Soooo, a few weeks ago I had a lesson from the legend that is Rose Cory. For those that don’t know, Rose is a master milliner who has made hats for everyone, and was appointed as the Queen Mother’s milliner for whom she made hats for 20 years. An inimitable Rose Cory design, with the signature upturned brim and feather alongside is alongside. The Guru once told me the story of the side feather on the Queen Mum’s hats. Apparently, when one of her hats was being finished in Rose’s workshop, someone got overenthusiastic with ironing the brim and burned the side of the hat minutes before it was due to be collected. In a panic, Rose placed a large plume over the burn in hope that the error wouldn’t be visible. Representatives from Clarence House took the hat away, and days later informed Rose that the new style was the Queen Mum’s favourite yet. (Somehow I don’t think my errors in hat-making would end up with a Royal seal of approval, but hey ho.)
Queen Elizabeth I, courtesy of Life
Rather than go the Queen Mum direction with my hat, I chose to slip into my favourite decadee, the 1920s. This was a special time in millinery, perhaps one of the most creative eras for headgear ever. So many styles we reproduce today originate in the 20s, and if you, like me, don’t have the figure for a flapper dress (yes, I have CURVES) the elegant headdress will always save the day.
Hoping to use the lesson to make a hat that I can show off on a regular basis, I opted for the cloche. Rose had this amazing book that I went through, and here are some pics I used as inspiration.
1920s cloche, from the book 'Authentic French Fashions of the Twenties', edited by Joanne Olian
Cloche-hatted French ladies on a shoot
It was agreed that as I only had limited time with Rose, it was probably best to make a classic cloche without the upturned brim. We started with choosing some fabric; Rose encourages you to only work with 100% natural materials, and the fabric I chose was this one, a French millinery cotton velvet, in my favourite shade of blue. Rose advised that this fabric was authentic millinery fabric, as you can tell from the very narrow width of the material; apparently, that’s how they produced it way back when (in Paris of course).
French millinery velvet
Fabric chosen, we measured my head (I won’t go into how big it is, sigh) and cut a strip on the bias. The key to this is to get as wide a bias strip as possible (within reason) at the length of the head circumference (so the bias line should be the circumference of your head).
Strip cut, I pinned the strip to the block, turned it insided out and machine sewed the seam as neatly as possible (another first for me, very exciting). Turning the now cylindrical piece of fabric back to right-side out, I placed it on the dolly for blocking.
As with all blocking, I placed the seam so that it was neatly diagonal at the back of the head shape, and placed pins in a cross shape pattern at the top, starting at the back (pic to the right).
Blocking the top of a cloche
The bottom of the crown was then blocked, using the usual – rather painful – method of hand-inserting pins. A useful tip for those who find this a bit difficult is: tread carefully. If you find a lot of pins breaking and consequently stabbing your fingers, mind you don’t bleed on your creation, especially if it’s really special or expensive fabric! I bled on my hat, but thankfully it came off straight away. It didn’t stop me stabbing myself repeatedly after though…
So once the bottom of the hat was blocked, I moved back to the top. The idea was to block the top section so that three quarters of the lower part of the fabric was crease free. After filling in the gaps of the initial pins, I steamed the fabric before blocking the rest, like so:
Blocking the top part of the cloche crown
It is important to then dry the fabric completely – I used a hand dryer for this, and held it under for about 3-4 minutes.
Blocking the cap of the crown
Then it was time to create the cap to cover the crown. Using a square bias piece of fabric, I blocked it as smoothly as possible to the top of the block. It was necessary to use alternate steam and drying (as above) several times before the cap was completely smooth. The cap was then sewn onto the rest of the crown, and the final result of Cloche, Vol I is…
Cloche, Vol I