Making vintage hats at Morley college

posted in: Designing | 21

Regular readers will know that I am always on the search for new knowledge and I frequent – as often as time and money allow – various educational institutions across London. Last summer I did a two-day course on Indigo dying. This year I was determined to learn about making hats. I love hats. I made two hats when I was doing my fashion training course in the 1980s (one blocked and one flat pattern cut), but I have not made one since. Hat are not just for keeping the head warm (or noggin as the Australian students Ali and Jan described it), and certainly not just for special occasions. I like to think of hats as completing an outfit.

Of course in winter we need to keep our ears warm and a hand knitted beanie, hood or a scarf can all do the job equally well. But I like to wear fur, or something a bit more dramatic. In summer – to keep the sun out of my eyes – I make do with squashable, brimmed sun hats from the M&S sale.  I prefer love those big straw hats but they are hopeless for holidays as you don’t want to be obliged to wear it on your head when travelling, along with your large donkey from Mihas.

And if I go to a wedding I see this as a chance to wear something on the head. For George and Bianca’s wedding, I made a headdress with flowers. I felt this looked different and fresh rather than the horribly obvious hats from Debenhams or from specialist shops. I personally hate the Mother of Bride type outfits, and wouldn’t wear a fascinator if you paid me, but there are occasions when it is nice to wear a hat to complete an outfit.

Since I started sewing again (two years ago) I have retained my scraps thinking “I could make a hat with that”, and “wouldn’t it be cool to have a hat that matches a dress?”. There are so many nice vintage hat patterns on the internet – I signed up for the course thinking we might be making something like these.

1940s hat patterns
1940s hat patterns

The course that appealed promised an opportunity to make a hat from the 1920s or 1940s suitable for going to the races. I found the marketing a little strange – why would I want to go to see horses racing with one of these on my head?  With no idea what sort of hats were planned I registered and turned up with the suggested materials suggested for a class run by Karen Shannon. My main criticism of the course was that it was badly described, and the materials list was sketchy so no-one came properly prepared. But what greeted us was far more thrilling that making a hat with a sewing machine. We were about to produce brimless, blocked hats in a weekend!

You might wonder (if you have any millinery experience with buckram) how it is possible for a group of ten to produce at least two hats over a weekend.

This was the most exciting thing about the course and, unexpected as it was, it completely blew my mind.

Have you ever heard of Fosshape? It’s a thermoplastic product that looks like white fleecey felt, that you can mould into a hat shape, fix with heat, and turn into a hat by covering it with fabric. In one weekend I made four different hat shapes and got two of them covered.

We were required to produce a turban or a beret type hat. As the course notes had not mentioned blocked hats or the types of styles that would be suitable in the time we had to do our research there and then. I chose some Schiaparelli 1940s turban shapes as my inspiration.

Firstly we were taken through the process of making the hat block out of Fosshape. Wrap your hat block (checking first for size) in cling film, mould the Fosshape to it using pins and elastic to hold the shape, smoothing out all the bumps. Then use steam to set the shape.

You will see that a professional steamer is used in the studio but Karen did say you could use the kettle instead. In fact she said that Stephen Jones, one of our most famous contemporary hatters, had only recently got a steamer.

Once the hat shape is created it is pressed using a wet muslin cloth to get a nice, sharp, crisp outline. Then if it is a cloche shape (for the turban) it is cut to shape on the head. The exact size and shape of the hat depends on the style of turban to be created. I hesitated to show you how funny I look in the swimming hat style. It was even funnier to see five of us looking just as weird. But if you think about it – this process using traditional blocking materials would have taken about a week. I got this result in about half an hour. We could share hat blocks and create some quite sophisticated designs in half a day.

While we were told that you should add an inch to your head measurement I found this too big. My first hat needs to be remade in order to get a better fit. I made two small overlapped darts one inch either side of the CB. This did the trick easily.

The selfies aren’t great. But you can see the potential. The navy hat has since been remade, and worn for work. I need to more of this – either by finding a course or perhaps buying a hat block!

21 Responses

  1. Stephanie

    Kate this is so cool, like you! What a fun thing to read whilst in a passport control lineup. Would love to do this sometime although I woder if I lack the confidence for hats as I always take them off. Will read this again when not in motion.

  2. Caroline

    An interesting post. Your hats look great! I love hats and have made fleece vintage style hats but would like to use other fabrics and experiment.

  3. thedementedfairy

    Very cool- I love hats-and apparently they love me- but have always been put off by the time consuming palaver of blocking…a-ha! You have solved my dilemma. You have also forced me to hunt out this magic material and get some into stash. Bad Kate!
    The pink hat is gloriously Schiaparelli, I love it. It just needs something extra for utter bonkers-ness…how about a little bee wired at the top? Lol

    • fabrickated

      Thank you Demented Fairy. The cream one is already bonkers enough! I am not sure I have sufficient chutzpah to wear it.

  4. Ruth

    Fun fun fun. You’ll need another room in your weekend house for just your sewing and making stuff

  5. Jay

    That looks like it was great fun. I’ve only used buckram for steamed shapes, this technique sounds as though it’s a lot quicker.

  6. Joyce Latham

    Super cool. We will behaving lots of fun with this one! Yes, yes, hats are very important, and becoming more and more important as we concern ourselves with damage from the sun,all year round. They can really complete an outfit. Fall is not usually a short season and Winters are long over here in Canada… I really like the looks of the one that is cut around one ear, and the others as well. Fun fun fun! Go Kate!
    Till the next time
    Joyce

    • fabrickated

      Hi Brian – thanks so much for leaving a comment. Well done for producing such an exciting and useful product. I think we used the lighter weight Fosshape, although for some of the hats we used a double layer.

      • Brian Jeffrey

        Yes, if you need a more sturdy structure or base …you can take 2 layers of FOSSHAPE 300 and with enough heat and pressure bond them together…. duplicating almost like 1 layer of FOSSHAPE 600.

  7. SJ Kurtz

    My costumer partner in crime made me take a hat class last summer, and the buckram/sewn one I made was an unfortunate block choice (I could only make one over the four weekly sessions) I do not wear. It mocks me.
    THIS sounds so much more sensible. And now I have a new obsession and more websites to stare at.

    I think I am thanking you.

  8. Kim Hood

    I did a short millinery course some years ago and it took an age to get a very boring result. That Fosshape sounds revolutionary – and your hats look magnificently bonkers. Well done Kate.

  9. Mary Funt

    Very interesting material to work with. I’ve requested samples of the fosshape 300 and 600 as well as formflex. I’m planning to experiment with them in reshaping dress forms. Your hat making course sounds wonderful.

  10. Annnieloveslinen

    This is really exciting, I can imagine how this must fit with your mile a minute learning. I particularly love the look of the cloche on you, you could take that concept anywhere you fancy. I like to see people wearing hats alas they don’t suit me and I’ve always wanted to rock a cool beret.

    Maybe the marketing blurb was referencing Ascot where hats can be fabulously chic or fabulously bonkers.

    Ps, the theatre comment made me laugh.

    • fabrickated

      I am pretty sure everyone can suit a hat so long as they get the right one for their face and prefered style. I think you would look great in a beret – maybe a 60s or 70s style. At first I thought – turban – urrgh – but when you look at it there are so many really, really great versions out there in every era.

  11. Jane

    I think you can carry off the ‘bonkers’ cream one Kate, it is wonderful! It makes me think of the party scene in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

  12. PendleStitches

    I agree. The “bonkers” cream hat must be worn! Maybe a day at the races or something similar. We’d see you in the best dressed lists for sure!

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