Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays

Toyo Braid Hats Sewn on a Straw Braid Sewing Machine

Monday, December 20, 2010

How to Sew Millinery Straw Braid by Machine

Note:  In order to keep my promise of creating a straw braid tutorial in a timely manner (actually not so timely), I'm issuing this post in DRAFT form, and I will be adding to it, hopefully, on a regular basis until it has been completed.  Of course I will add more images, but if you have resources that are relevant to this post, please share.

Let me assure you that I'm not an expert when it comes to sewing straw on the straw braid sewing machine, but I'll share what I've learned over the years.  I've picked up the machine and put it down over and over again until one day I decided to "just do it."  What I found out, is that it was quite easy.  I had been led to believe that that little machine was some big monster and that it would take years to learn how to operate it; no way!

Note:  If you do not have a straw braid sewing machine it is still possible to sew straw braid on a regular sewing machine.   A free-arm sewing machine would be ideal, but a regular flatbed will work alsoOf course you will not have the straw guide and the sewing area will be larger.

When I decided to "just do it" several things had occurred:

1)  I had purchased two straw braid sewing machines, and totally refurbished and added a base with motor to one.  As you may see, these machines are portable.  I don't have the room to accommodate a commercial machine setup.

2) I had collected patents for the straw braid sewing machine and its accessories.  You would think that a lady with a graduate degree would have had more success at deciphering that stuff--boringgggg!  I'm the type of person that will try to put something together before I read the instructions.  Yes, I had put that machine together, parts from here and there, filing metal for a week with a tiny Dremel tool.  I thought I had really accomplished something;  the machine worked perfectly.  I should have been learning how to stay focused while not understanding old 1800s patent language.

3) I had practiced on the machine and made cute LITTLE HATS.  No matter what I did, my hats always came out tiny. 

4)  I had asked questions concerning sewing on the braid machine and had either been given vague answers or had been outright insulted.  I love insults; they help me to succeed succeed.  Thank you.

5)  I emailed a very accomplished straw braid sculptural artist, Ignatius Creegan.  I had read his story in a magazine, and I became absolutely fascinated with his work.  I hadn't been so excited about straw since I first saw Patricia Underwood's hats a couple of decades ago.  Ignatius sent me an email describing, in detail, how to solve my small hat situation.  So, because he had been so wonderfully generous in sharing this information with me, I emailed him and asked for his permission to published it.  A few months after he had emailed me two years ago, I learned how to solve the small hat situation using another method, pulling the braid--not pushing it as I had read earlier.  So, I let Ignatius know that whatever he decided was OK with me; I was so thankful for his generosity.  Ignatius said that it was OIK with him to publish his email; so here it is in it's entirety:
On the machine there is a tipper that is just above the needle on the right side of the needle bar, there is a straight wire spring that is sticking out of a little hole, the whole tipper pulls out, and when you sew it raises the foot a little every stitch and allows you to make that tight curve around your hand sewn button.  If it doesn't pull out right away turn the flywheel till it does.  Or lower the foot. If you have trouble figuring out what I am talking about just feel around about two inches or so above the needle and to the right for a part that will pull out  (it is a sort of odd lever shape)  it pulls out about a quarter inch or more toward you,  that should help you sew the tip. Also, you will note that when the tipper is pulled out there is a hex screw that the top of the tipper hits against. You will turn the hex  screw out, or extended, for a thicker straw, that will give you a higher raised foot, or turn the screw up, so it will jump less for fine straw.
Now, I have to point out something here.  Given the information above and the fact that the same thing can be accomplished by pulling the straw (I'll explain later),  I now had everything I needed to know about sewing straw braid.  So, understanding this bit of information propelled me to the finish line (well, I'm still no expert, but I do OK), a very short time--an hour maybe.  So lets get started.

