Well, here it is! The final installment of First Hat.
It was a long time coming, but the next session was so exciting.
I hadn’t finished the brim (I forgot the invisible slip stitch half way through, drama. In case you forget, here’s the link). Once the brim was finished – this took a while due to having to check that the fold of the brim was of even width all the way round every few seconds for couture perfection reasons – it was time to block the crown.
Blocking the crown was slightly different. Firstly, I cut out a piece of very starchy crown fabric and completely drenched it in water (which made it into a sort of gooey cloth). This was then placed on the block and the crown section of the capeline (the bit I cut out in my previous session) slid on top; I blocked both to form as smooth a shape as possible. Once it was dry (had to use a hair dryer!) I got to do my favourite part which is dab the whole crown with fabric stiffener. The smell is divine. It was upon declaring this that I was told a very funny anecdote about Vivienne Westwood participating in a class where they used such strong chemical stiffener that the whole floor of the building they were in (somewhere in Germany) had to be evacuated for health and safety reasons. Not me though, I love the stuff.
The next stage was, perhaps one of the trickiest. We had two things to do: firstly, place the brim over the crown and angle it correctly (the Guru had to do a lot of this as I could not be trusted) and, secondly, to trim the side of the crown that shows underneath the hat and drape silk over it to make it look nice. Both of these steps are easier said than done!
I took great care to bring a nice piece of navy silk chiffon with me for the underside of the crown; however, once this was cut on the bias for draping, it emerged that I had nowhere near enough. A significant amount of Guru expertise was used to drape not one, but three pieces of bias silk chiffon in place without it showing. Although difficult, this was one of my favourite parts of making First Hat. Silk draping is such an elegant art and the Guru and I had a long conversation about the technique and its hero Madame Gres. A simple version of what I was doing can be described as follows: pin the length of silk along the area you want to cover. Create folds that look natural, and continually pin into place (pin underneath the fold), aiming for there not to be a
beginning nor an end to the folds. Once you are happy that the folds look completely uncontrived, sew invisible stitches from pin to pin. Make sure the underside of the hat also looks tidy. And, unlike me, do try and use one large piece of bias silk instead of several small ones, as this makes things considerably easier!
Next it was time to measure my head for fit. I was so excited, as the hat was looking near finished. My happiness was short-lived however when, upon measuring my head, the Guru declared it to be slightly larger than average. I HAVE THICK HAIR I said icily, but enough on that. We measured my average-sized head and cut a hatband (or puggaree! but better known as petersham) to the right length. My love for the Guru was restored when she told me all about the signature petersham colours the couture houses use, petersham being the ribbons on the inside of the hat crown that make it more comfortable to wear. Apparently, each house has it’s own signature colour; as my hat was Dior-inspired, I used theirs which is rich brown.
Once the hat band was cut and sewn into a circle using a simple stitch, I pinned the band to the inside of the hat, ensuring that the ‘hem’ of the band was at the back and that all the fabric and lining was tidy. It was then all sewn together. To iron out any wrinkles, I used a very thick piece of sinamay to place between the hat and an iron. Using the lowest heat possible, I ironed all parts of the hat very gently using my hand as a base (careful when doing this, it can get hot quickly!) to make the hat absolutely perfect. A moment of panic ensued when I got a bit too liberal with the finishing layer of fabric stiffener – you are only supposed to feather dust the finished hat with it but I, high on the chemical fumes, put so much on the poor hat started to look a bit gooey. I nearly burst into tears I was so distraught, but a bit of last minute dabbing saved the day.
So proud of my beautiful First Hat. Here it is on one of its first outings (on my friend Jess’ head, which is decidedly smaller and makes it look a lot better, sigh … )
The Guru and I were very pleased with the result. As is typical of me, I couldn’t wait to start making the next one. The Guru advised that fabric hats are a good learning curve for couture skills, so that will be my next project with her. But in the break between Guru classes (she has a lot of hats to make!) I decided to something a bit more fanciful. Tune in next time for the (shorter) saga of the First Cloche with the Doyenne of all that is Millinery, Rose Cory.