning, I got up early so I would have time to block my hat before heading out to Easter brunch at the in-laws' house. Here is the "before" shot of the capeline:

I got it really damp and pliable using a combination of my steamer and a plant mister, molded it over Glenn's block, and used push pins to hold the brim out the way I wanted it. I was aiming for something along the lines of some extant 17th century hats in the Victoria & Albert Museum, (T.22-1938 and T.23&A-1938). I think it turned out pretty well! Mine might not taper quite as much as my inspirations, but after all, this was about challenging myself to shape a felt hat, not create a hat block, right? So I'm calling this a success! ;)

So now, I'm letting it dry, and also waiting for my shellac to arrive in the mail. Then I'll give it a couple of coats of that, then trim it, and it will be ready to wear!


  1. Oooooh! Love the wood block hat block! I can't wait to see the completed felt hat! Very well done!

    1. Thank you so much! I'm expecting the shellac to arrive today, so hopefully I can finish this today or tomorrow. :)