Preparing to Sew the Braid  (more detail will be added in the future)
  1. Familiarize yourself with the materials I've provided  you below--books, videos, patents
  2. Set up your work area*
  3. Adjust the braid spacing by adjusting the straw braid guide
  4. Sew the button by hand (approximately 1" inch wide--I prefer a little wider).  Read Straw Hats, Their History and Manufacture:  Chapter IX, Hand and Machine Sewing
  5. Read Ignatius' email above
  6. Pull the tipper out to sew the tip (top crown) of the hat
  7. Sew the crown tip
  8. Push the tipper back in after the crown tip has reached your desired width
  9.  Push the tip down vertical to the floor (see videos) and continue sewing
  10. When the side crown has reached its depth, turn the crown horizontal to the floor and pull the edge of the crown.  It will begin to flair out forming a brim
  11. After the brim has reached the desired width, pull the lower single braid to decrease/curve (if desired) the brim after you have reached the desired width
  12. Study better straw hats
  13. Observe
  14. Practice
  15. Practice
*The Spool ( area)

Actually I don't know what the rotating contraption is call that the professionals hold their braid on, so I'll call it a spool.  I created one by simply placing a Lazy Susan (one of those circular rotating things that is placed in the middle of a table) on my work surface and placing my camera tripod on it.  The Lazy Susan has ball barrings under it, so it will move freely without securing the tripod to it.  As the straw is taken up while sewing, the Susan and straw moves very smoothly.

    Where to Purchase a Straw Machine

    eBay:  This is where I purchased my machines, including additional machines for parts.  Search on Willcox & Gibbs and hat sewing machine.

    City Sewing:  Sewing machines, parts and services.

    Note:   These old machines are mechanical; so, more than likely, your local sewing machine repair shop can repair them, if you decide to purchase a machine off eBay.  Make sure that you study images of complete sewing machines before you purchase one from anyone other than a sewing machine shop. 

    Where to Purchase Straw
    Sun Yokos Enterprise (USA), Inc.:  Straw braid and other millinery supplies.
    Manhatco:  Straw and other millinery supplies.  Old fashion in a good way; nice people; located in New York, (212) 764-2218

    U. S. Patents (there are others)

    Improvement in Machines for Sewing Straw, Straw Hat Sewing Machine, Guide for Straw Braid Sewing Machines, Sewing Machine Tension, Guide for Straw Braid Sewing Machine, Presser-Foot-Lifting Mechanism,Tension Apparatus for Straw Hat and Other Sewing Machines

    Helpful Videos

    We all learn in different ways; some of you will look at these videos and see nothing; others will see plenty.  Play certain segments over and over again.  Maximize the screen to get a better view of video.
    Sewing Straw, The Hat Makers, Straw Boaters, Jack Straw Comes to Town, Caught by the Camera

    Free Online Book

    In order to achieve some of the shapes you may try in the future, it's important to study books that teach how to hand sew straw.
    How to Make Hats; A Method of Self-Instruction Using Job Sheets:  Unit III, Straw Work
    Straw Hats, Their History and Manufacture:  Chapter IX, Hand and Machine Sewing

    I Little Advice

    Practice, observe, research, practice.

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    Recycled Millinery Materials: Fur Felt

    I remember reading a millinery book years ago wherein it was written that wool felt was cheap, hard to block, had to be sized in order to prevent shrinkage when moisture is in the air, and could be blocked only once.  The author went on to write that fur felt could be re-blocked over and over again, lasting for 100 years or more, as long as moths did not get into it.  So, over the years, I've never purchased--I don't remember doing so--a wool felt. 

    I'm an avid thrift and antique store shopper, always on the lookout for pre-owned fur felt, among other things.  I always pass on that 100% wool felt, no matter how impressive it sounds.  So, here are two hats I've made from pre-owned fur felt; one given to me and the other I found at the Salvation Army Thrift Store.

    The hat above has a velour finish.  I actually washed the felt in Woolite, blocked it over a hat block (candy bowl), securing it with push pins.  I let the fur dry, and then I lured it using coconut oil.  Luring is discussed in one of the free online millinery books located in the sidebar to your right.  I lured the felt to restore the shine that had been taken out during the wash.  I know, I know, you shouldn't wash fur felt.  No millinery sizing was needed for this hat.  Sorry I couldn't capture the beautiful chocolate color and finish of this hat.

