Monthly Archives: October 2010

Winter millinery, the couture way

Christian Dior, Couture A/W 2010

Ooooh, apologies for the lack in First Hat updates! I’ve been busy trying to find the perfect winter hat to actually wear, hoping to cheer myself up now that London is turning all cold and depressing.

And where else to turn for cold weather couture inspiration than the catwalk? It’s the natural habitat of all else fashion, and we’re often so distracted by the stunning clothes (or complete lack of them in some cases) that nobody notices what’s up top.

Here are some of the highlights from the Autumn/Winter 2010-11 shows. We will, of course, be focusing on couture for this post,and first up we have candy-wrapper chic by Christian Dior.

The veil effect of the effective flower ‘wrappers’ is genius, as is the undone updo hair that almost looks like it is the basis of the headgear itself.

 

 

 

 

 

The chic turban seen at Jean Paul Gaultier (as opposed to the one on the crazy lady stalking her old hang-outs on the King’s Road) is very much de riguer, particularly when teemed with interesting shoulders and tailored, 40s mid-length hemlines. Deep dark jewel colours are also a must, and red lipstick will seal that air of mystery into one glorious Avendonesque snapshot. Alors, some of my favourites, keep an eye out for the cornflower blue ensemble which has me weak at the knees:

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Come back in a few days for more winter millinery excitement, including ready-to-wear (yes! things we can actually buy, yay!) and, of course, the latest from the First Hat.

x

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Filed under Couture, Inspiration

The First Hat, volume I

The following will describe perhaps what has been one of my happiest days in London.

It was a very exciting Saturday morning when, as everyone else lay in the very rare London sunshine planning their next BBQ, I found myself donning a pretty dress and hopping on the scooter all the way to Bloomsbury to learn how to make a couture hat.

First Hat inspiration, Dior circa 1956

My new teacher had emailed a list of things I needed to get, and it turned out I had a choice between making a straw hat, a felt hat, or a fabric hat. I went for straw as I was inspired by the summery weather and bought a straw parisisal capeline in navy from McCullock & Wallis.

Now, I knew from my emails with the Guru that I would be blocking my hat – that was, after all, what I was there to learn. However, several shop assistants I spoke to seemed to think that that would be terribly hard to do as my first project, which was of course completely untrue.

Also, a note for when you are buying materials as a novice. I noticed a huge fold on the capeline, but as it was the last one in navy, I had to purchase it; I did ask if the fold would be a problem, and was told that no, blocking would take care of that. As it happens, it didn’t, so beware: massive folds or creases in less than top-quality straw permanently damage the fibres and even after blocking you will still have a faint line where the fold used to be.

Best Dior book by far

Sooo, to the Guru’s studio for the First Lesson. I was in heaven upon walking in. Minimalist desks, lovely bits of fabric casually peeping out of glamorous hat boxes, and dozes of intriguing blocks and tools everywhere. But first, to identify the First Hat. What did I want to make, the Guru asked? No idea, I replied, and a discussion of designers and eras I liked ensued, aided strongly by amazingly expensive fashion books and stunning pictures. The Guru and I clicked, and very soon after I was donning an apron (standard millinery dress) and the First Hat was being born.

The first skill I learned was an introduction to blocking. Blocking is the process by which you shape the material used to make your hat. Experienced milliners will know how to design their own block according to the hat they want to make, but at a beginner’s level, I improvised with some of the shapes my Guru already had in house. I went for a wide brim, with rounded crown, with an inverted attachment and an improvised angle, ala 1950s New Look (see previous post and left).

Couture hats are made in two parts: brim and crown. I started with the brim, and to start blocking, I covered the brim block with plastic (we used dry cleaning bags); the plastic was attached by four pins in a cross pattern. Then I drenched the capeline in water and, finding the X-shaped seam in the crown, placed it correctly on the block. The Gury blocked four pins into the wood as guides for me to practice blocking on.

One of my first negative thoughts about millinery (the first of only two so far!), was that it was unexpectedly painful! Blocking a hat is basically stretching fabric over a piece of wood and pining it into perfect, smooth shape using your bare hands. Yes, shoving very hard needles into a block of wood just by the strength of your arms (mine are not that strong, so I was very worried my career as a milliner would be over before it even starte


First Hat, Volume I: Parisisal brim blocked

d). I soon got the hang of it though, as there is a special technique you use: with a thimble on your middle finger, pick up the pin upside down. Insert into wood using both your thumb, index inger and the side of your middle finger. No other way works as well, according to the Guru. Thus, the beginnings of the First Hat looked something like this (right).

After blocking all the way round the brim, I bunched up the crown fabric and blocked the top part of the brim that would later join the two parts of the hat together. Once blocked, the hat was left to dry over night, and that was my first lesson over with!

More on the First Hat coming soon, including how not to use fabric stiffener, some basic millinery sewing skills and much more! x

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Filed under Inspiration, Materials, Skills