Friday, April 11, 2014

My Hat Submissions to the Mad Hatters Society Millinery Competition on Facebook

I thought I'd share the hats that I submitted in The Mad Hatters Society's 2014 MHS Annual Competition on Facebook.  I'm sure that everyone that follows me on Facebook has seen these hats too many times already, but I wanted to share them here with my blog followers that don't follow me there, or with those just passing by.  By the way, if you are not a follower of this blog, please consider following it and signing up for email alerts.  Your support would be greatly appreciated.  The same invitation goes out to those that follow my Pinterest boards.

Interring millinery competitions gives me an opportunity to make hats more often, and also to sort of "push the envelop" (be a little more creative than I would usually be).  I also have a tendency to reevaluate and to make a conscious effort to improve my millinery skills while working on a hat for a competition.

 I've finally gotten to the point where winning or loosing a competition means very little to me, except for the mere excitement of actually seeing the finished entries.  After all, winners are almost always chosen subjectively, and too many are left feeling inadequate even if they have wonderful design and/or workmanship skills.

There is no denying that I love the prizes, if there are any to be had.  The last time I won a Mad Hatters' competition, second place prize, I received a $125 gift certificate from Judith M Millinery Supply House.  Let's just say that I have enough wire, wire joiners, and horsehair to last me for quite some time.  My winning entry  was "Outside of My Window," a plexiglass hat (left) fabricated in almost the same manner as "The Copper Lady" above, except that I used metal cutting scissors to cut out the copper hat and a  jeweler's saw to cut out the plexiglass hat.  Note that I could have also used the jewel's saw on the copper; it was just a matter of how I felt at the time.

I created the "The Copper Lady" from copper sheet metal that I hammered into a dome.  If you follow me you may remember how I write about how small my place is.  Well, for my last millinery class I decided to make a brim ironing board for use at home, easy transport, and because let's face it, I just have to know that I can perform a task on my own in case I have to.  One day I'll seek some therapy for this condition.

 Using a folding wooden food tray, I cut out a half circle with my jeweler's saw and some carving tools.  Crazy, yes!  Well, conditions may not always be perfect, so I believe in using what I have on hand to accomplish what I need to at the moment.  Anyway, I will not be doing that again with those particular tools, but at least I know if I had to do it I could.  Since I needed a concave wooden area to dome my sheet for my hat, I carved one into the brim ironing board, to its side.  Now I don't have to pull out my steel doming block to make a pair of earrings because I can use the same concave area for them.  Plus, I can iron my hat brims, I can attach my jeweler's saw block, I can make large earrings, and I can dome little cute hats all in one tiny area without unfolding my work table, if I had to.  Finally, I finished "The Copper Lady" off with  a removable vintage Trifari brooch for interchangeability.  I was extremely pleased with this hat, so simple, but so bold and elegant.

The next submission, "Flight of the Midnight Butterfly," (left) also earned my stamp of approval.  It was built on a wire frame that was blocked over a very large wooden fruit bowl.  The wire was then covered with ribbon, net, lace, and vintage file tubing to cover the wire spokes.

I made flower from silk satin, making one bud myself and adding another vintage bud  to balance it off.

The flower on Flight of the Midnight Butterfly was made from silk satin.  The fabric was sized with a fabric stiffener, stretched over my flower drying rack, then left to dry before moistening again, then tooling  (shaping) the flower.
 I've often seen demonstrations where this fabric is hung up vertically to dry.  Well, what happens if you hang fabric to dry vertically?  It drys from the top first down to the bottom last.  If the fabric has starch in it, then it will be stiffer at the bottom than at the top.  So therefore, it is best to lay the fabric horizontally rather than vertically.  If you don't have flower irons and would like to try your hand at at simple flower making, I have two Youtube videos on flower making: one for a simple leather flower and the other for a simple fabric flower, neither requiring flower irons. 