    The trim on the hat is vintage veiling I obtained from California Millinery in downtown Los Angeles.  I made the spider from vintage chenille, also obtained from California Millinery, and three vintage rhinestone (one for the tail and two for the eyes).  I don't usually block my veils because I prefer the unblocked look.

    This fur felt has a beaver finish ($4!, and in perfect condition).  It has been cleaned, blocked, and lured in the same manner as the hat above, then brushed and ironed to a shinny finish.  Because this vintage felt is so soft and thin, I applied a light coat of millinery sizing to its inside.  I added extra sizing to the brim to give it extra stiffness because I left the brim unfinished.  The finish on this hat is so beautiful, I may never trim it.

    Below is a cute video clip from 1942 showing  a woman making a hat from one of her husband's old hats.  I discovered this site from one of Cristina Deprada's (The Rantings of a Mad Hatter Wannabe) Hatty Tweets.  I just love watching these clips.  Enjoy!

    Click on image to open video in separate window.

    Monday, November 29, 2010

    Accessories: Couture Millinery and Bejeweled Stockings Go Together Perfectly!

    (click image to start video in separate window)

     Back when I started taking millinery classes, summer classes were always fun because that was when we would make everything--hats, jewelry, purses, gloves, etc.   Well, we made almost everything.  Unless this was something done before my time, we didn't bejewel stockings.  So when I saw this video showing stockings being decorated with rhinestones, I thought, PROJECT!  I know that stockings like these are sold today, but they're not accessible to all of us--location, etc.  So select your secrete sauce (adhesive) of choice, purchase some stockings (experiment on old ones first), and find some rhinestones at your local craft, fabric, or WalMart store, and have fun.

    Wednesday, November 24, 2010

    Happy Thanksgiving World!

    It Does Not Matter Where You Are....

    Wishing All a Wonderful Thanksgiving Day

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Millinery Inspiration From Our Natural Environment: The Pomegranate Hat Project

    In her Pomgranate Hat post mon bibi stated, "Wouldn't it be lovely to have a hat as nice as a pomegranate?" So I commented saying, more or less, yes, lets make one--a pomegranate hat.  Well she was working on another project but gave me the OK to pursue this fun task.

    When I took silver jewelry making classes some years ago, I purchased a jewelry making text book, including a Dover Publications reprint jewelry making book that I believe was first published in the 1920s.  Both of these books gave examples of jewelry designs from our natural environment, from the literal to the abstract.  I used what I learned (the thought process) from these two books to assist me in creating the two hats shown in the fruit bowl above.  I must add here that I also have a very vivid imagination.

    The blue hat was my first attempt at making the pomegranate hat.  I was practicing on  my straw braid sewing machine, and I was extremely excited about how easy it was to shape the Toyo straw while sewing it.  I imagined that the pomegranate had exploded, filling the black bowl with delicious, beautiful, sparkling seeds--really, really I did imagine this.  This theme was also carried on to the red hat in the bowl.  Here, rather than adding yellow stamens in the center, I added seeds (rhinestones).

    The Process

    Blue Hat:  The blue hat was sewn on my straw braid sewing machine.  A vintage black straw braid bowl and a piece of blue braid was sewn to side of the hat.  Rhinestones were added to the bowl using tacky glue, a sweat band was sewn in, and finally a hat elastic added to hold the hat on the head.  I hope to put together a basic straw braid tutorial soon; stay tuned.  

    Red Hat The red hat consists of three layers (leather, buckram, and suede).  First I prepared my hat block by carving a Styrofoam bump to attached to my tomato pin cushion, using stick pins; I covered this with plastic.  Next, the suede was dampened (on the wrong side) and laid over my tomato hat block and pined while I pulled the fabric on the bias.  Each layer was done in the same manner (leather dampened on wrong side also).  

    When the layers were dry, the blocked hat was removed from the block; the bump on the top was slit into sections with a razor blade; and finally, the slits were flared out by hand.  The hat was set aside and a separate bump was blocked on the same block, but only suede was used.  This time, only a small amount of fabric was blocked over the bump, with a small amount extending beyond it.  After the bump had dried, I cut around it leaving a little of the extended fabric.  I attached rhinestones to the bump using tacky glue (this is one time I do use glue).  I also put glue around the extended section of fabric around the bump and pushed this bump, covered with rhinestones, up into the center of the hat.  I did this because I did not want stitches to show on my leather.  

