Friday, November 8, 2013

Blocking on My First European-Style Hat Block

Recently I acquired a European-style hat block. I had always wanted one to add to my block collection, and when one popped up on Ebay that suited my budget and of a shape I liked, I jumped on it. OK, now I'm over it. I must say that I prefer the American-style block more because I found it to be faster and easier to block on. So what is the difference between the two styles of blocks. Well American blocks, the more complex shapes at least, are cut into sections of two or more and have rope lines to secure your material (felt, straw, etc.) over it. The complex European blocks are not sectioned off and may not provide rope lines. I think I read somewhere that the sectional/collapsible American block was actually invented and patented her in U.S.; I don't know.

 Déjà Vu

 When I was creating the video below it suddenly occurred to me that I actually, to a certain extent, block on my wooden bowls in the same manner I was trying to block on the European block, except that I used push pins on my bowls, something I would never do on my hat blocks. If you have followed me for any length of time, you would know how much I hate seeing milliners pin or nail into their hat blocks. Actually, this is how I was taught but after seeing how hatters blocked their hats, I immediately changed the way I blocked mine, and that was a couple of decades ago. To me, blocks made today are not as sculptural as those made decades ago. Plus, many new blocks have knots and the wood is not as heavy or as beautiful. So when I purchase a hat block today, for the most part, I am buying a piece of art, a sculpture, history, workmanship. Of course there are block makers today that make beautiful hat blocks, but I prefer to collect vintage, soon to be antique blocks.

There's a Reason for My Passion

Another thing I wanted to mention is that my daughter suggested that I should not make comments on Facebook. I think I'm getting it. When you read my blog, you may read it in a kind gentle manner or you may read it in a harsh angry manner. You can't see my eyes and you can't see my demeanor. That's why I prefer face to face interactions with humans, but we know that that is not always possible. All I will say is that it is hard to convey the passion you have for certain things, especially when you have a history that causes you to think a certain way. I have a thing about learning; I have a thing about not giving up; I have a thing about outside imposed barriers, I have a thing about sincerely supporting people, and I have a thing about independence. I don't particularly care for the word perfectionist and I would never subject myself to it.  However, I do believe in continuous improvement; and I do believe in doing my best, thus my never ending desire to improve on WHAT I WANT TO IMPROVE ON and I should give others the respect to do the same. Enough said.

A Few Blocking Tips

This post came about because I hated seeing milliners' half blocked work, as well as seeing blocks that looked like termites had been chewing on them for some time. I guess I have lots of issues.... I'm tired of complaining. I figure I could either complain about this stuff or give suggestions to those that would welcome suggestions. So here are a few blocking suggestions whether you are blocking on an American-style or a European-style hat block:

When working with straw, felt, etc., you should block your material. If after you've finished blocking it, and your finished product is lumpy and looks like thigh cellulite, it has not been properly blocked.

Although I block almost everything, let's concentrate on fur felt for the purpose of this post. What is interesting about blocking felt is that you can nail a hundred nails into your block when securing the material or zero nails, the outcome could still result in a bad blocking job. It is not how many nails you nail into the block, it's how well you steam, pull, and iron the material that's on the block. So when you block, start from the bottommost rope line or from the bottom of a block having no rope line, then move up the block, securing the material. As you go up the block, the material gets tighter and tighter. Continue steaming and pulling until material is secure, ending by ironing with a dry iron over a damp pressing cloth. By the way, a correctly tied knot on a blocking cord will not slip. If you are insecure about slippage, just drop some water onto the knot or push a millinery pin through the knot, but not the hat block.  I actually left out the portion of the film wherein I ironed the felt with a dampened press cloth; the video just became too long; sorry.

Always have a pressing cloth at your disposal while blocking your material. A damp pressing cloth can solve problem your steamer can' nt.

Finally, if you are new to millinery, read my fingers, you do not need a lot of money to start the craft. Yes, I have plenty of toys to play with because I like collecting them, and I have collected them over many years. However, I can do without most of them, except my balsa wood hat block. Women/men invent things to make life easier for them; no matter what the craft may b
e. Milliners did not start out with many of the toys they have today and the hats they created back in the day were just as beautifully and well made.  Sometimes we defeat ourselves before we get started because we want to start where we should be ending.  Wow, that was profound!

A Few Questions

Well this post is getting too long, so I will touch on some other things in the future. However, I have a few questions. What types of tools (blocks, materials, etc.) do you have and work with, especially if you are new to millinery. If you had one thing in your work area that you don't have today, what would it be and why? Now tell me how do you improvise since you don't have this object to work with today. Just leave your answers in the comments section. The reason I ask is because have become accustom to improvising when I missing a millinery tool.

Enjoy the Video


  1. Enjoyed the video - very helpful! Please share what you call that hand-held tabletop steamer in the video, who makes it and where can I buy one? Thank you!

    1. Thanks Anonymous. I purchased the steamer from Ebay. It is called "My Little Steamer." It appears that the styling has changed a bit since I purchased mine. Plus mine came as a set, a large and a small one. Check prices because different sellers' prices vary a bit much.

  2. Lee, I enjoyed your Blog very much . thanks for sharing. enjoyed the video the video.

  3. Just found your blog and really enjoyed the video.. To answer one of your questions I'm using a tea kettle and steam iron, and whatever shape I can find in my house to approximate the shape I'm trying to achieve...difficult but do-able. As a result I don't get to do much felt. But I've been "hatstruck" for as long as I can remember, and determined to get more tools. As you said...accumulated slowly. Hadn't thought about EBay for hat supplies, thanks for sharing.

    1. Sorry Teresa, I deleted your answers from the last post. I think this should have been the one, in that this was a duplicate of what should have been above.

      Anyway, yes we have to use what we have on hand until we get what we want and need. Thanks so much for your comments. Stay tuned for more tutorials videos.

  4. Dear Lee,
    It was a pleasure and a good lesson to watch your video.
    First of all I have to admit that I adore your sense of humour:-)
    Lee- one most important question- are there any visible signs of the cord after taking it off? The knot is quite big, the cord is pulled very tense, so I would personally be afraind that even after steaming it later on, the 'path" of the cord would stay there for ever. Especially on the black felt! I do realise that if you do it, presumably there is anything visible but can you confirm please?
    And I have a favour to ask- while ordering the blocks I asked GMB to send me the cord with the proper knot on it, but they did not do it.
    With my two hands, pulling two ends of the knot is rather impossible.
    Could you be so kind and send me some kind of drawing or the photo of the proper knot?
    I would be very grateful!
    And yes- my blocks- some of them at least- do look like termites have been biting them! What a horror! So I have to try to block with just a cord:-) I guess blocking mini top hat without pins with a buckram is impossible, but felt.... Well. Lots to learn!
    Thank you once more for this lesson!
    Have a good day!
    Best regards from Poland

    1. Hi Hania,

      I just placed instructions for the blocking cord on my Pinterest page at

      To remove the rope marks, remove the cords after the felt has dried, give it a light steaming in the cord area, brush lightly with a small steel brush, then brush with a regular felt brush. If you don't have a wire brush, just try doing the same with the hat brush. If done correctly you will not see the rope marks at all.

  5. Lee! Just found the post with slip knot instruction! :-) Thanks!