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.


Notes:  
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

24 comments:

  1. Sounds very interesting! However through numerous experiments, I found out that block made out of buckram always come out much larger in size than original block. They also deform and collaps really easy since you have to be able to steam the hat on the buckram block and steam itself damages buckram. I experimented with few more techniques but ultimately came to the conclusion that block making must be left to the professionals. I am curious to see how your block will change with time. I hope it will remain in perfect condition!!!Wishing you wonderful week ahead!

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  2. Hi Anya,

    Sorry you had such bad results. Fosshape has different properties than buckram. Buckram would naturally buckle because it is starched cotton. I've only made one block out of buckram and it worked very well. I made a wire frame, blocked buckram over it, sewed the buckram to the frame, added Plaster of Paris strips over the buckram, and finally sealed the block with lacquer. This was an original block and not a copy. You're correct that every layer added to a block increases its size. I adjust the head size by in the headsize ribbon.

    Styrofoam blocks last a long time when protected properly. Many years ago my daughter, while in Norstrom, fell in love with an expensive asymmetrical, beautiful mannish fur felt hat. She just had to have it, and I could not afford it. So I went home, carved a block in the shape of the Norstrom hat and made that beautiful expensive hat for her. The Norstrom hat, $250; the hat I made, under $20--black fur felt and all. Back then fur felts were going for $14 each.

    I have possibly over 200 hat blocks; I stopped counting after a while. Vintage hand crafted blocks are sculptures to me, unlike many of the blocks produced today, containing knots and ugly workmanship. The reason I always write about alternative block solutions is because so many women and men find obtaining affordable blocks and millinery supplies to be barriers to their entry into the millinery trade or millinery as a hobby.

    Millinery is so popular today that hat blocks are going up to hundreds of dollars on Ebay for very simple blocks that could easily be carved, etc. A carved block could yield a hat that could possibly be sold for an amount that could be reinvested in a real block. I like making hats so much, I would like to see many others make them.

    I came across a video on YouTube of an interview with William Chambers (milliner), wherein he talks about using bowls as blocks. I also have many bowls. A hat block in the same shape as some of my bowls could cost a pretty penny, unlike the bowls I get from the thrift shop for one to three dollars.

    Anyway, I could write about hats and blocks forever. As always, I enjoy your comments and your beautiful blog.

    For the money and durability Styrofoam still may be better than Fosshape; I'll get back to you.

    Lee

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    1. This review was helpful. I was patient and got a hat block for 15.plus ship 8.00 with 12 oz wool from ebay.This took me a couple months but it's on it's way! I'll check this Youtuber and keep reading these blogs.I'm taking a craftsy workshop on this but can't start w/out a block..I'd like to wear a hat I made!

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    2. Congratulations! It pays to be patient. Make many beautiful hats.

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  3. Brilliant! I've used Fosshape (unsuccessfully, I might add) in the place of buckram to make hats. But you are really on to something in using it to make blocks. Did you have any problems where the Fosshape is doubled or did you cut out the excess? Gotta try this!

    Love the hats that come off the block as well, especially the sharp edged straw one.

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  4. BTW, ice wool is the same thing as domette or French flannel. I use thin quilt batting on top of my buckram (when needed) instead of these more expensive materials.

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  5. Very interesting post Lee, thanks for sharing!! I wish I could see your hat block collection!!

    Cristina

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  6. Thanks Cristina,

    I just let one of my friends block on three of my blocks for a show. Since I'm really a collector and I enjoy making hand sewn pattern buckram hats more, I very seldom block on them. I just love collecting blocks from the 20s to 40s. My friend's hats are coming out so beautifully, I think I'll start blocking on some of the blocks and post the images. Stay tuned.

    Lee

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  7. Thanks Jan! I went to cotton quilt (halved) batting when sheet wading went bad. Now I'm experimenting with the very thin upholstery foam (1/8th inch--discontinued, so I'm told) I found in the garment district here in Los Angeles. I like it because it is so smooth. One fourth inch is not bad either.

    Lee

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  8. Jan,

    Regarding the Fosshape, keep in mine that I use it for the shape and build under and over it (see instructions for Styrofoam block). I made my first mistake when I tried to steam the fabric before I put it onto the block; the Fosshape became hard. When I pulled the fabric over the block, tied it down, pulled more until folds disappeared, then steamed and pulled more; the project was a success.

    My next experiment will be fabric covered Fosshape, no batting needed. But for this I don't think any pulling will be needed.

    When I tried to add another layer of the fabric, I lost detail in my block, so I scrapped that.

    Finally, I remembered that my vintage paper mache blocks are made from heavy brown paper (more sturdy, less layers), so I'm continuing my block with this rather than newspaper.