    A note here, the edge of the hat was wired and crinoline attached over the wire as shown in my post Foundations for my Cocktail/Fascinator Hats.  However, I had to pull the suede and leather layers back from the buckram, cut some of the buckram back, and proceed as usual.  Finally, a sweat band was put into the hat, followed by a hat elastic to hold the hat on the head.

    I had so much fun making these hats.  Sorry I didn't add pictures for each step, and I did this for a purpose.  Sometimes we look for things in books (blogs) and they are not there and never will be there.  People figure out how to do something, and then someone writes a book, and then this becomes the written word, and then "it has to be done that way."  So, when I want to do something that's out of the ordinary, I visualize the process before I even start it; some sketch.  What is important is that the end result is neat and lite. For those  new to couture millinery, learn hand stitching and basic millinery.  I have added links to hand stitch videos and free online books in the upper right hand side of this blog under Speedy Resource Access.  Finally, practice, practice, and practice to make it yours.


    If you have to use a glue on buckram, use rubber cement (mucilage?); it will not buckle the buckram.  I used tacky glue on the rhinestones because the amount I used would not penetrate the suede, and if it did it would not compromise this design.

    Some of my couture millinery teachers would not have agreed with blocking three fabrics together, but I wanted to achieve a certain look and feel, and it was achieved by using this method. It was said that cheap hats were made this way.  Well, some of those famous designers/milliners didn't get the message, especially those making hats in the fifties, sixties, seventies, etc.

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    A Little Hat Fun With Rodney Dangerfield

    I have to admit two things: 1)  I love hatting as much as I love millinery; and 2) I love comedies as much as I love mysteries.  Rodney Dangerfield is one of my favorite comedians; so, when I saw this clip I just had to share it.  In addition, it reminded me of when my children were very young and one of our family friends would visit us--an elderly lady that has since passed away.  My kids simply loved this lady.  She wore her hats high atop her large wig.  In other words, she really looked quite funny.  So, upon seeing her, the kids would run up to her, hug her very warmly, and then run away laughing. Our friend was really happy they loved her so much that I don't believe she ever noticed they were so amused with her wig/hat combination.  What is so cute about this story is that it is one we can warmly laugh about today.

    Here is a clearer, longer un-embeddable version of the clip (opens in another window).  I hope you enjoy this clip while I'm busy working on hats for my next post.

    Wednesday, November 3, 2010

    Millinery Inspiration From Our Built Environment

    Sometimes it appears that everyone is interested in becoming a milliner or hatter, and that's a good thing.  But I also feel that those new to hat making only take inspiration from that that already exists (I'm also guilty), thus many of their designs look the same or very similar to existing designs.  So, after viewing this video I thought that, just maybe, inspiration from another source would inspire more creative designs from those new to millinery and hatting.

    How many of us actually stop and look around at our physical and built environments when we leave our homes.  I mean really look around, take a deep breath, and take in our surrounding environment.  Check out this video; I hope it will inspire you to look at environmental sources for some of your design inspiration.  Enjoy!

    Click on image; video opens in separate window.


    Saturday, October 23, 2010

    Vintage Millinery: Building an Idea Book

    While surfing the Web for vintage millinery images, I came across a photography blog, Paul Ryan Bohman: Fine Art & Photography. Needless to say I was extremely impressed by his photography skills.  Although I loved all of his fine art image categories (portraits, commercial, maternity, etc.), I tried to stay focused on the  fashion photography section of his portfolio, in particular, this vintage fashion show.  Remember, I was not looking for a photographer, but for vintage millinery images.  Still, I lost focus.  After all, this post is about creating an idea book.  But then I realized how elegant these ladies were in their hats.  The hats weren't funky, just elegantly simple and classy.  These were not the types of hats I wanted to use as examples for an idea book; but then, maybe I was taken to this site for a purpose.  Maybe these images were telling me to be true to myself.--to create elegant, creative fine art regardless to trends.  After all, I only have to make what I like.  How liberating!  Now, on to the idea book.

