Category Archives: Materials

Like Cloche-work, Vol I

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

5 Comments

Filed under Couture, Inspiration, Materials, Skills

The First Hat, Vol II

Previously, on the First Hat, you were treated to this blossoming beauty:

The First Hat, Vol I

Oh, the excitement – I was about to see my hat taking form, and could hardly wait till the next session. Would I get to design a trim? Would I be putting it together and trying it on?

Sadly not. After escaping several potential scooter accidents (far too excited to concentrate on driving), I rushed into the studio and was somewhat deflated at the sight of a nowhere near couture-like hat on my work bench. There was a smooth looking brim, but that was about it.

The Guru was quick to offer encouragement, insisting that today was one of very important skills learning. So we began. The brim now suitably stiff (remember, three parts to a hat brim, crown, trim – in that order) the next task would be to make sure it will keep its shape.

Use medium millinery wire

This is what millinery wire is for; it is sewn all around the outer edge of the brim so that the hat does not flow. First, the hat is removed from the block using pliers to pull out the blocking pins. The extra fabric from the brim is folded under, as evenly as possible. As we are employing couture methods, it is important to start learning to do every little bit as perfectly as possible – queue lots of undoing of folding by me. A link showing some of the techniques for folding and stitching can be found here.

Once we had a even fold all around the brim, I used a visible colour thread to sew a simple guide around the hat. Then came the painful bit (again, there is a lot of unexpected pain involved in this millinery business!). The wire for the brim needs to be straightened. After measuring how much you need, you have to cut the wire off the roll and then using really swift hand movements you tug at the length of the wire in order to remove all shape from it. This hurts. A lot.

Once you’ve recovered from this, you insert the wire between the perfectly neat fold of your brim. Remarkably, the wire is joined together (dont’ overlap too much) by, wait for it.. sellotape. Yes, this is actually acceptable in couture but you have to make it VERY neat.

The you must trim any excess material away as you see fit. You see, another rule is to never use any excess fabric – hats should be as light as possible. The brim is then stitched using an invisible stitch so that you aren’t able to tell it is hand-sewn from the outside. A video of the invisible stitch will come soon, but for now have a look at this, it follows a similar principle.

This took ages, so I had to take my hat home and hope to finish the brim in time to come back and start on the crown during the third and final volume of the First Hat. Here’s a sneak peek…

The First Hat, Vol II

Stay tuned! x

3 Comments

Filed under Materials, Skills

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

2 Comments

Filed under Inspiration, Materials, Skills

Blossoming art

Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen

So, during my tinternet searchathon, it occured to me that this new habit of mine might actually end up being proper expensive. Semi-private tuition by a master of millinery can’t come cheap, can it? And not to mention all those top-quality materials I love to visualize…

In an attempt to save myself some hard-earned cash, I decided to tread slowly into the learning process.

I invested in a few couture tutorials online, to see how I would fare at a beginner’s level. I went for the higher-end tutorial, not a ready-to-make kit, and chose a couture flower (how hard could it be?!) as my first challenge.

There were a lot of skills involved in the making of this flower (most of which only harmed me), including cutting fabric on the bias, curling the flower ‘petals’ (without an egg iron, a contraption that I later discovered is used to shape fabric in a round way, rather than cook eggs without creases), folding and shaping the petals together and, the most important attribute for a milliner… patience.

The couture fabric flower that you are about to admire, took me a whopping 6 hours to make. Yes, 6 hours of painstakingly cutting the fabric and trimming off the ends, curling and re-curling (because curling manually with a wire is not easy) and trying to stitch neatly and wondering why the silk keeps fraying.

Couture Flower I

Another valuable lesson. Do not believe everything the fabric/haberdashery/supposed experts tell you in store. The silk I went crazy on (ambitiously buying 10! different colours – for 10 different flowers, ha!), was cheap even though I was told it was the best in store.

Cheap = low thread count = fabric losely woven = fraying. As soon as you cut it, it’s frays galore and as roses are meant to have lucious thick petals, the effect was more watercolour rose than real. There is a way around this, I have since been told (by the Guru, but more on her later); either spray the cheap silk in fabric stiffener, or dunk it in gelatine. Gelatine works best, and is probably more fun to do (I will be experimenting shortly, so watch this space).

I loved the flowers I made though; especially in creative colours. For my birthday, I decorated the hat below, a genuine Panama, with a cluster of couture rose, and feather-made bird, butterfly and feathers to a really satifisfying effect.

Not quite the intro image, but just you wait.

2 Comments

Filed under Background info, Couture, Materials, Skills