Sunday, 11 October 2015

Hat blocking

A couple of weeks ago I went on another course at Hat Works with Sue Carter and Marie Thornton; this one was over two days, and we learned how to block and finish a brimless felt ‘percher’ hat. We had chosen our colours beforehand, and the pre-stiffened hoods were waiting for us when we arrived.

Hoods in different shapes and colours

There was also a selection of modern hat blocks for us to choose from, including button, teardrop and melon shapes. We covered our blocks in clingfilm, and got to work steaming the hoods and then stretching them over the blocks.

Modern hat blocks, image © Hat Works

My block covered with clingfilm

I had been warned beforehand that this was quite hard work, but hadn’t appreciated just how much effort was required.

Starting to take shape

Hard at work

Once those last pesky wrinkles at the top had been smoothed out, it was time to secure the hood to the block. This was done by pinning it to the wooden block, another job which required some oomph. Indeed I began to suspect that you will never see a milliner with bingo wings (or, for that matter, long fingernails)!

Pinning the hood to the block

Finally, where the block had a pronounced concave curve on the underside, a strip of twisted calico was pinned in place to ensure that the hood was pressed close to the block.

Calico pinned in place

Hood blocked and left to dry

The blocks were then left to dry overnight, and we had the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Hat Works machinery floor. My favourite part was the hat block maker’s workshop. This was the last block workshop in the north, and when it closed in 1976 (148 years after the firm was founded), the entire contents were donated to the museum. The master block was carved by hand, and then copied on a special machine which could also vary the size of the copies.

The block copying machine, with the master block on the left, and a collection of old hat blocks

More old blocks, including two brim blocks at the bottom

Among the many blocks on display in the museum was this one for the old-fashioned policeman’s helmet. At one point all of these were made in Stockport.

Evening all

On Sunday we came back to find our hats nicely dried.

Our hats, drying in the sun

The next step was to take them off the blocks, which was easier said than done. After so much effort to get them into shape, we didn’t want to pull them out of shape again. Apparently a length of spiral steel boning is the ideal tool for the job, as it is flexible enough to slide between the hood and the block, and has a curved tip. The excess hood was cut off and saved for decoration, and then we had to attach either wire or a bias strip of tarlatan, depending on the block shape, to stop the hat edge from distorting. My hat required tarlatan, which was stretched and pressed into shape before being pinned on and sewn into place with large diagonal stitches. (This was also when I discovered that having the pins pointing inwards leads to very scratched hands as you sew!)

The tarlatan shaped, and ready to attach

Pinned in place, and ready to scratch me!

Sewn down

A length of petersham was then also pressed into shape and attached over the tarlatan, this time with very small stitches along the outer edge.

Sewing on the petersham

Once the hats were complete, it was time to think about using the leftover felt to make trimmings. As ever, Sue and Marie had brought along lots of examples to inspire us.

I haven’t trimmed my hat yet, because I am making it to go with a coat (as yet unmade, but I do have the fabric and the design), and I want to have the coat completed first. So here, for now, is my completed but untrimmed percher.

The finished article

As ever, the course was great fun. So much so that I have bought two more hoods, and am booked on the next Open Blocking Day at Hat Works, where participants can use the museum’s collection of blocks. Can’t wait!

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