    One of the requirements for my first millinery classes was to compose a millinery idea book.  It was explained that the purpose of the book was not to copy the collected designs but to improve on them, to "make them your own."  The book was also to be used for designer's block--just by looking at a design could spike one's creative juices.  Today, my idea book resides on my computer.

    I have noticed that some "designers" are so accustom to copying others' designs that they are paralyzed until a creative designer creates.  So what happens to the brain when it's not exercised, not pushed to its limits?  It does not grow, and thus the copier will always have to copy. 

    I link to or follow a site because I feel that its content offers fine examples for additions to an idea book.  So, for those new to millinery, check out the links to the right on this site, and also check out some vintage millinery books.   You may find that the saying, "There is nothing new under the sun." is true.  To prove this point, check out some of the fashion plates from the 20s (perhaps even several years before) and 30s--top hats, picture hats, caps, cloches, beret, turbans, and more.  However, this does not stop one from creating something fresh from something old, vintage or not.  Do the research; have fun.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Millinery Should Never Make You Sad

    Photo:  2010 Eric Richardson

    Hurt or sad, I really couldn't say.  All I know is that I spent hours fraying, rolling, and sewing this hat layer-on-layer (March, April?).  So when I saw this pictures I thought, "Do people really care about the feelings of others?"  After seeing this picture I guess I just snapped, resulting in this post.  Forgive me; I should be more of an adult.  My daughter said, "I warned you."  One of my best friends said a couple of years ago that "Milliners are the most vicious people I know."  Both feel that I'm just too generous.  I remain positive.  I will never say that I made a hat that I did not make. 

    Saturday, October 9, 2010

    How to Copy a Hat Block

    I spend more time experimenting with prospective millinery materials and techniques than making hats.  So, when I had the opportunity to work with a material I had read about in a costuming book, Fosshape, I just had to get my hands on some.  Just by accident a couple of weeks ago when I was out and about, I ran across a costuming supply store, Richard the Thread, located in Culver City, California.  I had seen their Web site some time ago while looking for millinery supplies.

    Inside the store there were very large rolls of fabrics used in costuming: buckram, Fosshape,  Miracle Net, Ice Wool, etc., stuff I'd never heard of before.  To make a long story short, I purchased the Fosshape and went on my merry way.  Around  the same time Mrs. King, one of my millinery teachers--on and off for the past 25 to 26 years--brought a hat block to class that I absolutely adored.  So, with Fosshape in one hand and the block in another, coupled with a little steam, my copy of this fabulous block was born.

    I'm short and full figured, so although I loved the block I knew that the shape, as it was, would not look well on me.  I blocked a straw hood over the block and formed the rounded edges into sharp edges by shaping in the hand (pinched the folds between my fingers) after the fabric had been removed from the block.  The result  was stunning.

    I had a black vintage blimp (very large hood) fur felt that I was itching to block on this gorgeous block.  The hood was dark black, soft, very thin; simply lovely.   This time I did not manipulate the folds on the hat, but I was very pleased with the results.

    The Technique

    My first approach was to steam the Fosshape and then pull it over the hat block.  This is how I would approach felt, straw, and sometimes buckram.  This did not work for me--I never read instructions.  So, my next approach was to pull the fabric over the block and then secure it to the block as usual. After the material was secured with blocking cords, I steamed it.  When Fosshape is steamed, it becomes hard.  After the Fosshape had dried, I finished the copied block as I finished the Styrofoam block I carved (wood filler, white glue mixed with acrylic paint, etc).  However, my final step for this block was to paper  mache its inside to give it extra strength during blocking.  At this point I've only added one layer of paper mache, but I'll add additional layers after each layer has dried.

    The more experienced milliner may ask, "how is it possible to remove the felt and straw from this copy?"  Well it depends on a number of things.  In this case, although the straw was blocked on the original block, I did not take the block apart.  Why, because parasisol is very flexible, and unless it is heavily sized, it will not hug the block tightly.  The vintage fur felt was also very flexible and did not hug the block tightly.  The final factor is that this block sloped forward.  Usually when a block slopes forward, it is usually made into a two-section block rather than a five section one, as this original block.  Also for those of you that may have a paper mache hat block from the 30s/40s that slope forward and flair out at the front, it's easy to understand how this works.

