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.
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!