The majority of hats made at The Hat Box are blocked in the traditional way. This entails the use of a block for the shape of the crown and a further block for the shape of the brim. Most of the blocks used are made of wood for durability although a small number are made of polystyrene.
The most popular material for a hat at the moment is sinamay which is a natural fibre produced from the banana plant. The material is supplied by the metre and is flat just like dress fabric although the roll is narrower than dress fabric. It takes two to three metres to make a hat usually double thickness.
Three pieces of sinamay are cut sufficiently large to cover the block and are then soaked in extremely hot water to soften the material. After three or four minutes the fabric is placed over the block and blocking pins are placed at the compass points of the block stretching the fabric as tight as possible on the straight grain. The fabric is then pinned in each quarter segment in turn pulling the bias of the material as tight as possible to remove all creases and make the sinamay as flat as possible. A water soluble sinamay stiffener is then painted onto the fabric and the block placed in a warm environment to dry for twelve hours.
When dry the blocking pins are removed and the shape of the hat brim marked ready for cutting. The sinamay is removed from the blocks and the shape cut. The edge of the brim then has to be wired to retain a crisp edge and a petersham, velvet or bias cut sinamay ribbon stitched over the wire to give a crisp edge to the brim. The headcollar stand (the hole through which the head goes) is strengthened using a bias strip of buckram. A wider petersham ribbon is stitched inside the collar stand to neaten the inside of the hat.
The crown is removed from the block in the same way as the brim and is cut to the required height.
This is then stitched over the collar stand and the hat begins to take shape. The final trim of flowers, feathers and fabric are all chosen in discussion with the client and temporarily fixed to the hat.
The client calls for a fitting and to discuss any refinements to the trim that may be necessary before final stitching to the hat.
Straw is another popular medium for hats and this is supplied in a cone for the crown of the hat and a capeline for the brim. It too, has to be soaked in hot water but has to be dried for twelve hours before applying a chemical stiffener inside and out before drying again. Not until the stiffener is completely dry can the sewing begin.
For a less structured hat sinamay can be hand stitched and shaped to produce wild and flowing styles. Many paper patterns are also available from pattern houses such as Vogue and Butterick and thus dressmaking and millinery techniques can be combined to make hats.
Other fabrics used in hat making are felt and any naturally occurring dress fabric adhered to buckram.
The Hat Box takes great care in colour matching the materials used for hats so as to completely match or co-ordinate the outfits chosen by its clients as well as to enhance the client’s own colourings.