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January 2017

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top hats!

Artisan focus/Millinery tools: Mark DeCou Studio

I can't even begin to express how excited i am to have run across Mark DeCou, an artist and artisan woodworker who has recently begun producing functional reproductions of hard-to-find antique hat blocking tools.

DeCou has been working with some hatters in his community on the development of these tools, and taking his inspiration out of the 1919 text Scientific Hat Finishing and Renovating by Henry Ermatinger, which is a wonderful resource on blocking and finishing of men's hat styles.

Clockwise from left: runner-down, foot tolliker, puller-down,
DeCou's flyer on other available hat tools (including brand new conformitors!),
hand-dyed blue china silk hat lining tip with basted-on label
(waiting to get set into a forthcoming hat)

Clockwise from upper left: runner-down, foot tolliker, puller-down

Foot tolliker and illustration from Ermatinger text on its use

Runner-down and illustration from Ermatinger text on its use

Puller-down and illustration from Ermatinger text on its use

In addition to these three types of tools, he also makes beautiful spinners, finely-crafted rounding jacks (which can be customized with engraving or scrimshaw insets), and the aforementioned conformitors, among other things. Me, i'm getting a rounding jack next, but what i really desperately want is one of those conformitors. It'll take some serious budgeting to afford one of those, though, as he's offering them at $1750 (which they're well worth, given their complexity of engineering).

For reference, i paid just under $140 for these three tools complete with custom laser engraving of the "La Bricoleuse" name, shipping, and handling. Given that they're tools you simply cannot buy, pretty much, i consider it cash well-spent for such lovely, well-crafted pieces.

DeCou's professional site doesn't yet list a section for hat tools--he's relying on word-of-mouth among hatters right now. If you are interested in commissioning some of these tools from him, you can drop him an email for a price-list and more info.

Oh, and just in case you wanted a better look at that hat you can glimpse in the corner of the first picture, I finished it today, lining and everything, so here are a couple pix:


lining detail with ornamental grosgrain

The hat's band and brim binding are made from a generous bias cut of vintage necktie silk; it features a vintage feather spray of pheasant and dindonneau (turkey). This hat is fully lined in crosswoven orange silk dupioni and measures 22" around the headsize opening (size 7 hat). This hat will be up for grabs in a forthcoming a charity auction, TBA with more details as i know them.


Excellent resource!
That is the most lovely and complex little piece of machinery that conformitor. Who knew a human head would pose so many problems? Any milliner or haberdasher actually. Lumpy little things!
Seriously! There's a chart of some head shaped cross-sections in the Ermatinger book which is mind-blowing, in that the shapes seem so drastically deformed!


tools exceptional quality

I am a personal friend of Mark DeCou and one of the milliners he consults with. The best thing about Mark's tools besides their sheer beauty is the fact they are new. You don't to worry about rotted wood or staining your project as you do with vintage tools. Most of the antique conformiters are too fragile to actually use and the generally only fit a 22" head at most. Mark will also make copy's and improvements of other vintage hat tools if you need that.
Where can I get that fabulous gross grain? It is a must have.

Re: tools exceptional quality

I have to say, thank YOU too for consulting with him on getting these things made to such great spec.

Regarding the grosgrain you mention: The band/binding on the orange hat? It is actually not grosgrain, it's really thickly woven vintage necktie silk that i got from Fabric Czar (the last best menswear fabric store in the NYC Garment District). I used bias-cut strips of it to do the band and binding. They have a whole wall of old necktie silks, so i got a couple yards of a couple different kinds and now have enough to do bands and bindings on several hats with them.

At Fabric Czar they do swatching and mail orders, i think (though i walked in off the street--was working up there for the summer for a milliner who was using this exact fabric on her fedoras and i had to have some). When i get in to my own shop today i'll try to get a picture of the remaining fabric that i have, in case you want to send them a picture and order some for your own hats.

Do you have a website or blog or anything for your own hats? I would love to see pictures of the ones you make!

Re: tools exceptional quality

Oooops, forgot the link to the FC site:


Re: tools exceptional quality

Oh wait. Duh, i have a picture of the INTERIOR of the hat here, as well, with the striped grosgrain. Wow, blame it on the fact that i hadn't finished my coffee when i first answered.

That, i got at a little hole-in-the-wall import shop on 38th and 7th or thereabouts in the Garment District in NYC. No one inside spoke much English and i don't have the name of the place (though i could walk back to it if i went back to shop for materials). If you ever go to NY to shop for hatbodies or similar, just walk down 38th and look for teeny shotgun-style one-aisle stores--there are several, and after i got several yards of the grosgrain, i saw it in a couple other shops.


Referred by Marc DeCou

I inquired of Marc DeCou about a tool to put a curl the rear of the brim of a custom hat I have just ordered. The hatter said that he didn't have the correct flange to achieve the effect, so I said, "Just send it as it is." It hasn't yet arrived and I was wondering about the possibility of curling the brim myself.

That and Google lead me to Marc's site. I explained my situation to him and and sent an attached image of the original hat. He replied, "Send Rachel a note with your photo, and she could tell you what she thinks about what curler to use."

So here I am. Are you willing to offer an opinion, and, if so, please send me an email to cknell@onebox.com so I will know where to send the JPEG image of the hat.


Re: Referred by Marc DeCou

Sure, i'll give it my best guess! Look for an email from me...