"Elenore" (left) was another one of my four entries.  Surprisingly, she was my hardest hat to make.  I wanted to take a shortcut, but that was just not going to happen.  I had blocked several hats weeks earlier.  They just sit on the hat blocks waiting for me to do something.  At the last moment, needing a fourth hat for the contest, a vintage 1930s/1940s sophisticated shape was chosen, and thus Elenore was

This fur felt, beaver finish hat looked simple enough to complete, but it was not.  Like most of my hat blocks, it was the first time I had blocked on it.  So I had no idea that I would be unable to take a much needed shortcut; much needed because I was exhausted having worked on a project with my daughter while working on my own project.  Manny times, in vintage hats, a sprung wire was required.  Springing the wire is a simple technique that has a simple meaning--straightening standard millinery wire, NOT STEEL WIRE--in order to add tension in the correct place(s) on a hat.

Sprung wire sits inside of a hat, and usually it does not have to be sewn into the hat  when needed.  Well, Elenore required the oposite, and the manipulation and placement of that wire affected the shape and integrity of the hat.  The hat would not stand at attention without the wire.  I've taken up many shortcuts since I've started making hats, but this is one technique I've not dropped, especially when dropping it affects the integrity of the hat.  Hat blocks are funny objects, their finished products require different applications, some of these applications are realized only after the material has been taking off the block and after one has started working on it
Finally there is "Belle" to your left. Belle's buckram crown was blocked over a wooden candy dish.  It was covered with sequin braid, velvet tip; trimmed with horsehair, and graced with a vintage Trifari brooch (yes, I like vintage brooches).  "Belle's" lining was blocked over the same candy bowl as her crown was.  This hat was just not worth the time  it would take to make a tailored lining.

 I was not pleased with, "Belle."  There was just something lacking in workmanship with her.  Perhaps it was the lack of control I had over the cut, fringed horsehair trim; perhaps I should have double layered it.  That's what I'll do next time.  "Belle's" lining was blocked over a candy bowl.  This hat was just not worth the time to make a talored lining. 

 I have quite a few hat blocks, but surprisingly I use wooden bowls to create most of my hats.  I even pin into these bowls, something I would usually never do with my hat blocks.  I guess I use wooden bowls because using them keeps me grounded, knowing that this craft can be as simple or as complicated, and as economical or as expensive as I make it.

Words of Inspiration

More than sharing these hats with you, I hope you go away with the understanding that millinery, contrary to what some may say, is not always an expensive craft.  Especially couture "French Room" millinery, also referred to as piece-good hats a few hundred years back.  Yes, straw and felt are expensive today.  When I was buying more of it, before millinery became popular again, the prices were much lower.  It's a matter of supply and demand today.  Again, you can make this craft as economical or as expensive as you would like.  There are beautiful linens and silks and leathers, etc., out there.  There are discount fabric shops; bowls to block on, etc.  If you can't afford all of the bells and whistles starting out, start out little and accumulate over time; that what I did.  I have many bells and whistles and I continue to accumulate them, but I very seldom use them.  I think I'm more of a collector of millinery tools and equipment than a milliner sometimes.  Lastly, considering French room millinery (covered hats, hand made hats), would allows you to create more unique hats, in my opinion.

A little while ago I created a YouTube video, "Couture Millinery: How Many Hats and Accessories Can You Make From One Yard of Fabric?"  Check it out and also consider some nontraditional materials to make wonderful, beautiful hats.  Remember that it only takes a fraction of a yard of fabric to make it.  This makes silks, etc., affordable.

Lastly, or did I say that already, learning is your responsibility.  Don't let anything or anyone be a barrier to it.  I spent all day Wednesday learning a new millinery techniques.  If you don't have access to millinery instruction, remember that through observation, you can learn a lot.  Take a sewing class, observe, observe.  For free online millinery books, check out my Pinterest board, Books:  Free Online Millinery and Related Books.  Also my board, "How Other Milliners and Hatters Do It," is a compilation of how other milliners and hatters make there hats, etc.  Although, I may not like some of the techniques, they are there to jump start your and my imagination and thinking.  Again, if you have access to a good instructor, take a few classes.


  1. Amazing work, Lee! Thank you for showing us. :D

  2. ALWAYS excited to see your new creations & designs! You are so talented Lee, thank you for sharing your talents and beautiful mind with us!
    Brande Wilkerson

    1. Thank you Brande,

      I must post more often. Glad to hear that you enjoy them.