    Hat blocks are usually made into sections when the head size is smaller than the tip. 

    The straw hat was sized on the outside with millinery sizing after it had dried.

    Check out the following resources, and find others on the Web.  Experiment, Experiment!

    Fosshape Tutorials:  Cosplay Supplies, Richard the Thread
    Hat Block Tutorial (video):  Torb & Reiner
    Hat Blocking (video):  Flat Felt Felt Pillbox 1 and 2
    How to Block and Drape Felts and Straws (slow to load, but worth it)
    How to (video) Make Paper Mache Paste
    How to (video)  Paper Mache

    Sunday, September 26, 2010

    Jasmin Zorlu Making a Hat With Paris Cloth

    For some of us here in the States new, exciting, and exotic millinery materials are hard to come by.  We usually lag behind--sometimes years--when it comes to the acquisition and training in the use of these materials.  So, when I saw Jasmin Zorlu's video on Paris Cloth and its manipulation, I was extremely excited.

    Thanks for sharing!

    If you are looking for a place to purchase Paris Cloth, visit the Torb and Reiner site mentioned in the video.

    Monday, September 6, 2010

    Los Angeles/Pomona County Fair Millinery Competition Images

    First, congratulations to all of the Los Angeles/Pomona County Fair millinery competition winners.  The Best of Show Award went to Dave Temple of Fullerton.  I think that the red felt hat in the group image above was awarded the Craftsmanship Award.  I couldn't read the name on this image.  So, if anyone goes to the fair after reading this post, please leave the name in the Comments box below.

    Front display.  Click on any image to view a larger image.
    Green -  Color or Innovation
    Blue - First Place
    Red - Second Place
    White - Third Place
    Pink - Merit

    I didn't do well this year; I'll blame it on the one and a half days I spent making my hats.  I threw this one together in less than 20 minutes.  I never thought it would win anything.  No headband; but it's small, and that's the trend these days.

    This one didn't place (category, purchased embellished hat).

    This one you've seen before; I received the Judge's Award for Merit for this one. The only thing new here is the detachable veil that I added chenille to.  The veil should have gown under the hat and the feather to the front side (the grosgrain ends in the back).

    Finally, I also received the Judge's Award for Merit for this one.   I think these awards are like "thank you for entering but do better next time." 


    This is my daughter's little hat; you would have to see it on the head to really appreciate it.  She burned the feathers herself and they swirl across the face.  She received the Judge's Award for Merit.

     Before typing this post I vowed to keep my opinions to myself, but I just had to mention two hats that did not even receive a Judge's Award for Merit but were absolutely wonderful (to me).  Sandra Square of San Bernardino, I thought your hat was one of the best made hats of all the entries.  The workmanship was impeccable.  I really have to stop looking at things like workmanship and focus more on trends.

    Louise McGee of Inglewood, nice, very nice.  I'm a sucker for a beautiful well made transparent hat.  I think these entrants had hats in various categories also.

    I'm sure there were others, but my family wanted to go play games.  I didn't have as much time as I wanted with the hats. Next year I think I'll go to the fair at least once alone.

    Wednesday, September 1, 2010

    Carve Your Own Utility Hat Block

    I have an extremely large head--my head size plus big hair equals extremely large head.  All I'll say is that my largest utility hat block is a size 24.  I pad this 24 with felt to increase its size, or I'll stretch the finished hat with a hat stretcher.  I wanted a block specifically dedicated to my head size; so, I decided to carve one.  I prefer to save my money for more exciting purchases like the block below, my latest acquisition.  Now that's a hat block!  Sorry, I'll get back to the purpose of this post--teaching you how I carve a utility hat block.

    Carving a hat block is pretty simple.  Many times you will be concerned with creating curves.  In order to create a curve, you would cut your foam or wood edges diagonally; at least that's how I start.  When one edge is cut, you are left with two edges, these two edges are also diagonally cut, forming more edges and those edges are cut, and so on and on.  This is demonstrated in the image above.