    Lee

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  9. Lee, see if you can find quilt batting for baby quilts. It is very thin and doesn't have to be halved. Adds just enough cushion for the fabric to sit against. Baby quilt batting sometimes comes in a little paper basket with a handle. It is 100% cotton batting.

    Thanks for the addtl. info on using the Fosshape. Can't wait to have a few minutes to try this!

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  10. Lee, thank you for answering in such a great detail. You are so lucky to have such a large collection of blocks. I am nowhere near, but I absolutely in love with every one of my beautiful blocks. Now, I do understand the reasoning for creating your own blocks and I absolutely agree with every one of the reasons. But to me it is different: for example, I love reading books. I love the entire process of going to the store, spending time choosing my new book, buying it and, finally, opening it for the first time, feeling the smell of new paper and text print. The same with blocks. I enjoy designing blocks, than placing an order, waiting (like a kid under the Christmas tree) for it to arrive, opening the box and feeling the smell of obeche wood...I can fine tones of inspiration in this. I, however, promise to try blocking on the bowls. :-))) I think it is a great idea. Wishing you wonderful day. :-)))

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  11. Hi Anya,

    We have two things in common. I also love books and I stay hours in the book store. Our situations are very different. I just love research and experimentation. I wouldn't think that you would have the time or even want to do such a thing, but I'm hoping those with few blocks feel they have other alternatives. I'm not big on new blocks; I collect blocks as sculptures.

    Lee

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  12. Thanks Jan,

    This is my first time hearing of such a thing.

    Lee

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  13. Fiona from AustraliaJanuary 1, 2011 at 4:43 PM

    I have found a superior product to use instead of papier mache for the inside of my blocks.
    It is a product called Sculptamold by Amaco.
    It is a plaster and pulp mix that I mix to a stiff dough texture and then pressure into the inside of the shape. If used as a stiff mixture, it is not too wet and does not distort the shape. It dries very hard and light, plus being super strong. I have made brims up to 80cm across with only 3 rings of wire as re-enforcement using Sculptamold. Blocking pins can easily be used and you have the advantage of being able to use direct steam (unlike the papier mache styrofoam blocks).
    I use old hat shapes and smear this on the inside to make a block. A crown block would be completed in 3 phases - tip first- wait for it to start to go off - about 30 mins- then I would do to the depth of half the crown- wait again- then complete. The material will take overnight to dry out completely. Result is a hat block that you could stand on without breaking. The thicker the layer - the more strength.

    To make a new block now, I will carve the styrofoam shape then block it with 3 layers of sinamay and then complete the block with the sculptamold. If required, I will either then cover it with a very fine muslin or infill any problem areas of mesh by rubbing soap over the area to give a smooth finish.

    Hope this helps some-one.

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  14. Thanks Fiona!

    I hope I can find this in the states. Actually, I have several ways of copying blocks. I also steam over my Styrofoam blocks, some I've had for years. I'm always experimenting with different products. I'll try to find the Sculptamold, create something, and post your comments along with the results.

    Again, I appreciate your comments and contribution.

    Lee

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    Replies
    1. Dear lee
      I wondering if you had the chance to try scultamold? Can't wait to try this. Thanks nono

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    2. I have a horrible memory. I just checked and found that I did look for the scultamold online, but I didn't purchase it. I think I was busy waiting on my granddaughter to be born. I'll check it out. It's good to hear from you. Thanks

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  15. Fiona,

    I just found the molding compound online at Joanne's Fabric & Craft Store. Actually there is a Joanne's down the street from where I live.

    Thanks again,

    Lee

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  16. I made one from duct tape... and covered it with a dupioni beaded silk ribbon. You can see it here.
    http://wordstogrowby.blogspot.com/

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  17. Thanks for your comments. Your hat is lovely, and your block technique is very innovative.

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  18. Better late than never, but just wanted to say I enjoyed reading this blog. Being from the development and manufacturing side of FOSSHAPE (as well as WONDERFLEX), I always like to read about the trials and tribulations of folks working with my products. Although FOSSHAPE may not be the panacea for making hat blocks and or hats....depending on the specific application and technique, it's still oftentimes most useful. Most important is to fully understand the product and learn what FOSSHAPE can and can't do. Experimentation is key.

    Having said that, if anyone ever wants free sample swatches to play with...contact me at info@wonderflexworld.com

    Brian Jeffrey
    www.fosshape.com

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  19. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for your comments. I used your Fosshape for capturing the shape of the block and finally used paper mache to reinforce the block. In the end, I used heavy paper bags over the newspaper because of the paper weight. The block works great. It is important to know that the Fosshape gets soft under heat. That's why I used paper mache. Next time I'll mache the block from the top. Thanks, Lee

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  20. I believe you made stunning solution the moment when you selected this subject of this article of yours here. Do you generally write your articles on your own or maybe you have a partner or even a helper?

    ReplyDelete