    I purchased a large Styrofoam cube and scored an "X" on the top and bottom of it (a line from corner to corner), dividing the  foam into equal sections.  I traced my size 24 head size plate onto paper and added 1/8" inch to the traced pattern.  Adding 1/8" to your pattern equals 1/2" to your head size; 1/4" equals one inch, and so on. Unfortunately, this 17" x 17" cube was not large enough for my head size.  I'll get back to this fact later.  The pattern is moved to the bottom of the cube without turning the pattern over.  So, under the bottom of the cube, after moving the pattern down, you will not see the pencil markings on the pattern, but you will be able to see them slightly through the paper because you did not flip the paper over.  These two tracings should be in the same position on top of the cube, as well as on the bottom side.

     Using two straight-edged knives--a large one for mass carving and a small one for detail carving--I removed the excess foam.  My next step was to sand the foam with medium sandpaper.  Always wipe dust from block after sanding.   I applied a lite coat of wood filler and let it dry.  After the filler dried, I sanded the block again.  I applied another coat of sealer, but this time the coat was much thicker.  Remember I said that the foam was not wide enough to accommodate my head size and that 1/8" would increase the block size by 1/2 inch.  Well, the second coat of sealer was a thicker one that also added girth to the block.  This was followed with another sanding.

    After letting the filler dry, I added some acrylic paint to some white glue for color.  I added the glue for extra protection and to give the block a softer, springier feel--nice to pin into .  This was followed by two coats of  polyurethane, letting each coat dry before adding another.  Overkill; yes.  I could have stopped after I carved the block, providing it was the correct head size,  but the block would not last as long without some type of protection.  I could have painted on the white glue and nothing else.  I could have used paper mache.  Experiment.  I also like adding the polyurethane because I don't have to worry about heat.  These blocks, when protected with some type of covering, are just as durable as a balsa wood hat block and the cost is much less than a balsa block.

    Try carving other shapes and other materials.  To your right is a block I carved in wood with three interchangeable tip.  I learned a big lesson when I carved this block.  I learned not to carve the block on the trace line, but to carve outside of the line.  Sawing or carving on the line reduces the head size, and sanding further reduces it.

    Two notes concerning this finished block:

    1.  If you click on the image to your left to enlarge the image, you will notice that the block is in profile.  There is actually a bump on the back of the block, as on the back of the head.

    2.  In order to get a finer grain on your block, use better sandpaper than I did.  I used old sandpaper because I didn't want to go out to purchase more.

    Don't forget to mark the front and back of your block; there is a difference unless you use a round headsize collar rather than an oval as I did.

    Always use a dust respirator when sanding wood and  foam.

    Always measure your block from top to bottom when carving and sanding to maintain consistent measurements.

    Don't forget to coat the bottom of the block with a sealer also.

    A more economical material to use for block carving is the sheet foam house insulation.  However, I personally prefer the regular craft Styrofoam, not the soft flower foam.

    Remember that an extra one fourth of an inch will add one half of an inch to the head size of a block.

    Also, try carving fancier shapes; doing so could mean that your hats would not look like all the others'.  It's really easy.  Enjoy!!

     Check out the two videos below.

    Styrofoam Hat block from Al Ojeda on Vimeo.

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010

    Classic Millinery

    I guess I should create more contemporary hats, but somehow they just don't excite me as much as classic millinery.  When I see an old hat in a thrift or antique store, the first thing I do is turn it over and study how it was made.

    Check out these free online books to learn more about classic millinery techniques.


    Above is a draped cloche.  The foundation material is buckram, draped with stretch velvet, and trimmed with a vintage brooch.  The folds of this hat are very fine and classy.  The drape ends in a scarf  that wraps around the neck.

    To your right is a draped fringe hat.  Again the foundation material is buckram.  Rhinestones in the same color of the fringe have been added for a little sparkle. 

    Both hat frames were wet blocked:  the cloche over a cloche balsa block; and the fringe, over a basic balsa utility block.

    Below I show how I lined the hats.